How to Be Brave by Daisy May Johnson review

After a month’s hiatus, I’m back with another book review! 2021 has been a…year, shall we say, and one of the things I’ve taken comfort in is reading. So, when Pushkin Press announced their new children’s books, I jumped at the chance and requested one on Netgalley: Daisy May Johnson’s middle grade How to Be Brave.

The novel begins with Elizabeth North who, after the tragic death of her parents, is sent away to live at the School of the Good Sisters. At first, she struggles to cope and doesn’t quite fit in, but gradually she starts to befriend fellow students and develops a strong interest in ducks. Fast forward many years later, and Elizabeth’s daughter Calla starts the same school. Her mum has gone to the Amazon to discover the location of a rare breed of duck. But, this once-in-a-lifetime trip isn’t as innocent as it seems, and it is up to Calla to rescue her mother.

Reading stories set in boarding schools always makes me nostalgic (there is something so cosy about them), and How to Be Brave was no different. I loved the camaraderie between the pupils, and seeing both Elizabeth and Calla make friends was very sweet and touching. After all their hardships, you did root for them to succeed. Admittedly, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Elizabeth’s character development. As an adult, she is a loving, intelligent and quirky figure, but the quirkiness is pushed so far that it becomes far-fetched. For a young girl who is so caring to a duck, to become an adult who, at points, seems downright reckless and clueless as to her daughter’s welfare, seemed out-of-place. However, rebellious schoolgirl Edie is one of the best characters in the novel and more than makes up for Elizabeth in the latter half. She is very spunky and funny, and I can see a lot of younger readers relating to her. Johnson has created a fun cast of characters, and I could easily see them in a series.

I also really enjoyed Johnson’s writing. It’s very engaging and accessible; even when discussing difficult topics such as grief, she does so with great sensitivity and understanding. Children will be able to empathise with the themes of the book, even if they haven’t directly experienced them themselves. How to Be Brave is also really funny. Johnson has littered the book with duck-related puns and witty footnotes (one of the nuns likes footnotes) which never ceased to make me smile. It helped make the novel more light-hearted and fun to read. I devoured this all in two sittings, which for me is pretty much unheard of.

Overall, I liked How to Be Brave. While I did have some issues with Elizabeth’s character, I enjoyed the plot and Johnson’s writing in particular. She is a very witty and charming writer, and I’m definitely curious to see what she produces next. A really fun and funny book that I think young readers will love.

How to Be Brave is published by Pushkin Children’s Books and more information can be found here.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi review

I’ve been meaning to review Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom for a while and, now we’re less than three weeks from the winner being announced, today seems the perfect time to do it. Gifty is a postgraduate neuroscience student at Stanford, specialising in addiction. Her mother has newly arrived from Alabama and spends much of her time in bed, depressed. We also flashback to Gifty’s family life, her relationship with her brother Nana and his subsequent death from a heroin overdose. Through her studies, Gifty tries to make sense of and confront the past.

I found the novel to be a beautiful but heartbreaking exploration of grief. Both Gifty and her mother struggle in the aftermath of Nana’s death, and neither of them deals with these emotions in particularly healthy ways. The mother struggles with depression, whilst Gifty throws herself into work and sabotages her relationships as a result. It makes Transcendent Kingdom hard to read at points, watching these characters struggle throughout. I also found both women very sympathetic and likable, which made me want them to overcome their struggles even more. I really rooted for them, especially Gifty, who I related to a lot. Her experiments with the mice constantly mirror her own family’s problems with addiction and depression which, admittedly, could have been overworked but Gyasi pulls it off. I never became bored reading about her research – even if I didn’t 100% understand how the brain works.

Depression and addiction are obviously two of the main topics running through the novel. But another one is religion, especially in comparison to science. I think Gyasi brilliantly shows Gifty’s growing disillusionment with religion, how it simultaneously brings her comfort but also fails to answer the questions she seeks. This contrition between the two helps to emphasise the struggle between past and present Gifty is confronting, and the friction it creates is really thought-provoking. Gyasi also briefly taps into hypocrisy within the church – not necessarily religion itself, but individuals who don’t practice the values they claim to uphold. There’s also a racial element that runs through this pretence, as Gifty’s family attends a nearly all-white church. That scene, in particular, I found very powerful. Gyasi tackles a lot of heavy topics in the novel, but she successfully blends them together to form a thought-provoking, intelligent piece. Yet despite the dark storyline and weighty themes, I still see Transcendent Kingdom as a hopeful novel. Whilst the ending is bittersweet, I do think it is ultimately a happy one.

I can definitely see why Transcendent Kingdom has made the Women’s Prize shortlist. It’s a beautifully written novel that expertly captures the feelings of grief. Gyasi also poses a lot of difficult and, at times, uncomfortable questions and leaves the reader to answer them. It is a very curious book, always searching, much like Gifty, for solutions to complex ideas, and the reader becomes drawn into that. But, the biggest draw for me was the family dynamic. The love the characters share for one another, even when their actions don’t necessarily show it, was incredibly touching and I was moved by it and by them. Could this win the Women’s Prize? I wouldn’t be sorry if it did.

Transcendent Kingdom is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.

Random Book Quiz Round 52: Shakespearean First Lines

As we near the middle of May, I’m aware that I’ve been neglecting the Book Quiz in the last couple of weeks. Apologises for the delay, but it’s back! This week, I’ve decided to forgo novels and have focused on the world of theatre. Namely, Shakespearean theatre. The title is self-explanatory: down below are ten opening lines, all taken from plays written by William Shakespeare. Can you tell me the play?

  1. ‘Who’s there?’

2. ‘If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it…’

3. ‘Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.’

4. ‘Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon.’

5. ‘Before we proceed any further, hear me speak.’

6. ‘I thought the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.’

7. ‘I learn in this letter that Don Peter of Arragon comes this night to Messina.’

8. ‘Hence!’

9. ‘Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.’

10. ‘Good day, sir!’

Answers for Round 51

  1. A Horse Walks into a Bar
  2. Drive Your Pole Over the Bodies of the Dead
  3. Tyll
  4. In Memory of Memory
  5. Fever Dream
  6. The Vegetarian/ White Book
  7. The Story of the Lost Child
  8. Frankenstein in Baghdad
  9. The Unseen
  10. The Discomfort of Evening

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart review

Apologies for not updating this blog more often, as the first half of 2021 has been hard to say the least. Two family members passed away, and I struggled to read or write anything. Or just do anything full stop. But I’m feeling better, and so I decided to bring back the blog by reviewing the 2020 Booker winner, Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain. We follow the eponymous Shuggie, as he grows up in 1980s Glasgow and struggles to cope with his beautiful but alcoholic mother Agnes. His older siblings are able to escape through various means, but Shuggie remains devoted to Agnes, even during her lowest moments.

Whilst Shuggie is obviously the protagonist, his family are also significant characters in the novel, particularly his mother. I had very mixed feelings about Agnes. She is a deeply troubled woman, who makes bad decisions throughout and is in the grips of a vile addiction, so I felt a tremendous amount of pity for her. But there were also moments when I was angry and frustrated with her. The scenes where she is verbally abusive to Shuggie and his brother Leek were uncomfortable to read, and knowing how that will impact their lives later was truly heart-breaking. It made me really angry with her. You just desperately want Agnes to get help and be a better mother to her kids, instead of continuing down this path of self-destruction. She was pitiful and infuriating in equal measure, yet the love between her and Shuggie was always present. It was obvious how much he cared for her, making their final scene together really upsetting.

The relationship between Shuggie and Leek was also interesting to watch develop. There is a huge amount of brotherly love, but it doesn’t always manifest itself in a healthy manner. Leek seems to disappear into work and his drawings, escaping into another world and occasionally leaving Shuggie to take care of Agnes. He also doesn’t always help Shuggie when he is struggling with his own issues. Leek has a tremendous amount of frustration that he seems to take out on his family (not entirely without justification) which again, makes him a complicated character. I’m not sure if I like Leek, though he is far more sympathetic than Agnes.

The lack of hope and the helplessness the characters feel mirrors the wider social issues of the time. The 1980s was a period that saw massive unemployment in Scotland, with families and communities being torn apart as industries were forced to close. This is seen clearly with the closed mining village Agnes and her family move to, a ghost town populated by abandoned inhabitants, with their sole source of income being benefits. It’s a searing indictment of Thatcher’s government and the long-lasting damage they inflicted. As a Scot, I’m very familiar with the issues Stuart brings up and the picture of Glasgow that he paints. It was strange to read about a city and a period of time I know about, and also saddening thinking back to those troubled times. I think Stuart does an excellent job in capturing the desperation, frustration and sadness that many families went through.

Overall, I did like (if that’s even the right word) Shuggie Bain. I found it tragic and deeply moving, and was very invested in the characters. I wanted all of them to succeed in different ways. Stuart’s writing is well-constructed and some passages were beautifully written. However, I wouldn’t say it was necessarily my favourite out of all the Booker nominees. I understand the appeal, but I think other novels were better written, and were more experimental in form. But I would still recommend Shuggie Bain to those interested – you might need to bring some tissues though!

Shuggie Bain is published by Pan Macmillan and you can find more information here.

Monthly Round Up & Women’s Prize Shortlist Reaction

Apologises for the late post this week! I wanted to do a Monthly Round Up for April. But, I also wanted to react to the Women’s Prize Shortlist, which was released yesterday. So I decided to compromise, and squish the two together.

Looking back, this was the best idea. Mainly because most of the books read in April were from the Women’s Prize longlist. They were:

Piranesi – Susanna Clarke

Luster – Raven Leilani

I’ve also read Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, and the review will be up in May. Overall, I had a mixed reading month. Admittedly, I began to descend into a slump, but things seem to have perked up within the last week. I have DNF’ed a couple of books, but both Piranesi and Transcendent Kingdom I absolutely loved. Luster was an interesting read, and I do think Leilani has a lot of promise as I really enjoyed her observations. But there were certain aspects of the novel that didn’t work for me, and it felt meandering in places. I was left wondering what the plot even was – I like character-driven work but this didn’t seem to have a narrative running through it, making it feel directionless. You get to the end and are left confused by what you’ve just read.

My enjoyment of both Piranesi and Transcendent Kingdom has me conflicted.

Because they’re both on the Women’s Prize shortlist and I want both of them to win for different reasons. In case you never saw the announcement, here is the shortlist for 2021. My initial thoughts are this is a very strong list. Of course, there are some disappointments. I’m sad that Burnt Sugar never made the cut, as I find myself constantly reflecting on the book and the relationship between Antara and Tara. It’s also beautifully written. Also, I’m surprised Detransition, Baby never made the cut, as I’ve heard nothing but good things from those that have read it. It seemed like a shoe-in, so it was a shock not to see it on the shortlist.

However, out of the shortlist I’ve already mentioned two. Piranesi I loved because I had never read anything like it before. I found it bizarre, funny, heart-breaking, and thrilling in equal measure, but always riveting. Piranesi himself is a wonderfully constructed character living in a wonderfully constructed world. I went into the novel with low expectations, and came out in awe of it. Probably the most original book I’ll read in 2021.

Transcendent Kingdom is a very different novel, but still powerful. Gyasi really evokes a sense of a family battling against depression and addiction, and it is very hard-hitting and difficult to read at certain scenes. But I loved the relationship between Gifty, Nana, and their mother; despite all the anger and frustrations they feel towards one another you can still feel the love they share. It makes the events all the more tragic. I’ll discuss the book more in my review, but I found Transcendent Kingdom thought-provoking and emotionally devastating. A hard read for sure, but a worthwhile one.

Out of the four remaining nominees, I’m excited for No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. Ever since I mentioned it on my Women’s Prize predictions list, I’ve heard very mixed things. Some people really enjoyed it whilst others hated it. When it comes to Marmite books, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle – perhaps because I already know the positives and negatives going into it. But, the plot of No One… intrigued me before it even made it on to the longlist, so it’s definitely one I’ll be picking up.

Everyone has read The Vanishing Half except me, something which I need to redress by the time the winner is announced. I’m always wary of reading hyped books – what if they don’t live up to expectations? But again, the plot sounds like something I would like, and it would be interesting to compare it to Nella Larsen’s Passing which I’m also hoping to read next month as well. I haven’t heard much about How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House and Unsettled Ground. Out of these two, the first one sounds more intriguing; certainly the small plot snippets I’ve read appealed to me. Unsettled Ground sounds similar to several novels I’ve read previously and isn’t jumped out to me as a ‘must read’ (which means it’ll probably win!)

Overall, I really like this list. I’m delighted that Piranesi and Transcendent Kingdom made the cut, and I want to read three out of the remaining four nominees. It’s impossible to name the novel I want to win, never mind actually try and predict who will win. It feels like the strongest shortlist for the Women’s Prize in a while and I’m not envious of the judges at all, as it is going to be difficult to pick just one.

What do you think of the shortlist this year? Who would like to see win? Let me know in the comments below!

Random Book Quiz Round 51: International Booker Prize Nominees

After a couple of weeks away, the Random Book Quiz is back! And since we’ve also recently had the announcement of the International Booker Prize 2021 shortlist, it seems like a great time to take a look back at the prize.

The prize has been running in some shape or form intermittently since 2005. Which means a lot of books to sift through. So to make things easier, I’m concentrating on novels nominated from 2016 onwards. Down below are ten authors that all made the shortlist of the International Booker Prize. But what books did they write?

  1. David Grossman

2. Olga Tokarczuk

3. Daniel Kehlmann

4. Maria Stepanova

5. Samanta Schweblin

6. Han Kang (she has 2 books on this quiz!)

7. Elena Ferrante

8. Ahmed Saadawi

9. Roy Jacobsen

10. Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Answers for Round 50

  1. Rabbit
  2. Easter
  3. Egg
  4. Chocolate
  5. Chicken
  6. Easter
  7. Hunt
  8. Crosses
  9. Chick
  10. Bunny

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke review

Out of all the Women’s Prize nominees, Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi was near the bottom of my TBR. I haven’t read any of Clarke’s previous work, including Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (sacrilegious for a book blogger, I know). I’m not the biggest fantasy reader, and the plot summaries were incredibly vague. I was wary to say the least. But, my library had an E-copy and so I thought, why not?

And it turns out I loved it.

Our eponymous hero lives in a never-ending palace, where every wall seems to be covered in statues. The lower halls are flooded, whilst clouds drift overhead in the upper ones. Piranesi lives alone, though he receives weekly visits from the Other, a professor hell-bent on discovering the house’s Great Knowledge. However, knowledge of a different kind shakes Piranesi, when he discovers a third person has entered the house and is searching for him. But who are they? And what do they want with him?

Clarke packs a lot of ideas into a slim novel – it’s one of the most original I’ve read in a long time. The House in particular was so well crafted that, like Piranesi, I wanted to explore the labyrinth halls and see what was lurking in the many, many rooms. The descriptions were incredibly vivid, and really captured this sense of magic and wonder. There was also this hint of danger just hidden beneath the surface; there were hints of Gothic sensibilities, and you never quite knew what Piranesi would uncover in the house. This mix of wonderment and jeopardy reeled me in from the start and kept me hooked throughout.

Clarke also exceeds in blending different genres to create a truly unique novel. Whilst there are obviously fantastical elements, you don’t necessarily have to be a fantasy reader to enjoy Piranesi. It’s also a mystery novel, an exploration of loneliness, an astute character study with a surprising amount of comedic moments thrown in. And those who enjoy Dark Academia will find plenty to love. Yet there is never a sense of Clarke cramming these all into one book, that she was forcing these different ideas into the narrative. On the contrary, the plot flowed very organically, and the fast pace also helped make Piranesi a quick, engaging read.

But what made Piranesi for me was Piranesi himself. The novel is entirely told through journal entries, so we get to really dive into the character and he is also the window through which we glimpse this world. Like pretty much everything else in the novel, Piranesi’s narrative voice is quirky and distinct, yet still works brilliantly. His curiosity of the House and the statues matches the reader’s, and his likability means you are willing to follow his journey, even though it might be a bit confusing at first. As the novel progresses with the revelation of the third person, we see Piranesi start to both develop as a character and lose his sense of self. It’s hard to mention without spoiling, but I enjoyed how Piranesi progresses throughout, because by the end there is something bittersweet about his character. Although the mystery is solved, I’m not sure if it is a happy ending.

I went into Piranesi with a lot of trepidation, convinced it just wasn’t for me. How wrong I was! This might be one of my favourites from the longlist so far, and I’m rooting for it to make the shortlist. Piranesi is such a clever and original novel it fully deserves its spot. Definitely one I’d recommend.

Piranesi is published by Bloomsbury and you can find more information here.

Luster by Raven Leilani review

The second book off the Women’s Prize longlist I have finally read, Luster is Raven Leilani’s debut novel. Edie is twenty three, living in New York and working at a publishing house, when she meets Eric, a married, middle-aged archivist. Eric says his wife Rebecca is comfortable with having an open marriage, and so he and Edie begin a relationship. However, Edie’s life takes a turn for the worse and she soon finds herself leaning on Rebecca.

Edie is a total, utter mess, and I loved everything about her. She makes a lot of questionable – sometimes even just plain wrong – choices, yet she is also so witty and observant that I couldn’t help but warm to her. She has a very funny, dynamic voice that keeps the reader engaged. Leilani also did an incredible job of conveying Edie’s anxieties, mainly through the use of very long and run-on sentences, which helped make the character relatable. Her worries and concerns are similar to a lot of the worries that many twenty-somethings experience, from relationships to jobs to rent. I also found Edie relatable through her frustration at reaching a stumbling block with her passion, which in her case is painting. She wants to paint but it is never quite ‘right’, there’s always something missing. I think a lot of creative people, regardless of their medium, can sympathise with that, and Luster feels like the portrait of a young woman coming to terms with both herself as a person and as an artist.

Because the story is told entirely from Edie’s perspective, we see her relationships, and therefore the other characters, through this lens. For the most part, the relationships are fascinating to watch develop. My favourites were the tentative friendships between Edie and Rebecca and Akila, Eric and Rebecca’s adopted daughter. Edie and Akila are black in a nearly all-white world, and watching Edie help Akila navigate this world was touching, building up to a climax that is both shocking and saddening. Race is a strong undercurrent, bubbling away underneath the plot, and Leilani does a great job of tackling racial issues with sensitivity but also with a blunt, matter-of-fact manner. The reader is left under no illusions about the severity of racial bias, and how that affects the individuals involved. The friendship between Edie and Akila was an amazing way to explore those topics.

Naturally, you can imagine Edie and Rebecca’s relationship to be tense, and there is definitely some awkward moments between the two. Yet, I also found it oddly moving; how these two very different women come to rely and aid one another. There was something strangely tragic about them, as though they could be friends but their circumstances prevented it. The only character I didn’t particularly like was Eric. I never understood his appeal, or why Edie would even be attracted to him in the first place. He didn’t have any positive qualities to speak of, and some of his actions were disturbing. I found myself dreading every time he appeared in the story, knowing I was going to have to force myself to read it. Whilst I understand his importance in the plot, the character itself left a lot to be desired.

Luster, very much like Burnt Sugar, is a novel I’m struggling to write about. I think Leilani is a great writer, and I found Edie’s first person narration to be really original. Topics such as race and class were handled very well. Yet, I did have major problems with Eric, and I didn’t like how a later plot twist was handled. I’m not sure if it was at all necessary; it was maybe there to ‘shock’ the reader but I just found it tacky. But maybe others will enjoy it? Certainly, I can see why it has made the longlist and I do think it deserves its place, despite my issues.

Luster is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.

Random Book Quiz Round 50: Easter

For the first Random Book Quiz round in April, I’ve decided to indulge in all things Easter. I will definitely be indulging in some (all) chocolate come Sunday; good bye to that waistline! But enough about me: let’s get back to the quiz. Down below are 10 books who have a word relating to Easter missing in their title. Can you guess the word and complete the name? As always, good luck and let me know how you did!

  1. Run,____, Run (John Updike)

2. The _____ Bunny that Overslept (Priscilla Friedrich)

3. The Golden ___ (A.J. Wood)

4. Charlie and the ______ Factory (Roald Dahl)

5. ______ Sunday (Patricia Polacco)

6. _____ Parade (Irving Berlin)

7. Mr Impossible and the Easter Egg ____ (Roger Hargreaves)

8. Noughts & _______ (Malorie Blackman)

9. Fluffy _____ (Rod Campbell)

10. It’s Not Easy Being a _____ (Marilyn Sadler)

Answers for Round 49

  1. Stella Gibbons
  2. Betty White
  3. Philip Roth
  4. Steve Martin
  5. Douglas Adams
  6. Maria Semple
  7. John Irving
  8. Oscar Wilde
  9. Tina Fey
  10. Helen Fielding

Monthly Round-Up: March 2021

As March is winding down – how are we a quarter of the way through 2021 already?! – it is time to reflect back on the month and what I’ve read/watched. Because I’m very slowly making my way through a couple of chunky books, I only managed to finish and review two novels:

Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid

Burnt Sugar – Avni Doshi

I really enjoyed (perhaps the wrong word for it) Burnt Sugar; I found it thought-provoking and beautifully written. It’s definitely not for everyone though as the Goodreads reviews will attest. Such a Fun Age was fine. I struggled to connect with one of the main characters which made the narrative drag, plus the ending seemed unnecessary. Perhaps if I had read it after the hype had died down, I might have had a different experience.

Aside from the reviews, I also wrote my predictions for the Women’s Prize Longlist 2021. Out of the 16 books listed, I managed to guess 5 of them correctly with Burnt Sugar narrowly missing my final predictions, a fact which annoyed me. That’s probably the lowest number of accurate predictions I’ve had for the Women’s Prize since starting my blog, and no wonder considering the number of surprises on the list. Very few people guessed Dawn French making the cut.

When the list was first announced I was a bit disappointed, and not just because I did so poorly on my own list. Partly because of the hype – this is my favourite literary prize, I love reading others’ discussions and predictions surrounding it, and like to read as many nominees as possible. Quite frankly, the longlist could never have matched my sky-high expectations, which is entirely my fault. The other reason is due to the lack of diversity on the list. I was hoping to see more women of colour on the list, plus writers from countries beyond the USA and UK. Alas that wasn’t to be, which was a great pity considering how Bernardine Evaristo is the Chair of the judging panel this year. It feels like a wasted opportunity.

Despite my initial misgivings, there is some positives to be found. I’m glad Burnt Sugar made the list, and it’s nice to see the first transgender author on there. Out of the 16, there’s 13 that sound interesting and books that I would have picked up eventually. Currently I’m reading Luster by Raven Leilani and enjoying it so far, so will be reviewing that one in April. The book I’m dreading the most though is probably Summer by Ali Smith. I think Smith is a very clever, talented, and witty wordsmith, but I always find her books cold, and I struggle to connect with the characters and their plight. Her work is always very well-constructed but doesn’t make me feel anything. Since Smith announced she didn’t want her work submitted for prizes, I thought I was safe and didn’t need to complete her Quartet (I have only read Autumn). Clearly I was wrong! But I will give Summer a go – it’s just not one of the first ones I’ll read.

Whilst I have been busy reading and guessing predictions, I have also watched a bunch of films. At the end of February/beginning of March was the Glasgow Film Festival, which was hosted completely online due to restrictions. It was sad not to be able to go in person, but being online also meant I could watch more movies on the line-up that I could before. As well as GFF, my local independent cinema launched their own streaming platform which is great. This is just a long-winded way of saying I watched a lot of movies in March. A lot of them, more than I’d intended. Since the list exceeds 10, I’ve decided to just mention my top 3 films. That way this post isn’t going to be massive, and you don’t need to hear me drone on about films I didn’t even particularly like. We’ll kick off with the one I liked the most:

There Is No Evil (dir: Mohammad Rasoulof)

The winner of the Berlinale’s Golden Bear for best film in 2020, There Is No Evil is made up of four different stories, all discussing the death penalty and oppression happening in Iran. Rasoulof is currently barred from leaving the country, and this film has also been banned there. The film’s production and release is just as harrowing and devastating as what happens onscreen. Yet There Is No Evil is visually stunning. Rasoulof and cinematographer Ashkan Ashkani have offered a feast for the eyes, capturing a lively cityscape, lush green forests, and harsh, unforgiving-looking tundra. The stories themselves differ as much as the landscapes, being connected only thematically. The cast, as a whole, excels; their performances are instilled with a sense of urgency. But, a particular standout was Ehsan Mirhosseini as Heshmat, who is the main character in the first story. His performance is very quiet and understated, making the twist at the end all the more shocking. A thought-provoking, eye-opening film, and one I definitely recommend.

The Woman with Leopard Shoes (dir: Alexis Bruchon)

A burglar (Paul Bruchon) is hired by the eponymous woman with leopard shoes to steal a box from a mansion. He successfully breaks in and finds the box but, before he can leave, the owner returns home with a party in tow. Our burglar is forced to hide in the study, where he makes a very grim discovery. The Woman with Leopard Shoes was out of my comfort zone: it was listed on GFF’s website as a horror and I’m a complete scaredy-cat who doesn’t like excessive amounts of gore. Needless to say, horror and I never really get on. But, I would say the film is more of a thriller than a horror and I found myself gripped until the very end. It’s not so much about who hired the burglar, but rather how he is going to escape. Bruchon effectively creates this sense of claustrophobia, making you feel just as trapped as the main character. It’s almost a relief when the film is over. Bruchon is great as the burglar; the film rests entirely on his shoulders and he carries it very well. He was great at reacting to the unfolding events and made you sympathy to his character’s predicament. One for slow-burning thrillers.

Mama Weed (dir: Jean-Paul Salome)

I’m a very simple woman. When I see Isabelle Huppert’s name, I will watch the film. It means I’ve seen some truly great films (Elle, The Piano Teacher) and not-so-great ones (Souvenir). Whilst I don’t think Mama Weed is Huppert’s greatest performance, it is still a fun romp. Huppert is Patience Portefeux, a police translator who is struggling to cope with her ailing mother, and the debts her late husband has left her. One day, she discovers the son of her mother’s nurse is involved in a drug smuggling plot. She helps him, and decides to take the drugs and sell them off herself, becoming ‘La Daronne’ aka ‘The Mum’. Huppert clearly had a lot of fun in the part, and the rapport between Patience and two hapless dealers called Scotch and Chocapic was entertaining and funny. Patience is a wonderful, morally grey character whose actions are questionable but you can’t help but root for. The storyline itself contained plenty of plot twists to keep the viewer on their toes, and I was gripped throughout. Whilst I didn’t love the ending, the ride was entertaining enough that it’s a minor quibble. Huppert fans will really enjoy this.

And that is it from me in March! Let me know what your favourite books/films from March have been and I will see you in April!