TV: Homeland, the Magicians, Better Call Saul, The Leftovers, Guerrilla, 13 Reasons Why

There is so much happening with TV in April, I haven’t been able to get to all of it.  Fargo for example, must wait until next week.  Here is what I could catch up with this week! 

Finales:

Homeland (Showtime)

RIP Peter Quinn – again.  Homeland has gotten progressively better after a few rough years but has yet to reach the greatness of the first two seasons.  It was a big gamble to bring Peter Quinn back from the dead this season and like with Brody, I felt the show runners kept a character on for a year beyond where they should have.  Not that I didn’t love this character,  but watching Rupert Friend’s Quinn struggle with the combined effects of PTSD and a stroke all season was tough and didn’t move the plot forward in a way that was worth the pain.

In an “Art imitates Life” season of Homeland, we have a female President with the characteristics of Trump.  There was a “Fake News” plot line as well as a war between the intelligence community and the new elected President.  Franny is removed from her mother and it would be nice if that child could just go live a normal life with her aunt rather than going back to Carrie who is clearly someone who shouldn’t be raising a child.

We end season 6 with Saul in jail as President Keene expands the Patriot Act in a dangerous fashion and the government in a precarious place.  Will Carrie move back to DC (seems inevitable)?  What will happen to Saul?  Will the writer’s parallel life in the 7th Season?  Devoted Homeland viewers will turn in next winter to find out.

The Magicians (Syfy)

You may recall that I thought last year’s first season was horrible.  As a real fan of the books, I had so many issues with how the translation from book to TV took place that I couldn’t enjoy the show at all.  Still, I tuned in for Season 2, deciding that it couldn’t get any worse and wanting to see if it could align any better with the books.  Rather, the season went AWOL from the books and as a result, was much better and at times, was very good and engaging.  The characters and plot lines were far stronger in this coming of age story of millennials struggling with the demands of adulthood.

Season 2 has a much better developed Margo character (although the writers still have a way to go with her) working with Elliot to rule Fillory and having to make decisions with devastating consequences.  Quentin brings back Alice to a human form with mixed results but his killing of Ember sets in motion the elimination of magic in all worlds.  Although Season 2 is better than 1, it was still irritating in the way it cuts between characters and plot lines to keep Julia (the series best character/actress) in the main story.  It made my head spin at times.  The show has been renewed for a third year and if it can continue with what made Season 2 so much stronger, it will be worth watching.   I think the Magicians will appeal mostly to the younger demographic who have not actually read the books, grown up with Harry Potter and love fantasy.  For the rest of you, it won’t likely resonate.

Premiers

Better Call Saul (AMC)

Better Call Saul came back recently for Season 3 and it didn’t take long to meet back up with Gus Fring, the evil protagonist from Breaking Bad.  The first two episodes have long periods without dialog (first with Mike trying to find a listening device in his car and then with Jimmy in the restaurant watching for a package exchange) and these sequences are brilliant.  This show isn’t my normal genre but scenes like that keep me coming back.

I don’t know how long it will take for Jimmy McGill to become Saul Goodman but early on in this season, with Mike alerted to Los Pollos Hermanos and sending Jimmy in to interact with Gus, we have commenced the transition.  We also have the beginnings of the inevitable split between Kim who does everything above board and Jimmy who cuts all the corners.  Saul’s assistant in Breaking Bad is also introduced and hired by Jimmy as the show creeps slowly toward its Breaking Bad roots.

Better Call Saul is very well done and Bob Odenkirk is showing great dramatic acting chops in this series.  When Better Call Saul is over and done, it will be fun to binge it along with Breaking Bad all at once to appreciate the many connections between the two.  Breaking Bad seems like a long time ago and my memory is fuzzy.

Leftovers (HBO)

The Leftovers, one of my top five shows on television, commenced its third and final season with a super weird premier that had me reading multiple recaps and listening to podcasts to try and figure out what happened.  It started out with a religious sect in 1844 believing in the rapture which doesn’t come although some members of the cult become the precursors of he Guilty Remnant.  As is typical of the show, there is another big time jump, this time to the 7th anniversary of the Departure.  We catch up with most of our key characters in the premier but there are two key ones missing.  Carrie Coon is just fantastic in this show which is not to be missed.

The mysteries keep on coming.  Kevin, puts his head in a plastic bag and appears to die and then marches out of the house in perfect health.  Where are the missing characters?  And then the final scene where one of the key characters is shown about 10 years later on a different continent not seeming to know about her former life is a jump the shark moment.  There are also a lot of birds at the beginning and the end of the episode which mean something although who knows what and a few other crazy things.  So, the Leftovers is back in its full glory, the viewer is totally confused and this rather brilliant TV show will unfold over the next 7 episodes as only a Damon Lindelof show can.  I can’t wait.

Guerrilla (Showtime)

Guerrilla a 6-episode mini-series that premiered on Showtime last week is the story of how a mixed-race couple become revolutionaries in 1971 London.  Although Patty Hearst and Angela Davis come immediately to mind in watching two bohemian characters turn violent, there are certainly parallels with today’s world.  Marcus (Babou Ceesay) and Jas (Freida Pinto) start out as the quiet couple who quickly become emerged in a revolutionary world when their friends are imprisoned and killed by the police.

I can’t think of anything more relevant now than how peaceful people become violent revolutionaries and I will tune in for the next 5 weeks to gain whatever insight I can into this phenomenon.  Pinto is great so far and I want to see more of her lighting up the screen.

Streaming:

13 Reasons Why (Netflix)

I went through the last half of this very well done mini-series on teen suicide quickly.  I couldn’t stop as there was so much packed into the final four episodes.  I have one word of warning.  Do not finish the last couple of these late at night or you’ll likely have nightmares as the suicide and rape scenes are graphic.

I would recommend this series to everyone.  It is so well done and the leads (Hannah played by Catherine Langford and Clay played by Dylan Minnette) are wonderful.  Many critics found the middle episodes to drag and the sub plot with Jeff completely unnecessary so I was expecting that but didn’t find it to be the case.  I did not binge the series except for the last 4 episodes as they were tough and though provoking enough to need to be spaced out.

I guess the big question is whether the rapes and suicide should have been so realistically portrayed and my thought would be that yes, they needed to be done this way.  The show would have lost its credibility had Hannah’s end been glossed over.  It was extremely difficult to watch but an important moment in her story.   Hopefully those loose ends at the conclusion don’t mean the producers are thinking about a second season.  That would be a travesty.  Hannah’s story is finished and it should remain that way.  Watch this show.

 

Books: Chris Bohjalian’s latest novel and a couple from 2008: The Sleepwalker, Dreamers of the Day and the Story of Edgar Sawtelle

 

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

If you are a fan of Bohjalian, you will know that he often sets his novels in Vermont and that some of them have very twisty mysteries.  The Sleepwalker, his latest novel, has both.  It is the story of a beautiful woman, Annalee Ahlberg, who is a sleepwalker (later we find out she is a sleepsexer) who disappears one night when her husband is away at a conference.  Her daughters, Lianna (the narrator of the story and a college student) and twelve-year-old Paige are devastated as they try to find out what happened to her.

At first, it appears as if she walked into a river and drowned while she was asleep and that is what most people in the town assumed happened.  It is not until later that questions arise around that theory.  Along the way, Lianna becomes involved with a police detective investigating the disappearance of her mother.  He was also a close friend of Annalee and twelve years older than Lianna which borders on the very creepy.  How the family copes with grief as Lianna becomes increasingly skeptical of her new boyfriend and what he is hiding is also a theme.

This book reminded me somewhat of “Double Bind” Bohjalian’s masterpiece which was also set in Vermont and super twisty.  The author is very good at delivering surprise endings and this latest mystery is no exception.   Along the way, you will learn more about sleepwalking than you ever wanted to know.  I probably now need to reread the book to catch all the clues  Bohjalian leaves along the way because I’m sure they were there and I missed them the first go around.  Sleepwalker will be popular with Bohjalian fans.  It isn’t the best of his novels, nor the best mystery out there but it is perfectly satisfying and worth a read.

Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

What makes this 2008 novel something to check out is not the quality of the novel (it is lightweight and sometimes borders on the absurd) but how it gives us glimpses into a period of history that created the basis for much of the instability in today’s Middle East.  The main character and narrator of the novel is Agnes, the only member of her Ohio family to survive the flu epidemic of 1919.  A spinster-like character who had lived with her mother, she buys an expensive wardrobe with her small inheritance and sets out to visit Egypt.  Her motives are a bit unclear but her sister’s family had been missionaries in the Middle East and so that seemed to be the connection.

Agnes arrives in Cairo with her dog (not exactly welcome in Muslim society) at the time of the Cairo Conference which established the boundaries for the modern day Middle East.  She meets up with T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) who had been friends with her sister.  She also encounters Gertrude Bell, one of the most influential women of the 20th century.  Winston Churchill takes her to see the pyramids and she also has a somewhat one-sided relationship with a German spy Karl who is likely based on an amalgamation of Germans who were spies in the area at the time.

Dreamers of the Day doesn’t have enough history in it for my liking and the novel is at times a bit silly but it will cause many readers to further research the Cairo Conference and Gertrude Bell.  There are several great biographies of Bell to read  as well as T.E. Lawrence (including the well regarded “Lawrence In Arabia” by Scott Anderson).  If you have never heard of the Cairo Conference or Gertrude Bell, it is well worth your time to check out this novel.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

I first read this novel in 2008 when it came out and didn’t remember a lot about it except that it was (a) depressing (b) about a lot of dogs, (c)  well reviewed and (d) there was a big fire.  I have this novel on audio CDs and as there is always  an audio book going in my car, I figured I’d reread it.  This was probably a mistake. This story of a handicapped boy and his family’s dog kennel is modelled after Hamlet and we all know how Shakespearian tragedies end.

The story takes place in a small town in Wisconsin where Edgar, who is unable to speak, lives with his parents.  They own a dog kennel where they breed and train extraordinary dogs that are sold across the country.  Beware, you will know more about his family’s dog breeding techniques than you’ll ever want or need to know.  Despite not being able to speak, Edgar has his own sign language and is able to train dogs.  The first tragedy strikes early in the book when Edgar’s father dies.  His uncle Claude (think Claudius) comes to help Edgar and his mother Trudy (think Queen Gertrude) and of course, there is a ghost.

Along with the Shakespearean characters and the ghost, Edgar runs away for what seems to be one of the longest sojourns into the wilderness ever.  I won’t spoil the ending other than to say it is representative of what happens with Shakespear’s tragedies but, the dogs do survive – this could only be more depressing if there were dead animals.  This novel is compelling, well written (although overly long) and if you are in the mood for something really heavy and depressing, go for it.

Movies: The Sense of an Ending, Beauty and the Beast and Personal Shopper

 

The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending has many of my favorite British actors.  Jim Broadbent stars as Tony Webster a divorced retiree who lives a quiet existence.  He is on good terms with his ex-wife (Harriet Walter) and his daughter played by Michelle Dockery but there are hints that he hasn’t always been a great guy. Tony receives a letter saying that something has been left to him by the mother of a girlfriend from his youth.  We see flashbacks to his former girlfriend Veronica and her brother and mother as we start to see the story of his life being pieced together.

It turns out that the thing that he was left, is a diary of a fellow student who dated Veronica and committed suicide shortly thereafter.  Tony goes in pursuit of what is rightfully his but comes up against a stalwart Veronica, played by Charlotte Rampling, who is not willing to give up the diary to him.  The movie kicks into high gear once Rampling is introduced and the back and forth between the past and present intensifies.

In this low-key psychological thriller, we uncover deep secrets as the dualing themes of the cruelty of youth and how our memories become unpredictable as we age, collide.  Tony has clearly altered some of his memories to blot out his questionable actions. Jim Broadbent is excellent as Tony and captures his complex personality perfectly.  Rampling is Rampling and you can’t take your eyes off her.  Dockery and Walter are also very good.  The Sense of an Ending reminds me somewhat of Atonement having some of the same themes but not quite as dark.

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast is a perfectly pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.  While Emma Watson’s singing is fine, she is clearly an Actress who can sing rather than a singer.  The same for Dan Stephans although he only has one song and that one sounds digitally altered.  Luke Evans who plays Gaston, however, has pipes and he nails his performance. Audra McDonald in a brief role delivers a stunning aria.

There are some new songs in this version of the classic but it is the old ones that you will be humming leaving the theate including Belle, Be Our Guest and Gaston.  There are also wonderful cameos by Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen.  This film version with live actors is in capable hands with Watson.  It is a big ask to have her star in such a blockbuster but she succeeds admirably.  You won’t be disappointed if you spend a few bucks and see this film.

Personal Shopper

I have seen most of Kristin Stewart’s performances from Twilight to Personal Shopper and I think this is my favorite performance of hers.  In my opinion,  she is even better in this one than Clouds of Sils Marie for which she won the Cesar – the French equivalent of an Oscar.  Nowhere in this performance did I see those peculiar little facial twerks that seemed to plague her for most of her career.  She is great in this film which is a good thing as the camera never leaves her.

Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright who lies in Paris and is a personal shopper for Kyra, a celebrity of some sort.  Maureen’s twin brother has recently died of a heart ailment that she too suffers from.  Both he and his sister are mediums and Maureen goes to his house to try and contact her dead brother.  They had made a pact that they would contact each other from the beyond if one died.  There are clearly paranormal creatures at work as Maureen continues to try and contact her brother.  That is the ghost story part of Shopper.

Then there is the murder mystery plotline.  Maureen starts getting texts from an unknown person (or spirit) that get progressively creepier. The texts get her to  go to Kyra’s apartment and try on her clothes in an erotic sequence.  Later, Maureen returns to the apartment to find that Kyra has been murdered.  Stewart is mesmerizing in this very weird (but good weird) film that has been seen by about fifteen people in the USA.  It isn’t playing in very many places but I highly recommend it.

 

TV: The Americans, Billions, The Catch, Feud, Big Little Lies, 13 Reasons Why and Colony

 

I am so behind on TV for several reasons and April TV which is an entire season in and of itself is beginning which means even more premiers so I’m just going to jump in and hit some of the highlights for shows that I’m watching which have recently started or ended.

Season Premiers:

The Americans (FX)

My favorite TV show is back for its fifth (and next to last) season and seems even more relevant given the current “Russia” headlines.  At the end of last season, Philip (Mathew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) were on the verge of being discovered and seriously contemplated taking their family back to Russia.  Their daughter Paige is aware of her parent’s profession and struggles to come to grips with it as she pursues a relationship with the next-door son of an FBI counter intelligence officer.

The season opens with the immediate crisis passing and a new mission involving a recently settled Russian family.  The father is very anti-Russia and the son Pasha is having difficulty adapting to American life.  There are connections to the real Russian wheat shortage of the time.  Also in transit, presumably on his way to America is Philip’s son Misha.  The premier has the longest grave digging episode in the history of television but we do get past that albeit without a surprise death.  Thankfully, Margo Martindale (Claudia) and Frank Langella (Gabriel)are back in their handler roles.  As the season progresses, things get more complicated as Philip struggles with the morality of his work; Paige has no idea how to deal with having a boyfriend whose FBI father could destroy their lives and Claudia and Gabriel are losing some confidence in their star spy family.

Note:  If you haven’t seen the Peabody award winning “The Americans”, you can see the first 4 seasons on Amazon Prime.  There isn’t anything better on Television and each season gets better and better.  This is a great show.

Billions (Showtime)

I missed Billions last year because my Sunday nights were filled with TV shows that I was watching so I caught up on Season 1 and am have watched about half of Season 2.  I like Billions.  The interplay between the lead character Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis) and his arch enemy Chuck Rhodes (Paul Giamatti) is fantastic and there has rarely been a more despicable character than Rhodes.  Even though Bobby, a billionaire hedge fund magnate has obtained his money through shrewd insider trader schemes and taken advantage of 9/11 victim’s families, you still want him to win against the Feds (headed by Rhodes) who are on his trail.

Season 2 again pits the two main characters with a laser- like focus on eliminating each other.  Bobby is consumed by a desire to destroy Chuck and this single-minded focus seems certain to wreak havoc on both his personal and business life.  Chuck, who was hit hard both personally and professionally at the end of last season is still out to get Bobby but seemingly in more devious and creative ways.  There are a couple of new faces at Axe Capital which so far are very intriguing.  One is the performance coach (replacing Chuck’s wife) and the other is a transgender whiz kid whom Axe is immediately ready to take advantage of.  Billions may be the first Showtime drama that hasn’t crashed and burned its second season.  I’m in for the ride. 

The Catch

The Catch, Shonda’s Thursday night replacement for HTGAWM, premiered its second season a few weeks ago.  I gave up on HTGAWM a long time ago.  Viola Davis couldn’t make up for all the obnoxious 20 something year olds that were on the show along with their ridiculous storylines.  The Catch isn’t going to win any awards but it has much better leads (Peter Krause, Mireille Enos, Sonya Walger) and supporting characters (Gina Torres for one).  I love to watch all of them at work – even with the crazy over the top plots.

In my opinion, the thing that worked best last year with this show was the Pink Panther-like escapades that Ben (Krause) was engaged in during his various heists.  Season 2 quickly gets him out of jail and sets him up to do undercover work for the FBI doing the same type of work.  This is a fun show and after all those seasons of the Killing where Enos never smiled or changed her clothes, it is great to see her do both.  There is a freshness to this Shonda show that makes for a good, light-hearted crime series that hopefully will continue to grow and get better.  

New Series:

Feud (FX)

Feud is the story of Joan Crawford (played by Susan Sarandon) and Bette Davis’s (played by Jessica Lange) relationship.  This should have been a great series given the actresses involved but I have found it boring and hard to stay awake for.  It is worth it, however to stick with it (or just skip directly to episode 5) to watch the epic Oscar dual that that pits a vengeful Crawford against Davis who is nominated for Best Actress.  If you love movies and the Oscars, episode 5 gives great insight into the political side of the Oscars. of the past. Sarah Paulson is fantastic in a brief appearance as Geraldine Page.  Feud can be skipped but you may want to check out the last couple of episodes. 

Big Little Lies (HBO)

Big Little Lies is based on the book by Liane Moriarty which is a total beach read.  I didn’t care for the novel so wasn’t going to watch the miniseries produced by Reese Witherspoon (and others) as a vehicle for great women parts.  It stars Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley along with Alexander Skarsgard.

Even knowing how the mystery ends, I found this mini-series so well done that I couldn’t miss it each Sunday.  The acting is phenomenal, the writing (David E Kelly) great and I enjoyed the show so much more than the book.  If you have HBO and somehow missed this series, go watch it.  It is great.

Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix)

 13 Reasons Why dropped on Netflix last week.  At first I was hesitant to watch a show about a teenager who commits suicide but it hooked me from the get go.  Hannah (Katherine Langford) commits suicide and leaves 13 cassette tapes about the people in her life who impacted her decision to kill herself.  Langford is riveting as the lead in her first major role as is Clay (Dylan Minnette) her (questionably?) best friend.

I am less than half way through but I understand from those who have watched the entire 13 episodes that it drags in the middle. Also, you will be very frustrated by Clay’s slowness in listening to the tapes.  It is irritating.  Apparently the 13 people who had tapes about them, don’t necessarily deserve an entire episode devoted to their character.  It would have been much better to do some doubling up and have maybe 9 or 10 episodes.  I also understand that the last few episodes are great so it is well worth sticking with.  I’ll let you know when I finish it up if that is the case. 

Season/Series Finales:

Colony

Colony ended its second season with what we are led to believe is LA being blown to bits by the aliens as the Bowman family and Snyder escape the city.  Madeline and Broussard’s fates are unknown.  We also get a glimpse at an Alien in a closing segment that ties to the season’s opener.  Colony was renewed for season 3 a few days before the finale and it has been announced that the show is being moved from LA to Vancouver.  Colony isn’t the best show out there but it fills my Sy Fy needs and I will always hold on to a Carlton Cuse/Josh Holloway show.

 

 

 

 

 

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Movie: The United Kingdom

 

The United Kingdom

United Kingdom is a good but not a great movie and along the way will give you some interesting history of Botswana that I suspect many people are unaware of.  David Oyelowo stars as Seretse Khama, a prince of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) who is studying in England in 1947 when he is called upon to return to his homeland to be King.  Unfortunately, he has met a white woman, Ruth Williams, played by Rosamund Pike and the two quickly fall in love.  Khama proposes to her and the British government gets wind of it and together with his uncle (who seems be the interim ruler) work their hardest to keep the couple from marrying.  Neither believe that a mixed marriage will advance their respective agendas in Bechuanaland.

They are unsuccessful and Khama and Ruth go to Africa as a married couple not supported by either the Brits, who do not come off well in this story, or the tribe.  Khama is subsequently exiled by somewhat nefarious means and Ruth stays behind so she too can’t be exiled.  There isn’t much doubt as to what the outcome will be yet Oyelowo and Pike are quite good and have a quiet chemistry.  Oyelowo gets the great speeches but Pike is fine as the suffering wife.  Together they are believable.  United Kingdom is a film you’ll certainly find enjoyable and historically interesting but it won’t win any Oscars.  The father we get from awards season, the less we seem to have good choices at the theater so this film is perfectly good way to spend an afternoon or evening.

TV: The Young Pope, Legion, Planet Earth II, Bates Motel

I have been remiss in my TV updates but there have been a few interesting finales and premiers over the last couple of weeks with even more coming over March and April as spring TV ramps up.

Season Finales:

The Young Pope (HBO)

I watched the entire mini-series of the young pope and I’m not sure I could explain it to anyone.  Jude Law was fantastic; the costumes magnificent and I loved it every time Dianne Keaton opened her mouth (and even when she was speechless).  Law, plays Lenny Belardo who becomes Pope Pius XIII under questionable circumstances, begins his reign as a smug, condescending outsider who spies on his enemies and generates a high level of arrogance (remind you of anyone?).  Along the line, he questions his belief in God and has multiple strange visions.  Almost every day is spent trying to come to terms with the parents who abandoned him as a child and wondering about their whereabouts.

We wind our way through the season there are probably more bad moments than good but even the bad ones are so weirdly strange and beautifully shot that I was reeled in.  We don’t know what Lenny’s actual beliefs are as they change constantly while becoming one of the world’s greatest tyrants.  The biggest issue I had with the show is that there was a real lack of character development that prevented us from understanding anyone’s motivations.  If there is a second season, I’ll give it a try as Law is mesmerizing. 

Series Premier

Legion (FX)

Legion recently premiered as the latest in a series of Marvel comics coming to life on the small screen.  Apparently, this character (David Haller) is a very minor character in the Marvel world and he is clearly disturbed, teetering between schizophrenia and some type of specialized mental power.  The premier was 1 ½ hours and most of it was like a 1960s-acid trip.  The weirdest thing I have ever seen.

The second episode was not quite so trippy but a lot is happening.   Dan Stevens (Downton Abby) plays David Haller, a diagnosed schizophrenic since he was a child.  The government thinks that he is perhaps the most powerful mutant ever so interrogates him until he is rescued by a couple of women that were in the psych hospital (“Clockworks” don’t you love it) with him.  They bring David to Dr. Bird (Jean Smart) who tries to make him healthy and happy again so that he can be used in the war against the government.  In the interim, there are lots of flashbacks, evil stuff, powers moving from one person to the next and general craziness but if you like the Marvel Universe, this kind of pulls you in.  I’ll try to stick with it until I’m so confused I must give up which is what usually happens with my forays into the Marvel universe.

Planet Earth II (BBC America)

What is not to love about this magnificent look at Nature with the inspiring new score by Hans Zimmer and perfect narration by the marvelous David Attenborough.  I have seen Mountains and Islands and can’t wait for more.  Spectacularly done with the most amazing technical advances that put the series in a difference orbit than even the original Planet Earth, you can only wonder if this is the last we will see of many of the species shown.  With only a handful (7) of episodes there is absolutely no excuse not to see this and anyone who doesn’t believe that man is destroying this world should watch the show.  It is extraordinary.

Bates Motel (A&E)

I love this series and particularly the acting.  It stars Vera Fermiga and Freddie Highmore and is a prequel to Pschyo.  Last year’s finale found Norman murdering his mother and finally, we have him in full “psycho” mode.  I wasn’t sure how Vera Fermiga would be able to continue in this final season that recently started but Carleton Cuse and the Bates team have brought her back to life in a creative way.  It is harder to integrate Norman’s brother (Dylan) and Olivia Cooke into the story as they moved away and have no relationship with Norman but the writers are trying.  While one part of me wants them back in the action, the other part knows that this would be a very bad thing for their survival and after all they have been through, I don’t want them killed by Mr. Psycho.  Also back is Norma’s sexual predator brother who comes back to town.  Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is in jail and again, trying to keep him connected to Norman is difficult but I love every scene he is in.

I’m enjoying every minute of the last season of Bates Motel and wish Fermiga and Hightower would get the Emmy recognition they deserve for this little gem of a show.

When We Rise (ABC miniseries)

When We Rise is the history of the Gay Rights movement and teams together again the powerful combination of Gus Van Sant and Dustin Lance Black who respectively directed and wrote Milk.  It follows several real-life people (particularly Cleve Jones who also was an important figure in the movement and has a major role in the movie Milk) who converged on San Francisco in the 1970s and continued the Gay Rights movement up through DOMA.  The series is playing all this week and while the last few hours might not be that interesting to people, I find that the first couple of episodes covering the 1970s and 80s are particularly good.

 

Books: The Tumbling Turner Sisters” and “The Aftermath”

 

The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay

I listened to this book on CDs in the car.  When I do audio books while driving, I’m not looking for anything “heavy” and the Tumbling Sisters was certainly light enough as to not distract me from the crazies on the road.  It is the story of several sisters who form an acrobatic troop in the 1920s and start out on the East Coast Vaudeville circuit.  They are forced to do this because of their father injures his hand in a brawl and is no longer able to work.  The family is always one paycheck from eviction in upstate NY so their mother decides to have the girls learn to tumble in order to try and make money.  We have Nell, a widow with a small boy, Gert, an independent soul who wants to be out on her own, Winnie, a nurse’s aid who loves science and wants to go to college and Kit, the youngest (her character is never flushed out in the book).

The plot is predictable as the chapters alternate between Winnie and Gert and their perspectives on life.   Slowly but surely, the Turners climb the rungs of Vaudeville moving from small towns to larger ones with bigger venues and greater purses.  Of course, the older girls find love, one in an interracial relationship, and their mother flirts her way through the many towns they travel through.  Along the way, there are historical references including “Blackface” acts; the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire; Boston’s Great Molasses Flood; Woman’s suffrage and the Seven Sister’s colleges.  The novel’s last big scene involves the Seattle Lincoln Hotel Fire.  While these references are interesting, there is not enough depth to them or Vaudeville for my liking.

This is a straight forward novel and the ending won’t be a surprise to readers.  It is a relatively fast paced and reasonably interesting story.  You won’t be any worse off for reading it, will learn a little about life in Vaudeville and if you are looking for this type of fiction, you should enjoy the book.  If you would like some more depth for your novels, look elsewhere.

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

The Aftermath provides a glimpse into life in Germany, specifically Hamburg, in the period immediately after WWII.  The author is British as are the main characters (a British colonel and his family) who are assigned to the British zone in the war’s “aftermath”.  The author’s own grandfather was the British governor of the Hamburg district so he knows of what he writes.  Like the character in the book, Brook’s grandfather allowed the German family in whose house he resided to stay.

I found the book predictable in terms of the various romances although the ending was a bit disjointed.  The author seemed to do slightly better with the male character development than the female.  I never thought the female lead, Rachel Morgan, the Colonel’s wife, acted in a way that made sense given what we knew about her.  I also thought that a third major plotline about the orphan boys who roamed Hamburg trying to survive using black market cigarettes was not as well integrated into the story as it could have been.  The author apparently wrote the book with a movie in mind and it shows in the writing.

The Aftermath is a good introduction (or reminder) of life in post-war Germany in an area that not many readers are probably aware of.  The book cried out for a prologue that could have explained more of the background so that when the reader embarks on the 1946 “aftermath”, they have some knowledge of what led to the destruction of the city.  Hamburg was bombed in 1943 in a raid which caused the loss of 40,000 lives and the displacement of over one million people.  It was often referred to as the “Hiroshima” of the West.  I ‘m glad I read the book and I’m looking forward to the seeing the movie which stars Keira Knightly as Rachel Morgan and Alexandar Skarsgard as the German architect and owner of the home the Morgans are staying in.