You’ve Got Red on You (CBR14 #5)

You've Got Red on You: How Shaun of the Dead Was Brought to Life

You’ve Got Red on You details the story of how 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, a low-budget British movie about Londoners battling zombies in a pub, became a horror-comedy whose fan base only continues to grow and with each passing year cements its place in pop culture history. Clark Collis takes the work he did on his 2017 oral history of the movie for Entertainment Weekly and grows it into the definitive look at a movie that would simultaneously help revive a genre while inventing a new one (the zombie romcom) and help launch the careers of some creatives you may have heard of (Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Kate Ashfield, Peter Serafinowicz, Bill Nighy) and other “below the line” talent you may not have, but whose work continues to entertain.

This 400-page beastie follows the creative journey of the movie’s talent – and how they all came together – from inception through to the production, the distribution and reception, and the evolving place the movie and its creatives have found themselves in during the nearly two decades since. Collis accomplishes a lot in this work, providing what will likely become the bedrock of definitive biographies of the main artistic contributors to the movie, as well as deep dives into the genre of horror movies, and zombie movies in particular, which influenced Wright and Pegg as they conceived and wrote the screenplay giving the reader the necessary information to understand both how they got there, but also what an uphill climb it was to get this movie financed at the time when zombie movies had gone out of fashion. Further, he paints a picture of both the movie production landscape at the turn of the last century, as well as the nascent days of online film journalism.

Collis takes the best parts of an oral history, having the personal accounts of people directly involved in the moment, and expands the view on who might be included in a movie’s history. There is not a creative department unheard from, or an angle on the life cycle of a movie left unexamined. But Collis doesn’t just leave it there, he builds a narrative that drives the book forward, having a clear authorial voice while sharing so much real estate with the words of those involved. You’ve Got Red on You is tightly organized book (with great chapter titles) that incorporates details of day-to-day shooting, pages of set photos, and promotional materials into the story it is telling. It also includes portions of the early brainstorming sheets done by Pegg and Wright as well as storyboards sketched by Wright and his brother Oscar which let the reader in on the process of creating the now iconic images from the movie.

The final chapter of the book brings readers up to date on the post-Shaun lives of the cast and crew, and honestly, I would read any book Collis would choose to write about any of those pursuits (Hot Fuzz is my favorite of the Cornetto Trilogy, but Shaun holds a special place in my heart as the first zombie movie I ever liked) or whatever he may tackle in future. I heartily suggest this one to fans of Shaun of the Dead or the people involved, or how movies are made. There’s something here for almost everyone.

A Lady by Midnight (CBR14 #4)

A Lady by Midnight (Spindle Cove, #3)

I can always trust Tessa Dare to bust a slump, and as exhaustion is one of my last remaining COVID symptoms, I’m not so much slumped as I am distractable. A Lady by Midnight took care of it either way, and I enjoyed my evening with it so much that I’m rating it five stars, and I know that I am one of the few around Cannonball Read to do so. I get it, but I’m also keeping my rating as is.

I am currently working my way through a large non-fiction tome where the author seems to be taking themselves a bit too seriously (Clement Knox’s Seduction review forthcoming eventually) and yesterday I just could not focus on it at all, and as it was a section on Casanova, I thought it best to just put it down and pick something else up. Lucky for present me, past me had ordered A Lady by Midnight before American Thanksgiving but the crush of books that needed reading in December in order to fulfill my reading challenges pushed it right off my to read pile for the month. But there it was calling to me from atop my bookcase.

It had been almost four years since my last time to Spindle Cove with A Week to be Wicked, but it mostly came back to me – certainly the town and its residents broadly if not the particulars of the books I had already read in the series (including A Night to Surrender and Any Duchess Will Do). I did remember though the two leads, who were introduced in the first novel and have been floating around in the periphery of the stories since. Kate Taylor is the town’s music instructor, she’s also an orphan who has been making her own way in the world since she was brought to a foundling school around age five. She’s managed to maintain an inner spark, and Spindle Cove as provided her with safety and friends, but she is still in search of family, and love. She’s certainly not expecting to find either of those things in Corporal Thorne, the militia commander in charge at Spindle Cove who arrived the year before and has seemingly made it his mission to ignore her at every turn. Thorne however has his own reasons for acting as he has, and with a family of aristocrats arriving claiming that Kate is their long-lost cousin he finds himself announcing that he is her fiancé, in order to keep her safe. It however complicates things tremendously.

Dare sticks with the things in her writing that I appreciate the most, this book has most of her standard features: in Kate we have an independent lady making her way in the world, the plot pretty closely aligns to a Marriage of Convenience, focusing on an engagement of convenience, the smolder and steamy sexy times are present (even if we’re about 2/3rds of the way through the book before Kate and Thorne get past kissing, there’s a lot happening in this story), sincere emotions are on display – specifically in actions, and Thorne might be her most wounded hero. These is a lot of heaviness to the plot of this one, but as its Tessa Dare it was also silly at time, funny, and sexy, which is what I am looking for when I pick up on of her books. Once all the pieces are on the board the narrative takes off and never really slows down, right through to the epilogue (and I really would have loved another chapter between the end and the epilogue). This one  is all about love, the shapes it takes, the ways we express it (or don’t), where we look for it… and it worked for me even when it shouldn’t have.

Love & Other Disasters (CBR14 #3)

I received an ARC of Love & Other Disasters from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Love & Other Disasters publishes January 18th, 2022.

Love & Other Disasters

I love when you can tell that a book was written from an authentic place, that the author is taking their own feelings, their own emotions, and building out from there to tell an honest story that they hope will resonate with readers. Anita Kelly does just that in Love & Other Disasters and I’m so glad to have been able to spend time with it and its characters over the past several days. I was initially pulled in by its arrestingly pretty cover which I was pleased to discover is a faithful representation of the actual  characters.

Love & Other Disasters is an nb/f adult contemporary romance centered around contestants on a televised cooking show for non-professionals. There’s a significant cash prize for the winner, and it would make an immense difference in the lives of our leads Dahlia and London. Neither dream of becoming a professional chef, but each wants to take their love of cooking, and what it gives them, and turn it into something more. Anita Kelly built characters of equal footing on parallel arcs, and it serves the story so well – each are struggling with emotional baggage from their “real” lives, each have uncertainty waiting for them upon their return, each are not really sure what their next steps are, and each is hesitant about what even to do with all these emotions they are feeling about each other.

One of the dynamics I loved about this was that Dahlia and London don’t necessarily instantly fully grapple with their attitudes and attraction to one another but find that they are drawn to each other over time and have feelings that they can’t ignore, and everyone else has already noticed. Since the narrative is handed back and forth, we are also treated to each character’s inner monologue and motivations, which makes some scenes so funny (the cows!) and others so painful (the fight!). Kelly makes sure the reader has the information to understand the full emotional landscape of her characters, weaving it in as they go, and then drops the reader in to enjoy the fully realized ride.

This is Kelly’s full length debut, and it is a stunning work. It is also first in a series of three and I am SO intrigued by what will come next based on Anita Kelly’s website blurb and mood boards.

One Minute to Midnight & Resolutions (CBR14 #1-2)

Having always intended to spend New Year’s Day home and reading I had stashed a light, fun read in my Kindle account to help kick off the year. Then, scrolling through Twitter this morning I saw a link to another and thought – yes, let’s do this.  About half the time I start my Cannonball Reads off with a romance (although my first Cannonball book ever, Pope Joan, was definitely NOT) so it felt like the absolute right way to start off CBR14.

One Minute to Midnight

One Minute to Midnight by Jasmine Luck

My impulse buy this New Year’s Day, and proof that authors absolutely should include links in their tweets about their books, especially if they are on sale.

This short story is all about transitions. We meet our lead as New Year’s Eve takes a wrong turn when Amber is subjected to a public break-up, for not being “fun.” She sets out in search of adventure and finds a handsome stranger to celebrate the night with instead. I’m not usually interested in books about one-night stands, and this story makes it clear at the end that Amber is not intending to start up a relationship with Diego at the end of their New Year’s Eve together, but the way in which Jasmine Luck frames it worked for me.

The reader immediately empathizes with Amber as we pick up with her directly after her boyfriend breaks up with her at a New Year’s Eve Party while making out with someone else. What bumped this one up to a four for me was that at the end of the story when said jerk ex tries to make a half assed apology Amber is able to take the past several hours – where she went to a bar alone, struck up a conversation with a handsome guy, navigated the sexual politics of hooking up, and several orgasms – and tells her ex in quick decisive language that they are done and deciding for herself what feels right, all while a very handsome naked man is standing in her apartment beckoning her back to bed.

Resolutions

Resolutions by Lucy Eden

This one is a novelette featuring the time-honored friends-to-lovers trope around the tradition of resolutions. The previous year Lucy had chickened out of telling her best friend Mike that she was in love with him when the fear of ruining their friendship got the best of her. Mike had similarly intended to reveal his feelings to her, but her speech about not ruining their friendship had him deciding that someone else would have to do (apparently this character features in another of Eden’s books and gets a better treatment, so that’s good news). Fast forward eleven months and the list that Lucy had gone home that night and the list of resolutions Lucy had written while drunk and heartbroken about needing to get over Mike falls out of her bag only for Mike to pick it up and decide to help Lucy finish the list… and perhaps get it right this time.

I liked this one more while I was reading it than I did once I started thinking about reviewing it. I’m not so excited about how Lucy characterizes Mike’s ex Chellie (she of the other book) as lesser than based on her good looks and social media savvy. Eden does a successful job of writing great scenes of Mike wooing Lucy with activities he’s thought up specifically to fulfill her resolution goals, and some great steamy scenes, it felt like we were missing the quiet moments between the characters to let the shift of perceptions settle.  Which meant that while the relationship building from friends to more worked for me (even with Mike not leading with the fact that he had broken up with Chellie), the narrative felt uneven in places.

This one does come with a bonus Spotify playlist that I do suggest listening to while reading, and an epilogue told entirely from Mike’s POV which after getting the rest of the story from Lucy’s was a nice addition.

Eva Luna (CBR13 #77)

Eva Luna

It has been a few years since I last tackled an Allende work, but with tasks in both the Read Harder and Reading Women challenges about translated works (the former asking for non-European novel in translation, the latter asking specifically for a book by a South American author in translation) I had the perfect excuse to move Eva Luna up my to read list.

The amount of emotion, detail, and characterization that Allende weaves into her writing is simply astounding. It always takes me a long time to work through her novels, but that is not a bad thing. There is so much history, allegory, and personal stakes woven into the story that you want to spend the time, you want to give the book its due. Like The House of the Spirits each paragraph, each page, and each chapter in Eva Luna need time to be digested and understood.

The book follows Eva from her earliest years, moving from Eva’s description of her mother’s life, and her own conception. Eva’s mother dies when Eva is still young, and she is forced to fend for herself. From there we follow Eva as she faces the death of her mother’s employer the Professor and is forced to move on and eventually stumbles her way into the care of La Señora, the owner of a brothel, and then eventually on to Agua Santa, and then back to the city where she reunites with Melecio, now known as Mimí and takes back up with Huberto Naranjo a leader of a guerrilla unit fighting a revolution. In typical Allende style the country remains unnamed, and it doesn’t matter.  As time goes on, Eva realizes that Huberto is not the man for her. Throughout the novel a parallel narrative is told: the life of Rolf Carlé. As Rolf grows up, he becomes interested in reporting news and becomes a leading journalist, shooting film footage from the front line. Rolf films the guerrillas, meeting Huberto, and later Eva.

Eva Luna easily finds its place in Allende’s works which all involve young women and misfits of society who search for truth and love all while combating class conflicts and oppressive governments. The picaresque is combined with magical realism in Eva Luna, in which the title character survives one crisis after another with the aid of unseen powers and the force of her own imagination. Eva’s ability to induce others with her stories is her gift to the world, helping her deal with the difficulties that many women, like herself, faced in a tyrannical and explosive political environment.

Tequila Sunrise & Gone with the Gin (CBR13 #75-76)

I’m a fan of a pun, and back when having a small New Years Eve gathering with friends was still a possibility, I requested Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist and Gone with the Gin: Cocktails with a Hollywood Twist by Tim Federle from my library. My idea was to find a couple of options for fun literary and movie inspired beverages for a group that was intended to include no less than 5 current and former Cannonballers (if you’re my friend long enough I will try to recruit you for Cannonball Read, it’s just what happens).

If that had been able to happen, these books would have absolutely hit the mark, and been fun to pass around and read from. I may yet do that part, as we’re intending to do a virtual hangout again this year and each of the cocktails or recipes included in the books is directly tied to a book or movie and Federle provides a snappy one paragraph description with some fun humor, puns, and history packed in.

Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist

I think Tequila Mockingbird might be my favorite of the two (there’s at least two more in the series, Hickory Daquiri Dock: Cocktails with a Nursery Rhyme Twist and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margarita: More Cocktails with a Literary Twist, although my library system only has the latter) if only because it contains the widest variety of beverage and snack options, including non-alcoholic options for those amongst us who are not interested in imbibing.  Tequila Mockingbird includes sixty-five drinks recipes including The Pitcher of Dorian Grey Goose, The Last of the Mojitos, Love in the Time of Kahlua, Romeo and Julep, and A Rum of One’s Own (c’mon, how can you resist these names?). Best of all, and the option I likely would have employed in a New Years situation is the Book Clubs section which gives instructions for things that can go in your punch bowl for group service including the above-mentioned Pitcher of Dorian Grey, and my personal favorite The Portrait of a Pink Lady, which includes gin, pink lemonade, grenadine, and club soda.

Gone with the Gin: Cocktails with a Hollywood Twist

Gone with the Gin includes a further fifty movie-based drinks and snacks, no alcohol-free options in this one though. The great illustrations are back and truly Lauren Mortimer does an exquisite job with what look to my untrained eye to be pencil drawings at catching the drinks, the puns, and the recognizable visuals from the movies in her work. I prefer how this book breaks down the recipes into groups – we’re in genres here unlike Tequila Sunrise which was oddly gendered. I still have a few weeks left on my library checkouts for these so I’m planning to keep them and possibly try some of the options once I’m able to get more supplies. Which should be easy to do, as the indexes in each book are set up both by title and ingredient.

So You Want to Talk About Race (CBR13 #74)

So You Want to Talk About Race

I wish I felt better so I could really give So You Want to Talk About Race what it deserves, review-wise. The short review is if you haven’t already read this, you need to. Maybe you are like me and put it on your TBR right after its publication in 2018 and then it fell slowly down the list. Maybe you saw it on all of the recommended reading lists that proliferated in summer 2020 (A Reading List on Race for Allies, Antiracist Reading, Understanding and Dismantling Racism, 20 Books For 2020: A Reading List On Race In America) but it was just too heavy then, your brain could not do it as it battled the realities of pandemic and what it did to your reading (just me?) so you pushed if off again, promising yourself next year was the year.

Whatever the reasons to have not read it, or not re-read it recently, you need to make space for this one post haste. Ijeoma Oluo has an incredibly easy to read style, which is important when breaking down enormous topics like intersectionalism, privilege, and microaggressions and how to talk about them with others. Her messages are passionate, finely tuned, and crystalize ideas that could otherwise be vague but with compassion and the ability to turn her lived experience into universal moments of understanding. There are many reasons why Oluo’s work on race has been featured in The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, among many other publications and they are easy to see when you spend time with her words.

In a Holidaze (CBR13 #73)

In a Holidaze

One of the prevailing bits of wisdom running around if you happen to find yourself with COVID (which I probably do – not to worry, I’m not feeling too poorly, have plenty of supplies, and have a test scheduled) is to avoid screens. With that in mind, and cognizant that my brain does not want to focus on anything weighty (which is seriously impinging on my ability to finish So You Want to Talk About Race and Eva Luna) I settled in on the couch this afternoon with Christina Lauren’s In a Holidaze.

According to the handy info keepers over at Goodreads I added this to my TBR in November, but apparently had not managed to put the book blurb into my memory banks. I was caught off guard initially with the plot in front of me, but once I got my head on straight, I enjoyed it much more than the terrible holiday movies I watched yesterday in a fever dream (mistakes were made, naps were taken).

In a Holidaze is the story of Maelyn Jones. She’s 26, in a bit of a rut, and just experienced a truly horrendous end to her family’s holiday with their chosen extended family. It looks to her as though all that she enjoys most in this world is ending and she’s headed back to a life that just is, and knows that she is not happy, so she asks the universe to show her what will make her happy. One car crash later and Maelyn finds herself waking up a week earlier on her flight to Utah. In a nod to time loop stories everywhere Maelyn proceeds to restart her holiday week a couple times trying to figure out why the universe sent her back and what is in fact (and who) going to make her happiest.

The things I enjoyed in this one are many – the extended friends group who function in a familial way, the lead having to get to a place of “fuck it” in order to finally be herself, and having that be the thing that starts to make the pieces fall into place, the cozy charm of the cabin the families spend each Christmas at together and learning to let go of the lockstep of tradition. But there are also things which didn’t work for me, particularly in the early stages of figuring out who was meant to be Maelyn’s partner (I flipped to the back after about page 20 which is something I never do), and how the various motivations of Maelyn, Theo, and Andrew are portrayed. I also got seriously confused a few times as the characters (and this is a cast of about 12) routinely use nicknames for each other that are not consistent, and I had to stop and think about who was on page and that’s not helpful.

This is my third outing with the writing duo Christina Lauren (Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings) and I can see in this one positive and negatives from my previous rounds with Dating You, Hating You and Sweet Filthy Boy. I felt at a bit of a distance from the story, even though I understood the characters very well, and I wished that we got any of the story from Theo or Andrew’s point of view. We also get some sloppy plotting, specifically that there’s a a-ha moment late in the book for Maelyn that comes down to a misunderstanding happening because she didn’t take into account how the other person has historically processed emotions, but we the reader weren’t let in on that either, which made that character’s behavior a tough sit occasionally.

Do I suggest this? Yes, but with the caveats that there might be some things in it that have you give the book some side-eye, but no more than in any other holiday rom com you might choose to spend time with, and probably a lot less.

Hawkeye Volumes 3 & 4 (CBR13 #71-72)

Hawkeye, Volume 3: L.A. Woman

Hawkeye Volume 3: L.A. Woman (Collecting: Hawkeye #14, 16, 18, 20, Annual 1)

Chronicles Kate Bishop’s time after she leaves New York (and her partnership with Clint Barton) following the funeral of Grills and an argument with Clint, which we see in bits and pieces across several individual issues. This volume was unfortunately my least favorite, not because I don’t like Kate, I do, but more so because the narrative doesn’t balance Kate out with an equally strong character. Also, I really felt the absence of David Aja on the artistic side of the scale.

Narratively Kate hits wall after wall as nothing goes an anticipated, for her or the reader. When Kate arrives in L.A. and tries to check in to her hotel her card is declined, and her car repossessed. Enter Kate’s nemesis, Madame Masque who has it out for Kate following the events of Volume 1. Kate has been cut off by her father and must find her own way in L.A., deciding to open her own superhero detective agency, which goes terribly. Kate is great, but not cut out for the work she undertakes, particularly as she keeps running up against Madame Masque who seems to be pulling all the strings. My problem with the narrative hinges on this, from page to page and issue to issue I constantly felt I was on the backfoot, that I was simply missing important information and there were plot holes. Which, there may have been, but at the end of the day I was left dissatisfied. While I was reading Volume 4 I went back and re-read the individual volumes as they would have fit in to the chronological order and that helped some. I understand splitting the issues the way they did, but I didn’t enjoy it much.  

Hawkeye, Volume 4: Rio Bravo

Hawkeye Volume 4: Rio Bravo (Collecting: Hawkeye #12-13, 15, 17, 19, 21-22)

This volume was my favorite of the two, but still uneven. The volume finds us back in New York with Clint. The issues contained in this volume are back onto the creative experimentations we saw in the earlier volumes. Issue 17 goes on an adventure in Clint’s dreaming mind as he envisions an Avenger adventure where he and his compatriots are the Winter Friends. It does a good job of encapsulating the tenor of the previous volumes and highlighting Clint’s instinct to go it alone. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a good Christmas read, if you’re on the hunt for something holiday adjacent.

We are introduced to Barney Barton, Clint’s brother, as he arrives in New York worse for wear. From there we get a Fraction and Aja led homage to westerns (the volume is titled Rio Bravo after all) as Clint must protect the building from the Tracksuit Bros and the assassin out to get him, whom killed Grills. It could all have gone so much better, and midway through Clint and Barney are grievously injured and Clint is deafened, which leads to one of the most visually creative issues where the world is presented as Clint would experience it – silent – and having ASL incorporated into the story telling, as well as eventually his hearing aids. Thankfully Kate had gotten word that Clint was in trouble and rushed back to New York, and the Volume leaves off with the pair reunited.

I’m glad to have spent the time with these two Hawkeyes, the two understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and provide a support system as they both understand better than anyone what their specific line of work requires and costs, and the importance on focusing on the everyday needs of people surrounding them.

Lakota Woman (CBR13 #70)

Lakota Woman

Like many, my formal education didn’t contain much indigenous history, and certainly almost none about modern indigenous history. Reading Women task 8 was read a memoir by an Indigenous, First Nations, Native, or Aboriginal Woman which helped move Lakota Woman up my TBR (I had added it in 2015 for a similar Read Harder task but I read Rabbit-Proof Fence instead). It certainly didn’t hurt that it was also the Indigenous Reading Circle’s choice for November (the group that inspired the Reading Women task).

Lakota Woman was published in 1990 and discusses Mary Crow Dog’s experiences in the 1970s as a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM). It is a searing autobiography that is at various times audacious, heartfelt, and expressive. It is also a tough read for a variety of reasons. The book opens with Crow Dog’s description of the difficulty of her life as a young Sioux girl, growing up in poverty, suffering at Catholic boarding school, and quitting school to drink, shoplift and rebel. Its at this point that her path crosses AIM’s and she would eventually give birth to a son in 1973 at Wounded Knee while it was under siege by the federal government.

The narrative reminds me of an oral history. The book is written in one person’s lived experiences told in a stream-of-consciousness style and Mary Crow Dog was present at many of the significant events of this civil rights movement in the early 1970s. She writes of AIM’s infiltration by FBI agents and of helping her husband endure prison following his unjust arrest. The book ends with a brief synopsis of events after Leonard was freed and his work on reclaiming the sacred rites and practices of their people.

“I read somewhere in an anthropology book that we Sioux ‘thrive on a culture of excitement.’ During the years from 1973 to 1975 we had more than enough excitement for even the most macho warrior, more than we could handle.” p. 192