Lenny Abrahamson’s direction of Room, adapted by Emma Donoghue of her own 2010 novel of the same name, is masterful. It’s intimate, thrilling and heart wrenching.
Pete Snow is a social worker in the sticks of Montana. It’s cold, rugged, and bleak. The synopsis will tell you he deals with a family called the Pearls. Jeremiah is a survivalist who thinks the world is going to burn and his son, Benjamin, follows in his dads footsteps.
That is the basic narrative of Fourth of July Creek, but it’s only a quarter of it. As much as the story is about Pete and the Pearls, it’s about a few other families as well. I won’t go into much detail about his social work life, but like author Smith Henderson’s description of Montana, the lives these people lead are cold, rugged, and bleak.
David Shafer’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a techno thriller that will eventually be made into a Jason Bourne type film. Don’t think of the novel as Lee Child or Vince Flynn. This is a literary thriller; it’s not beautiful language, but it is descriptive and creative. It reads like you don’t expect it to, and it takes a while for it to develop.
Station Eleven is the best novel I have read this year. The 2014 genre-bending, post-apocalyptic, award-winning effort from Emily St. John Mandel was the seventh book I have read in 2015. Admittedly, I didn’t think it would be as good as it was, and I only picked it up because it was so highly recommended.
I don’t always trust reviews from critics; there is less frequency of trust when it comes to friends’ reviews. But I want you to take my word for it: Station Eleven is compelling, well-written, and poignant. It is a novel that you have to read.
If you’ve read anything about We Are Not Ourselves by newcomer Matthew Thomas, you know it’s about Alzheimer’s disease. No critic tried to hide that fact; furthermore, Barnes& Noble’s own description of it enlightens readers about the affliction. Well, that’s about half right.
The war in Iraq was monumental in my life. Not in the sense that I knew anybody who shipped off and never came back. It didn’t even give me a sense of patriotism pulsing though my body. They were just there, looming over my life in a post-9/11 world. I picked up Phil Klay’s short story collection Redeployment because I read a review claiming it was the first book to shed a light on these wars with a realness than no other writer has yet to capture.
I picked up Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You because I saw it on a few Best of 2014 posts and because of the publisher’s description of the novel. It tells us the first line of the novel. It’s a good first line: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”
The publisher’s description goes on to say the novel is an exploration into an Asian-American family in the 1970s. That the death of Lydia – a high school aged girl who is half Chinese (she inherited her father’s dark hair) and half full-blooded American (inherits her mother’s bright blue eyes) – was a catalyst for the unravelling of the family.
The Skeleton Twins wasn’t the best film I’ve seen this year, but it may be tied for the most influencing (Boyhood being the other). I jokingly said that I was about to watch the Adam and Ashley Story, joking that the two leads mirror the lives that my sister and I are currently in the middle of navigating. Take away a few plot points and get right down to the thematic basis for the characters and that’s what I mean.
Marvel films aren’t the best superhero films, and sometimes they’re not even the most entertaining superhero films. But there is a certain aura around them that makes them appeal to the masses. Fanboys get the inside jokes and obscure references to comics that the average viewer might not pick up on; however, they generally are likable enough for the masses to enjoy.
Guardians of the Galaxy had a lot of hype leading up to it. Chris Pratt is an extremely nice, funny guy who kills it as Andy on Parks and Recreation, but there was concern about how he’d do as a lead in a Marvel film. The good news is, that this isn’t a typical Marvel film. (In certain regards.) It’s has a witty comedic undertone that Iron Man tries to have, but has to pull away from because he is the central Avenger. Guardians is filled with losers from the galaxy who will never really save Earth. In fact, aside from the opening scene, Earth isn’t really mentioned all that much.
Pratt does an amazing job on his own, and if one thing lacks, it’s the emotional backgrounds given to the characters, including his leading Peter Quill. We’re told, but barely showed, why we should care about these losers becoming winners. A few loved ones died and a raccoon was genetically modified. It takes it away from being a great film, but your average viewer who is in it for graphics and action won’t notice, or care if they do notice.
What Guardians does right is that it doesn’t try to fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe too much. It is its own entity that feels more like Star Wars than it does Avengers. It’s a ragtag bunch of aliens trying to do some good in outer space. It doesn’t even feel like Thor, which has become problematic because the Norse god is involved heavily with humans. It definitely is splitting hairs calling this a space opera and not a superhero film, but that’s what it is.
What works in the film is especially the interaction between the group. It helps carry the film when plot holes pop up (like why doesn’t Groot come help Drax at one point midway through the film?). One of the highlights of the film centers on a prison break where the quartet show off all of their skills. It is a turning point in the film that really showcases how the group can work together.
If you’re a diehard Marvel film fan, this one will jump to the top of your favorites list. If you’re wishy-washy about superhero films, this one should definitely be a good one for you to try and like them again.
Herman Koch’s The Dinner (2013) is intriguing from the beginning. Sure, an entire story told through the course of a dinner is nothing groundbreaking, but the way Paul, the narrator, speaks to the reader is what makes this unique. He purposely omits details about the story at hand; the name of the restaurant, for example. Instantly he is seen as unreliable, but you grow to believe him as he spins his tale.
Paul Lohman is private and wearisome, yet his brother, Serge, is on the verge of being prime minister. The story promises to revolve around something that their two fifteen year old boys did, but that doesn’t come into play until much, much later. This book is a slow, laborious read. There are many pages spent describing the food and atmosphere of the restaurant. This doesn’t bother me as much as it does others, but I wish that Koch developed the characters’ problems earlier. There are passages that feel like if they were omitted then the pacing issues would be non-existent.
About halfway through the book is when everything finally becomes interesting. The plot moves quickly, and it’s rather refreshing. However, it feels rushed and we end up only get the slimmest of details. Perhaps this was to go in hand with Paul’s purposeful lack of narration, but I feel Koch just didn’t develop the gritty details enough. The action of the last half, especially the final act of the book, is boom-boom-boom. It left me wanting more, but not in a satisfactory way. In more of a, “wait-what?” way.
There were some points during my read that I felt that Koch’s beautiful prose was lost in translation from Dutch to English. It felt choppy at best during times I wanted the scenes to flow painlessly. However, Koch’s take on jumping back and forth in time to unfold a story was good. His jumps were always triggered by key moments and sometimes spent entire chapters on events that didn’t seem all that important until the rest of the story unfolded.
All in all, it’s a good read if you’re interested in dry drama and have a pension for rapid assault endings. If you’re looking for all out forceful novel a la Tom Clancy or Dan Brown, then this isn’t for you. Definitely a slow burner.