Friday, 8 November 2019

New Music Friday: Sarah Elizabeth Haines - Pretending to Sleep

Pretending to Sleep - Sarah Elizabeth Haines | New Music Friday

Sarah Elizabeth Haines's Facebook bio says she's still trying to figure things out, with strings, which is kind of funny because she's pretty accomplished already, having trained as a violinist and violist and touring the States with Hamilton. She's also part of Bellehouse who released their debut album Capsized in 2017.

I was naturally quite delighted when Sarah contacted me about her solo album Pretending to Sleep, which is being released to the world today.

Pretending to Sleep

Pretending to Sleep is one of those albums that defies definition. There are strings and Sarah's voice and an unmistakable sense of calm and peace running through the album, or maybe I'm just ready to curl up for the winter and lose myself in her music.

The album begins with the daunting anticipation of "Losing Game", the third single released from the album. I was sold within the few first seconds of those strings, which reminded me of Fionn Regan's 100 Acres of Sycamoreand I was a fan by the time Sarah's vocals and harmonising began.

Sarah sings about loss and the breakdown of relationships and she's at her best when she's defiant. "Let Me Down" should be a mantra for every fierce woman determined to walk away from a broken heart.

I don't wanna break your heart but you broke mine first so I guess we'll call it even

"Petrified" and "Let's Try That Again" are my favourite tracks on the album, although I don't like to pick favourites because all the tracks on this album should be loved equally. Most of the tracks on Pretending to Sleep are searching and melodic, but these tracks are more theatrical and dramatic, picking up the pace somewhat and providing a brief interlude of mischief and defiance.

Pretending to Sleep is relatively short at 35 minutes but it's a rare album these days in that it's clearly designed to be listened to as a whole. And so I will, over and over again as it becomes my soundtrack for autumn 2019.


Recommended if you like: Mackenzie Shivers, Aimee Mann, Laura Marling, Madeline Peyroux.





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Image Credits © Britannie Bond Photography | Elizabeth Maney


Sunday, 20 October 2019

Thoughts on Margaret Atwood's The Testaments - an Audiobook Review

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood | Audiobook Review

It seems a peculiar folly to try to review Margaret Atwood's The Testaments this late in the day. Between me listening to the audiobook and now, the book has been named joint winner of the Booker Prize with Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other. What could I possibly add to the conversation?

On Margaret Atwood

I discovered Margaret Atwood in my first year of university in 1991. I still have my very worn copy of The Handmaid's Tale featuring Natasha Richardson on the cover, a tie-in with the 1990 film. It was to become one of my most loved books of all time, but my two favourite Atwood books were Surfacing and Cat's Eye. Before I finally bought my own copy, I used to repeatedly borrow Cat's Eye from the library, return it and put my name on the waiting list to borrow it again. I suspect many of us were doing the same thing.

I read everything Margaret Atwood wrote until, horror of horrors, I encountered The Blind Assassin. I still haven't managed to finish it after nineteen years and because of the crazy, impossible way my head works, I couldn't read Oryx and Crake or anything else Atwood wrote until I did.

Another strange brain glitch is that I've not been able to watch The Handmaid's Tale TV series yet partially due to the Blind Assassin blockage and partially out of fealty to the original film version.

On Margaret Atwood live at the National Theatre, London

On the day that The Testaments was released, I watched a screening of Margaret Atwood live from the National Theatre in London. She discussed the book, the world of Gilead and our broken world and there were readings from the book. I very much enjoyed the event and realised that I urgently needed to get over my Margaret Atwood blockage and the best way was to listen to The Testaments on audiobook.

On The Testaments

I adored the writing in the The Testaments. As you can imagine, after nineteen years without Atwood in my life, coupled with a prolonged fascination with (often very poorly written) YA, I had simply forgotten how beautiful Atwood's prose is. I held on to every word and revelled in the sentences, ideas and world view that made me fall in love with Atwood three decades ago. I realised how much I had missed her writing and that this was in part responsible for my current quest to discover superior young adult literary fiction.

I listened to The Testaments on audiobook and the three main narrators were superb. Ann Dowd read Aunt Lydia, Bryce Dallas Howard read Agnes, a woman who had grown up in Gilead and Mae Whitman read Daisy, a teen growing up in Canada. I think the book might have been difficult to follow at times with three points of view but the audiobook made this a lot easier with the three different voices.

There was one terrifying moment in The Testaments when I feared that the book was succumbing to the tired old YA trope of a quest and subsequent endurance training for said quest. Thankfully this lasted for just one chapter.

For the rest of the book, I was fascinated by a story that took us from the very beginning of Gilead, to the removal of rights and freedom, through to life and politics in homes and schools of Gilead, to life outside of the country, as viewed by its neighbours.

Throughout the novel, I challenged myself to consider it through the lens of a young adult or new adult book. As a lover of YA, it ticked many boxes for me with the younger points of view but there is a scene of graphic sexual assault that makes it unsuitable for younger readers. Ultimately, as awful as that scene was, it was integral to the story and to decisions made and events that occurred later on in the novel.

On Creating Nothing New

During the live National Theatre event, Atwood mentioned that she had not created anything new in The Testaments, that all of the events described had occurred at some point during human history. As a student of the Tutsi and Srebrenica genocides, I could see the chilling parallels between those events and in events in the book, especially the stadium scenes. I thought that those scenes were particularly well-written and adapted to the novel.

On The New World Order

From a western point of view, Gilead is extreme. It is hard to imagine an America where girls are forbidden from reading, where holy texts are adapted to fit political views and where freedom is utterly restricted but it takes just a tiny geographical twist of the map to realise that this a reality for millions of women across the globe.

It's not just other countries, either. Freedom is being restricted while corporations are simultaneously given unfettered access to information about citizens as governments move towards empowering the rich at the expense of the poor. I think the horror of books like The Testaments is that it makes us realise that we're fighting the wrong fights at the moment and that we have to see what is really happening. In the UK as in the USA, the poor and vulnerable continue to bear the weight of recession and austerity while the rich just get filthy.

On the Booker Prize

I thoroughly enjoyed The Testaments and it stayed in my mind for many days afterwards. In fact, as I write this, I've not been able to start another audiobook and was only able to start reading Akwaeke Emezi's Pet because it is so damn brilliant. I definitely think that The Testaments deserved accolades, perhaps even a place on the Booker shortlist, but I do think they should have just awarded the prize to Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other. They acknowledged that it was the better book but by splitting it between the two authors, they've all but admitted that they couldn't let a black woman win. It's a travesty and detracts from Evaristo's great achievement.

I loved The Testaments and give it a superb five out of five stars. I'm more determined than ever now to read Oryx and Crake and to watch The Handmaid's Tale TV series.



Sunday, 13 October 2019

Horror Film Review: The Village in the Woods (2019) ★★★★☆

The Village in the Woods (2018) | Horror Film Review

Nicky and Jason think they have the perfect con. They arrive at the tiny isolated village of Coopers Cross, posing as the now-grown-up local Rebecca and her partner. The idea is to turn around the local dilapidated pub and land themselves a significant pot of money. Little do they know it is they who are marks and they have most certainly been lured into a trap.

Who is the scary old man squatting upstairs in the pub? What happened to his daughter? And why are the locals so awfully overfamiliar? Every village has a dark secret and Jason and Nicky have just stumbled on one they can’t handle.

Directed by Raine McCormack in his feature film debut and co-written by John Hoernschemeyer, The Village in the Woods, is an independent British folk-horror film set in a very sinister little village. In the words of McCormack, The Village in the Woods "is my dark, love letter to 70’s cinema and I’m really excited to finally share this unique, atmospheric folk-horror".

The Village in the Woods (2018) | Robert Vernon is Jason | Horror Film Review

The film was indeed beautifully atmospheric. From foggy roads and eerily woody surroundings to terrifying flashbacks and a derelict pub that has seen better centuries, The Village in the Woods is a tense 82 minutes of unease and slow-burning horror.

The Village in the Woods is buoyed by excellent performances by the cast. Richard Hope (Poldark) and Therese Bradley shine as villagers Charles and Maddy. Welcoming to the extreme, they get far too close to Nicky and Jason for comfort and give maddening and delightful performances. Robert Vernon expertly portrays the single-minded and utterly selfish Jason while Beth Park is captivating as the anxious and increasingly disturbed Nicky.

The Village in the Woods (2018) | Richard Hope is Charles | Horror Film Review

Americans might excel at Gothic horror but The Village in the Woods is quintessentially British. There is nothing quite so British as chipping away at the thin veneer of the wealthy classes to glimpse at the ugly, parasitic tendencies that lie beneath the surface. What hope do a pair of ordinary, penniless people have in the face of ancient power and wealth?

Atmospheric, with great performances and a nasty plot, I give The Village in the Woods an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to fans of slow-burning British horror.


The Village In The Woods will be available on Digital Download from 14th October across iTunes, Sky Store, Amazon and Google Play.

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Tuesday, 8 October 2019

TV Review: NOS4A2 - "Gunbarrel"

AMC's NOS4A2 | Gunbarrel | Ashleigh Cummings is Vic McQueen

It feels like the final episode of a season should be accompanied by fanfare; violins, drumrolls and crashing cymbals would do. Instead, "Gunbarrel", the final episode of NOS4A2's first season, felt like a YA sequel when it's becoming glaringly obvious that they're lining up for a trilogy because nothing much has happened. As much as I love this show, I have to admit that I'm more than a little disappointed by this episode but like that filler novel, there is one event of major consequence and also an extremely significant discovery so I must concede that this is a natural break point before season two. With that in mind, I'm just going to focus on the good.

SPOILER WARNING: in an episode where very little happens, it will be impossible to discuss what does happen without divulging three very big spoilers. Don't be that fan who goes ahead and spoils your entire experience by reading further if you've not already watched the whole of NOS4A2 season one including "Gunbarrel"- signed she who managed to spoil every single major death on The Walking Dead season 8.

Lou Carmody

Played by Jonathan Langdon, Lou Carmody is a lovely, if not entirely too trusting, biker who picks up Vic from the side of the road following her escape from the Sleigh House. It's a definite thumbs up from us for Mr Carmody and I do hope we get to see more of him in season two.

AMC's NOS4A2 | Gunbarrel | Ashleigh Cummings is Vic McQueen

Detective Hutter and Maggie Leigh

Something doesn't quite gel in the relationship between the detective (Tabitha Hutter) and Maggie (Jahkara Smith). How is it that a seasoned detective is so willing to believe a purple-haired librarian regarding paranormal matters? Nevertheless, if you're willing to suspend disbelief, Hutter and Maggie have some of the best dialogue in the episode.

On the Scrabble tiles:
Hutter: How does it work?
Maggie: You don't want to know
Hutter: Actually I do
Maggie: By tearing the fabric between the real world and the world of thought

And on supernatural forces:
Maggie: There's a cost to messing with those forces
Hutter: There's a cost to ignoring them

Ashleigh Cummings's Acting

It's no secret that I was not a fan of Craig (Dalton Harrod) so I wasn't exactly cut up when one of Manx's child-monsters sunk his teeth into him minutes before the Wraith blew up. In deference to those who actually liked Craig, I'll pretend that the highlight for me wasn't actually Craig's death but Ashleigh Cummings's superb acting following his loss.

Vic's Parents Finally Grow Up

Linda McQueen (Virginia Kull) is finally being a decent mum. Wait until she finds out Vic is pregnant... that's right, Vic is pregnant with Craig's child and I totally guessed it! The scene when Vic tells Chis McQueen (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) about the pregnancy is particularly touching - could Vic's child-parents finally be growing up?

Vic and Maggie

There was a beautiful scene with Vic and Maggie as they talk about their losses. Joe, Craig, Daniel, Haley. There have been so many and they seem no closer to rescuing the kids. The badass, bike-riding artist and the purple-haired librarian - what a combination.

That Ending

And then there is that ending. Charlie Manx wins season one and Bing Partridge has me never wanting to go to the dentist again. Bring on season two!


Sunday, 6 October 2019

Powerful and Moving : The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys ★★★★★

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys | Superior Young Adult Fiction | Book review

I'm ashamed to say that before I read Ruta Sepetys's The Fountains of Silence, I knew nothing about the Spanish Civil War or the subsequent years under the Franco dictatorship. That didn't stop me from immediately picking up this novel because I read and loved her preceding novel Salt to the Sea and I knew that Sepetys has an incredible talent for bringing the past to life in a way that is educating and absolutely relevant to the post-millennial world.

Set in Madrid in 1957 at the height of Franco's rule, The Fountains of Silence explores a city under the control of an authoritarian Catholic state. The son of an oil-rich Texan, Daniel Matherson is staying at the Castellana Hilton with his parents. Daniel wants nothing more than to be a photographer but his father wants him to join the oil business and for Daniel to achieve his dream, his only choice is to win a prize which would pay for his studies.

Daniel meets Ana, a maid at the hotel. The child of Republican parents who were murdered when she was a baby, Ana's siblings have only known hardship and poverty. Working at the Castellana Hilton is a dream for Ana and her family and might just be their ticket to a life outside of their shack in Vallecas. She won't do anything to jeopardise her position at the hotel.

Ana's brother Rafa endured years of torture and pain at an orphanage with his best friend Fuga. He will do anything he can to ease Fuga's pain and to help him achieve his dream of becoming a matador. Their cousin Puri is working as a nun at the Inclusa orphanage in Madrid. She loves the babies that she looks after but uncovers a dark secret regarding paid adoptions and what appears to be mysterious infant deaths.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys | Superior Young Adult Fiction | Book reviewThe lives of these four individuals and countless others are woven together in a tale that is rich and powerful, that paints a picture of Madrid in the late 50s and an unearths a scandal about stolen babies, careless gossip and life under the watchful eye of Franco's secret police, the Guardia Civil.

One particular talent Ruta Sepetys has is the authenticity of her work. Sepetys doesn't deliver nice or happy endings, there are no knights rushing in to save the day or any unreasonably fortuitous outcomes. As a result, I spent much of the novel crying my eyes out at the sheer unfairness of it all, for life was unfair for a great many people in Francoist Spain. As with Salt to the Sea, The Fountains of Silence broke my heart into tiny pieces and made me hungry to know more about this dark time in history.

It was quite an experience to read this novel at the same time as I was listening to Margaret Atwood's The Testaments on audiobook. My evenings were filled with an exploration of life under Franco, of the loss of freedom and the constant fear of persecution. Meanwhile, my days were consumed by the speculative musings of where Conservative ideas might lead us, of the increasing claims to women's bodies and the notion that a state like Gilead might be the next logical step in our socio-political development.

My initial thoughts were that historical fiction in itself should be enough to warn us against certain behaviours, that we should learn from the lessons of the past and steadfastly commit to 'never again'. As I tore through both novels, I realised that we haven't learnt from the lessons of the past at all, we may never do so and that perhaps it is the mantle of dystopian or speculative fiction to try to get through to us and warn us about where we're heading. All of this means that both novels have made me think a lot and it was an incredible experience reading (and listening) to them both at the same time.

For making me think, cry and want to know more about Francoist Spain, I give The Fountains of Silence a superb five out of five stars and recommend for fans of historical fiction with a unique perspective for English-speaking readers.


I received an electronic copy of this book from Netgalley. In my search for superior young adult fiction, I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.


Thursday, 3 October 2019

Gemini Man and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Coming to Cineworld's Screen X and 4DX in October

October looks to be an exciting month for Cineworld's Screen X and 4DX with the announcement of two massive films.

Gemini Man banner

Gemini Man - 11 October

Directed by Ang Lee and starring Will Smith, Gemini Man is about a seasoned assassin who must face-off against a younger, cloned version of himself. I've been looking forward to this one for months!

Fans of the 4DX format can look forward an exhilarating ride as the motion chairs and water, wind, scent and strobe effects accompany the non-stop action sequences. The 4DX experience is perfect for action films like Gemini Man and provide a completely immersive experience for the viewer.

If 4DX isn't your thing, the 270° Screen X might tempt you. I have it on high authority that the 8 minute motorcycle action scene in Gemini Man is spectacular on Screen X.

Maleficent:Mistress of Evil banner

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil - 18 October

Angelina Jolie reprises her role as the vengeful fairy Maleficent in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil , the first ever live action film from Disney Studios to be released in Screen X.

The film features an impressive 40 minutes of extended 270° scenes adapted especially for Screen X.

Screen X and 4DX are exclusive to Cineworld in UK and Ireland.


Tuesday, 1 October 2019

TV Review: NOS4A2 - "Sleigh House"

AMC NOS4A2 |Sleigh House review | Zachary Quinto is Charlie Manx

A penultimate episode is like one giant intake of breath as the director holds it all in, ready to exhale in the final episode. Nothing really happens and if it does, it doesn't make much sense. At just 39 minutes long, "Sleigh House" is more than a little disappointing but is hopefully just a hiccup before the brilliant final episode.

SPOILER WARNING: It's almost impossible to comment on events at this stage of a series without dropping spoilers for both the current and previous episodes. Also, as I said, not much happens in this episode but what did happen was messy and eye-roll-inducing, so my snark-tendencies were piqued. Proceed with caution if you've not seen the episode because there will be spoilers ahead.

Craig (Dalton Harrod) is on the warpath and like any normal stoner, he's going to rush headlong into a confrontation with a powerful source of evil without so much as a hint of a plan. He's unlikely to succeed and will more than likely need rescuing. What a waste of space.

Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto) is back to his puritanical antics. His idealised vision of Vic as the holy virgin mother of Christmasland comes to a grinding halt when he learns that Craig and Vic have been sleeping together. NOS4A2 has never shied away from problematic storylines with slut-shaming, violence against women and Bing's particularly horrible crimes but I'm just about ready now to see both Manx and Bing destroyed now.

AMC NOS4A2 |Sleigh House review | Ashleigh Cummings is Vic McQueen

Not surprisingly, Vic (Ashleigh Cummings) goes after Manx even though Maggie's tiles tell her she clearly isn't ready and as expected, it's a giant trap. Or, the Sleigh House to be precise, Manx's childhood home. Vic is trapped, with her bike gone and the bridge seemingly destroyed and Manx has her cornered.

The grand confrontation is more anticlimactic than anything else, with Manx sprouting more of his puritanical crap. Vic comes face to face with his creations, flesh-eating monsters who once were children. Like any good misogynist, if Manx can't have the version of Vic that he wants, he'll destroy her and proceeds to burn down the house.

Vic is clearly in trouble but the most annoying thing about this episode was that the filmmakers clearly don't understand how fire and smoke work. The smoke would have ended her long before she got a chance to start climbing up metal air-vents that would have been too hot to touch.

I'm very much hoping for a satisfying ending next week although I suspect that I may have strayed a bit too far in my loyalties. It was very hard to take "Sleigh House" seriously amid all the eye-rolling. It also wasn't all that scary except for Millie Manx popping up in Vic's bedroom. Aargh! That child should come with a public health warning.

The final episode of NOS4A2 will air at 9pm on Tuesday 8 October on AMC UK (BT TV 332 Sky channel 186) and on Thursday 10 October on Shudder (US).

© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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