Review: Wonder Woman

5 stars

DC doesn’t often compete when it comes to superhero movies but with the latest release Wonder Woman it has truly outdone Marvel.

Wonder Woman is the superhero movie we have been waiting far too long for. However, the first female-led superhero movie, directed by a woman, has landed in cinemas with a bang. It has been a critical and commercial success and if you haven’t already you absolutely need to go see it now.

Wonder Woman stars the truly amazing Gal Godot in the lead role as Diana, an Amazon, one of a tribe of female warriors, put on Earth to defend mankind from the influence of the God of War. The visuals on Themyscira are stunning, and it seems to be a feminist utopia, full of strong women – where being a warrior is normal. Unbeknown to them however, the world is already waging war, which they only discover when Steve Trevor’s plane crashes into the sea by their island. Diana and Steve connect, and a number of jokes about Diana meeting a man for the first time ensue in the most brilliant fashion.

However, Steve’s disaster brings war to Themyscira’s doorstep. This realisation inspires Diana to take up arms and hunt down, Ares, the God of War himself, in the midst of the First World War.

The film is a classic superhero origin story, with plenty of action, but also a great plot and well defined characters. Diana is not only a badass warrior demi-goddess, but she is true superhero material, making it her mission to see the good in humanity and stop us from being corrupted by the hate Ares spreads; it is truly the movie we need for 2017. Diana is constantly underestimated and even treated like she is crazy, a feeling 50% of us can definitely sympathise with, but this doesn’t stop her. She is determined and resilient, pushing forward and making strides for women everywhere – whether it is in her stunning modernist suit in Edwardian London, battling army bureaucracy, or striding across No Man’s Land to save local villagers from the ravages of war. The movie is not only funny and heartwarming, but full of action, Diana’s fight scenes are no easy feat – she goes up against a Greek God for goodness sake.

The film doesn’t fall into the misogynistic traps that other superhero films do, with cheap sexist one liners or an overt sexualisation of its women. Every joke in the film is appropriate, and it is actually funny – proving that you don’t need to be needlessly provocative to have fun. The film also nods its head in a few intersectional directions, with a diverse cast and acknowledgments of racial issues – from how difficult it is to be cast as an actor if you aren’t white to the seizure of Native American land by Europeans. It isn’t perfect – we could certainly have seen more black women with bigger speaking parts, but it goes further than many other superhero films – or films in general for that matter.

But all in all this film is empowering, it is pushing boundaries and it is forging paths for the future of women in film. And it is also simply just a great film.

New York Public Library Summer Reading Challenge

Many libraries run children’s challenges to get kids reading over their summer holidays, but New York Public Library have gone one step further and made a summer reading challenge for us adults too!

Adults can need the push to read just as much, or sometimes even more so, than kids. And more importantly adults can learn something from these challenges too, which is exactly what the NYPL’s is about, with their theme ‘Build a better world’.

The last year or so has been scary, we’ve seen the rise of far right-wing groups become mainstream and normalised and politics has taken a swing towards conservatism and nationalism. There have been riots and protests, there have been a series of terrorist attacks and there has been a rise of intolerance in the wake of Trump’s election and Brexit.

So ‘building a better world’ is an important idea and the NYPL captures this with the three strands of the challenge. Check these out below with what I’ll be reading for the challenge this summer.


New York Public Library Reading Challenge: Build a Better World

Read a book …

About immigrants or refugees: Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Madeleine Thien - Do Not Say We Have NothingAi-Ming is a refugee, fleeing China after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The book explains not only her story but the epic history of China’s revolutions. While the book deals with the horrors of a communist uprising, revolution and rule – it illustrates the dangers of any kind of extremist movement, something we need to keep in mind especially in 2017.

About an unlikely friendship: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Theboyinthestripedpyjamas

A Jewish boy in a conentration camp is befriended by the son of a Nazi Commandant. The boys are too young and innocent to understand the divide between them. Obviously the Holocaust itself is a testament to the horrors that hate can cause, however this book is poignant reminder of just how terrible the effects can be, but also a heartwarming glimmer of light that humanity can still be good, and we can learn a lesson from these children.

That’s nonfiction, about an issue that’s important to you: Nasty Women33022718._UY2339_SS2339_

When Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a ‘nasty woman’ he had no idea what he was starting. The words have become a hashtag, a global movement and a call to arms for feminists everywhere. This book collects essays on the issues that affect women today, with different perspectives covering a huge range of intersectional issues.

What are you going to be reading for the Summer Reading Challenge? Let me know in the comments!

Summer Reading List

What makes the perfect summer reading list?

You want books that transport you to exotic places, adventures, maybe some summer romance. Whether you are into mysteries or fantasy, there are definitely certain types of books that are perfect on the beach, or a rainy British summer indoors!

Checkout my picks for this summer:

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Released at the beginning of June this will be the hot topic of the summer – I read a lot of it on my first really hot day off. I have also just moved near to the beach which was the perfect place to read this.

The Girls

The cover of this screams summer and makes you think of Polaroids, aviator sunglasses and road trips in pastel blue cars – like pretty much every summer music video ever. Even better the book takes us back to the summer of ’69 – I feel a soundtrack coming on.

How to Stop Time 

Haig’s book is released on 6th July and sounds like the perfect holiday read – who doesn’t wish they could stop time over summer? This book will take us on a heady journey through all the best moments of literature and history and is all about losing and finding yourself – one for the traveller perhaps?

Pride and Prejudice 

This summer is the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death so you really need to read an Austen novel this summer – and with all of the garden walks and country picnics what could better represent the British summer? I will be listening to Rosalind Pike’s narration of Pride and Prejudice and possibly perusing Lucy Worsely’s new book Jane Austen at Home.

The Final Girls

A college girl goes on vacation and comes back alone. This could well be the thriller of the summer. Watch out for its release in July.

Treasure Island

Shame on me. I have never read this classic adventure. But it is the book featured by this season’s Happy Reader magazine so I figured I can set sail on the high seas and try both the book and magazine. And my new coastal location gives me the perfect setting to be reading this in.

Big Little Lies

The TV series has been making waves so it seems to be the perfect time to catch up if, like me, you haven’t read the book. All of the promo for the series screams summer to me – bright colours, shots on beaches – I’m imagining soccer moms holding pitchers at BBQs, I may be wrong but this feels like a pretty summery read.

Burning Girl

Released in August, this is a coming of age tale about two girls in a quiet town in Massachusetts. When you are a teenager summer can feel like time is on pause before you grow up, and so the release of this book could finally signal that September is here.

Sing, Unburied, Sing 

This has been described as brining the archetypal road trip novel into the 21st Century which makes it a perfect late summer read when it is released in August. The burnt orange and ice blue hues on the cover make me think of the relief of ice cream and swimming pools in scorching summers.

Are you struggling to make your own summer list? Feel free to steal mine or check out my top tips for picking summer reads.

Bailey’s Prize Round Up

Tomorrow evening will see the winner of the 2017 Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction announced and the book community is buzzing with excitement. Now that I’ve read a handful of the shortlisted books, let’s take a final look at the contenders and who my money is on to win.

The Dark Circle

Linda Grant tells the story of two Jewish teenagers confined to a Sanatorium for tuberculosis in the late 40s/early 50s. Unfortunately this book really wasn’t my cup of tea, I couldn’t get on board with the style, which was odd and jarring, or the plot, which seemed non-existent as not much happens. Perhaps its just individual taste, as grant is a previous winner of the prize, however for me this definitely doesn’t compete with some of the others on the shortlist.

The Sport of Kings

Morgan’s epic is a multi-generational saga of the American South.  I didn’t get the chance to read this one but from the book chatter that I’ve heard it seems interesting, however looking at the odds and the lack of people raving about it, I feel like it seems unlikely to win.

Stay With Me

I loved this book. The story is of a Nigerian woman and the pressure she faces, from herself, her family, and society, to have children –  and the consequences this pressure has. It was beautifully written, emotive, harrowing and heartbreaking. Odds-wise it is also high in the running and I would be happy if this won.

First Love

The story of a woman’s marriage to an older man, First Love is one I actually chose not to read, based on a some not-so-great responses, and some reviews which really didn’t sell it to me. The premise seems interesting but it sounds like it wasn’t brilliantly executed and so I think it probably isn’t likely to be a winner.

The Power

This is my favourite book. Not just on the shortlist, of all time; it has pretty much usurped The Great Gatsby (the ultimate English Grad cliche) and I have been raving about it to anyone who will listen because it is amazing, radical, revolutionary and I think everyone needs to read it. This isn’t just me on my soapbox – the buzz around this book is huge.  I’m excited that it has the best odds to win, and I would be ecstatic if it does because it truly deserves to.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

At the time of writing I’m still reading this, but it is a truly beautiful, engaging and expansive novel. It is simultaneously wonderfully written and also very easy to ready – which are two things that don’t often go together. it is incredibly immersive and the elements of Chinese culture, history and language are fascinating. Again,  I definitely wouldn’t be disappointed if it won.

If you haven’t yet guessed my favourite to win it’s The Power, and while I would be pretty disappointed if this doesn’t win, I would also be happy if either Thien or Adebayo’s books did. Thankfully, the two main contenders according to the bookies are The Power and Stay with Me, so my fingers are crossed for tomorrow night! Don’t miss the announcement tomorrow to find out who the winner is.

Review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

4-stars

Arundhati Roy’s second novel has been long awaited, coming 20 years after her first. This highly anticipated book will have garnered high expectations from fans, and for me it didn’t disappoint.

This novel is expansive, exploring geographical issues surrounding Kashmir, the religious tensions in the region, ideas of revolution, gender identity, and identity politics in general – all issues which couldn’t be more relevant or important in 2017.

Anjum is a ‘hijra’ a term used to describe transgender women in South Asia. The novel depicts her life and struggle, and where her life intersects with others who are outcast, alone or in need of a home.

Anjum bridges the gap between Muslims and Hindus, between old and young, men and women, Indian and Kashmiri, through Jannat’s Guest House, which she gradually builds from a tin shack in a Delhi graveyard. The novel seems to be haphazard, jumping in narrative voice and focalisation. However, eventually these strands do pull together to meet, making the novel complete, whole and rewarding.

Roy’s prose is utterly exquisite, and the presence of India behind the novel isn’t just a ‘character’ in the way we sometimes metaphorically speak of the depictions of countries and cities in books. Roy very literally makes Delhi real, living and breathing; a ‘thousand year old sorceress, dozing but not asleep, even at this hour.’ Passages such as this one are the kind of literature that takes your breath away, which you reread over and over.

Despite being 20 years in the making, it feels as though the novel lives in the here and now. It preaches tolerance in the light of religious and transgender persecution, something which has never been more relevant with the rise of extremist politics in the last year. It presents an India in the age of video and selfies – with the videos on phones that characters obsess over mirroring an age obsessed with live streaming and on the go access.

For me the only fault lay in that the multiple narratives and wide-ranging nature made the book feel less polished than it could have and a bit like hard-work, to keep track and keep up with all the different strands of the story. But even this didn’t ruin such a beautiful novel, which not only evoked a sense of India, but managed to balance the death, suffering and misery, that features all of the way through, with kindness, tolerance and hope.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness couldn’t have arrived on our shelves at a better time and I hope Roy’s novel inspires some of the sentiments that she achieves in her novel.


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Image from Amazon. 

The Late Shows

The Late Shows are a series of arts and culture events that happen across Newcastle and Gateshead over two night ever May. Dozens of venues in different locations participate, opening their doors later than usual to invite the public in to see, listen, make create and participate in any number of different activities.
There is literally something for everyone, whether you are a music lover, a fine art buff, or like to get stuck in. I’m the latter kind so my first stop was to Newcastle City Library which was hosting some glass painting upstairs, while a range of performances were going on downstairs.
I arrived a bit early and got caught up in the prep so ended up staying here a lot longer than planned. The glass painting, which was a communal effort, with everyone doing sections of a large Angel of the North, was really fun, and the classical performances on in the background were actually super relaxing, even though it isn’t what I would normally listen to.
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When I finally finished up here I popped next door to the Laing Art Gallery where there was music in the bar and watercolour painting. Obviously I dived straight into painting, getting experimental with the effects of clingfilm and salt on the paint, and making friends with the lovely student who ran the session.
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From here I hopped on a very handy shuttle bus over to the Biscuit Factory where I had a look round their new Summer exhibition. This gallery specialises in textile, sculpture and jewellery so it feels more like browsing a fancy shop than serious art, but it is all exquisite.
Stepping across the road took me to their sister venue, The Holy Biscuit, where there was a printmaking exhibition and demonstrations. Obviously I tried this out, making a gorgeous print whose design was based on two sycamore seeds.
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A wander further down into Ouseburn took me to my last spot of the night, Northern Print. It was the first time I had ever been in and it was wonderful! I browsed the shop, and the prints around the studios, and took part in two activities – one was letter press printing and the other was drypoint etching. These activities were all based around ourselves – portraits and how we define ourselves, which was a lovely touch to the takeaways.
I probably still had time to visit another venue after Northern Print however, it was getting late and with a journey home still to go, I called it a night. However, it was a fantastic night, and I came away with loads of things I had made and new experiences which were so much fun.
I met tons of different people on the way, from kids, to students, to older couples out for the evening. It was heartwarming to see so many people engaging in arts and culture across my city, and it was amazing that I did all of this, in four hours, for free!
Here’s to a great Late Shows 2017, and looking forward to next year already!

Review: Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Have you ever wondered what happens to minor characters in a play when they aren’t on the stage? Ever dreamed of a bit of back story?

Tom Stoppard’s Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead does exactly that –  but with a bit of a twist. The two minor characters – who serve minor purposes and achieve nothing in the play, exist only for the play. So rather than backstory, we get existential crisis and a whole lot of comedy.

Radcliffe was made for the stage and is a hilarious presence as the Rozencranz who is so lost and confused that he doesn’t even remember which one of the two he is. Along  with a similarly statured Joshua McGuire, the two men are dwarfed by the expansive stage, compounding their smallness and insignificance.

This production was the 50th Anniversary production of the original play. I can’t vouch as to whether it has done it justice, because it is the first time I have ever seen it. However, for a play that is so clever, intellectual and complex, it was abundantly clear in its purpose and it’s comedy – with the fast-paced interactions between the two eponymous characters always witty, humorous and never missing the mark.

The hammed up production of Hamlet in the background was incredibly effective in achieving the meta-theatre the production aims to, and the ‘play-within-a-play-within-a-play’ was superbly achieved by the travelling players who acted out the fates of the poor protagonists. You might expect such complex, high-flying ideas to be mind boggling, however there was an accessible and easy simplicity in the comedy of these scenes.

You will need a working knowledge of Hamlet to really get anything out of this play, but that is just the nature of the beast. However, there is enough comedy in the physical acting and dialogue to allow you to relax, and enjoy it rather than treating the whole thing as an intellectual exercise.

The play equally has its elements of tragedy – these characters, who have no lives outside of the story they are confined to, face a not dissimilar crisis to anyone else who may feel they are trapped in a certain kind of life, or simply just lost without clear direction. The idea then that they are doomed to repeat this tragedy forever is almost heartbreaking – I nearly condemned Shakespeare for such callous treatment of the two men. Of course this is Stoppard’s crowning achievement – that his play is so emotive he draws such reactions out through a story which you know is not real, and which constantly tells you it’s not real. And hats have to be tipped to the two leads here who so brilliantly achieve this in their performance also.

Overall, this play does what all the best tragedies should: it makes you think. It also does what all the best comedies do: it stops you overthinking and makes you simply enjoy it. As a combination of the two it is the quintessential tragicomedy and this anniversary production is truly worthy of that title.

Review: Fever Dream

mbi2017-logo Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), and translated by Megan McDowell (US), is a Man Booker International Prize 2017 nominee.

4-stars

Fever Dream is more like a novella than a novel, but for its brief 151 pages it still packs a punch. The writing style is experimental and intriguing and it deals with some pretty big themes.

The novel opens with a women in the Emergency Room talking to a child although this is not immediately clear – the conversation allows their identities and the events that led to this moment. The style is unique, with the ‘child’s’ voice in italics, giving it an ethereal quality – making us question whether it is real.

It is difficult to review without giving away key details that make the novel so important, so here is as few spoilers as possible in looking at what the novel is about. The woman has taken her young daughter on holiday to a rental home where she meets Carla whose son was poisoned. This poisoning sets up a theme of environmental damage and also that of caring for children.

Schweblin evokes exactly the feeling that the title gives – like a feverish dream. The atmosphere is oppressive, with the interview-esque conversation being directed and redirected over small details. The nature of the conversation itself is a dream-like and as readers we constantly question the reality of it – is it a dream, can it really be occuring? Paired with the magical realism so popular in Latin American literature which the book employs, this truly makes the book feel illusive.

The book is uncomfortable and really makes you think and question about what you would do, or would be able to do in a similar situation. My only issue with the book was that it was so brief, I feel like perhaps it could have been fleshed out a little more to add dimension to the story. But it is also possible that the style would have been difficult to sustain over a longer book.

I very much enjoyed this book and I think it could be a real contender for the Man Booker International Prize.


I am reading Fever Dream with Book and Brew as one of the official Reading Groups for Everyone shadowing groups.

What to read for National Vegetarian Week

It’s National Vegetarian Week!

I have been a vegetarian for coming up 12 years for a myriad of reasons. It’s good for you, and the planet, it is cheaper and of course it is animal friendly.

Because being veggie is second nature to me, I’ve never really had to think about it, but for those who are looking to learn more this week – whether a lifelong veggie or a sceptic, here are picks of the best books on being vegetarian:

The Vegetarian

Han Kang’s Man Booker International Winner looks at how a woman in South Korea decides to become vegetarian. In the West this is a fairly simple choice but for Yeong-hye it becomes an almost political act.

The Jungle

This early 20th Century novel exposed the atrocities of the meat packing industry. The public outcry led to legislative reforms. At the centre of the novel is the story of immigrants who are exploited by this industry, showing the wider reaching effects of mass meat consumption.

Charlotte’s Web

This plucky little spider manages to save Wilbur, but for adults reading this, it simply drives home that there are plenty of other Wilburs who can’t be saved. If you have a soft spot for pigs, this might make you think twice about what you cook for tea tonight.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

In the future, everyone is vegetarian. This isn’t as far fetched as you think – scientists are developing ‘artificial meat’ that are being designed to ultimately replace animal meats, and it won’t be long before this is a cheaper and more sustainable alternative. In the book that inspired Blade Runner, real animals are coveted as pets – they are far too valuable to eat, and robotic replacements are made for those who can’t afford them. A dark possibility if we don’t start to conserve endangered species.

Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer explores exactly what it means to eat animals in an industrialised world. There are many implications of eating meat beyond killing animals, and Foer outlines the ramifications as he makes a highly personal decision to raise his son as a vegetarian. With significant emphasis on the stories connected to our relationships with food, this analysis is highly personal to us all.


These books show that being vegetarian is not just about animal rights, it also has social, political and environmental factors. Being vegetarian is a massively personal choice and not necessarily the right one, or the right one for everyone – like every diet, it has downsides too.

However, reading about these different issues can help us understand it that little bit more, and might even help inspire people to try it out for National Vegetarian Week!

1.3

Anne with an E: First Look

Anne of Green Gables is a beloved childhood memory for many people, so when Netflix announced that they would be doing an original series there was obviously a huge reaction. Many people felt that it needed to be done, others were outraged – no adaptation could match the book. However if it was going to be done, then who could do it better than Netflix with their huge successes in original series and adaptations in recent months?

Series 1 is now available on Netflix, so after seeing Episode 1, what first impressions can we take from this highly anticipated series?

It’s a lot darker than the books

Looking back, we should have guessed that there was more to Anne’s past than meets the eye. She turns up to the Cuthberts’ in a fair state and in the book it is just passed off that she’s a bit of an oddball and her desire to stay with the Cuthberts’ because asylums aren’t very nice. However in this adaptation Anne has a number of flashbacks which show her to be a victim of abuse at the hands of the previous family she ‘worked’ for. While this may be a bit serious and gothic for some, it definitely made it feel more real – suddenly her emotions make sense rather than seeming histrionic.

Anne is not quite so precocious 

The book Anne is frustratingly precocious to the point it becomes comedic. By bringing Anne down to earth a bit, her wild imaginings and ridiculous speeches becomes a lot more meaningful. She is just as heartwarming as ever, but she is also relatable and earnest. I wish I could have been like this version of Anne at 13. She also gets a much appreciated feminist update when she declares ‘girls can do anything boys can and more.’

Its pacy

Some of our favourite moments from Anne’s early days at Green Gables feel as though they are raced through immediately – however this might have something to do with the fact that Netflix has made the first episode a double one – lasting a full hour and thirty mins. I don’t really understand why since Netflix has proved that we like our viewing in short and many installments. My attention was wavering through this first one, and I can’t help but think I would have appreciated it split into two, to have Anne’s best slip-ups a little more spaced out.

It is aesthetically perfect

I was going to say aesthetically ‘stunning’ then I realised this wasn’t the right description. Green Gables is beautiful, scenes of Matthew riding through water are breathtaking and the contrast between the lovely present of Avonlea and Anne’s horrific past is on point. However there are some visual aspects which are less ‘stunning’ but which makes it all the more perfect. Anne is wonderfully presented as the thin, freckly, red-headed vain girl we all know and love and I am so glad because TV adaptations have a tendency to give appearances the Hollywood Treatment. Equally our first view of Diana shows a fairly real girl in her early teens. Neither have been altered, airbrushed or beautified and that’s ok because they are perfect just the way they are.


Overall, a pretty positive first look at a classic childhood story, I just hope that future episodes can relate the journey Anne goes through growing up and do the classic justice.