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Review: Ring the Bell (2020)

Ring the Bell by Josie Jaffrey

It’s everyone for themselves in Unterstrom, and despite our efforts to convert them to our way of thinking, our neighbours won’t listen. They argue that the Surge serves a purpose, that the sick and old are a burden on the community, which is exactly what the masters in Overstrom want us to think. They argue this because it’s the accepted truth, but the real truth is more selfish.

Ouch, right in the dystopian feeeeeels. Ring the Bell follows Mia and Ari, two residents of Unterstrom who live in dire poverty and suffer at the mercy of those in Overstrom. Every five years, the Surge comes, but the first one to the bell tower buys their family a new life. Let the race begin …

This is such a good short story and it left me craving a badass sequel with Ida. I definitely, definitely recommend this.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Cross-posted to Goodreads.

Show Review: The Man in the High Castle (2015)

I put off watching The Man in the High Castle for ages. It’s based on the classic novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick and it stars Rufus Sewell, whom I love soooooooo much (if you haven’t seen The Pillars of the Earth or Cold Comfort Farm, hop to it!), but, being Jewish, it’s nightmare fuel to see a world where the Nazis won. (Side note: if you want a great movie with central Jewish characters, I wholeheartedly recommend Defiance.) I found out though that The Man in the High Castle isn’t just alternative history, it’s science fiction, and the focus is heavily on the Resistance and fighting against all the horrors of racism and eugenics, so I decided to give it a go. The science fiction angle just sounded interesting. It’s slow to come, but it’s there, so keep an eye out for it. (The show is slow to bring in the sci-fi like Game of Thrones was slow to bring in the fantasy. It’s very political and character based.) And, seriously, epic casting all around: Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank, DJ Qualls, Joel de la Fuente, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and, of course, Rufus. (And more awesome actors come in as the episodes go along. Lots of great guest stars! Lots of rep!)

The show starts off in the 1960s, so it’s a costume drama-dystopian-alternative history-science fiction show. The backstory is that, during WWII, the Axis powers won their separate theatres of war, and so the United States is divided up under German and Japanese control. The Nazis control the east, which is known as the ‘Greater Nazi Reich’, while the Japanese control the west, known as the ‘Japanese Pacific States’. There is also a small sliver of land between the two known as the Neutral Zone. The Neutral Zone is basically keeping the Cold War between the Axis powers from turning hot.

The show begins in San Francisco, which looks totally different, and follows Juliana Crain and Frank Frink. They’ve been together for years, but they worry about having children as Frank has Jewish ancestry and Jews are still in danger in the Pacific States. They try and live under the radar until one day Juliana’s sister Trudy appears, frantic. She tells Juliana that she has a way out. Before Juliana finds out what she means, Trudy’s killed by the police. Juliana then finds a film Trudy had in her possession that’s meant to be delivered to the Resistance. On the film is something seemingly impossible: a world where the Nazis lost and the Allied Powers won. (It’s not quite our world, but it’s close.)

Frank begs Juliana to go to the police, knowing how dangerous being involved with the Resistance is, but Juliana decides to go instead to meet with the person Trudy was trying to give the tape to. When she leaves, it triggers life changing events for everyone: Frank is promptly arrested, as are his family, and their Jewish heritage is used against them; an undercover man named Joe encounters Juliana on the road and, though he has his own agenda, quickly falls in love with her. At the same time, the high officials on both sides are keeping secrets and plotting against each other. We’re introduced to Obergruppenführer John Smith, a high ranking figure in New York who is trying to bring down the Resistance and find ‘the Man in the High Castle’, who knows something.

My favourite character, bar none, is Frank. He’s deeply loyal, loving, kind, and his character progression is intense. His devotion to Juliana and Ed, his best friend, make him so endearing, but he’s also just such an innately good person. I don’t want to spoil too much of his character arc, just know he’s amazing. I like Juliana, but I definitely struggle with some of her choices. Ed is a hero. While I never liked any of the bad guy characters, the actors who play the bad guys are brilliant in their roles, and Rufus Sewell’s character has a very well written storyline. There was one storyline that I really feared would happen, but it didn’t. Huge relief! Without spoilers, if a romance had gone one way, I would’ve peaced out so fast there would be cartoon dust clouds behind me.

Heads up, though: this whole show is tough to watch. There are some truly gruesome, twisted scenes that broke my heart. There’s a storyline where they follow a character with a medical condition and you get to hear all the Nazi eugenics bullshit and it made my skin crawl. The antisemitism is appalling, disgusting, wrong and hard to watch. There’s horrific racism aimed at Blacks by both sides that will make you furious and leave you crying. The scenes with all the propaganda, insignia and symbols are also very painful to watch. But, again, it’s showing how wrong all this is. How we should be free, how everyone should be equal, so if you can handle the grim storyline to watch good characters kick ass against awful racists, it has great payoff.

What I found especially interesting is how the historical events that really happened in history are basically switched for alternative events in the story’s history. It blends the events a little, but it’s pretty much Opposite World. And as the science fiction comes in and you learn the ‘secret’ of the Man in the High Castle, the show spins you on your head while leaving on the edge of your seat.

Show Review: Snowpiercer (2020)

aboard Snowpiercer, 1001 cars long …

The dystopian genre is where most of my interest lies (that, and anything with good lgbt+ rep), so allow me to recommend to you my newest gem: Snowpiercer. The series is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige and the 2013 Korean-Czech film. I really, really liked the film, too. If anyone hasn’t seen it, make sure you do! Chris Evans is great, and Bong Joon-ho is a wonderful director. (He also directed Okja, which will turn you vegetarian so fast your head will spin, whilst you cry the entire time.) The series is definitely different from the film and stands on its own, although there are some scenes that echo each other. Where the main aim of the film is to get to the engine, where the power rests, the show delves into the politics, relationships and machinations of the characters.

The premise is basically: the world went crazy with fighting and global warming, someone tried to cool down the global and ended up causing a mass ice age that’s killed everyone and everything. The only survivors are the people and the few plants and animals they managed to bring aboard. The leads in the show are played by Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs, as Andre Layton and Melanie Cavill. Andre lives in the tail of the train, Melanie runs the engine. The train is divided by class, with the billionaires in the front of the train, then second class, third class, and then the tail, which is filled with a few hundred people who leapt onto the train just before the world froze over. Everyone at the back of the train is abused by the rich, hated and forgotten about.

At the start, there’s been a murder in the front of the train, so Melanie brings Andre out of the tail to solve the mystery, as he’s the only homicide detective aboard. Andre takes care of young Miles, an orphan aboard the tail, who he raises with Josie. Andre seizes upon the opportunity to try and help his people in the tail. He’s paired with ‘Brakeman’ (like a cop) Till, who’s from Third and is dating Jinju, a woman in Second. Till grows slowly sympathetic to Andre’s situation and the pair become friends while solving the murder. Class politics are a huge plot point, as those in First don’t like to be investigated by a man from the tail and believe themselves above the law.

My favourite characters are definitely Andre and Till, but I’m fascinated by Melanie and everything she’s not saying. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding her and she’s a much different character than the movie parallel, who was played by Tilda Swinton. Where Minister Mason (Swinton) relished pain and brutal order, Melanie is more pragmatic, although I can’t say that I like her. A lot of what she does is unforgivable. Jennifer Connelly does an amazing job in her role, though. Josie, Zarah and Knox are also really good characters. The Folger family, who seem to have most of the power in First, are horrifying. Just you wait. Y I K E S.

This is definitely a tough and frustrating show to watch, but in a good way, if that makes sense? Very diverse, great class commentary and a central l/l pairing! Can’t wait to see how season one ends. And it’s been renewed for a second season, so there’s more to come!

Mini Review Roundup [25/05]

This was an audiobook and poetry weekend, to be sure! After finishing Gold Rush Manliness and Everything You Love Will Burn, I decided to pick up some romance and poetry. I have a lot more nonfiction on my list, but mixing it up definitely keeps things interesting. I’m also enjoying Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky, an epic sci-fi book.

Almost Love by Louise O’Neill

All she wanted to do was stand there and look. Being by the sea always made Sarah feel small. Insignificant in a way that was comforting somehow.

I’m actually setting this one aside for now. About halfway done, and whilst I really do like O’Neill’s writing and I’m definitely going to try one of her other books, I’m not in the right mood for this one. I think what the book is trying to depict is an important topic to discuss – how bad relationships can become – but I don’t think I’m in the head space for it. As well, Sarah is a character that I’m struggling to connect to. I’ll probably come back to this at some point though. The story certainly does draw you in.

I also picked out a few poems to read this week as I was definitely missing poetry. Uncanny Magazine has a lot of great poetry, so I checked out some of their recent issues

Issue 31 / Issue 32.

I started with ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ by Ada Hoffmann.

Have you ever torn through a forest of books, trawling the half-naked
flotsam
of dream and the tarnish of myth, desperately seeking
a memory?

Pretty, right? I liked this one. What a lovely poem. Available here.

Followed it up with Brandon O’Brien’s ‘Elegy for the Self as Villeneuve’s Belle’, which was brilliant.

Wanting pretty things is hunger, too,
and having is feasting, denied by few.

Available here.

I also read Annie Neugebauer’s ‘The Wooden Box’. Really liked this one!

It’s a wooden box,
ornately carved, beautifully
stained a dark mahogany.

It’s dry as I lift it up
and gently slide out the
tongue-and-groove top.

Gave me chills, to be honest! Read here.

  1. Cage of Souls | science fiction, dystopian
  2. A Small Revolution in Germany | lgbt, fiction
  3. Agnes Grey | classics, fiction
  4. The Curse of the Black Cat | fantasy, lgbt

What’s everyone reading this week?

Film Review: What Happened to Monday (2017)

movie review

What Happened to Monday, or Seven Sisters, was far from what I was expecting. Noomi Rapace is a treasure. It fits in well with Gattaca, Children of Men and V for Vendetta, my favourite dystopian films. This one is set in 2073 when the world population has grown to such a degree that there’s little food, little space and a lot of problems. To counter this, the Child Allocation Bureau is created to ensure that only one child is born to every couple. No siblings allowed. The leader of the organisation totes the idea that any additional children will be taken into custody and put into cyrosleep until the time comes that there’s more space, more food and fewer problems.

Creeped out yet?

When Terrence Settman’s daughter dies giving birth to seven identical daughters, he takes the extraordinary step of keeping them all in secret. He names them Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each girl is allowed out of the house on their name-day under the singular identity of Karen Settman, their mother. For decades, the girls exist as one person in public, but flourish as unique individuals in private. Until Monday goes missing.

Very quickly, the sisters ban together to track down their missing sibling and figure out what happened.

The other characters are Nicolette Cayman, played by Glenn Close, and Adrian Knowles, played by Marwan Kenzari. Both work for the CAB, but have wildly different amounts of power and opinions on what they’re doing.

Let me just say that Noomi Rapace blew my mind in this. She played each of the seven sisters uniquely and it’s done so well. Marwan Kenzari was another standout and I really hope to see him in more things. He and Rapace had great chemistry. Glenn Close and Willem Dafoe are fabulous as ever and steal their scenes as much as Rapace and Kenzari. Honestly, these four really brought believability to their scenes.

There were some aspects of the film that I didn’t quite love, although they’re minor complaints: I feel like one character got away with a lot; I’m not sure how I felt about the ending, although I didn’t hate it; and Zaquia, a CAB agent portrayed by Cassie Clare, was somehow in dozens of scenes but rarely spoke, whilst her partner spoke quite a bit. It’s great that Rapace and Close got so much screen time, but I felt like Clare got left out a bit.

Overall, however, I think the film fits well into the dark dystopian genre and rivals Children of Men for gritty futuristic societies that deal with overpopulation as a plotline.

Recommended for fans of dystopian films.

 

**gifs found online, not mine