Fifteen Dogs and The Last Days of Night

Lately I’ve been averaging finishing one book, one audiobook, and a movie per week, which seems to suit me fine as my thoughts are kept a flutter amid the three. Note: this is the last week before the Academy Awards airs next weekend, so if you’re trying to see something before then, the time is drawing near. Luckily I’ve seen a bulk of the nominees, which I hope to talk about sometime next week in my Oscar post. Meanwhile my husband and I are leaving for our “spring break” trip next Saturday, so there’s a lot to do before then. For now, I leave you with a few brief reviews of what I finished last week.

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis, published by Coach House Books, 2015, 175 pgs 

This short novel won the Giller Prize in 2015, Canada’s top literary award, and I’ve been meaning to get to it for a long while, especially since it includes dogs. But it’s not your typical dog story; oh no, this one seems to have quite a bit to say about the human condition, perhaps it’s a bit reminiscent in this way to George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm.” “Fifteen Dogs” is about what happens to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto vet clinic who are granted human intelligence and language by the gods.

The dogs of course escape the clinic and make a beeline for the beach and park, enjoying their newfound freedom and lives. But things aren’t exactly rosy amid their pack. Some of the dogs want to resist their new awareness and consciousness and go back to their old dog ways, while others want to embrace the change and form their own language. There’s a struggle over this, and it gets hairy! Some of the dogs become exiled, while others are attacked and killed; it’s truly a dog-eat-dog world for them. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to follow all of the cast, but soon the story focuses on a few of the dogs, notably Majnoun, an exiled black poodle who becomes close to a human couple who takes him in; Bengy the conniving Beagle who wanders from house to house; and Prince, a mutt who’s exiled from the pack for composing poetry.

It’s an interesting construct of a story, which unfolds with you waiting to see whether getting human consciousness has doomed these dogs. The interactions within it, too, are revealing in what they have to say about language, happiness, and love. It made me think about consciousness in new ways and I wondered this week what my own dog was really thinking. While I found the story interesting and cleverly done, I can’t say it was exactly a pleasure read. Its view of the dogs is quite grim and dark (except for a couple of them) and not nice and sweet like you normally think of these animals. The story had a little “Lord of the Flies” quality about it, but it made its point for me: dogs are much better off without our own baggage apart of them. But what does this story say about us?

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore, published by Random House, 2016, 368 pages

This is quite a wild tale — it’s historical fiction that’s based on true events — which I listened to as an audiobook on long walks this past week. I had first heard about the novel from Judy over at the blog Keep the Wisdom who had a lot of great things to say about it. Though I wasn’t sure as I started it, if I would be kept truly interested in a story about the legal battle between Thomas Edison vs. George Westinghouse over the light bulb patent in the late 1880s. Come again? What did I care about following the main protagonist, a young lawyer (Paul Cravath) as he tried to win the patent case for his client Westinghouse? Wasn’t it just two bigwigs battling for prominence?

Sure enough I didn’t know anything about this and had a lot to learn. It didn’t take long before I was engulfed in Paul’s story and all of its particulars. There is so much more to it than I ever imagined — and of how high the stakes were — more to the rivalry of Edison and Westinghouse, more to the science and the times, more to what it was all about. Along the way, there’s interesting glimpses of inventors Alexander Graham Bell, financier J.P. Morgan, and the introduction of the electric chair, which is simply grisly in what happens as depicted in the book.

“The Last Days of Night” brings the history and real characters wonderfully to life. Who knew, about the maneuverings and alliances, the backstabbing and betrayals, and the turns and twists of fate that accompanied the powering of light. It’s like a consuming soap opera. Surely I did not know, nor did I know much about the inventor Nikola Tesla, who plays a quirky and major role in the story. He seems to hold the key for Paul in defeating Edison, or does he? There’s also Paul’s love interest, Agnes Huntington, an opera singer, who is also not all what she appears to be.

Will the case be won, or lost, or will all go bankrupt? You have to stay tuned to the end to find out. The novel has quite a bit of science in it (about alternating currents versus direct currents), yet it’s written for laypeople to understand, which helped me get by. The chapters are short and snappy, which keeps the pace moving. I thought the storytelling was superb, though it didn’t surprise me that an award-winning screenplay writer, Graham Moore, who won an Oscar for “The Imitation Game,” wrote this novel, as it seems written a bit like a screenplay. And sure enough, apparently Eddie Redmayne has signed on to star in the adapted movie of it in 2018. So we will see if “The Last Days of Night” translates well to the big screen. For now, go for either the book, or the audio; both are — shall we say — pretty illuminating. 🙂

The Crown — TV series on Netflix

We finally finished watching the first season of this series. Duh. It took me a while. I liked seeing how the reigns of power passed from King George to Queen Elizabeth, and the behind-the-scenes interactions within the royal family and with Winston Churchill are particularly interesting to watch.

The performances of Claire Foy as the Queen and John Lithgow as Churchill are excellent, though at times I thought the pace of the episodes was a bit glacial and a few times I fell asleep. I kid you not. “The Crown” did wonders for me catching up on a few zzzzs.

I know it’s terrible of me, but I woke up for the parts about Princess Margaret, who seemed to have more life about her than the rest of them put together. It was enraging that the Queen gave her word twice, and yet Margaret was foiled from marrying Peter time and again. Good grief, what torture. Let Margaret be!

Despite my small gripes, I look forward to Season 2 of this six season show, which apparently will cover from the Suez Crisis in 1956 through the retirement of the Queen’s third Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, in 1963.  Claire Foy will be back to star as the Queen once again.

Hidden Figures — based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly

I’m glad I finally got to see this movie about a team of African American women mathematicians who worked for NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program. Despite all the obstacles they faced, including racism and sexism, they persevered and contributed to helping NASA win the space race. It’s an uplifting and inspiring film based on true events and real people whose lives and jobs were not well known about before Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 book came out about them.

After the movie, I picked up a copy of the book, which I’m interested to see how closely it correlates to the film. I particularly liked the photos at the end of the movie of the real women whom the three actresses portray. They seemed amazing in their talents and diligence and it brought it all home for me, as the photos similarly did at the end of the movie “Loving.” These were real women, who made a real difference in the 20th century. Kudos to their efforts, I’m glad they have been honored with their story in this way.

What about you — have you read these books, or seen these films and if so, what did you think?

Posted in Books, Movies | 19 Comments

The Dry and Benediction

We had brisk temps all week, but it now looks to be improving, and by Valentine’s Day on Tuesday, it could reach 50F. How heartwarming! That will trigger a massive melt off of snow here.

I’m traveling this weekend and will be having a reunion of sorts, with a couple friends in the San Francisco area, which I’m excited about. So I will leave you with a few brief reviews of what I finished last week. Oh, and many of you know my trusty book assistant and walking partner by now, Stella, pictured at left. She was almost attacked by a coyote this week while we were walking in the hills. Luckily she got away from it after a scuffle and ran back to me. It was a scary situation — and I didn’t know what would happen — but thankfully she is okay and in one piece. Gave me a slight heart attack at the time, but we have learned from this, I hope.

The Dry by Jane Harper: published by Flatiron Books, Jan. 2017, 320 pages

What it’s about: (culled from the publisher’s synopsis and me)

Federal agent Aaron Faulk returns to his small, struggling farming town in Australia for the first time in decades after the apparent murder-suicide of his best friend Luke and his family. Only things don’t add up when Faulk begins poking around, and he begins to wonder if Luke’s death is connected to something that happened twenty years ago when they were both teenagers. Set amid severe drought conditions, the novel follows Faulk and the local detective as they try to piece together what happened to Luke, his wife, and son.

My thoughts:

This is a slow burn of a murder mystery that despite the time it takes developing never seems to wan. I was interested in the story and the main character Falk’s unraveling of it the whole way. It starts with the gruesome deaths of three family members at a farm house, which the police conclude was a murder-suicide, but was it? Falk begins to poke around, while his thoughts become infused with the days he spent there in his youth with his father and friends. He starts having flashbacks, which are intermingled and italicized frequently throughout the story. I know some readers didn’t care for this, but it didn’t put me off too much, as some interesting things, linked to the present case, are divulged amid the flashbacks; it’s just the italics that  got a bit annoying.

But there’s not really a break in the murder case until quite late in the novel. I guess I was expecting more of a “thriller” type pace to the story, though the developments in it kept me engaged. It has a great Australian setting too. I could feel the dryness and the farming town’s struggles from drought, which are evocatively rendered in the novel. I thought I knew who the killer was long before the end, but it takes a turn and I was wrong about who it was. “The Dry” is well done by debut author Jane Harper, and it has an intriguing storyline. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

Benediction by Kent Haruf — published by Knopf, Feb. 2013, 258 pages

This novel, which I listened to as an audiobook, is set in the same small town of Holt, Colorado, as were the author’s previous novels “Plainsong” from 1999, and “Eventide” from 2004, but this one involves different characters. I had read “Plainsong” long ago and this is my second of Kent Haruf’s books, though I’d like to eventually read them all. Unfortunately he passed away in 2014 and will be greatly missed. His last novel “Our Souls at Night,” published in 2015, was well liked across the blogosphere and one I hope to get to.

What it’s bout: (culled from the publisher’s synopsis and me)

This novel is centered around Dad Lewis, a 77-year-old hardware store owner who’s just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He and wife Mary work to make his final days comfortable, while their daughter Lorraine returns home from Denver to help care for him. But Mary and Dad can’t locate their estranged son Frank, to let him know, and his presence is sorely missed. The story also involves a young girl next door, who is being raised by her grandmother after the death of her mother, and the town’s newly arrived minister, who faces disdain after a particular sermon doesn’t go over well.

My Thoughts:

I felt for the dying Dad Lewis in this book and his family, friends, and the community of Holt. He is a codger and sort of a grump, but it seems to be because of his life and how he grew up. As he comes to grips with his diagnosis, you sense the realizations he’s going through and his regrets in life — why he wasn’t a more loving person, particularly to his children, neighbors, and employees.

“Benediction” is a story about life and death, people’s regrets, and the ties that bind us. Although it’s a quiet and relatively simple story (and may not be for everyone), I got caught up in its cast of characters, who seem very real and are all going through different things and emotions. Kent Haruf is a master of writing about small towns, families, and communities— and seemingly can do it perhaps better than anyone else. I’m slightly reminded of author Alice Munro, who’s books are often filled with similar kinds of towns and people. Also the small town feel of “Benediction” made me think a bit of Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteridge,” but perhaps it’s less quirky than that. Listening to this story was another winner for me, and I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

Lastly this week, I saw the movie “Lion,” which is a Best Picture Academy Award nominee, and I must say it is quite excellent. I wonder if it surpasses “Manchester by the Sea” for me in terms of which one I liked better, though I know both are high on my list. “Lion” is based on a true story about a five-year-old Indian boy who gets lost from his village and winds up thousands of miles from home. Eventually he is adopted by an Australian couple and grows up there. Then 25 years later he sets off to find his biological Indian family.

This is a powerful movie and will pull at your heart strings along the way. It’s an amazing story, and I actually have the book, which the movie is based on, that I was hoping to read first. But Oops! I got to the movie first. The cinematography is also pretty great, as well as the actors in it. Might “Lion” win Best Picture? Or is it not hyped enough as the others?

What about you — have you read these books are seen this movie — and if so, what did you think?

Posted in Books, Movies | 26 Comments

February Preview

Light snow is falling here this weekend and it’s all pretty and white outside. It’s cold, too (6F, -15C), so it’s better just to stay inside and read near the fireplace with a mug of hot cocoa. It’s perfect for a good murder mystery, and I’m enjoying Jane Harper’s novel  “The Dry”  currently, which I plan to review next week. I almost forgot about Super Bowl Sunday with all the distractions this week from the continuing Trump Gong Show, which troubles me to no end. But we do plan to watch the game, the ads, and the halftime performance by Lady Gaga. What about you? I hope it turns out to be a good game and a peaceful day.

Meanwhile February has arrived and it looks to be a good reading month. There’s new novels coming out from  Joyce Carol Oates, Claire Fuller, Christina Baker Kline, Clare Mackintosh, and Heather O’Neill  among others, all of which I hope to look at, but I’ve picked a few other novels that have caught my main attention.

First off I need to check out George Saunders’s historical novel  “Lincoln in the Bardo,”  which I’ve been hearing about since I saw the author at BookExpo last May. It seems a bit of an unusual supernatural story about President Abraham Lincoln and his beloved 11-year-old son Willie who dies in 1862. In the story, Willie is caught in a strange purgatory after dying, mingling among ghosts, where there’s a struggle for his soul.

The book intertwines the living and the dead, as well as history apparently. It seems quite imaginative and I’m game for it. The author is known for his award-winning short fiction so this is his first novel. I’ll be interested to see what I think. Have you read it already?

Then on my radar I have Georgia Hunter’s debut novel  “We Were the Lucky Ones”  that chronicles the remarkable history of the young author’s own Jewish family (the Kurcs), who were separated at the start of the Second World War in Poland and flung to such distant points as Africa, Brazil, and Siberia, determined to survive and reunite.

It sounds like a harrowing journey, one in which her grandfather and great-aunts and -uncles endured and persevered despite overwhelming odds against them. The author gives more insight into her research of her family and the book at her website. For those who liked Kristen Hannah’s WWII novel “The Nightingale,” this seems to be similarly gripping.

Next up I’m curious about Katie Kitamura’s novel “A Separation,”  which appears to be another “Gone Girl” type of psychological whodunit. It’s about a woman on the edge who tells the story of the end of her marriage to her husband in London and what happens when he disappears and she goes to look for him in Greece. Hmm. I know I should probably get over this Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins type of genre, but I’m being pulled back in by the spotlight that this novel is getting. It’s said to be a slow burn of a story that builds with great force and intensity as the woman “discovers she understands less than she thought she did about her relationship and the man she used to love.”  Hmm. We will see. I’m #18 in line for it at the library.

I’m also interested in Min Jin Lee’s novel “Pachinko,”  a multi-generational saga of a Korean family from 1910 to 1989 that includes the Japanese occupation of Korea, and later the family’s experiences as expatriates in Japan, where they “suffer endless discrimination but also moments of great love and renewal,” according to Publishers Weekly.

“Pachinko” sounds like a fascinating epic, and though I don’t normally read a lot of historical, multi-generational tales, this one is getting a lot of strong praise and favorable reviews and seems too good to pass up. I hope to win a copy of the book in the giveaway on Goodreads that’s going on now. This is the author’s second novel after “Free Food for Millionaires,” which came out in 2007.

As for movies in February, Raoul Peck’s documentary  “I am Not Your Negro,” which chronicles writer James Baldwin’s story of race relations in America from his unfinished novel, looks to be quite revelatory and strong. I have not read a lot of Baldwin’s books, such as “Go Tell It on the Mountain” from 1953 or “The Fire Next Time” from 1963, but I plan to remedy that in the future. He was a tremendously influential thinker, writer and activist in so many ways … for Civil Rights and to writers such as Toni Morrison. This documentary appears to come at a period in America that seems timely.

Reviewer A.O. Scott of the New York Times called the film “life-altering” in a review on Friday, and Tre’vell Anderson of the Los Angeles Times said the film like James Baldwin is “unadulterated, uncompromising and unapologetic.” From all I’ve read about it, the documentary sounds like a powerful must-see.

The movie “A United Kingdom” with David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike is also getting pretty favorable reviews. It’s based on the true story of the black Prince of Botswana who married a white woman from London in the 1940s, which caused an international ruckus. Their families didn’t approve of the interracial marriage, nor did their governments, but somehow they persevered to assume power in his African country after independence. It seems like quite a story. Though the movie likely won’t be as formidable to me as “Loving” was on the topic, it still seems worth seeing. The actor David Oyelowo I’m sure will remind me of his role as MLK in “Selma,” and I hope Rosamund Pike doesn’t remind me too much of her role as Crazy Amy in “Gone Girl.” She was totally freaky but good in that.

Also note, Alicia Vikander and Christoph Waltz are in a period piece at the end of the month called  “Tulip Fever,”  about a young married woman who gets involved with a painter who’s commissioned to paint her portrait in 17th-century Amsterdam. Uh-oh. Her husband, played by Waltz, isn’t exactly thrilled by that. This appears to be Vikander’s first appearance since her role in “The Light Between Oceans,” which I liked.

Lastly for February, there’s new albums by Ryan Adams, Alison Krauss,  and the Canadian folk singer  Rose Cousins. I like all three of these musicians, but I’ll pick Rose Cousins’s new album  “Natural Conclusion”  since we’re going to see her in concert here in March. It should be good.

What about you — which books, movies, or albums are you looking forward to this month?

Posted in Top Picks | 30 Comments

The Girl in Green and The Unseen World

This week was pretty productive as I finished one book, one audiobook, one TV mini-series, and watched two films. Surely I need “outlets” in these days of the new U.S. administration — ugh, but don’t get me started on that. I will leave you with some brief reviews of what I finished. Note: the second TV mini series I have listed below is something my husband and I finished a few weeks ago so I thought I’d report on that now as well. I had hoped the two books included this week would be 5-star reads, considering all the high praise of them on Goodreads, but I found them more like 3-star reads for me. I liked them but I didn’t overly love them. Though judging from Goodreads, I might be in the minority on this.

The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller, 2017, 336 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

This novel is about two men who experience a brutal incident in 1991 during the Gulf War and then team up 22 years later on a mission to set things right and save a refugee girl in Iraq involved in an insurgent attack. One is a veteran British journalist who’s home life is in trouble, and the other is an irreverent American soldier who does things his own way. With the help of U.N. aide workers, they set off on their mission into unfriendly lands, only to get into more trouble than they bargained for.

I really wanted to get caught up in this plot — as I know how big the refugee and immigrant crisis has been in places originating from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but the narrative and characters felt a bit distant to me, written in the third person, and I didn’t get as fully gripped by their dilemmas as I had hoped. The conversations, too, between the characters are often jokey and irreverent, which I didn’t always appreciate, but I liked how the novel gave a glimpse into the world of U.N. refugee workers on the front lines. They are real heroes no doubt. There’s quite a few tangents in the book going on that defuse the situation and slow the plot a bit, but luckily it picks up towards the end — as the fate of the girl and the two men hang in the balance. Still I didn’t find it to be a typical thriller.

In the acknowledgments at the back of the book, the author says he drew heavily for this on his PhD dissertation in which he studied the Iraqi civil war of 1991 in depth. It seemed to me a bit like that. There was information he seemed to want to impart. It also says the author worked on diplomatic missions and for the United Nations, and I wonder a bit if I would have liked this more as a memoir or nonfiction book than this story, which seemed a bit far-fetched and out of my full reach of the characters’ turmoil. Hmm, it’s just a thought.

The Unseen World by Liz Moore, 2016, 464 pages, W.W. Norton & Co., read for the audio by Lisa Flanagan

I listened to this as an audiobook, which took me on long walks all week, considering its length. The novel is about a young girl (Ada) who idolizes her single father, who’s raising and home-schooling her. He’s a scientist who runs a prestigious lab in Boston working to develop a program on artificial intelligence. But it’s later in life when her father is suffering from Alzheimer’s that Ada shockingly finds out that he is not really who he says he is. Thereafter she takes up trying to unravel her father’s cryptic past, and the codes and files on his computer.

There are some nice storytelling elements in this novel, which spans Ada’s entire life. I felt for her, as she’s a lonely kid who’s adopted by some neighbors after her father becomes ill. But I usually don’t take to the genre of fiction in which characters aren’t who they say they are to their loved ones (unless it’s a spy story). A lot of novels involving secrets feel contrived to me or are not my thing, but I know they are popular. For these reasons, “The Unseen World” made a pretty decent audio, but I didn’t feel the novel was fantastic. I also thought parts of it were over-written and it could have been edited for a tighter effect.

Still for those who like novels based on secrets or identity plots, I say go for it. Of those I’ve read, it reminded me of aspects of Kate Morton’s “The Forgotten Garden,” Suzanne Rindell’s “The Other Typist,” Jojo Moyes’s “The Girl You Left Behind,” and Sarah Waters’s “The Paying Guests.” It’s sort of along these lines of stories, if you liked them.

The Night Manager — a British TV mini-series with 6 episodes

My husband and I just finished this series, which is based on John le Carre’s 1993 novel, and we enjoyed it very much. It had pretty riveting suspense and action. It’s about the night manager of a hotel in Cairo (played by Tom Hiddleston) who is recruited by British intelligence to infiltrate an arm dealer’s inner circle.

Gosh Hugh Laurie is fantastic as the billionaire bad guy in this, and Hiddleston’s character Jonathan Pine is cool as a cucumber undercover. No wonder this series won two Emmys and three Golden Globes. Some parts of it might have seemed a bit unrealistic but still it made for an entertaining spy drama. For those who were fans (like we were) of the British TV series “MI-5,” which ran from 2002 to 2011, you’ll definitely want to see this series as well.

Trapped — an Icelandic mystery TV mini-series with 10 episodes

I think I found this show on Netflix by mistake but then we got caught up in it and there was no turning back. It’s a whodunit murder mystery that takes place in a small town in Iceland where everyone knows everyone else. It has subtitles in English but that didn’t distract me from the overall story, which is: When a human torso washes up on shore, the town’s chief of police and his two junior officers must find out who’s responsible. Is it a human trafficker from the ferry boat that recently arrived in town, or is it someone local with a dubious history? As the officers begin to investigate, they soon have their hands full with a number of strange incidents, including an avalanche, fire, and theft of the corpse.

This is an entertaining murder mystery and I loved its snowy, isolated setting. It’s a little tricky keeping track of all the Icelandic names, but it was well worth it. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, “Trapped” is the most expensive TV series ever filmed in Iceland. Hmm, who knew.

Moonlight — a 2016 U.S. film, which has received 8 Oscar nominations

I finally got to see this at the theater. It’s been so heavily hyped since its fall release that I didn’t really know what to expect. While I thought it was an interesting, moving drama about a black boy who tries to find his way while growing up in a rough neighborhood in Miami, I didn’t really think of it as a Best Picture film but feel free to disagree with me if you did.

It shows the boy, Chiron, in three stages of his life: adolescence, mid-teen, and young adult, which I thought were effective, especially during the teen years. You really feel for him as his mother is a drug addict and he’s bullied to a pulp. I didn’t realize before seeing “Moonlight” that it involves a gay relationship (duh I’m way behind on this), but I thought it was done well and realistically. In some ways, it’s a subtle film, but one in which you can feel its strong undercurrents.

The Birth of a Nation — a 2016 U.S. film

Lastly, I rented Nate Parker’s film, which came out in October to much commotion. It’s about the real life of Nat Turner, the literate slave and preacher, who lead an uprising in Virginia in 1831. The historical life of Nat Turner is quite fascinating and has been broached a number of times onscreen and in books. Turner’s rebellion made quite an impact during its day, perhaps not unlike John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859. It’s referenced in a number of later works by escaped slaves.

The film is violent but isn’t gratuitous considering the subject matter of slavery. I thought it was pretty powerful and worth watching. It made me want to know more about Turner’s life and I would like to read Thomas Gray’s 1831 pamphlet about him called “The Confessions of Nat Turner.” While I didn’t feel “The Birth of a Nation” was perhaps as stunning or as full a picture as the 2013 movie “12 Years a Slave” about Solomon Northup, I did think it was a valuable addition to the film canon of slave narratives.

What about you — have you read these books, or seen these TV shows or movies? And if so, what did you think?

Posted in Books, Movies, TV | 32 Comments

Marching and The Hopefuls

I flew from Canada to Denver on Friday evening to participate in the Women’s March on Saturday, one of many marches around the country. I didn’t want to miss it and I’m glad I didn’t. It was a very unifying, uplifting, and nonviolent, peaceful experience in support of human rights, social justice, civil liberties, equality, the environment, and women’s reproductive rights. I’m totally stoked by the response around the world and how many women, men, and families of all backgrounds participated. In Denver alone more than 100,000 people marched through the downtown streets, and across the world more than a million. I hope it will do some good in this political climate. I know the experience as positive as it was will stay with me for a long, long time, and I will continue to fight over the next four years at every turn for our rights and those of others!

Since I’m on the road at the moment, I will leave you with a few brief reviews of things I finished last week.

“The Hopefuls” by Jennifer Close, 2016, 310 pages, Knopf

I always love a good Washington, D.C.-set, political novel and “The Hopefuls” has a lot of enticing things about it. It’s about a young married couple (Beth and Matt) who move for Matt’s new job in the Obama White House from N.Y. to D.C., where Beth has a lot of trouble adjusting. She deplores their new D.C. life, and all the political hacks and wannabes they go out with, but then eventually they meet another married couple they like — the charismatic White House staffer Jimmy and his wife Ashleigh from Texas, and the four become inseparable friends. Life is fun there for awhile, until Jimmy’s career takes off and the four spend a year together working on Jimmy’s campaign in Texas. Therein, things begin to crumble.

I kept waiting for the shoe to drop big time in this story, but it simmers along for quite awhile before a small reckoning occurs at the very end. There seems to be an inordinate amount of time spent on the characters’ daily lives, and I wondered if something was ever going to happen. It’s a story more about the relationship of the four characters and the jealousies, competition, and rumors among them.

I liked how it started off pretty funny, poking fun at things in D.C. I worked in the area for 15 years and had to laugh at some of the details the character Beth disdains about life there, where it’s all about who you work for and what you’re doing, and is filled with political nerds. The author did a good job making that life feel authentic. The second half of the novel is less humorous as the characters’ lives take a turn and working on the campaign becomes exhaustive and claustrophobic. I liked parts of the novel but just wish the shoe or something had dropped earlier. It’s not as light or breezy a read as I thought it was going to be.

“American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst” by Jeffrey Toobin, 2016, 368 pages, Doubleday

I listened to this as an audiobook and was pretty riveted to it the whole way. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. The book is packed to the gills with information about the incredible Patty Hearst saga and the context and various radical groups of the Bay Area during the 1970s. Holy smokes, I had no idea about some of the details of the crime spree and the Symbionese Liberation Army. I remember the trial of Patty Hearst being on the morning news when I was 10 years old, but I didn’t realize all the places the S.L.A. hid out, or the shoot-out in Los Angeles, or the re-grouping on the farm in Pennsylvania, and how long it all lasted. But Toobin does a fantastic job of putting it all together — so many different people were involved — with some insightful analysis along the way. He leaves it open for you to draw your own conclusions about Hearst, though the evidence of her role is pretty overwhelming. I was amazed how she changed so dramatically from young student fiance to ardent revolutionary then back to a cop’s wife within a relatively condensed time span. It spun my head around twice over. These were extraordinarily tense times, and Toobin brings it all back home.

“Loving” — This movie recounts the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who were arrested in Virginia in 1958 for being married to one another, and whose case went all the way to the Supreme Court. It’s an alarming and touching movie (Judy at the blog Keep the Wisdom was right of course. I could have used a Kleenex by the time the credits rolled). The actors, Ruth Nigga and Joel Edgerton are terrific and the director/writer Jeff Nichols, who’s made such films as “Mud” and “Take Shelter,” is always one to follow. I still want to find and watch the documentary about the Lovings, which this movie is based upon. They were quite an inspiring pair!

“Elle” — This French film is quite controversial. I had no idea before I saw it what I was in for. All I knew was that Isabelle Huppert won the Golden Globe for her performance in it, and that it had subtitles. But in reality it’s about a businesswoman who plays a cat and mouse game trying to find the man who raped her. I found it disturbing and crazy (unreal), and I can’t say I would recommend it. There’s too many other better things to watch. My husband is still angry that I took him to see this. It’s a bit hard to erase in your mind once you have.

What about you, have you read these books, or seen these movies, and if so, what did you think?

Posted in Books, Movies | 32 Comments

January Preview and The Association of Small Bombs

January is usually a good literary month. It represents a clean slate for reading and goals and for starting anew — like being fresh out of the box, which I like. I just need to remind myself there’s plenty of time to read lots of books this year and not to worry about pace. It’s often the case that you can read some of your favorite books in January, I think it’s because many come from Best Of Lists and piles saved from the prior year.

And Ta-Da: I was excited by my first read of this year, which as you can see from the photo at left was Karan Mahajan’s novel “The Association of Small Bombs,” which I first found out about when it became a finalist for the National Book Award and made the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2016 list. No small feat. Karan who? Well I didn’t know either but now after reading his novel he’s forever on my radar. Born in the U.S. but raised in New Delhi, India, Karan’s another young talented author, who I was pretty amazed to learn is just 32, so likely he wrote some of this book while in his 20s. Oh my.

His novel “The Association of Small Bombs” has a fairly straightforward plot: it’s about a bomb set by Kashmiri separatists that detonates in a New Delhi market in 1996 killing a handful of people, including two brothers, ages 11 and 13, and injuring their friend Monsoor. The book explores over a number of years the impact on the boys’ grieving parents, the surviving Monsoor, and the terrorists who planted the bomb. So it starts simply from a heinous act but then branches out into the lives of both the victims and the perpetrators.

They undergo some surprising changes over time and I found Monsoor a compelling character. He feels guilty for his friends’ deaths and seemingly suffers from psychosomatic symptoms. He’s vulnerable and becomes lured into a fate that is not of his own doing. The ending I thought was not what I had hoped for, but overall the book, which takes place mainly in India, has many astute observations about terrorism, different ethnicities, and the times in which we are living. It throws a light on what’s to be made of — or done with — the “small” terrorist attacks that seem impossible to stop and which the world has become inured to over time and frequency.

Admittedly the novel was a little heavy duty and some parts a tad dense for my first read of the year, but I was very impressed by it too. You really get a glimpse into the minds of those who committed the acts — and the story had me wondering if the bright Monsoor would recover and succeed; what would happen to the deceased boys’ parents; and whether the terrorists would strike again. Apparently the novel is taken from an actual bomb attack that happened when the author was young at a market where his family sometimes shopped. Obviously it has stayed with him to a great extent; the details in this story are amazing. Look to Karan Mahajan in the future as he seems to be an author to watch.

As for January releases, such notable authors as Aravind Adiga and Paul Auster (880 pages!) have new novels coming out as does the popular author Chris Bohjalian. But I am looking forward to a few others below that have caught my eye.

“Idaho” by Emily Ruskovich — This debut novel is being quite raved about and is apparently a nonlinear story that comes together slowly over time and can’t be read quickly. It takes place in a rugged landscape of northern Idaho and is about a family whose lives have been shattered by a shocking violent act. The husband’s second wife tries to piece together his past and what happened to his first wife and daughters. Hmm. And here I was interested in it for the Idaho terrain. Shannon over at River City Reading has already read it and says “it’s an amazingly powerful book that’s set an extremely high bar for my reading year.”

“The Girl in Green” by Derek B. Miller — This novel is about two men, a British journalist and an American soldier, who meet briefly in Iraq at the end of the Gulf War in 1991 and then reunite 22 years later in another war in a risky quest to save a girl shown from a video in an insurgent attack. It’s said to have a bit of humor and satire about it combined with being a moving thriller. Somehow I missed the author’s popular debut novel “Norwegian by Night,” but now I am game for this one, especially since it just came brand new to me from the library.

“Human Acts” by Han Kang — Written by the Man Booker prize-winning author of “The Vegetarian,” this new one sounds as disturbing and dark as her first one did. It’s about a violent student uprising in South Korea in which a young boy is shockingly killed. Knowing how grim this one is said to be, do I really want to go there? I didn’t read “The Vegetarian,” but I’m sort of thinking I need to try a Han Kang story. What do you think?

“The Dry” by Jane Harper — This one is a fast-paced, suspense thriller, hailed by many as a stunning debut. As Amazon puts it: it’s about Federal Agent, Aaron Faulk, who returns to his hometown in Australia to mourn, and inevitably investigate, his best friend’s apparent suicide. What comes next, says reviewer Penny Mann, is a “series of twists and turns that will keep you guessing all the way until the end.” It’s a nail-biting, highly praised thriller, set in Australia — what more do you want?

“Lucky Boy” by Shanthi Sekaran — I read a couple of great immigrant novels last year, and this one looks to be another in that category. (Per the publisher’s summary): When Soli, an illegal Mexican immigrant working in Berkeley, Calif. is arrested, her child is put into foster care, where he comes to the attention of Kavya and her husband, who try to adopt him. The boy’s destiny thereafter and that of his two mothers teeters between two worlds as Soli fights to get back to him. This emotionally wrenching story is said to be sweeping its readers away, so count me in.

As for movies coming out January, I’m still trying to see the ones I listed in my last post in time for the Academy Awards. By the way, I enjoyed watching the Golden Globe Awards and was rather amazed to see that “La La Land” took home all seven of the awards for which it was nominated. Wow quite a stash — Hollywood seems to love movies about itself — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will win a lot of Oscars. I need to see “Moonlight” pronto though it’s not playing anywhere around here.

Also I realize the movie adaptation of the bestselling book “A Dog’s Purpose” is coming out this month, but I want to read the book first by W. Bruce Cameron. I’m #32 in line for it at the library, ha, sucker! But if it’s a “bad” screwball comedy you need to get through winter and Inauguration Day, maybe check out “Bastards” with Owen Wilson and Ed Helms. A few laughs about now might do us all a bit of good, either that or a good cry and a flask of whiskey.

Finally, in new albums this month, there’s not a lot I see. I’m listening to a country singer I heard on NPR named Natalie Hemby, who’s debut album “Puxico” has just come out. Also one of my favorites Tift Merritt is due out with her new album “Stitch of the World.” I’ll be checking out these more in the days ahead.

What about you — which books, movies, or albums are you looking forward to this month?

Posted in Top Picks | 32 Comments

Year End Summary and Favorites

Below is a rundown of my stats and favorites from 2016. I had a good year (see photo of Lake Louise at left) and averaged a little over a book a week, which is the pace I feel suits me best. I was surprised that I completed the same amount of audiobooks as books read. Audios sure have gained in popularity and I enjoy listening to them on my frequent dog walks. I mixed in a fair amount of nonfiction too, which I hope to continue to do, though literary fiction is my favorite genre of all. There were a lot of great books this year so it was really hard picking which ones I liked best, but something gave the edge to Imbolo Mbue’s novel “Behold the Dreamers” and Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography “Born to Run,” my favorite reads in fiction and nonfiction respectively for 2016.

As for movies, I just saw “Manchester By the Sea,” which is quite potent in an understated way and I thought deserving to go on top of my list (for a saddish drama, it is excellent), but there are still others I plan to see before the Academy Awards takes place on Feb. 27. See the list below. Still “Manchester By the Sea” is a strong contender and Casey Affleck gives an affecting performance as an uncle who is asked to become the guardian of his teenage nephew. I cannot say too much more about it without giving too much away, but it did leave me thinking about it for days after. The setting, too, of the Massachusetts seaside town is very much ingrained in the film. You can sense the feeling of the place from a mile away.

As for music, I realize that a majority of people nowadays don’t listen to “albums” as they once did. Music streaming services such as Spotify among other things have changed the way people listen or compile music. Indeed I only bought five albums this year, which made up my list below.

I guess I should feel remiss for not putting the “Hamilton” musical Broadway soundtrack on it, which a friend assures me all the kids she knows have memorized. I guess she’s right, probably the biggest thing in the arts going on in 2016 was “Hamilton” on Broadway. If you didn’t get into it, you missed it. And alas, I’m still in that category. Who knew this Founding Father would be all the rage in 2016. I still want to read the book by Ron Chernow, which my brother-in-law says, is the best biography he’s ever read. All 731 pages of it, enjoy! And happy reading in 2017.

Books Completed: 54
Nonfiction: 10
Fiction: 44
Audiobooks: 27
Books Read: 27
Male Authors: 18
Female Authors: 36
Canadian authors: 4
British & duel citizen authors: 11
U.S. & duel citizen authors: 39

Favorite Nonfiction That I Read in 2016

“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen (2016)
“The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough (2015)
“Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren (2016)
“Wave” by Sonali Deraniyagala (2013)
“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi (2016)
“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)
“Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art” by Carl Hoffman (2014)
“Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman” by Lindy West (2016)

Favorite Fiction That I Read in 2016

“Behold the Dreamers” by Imbolo Mbue (2016)
“Underground Airlines” by Ben H. Winters (2016)
“The Tortilla Curtain” by T.C. Boyle (1995)
“The North Water” by Ian McGuire (2016)
“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015)

Other Novels I Enjoyed That Were Published in 2016

“Eligible” by Curtis Sittenfeld (2016)
“Siracusa” by Delia Ephron (2016)
“The Longest Night” by Andria Williams (2016)
“The Girls” by Emma Cline (2016)
“Shelter” by Jung Yun (2016)
“News From the World” by Paulette Jiles (2016)
“Sweet Lamb of Heaven” by Lydia Millet (2016)
“The Mothers” by Brit Bennett (2016)

Favorite Movies From 2016 So Far

“Manchester By the Sea”
“Deepwater Horizon”
“Sully”
“La La Land”
“Allied”
“Hell or High Water”
“The Light Between Oceans”
“Me Before You”
“Arrival”
“Our Kind of Traitor”
“Captain Fantastic”

Movies I Still Want to See From 2016

“Loving”
“Jackie”
“Moonlight”
“Gold”
“Silence”
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
“Fences”
“The Birth of a Nation”

Favorite Albums of 2016

The Lumineers — “Cleopatra”
Norah Jones — “Day Breaks”
The Avett Brothers — “True Sadness”
Vance Joy — “Dream Your Life Away”
Michael Kiwanuka — “Love & Hate”

What about you — how were your stats and what were your top favorites in 2016?

Posted in Top Picks | 33 Comments

The Mothers and La La Land

We had a great time in Southern California visiting with my family over Christmas (see photo at left) and now we are back to the cold of Canada, which is a brisk re-introduction. But it isn’t all gloomy, we did go cross-country skiing yesterday with our dog, Stella, and that was fun. It helps to get out and about despite the winter temps here. I hope everyone had a lovely holiday and will ring in the New Year tonight with plenty of good cheer.

While on break I finished Brit Bennett’s debut novel “The Mothers,” which received a lot of hype before it came out in October. The author was selected as one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” honorees, along with Yaa Gyasi, who wrote the novel “Homegoing.” And indeed Bennett is young, just 26 years old. Apparently she started writing the book while in high school in Oceanside, California, then finished it after going to Stanford, and getting an M.F.A. at the University of Michigan.

Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Bennett’s novel “The Mothers” is about an unwanted teen pregnancy that affects those involved — as well as others — and reverberates throughout their lives. Particularly it’s a coming of age tale of two teenage girls and a boy who become close and are all struggling to overcome hardships. The two girls bond over trying to come to grips with being abandoned by their mothers, and the boy, a star athlete, dates one of them while healing from a career-ending injury. It’s their relationship with each other — as well as the secrets surrounding the unwanted pregnancy — that form the gist of the novel, set against the backdrop of the tight-knit church and military community in which they live.

It’s a book that kept me reading to find out what would happen to the lives of these three entangled characters, though I didn’t end up totally liking any of them. They continued to make bad choices — one betrayal in particular — which sort of confounded me and I couldn’t really get over for my appraisal of the book. So while I thought the author had some good writing in it, and the book was a worthwhile read, I liked but didn’t overly love “The Mothers.” It was just some things that didn’t fully resonate or work for me that made me like it a bit less. Too bad, I had heard so much glowing praise about it. Still I will continue to watch for what the author writes next.

Meanwhile last week, I saw the movie “La La Land” with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. I rarely ever see musicals, but I was curious about it since it also received such positive hype. It’s about a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. Surprisingly I found the movie quite entertaining. Gosling and Stone share an enticing charisma and chemistry, and I liked how — though set in contemporary times — the film pays homage to the heydays of Hollywood, harkening back to the movies of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, as well as “Rebel Without a Cause.” It’s neat too to see such landmarks in the film as the Griffith Observatory, the Rialto Theatre, and the movie star murals on the city’s streets. It includes some musical numbers, but the storyline becomes more spoken as it goes on — it’s not totally filled with singing and dancing numbers. With the themes in it, “La La Land” celebrates the artists and dreamers of the world — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

What about you, have you seen this movie, or read the novel “The Mothers,” and if so, what did you think?

P.S. Please stay tuned for my post later in the week previewing new January releases and my Best Of 2016 list. Thanks, and Happy New Year!

Posted in Books, Movies | 27 Comments

Behold the Dreamers and Allied

I hope everyone is staying warm. Argh, did your area get the dreaded “Arctic blast”? Well it was quite brutal here, but now it seems to be leaving, and this week we should see temps back in the 30s F (+3C), hooray. That’ll be easy and good for when we board our flight to California later this week. Christmas is almost here, and the reading days for 2016 are coming to an end. My reading has slowed a bit amid the holiday rush and festivities, but still I’m getting to some great books. I hope to squeeze in a couple more before the year’s end.

This week I finished Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel “Behold the Dreamers,” which was mentioned to me by my sister, who had read it for a book club group. Wow, what a great book it would make for a discussion. It turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the year. It’s neat when that happens — when you’re not expecting to come across a Favorite Book of the Year and then sometime during your reading of it a light goes on in your head and you think: “Whoa, this is one of them.” Have you had that happen? Well, I had the light go on with Imbolo’s “Behold the Dreamers.”

I guess I didn’t know much about it when I picked it up, but the story hooked me right away. It’s about an immigrant family from Cameroon that tries to make ends meet living in Harlem New York. Jende and his wife Neni love America and want to give their 6-year-old son the opportunity for a better life, but they need decent-paying jobs while working towards getting their papers for a more permanent status in the States. So all is good when Jende lands a job as a chauffeur for a senior executive named Clark Edwards at Lehman Brothers. In time, Jende gets to know the wealthy Clark and his family, and Clark’s wife Cindy offers Neni a job at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. Things seem promising for Jende and Neni’s all-consuming dreams of staying in the U.S. — that is until Lehman Brothers collapses and the lives of all four are upended.

Yes, this novel is set amid the troubled times of the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. It’s not your average immigrant tale I can assure you. It grabbed me by my lapels so to speak and had me racing through it. I liked how the story delved into the lives of both the immigrant family’s and those of the white executive’s. Neither is all good or all bad. The novel paints a more realistic, complex picture of both couples, each wanting the best for their kids. And under the strains, the marriages of both are put to the test.

I felt for Jende and Neni who struggle so desperately to get their U.S. residency papers. I remembered when I came to Canada — it’s not exactly easy living in another country; there’s a lot of procedures, application paperwork, and hassles. It’s a long, long process, believe me. For the immigrants in this story, it was far worse. Among other things, they didn’t marry into it like I did.

“Behold the Dreamers” is pretty gushy about “America” and all of its opportunities. It felt a bit weird reading about it like that — I’m sure I take too much for granted being from the U.S. and perhaps don’t see it so unblemished as the characters in the novel do. But by the end, the story also reveals the high price people can pay for living in the land of opportunity — not only in terms of financial obligations and how much people have to work but also in terms of stress and other things. Each of the characters in the book is pushed to a breaking point, and you wonder along with them: at what cost is it worth it?!

It reminded me slightly of T.C. Boyle’s 1995 novel “The Tortilla Curtain,” which I also read this year and loved. That novel about a Mexican illegal alien couple and a white yuppie couple whose lives collide in California suburbia was more satirical than this one, but this novel has little of that in it. I’m totally impressed that “Behold the Dreamers” is a debut novel, which it didn’t seem like, by an author from Cameroon who came to New York in 1998. I watched an interview of Imbolo on video talking about the book and she seems like a breath of fresh air. If you have time, check it out here.

Also this past week, I saw the movie “Allied” with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. For some reason, I was preparing not to like it — as if it had a high bar to clear, but then I liked it quite a bit. So I’m glad I went. It’s fun too that Pitt plays a Canadian intelligence officer in the film who says his dream place is Medicine Hat, Alberta, which is just a few hours away from here. That got a few guffaws from the audience.

Anyways, the movie is set in WWII and Pitt’s character meets a French resistance fighter played by Marion Cotillard on a mission behind enemy lines. Later they meet up in London, and you are led to wonder whether one of them is betraying the other. Both Pitt and Cotillard are pretty good in this, and the screenplay by Steven Knight, who also wrote “Eastern Promises,” “Locke,” and “Pawn Sacrifice,” moves fairly quickly. I wouldn’t say “Allied” is an award winner, but I did find it entertaining. And who doesn’t want to look at the magnetism of these two stars?

What about you, have you read “Behold the Dreamers” or seen “Allied,” and if so, what did you think?

Also I want to wish everybody who reads my blog Happy Holidays and a very Merry Christmas. Thank you for stopping by and for making it such a great year at The Cue Card. I really appreciate all of your comments and insights and think very highly of all of you. It’s been great this past year getting to know my regular readers.

Posted in Books, Movies | 20 Comments

The Beauty of Humanity Movement

We’ve had Arctic temps here this past week. It’s been about -10F or -23C outside. Ouch! Luckily I’ve worn my trusty big gloves and snow boots, which have worked well on my early morning dog walks. Yes, my dog still wants to go out and chase her ball. Yikes, she’s pretty oblivious to the cold and to me trudging through it after her. Next week, the cold snap should break and it’s supposed to hit 15F, which should feel easy peasy by then. But it’s still a good thing I’ll be in California over Christmas week. I’m looking forward to de-thawing then and visiting with family.

Meanwhile this past week I finished Camilla Gibb’s 2010 novel “The Beauty of Humanity Movement,” which was a read for my book club. It’s my second novel about Vietnam this year, but it’s a bit different than the other one I read — Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel “The Sympathizer.”

The title of Gibb’s book “The Beauty of Humanity Movement” is a bit of a mouthful, but it refers in the novel to a group of Vietnamese dissident artists who meet during the war at Hung’s cafe in Hanoi and put out a few underground publications before the cafe is shutdown by the Communists and the artists are hauled away to re-education camps.

Now decades later Old Man Hung is a soup vendor, peddling his popular and delicious “pho” on the streets and living by a dirty pond in shantytown. His most faithful pho customer is Tu, who is the grandson of one of the artists, and a tour guide in the city. One day Old Man Hung is visited by a Vietnamese-American woman (Maggie) who is working in Hanoi to catalogue an art collection for the Hotel Metropole. She is searching for clues to her father, a dissident artist who disappeared during the war after she and her mother fled to the U.S. But offhand Hung can’t seem to remember her father, or what happened to him.

The story follows these three intersecting characters as they dig into the past to try to find out more. Tu develops a crush on Maggie and wants to help her, as does Hung who treasured the dissidents and is haunted by what happened to them and his family during the war. He begins to reflect back to those days, and it’s Hung’s life story that makes the novel so compelling. He gives a glimpse into the violent Communist crackdowns, the U.S. bombing raids, and the sheer poverty of the war years, surviving on trees and what little else he could find by the pond. It’s the making of “pho” for his small community that propels him to live — as well as the dissidents’ publications and his love for a girl named Lan. You’ll want to read on to find out what happens.

It’s quite a bittersweet tale, about lost love and changing times, which by the end might make you hungry for a Vietnamese bowl of pho — Old Man Hung’s specialty. I have not eaten pho in a long while, but in honor of the story I’d like to. What I also liked about the novel was how it brought Hanoi’s past and present together. You really get a glimpse of what it’s like there today and what the people in the North went through many decades ago. I think this is the first novel I’ve read set in Hanoi, as opposed to Saigon, so it was new and interesting to me. The city is still a bit of a mystery to many Westerners. I didn’t find the novel a fast read, but I didn’t mind slowly meandering over its pages. The ending seemed a bit too tidily rendered for the main and secondary characters. Still I thought it was definitely a worthy read, which touched on a number of themes, such as the redemptive powers of community, art, and love.

I wondered a bit how the author wrote about Vietnam so well being from Britain and Canada. I hadn’t heard of her before this book, which a member of my book group picked to discuss. But apparently Camilla Gibb has a PhD in social anthropology from Oxford and seems well adept at traveling the world and writing about other cultures. This is her third novel. Her prior one “Sweetness in the Belly” is about a Muslim girl in Ethiopia. I hope to read that one sometime next year.

As for movies this week, I didn’t make it out to the theater, but we did rent the 2013 TV movie “Burton and Taylor,” about the last work collaboration between the two legendary actors and former married couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. In 1983, they starred in the Noel Coward play, “Private Lives,” together, which is what this movie is about. While making the production, Liz, played by Helena Bonham Carter, comes across as a bratty diva squandering her talents, while Burton, played by Dominic West, seems resigned and conflicted by her. Neither are in good health, or easy much to like. And their relationship is a bit all over the place — with their intense bond and history together eventually pulling them apart. It’s a bit sad really, but an interesting look into their lives. Who knew Burton would die the following year. Till then, apparently he and Liz spoke every few days although they were no longer together. What they shared was quite a connection.

Seeing “Burton and Taylor” made me a bit wistful for their happier “Cleopatra” days.

What about you — have you read Camilla Gibb’s books — or seen this movie? And if so, what did you think?

Posted in Books, Movies | 26 Comments