August round up

How has your August been? I hope you got some time on a break of some kind? I had about 10 days off work, and a couple of weekends away and I feel like we made the most of the time. We went to a festival, city break, a day in London, a day at the beach and tried to see friends and family as much as we could. It was good to get a change of scene but I do feel that lockdown has made me even less tolerant of crowds than I was before. Festival crowds I make an exception for, but others, no.

It’s been an odd month for reading. This last week I’ve been at home by myself while my hubbie and daughter are visiting my in-laws and I have really noticed how little I need to sit and read while they’ve been gone, how much reading counts as a recharge tool when I have to deal with juggling work, family, food shopping and school.

A Single Thread – Tracy Chevalier

This was an enjoyable and undemanding read. Centred around Violet Speedwell in the interwar years, A Single Thread is about embroidery! And women, faith and connection.

After the Great War took both her beloved brother and her fiancé, Violet Speedwell has become a “surplus woman,” but she doesn’t want to spend her time caring for her grieving, embittered mother. After countless meals of boiled eggs and dry toast, she saves enough to move out of her mother’s place and into the town of Winchester, and joins the broderers–women who embroider kneelers for the Cathedral, carrying on a centuries-long tradition of bringing comfort to worshippers.

The book is about Violet’s growing sense of independence and how this is threatened by convention and her own poverty. I enjoyed this – a solid book from Chevalier.

Victoria Park – Gemma Reeves

This was a really deftly written book – the interlinking stories of twelve people all living around Victoria Park in London. I liked how the chapters were like short stories, but also the connections between them and Reeves does not fall into the familiar trap of trying to explain everything or tie up all the loose ends. So you really get a snapshot of the families and occasional glimpses only. This was really good – I really enjoyed it.

Eight Perfect Hours – Lia Louis

The third book by my Twitter pal Lia and another well-written fun read. One snowy night, two strangers spend eight perfect hours together trying to keep safe in a motorway snowstorm. Are they made for each other? Will they ever see the other again? Well, a series of coincidences (or interventions by fate) mean that those questions are perhaps easy to answer but it’s a fun read and just what I needed after the next book.

The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes – Ruth Hogan

I really enjoyed Hogan’s first book, The Keeper of Lost Things, but I was put off by the twee name of this one. I eventually got it out of the library thinking I’d have a go at the tweeness. How wrong can one be? This had almost too much gloom and death, even for me. Good grief. The story focuses on Masha, who is grieving for her son who died many years before, and Masha’s life has not moved on – meaning those who care for her (parents, friends) have trouble moving on too. Clearly something happens that helps but it takes a lot for me to think there is too much death and grief in a book, and there nearly was in this.

I Carried a Watermelon – Katy Brand

Loved this. Katy Brand is a huge Dirty Dancing fan and this book is an examination of the film and its impact, with a hint of biography as she gets involved in the fanbase activities that surround the mid-80s hit. It sounds fluffy but there is a lot to unpick here, and some serious discussion to be had, not least around the representation of women, a discussion of class issues, and the abortion storyline. Brand gets to go to the real Kellermans, as well as the stage revivals, and has clearly done a lot of research. She writes well, so grab your popcorn and your BFFs, settle down to rewatch and then give this a read. It’s very good.

The Offing – Benjamin Myers

I hated this. It was a reading group choice, and I found it to be very badly written (NO ONE needs two metaphors in a sentence), dull and far too descriptive of things with no real reason. It had good reviews. The cover is lovely. Shame about the contents.

The Daughters of Cain, Death is Now My Neighbour and The Remorseful Day – Colin Dexter

A chance hearing of the Inspector Morse theme tune made me dust off the copies of the final Morse books I’ve had on my shelves for many years now. I was very fond of Morse and did him a beautiful black draped window display in Maidstone Waterstones when the final book was published, the hardback next to an upturned pint glass and a cracked Wagner CD case. But my goodness, how the books have dated. Or maybe I’ve just moved on a little. Although having said that, I remember always being slightly wary of the attitudes displayed towards women and the amount that all the characters seem to think / talk/ be motivated by sex. It is incredibly noticeable here. And slightly snobby in attitudes too, though I feel like I can forgive that in an Oxford detective. These are very carefully plotted, intricate and clue-based, in an old fashioned crime tradition.

Moments of Pleasure

Fish and chips on the beach. Paddling and jumping the waves. My daughter in a festival field, looking very much like her best, truest self. Seeing my best friend’s daughter and my daughter play and be affectionate together. Finding stimulation in being somewhere new, even if it does wear me out. A day out in Ely, having an explore. Eating huge quantities of garlic bread when my food-intolerance ridden husband was away. Plums. And Curzon Home Cinema’s app.

I mentioned above that having a few days to myself meant I didn’t want to read books as a retreat as much as usual, so I watched a load of films instead. While I love the cinema, it feels too expensive to go regularly and I’m at the mercy of the schedules, so the home cinema app means I can just stream some movies of my choice to the TV. I watched four films on the app, three of which were an hour and a half long. We must get back to making shorter films, it’s bloated Hollywood nonsense that has killed cinema. The fourth film was only two hours long because it was a Dickens adaptation and therefore had a lot of source material.

Anyway, I watched A Personal History of David Copperfield (4 1/2 stars – v enjoyable, even Tilda Swinton who I find alarming); Rare Beasts, Pig, and Nowhere Special. Some reviews below.

Pig

Nicholas Cage is an odd one isn’t he? Terrible acting in otherwise good movies to average acting in bad movies and once in a while he does something marvellous and understated. Pig is the latter. Cage plays a hermit wild man, living in the woods and earning his keep selling truffles with the help of his pig. When she is stolen one night after thieves break in and beat him up, Cage heads into Portland to find her. There, he has to confront the past. The film could have taken any number of paths but Pig turns out to be a quiet examination of grief and connection with a nice dig at poncey fashionable restaurant culture. Cage’s Rob is a man who has turned away from the world but is still capable of showing humanity when needed.

Nowhere Special

I know I said earlier that I was bothered by too much death, but when it’s handled like this, it can be just right. This is a heartbreaking film with some fantastic performances. James Norton plays a single dad in his early thirties who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and, having been through the foster care system himself, has no family to help. So the film is about him interviewing potential adoptive parents for his son, and in turn, him coming to terms with what will happen to them both. In the hands of lesser writers, directors or actors this could be very badly done, banging you over the head with the pathos of it. What we get instead is understated pain, very subtle acting and a beautiful portrayal of father-son relationships. I cannot recommend it highly enough, but have the tissues to hand. You’ll need them.

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