Featherston Book Town 2021 book haul.

After a few weeks of neglecting my blog, mainly because I found excuses to do other things, I’m back again. Invigorated by the annual book/writers/readers festival at New Zealand’s “Book Town” Featherston – about which another post will follow.

This is just a short post to get me back in the saddle, so to speak.

I made a list of books that I wanted to try to buy second hand from the 7 permanent book shops in Featherston village….or is it a settlement? Although called a Book Town, it’s surely too small to be recognized as a Town, with a little under 3000 population. There were also book stalls set up in the main hall representing many other of the regions book shops, some brand new books as well as second hand. Sadly of the list of 50 books to look out for I only managed to acquire 3 of them. However, although I didn’t get the specific books on my list, I did get other books by some of the authors I was looking for.

My smaller than hoped for haul of books

I had, over the last few months, become acquainted with the work of Philip Roth (see my earlier blog posts). I was trying to get a copy of American Pastoral. No luck with that particular book but I did find 2 others – Portnoy’s Complaint……and Exit Ghost – so, not a complete disaster. Also on the list were a couple of books by Ayn Rand – again no luck with the ones I was looking for (Anthem and Atlas Shrugged), but did find a copy of The Fountainhead.

The three books that I did manage to tick off my list were Wool by Hugh Howey, Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Swan Song by Robert R McCammon…..all three of them were recommended on line under the heading of best dystopian books. I still can’t believe that I haven’t read Lord of the Flies yet, but bear with me, I’ll get there.

Meanwhile, I still have my wish list of books and have heard of another used book store a half hour drive away that I haven’t explored yet in Napier. Since I still have money in my pocket I’ll visit The Little Book Shop tomorrow. Wish me luck!

The King of Plagues – Book Review

This is a brief book review for Jonathan Maberry’s novel The King Of Plagues – the third book in his Joe Ledger series of stories.

Joe Ledger was a Baltimore cop until he was enlisted by the DMS – the Department of Military Science – a crack team of investigators created to thwart bio terrorists and headed by a mysterious man called Church….or the Bishop…..or Deacon…or any other name related to the clergy. Everyone seems to know him by a different name

Ledger is accompanied by his white haired Alsatian dog by the name of Ghost, a dog almost as deadly as Ledger himself.

Ledger and Ghost are on the trail of a secret society known as the 7 Kings, who are lead by their self proclaimed Goddess, and who are determined to release weaponized versions of the Ten Plagues of Egypt in order to destabilize the world economy. The lives of millions of innocent people are in the balance unless Leger and his special ops team can bring down the Kings.

It’s a rip roaring, action packed story that will keep most Action/Military/Special Ops fans happy. Bad guys who kill without conscience, blood, guts, bullets, explosions and bio weapons galore….a fast paced story and a few twists and turns along the way to add enough uncertainty to make it interesting. Of course there is also a glamorous femme fatale or two to add a sexual angle to the story. Will Ledger and his team find out who the Seven KIngs are and stop them in time, or is this one fight that is unwinnable?

One particular Kings assassin, Santoro, has some good lines that enforce his reputation as a bad guy without a conscience….

“…when I kill for the Kings I am not committing murder, nor am I participating in acts of terrorism. Those are subjective concepts, and our worldview is grand. It is our mandate from heaven. As a result we are above all of that……because we have the power to enforce our own and particular set of rules”.

Anyone would think he was a politician, not an assassin. There are similarities I believe….they both think that they have the power to create their own set of rules that sets them above the common folk. Or am I just letting “Covid and the New Normal” bring out my petulant side?

He has zero remorse whether he kills thousands in a fiery bomb blast, or takes apart an innocent child.

The Kings set about wreaking havoc and Ledger and team always seem to be just a step behind, so close and yet so far from bringing a halt to the Kings dastardly plans. Will they get there in the end?

Read the book and find out.

The King of Plagues will never be looked upon as a classic piece of literature, but it is good entertainment and a light read. I give it a 3 out of 5.

Another Hemingway DNF

Although this was meant to be a book review, DNF being of course Did Not Finish, it would be hardly fair to review a book, in any depth, that I only read half way through. I mentioned in one of my very early blog posts how I struggled to get interested in Hemingway’s books and how much I wanted to like his writing. At the time I had been reading A Moveable Feast – his book of essays about life in Paris when he was a struggling writer. I said at the time of reading it that I enjoyed books, documentaries and movies about Hemingway, but couldn’t bring myself to a state of reading bliss when it came to books written by him.

I thought I would give him, and me, another chance and when I saw The Sun Also Rises on the shelves of Minton Booklovers – a most excellent second hand book store in the city of Napier, New Zealand – I felt compelled to buy it.

I had read, somewhere, that The Sun Also Rises was “a Hemingway masterpiece that salutes The Paris Cafe Scene, Spain and the Lost Generation”. Since all three of these subjects interest me I thought it would be a good read. BUT once again I struggled with Hemingway’s style of writing.

So, what is Hemingway’s writing style? It has been described as “economical, minimalist and sparse with few adjectives or adverbs”….OR “simple, direct and unadorned prose”. He writes giving little or no background information and often refers to it, he, or she without being specific about which it, he or she he is talking about. It has been suggested that his style developed from his days of being a journalist – giving just the bare bones about what happened and nothing else. He certainly doesn’t elaborate about anything. It was almost like stepping into the middle of a story rather than having a beginning and introducing us to the characters, setting the scene etc.

Many proclaim him a genius – a masterful writer. I honestly don’t understand why he is lauded by so many. He tends to provide the reader with the very basics necessary and leaves it up to us to add flesh to the bones of what the character means by what they say or deciding how they feel emotionally. I enjoy stories where I care about what happens to the characters, but it’s difficult to care about a character who is presented as all bones and no substance. There are, at times, occasional pages of conversation between two or more characters where it is difficult to follow who exactly is speaking….kind of like you’re listening into a conversation that you’re not part of, or not even meant to be part of. I felt like the book was some sort of “in-joke” that I was being deliberately excluded from.

I didn’t quite reach the half way mark of the 224 page story before I’d decided that enough was enough, for now at least. I’ll leave the bookmark in there and may get around to finishing it at a later date…..perhaps a bottle of whiskey would help?

Speaking of drinking, Hemingway is often associated with being a hard drinker and a tough fighter, but he claimed to rarely drink while writing. He would usually drink afterwards as a way of relaxing, to subconsciously work over the story in his mind, so that the following day he could continue to work with a clear head. Sometimes I wish he had partaken of a tipple or two while actually writing The Sun Also Rises as it may have relaxed his writing style, made his characters more believable, less wooden and far more interesting.

The Sun also Rises, I’m sorry to say, did not make my enthusiasm for Hemingway novels rise at all.

What if…?

Stephen King was once asked how he came up with this many storylines. His reply was that he just thinks “What if” this or that happened, and goes from there. This post, right here, is my what if moment, not totally a flight of fancy but more of a what if this is why things are currently happening around the world. It’s just an opinion piece about the possibilities that happen with WHAT IF situations, it’s certainly not meant to be taken as gospel, but simply to ask you to consider the events happening and have an open mind.

Our governments do lie to us from time to time “for our own good” – “to prevent wide spread panic” or “for national security”. This has happened over and over particularly during times of war, or as excuses to join in, or even to start a war. If anyone wants examples of what I mean message me or comment below. But this is not about western nations ignoring the plight of the Jews in world war 2, or the real reason why the Vietnam war started, it’s about our current situation. It’s about covid-19, lockdowns and of course the vaccine. Of course it’s not only about lying to us, it’s also about using the internet and social media to push propaganda onto the masses and to subdue any alternative information by blanking it out or calling it “false news” or “conspiracy theory”.

First though I want to mention climate change. Back in the 1970’s, Wallace Smith Broecker, the longtime Columbia University professor and researcher first coined the term “Global Warming” and warned that the danger of man made build up of carbon dioxide would lead to catastrophic heating of the atmosphere. That was 50 years ago…Since that day, this or that scientist has been the harbinger of doom telling us that we have only 10 years to stop adding to the buildup of what are now called Greenhouse Gases to prevent what is now termed Climate Change. It seems that it’s now not just about warming but about a magnification of weather phenomena – bigger and more damaging storms, wild fires, melting ice caps and rising sea levels along with the “devastation of habitat for endangered species”, the potential loss of what is currently productive farmland but will soon be desert…it goes on. There are of course climate change sceptics as there are sceptics about many other things. With every 10 years that pass we are reminded again by another scientist who has taken up the baton that….surprise surprise we have only 10 more years to prevent devastation. And here lies the problem.

Governments, particularly in the wealthier western nations are only voted into office for 3 or 4 years depending on which country you look at. So when the scientists tell government that they only have 10 years to prevent something they either look at it and say “in 10 years it will be another political party ruling so they can deal with it, we have things like jobs, hospitals, schools and social welfare projects to deal with” OR they say “if we’re still in power then we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it”, OR they just admit it’s too difficult to sort out. This is where the first of my “what if’s” come into being. Again this is just speculation and more than a little fantasy on my part….or is it?

What if the Billionaires, the Tech Giants, and other big business gurus along with a number of really pissed of scientists who are sick of the governments of the world not listening to them about climate change, have decided to take matters into their own hands. The biggest problem being that an ever growing global population puts more and more demands on an infrastructure that is growing ever more fragile because no one is doing anything about the effects of climate change. WHAT IF the members of the World Economic Forum….the Davos Club….have decided it’s time for The Great Reset? Quote….“The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world” – Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum. (link to WEF site…The Great Reset | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)..) What if that Great Reset needs to firstly reduce the global population by a massive amount so that they, and enough minions to provide them with a comfortable and even luxurious lifestyle, are left alive and whereby they can still have all their toys and not give anything up because the world population will be so miniscule, their excessive lifestyle can go on without adversely affecting the climate. What do they do to attain this massive population drop over a short time? Maybe over just one generation? But the first step is to find out how compliant we are as humans. How willingly will we give up our current freedoms and lifestyle in order to be “safe”? As Mr Schwab states the pandemic gives them an opportunity to enact this Great Reset. A convenient coincidence or a global conspiracy?

Grrr Graphics - Official Ben Garrison Cartoons

WHAT IF we have a global pandemic? Not a life threatening one that will kill too many people, after all we don’t want to go down in history as murderers, unless there is no other option. We want to be remembered as the saviors of mankind not the destroyers. BUT, as in war there will, and must, be collateral damage. Some have to be sacrificed to save the rest of us. What if this pandemic is just deadly enough to take out the old and the sick? Hey they’re going to die anyway so we may as well give their deaths a purpose. And as a bonus, look at the ultimate savings on pensions and aged health care. So we “accidentally” release a virus and blame China for it. We pay the news media to hype the hell out of it to increase the fear factor and make the healthy, who lets face it are never in much danger of getting anything more than a nasty cold from it, so worried about the virus that they will be willing to be injected with “an experimental vaccine” released under emergency regulations, so it doesn’t have to go through stringent long term testing, in order to both be saved and to be safe . What they won’t suspect through is that the new and experimental RNA vaccine contains something that can be “switched on and off” – supposedly to mimic the coronavirus spike protein to tell the immune system to attack the real virus if it is contracted – but it actually acts as a sterilizing agent to prevent this generation from producing the next generation and so lessens the global demand on resources.

See the source image

Sounds far fetched doesn’t it? Even the spoiled, selfish bastard Billionaires wouldn’t stoop to something that low would they? It’s not like Bill Gates is Doctor Evil from the Austin Power’s movies. Like I said earlier this is not based on fact…it’s just a chance to look at the WHAT IF’s, like Stephen King does. And anyway, I hear you say, “If we only have 10 years to completely prevent climate change, simply sterilizing the current generation of potential child bearers won’t drop the population quickly enough to lessen the rise in greenhouse gases”. And you’d be right…..so let me give you a second WHAT IF.

WHAT IF…..the vaccine they inject into the bulk of the worlds population works in two steps. The first injection puts into the body something that can, as suggested before, turn on and off certain functions. But instead of switching off our ability to procreate and making us sterile, it has the ability to perhaps stop the heart, or switch off all functions of the brain? I know many of you are now thinking that they have already done this and it’s the reason why Joe Biden and the Democrats are now in the driving seat in the USA….only the brainless would put grandpa Joe in the drivers seat when he has no idea who he is never mind where he’s meant to be going. AND for all you Democrats that was meant as a joke. No I’m not picking on the left, no I’m not being AGE-ist….it’s just a joke…remember when we used to have jokes? Before the PC brigade made laughing an offence.

Getting back to my WHAT IF theory….the first injection puts the ability to switch off the lifeforce into the body. It will require a further injection to switch it on. Of course this can’t be allowed to happen too soon or people will demand that the injections stop, before sufficient victims are “vaccinated”, until a full inquiry can be made. So, we’ll get round it by saying that, just like the flu vaccine, one for covid will have to be made annually. That way, once we are sure that sufficient people are carrying the “kill switch” genome we can administer a “booster” to kick start the process. Naturally death will not be instantaneous. We will learn from the first round of vaccinations how long is needed to vaccinate almost 8 billion people and adjust the kill gene to kick in just after the second lot of doses have been completed. Hey presto, the elite and their servants become the new and sustainable world population of 500 million.

Now the sceptics among you are saying “what if too many people refuse to have the vaccine and therefore foil the dastardly plot?” Good question I’m glad I….I mean you….asked.

If that situation occurs the elites switch to plan B. A different vaccine for themselves and the other chosen few which protects them against the release of the next virus pandemic….Super-Covid-22. This one is far more potent than the first weaker covid-19 which was only meant to take out the old and the infirm. This one has over a 90% kill rate to more than compensate for any who resisted being vaccinated earlier. And I haven’t even mentioned Zombies but I sense a lot of you are laughing at me for being a conspiracy theorist with my wild accusations. Nor have I mentioned the Bill Gates funded Harvard University study to spray chemicals into the sky to create and thicken the clouds to block out the sun in a bid to help to cool the earth….and risk causing another ice age, but hey we have to try something….right? Sound crazy? Look it up – it’s real. Harvard Scientists Begin Experiment To Block Out The Sun (forbes.com)

Remember though these are not accusations I’m simply playing Stephen King and asking WHAT IF?

BUT here is a real life WHAT IF situation. Let’s say that the climate scientists have got it right this time and we do really and truly only have 10 years in which to stop our destructive ways and save human life – and many other species lives – on earth. WHAT IF the only way to preserve human life is to rapidly drop the population down to 500 million just like on the Georgia Guide Stones……a similar thing was suggested by the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, an expert panel that advised US President Bill Clinton between 1993 and 1999. IF it was a case of sacrifice the many to save the few and to ensure the survival of the species…..would THEY do it?

Who would have thought, just over a year ago when we lived “normal” lives that a couple of months later most of the worlds population would be locked down in their own homes by democratically elected governments to “save us” from a deadly pandemic that 99.4% of us are going to survive anyway……and that we’d be compliant and happy about it?

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This cartoon is a little dated….but you get the idea.

So again, as a parting shot, I ask….WHAT IF?

Everyman (2006)- Philip Roth – Book review

I’d never read any of Roth’s work until recently, when I read “The Plot Against America”. (I reviewed this recently on my blog). I was alerted to Roth’s work when I was reading Woody Allen’s autobiography and in it he mentions several writers who have either influenced him, or who he rates highly. Now I’ve finished “Everyman” I can see similarities between Allen’s characters and writing and Roth’s.

Both writers write stories about relationships, both are of Jewish background, both write about characters who are obsessed with sex and death, particularly the emptiness of death….when you’re dead the lights go out and that’s it.

See the source image

My copy of Everyman is only a small novel 182 pages or average sized print but it’s well written and looks at one man’s life – his hopes and dreams – and his relationships. Sometimes in life we make decisions that we have a pretty good idea at the time are the wrong decisions for oh so many reasons, but we still choose to make them for short term gains, or instant pleasure, rather than looking at the long term effects of those choices and the problems that those decisions can cause – not just to yourself but to those around you.

We follow the life of one man – a successful commercial artist who worked for an advertising company in New York. The story begins with his death during a heart operation in hospital, followed by his funeral. From here we travel back in time – to when he was a boy and helped his father in the family jewelry shop. It’s a story about relationships. It’s about life and it’s about death and how, sooner or later, it befalls us all. We get to examine his relationship with his parents, with his older brother (who he adored and yet came to hate in his old age), with his three wives – as he was thrice married – with his children from the first two marriages…and his infidelities along the way. He’s one of those guys who is controlled by the urges of the libido rather than by letting logical thought take the lead. And when it comes to describing his character’s sexual liaisons Roth certainly leaves nothing to the imagination – he’s very up front and quite explicit.

All through his life, when it comes to a pretty face, or a stunning body – all traces of common sense, and common decency, take flight. He knows he’s making rash, irrational decisions based on lust. Even when he himself makes a point of letting the reader know how perfect his second wife is in so many ways – he still choses to cheat on her (repeatedly) with a much younger photographic model – and to hell with the consequences.

Of all of his decaying relationships, the one which makes no sense at all is the one that he has with his older brother Howie. As a child he idolized his older brother and as they grew up, they had a strong brotherly bond and a supportive relationship, but as our unnamed advertising exec reaches late middle age, his years of good, robust health come to an end and he develops heart disease, resulting in a number of operations. His older brother however, is still the picture of health and he comes to envy and despise him because of this and gradually, as years pass by, they become estranged.

Without wanting to give away the entire plot….it’s a quite remarkable novel about life, it’s mysteries and it’s strange ways of either working out, or turning bad in turn, and the bleak acceptance that death is waiting for us and that we have little to no control over when we take our final breath. It’s also about wasted opportunities, it’s about regrets and about his ideals not turning out how he hoped they would, even about himself not turning out as he’d hoped he’d turn out – as he becomes the kind of man he never wanted to be – and eventually it’s about acceptance. A human story…a story about the frailties of human life.

According to the blurb on the rear jacket of the book “Everyman takes its title from an anonymous fifteenth-century allegorical play whose theme is the summoning of the living to death.”

Douglas Kennedy in The Times writes – “The genius of this short, bleak, remarkable novel stems from the way that Roth turns his desolate assessment of death into something bracing: an angry acceptance that mortality is the price we pay for the sheer wonder of this thing called life“.

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Drawing of Roth which appeared in the New York Times.

RIP Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Literary Legend.

It was only a couple of years ago….April 11th 2019 to be exact..as I was heading towards my 60th birthday, that I finally got to visit the famous City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, home base of the legendary Lawrence Ferlinghetti – writer, poet, publisher, bookstore owner, artist and facilitator extraordinary. Without him, so many poets would not have seen their works in print….without him we may not have even heard of the Beat Writers.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights in 1982.

My purpose in San Francisco was two fold. Firstly to spend time visiting my son and daughter-in-law who had recently moved there from Boston, and secondly to visit the abundance of bookstores that San Francisco boasts. I should have, perhaps, visited City Lights first, but my reasoning for leaving it until last was that, having seen what is broadly acknowledged as the best and most welcoming bookstore in SF, it would spoil the experience of visiting the many other lesser known bookstores. The problem with this was that by the time I finally set foot inside City Lights and was astounded by its multitude of books, many not available elsewhere, I had already bought so many books at other bookstores that my suitcase was over weight for the trip home to New Zealand. As a result, my only purchase there was Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island Of The Mind – his 1958 best selling collection of poems from his early days.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti departed this earth on February 22nd 2021 – just one month shy of his 102nd birthday. A life well lived, a literary legend and rather than me re-hashing the many well researched and well written obituaries I will link 3 of them below, from the New York Times…..Reuters…..and from the Guardian as featured on MSN News.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poet Who Nurtured the Beats, Dies at 101 – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti dies at age 101 | Reuters

Lawrence Ferlinghetti obituary (msn.com)

Actually the Reuters one would probably have made him laugh as he always insisted that he was not a “Beat Writer” as such, he was there but was just a bookshop owner. Many would beg to differ. I never met him, sadly, just visited the shop, picked up a book, sat and read a while in the poetry room upstairs soaking in the atmosphere and wondering about the many writers who had been there before me….before making my purchase and moving on. The outpouring of grief in Jack Kerouac alley outside City Lights by many of his fans and followers after his death, even in times of Covid-19 anti-social distancing regulations, showed the extent of the love and respect they have for the man and the legend.

I close with a few lines borrowed from his poem titled autobiography – which appears in A Coney Island of the Mind.

I have written wild stories without punctuation. I am the man. I was there. I suffered somewhat. I have sat in an uneasy chair. I am a tear of the sun. I am a hill where poets run…….

The Plot Against America – Book Review.

The Plot Against America was written in 2004 by American writer Philip Roth. It’s a novel, but told in the first person, using his own name along with real people from the 1930’s and 40’s – the time in which the story is set. So, in a way it reads more like an autobiography….but not one that is factual. In this story, rather than Franklin D Roosevelt winning the presidential election for the Democrats, it is taken out by Republican Charles Lindbergh (the famous aviator…..and Nazi sympathiser). This of course puts a different spin on world war 2 and which side the USA is leaning toward supporting.

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Roth is an American of Jewish heritage and in this book he writes a story featuring himself as a child in Newark living in a very Jewish neighbourhood. His main concern and his main passion, at the beginning of the story, is his stamp album….collecting stamps and keeping them safe for posterity. This of course is the period of history where Hitler comes to power in Germany, endeavours to conquer Europe and bring about the “final solution” to what he sees as the Jewish problem.

Once Lindberg looks like becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency, the world of the Jewish population in America takes a distinct turn for the worse. The persecution of the Jews becomes an accepted thing.

We follow the Roth family – Philip, the youngest child, his older brother Sandy and his parents – through a disturbing turn of events in an American history that didn’t happen, but could have very easily. Philip’s parents take in cousin Alvin to raise as their own ( a troubled youth) to try to straighten him out and set him on the right path, but he runs away to Canada to join the war effort against Hitler’s Nazi tyrants. Within a short time, Alvin is badly wounded, losing half a leg from the knee down….(what a stupid statement….it’s not likely to be from the knee up is it?) and returns to the Roth household broken and dejected. Young Philip shares a bedroom with Alvin and helps to dress his stump and look after his welfare.

Roth writes a very believable story of ordinary citizens turning against the Jews in late 1930’s early 1940’s America. The phrase “it can’t happen here” rings out….but fact is, it can happen anywhere and often does. In Nazi Germany, German Jews who had lived quite happily with other Germans for years and were considered friends and acquaintances were abandoned and attacked by their former neighbours and handed over to the Nazi’s and Gestapo. And in “The Plot Against America” the Jews are once again the target of hatred, but this time it’s in the “land of the free”.

Lindberg initiates the Office of American Absorption (OAA)- programs to separate Jewish youths from their families and place them far away from home with gentile families on “work experience” where they become more Americanized. Philip’s brother Sandy is sent away to a farm in Kentucky during the 6 week school holiday to return home later a changed character who has no respect for his father and mother and has become an admirer of Lindberg.

I don’t want to talk in any detail about the plot as I’d like to encourage you to read it for yourselves and so don’t want to give away too much and spoil your reading experience.

Leaving talk of this particular book just there, many of us look at the slaughter of the 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany and question how anything like that could happen, where right thinking people initially turn a blind eye and then actually support the persecution of a particular group of people based on race, religion, or political beliefs – but it happens a lot. It is often seen as convenient to blame a particular set of people for causing problems to make them scapegoats for something that they were never responsible for. A way for the government, ruling classes, or crazed dictator to drive a wedge between other once peaceful parts of the civilian population. It happened to anyone of middle eastern origin/Muslims after the 9/11 tragedy. It’s happened more recently in Europe with eastern Europeans moving to the west and taking western jobs….and more recently still with Syrian refugees fleeing conflict in their own country and escaping to Europe and Britain in particular. The established residents take an instant disliking to the “invading refugees” and eye them suspiciously because they don’t understand their culture and most people fear, and therefore hate, what they don’t understand.

It worries me that more division, hatred, bullying and other means of victimization will occur, and be encouraged to occur, between those who accept the official narrative and take the covid-19 vaccine and those who question or refuse a vaccination. Already rival factions are attacking one another verbally on social (or not so social) media. The vitriol was already heated with threats of violence even before the various vaccines were approved for use. I wonder and worry what will happen now that the vaccinations have begun in earnest.

Going back to Roth’s book. At the end of the story is a post script in which Roth provides true details of some of the real life characters who appeared in his story. It’s actually uncanny how close Roth’s fictional events came to happening in reality having read the details in the post script. Scary stuff.

There is a 2020 HBO TV mini-series based on Roth’s book. I haven’t seen it yet, but judging by the trailer – link below – it appears to stick closely to the original story.

(408) The Plot Against America: Official Trailer | HBO – YouTube

“Anything can happen to anyone, but it usually doesn’t. Except when it does.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Plot Against America

Blithe Spirit 2020 Film Review

This will be a very brief look at the latest movie offering based on Noel Cowards play.

Blithe Spirit was originally a play written by Noel Coward and first performed in London’s West End in 1941. It was adapted for the screen in 1945 for a movie directed by David Lean and staring Rex Harrison along with Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond and Margaret Rutherford.

As with many old movies, it has been revamped and there is now a 2020 version directed by Edward Hall, with Dan Stevens taking the lead – playing writer Charles Condomine who is struggling with writers block and Isla Fisher and Leslie Mann playing his current wife Ruth and first/dead wife Elvira. Judy Dench takes over the Margaret Rutherford role of the medium who conjures up the ghost of his first wife thus causing chaos….which results in a good old fashioned comedy romp.

The review website Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a miserly 31 out of 100 and commented “An indifferent adaptation of classic source material, Blithe Spirit puts a star-studded cast through the motions without capturing the story’s screwball spark.

Other critics also panned it comparing it poorly with the original 1945 movie. Deborah Ross of The Spectator said “Better if she’d been left to rest in peace, and, after seeing this film adaption, you may well wish the play had been left to rest in peace too. Don’t dig it up! Leave well alone!” And Simran Hans of The Observer (UK) said “Edward Hall’s film attempts to send up Condomine for leeching off a female muse, which clashes somewhat with the source material’s “blithe” mood.

In a way I’m quite pleased that I have seen neither the original play performed, nor the original 1945 movie, so I was allowed to enjoy the 2020 movie as a stand alone creation. What can I say? I enjoyed it. It was light, funny, entertaining. The costumes, sets and scenery were first class and the main actors (ably backed up by the rest of the cast), I thought, did a good job and produced an amusing film.

If you just want to be entertained for an hour and a half by something that’s easy to watch and simple to follow with a few laughs along the way, this may be the movie for you. If however you’re a fan of the original movie….beware.

I’ll provide links to trailers of this version and to the 1945 original for you to judge for yourselves. For my money, the acting in the 1945 version looks wooden in comparison….but that’s just my opinion.

A Call to Spy (2019/2020) Movie review

There are a few things that give me pleasure these days, other than time spent with my family of course. Things like having free time to pursue my interest in photography, or to browse in bookshops, particularly well stocked second hand book shops – usually called “preloved books” or “preowned” or “nearly new books”… Or the luxury of sitting in a movie theatre and seeing a really good film.

Yesterday my wife and I….or me and my wife, whichever term you prefer….went to our local Event Cinema in Havelock North to watch the world war 2 spy movie “A Call to Spy”, which is based on true stories about women spies who put their lives on the line, and often made the ultimate sacrifice, for the war effort in defeating Nazi Germany.

It originally premiered mid 2019 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, but wasn’t released to major box office in the USA until late in 2020….hence the two dates in brackets in the main heading. Written, produced by and starring the very talented Sarah Megan Thomas in the main role of Virginia Hall – an American living in the UK who had ambitions to be a diplomat but was repeatedly turned down and was eventually offered the opportunity to help Britain’s war effort by becoming the first female spy to be dropped into France during WW2.

What made this even more admirable was that Virginia had a wooden leg, nicknamed Cuthbert. Curious but true. She shot herself in the foot during a hunting expedition when she tripped and her shotgun went off years earlier. She was an intelligent and incredibly brave individual who risked her life for the cause over and over during her time firstly in unoccupied France, then Nazi occupied France. She was a thorn in the side of the Germans, who gave her the nickname Artemis, was at the top of the Gestapo’s most wanted list and was considered “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.” Klaus Barbie (SS and Gestapo officer) aka the Butcher of Lyon was quoted as saying “I would give anything to get my hands on that limping bitch”.

She set up a spy support network, named Heckler, in Lyon, where she became an expert in logistics, resistance organisation, assisting in the supply of money, munitions and weapons, helped airmen downed by German gunfire escape back to Britain, provided shelter and medical help, help break prisoners out of prison, took part in espionage….this woman was amazing. Small wonder then that after the war she was given the Distinguished Service Cross and became the first female agent of the newly created CIA Special Activities Division.

Historical photo – Virginia Hall of Special Operations Branch receiving the Distinguished Service Cross from General Donovan, September 1945

The movie isn’t just about Virginia Hall though, it’s a tribute to many other women spies and radio operators most of whom lost their lives in the service of King and Country, behind enemy lines.

Sarah Megan Thomas does a wonderful job of writing, producing and staring as the spy with the code names of Marie and Diane. She is ably abetted by Radhika Apte as Noor Inayat Khan – a pacifist Muslim radio operator (SPOLIER ALERT….who was caught and executed by the Germans after being held in Dachau concentration camp)……and this was the point in the movie that a solitary tear rolled down my cheek as I remembered visiting Dachau on a recent trip to Europe and recalled the eerie silence in the camp, despite the presence of hundreds of visitors, a feeling that I had never experienced before and never want to again….. and Stana Katic as Vera Atkins – female spy-master – an intelligence officer who worked in the French Section of the Special Operations Executive from 1941 to 1945…and who later was awarded the CBE.

It was a story long in the making and heavily researched by Thomas who searched through historic records and interviewed surviving family members of Virginia Hall before penning the script. It can’t have been an easy task as Hall was, as you’d expect from a spy, very secretive about her past and shunned the limelight. To quote Craig R. Gralley “Hall left no memoir, granted no interviews, and spoke little about her overseas life–even with relatives. She…received our country’s Distinguished Service Cross, the only civilian woman in the Second World war to do so. But she refused all but a private ceremony with OSS chief Donovan–even a presentation by President Truman.”

It’s a movie about bravery, persistence, selflessness, with action and tension about a group of heroic people who I had no idea even existed. We often see movies about the French Resistance fighters, some of whom were women, but I had no idea at all about the British (and American) female spies who put everything on the line. Hall herself had her cover blown and had to escape France over the Pyrenees, on foot, covering 50 miles over two days in the snow, in order to cross into Spain and then to Portugal to get a ship back to England (I’d struggle on two good feet never mind one foot and a wooden leg)…..and then retrained as a radio operator and went back into France. Bravery of the highest order….or insanity? Watch the movie and decide for yourselves.

Although there are men in the movie who also do a good job – including Linus Roache who plays Vera Atkins’s boss Colonel Maurice James Buckmaster OBE – it’s a movie primarily about women, not only written, produced by and staring women, but also directed by a woman – Lydia Dean Pilcher, with music by Lillie Rebecca McDonough. And bloody good it is too. Do see it. Link to movie trailer is below.

(350) A Call to Spy – Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films – YouTube

My TBR list.

It’s been a while since I put out a to be read list. Some of these I have had for a while and have been meaning to read for some time.

I’ve never read any Philip Roth, but have heard good things about him….and a few bad things…so I’ll have a read and make up my own mind. I picked up Sabbath’s Theatre at a book sale in November and the other 2 books I bought today at a used book store that I’ve never been in before by the name of Minton Booklovers, in Napier…..which probably warrants a post of its own at a later date.

As you can see there are a few classics there among my picks, all of which I have never delved into before so have been languishing for a while on my shelf begging to be picked up and opened. I have no idea what order I will read them in, but since I have 3 of Roth’s there I guess I should start with one of his.

If anyone has any advice or opinions to share on any of these books, please feel free to comment.

Many thanks.