The New Moon’s Arms – Nalo Hopkinson (2007)

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Having frequently heard of Nalo Hopkinson as a sci fi/speculative fiction author, and since I was in the mood for that sort of read, I checked out this title from the library. (I’d also been looking for a good fiction read by a POC author as well, so this ticked that box very nicely as well.)

So, not quite sure what to expect since Hopkinson was a completely new author to me, the first chapter got off to rather a rough start. OMG. It was so confusing – people change names for no apparent reason, there’s magical realism (which I wasn’t expecting), and there are animals who might (or might not) be mermaids/merpeople in disguise. 

So, taking a deep breath and really liking how Hopkinson writes, I soldiered on and interestingly it all got sorted out by the end of the second chapter. So – heed this warning. That first chapter is worth sticking with as the plot sorts itself out in the end. (And I must admit – the fault may have been mine, but just in case…) 

To the book itself: The narrative arc follows a redemption story, really, with a pretty unlikable and prickly character (she who changes names in the first chapter) and what happens when she takes in a child she finds on the beach of her Caribbean (or similar) island. 

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Nalo Hopkinson. (Picture credit.)

Calamity (also called Chastity at certain parts) is dealing with two big situations at the moment. One is the death of her father (from whom she’s been estranged since her teenaged years) and the other is that whenever she has a hot flash due to menopause, her finger tips tingle and her long-lost childhood ability of finding lost things comes alive. The things found range from a blue and white plate from her childhood to an entire grove of cashew trees that materializes one day outside her house to the mysterious beach child with sea shells in his/her hair… 

At the same time as all this is going on, Chastity/Calamity’s also becoming more involved with the issue of the group of particular rare seals who live on one corner of her island home. She makes friends with a seal researcher and so throughout this narrative, there’s this collision (of sorts) between the roles and importance of science and myth, of magical realism and reality, of things unexplained by rational logic. 

Interestingly, there are collisions of other sorts as well: the protagonist has ongoing tussles with her relatives over various points; the arrival of the beach child causes concern for all when Calamity/Chastity decides to look after him/her; there’s discord between the protagonist and her father; there is the struggle at that point where the sea overlaps with the land, with science and magic… This turned out to be such a thoughtful read for me, so it was much than “just” magical realism/spec fiction. 

I’m not typically that huge a fan of magical realism, but this is mostly a straightforward drama with sprinkles of magic through in along the way, so I found it more palatable than I thought it was going to be. (I had it categorized as a broccoli book, but it was actually much better than that perception.)

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this read and thought that this was really a well-written book. One of the Goodread reviewers described the writing as almost liquid in a way, and that’s exactly how I viewed it. It’s a smooth read, like a stream running through rocks and roots – there are obstacles to face, but how they are handled by the characters runs really fluidly. 

This turned out to be really good read and I ended up completing it in two days (which is fast for me). I’m also convinced enough to look around and see what other library titles by Hopkinson are available. She’s that good. 

If you’re not familiar with Hopkinson, I recommend taking her work for a spin. It’s a deceptively easy read that will leave you with lots to think about. 

Screen Time – Dogs and a RomCom

Sometimes, you just sometimes want to chill in front of the television and do approximately not much, so that is exactly what we did the other weekend. We’d run out of energy by Friday, so sadly (in retrospect) we decided to watch the romcom, Rich Crazy Asians

I had little idea about the plot of the movie apart from that it was a romcom, so my expectations weren’t skyhigh – which was lucky as the movie was such predictable crud. Yes, there are lovely-to-look-at people and yes, it’s your basic Cinderella story, but honestly, that’s all it was. 

So, I rather regret using my time to watch this, as almost any other romcom would have done the job with this rather trite plot. Just now, I was just trying to work out who the target market would be for this film, and the most obvious audience would be teenagers and college students who, perhaps, haven’t seen a thousand romcoms with the same plot. And also, they still might believe in the fairy tale for real life. I’m not sure. 

I sound really grumpy, and I wasn’t really. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized my annoyance at wasting my time with this, but then I’m not really the target market so no surprise that it didn’t tick my boxes. Aah well. 

In contrast with that sad excuse of a movie, we also watched Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs (2018), a wonderful stop-motion (sci fi/spec fiction?) film set in Japan about a city mayor (or prefect) who puts the kibosh on dogs. After an outbreak of doggie flu, he believes that there are too many canines and so he starts in motion a campaign to move the dogs to an island for a permanent quarantine and then poison the rest. The plot follows the journey of a young boy who tries to find and then rescue his own dog. 

I’d briefly seen a trailer for Isle of Dogs at the cinema the other day, but the impression that it gave me was that it wasn’t a pleasant happy film, so I entered this movie with a bit of trepidation. (It was the SuperHero’s movie choice time.) In the end, it was really a good piece of work. I was really impressed. 

I have rather a hit-or-miss relationship with Wes Anderson since there are some of his movies with which I just haven’t clicked (e.g. The Royal TanenbaumsThe Grand Budapest Hotel), which was also another reason I was a little concerned about watching his latest. 

But, you know. I was so wrong about that. I just ended loving this film. It’s not a kids’ animation movie, for sure; instead, it’s a mature story with a stellar voice cast and an interesting plot line which was not predictable. (As you probably can see, I get annoyed by “boringly predictable” in movies sometimes.) And it was very fun trying to figure out who each of the characters were voiced by… (Such luminaries included Scarlett Johanssen, Edward Norton, Brian Cranston, Francis McDormand, Yoko Ono (!) etc.) 

What also intrigued me about this film was that it’s also based in Japan, and Anderson has the human characters only speaking in Japanese while the animals (mostly dogs) all speak in English. 

It’s been criticized by some as using cultural appropriation and being insensitive, but it’s also been supported by others who view it as an homage to Japan and Japanese culture, so it’s been a mixed bag. I think it really depends on your own individual interpretation as to which side of the fence the film falls on… There is, admittedly, some stereotypical cultural representation (such as taiko drummers, cherry blossom, a nuclear explosion, sumo wrestlers) but again, they were presented with grace as opposed to snark (at least to me). 

I can sympathize though because when I see an American (usually) film set in England, I can almost guarantee that it will have references to the soldiers who guard Buckingham Palace, the Queen/royalty, a cup of tea, and rain). However, I can usually see that the intention is not mockery most of the time, but rather a way to show admiration for England/UK/GB etc. I know that my home country is much more than these stereotypes, but in most of the cases, the actual intention is not malicious. 

I do admit that it gets a bit thorny when the racial aspect steps into the picture, but the Isle of Dogs didn’t focus on that. I’m not sure. It’s quite provocative when you think about it, and I’m really interested in how both Asian-Americans and people from Japan view the film’s portrayal of their country and culture. 

(Point to ponder: all the dogs (who end up saving the day) have obviously white people features and English/American accents. This doesn’t help the criticism that’s been offered that this movie relies on the idea of the “white savior” to save the world… Link with above note about the role role of race in the movie. Interesting to note though, isn’t it?)

Anyway, this was a really good film that assumed its viewers were intelligent enough to get its subtle humor and non-predictable narrative arc. I really enjoyed it. 

(One curious-cat question though: why does the young boy go around with a large metal screw sticking out of his head? And then why is there another screw added in his head towards the end? There’s no mention of it in the plot. Any ideas?)

The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough (1977)

Chatting with a friend about books (of course), she happened to mention the title of this 1977 best-selling multi-generational Australian novel that tracks the Cleary family as their lives play out at a fictional sheep station in the Outback and one that I had somehow missed during my teenaged years.

At this point (close to the end of the semester), I’m more or less brain-dead so I was looking for a non-complicated fairly straight-forward knife-through-butter read, and thus: The Thorn Birds was selected.

And, despite my rather low expectations for the quality of this read, it ended up being a very enjoyable multi-generational romp across this family’s history in Australia. (And if I’m honest, it was actually MUCH better than I had anticipated, so that’ll teach me to judge a book by its cover.)

Spanning the years 1915-1969 and crossing the world in its narrative arc, McCullough masterfully keeps control of the huge number of characters and events that make up this plot, and it’s written in such a way that despite this huge spread of variables, it wasn’t confusing at all. So – kudos should go to the author for that.

And even though the book is a complete and total beach read, it also happens to be very well written (apart from the odd printing typo here and there) and so that added to the overall experience as well. Oh, and it was nearly unputdownable at the same time. Really – the whole thing took me by surprise.

So briefly, the narrative follows the lives and times of Paddy Clearly, a new Irish immigrant who’s landed in Australia as a farm worker. It’s Paddy and his (many) descendants who form the core of the character line-up in the story, and although I was a bit concerned about keeping everybody straight at the beginning, there was very little confusion as to who was doing what when to whom, a fact that really impressed me as I turned the last page.

So, if you’re in the market for a good old-fashioned straight-forward and compelling beach read this summer, this title would be a good choice for you. It’s easily available (thus cheap and easy to get a copy), it’s well written, and if you’re like me, you’ll gradually become more and more invested in how the lives of several generations of the Cleary family turn out.

This was a fun read, completely outside my usual selection but good nevertheless. Perfect for the almost-summer-vacation brain that I have at the moment. 🙂

A Silver-Plated Spoon – John, Duke of Bedford (1959)

I seem to be rather enamored with biographies and autobiographies at the moment, and so, as part of my goal of reading more from my own TBR, I pulled this title down from the shelf. I had found this volume at one of the FoL book sales, and bought it as I was intrigued by (a) the fact that I remember being taken for several visits to this guy’s family (and stately) home as a child, and (b) I was also curious about the reason why it had shown up in West Texas, 5,500 miles away from the place it described. 

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book, and it turned out in the end, I was actually pretty impressed with how proficiently it was written and the author’s witty sense of humor. (Very dry.) 

I grew up in Bedford, a middle-sized market English town that has a history of hundreds of years. Despite many years being educated there, I was still pretty ignorant about some of its local historical figures (this family being one). However, I’d wondered about this family title (Duke of Bedford), and since they also lived in the same county (I think), what their connection was to the town of Bedford. This read clarified all that for me.

John, the Duke of Bedford author, writes a fairly straightforward recounting of his family’s long history. His family records can take his descendants back for hundreds of years with a fairly constant peripheral relationship with the royalty of the time. (A few queens and kings even stayed the night in their ancestral home, Woburn Abbey, which fascinated me. How on earth would you prepare your house for an overnight stay of the Queen?) 

So, there’s a lot of family and local history retold in this book – interesting for me, but perhaps not so interesting for others with no connection to the area. I was impressed with the fact that the Russell family (who make up the Duke connection) had kept accurate records of their ancestors for so many years and, having watched my father labor for years over our own (slightly more modest) family tree, was well aware of how much work tracing such a personal history can be for someone dedicated to the cause. 

John’s (the Duke in question) childhood had been isolated and he had had a lonely upbringing with a very distant father (personally speaking). However, John doesn’t seem to hold a huge grudge towards his parent (although he certainly doesn’t give him much slack), and so the majority of the book puts a lot of focus on how much he (and his wife) have worked on turning his stately home into a profitable concern instead of the partly ruinous mound of bricks that his earlier relatives had left to molder. I really appreciated how this Duke had seen the value in renovating the large house whilst also keeping it historically accurate. (It was very sweet actually.) 

So, this was an interesting interlude going back in time for an important local family from the area where I grew up. (Curiously, their family’s link to Bedford is not with my nearby market town of the same name. It’s to do with some real estate in Bedford Square in the City of London.) 

This was actually a far better read than I had anticipated, and I’m glad that the title had somehow made it onto the TBR (and now it’s off!). 

The question now remains: what title to read next? 

Woburn Abbey.

April 2019 – Reading Review

The reads for April 2019 included:

So — to the numbers:

  • Total number of books read in April 20195.
  • Total number of pages read 1,599 pages (av. 319). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction.
  • DiversityPOC. 2+ books by women. (The + is because I read a couple of anthology-type books which included both male and female authors.) 
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned books and e-books.

Plans for May include continuing the POC author/topic focus and my focus on my own TBR.  And summer break! 🙂

A Book of One’s Own: People and their Diaries – Thomas Mallon (1984)

Found this older book edition on the TBR the other day when I was bibbling around, and being in the exact right mood for diaries (someone else’s – not mine!), I pulled this off the shelf. I had originally expected to read an anthology of different diaries from different people in different years, but when I got into this read, I realized that it was more academic and organized than I had thought. 

Thomas Mallon, Ph.D., is (or was?) faculty at Vassar College who teaches in the Department of English, and I’m thinking that this book was probably part of a tenure requirement packet. Saying that though doesn’t imply that I thought less of it, by any means, but it was surely a more serious read than I had prepared for. This was fine in the end, but it did need a mind shift to get there after the first few pages.

So, this was not the book that I had thought I was going to read, but it turned out to be really interesting all the same. It was still a book about diaries, but the contents were organized thematically (as opposed to by author or time period) and so the usual suspects that typically make diary-related anthologies were also supplemented by less well-known ones as well, which was an enjoyable extra. 

Each chapter was called a large thematic title (e.g. Chroniclers, Pilgrims, Prisoners, Confessors etc.) and it was pretty interesting to read how the author had grouped the diary entries. Additionally, the book was more than just selected authors. It was also quite an academic treatise on the history of diaries (and those who wrote them), on the trends and patterns of diary-keeping, and on the many situations in which people have written them. 

So, the contents included Samuel Pepys, but also Parson James Woodforde (The Diary of a Country Parson, 1758-1802); of Jerome K. Jerome’s Diary of a Pilgrimage along with the travel diary of 15-year-old Miss Julia Newberry who was dragged across a long tour of mainland Europe with her incredibly rich American mother; the journals of Pope John XXIII and author Annie Dillard… 

Curiously, I was most interested in the diaries completed by people who were imprisoned in some way, physically or mentally, whether fairly or unfairly so. Anne Frank is in there, but so is Hitler’s “master architect”, Albert Speer and his diary, Spandau

(Being a big fan of 1980s English music, I naturally thought of the old group, Spandau Ballet, and wondered if their band name was anything to do with this Speer’s Spandau, but disappointingly, the group name only arose from when a friend of theirs saw it written on a wall in Berlin on a weekend trip. Huh. 

And then digging a little deeper, it turns out that Spandau is the name of an old town near Berlin. The actual prison was there until it was demolished in 1987, after its final prisoner, Rudolf Hess, had died. The prison was demolished to prevent it becoming a neo-Nazi shrine. Well, well. Now you know.)

Back to the book at hand: there are all sorts of lesser-known diarists here which I’ve noted for further perusal: William Allingham (1824-1889), a rather sad and lonely guy who was on the very edge of the Pre-Raphaelites (such as Tennyson). Arthur Crew Inman (1895-1963) wrote ten million words (no exaggeration) who led a very quiet life in Boston, but longed to talk with interesting people. He even put a newspaper ad out that asked “for interesting people to talk” with, each paid 75 cents/hr to tell their stories to old Arthur as the visitor sat in front of a black curtain with Arthur sitting behind it. (Nope. Not weird at all. No sirree bob.)

A female partner to old Arthur would be Eve Wilson, whose words comprise The Notebooks of a Woman Alone (1935). Eve worked on the edge of poverty as a governess, and whose real life seems to echo that of the single middle-aged women who were the protagonists of mid-century authors such as Margaret Forster and Anita Brookner et al. You know – Eve really reminded me Brian Moore’s character in The Lonely Passion of Miss Judith Hearne (1955). 

So, lots of food for thought in this read and lots of other breadcrumb trails to chase after for future reads. The author seemed to be pretty erudite and witty in the end, and I enjoyed this one. Plus – one more off the old TBR. 

Other diary-related reviews include:

The Diary of a Nobody – Weedon Grossmith and George Grossmith (1888)

Diary without Dates – Enid Bagnold (1917)

Diary of a Provincial Lady – E.M. Delafield (1930)

The Assassin’s Cloak: An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diaries – Irene Taylor & Alan Taylor (2001)

The Country Diaries – Alan Taylor (ed.)

New arrivals at JOMP

I’ve had a few new titles turn up on the doorstep at Chez JOMP, so thought I’d let you see what they were. (I always try to be a good host. 🙂 )

(Note: Each description has been lifted from the Amazon page for each title.) 

Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and their Surprising Rise to Power – Anna Merlan. (NF)

A riveting tour through the landscape and meaning of modern conspiracy theories, exploring the causes and tenacity of this American malady, from Birthers to Pizzagate and beyond. (Hat tip to What’s Nonfiction? for bringing this title to the top for me.)

The Thrill of It All – Joseph O’Connor (F)

At college in 1980s Luton, Robbie Goulding, an Irish-born teenager, meets elusive Fran Mulvey, an orphaned Vietnamese refugee. Together they form a band. Joined by a cellist and her twin brother on drums, The Ships in the Nightset out to chase fame. But the story of this makeshift family is haunted by ghosts from the past. (Interestingly (for me), I happened to grow up pretty close to Luton and I must admit – there are not that many books written about this place. So I’m curious to read it and see what he has to say about it.)

The Secret Life of Cows – Rosamund Young (NF)

At her famous Kite’s Nest Farm in Worcestershire, England, the cows (as well as sheep, hens, and pigs) all roam free. They make their own choices about rearing, grazing, and housing. Left to be themselves, the cows exhibit temperaments and interests as diverse as our own. “Fat Hat” prefers men to women; “Chippy Minton” refuses to sleep with muddy legs and always reports to the barn for grooming before bed; “Jake” has a thing for sniffing the carbon monoxide fumes of the Land Rover exhaust pipe, and “Gemima” greets all humans with an angry shake of the head and is fiercely independent.

Perfect English Grammar – Grant Barrett (NF)

Language learners of all levels can turn to this easy-to-navigate grammar guide again and again for quick and authoritative information. From conjugating verbs to crafting sentences to developing your own style, Grant Barrett provides you with the tools and motivation to improve the way you communicate.

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (F)

At its simplest, Anna Karenina is a love story. It is a portrait of a beautiful and intelligent woman whose passionate love for a handsome officer sweeps aside all other ties – to her marriage and to the network of relationships and moral values that bind the society around her. The love affair of Anna and Vronsky is played out alongside the developing romance of Kitty and Levin, and in the character of Levin, closely based on Tolstoy himself, the search for happiness takes on a deeper philosophical significance. (Thought this would be a good summer project.) 

Milkman – Anna Burns (F)

In an unnamed city, middle sister stands out for the wrong reasons. She reads while walking, for one. And she has been taking French night classes downtown. So when a local paramilitary known as the milkman begins pursuing her, she suddenly becomes “interesting,” the last thing she ever wanted to be. Despite middle sister’s attempts to avoid him―and to keep her mother from finding out about her maybe-boyfriend―rumors spread and the threat of violence lingers. Milkman is a story of the way inaction can have enormous repercussions, in a time when the wrong flag, wrong religion, or even a sunset can be subversive. Told with ferocious energy and sly, wicked humor, Milkman establishes Anna Burns as one of the most consequential voices of our day.

Inside the Kingdom – Robert Lacey (NF about Saudi Arabia)

Assesses the paradoxical nature of modern Saudi Arabia to explain the clash between contemporary technology and a powerful religious establishment grounded in thousand-year-old traditions, exploring events in recent history that have brought about current conflicts.

Plus – the annual summer read of the AP Style Manual. 🙂


Screen Time…

So, as sometimes happens, we’ve been sucked into a few really good TV series, mostly Netflix and all good. Not my typical fair, but as I’ve learned, different can be good. 


First up was the Netflix documentary series on the Formula One racing season. Called Formula 1: Drive to Survive, it chronicles one cut-throat season of Formula One racing by following eight of the 10 Formula One teams as they compete around the worldwide circuit. This was utterly fascinating and engrossing for me. 

I know. I am as surprised as you are at the level of interest this series created for me and the SuperHero. I’m not usually an avid follower of Formula One, had little knowledge of the sport and even less knowledge about the cars, but by following the documentary team as they shadow the different teams, the more that we learned about the drivers and the sport, the more interesting it became. 

(You may not know this, but I must have been a former Formula 1 driver in my past life at some point. If I happen to catch it on, I love watching it. I know, weird, but there you go.)

So, as the episodes pass, we as viewers were pulled into this elite world of professional very focused racing drivers and learned about the top teams and how they fare. I just loved it. Honestly, if you are interested in a fast-moving highly demanding sport with drivers with fight-to-win personalities, you’ll like this series. We got just sucked right in.

(AND – get this. I happened to be working out at the university rec center, when I noticed that one of the car license plates in the car park happened to be “HAAS-F1”. Haas is the name of the F1 racing teams who compete in the F1 Series. There’s only ten teams total. Small worlds.)

On a different topic (but still good), we’ve been caught up in the series called Hanna. IMDb calls it a cross between a high-concept thriller and a coming-of-age drama, and the plot revolves around the life of an unusual young woman raised in the forest by her father. The series tracks her journey to discover the truth about her life while avoiding a focused CIA agent out to kill her. 

Again, another out-of-the-box series for me, but this is also really riveting. Plus, she is a kick-ass young woman who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Can’t wait to see how this ends up… (She reminds me of Katniss or perhaps the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo character in some ways in terms of how tough she is.)

Speaking of women with unusual lives, we also blew through the PBS’ series of Mrs. Wilson, a three-part program from the BBC. As always, high production values and a story that just gets stranger and stranger by the minute. This is actually a true story inspired by the lead character’s real-life grandmother’s diary which makes it even more interesting. (The true story bit is so circular and spiral, that you wonder whether anything else can possibly happen – and then it does.) 

Protagonist Alison Wilson believes that she is happily married in 1960s London until her husband dies, and another woman arrives at her house claiming to be Alec’s wife. What the heck…? And are there any more of secret Alec-related families? Who was Alec really?

What is true? What is false? It’s hard to find out, but it’s another riveting story (based on fact), and now I’m interested in tracking down the original source material online somewhere. Honestly, this was another winner in the TV world.

My advice would be to binge-watch this so that you can keep the complex narrative arc sorted out in your head. Just saying…

And then, someone at work found a streaming live-cam of a kitten rescue placeso all week, we’ve been keeping an eye on this batch of four (maybe five?) kittens and their incredibly patient mother. So entertaining… 

Life has been pretty darned good lately. I hope you can say the same.