Book review: The Blair Witch Project by Peter Turner (2014)




Part of a book series that examines important and influential horror films. A short read at 95 pages. I've commented on Pete's UK based site I Love That Film for a few years now, which is how I heard about the publication of his first book. He is currently working on a found footage horror PhD.

The book is well-researched and he relies on multiple sources at his disposal. Clearly he is passionate about The Blair Witch Project and could talk about it for hours. Perhaps due to budgetary reasons, the publication lacks new interviews with the cast and crew of the film. The middle section of the book became a little too bogged down in academic technicalities, these paragraphs about camera movements and so forth may only appeal to the ardent horror fan.

The opening third of the book is the most entertaining and accessible, with insights about the production of the film. For example that the iconic framing of the top half of Heather's face (see book cover above) was a happy accident as the actress had thought she had shot her entire face. The most surprising revelation to me was how the directors actually directed from afar. They left milk crates with supplies and notes at location spots, which you can read more about in the book. Another interesting revelation is the dialogue is improvised, the actors should be given more credit than you'd think. The last third about the representation of women and the film’s marketing/reception/legacy is satisfying as well. Enough time has passed so comparisons can be made to other found footage films.

An enjoyable read, which has given me a new appreciation for The Blair Witch Project and how it was made. If the goal was to persuade me to rewatch the movie, then the book succeeded. Recommended for those interested in the film.

80s Thursday - Best songs of 1980 (part 9) (female singers)




Album: Come Upstairs by Carly Simon 
Listen to:
Jesse




Album: Romance Dance by Kim Carnes 
Listen to:
More Love (The Miracles cover)






Album: 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs by Dolly Parton
Listen to: 
9 To 5





Album: These Days by Crystal Gayle 

Songs from this album are part of my childhood so I can't be objective

Listen to:
If You Ever Change Your Mind
What A Little Moonlight Can Do (originally sung by Billie Holiday)
Too Many Lovers
You've Almost Got Me Believin'





Album: Coal Miner's Daughter soundtrack
Listen to: 
There He Goes sung by Sissy Spacek (Patsy Cline cover)






Best songs of 1980 (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6) (part 7) (part 8) (part 9) (part 10) (part 11) (part 12) (part 13)



2016 Blind spot series: Weird Science (1985)





Directed and written by John Hughes. Coming of age comedy/fantasy/science fiction. A film where you have to suspend your disbelief and just run with it in order to enjoy the movie.
Has its touching John Hughes moments, especially in the smaller human interactions which I wish there were more of. For the most part, the story is over-the-top and the screenplay has a number of contrivances. Sports cars appearing out of thin air, the computer gaining extra power just by a phone call, a smashed up house is fixed miraculously.
I prefer when John Hughes goes for something down to earth in films such as The Breakfast Club (1985), Uncle Buck (1989), and Pretty in Pink (1986).
I can go along with the woman is created from a computer, but Lisa having all these super powers is just too much and why are the teenagers attracted to a woman who is much older? This movie is just bonkers and really the title is quite fitting. The humour is juvenile and maybe if I was 14 years old I might like it more than I do now. In almost every scene, Anthony Michael Hall has an open-mouthed expression of surprise on his face, which is too repetitive.  It’s watchable if you like John Hughes. The Oingo Boingo title track is not bad, but the story and soundtrack are not as great as other films by the writer/director. The life lessons are there amidst all the craziness.


Favorite quote:
Lisa: “You had to be big shots didn't you. You had to show off. When are you gonna learn that people will like you for who you are, not for what you can give them”

Monthly links from the blogosphere





Film:
Alex at And So it Begins: Top 10 Films of 2015

Mariah at aspaceblogyssey on BEST & WORST MOVIES OF 2015

The Vern on his Top 10 Movies of 2015

Shala on The Best Film of 2015, According to

Pete at I Love That Film Steven Knight Interview Working with Tom Hardy on Locke

Tips From Chip and Courtney at Film Vibes on The Revenant (2015)

Dan at top10films and Lisa Thatcher on Star Wars The Force Awakens

Steve Aldersley and niels85 agree with me The Hateful Eight is not Tarantino's best work

TSorensen on The Searchers (1956)

Dave's Movie Site reviewed Girlhood

Ruth at Flixchatter and Stephanie at Eclectic Scribblings on the late Alan Rickman

Wendell at Dell on Movies watched Mad Max Fury Road

Nostra loved his first blind spot of the year The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)

Mark at So It Goes on The Rack Pack (2016), about snooker in the 70s and 80s

Zach on his Top 10 Documentaries of 2015

Josh lists his Top 25 older films watched during 2015

Chris(!) wrote about his favorite older films watched in 2015


Music:
Fisti reviewed David Bowie's final album Blackstar

Surrender to the Void shared Great Moments in Film Featuring the Music of David Bowie

Derek at The Past and The Pending on his Top 50 Songs of the Year

1537 and Michael Parent paid tribute to Lemmy from Motörhead

Stephen at 1001 albums in 10 Years on his Top 5 London Songs

Getter on her top 10 songs of 2015

Sati shares 10 best film tracks of 2015

Cameron Crowe remembers The Eagles' Glen Fry


Other:
Jaina at Time Well Spent had fun camping Bahrain style

C at Sun Dried Sparrows shares memories of hitchhikers

Robert's Most Anticipated TV of 2016

80s Thursday - Best songs of 1980 (part 8) (female singers)




Album: American Gigolo soundtrack
Listen to:
Call Me by Blondie






Album: Rock Hard Suzi Quatro
Listen to:





Album: Joan Jett by Joan Jett 
Listen to:
Touch Me (Gary Glitter cover)
Bad Reputation






Album: Autoamerican by Blondie 
Listen to:
Rapture
The Tide Is High (The Paragons cover)
Europa (instrumental)





Album: Protect the Innocent by Rachel Sweet 
Listen to:
Tonight
Jealous (Robert Palmer cover)





Best songs of 1980 (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6) (part 7) (part 8) (part 9) (part 10) (part 11) (part 12) (part 13)


Top 10 albums of 2015




The ranking of these albums keeps changing every week. To be honest, I don't want to set in stone which is #1 or #5 and so on, because they are all good in different ways. Instead I'll just share the ten albums that meant the most to me from 2015:






To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

Hip hop. Influenced by aspects of funk, jazz and spoken word. I'm actually surprised that this type of fast-paced and wordy hip hop is among the year's biggest sellers. Having said that, does have some stellar moments and I think holds up extremely well to repeat plays. The album will likely still be relevant 20 years from now.
"Wesley's Theory" is a great opener that could have been a single, the lyrics deal with learning the difference between lust and love and how the media targets successful African-American entertainers who never learnt to manage money or celebrity. "The Blacker the Berry" is a powerful cry for race equality and for the black community to look within itself. On the danceable "These Walls" he delivers a fine vocal performance, you could interpret the sugar walls as escape and real walls as obstacles. "King Kunta" is maybe catchiest offering but not in an annoying way. "For Free? (Interlude)" could be a statement on how music is free today and the repercussions of that.  Lamar said "Alright" was inspired by his trip to South Africa, witnessing other people's problems, the track opens with lines from Alice Walker's The Color Purple “All my life, I had to fight”. A critic described "How Much a Dollar Cost," as a song about grace, and "i," a song against self-harm.
Kendrick Lamar attempts to make sense of the world and there's an underlying call for action and not just going with the flow.

Listen to: King KuntaWesley's TheoryThe Blacker the BerryThese WallsiAlright,






Currents by Tame Impala

Synthpop. A departure from the bands psychedelic rock sound. Kevin Parker finds himself experimenting with synthesizers. Thematically, the record is about the process of personal transformation, which many critics interpreted to be the result of a romantic break-up.

Listen to: Yes Im ChangingThe Less I Know The Better, Let It HappenThe MomentNew Person Same Old Mistakes, LoveParanoiaEventuallyPast Life







Depression Cherry by Beach House 

Dream pop. Good from start to finish. Songs work well as a cohesive whole. Goes for atmosphere, but I admit there aren’t any big hits. A change of pace compared to 2012’s Bloom, which went for a rockier sound. Depression Cherry goes for a softer, mellower approach.

Listen to: Beyond LoveSpace SongPPPLevitation10:37







B'lieve I'm Goin Down by Kurt Vile

Folk rock. His sixth full-length solo studio release. The opening 4-5 songs are really good, with "Outlaw" the only misstep. "Lost My Head There" is the strongest tune from the second half of the album, a song that is quite different to the others in terms of production.
YouTube critic The Needle Drop was quite harsh in his assessment of the lyrics, which he deemed empty and aimless.
Even though there’s an irony in Kurt's delivery, he can make you feel something as well. The guitar work is amazing.

Listen to: Pretty PimpinThat's Life, Tho (Almost Hate To Say),  Lost My Head There, Wheelhouse, Dust Bunnies, Bad Omens






Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens

Folk/acoustic. The first 6 tracks are outstanding. An autobiographical album inspired by the 2012 death of his mother, Carrie, and the family trips they took to Oregon in Sufjan Stevens' childhood. The album title also references his stepfather, Lowell.
A sombre record about regrets and facing loss, which everybody has their own way of dealing with. Coming to terms with your own mortality and the passing of those close to you. This music will still be pertinent in the year 3015, unless they invent a pill that stops us from dying.

Listen to: Fourth of July, Should Have Known BetterAll of Me Wants All of You






The Desired Effect by Brandon Flowers

Synthpop. 80s throwback with some, well, killer singles (pun intended). A step up from his first solo outing Flamingo (2010).

Listen to: Can't Deny My Love, I Can ChangeBetween Me And YouLonely Town







Vulnicura by Björk

Art pop. A melancholy breakup album, about Björk's split from her longtime partner and father of her daughter. The lyrics feel very personal and also universal, in that listeners who have gone through a painful breakup could identify with her heartbreak. As a commenter on YouTube said, the full album sounds much better than the songs separately.

Lyric from Black Lake: "Did I love you too much. Devotion bent me broken. So I rebelled"

Listen to: StonemilkerLionsongBlack Lake,







Divers by Joanna Newsom 

Chamber pop. Unmistakably Newsom, you can listen to these tracks multiple times and still not fully grasp the mystery and layers. Her vocal is an acquired taste, but she always sets the bar high and deliver something interesting. Her pronunciation of words is tricky to decipher, so you may require the lyric sheet to get the full experience.

Listen to DiversSapokanikanAnecdotesThe Things I SayGoose Eggs






Dark Sky Island by Enya

New age. She doesn't reinvent the wheel. If you like her voice, the new album is more of the same.

Listen to: So I Could Find My WayThe Forge of Angels,The HummingEchoes In RainEven In The Shadows,





Toto XIV by Toto

Rock. From a group who I considered washed up. Toto is the band's 14th album and the first new material in 9 years. Surprisingly it's the non-singles that impressed me the most. RIP former Toto bassist Mike Porcaro who died at 59 on March 15.

Listen to: Running Out Of TimeChinatownGreat Expectations21st Century Blues, Orphan, Holy War,






Honorable mentions:
Honeymoon by Lana Del Rey
Vestiges & Claws by José González
Delirium by Ellie Goulding
Why Make Sense? by Hot Chip
E•MO•TION by Carly Rae Jepsen
Ten Love Songs by Susanne Sundfør
Thank Your Lucky Stars by Beach House
Currency of Man by Melody Gardot
Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes
The Planet by Young Ejecta


Disappointments:
Poison Season by Destroyer
Art Angels by Grimes
25 by Adele
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett
HITNRUN Phase One by Prince
VEGA INTL. Night School by Neon Indian
Kindred by Passion Pit






How many of these albums have you listened to? Which are your favorites and disappointments of 2015, any overlaps with my list? Did I inspire you to check out any of the top 10? 

Favorite older films watched in 2015





Watched for the first time in 2015. All rated 4.5/5 or 5/5 on letterboxd. In case you're wondering, I'm counting films that are before the 2010s. In random order:




Ride the High Country (1962) (Sam Peckinpah)

The best western I watched in 2015. It is Peckinpah so there is some violence. Captivating story with danger lurking around every corner.




Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) (David Hand) (review)

Beautifully animated considering it was made in 1937. Memorable songs and characters. Charming and warm, I had a smile on my face for most of the movie.




Abigail’s Party (1977) (Mike Leigh) (review)

Possibly the best of the TV movies directed by Mike Leigh. Essentially a play about a husband and wife who don't get along, and have a few guests over. During the film, themes such as divorce, marriage, raising kids are talked about in conversations.




The Driver (1978) (Walter Hill)
Crime thriller neo noir with car chases. Although what I most enjoyed were the unpredictable cat and mouse games between the characters.






A Day at the Races (1937) (Sam Wood) (review)

Entertaining Marx Brothers comedy, considered among their finest. So many great one-liners. Highlights are the "tutsi-fruitsi" ice cream sales man scene, the background verification telephone call of Dr. Hackenbush, and of course the ending by the race track.





Black Narcissus (1947) (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) (review)

I will never think of nuns the same way again. Among other things, about repressed emotion. Every frame is beautiful on the eye.






The Sound of Music (1965) (Robert Wise) (review)

The songs are classics, and Julie Andrews is unforgettable. A great ad for visiting the Austrian countryside.





The Thorn Birds (1983) (Daryl Duke) (TV Mini-Series) (review)

Great story that captivated me from start to finish. Especially the “soul mate” relationship between Meggie and father Ralph is memorable and timeless. The series was enormously successful, and became the United States' second highest rated mini-series of all time behind Roots.





Moonlighting (1982) (Jerzy Skolimowski) (review)

Set during the years of the Iron Curtain in Europe. A Polish builder travels to London with a group of workmen. They provide cheap labor for a government official based there. Even today, Eastern Europeans travel to other countries for higher pay. On paper, the story sounds dull, but was surprisingly enthralling, with amusing moments.





Il Sorpasso (1962) (Dino Risi) (review)

During 2015, I reviewed On The Road (1957) by Jack Kerouac, the influence is obvious, but this Italian road movie is a classic in its own right, with a great screenplay and fine performances. If you are a fan of Sideways (2004), you should check this out.





A Swedish Love Story (1970) (Roy Andersson) (review)
Authentically depicting first love, the boy and girl exchanging glances is very cinematic. Especially the girl gives a good performance, you can tell what she is feeling by looking at her face.  Andersson juxtapositions this with the world-weary adults. Rare to watch a film which is sweet one moment, and bleak the next moment. It's powerful yet also slow-paced, so will not appeal to everyone.





New York Doll (2005) (Greg Whiteley) (documentary) (review)

A moving and unforgettable tribute to Arthur "Killer" Kane, the bass guitarist of the pioneering 70s glam rock band The New York Dolls. Following him in the 2000s, the documentary paints him as a flawed but likable musician. A touching story, even if you have no interest in The New York Dolls.





Bus 174 (2002) (José Padilha & Felipe Lacerda) (documentary) (review)

If you’ve seen City of God (2002), this documentary is a good companion piece, which goes deeper and attempts to analyze what’s wrong in contemporary Brazil. How the homeless kids feel like they are invisible and looked upon as trash. It’s easy to empathize with their struggles, yet we also see the harmful things the kids do, so they are not just portrayed as victims.






The War Game (1965) (Peter Watkins) (short) (review)

Won Oscar for Best Documentary and several other awards. Uncomfortable, yet essential viewing.
A fictional nuclear war, told in a realistic way with handheld cameras and interviews, so you feel you are watching real events.





The House Is Black (1963) (Forugh Farrokhzad) (short) 

Set in a leper colony in the north of Iran, the short documentary is not afraid to bring us the ugliness and also provides insight into the lepers and humanizes their way of life. They are looked after though getting better can take years. It’s not incurable. The suffering definitely pulls at the heartstrings. Against the odds, trying to remain hopeful. Quite poetic too.





Angst (1983) (Gerald Kargl) (review)

Horror film. The chilling realism and creepy soundtrack haunted me for days afterwards. We are basically inside his warped mind and along for the ride. It’s also an indictment of the legal system in that despite murdering in the past, he is set free with no supervision. Serves as a warning that damaged people exist with no empathy for others. An important film about why monsters become monsters.





The Brood (1979) (David Cronenberg) (review)

Incredibly tense and genuinely scary. The subtext about the damage a divorce, experimental drugs and therapy sessions can cause is equally as disturbing as the visuals.
By withholding information until the horrifying climax, the film keeps you on edge. Contains one of the most horrifying break-up scenes of all-time. Written during Cronenberg's own divorce and custody battle.





Rabid Dogs (1974) (Mario Bava) (review)

Italian grindhouse thriller. A riveting story so I couldn't stop watching.  Much of the running time, close-ups are used inside a getaway car. The confined location makes the viewers feel they are passengers being kidnapped.





Café Paradis (1950) (Bodil Ipsen & Lau Lauritzen Jr.) (review)

A Danish classic. Fine performances and I cared about their fate. I think it ranks up there with the best films about alcoholism, and delves into the shame, addiction and temptation linked to the condition. Has aged remarkably well, and you still see Danes today who are not aware they are alcoholics or on the verge of becoming so.





Pretty in Pink (1986) (written by John Hughes) (review)

I love the sincerity of the characters. These are teenagers and parents you can root for, who have real feelings. The viewer can have an emotional connection and mirror themselves in the story. The soundtrack is great too. John Hughes was a genius and I can understand why he is loved.






A Christmas Story (1983) (Bob Clark) 

The quintessential American Christmas movie. From the perspective of a young boy, we've all been kids who wanted something desperately for Christmas. Very quotable and rewatchable. With relatable childhood moments at school and with the family at home.





The Ten Commandments (1956) (Cecil B. DeMille) (review)

An epic. At the time of its release, it was the most expensive film ever made. I knew the mythical story but had forgotten how it all fits together, so it was a reminder of The Book of Exodus. In most films grandiose dialogue would fall flat but here it feels justified because of the biblical proportions. The parting of the sea is unforgettable.





In the Heat of the Night (1967) (Norman Jewison) (review)

I think I saw it when I was 14 but consider it unwatched because I had completely forgotten the plot. Still packs a punch and feels eerily relevant today. Shining a light on how dangerous it was to arrive as a black in a racist southern town. Memorable performances and also a well-told murder mystery. A film that potentially could change your life. Should be shown in schools and hopefully prevent kids from becoming racists. On face value the film looks one-dimensional, but if you look closely the racism works in both directions.




Christine (1983) (John Carpenter) (review)

Coming of age horror/drama. Based on a book by Stephen King. Takes a car having a personality to a whole new level. The book was perfect for adaptation because it's so visual. I enjoyed ths one a lot more than I thought I would. Has a novelistic approach to storytelling. The director expressed he was a director for hire and it's among his least personal projects, but I think it's actually as good as his best work. The lead performance by Keith Gordon is superb and stayed with me.






Seen any of these? Agree or disagree they are great? Have I tempted you to watch any? Thoughts are welcome in the comments.

Books read in 2015



I finished 9 books in 2015. Here are my brief thoughts on those.


Non-fiction:



Are We Not New Wave?: Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s by Theodore Cateforis (2011)
Interesting chronology from late 1970s until early 90s. The author mentions a wealth of bands from the 80s, which to me was the main attraction about reading the book.
I enjoyed bits and bobs about how New Wave can be seen in an oppositional stance to the traditional dominant rock. New Wave with its synthesizers, rudimentary musicianship, and androgynous fashion. Popular heavy metal bands in the mid 80s such as Mötley Crüe perceived themselves as making real music compared to the synthpop bands. When rocks acts like Van Halen, Rush and Bruce Springsteen began using the synthesizers the distinction between rock and pop became blurred.
I'm not sure you can really make these clear distinctions, as every band is different, but it's a way of examining the music of that time.
Later chapters I skimmed over, which explore in detail the impact of groups such as Devo, the B-52s, The Knack, and Gary Numan, In the chapter about Talking Heads, Cateforis is quite critical of the way David Byrne promoted Remain in Light (1980). Adam & The Ants are criticized for borrowing African music for their album and keeping all the profit for themselves.
Overall, the book is a tad repetitive, but momentarily interesting.
Rating 3.5 out of 5






This Book Will Make You Calm by Jessamy Hibberd and Jo Usmar (2014)
Co-written by a clinical psychologist and journalist, this self-help book has a number of platitudes, such as tidying up, eating a healthy diet, exercise, getting enough sleep, and so on, but also interesting parts as well about dealing with stress and anxiety. You don’t have to read the book from cover to cover. I liked the part about negative automatic thinking. Making assumptions too quickly.
How your stress is very dependent on your interpretation of an event. I think the authors are right that questioning your immediate reaction is a good idea. You have to give other people the benefit of the doubt. You may put too much emphasis on one particular character flaw and overlook other aspects about that person. Hibberd and Usmar urge us to distract our worried thoughts by playing a game, doing a crossword, listening to music, exercise, reading positive quotes, and so on.
Rating 3 out of 5








Novels:



On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957) (full review)
A semi-autobiographical classic. The book seems to endorse the reckless and impulsive “on the road” lifestyle as a method to gain experience and live life to the fullest, yet also acknowledges living that way can be hurtful to those you are irresponsible towards.
Sal and Dean are always running away from problems, or seeking something new. Not dwelling very long, with a short attention span. You could argue what they are doing lacks purpose.  Dean (real name Neal Cassady) was beloved for his ability to inspire others to love life. Sal knows Dean and Marylou are getting him into all sorts of trouble, but Sal misses the excitement when he is alone.  Inspiring the reader to go on road trips is a big reason why the book has endured. The book does drag in places, yet there are a number of great passages I will treasure, such as when Remi Boncoeur helps Sal get a job at a barracks in San Francisco, and a fast-paced trip in a Cadillac limousine.
Rating 4 out of 5 






Hunger by Knut Hamson (1890) (full review)
Considered a classic of Scandinavian literature. A stream-of-consciousness account of a starving writer who roams the streets of the Norwegian city of Kristiania (Oslo). Loosely based on the author's own impoverished life before his breakthrough in 1890. Transports you back to the 1800s, so I felt I was actually there. You get under the skin of the main character who has both a tragic and a humorous side to him, not necessarily how he sees himself, but how others perceive him. The story is about stubbornness and pride. Wanting to be independent and not rely on family and handouts, however difficult this may prove to be. This is an admirable quality and I did feel sympathy for his plight. So undernourished that he starts doing illogical things. Since it’s told in the first-person, we don’t know if he is a reliable narrator, is he imagining events, could parts of the book be hallucinations? Is he going insane? To me both film adaptation and novel are unforgettable. I've decided to rate the book without considering the controversy in the later years of Hamsun's life, which I don't think is relevant in judging the worth of a book published 50-60 years before WW2.
Rating 4.5 out of 5 






The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (2002) (full review)
Described by The New York Times as a young-adult novel for grown-ups. As with The Secret History (1992) by the same author, momentarily I stumble upon passages I connect with. It is slow and tedious in places, and I felt cheated in regards to the murder mystery, but ultimately a rewarding read which I am happy to have had, especially in how it took me back to childhood. This may not have been exactly what the author intended for me to take away, since I read in an interview she was making commentary on the Deep South. While Tartt's sophomore effort is well-written, and with life-like characters I cared about, the actual narrative for me is not quite strong enough for it to achieve greatness. The author manages to create a believable world I could get lost in, and beautifully renders the inner life of her main character, but at the same time the novel is overlong and self-indulgent. As another reviewer wrote, Donna Tartt “may reveal a determination to succeed on her own terms, however much these prove frustrating to the reader.” Despite these reservations, I look forward to reading more of her work. I'm moving chronologically, so The Goldfinch (2013) is next.
Rating 3.5 out of 5 





Carrie by Stephen King (1974) (full review)
A coming of age horror classic. Stephen King’s debut as a novelist and became a bestseller. You can interpret the novel autobiographically as Stephen King dealing with traumatic experiences from his youth. Carrie White is a teenage outsider and the story about bullying and teen rebellion feels timeless. The other girls are so cruel and their harsh words are just as bad. Carrie’s determination and stubbornness to stick it out for years is admirable. Others would have changed school. Yet King doesn’t just portray her as a victim.
Her mother Margaret is fanatically religious and domineering, wanting Carrie to pray and stay away from boys. Carrie is fighting for her independence. Anyone who has ever had an over-protective parent or was bullied may feel a kinship with her.
While it is empowering, the story is controversial, and could be taken the wrong way, encouraging violence, and has a negative view of religion. When it came out was one of the most frequently banned books in school libraries. Holds up well, especially the beginning and ending. A modern day fairy tale which deserves its cult classic status. The story reminds us we are all capable of terrible acts.
Rating 4 out of 5 


Short Story Collections:



The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009) (full review)
Adichie is an award-winning female Nigerian author and lecturer. She is perhaps most famous for her novel Half of a Yellow Sun (2007). Adichie’s aim is not just empty entertainment, she wants to show us how Africans think and behave, and how westerners act towards Africans.
This collection of short stories deals with women being oppressed by oppressive men, corruption, injustice, prejudice, African views of the American dream, etc. I was introduced to the Nigerian way of life that I wouldn’t otherwise have been subjected to. I’m sure there are nuances I didn’t catch because of the cultural differences.
Her main characters are often Nigerian females, and you could argue Adichie is reluctant to portray her narrators in an unsympathetic way. If you are male and read it from cover to cover you may feel the book is too misandrous. Of course the goal is to give empowerment to women and promote change, which I am in favor of, but for me the weakness of the book is it’s generally too one-sided and lacks subtlety. Adichie is a writer who writes what she knows, and it's clear that her own personal experiences have influenced her stories. You can’t fault her intent, presenting the problems Nigerian women face, and the author has many insights to share.
Rating 4 out of 5







A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li (2005) (full review)
A multi-award winning debut fiction work. Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. Consists of a collection of ten short stories about life in modern China and Chinese Americans in the US.
I like the observations about how the rigid system in China sometimes causes unhappiness among its citizens. However the writer’s anti-communistic critique of the regime is too repetitive, so while interesting, the book is a bit monotonous thematically. I do think the messiness of life is handled well by the author, which is not necessarily specific to China, but universal.
My experience of reading short stories is that it’s quite demanding, because you have to keep starting from scratch after a few pages. Worth a read if China and its people interest you. Certainly a brave publication in a country that is notorious for its censorship. Although China is changing, it's still shaped by its traditions and recent history.
Rating 3 out of 5







Poems:



Selected Poems by Jorge Luis Borges
Worth a look. Not as strong as his short stories.
Rating 3 out of 5








So those were the books I read and reviewed last year. Have you read any of them and what did you think? What were your favorite reads of the last 12 months?

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