The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (Book Review)

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Page Count
: 352

CW: death, graphic sex scenes, suicide, animal cruelty

I was so looking forward to this book. The premise, as strange and gloomy as it may sound, really captivated me and I was ready to dive into it immediately. I quite enjoy family-centric books that focus on the bonds that are built, strained and possibly destroyed over time, which made the whole aspect of the story spanning over several decades even more endearing. After actually reading the book though, I was rather torn. I debated whether I could actually find the words to write this review, but here we are and I am trying.

“She’d tell herself that what she really wanted was not to live forever, but to stop worrying.”

I both liked and very much disliked this book. Don’t get me wrong, there were many powerful and enchanting moments in the Immortalists but something about the execution irked me. I was prepared for sadness and difficult scenes, after all, this book is about death. However, the read stayed kind of illusive to me until the end and therefore made some of the more hard-hitting moments difficult to grasp. I was confused by several passages, never quite sure if it could be classified as magical realism or if this was supposed to just be reality. I understand that there isn’t always a need to explain everything, but if you are indicating there was e.g. a mental illness at play and you make it look like magic instead, I will definitely be confused. Also, even though the topic of the book is supposedly about fate vs. self-fulfilling prophecies, I don’t actually know where it stands on that subject by the end of it. Maybe it’s good to question that. Maybe it was designed that way to make the reader think, but I would have liked to explore the intricacies of that concept a little more.

“Character is fate—that’s what he said. They’re bound up, those two, like brothers and sisters. You wanna know the future?” She points at Varya with her free hand. “Look in the mirror.”

Overall, the Immortalists reads a lot like historical fiction. Since we start in the late 60s and go all the way to the mid 2000s, they cover a lot of ground and events during that time. That was also the reason why I let them get away with language I would not have liked to read in a book set in contemporary times.

“She knows that stories have the power to change things: the past and the future, even the present.”

Lastly, I don’t need my characters to be likable. We aren’t all likable humans, but these four siblings really didn’t make it easy to root for them sometimes. And the way some of their bodily changes were described just felt unnecessary to me. Do you really have to introduce a 13 year-old in the second sentence of a book by mentioning her pubic hair? I am not trying to say there’s anything wrong about pubic hair, but what was the point of that description?

This may be an odd way to end the review, but this was also an odd read for me. From what I understand, a lot of people really enjoyed this book and therefore it could just be a me-problem here. I cannot put into words what it was lacking for me, but there definitely was something missing that could have elevated The Immortalists by a couple stars.

Fazit: 3/5 stars! While it had some great moments, it ultimately wasn’t the kind of book I wanted it to be.

Have you read The Immortalists? Is it a story you can see yourself enjoying? Let’s talk about it!

#CurrentlyWatching: Rise

This week’s #CurrentlyWatching is another one I am just going to be cautiously optimistic about. As I have mentioned in previous posts, when I did this last year, a lot of the shows I actually wanted to save or draw attention to with my writing still got cancelled and I was devastated. So, I usually try to not do a whole post for it anymore before at least an entire season has aired, but I couldn’t hold off on Rise any longer.

The show airs on NBC and is a couple episodes away from its first season finale. While it may seem like a cross between Glee and Friday Night Lights, it is actually based on real life events that were chronicled in the non-fiction book Drama High by Michael Sokolove. I haven’t read it, but I checked out some reviews on Goodreads, where a couple of the former students definitively agreed to the excellence of that teacher (while the narrator’s voice and his depiction of the small town is apparently debatable). I know how valuable of an experience it is to have someone like that during your school years, so I always liked the idea for this show from the beginning.

Rise follows teacher Lou Mazzuchelli as he tries to revive the High School’s theater department and faces a lot of pushback from the community about his unconventional approach.

I remember watching the first episode of Rise and it hitting directly home where my heart is. Most of the time, I am not a huge fan of big ensemble casts, just because I like to focus on individuals which gets increasingly more difficult as the plot thickens. So, of course, there’s always episodes that focus on some characters more than on others to the point where there’s still people left to discover halfway through the season. It’s something you have to be prepared for, but I don’t think that it distracted from the overall most important story arcs.

As I mentioned above, many people have compared it to Glee, but the show strikes a much more mature tone. Due to it focusing on a musical production and not Glee club in general, there is also less singing and especially no random bursting into a song when they aren’t actually auditioning or rehearsing for the play. The problems the characters are facing seem very tailored to the characters they are playing in the chosen musical, “Spring Awakening”, so I wonder how that will go over the span of several seasons.

Overall, there’s a lot of different topics that are being treated. There’s a definite focus on the parent-child-relationships and I really loved seeing the various nuances of that so far. In addition to that, there’s conversations about transgender issues, teen pregnancy, underage drinking and alcoholism, exploring ones sexuality, the foster system and general societal pressure to fit into a certain mold. It does all that with a lot of compassion, showing the characters when they overstep or make something about themselves when it’s really not. I am not trying to say Rise does everything right, but it offers a platform for a lot of representation.

I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself, because I am terrible at picking just one person to spotlight, especially when there is such a huge cast. Everyone brings something to the table, but I guess I am a little partial to Maashous’ storyline.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I would like to foster or adopt children in the future. From a young age on, I always had this idea of wanting to help those kids and teens once I was grown up (and able to care for someone else), but somehow I was also too chicken to pursue a career as a social worker. Anyway, before I get off track too much, Maashous is one of those kids in the foster system and I guess that’s why I was so invested in his story.

He is quiet, the kind of person you may not notice, but who is always around. He cares for his friends, seems very open-minded from what I saw so far and is willing to help whenever someone needs him. So, it broke my heart to know that he had troubles in his foster home and ended up sleeping at school. He deserves so much better! I don’t want to spoil what happens, but it gets better and I hope you might tune in to find out how exactly.

Have you watched Rise? Do you want to? Let’s talk!

#CurrentlyWatching: Lost in Space

I am finally back with another installment of #CurrentlyWatching. I have discarded all sorts of themes (although I probably still would have had a couple up my sleeves I suppose) and will just do one post per week again. I wanted to give you all a little break to catch up on your watching, because today I am here to talk about Lost in Space.

Lost in Space is a new Netflix original, which is technically a remake of the 1960s science fiction and adventure show as well as a late 90s movie. I have seen … none of those? Which is not an issue whatsoever for me personally, as it is a total reboot and starts fresh again. There’s one season out so far and there are mixed reviews. Similar to the Anne with an E reboot, a lot of people were missing the happy and quirky, more humerus approach. I guess you just need to watch it as something completely different than the work it is based of? I understand that can be difficult to do if it is something you loved, but then I just feel like people should understand what Netflix does by now, cause that is how they tackle most of their narratives – make it more darker and troublesome.

Lost in Space follows a family, the Robinsons, after they crash-land on a unknown planet and have to survive to make their way to the human colony in space.

I know my reading list is mostly full of fantasy and contemporaries, but just like with my books, I love SciFi as well. I don’t crave it all the time, but when I hear or in this case see that something is done right, there is no hesitation from my side to check it out. With this one, it was most of all the cinematography and the top notch CGI that drew me in. If the story is solid, I might be able to overlook low budget effects, but I am always overjoyed when I don’t have to. Also, I took one look at the location and knew immediately that they filmed it near Vancouver, which made my heart rejoice. That may be a very biased way to judge a show, but if it gets me to watch the program, does it really matter?

Anyway, let’s talk more about the story and the characters. I find myself gravitating more and more towards stories that focus on family and all that comes with it, which is the definition of this show. The Robinsons aren’t perfect, they fight, they have their problems in the past as well as the present, but they also would do anything for one another. They are a kind of patchwork family, which is just another way of modernizing the story, which I very much appreciate. Each family member has their role to play, with all their weaknesses and strengths.

For me, the emotional components balanced nicely with the more scientific stuff, that I mostly try to let sink in but don’t always get entirely. I have no problem suspending disbelief and just going with whatever I am told in that kind of setting. Do I think that there might be tiny plot holes every now and then? Yes, absolutely. But I was here for the characters and their relationships more than accurate depiction of space travel to begin with.

One thing that bothered me a little was how the villain was handled. Look, I am all for villains, but they have to have some sort of character development, motive and maybe a tinge of redeeming quality about them. With Dr. Smith there was none of that. She was manipulative, but to a point that didn’t even make sense. They were all fighting for survival and she was clearly not trained for the kind of situations they were faced with, so she needed the others.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the alien robot storyline. I’ll admit that he looked like a tall person in a suit with a mask on sometimes … but his relationship with Will, his learning progress and the continued mystery about his origin was fascinating. I, of course, don’t know if there is another season, but that robot’s story is not done yet and I am very happy about that. (The robot made me cry, folks! The robot did that!)

This is the point where I usually have my character spotlight, but the thing is that I don’t know who to spotlight in the family? Maureen is a fierce and brilliant mother and engineer, showing that you can really do it all. John is a former soldier not letting anything come between him and his kids as he has lost too much time with them already. Judy, the eldest daughter, is only 18 but has received accelerated medical training and is now the doctor for the next wave of space colonists. Then there is Penny, who seems superficial at first, but who is brave and cunning when others need help. Or Will, the youngest with only 11 years, but one of the kindest, sensible and most thoughtful kids out there who managed to befriend an alien robot that might as well could have killed him? They are this perfectly imperfect family with so much heart, because they do make mistakes and sometimes really stupid ones considering their IQs, but they are still very lovable as a whole.

There is just one last thing I want to talk about before I conclude this little post. While watching this show, I felt certain … vibes between Judy and Don (a roguish technician) and I was wondering if I only imagined them. In former versions of this story, I believe they were a couple, but I am not sure how audiences would feel about it here. As I mentioned, Judy is only 18, but Don looks like he is in his 30s (the actor is 36) and while I don’t mean to say that age difference necessarily has to be a problem when it comes to love, they do make it a lot harder to root for them? I will withhold judgement on this (cause it worked pretty damn well in From Dusk Till Dawn despite the age thing), but I am just trying to say that it might stir up some controversy. Anyway, him giving her his pet chicken to look after was one of the best moments of the season.

Believe it or not, this was one of the most fun relationships on the show!

Did you watch Lost in Space already? Are you going to? Did you miss #CurrentlyWatching? Let’s talk!

#CurrentlyWatching: Our Girl

I am going to be upfront with you, but today’s theme is a bit of a stretch. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to showcase this week, but I struggled to give them a connecting link, so “UK shows (sort of?)” is my theme. Let me explain! I am starting this week with Our Girl, which is a BBC show about the British military, so it is definitely a very British show, but I am sure it’s 90% not set in the UK because of the tours they are on and that’s why there is that question mark.

This is actually not the first time that I have talked about the show! It all started out with the 2013 movie (of the same title) about young Molly Dawes, whose life changes drastically when she signs up with an Army Recruitment Office. It was so well received that her story subsequently received an upgrade to a mini-series in 2014. There were five episodes in that season and I reviewed all of them very spoilery except for the pilot (here are the links for Part 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). Unfortunately, there were scheduling issues with the main actress, so for season two and three the focus changed to another medic by the name of Georgie Lane. To this day, the reviews for the earlier episodes are some of my most visited posts and therefore I thought it was time to talk about the rest as well!

This is going to be a little different than usually, because I am going to show both the trailer for the movie and the TV show (for Molly as well as Georgie). It is not strictly necessary that you watch the movie before the show (I watched it later on but I understood perfectly fine what was happening in the mini-series), but I still want to include it for completion’s sake. Also, the Molly and Georgie storylines are separate, even if there are some characters that stayed the same and there are references to Molly’s life.

Both, the movie and the show, focus on how the Army can change a person’s life with a special focus on women in the military.

I hope I didn’t confuse you too much with my explanation of the show. It’s really a lot simpler than it might have sounded. Our Girl focuses on strong women in the military and delivers a seemingly authentic experience through and through (seen as I was never part of the military, this is just my personal feeling and not based on experience!). Even through all that, it never glorifies the actions of the military or war itself, but rather questions them and their rules.

The characters are all very likable. They are regular folks in very non-regular situations. There’s a lot of heart and personal drama that went into this franchise, but they also managed to show life while being on tour and all the different kinds of dangers the service personnel might face. However, they also show the contrast of how displaced the affected people might feel upon their return home.

It’s difficult to talk about one particular part of Our Girl, because it keeps changing focus. Each series puts the characters in a new setting with new faces and challenges all around them. As I have mentioned before, some people remain constants throughout the different storylines, but at the same time I recommend not getting too attached to anyone.

There’s a beautifully chosen soundtrack, with a new theme with each season. I feel like they got more budget for the series than they did for the movie, as it is a lot more aesthetically pleasing.

Obviously this show is about women. It’s in the title, it’s in the premise and I think it’s such an important focus as well. The women aren’t just army wives or the daughters here (although there is nothing wrong with that and those experiences carry their own struggles with them), but here the women are a vital part of the team, they are right in middle of things. I adored Molly’s character and was devastated when I first found out that she wouldn’t be returning. At this point, I have gotten so used to Georgie though, that I couldn’t even imagine the show without her. They are both strong in their own ways, not afraid to face their fears and conquer life, but there is one person connecting them and through that being that glue for the entire show – Captain James!

He is the kind of person who sticks to rules, but always takes care of his people and someone you would absolutely want in your corner when things get tricky. I don’t think there was a single person who didn’t eventually fall for him as he slowly started to open up in series 1 and I was more than happy to see that he became the constant the show needed when Molly was replaced. Through him, the story still made sense and provided that link to make it all work.

I will never forget the gruesome weeks it took until they revealed his first name and how I laughed when we finally found out. Or how he made me feel like I was in a Nespresso commercial, direly needing to try the Rosabaya flavour, even though I don’t like or ever drink coffee. Someone stop me from swooning over him all day long, please!

Anyway, this was my very rambly post about Our Girl. I feel like this wasn’t as comprehensive as it maybe could have been, but I hope my love for the show still came across! It definitely won’t ever get boring!

Do you watch Our Girl? Is it about something you are interested in? Let’s chat!

#CurrentlyWatching: Peaky Blinders

Let’s continue with this week’s theme of “family business“, but with a show vastly different from Dynasty. If you follow me on Twitter, you will have seen me gush about it all of last week and that show is Peaky Blinders!

I joined in quite late, considering that the show premiered in 2013 and already has 4 seasons available, but then again, I am really glad I could binge it all in a short amount of time, instead of waiting a year or more between season (seriously, Season 5 won’t be out until 2019 and I am dying a little bit inside, but am also super grateful the show continues). Peaky Blinders is made by the BBC, but is also available on Netflix in most territories as far as I know.

**Please ignore that the official BBC speaker pronounces Cillian as Sillian, because it is Killian and I am ashamed for them**

Set in the early 1920s, Peaky Blinders chronicles the life of the infamous gang by the same name run by the ambitious and ruthless Shelby family.

While the Peaky Blinders as a gang really did exist, the show has no claim on being factually correct whatsoever. Whereas the series starts in 1919, the real Peaky Blinders operated from around 1890-1920 and would have most likely been extinct by the time the show begins. There is no proof of any of the characters having existed (except maybe some of the opponent crime bosses) and the razors the gang has sown into their caps were a luxury product at the time that probably not even the Peaky Blinders could have afforded. So, I personally do not care about any of these things at all, but some people might want to know that this is not based on real history. I always saw it as a pure work of fiction to begin with.

Right from the get go, I quite enjoyed the family dynamic of the Shelbys. Whereas the family business, in this case a buzzing gambling den, is usually run by the eldest sibling, it is Thomas Shelby (the middle child) everyone looks to. None of the brothers have come home from the war the way they left for France, but he has taken up the responsibility to care for his family and to get them the life he thinks they deserve for their service to their country – by whatever means necessary.

Thomas Shelby is a complex character and I love him all the more for it. Is he a good man? Debatable for sure. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that he always has good intentions in mind, because it wouldn’t be the truth. People fear him, but they also adore him. He provides protection, but at the same time he is often the reason people need protection to begin with. Whatever he does, it always feels like a two-edged sword. He wants to go legit, but in the end there is always one more thing to do, one last heist, one last mission. I am not sure he would actually be able to be content with a life in peace if it was right in front of him.

Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of Thomas is perfection in my eyes. He has no problem showing his callous and ruthless side, he can turn on the charm and self-confidence that is required to navigate certain situations, but there is also an underlying vulnerability and endless sadness to him. All this affects his every relationship at one point or another and shows how broken war has left him.

Women were at a clear disadvantage in the 1920s, however, I appreciate that there is an element of progressiveness among the Peaky Blinders. Women’s issues are discussed, equality is at least attempted and it is in no way implied that they are just damsels in distress that need to be saved and protected all the time. Women have their own head in this show and oftentimes sneakily manipulate the men in their small ways. I am not saying that the female representation is perfect, but considering the time period it is set in, I certainly enjoyed the direction they decided to go in.

There is no denying that the show can go quite dark and violent. I suppose that is part of the whole ogranised crime topic we are dealing with. However, it also handles topics such as mental health and PTSD in particular. Considering how little regard there was given to mental health issues at the time, I always find it interesting to see how people dealt with it. There is a lot of emotional trauma to deal with throughout the series and they constantly managed to break my heart.

All in all, I hold Peaky Blinders in high regard. It has most stellar acting in all roles, be it the main casting or supporting characters. The setting is not one you see on TV every day and even throughout several seasons, it never seizes to amaze me in terms of intricacies of the plot and characters. Also, one final shout out to all the epic walking scenes on that show. You should never underestimate how difficult it is to walk normal or cool while being filmed.

So, by the order of the Peaky Blinders, I command you to watch this show. Just kidding! But if you do think this one is for you, check it out and tell me what you think!

 

#CurrentlyWatching: Dynasty

I am on a roll, because this week has a theme as well! It’s all about family business, which usually means a lot of drama, backstabbing and generally business equating or overshadowing what one might call regular family life. Today’s show is a perfect example for that and it’s Dynasty!

Dynasty is another remake, because that’s just the kind of time we are living in. My mum still remembers watching the original show, but I can’t say that I do (admittedly, that show aired before my time). You can watch it on the CW or Netflix. I’ve stayed away from promoting shows on the #CurrentlyWatching feature that don’t even have one season out yet, because when I did that last year, some of them got cancelled and I was devastated (RIP No Tomorrow, Emerald City, Sweet/Vicious and Class). But then again, shows are always in danger of getting cancelled no matter what season they are in.

Dynasty follows one of the wealthiest families of America, the Carringtons, as they battle family drama and business scandals alike.

I wasn’t too impressed when I first started the show, which could have something to do with a certain person dying that I would have liked to see on the show for longer, but whatever. It fulfilled about every cliché I could possibly think of for this kind of show and I figured I would soon be bored. But for some reason I stuck with it nonetheless and that was a good decision. If you are looking for something with a lot of over the top drama that gradually escalates over time, then Dynasty is the show for you.

My favourite character so far is probably Fallon Carrington and despite her being far, far from likable, I do have my reasons. First, I love having Elizabeth Gillies on my screen whether it be on Victorious, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll or now this show, she is always highly enigmatic and worth watching. And second, Fallon is ruthless and ambitious – she is my new Blair Waldorf, who, to this day, is one of my all time favourite characters (despite inconsistencies and Gossip Girl being far from perfect). Both of these women were incredibly strong but with deeply rooted insecurities that surface in a certain mean girl attitude. Where Blair was focused on approval from everyone and her love life, Fallon is all business. I adore that about her, she just wants to make it on her own merits and won’t let anyone or anything get in her way of success. That doesn’t mean she has no love interest, in fact she has two. At first I wasn’t sure who’s side I was on, then it became more clear, but in the end I will just always be Team Fallon.

There’s a couple of things the Carringtons have to deal with, most of them having to do with murder and otherwise illegal activities. One of their biggest opponents through all of this is the Colby family. There is clear history concerning the parents, but we only slowly find out what the kids are up to. There is so much duplicity going on and I am mad about some developments, yet I am not completely against them. Before I make the judgment, I would like to have all the info, because usually there is some reason for vendettas.

Another character who grew on me immensely with time, but definitely not from the beginning, is Sammy Jo. He is Cristal’s nephew and starts living with the Carringtons after having tried to con Steven, Fallon’s brother. He develops such an interesting dynamic with both Carrington siblings, I feel like he has become an invaluable part of the family. Also, he brings all the snark and his banter with the head of the household, Anders, is just hilarious.

As you may have been able to guess by the characters I spotlighted, I don’t care too much for the “grown-ups” aka the life of Blake and Cristal and the likes. There’s still loads of drama there, but often I don’t understand their reasons behind their actions as well as I do with the younger generation, which in turn makes it even harder to relate to them (taking aside the fact that they are super rich and therefore have problems the average person wouldn’t particularly relate to to begin with).

In the end, I think this is either going to be an addictive kind of guilty pleasure for viewers or they will hate it. At least the opinions I have seen so far have been very polarising. I, for one, quite enjoy it and am looking forward to the upcoming episodes.

Are you watching Dynasty? What’s your take on the show?

Fall Review: Code Black

Once again I am coming to you with a Fall Premiere of a show. This time it is from CBS and called Code Black!

CastMelanie Chandra, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Marcia Gay Harden, Harry Ford, Raza Jaffrey, Luis Guzmán, Bonnie Somerville, …

A Code Black is when there are more patients needing help than a hospital can provide due to lack of resources. A normal hospital has this happening about 5 times a year, the Angel’s Memorial an average of 300 times. The show follows the doctors and nurses who have to deal with the craziness.

I thought I was done with medical dramas, but it turns out I am just tired of Grey’s Anatomy. All the others are still fine! Code Black is based off the documentary of the same title by Ryan McGarry. They really tried to push the show with the casting of Marcia Gay Harden as one of the leading tough surgeons, but I recognised some of the other faces too. The characters are fine so far, but not all of them are likable from the beginning. They tried to give each resident their own problems, but what show doesn’t have that?

That’s a bit the problem with Code Black. It focuses on a very unique situation in hospitals, but whereas that should create tension and drama, it still has difficulties distinguishing itself from all the other med dramas out there. Sure, if you like that sort of thing, it’s an entertaining show with lots of blood spilt and suctioned up, but it’s not unique. It is possible that it will develop over time. My Wednesday nights are already pretty full with Chicago PD, Empire, Nashville and some other comedies. Still, I’ll give Code Black a chance, but only for a couple more episodes.

What do you think? Should the producers have taken a look at the market and never even developed the show? Or are you embracing another medical drama?