re:View – The 2016 Bookshelf
April: The World of Edith Wharton

My reading progress this year continues to be irritatingly slow, but I’ve been working loads as well as making major life changes, so there just wasn’t enough time. And as always in difficult times, I turned to the comfort of Edith Wharton’s brilliant, beautiful writing.


The Reckoning by Edith Wharton
This is a little Penguin Little Black Classic that includes two of Wharton’s short stories on the topic of marriage. Mrs Manstey’s View is a short but deeply moving glimpse into the life of a lonely widow that shines with vivid descriptions of New York as seen through the lady’s window. I honestly believe nobody has even described the flowering of a magnolia tree more beautifully than Wharton does in this story. The Reckoning is a moral tale – I would argue – about an unconventional marriage and the dangers of double standards. I found this one a bit uncharacteristic for Wharton, given that she always took a very liberal view on marriage – certainly for her time – and in this story almost seems to backtrack on her ideals. However, as always, she looks deep into the human heart and writes with captivating urgency about the emotional stages we go through when a relationship falls apart.
Pens: 3 out of 5

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re:View – The 2016 Bookshelf
March: Myths, Magic, Aliens and Killer Ants

This year’s March bookshelf was filled with surprises (both pleasant and nasty), some disappointments, a cast of weird creatures and a bit of a song and dance. From dead semi-goddesses to talking war cats, from magicians travelling between worlds to plant-based alien TV executives, this is certainly a mixed bag of books. And mostly wonderful.


The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

“It’s always an imprudence to step between a man and the reflection of his own cleverness.”

After reading this book I love Margaret Atwood more than ever. She basically takes Homer’s Iliad and lets Penelope tell her version from the underworld, thousands of years later, to set the record straight. Penelope’s down-to-earth, delightfully no-nonsense style is at the same time hilarious and tragic, describing her father’s attempt to drown her as a child, her arranged marriage, the long years of waiting for Odysseus and her loneliness among the hostile members of his court, the struggle of fighting off the suitors trying to wriggle their way into her husband’s, and earning nothing but suspicion and scorn for remaining faithful all these years. If you think Odysseus had a hard time, try being a woman in his story. A particularly morbid and wonderful device in Atwood’s storytelling is the chorus line of Penelope’s twelve dead teenage maids, who were cruelly murdered for no apparent reason after Odysseus’ return, and share their version of events here in a number of interludes, from mournful poems to naughty songs and anthropological lectures analysing their own significance. Basically, this is a wickedly clever celebration of feminism and womanhood told by the master of her genre with a ton of wit and soul.
Pens: ELEVEN out of 5!

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The X-Files Revival Diary:
Episode 6, My Struggle II

Dear Diary,

My struggle indeed. What a stupid non-ending to a thoroughly flawed and frustrating series. This show should have just been left dead and buried. Not only was this the worst orchestrated-pandemic-apocalypse storyline ever scripted, it also ends with a completely unnecessary and frustrating cliffhanger. The kind of cliffhanger you don’t slap on a show that just had a one-off revival fifteen years after the original and no plans for a return.

Booohooo, Mulder is dying from the evil virus and the only thing that can save him is an injection of alien DNA from our son right this moment – BY THE WAY we don’t even know where our son is. And we’re stuck in the world’s biggest traffic jam in the middle of a fucking pandemic.

WELL YOU’RE SCREWED THEN. Even if all this is meant to lead into another movie, I’m not even interested. Let them all die. I don’t care.

Instead of a review I’ll offer you a drinking game: Have a shot every time someone says “ALIEN DNA!!!” If you don’t end up in a coma by the end of the episode…WELL THEN YOUR DNA IS PROBABLY FUCKING ALIEN, TOO. Congratulations.

Seriously, I’m so done with this.

Oh and dear Chris Carter:


re:View – The 2016 Bookshelf
February: Sherlock and the Beautiful Apocalypse

I wish that was the title of an actual book! This headline sums up my reading in February: More Sherlock Holmes & Mary Russell mysteries, and more Ballard. I was already hooked on him after reading The Drowned World [review] and High Rise [review] last year, but Hello America has finally catapulted him right to the top of my favourite authors shelf.

Beautiful Apocalypse, by the way, is a song from the latest Kamelot album, Haven – the best metal album of the past year with a gloriously dystopian concept running through it.

But back to books: Here’s the February bookshelf.


A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Mary Russell #2) by Laurie R. King
As I mentioned recently, I was converted from sceptic to fan within a few pages of the first Mary Russell book [review] so of course I dived straight into the second volume. While the first book was collection of different cases, which saw Mary learning the ropes, this book is focused on one case: Mary gets drawn into a religious/feminist/political cult led by a charismatic but mysterious woman. When a few too many members fall victim to deadly accidents just weeks after changing their wills to benefit their “church”, Mary suspects that not all is as godly as it seems, and soon find her own life in danger. I enjoyed this even more than the first book because the case is more coherent, creating a pretty exciting page-turner. Mary has become a proficient detective in her own right while building an ambitious academic career in Oxford, which makes her so much more than Sherlock’s sidekick. I’m starting to think, actually, that Holmes is becoming the sidekick in this series – and I have to say I like it!
Pens: 4 out of 5

A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King
An old archaeologist friend of Mary’s from the first book returns from Palestine with an ancient scroll that may or may not be a letter from Mary Magdalene that could turn Christianity on its head, and is promptly murdered in London. Mary and Holmes, now happily married after their awkward courtship during the second book, go undercover to investigate the potential suspects. For Mary, this means posing as a helpless and naive secretary in the house of a predatory, misogynist colonel and his equally repulsive son. The transformation Mary has to undergo, both in appearance and in character, as she assumes this role really keeps this book going. The attention to detail that King puts into the creation of Mary’s alter ego easily lives up to any disguise Doyle ever came up with for the original Sherlock, and Mary’s internal struggle to stay in character – in which she succeeds brilliantly – prove her to be more than an equal match for the great detective himself. Otherwise, this book drags on a little bit and is probably the weakest in the series so far, but by now Holmes, Russell and their world have become so familiar that the lack of excitement is made up for by the comfort of spending reading time in their company.
Pens: 3 out of 5

The Day of Forever by J.G. Ballard
I got my hands on an original 1967 paperback edition of this and it’s beautiful – a collection of early Ballard short stories ranging from the furthest reaches of outer space to the depths of the human psyche. There’s a slightly depressing undercurrent running through these, giving you a feeling that, no matter whether you’re cast away on a distant planet with no hope of escape, or sitting in our house in a posh London neighbourhood, you’re inevitably doomed anyway. But I like doom, so that’s all right. And the worlds and landscapes of this book, whether in this world our out of it, are gorgeously imagined as is to be expected from Ballard. Overall a very enjoyable read.
Pens: 4 out of 5

Hello America by J.G. Ballard
This book is basically a cross of some of my favourite obsessions: dystopia, apocalypse and the America Dream. Ballard envisions the collapse of the US as a consequence of fossil fuel shortages and climate change in the early 2000s – which, in itself is close enough to home to be terrifying. Then, some hundred years later, he sends an exploration party out of a barely surviving Europe to check on some worrying radiation readings from the American continent, now a largely deserted and barren desert. This group of sailors, scientists and adventurers arrives in a gorgeously devastated New York City and heads west, much like the pioneers centuries before them, following in the traces of the original frontier. As they fight to survive in the grotesque post-civilisation landscape, each of them lives their own version of the American Dream. Soon they find they are not entirely alone there, and giant holograms of all-American heroes in the sky lead them to a glittering skeleton of Las Vegas overgrown by rainforest, where a President who calls himself Charles Manson rules over army of Mexican children and an arsenal of vintage nuclear weapons… I found myself completely hypnotised by this book. Ballard’s vision of this dead continent reverting to primal deserts and jungles is immensely visual; it turns the concept of America into a goddess that lies decaying in the debris of a shattered civilisation and leaves you grieving for everything you’ve ever loved about this country and what it stands for. In my case, that’s a lot – ever since I can remember I’ve been obsessed with America and its pop culture. From vintage cars and skyscrapers to neon signs and Hollywood heroes, Ballard pays tribute to all the little and big ideas we associate with America in a beautiful and disturbing obituary to an icon of our time.
Pens: 5 out of 5

The X-Files Revival Diary:
Episode 5, Babylon

Dear Diary,

The end is near. After reaching a high with the Were-Monster episode, the new X-Files series has taken a bit of a dive. While last week’s episode was rescued by the feels of Scully’s personal story, episode 4 didn’t offer a lot of redeeming features to make up for the poor story. I’m a bit disappointed that a show as open-minded and nerdy as The X-Files went down the Great American Heroes vs The Evil Muslim Terrorists route, putting out an episode full of judgement, bias and stereotypes. Not even Mulder’s imaginary cowboy-dancing mushroom trip and the appearance of a junior copy of our two heroes could save it, although they offered a few solid laughs.

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re:View – The 2016 Bookshelf
January: Crime, Charms and Cyberspace

A new year, a new bookshelf and already I’m behind on the reviews. I blame a busy January…that, and my new Netflix subscription. So here it is: the January 2016 bookshelf. Remind me to read more again.


Neuromancer (Sprawl #1) by William Gibson
This was my secret Santa gift last year, chosen by the combined powers of my book-loving team members. I have to admit Gibson’s style took some getting used to. I always struggle a bit to get my head around sci-fi and cyberspace, so this cyberspace sci-fi thriller, in combination with Gibson’s way of throwing in off-hand concepts without elaborating, challenged me for a while before I started to enjoy it. But once I realised that not getting it had nothing to do with my lack of sci-fi knowledge, and that I was just supposed to go with it regardless of what made sense and what didn’t, it ended up being quite a fun ride. And although this is the kind of book where you don’t really care what happens to any of the characters – we’re all doomed anyway – I really enjoyed this trip through futuristic cityscapes, weird space communities and creepy cyber avenues.
Pens: 4 out of 5

Charmed Life (Crestomanci #1) by Diana Wynne Jones
This book came to me through a colleague who rediscovered it years and years after reading it in school. It’s a wonderful children’s book about two orphans, teenage girl Gewndolen who has a strong potential for magic and her little brother cat, who has no magic at all. When they come to live in the castle of the powerful enchanter Crestomanci (whose collection of extravagant dressing gowns has given me a new life goal), Gwendolen is banned from using her powers, causing the rebellious teen witch to conjure up a storm that threatens the lives of the siblings and the foundations of the world they live in, and Cat makes an incredible discovery about his own powers. This is a beautiful story about finding one’s own strength when faced with adversity, filled with colourful characters and all those wonderful little details that make your imagination fly and bring a magical world to life. Another one of the many books I wish I’d read as a child.
Pens: 4 out of 5

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Mary Russell #1) by Laurie R. King
I’m a fan of Doyle and I don’t generally like people messing with the original Sherlock Holmes – the BBC series being the only exception so far. So when a friend sent me a surprise parcel full of books about Sherlock Holmes and a female sidekick, that were not written by Doyle, I was veeery sceptical. But that friend gives good book recommendations so I gave the first volume a chance. And actually, Laurie R. King has done something very clever with this. Far from being a sidekick, Mary Russell actually takes the lead in her universe. As a highly intelligent, educated, feminist, cross-dressing and generally pretty badass young woman, she’s more than a match to an older, wiser Holmes, who may have retired to the countryside to keep bees, but nevertheless stays true to the original character. And when Holmes takes 15-year-old Russell on as an apprentice (detective, not beekeeper), the cases soon start rolling in. Yes, it’s different from the original. It’s more modern, more witty, probably not as technical in the crime-solving, but adding a very enjoyable personal dimension to the character and the world of Sherlock Holmes. And Mary Russell very quickly earned herself a spot among my favourite book heroines. I’m so signed up for the next 13 books…
Pens: 4 out of 5

The X-Files Revival Diary:
Episode 4, Home Again

Dear Diary,

Another great episode! This series 10 is shaping up a lot better than I had ever dared to hope. Although I have to say, Chris Carter is a total bastard for putting Scully through personal hell all over again – like she hasn’t suffered enough already in the original series. But I guess that’s life: not fair.

Granted, this wasn’t the most imaginative episode ever in Monster of the Week terms. The case had barely enough substance to hold the plot together, and very obviously was intended mainly as a canvas for the development of Scully personal story. But that’s more than okay with me.

So, diary, here are some thoughts on the episode, as always.

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The X-Files Revival Diary:
Episode 3, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster

Dear Diary,

This has been the best X-Files episode since 1998! I’m so happy. I don’t care if half the internet thinks it was crap, because this has been the funniest thing since Bad Blood and a beautifully scripted, acted and produced homage to all the fun and excitement that was the Monster of the Week.

What we have here is an entire episode that’s basically one big joke, where every line is a punchline and pretty much every shot is some kind of in-joke. I giggled, laughed and screamed, I actually bounced up and down in my seat with delight. It was wonderful.

Who would have thought series 10 could create a cult episode. I really didn’t expect that. But this one is way up there with Bad Blood, Arcadia, Detour, Small Potatoes, Humbug and deserves a place among the best Monster of the Week cases in the history of The X-Files.

Let’s look at a few (ahem, many) favourite moments from this episode.

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The X-Files Revival Diary:
Episode 2, Founder’s Mutation

Dear Diary,

You’ll be glad to hear that The Internet was right; the X-Files revival did get better after the first episode. And we’re definitely making progress towards Monster of the Week territory. I think Founder’s Mutation works very well as a bridge from the season opener into what will hopefully be a few standalone MOTW episodes now that we’ve brought everybody up to speed on the mythology.

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The X-Files Revival Diary:
Episode 1, My Struggle

Dear Diary,

The X-Files is back. I have all the feels.

I was playing it cool for the past year or so, ever since the announcement came. It was no big deal. I was totally over my teenage obsession, there was no need to re-watch all 202 episodes of the series in preparation for that. I was so over it. I was totally not the world’s biggest X-Files fan anymore.

Well, what can I say, dear diary. Yesterday at 20:59 I turned on the TV and my heart exploded in a million pieces of fangirl love. I had tears in my eyes when the voice of Mulder told the prologue. I heard four whistled notes and I was thirteen again. The X-Files was back.


I had all the feels, I had all the expectations. And I was sorely underwhelmed. I read that it gets better though, so I will hold onto that glimmer of hope for next week.

Until then, dear diary, here’s a short reaction piece on Episode 203: My Struggle.



CGI (and budget) has come a long way since the 90s…


What’s up with Scully’s hair? This is all wrong.

Wait. That’s the same old.

OMG it’s a conspiracy!

Same old, same old.


Deja vu, anyone?

Welcome to 2016. We have drones and smartphones! Oh wait, maybe I can google it! (Skinner way way ahead on that front in 2008.)

More same old.

Epic sigh. Really, do we have to do this all over again?




Thanks for listening, dear diary. Until next week.