Hello my lovely readers!
I had a few things from the month of February that I wanted to tell you all about, but all of them were kind of short for their own posts. I got to thinking how a lot of bloggers have a favorites post they do once a month, and I thought that’s such a great idea! It’ll be a monthly feature that will showcase a range of things I’ve enjoyed in the last month.
We’ll start off with the two biggest things.
Snapchat (username: opinionsofawolf)
I finally got on the Snapchat train! After hearing so much about it, I just had to download the app and see what all the fuss is about. I have to admit, I love it. For those who don’t know, Snapchat lets you post photos or videos (and annotate on top of them) that last a maximum of 24 hours before they disappear. It’s very stream-of-consciousness, and I love having a new format to talk about books, writing, and life in. (And there are definitely some videos of my cat). If you have (or get) Snapchat, friend me! My username is opinionsofawolf.
Instagram lets you easily manage multiple accounts. Finally!
I’ve had a personal Instagram account for years (sorry, you can’t have that username!), but I found trying to manage a personal and a professional/hobby one to be frustrating, because the app forced you to log out entirely of one account before logging into the next one. There was no simple tapping back and forth between accounts. Well, this month Instagram finally fixed that! So I get to join my fellow book bloggers in the virtual world of #bookstagram. Please do check it out for shots of reading locations, real time mini-reviews and pictures of books as I finish them, and quotes from books as I read them, among other things! Username: opinionsofawolf.
Next up, two smaller, but still exciting to me, things this month.
I actually have another book blogger to thank for this discovery. The awesome Running ‘N’ Reading posted a few times about the recovery drink Nuun. Replenishing electrolytes and rehydrating are very important after working out. It helps with muscle recovery and just general hydration. I’ve struggled because I’m not really a fan of Powerade and Gatorade, especially for the calorie content. (The ones with zero calories don’t taste good to me). I love coconut water, but it’s full of calories and expensive to buy. Nuun comes in tubes that each contain 12 tablets. You drop the tablet into water, and in two minutes it dissolves into a drink. Each tablet contains 8 calories. The tablets make it easy to order online and stockpile into your home, as well as convenient to take with you on longer fitness excursions. My husband and I are both pretty addicted to them now! And we’ve both noticed less DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) after hard workout days. Our favorite flavors are lemon-lime and tri-berry.
Bunnies at HomeGoods!
I love bunnies, and this month HomeGoods stocked up their spring holdings. I was hard-pressed to select only a few items (I’ll find almost anything with a bunny on it adorable), but I did my best to stick to what we need. My husband and I each have our own bowl for mealtimes (they do not match) but mine was a bit small for meals like soup or stew. So I picked up one that is about the same size as his. We also had large plates and small plates but no medium-sized ones, so I picked up two of those. Finally, I can always use more kitchen towels, so I got a set of two with this cute bunny on them.
Finally, a book!
Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
I want to wrap up these monthly favorites posts with a quick comment about my favorite read of the month. I devoured Blackout in a mere two days in audiobook format. I basically was searching for any task I could do as an excuse to listen to it. It’s that good. First five star read of the year! Review to come.
So that’s it for February. Be sure to tune in next month for episode 2 of Wolfy’s Favorites!
What were some of your favorite things in the month of February? Have you tried out any of the things I’ve mentioned? Tell us about your experience in the comments! (Especially feel free to let me know your Snapchat or Instagram usernames).
It’s impossible to talk about a theatrical adaptation of a book without discussing spoilers, so if you haven’t ever read 1984, you might want to go pick up a copy and read it and come back to this review later.
(And by might want to I mean my god, reader, how have you not? Get thee to it!)
The American Repertory Theater (ART) is a really cool theater in Cambridge, MA (right in Harvard Square) that brings a lot of brand-new and often experimental theater to the area. Previously I’ve seen The Heart of Robin Hood (before it was a Broadway play, so when it was still in its developmental phase) and another adaptation of a book–Wild Swans (review). I keep an eye out for plays coming to the ART that might appeal to my husband and I. When I got the email about the new adaptation of 1984, I forwarded it to him, and he immediately confirmed yes, let’s get tickets.
We’ve both read 1984 but not in around 10 years. My husband immediately noted the precisely 101 minute running time. I had forgotten the torture room is room 101 in 1984. I’m glad he noticed this. There were other send-ups to it throughout the play.
When you arrive for 1984, the ushers notify you that there are strobes, gunshot noises, and also no intermission or readmittance. We were expecting the first two but were a bit thrown by the last. Since we both just had a nasty bout of food poisoning, we were a bit anxious about no intermission or readmittance. We joined literal throngs of people at the bathrooms, who were all also anxious about the whole thing and then found our seats.
I would be amiss not to mention that about 2 weeks before the show, the ART called us and told us that during pre-production they discovered that one of the (cheap in the back) seats we’d originally bought was going to be obstructed by some tech needed for the show. They gave us new better seats, in the center and only a few rows back. A great upgrade, for free. In any case, let’s get down to the actual show.
1984 is a production that truly embraces the futuristic, tech-heavy dystopia depicted in 1984 the book. It incorporates technology from the instant it starts, and from the moment patrons walk into the building, there is a sense of ominous foreboding. The entire 101 minutes is done on one stage with a single incorporated set change (which was amazing, and I will get to in a minute) and with 9 actors.
The set originally consists of a room with a table and some chairs. There is paneling at the back of the room. Half of this is see-through glass, so you can see characters coming to the door in the middle. On one side of the room is the ominous telescreen, which you can actually see glowing periodically. There is another door near the telescreen. Over all of this is a giant screen that is used to incorporate really cool tech. At first I thought it was pre-recorded film being shown on this screen, but later it becomes evident that at least some of it is being shot live via CCTV on various areas of the stage. As an example of how this screen is incorporated, at the beginning of the show, when Winston starts writing in his journal, the screen shows the words being written upon the page.
This single set is used to show Winston (the main character) at home, at work, and later in the countryside. I particularly enjoyed how the show just goes for it with the countryside. They declare they are in the country, there are sound-effects of birds, and then it’s really easy to believe they are in the country. My husband enjoyed the glowing yellow lights and sound-effects of a train chugging the show uses to transition here.
Those who have read the book will realize that the earlier scenes of Winston at home, work, and in the countryside end up being recollections and thoughts while he is in prison with the Ministry of Love being tortured periodically in room 101. We weren’t sure how they were going to handle this transition without an intermission, but it was awesome.
Throughout the beginning of the play, Winston and Julia go through a door on the side of the stage to the room of safety that they rent out that supposedly has no telescreens in it. When they are in the room, the audience views what is occurring via the screen on top of the stage through what appears to be CCTV. When it is revealed that they are caught (which is super spooky how it is done in the play), pieces of the set either lift up or slide to the side (I can’t remember which) to reveal behind the wall at the back is the actual bedroom set. So this is where they have been going to actually act out the bedroom scenes. The secret police who come in to arrest them also change the set. It is violent, brutal, and awesome. They ultimately change the set to be what appears to be an empty stage but then when Winston is brought into room 101, bright lights reveal white everywhere. It’s a glowing white room, which is perfect for the eeriness of the torture.
What about the acting? The acting was so good throughout the various set changes and tech that I didn’t really notice it, which I personally think is one of the best complements you can pay an actor. If you get so sucked into the world that you forget acting is even going on, then it’s good acting. I will add that multiple characters play various roles, and I didn’t notice, which is also a complement.
So let’s get to the most…memorable/impactful part of the show. The torture scene towards the end. I thought this was splendidly done. I am not one who ever really forgets that I’m watching a play, so I didn’t have the visceral horror I would have if I was seeing pictures or videos from actual real live torture, but the combination of the set and the costumes of the torture assistants (they’re wrapped in white suits that remind me of the yellow suits in Breaking Bad, if you’ve seen that), and the interrogator’s entire presence generated a real feeling of dread and horror.
If you are concerned about the “torture,” basically the interrogator gives an order (ie “fingers”), the people in white grab their instruments and come up to Winston. There’s a big sonic boom while the lights flash out, then the lights turn on and the results of torture appear, in the case of fingers, it’s blood on Winston’s fingertips. It was good, but it was obviously theater.
That said (bare in mind there was no readmittance) right around the first torture (there are three), people in the audience started bailing out. I heard later that around 20 people bailed out. I personally saw about 7. But, I will say, this was about 10 minutes from the end of the play, so it’s also possible at least some of them just really needed to use the restroom (this is a play without intermission right after most of us went to dinner). I heard later that one woman in the audience actually threw up in her purse, but to be fair, she could have been sensitive to strobes, and there are a lot of strobes in the show. My husband and I were generally flummoxed by the number of people bailing. Did they somehow know nothing about the plot of 1984 before they went? Were they that easily disturbed? It’s torture, but again, it’s theatrical torture. I know there’s nothing the ART can do about people walking out, but it did irritate me some just because it was distracting. However, it is also a hilarious story to tell people, and most people I’ve mentioned it to just think it makes the play sound more bad-ass (which it totally is).
We really only had a few points of feedback after the show. First, we wished that the scene when Julia and Winston are in the countryside and start to undress to have sex for fun and fight Big Brother that way had taken the undressing further. Given the violence, big booms, and large tech in the show, as well as the general point in the scene about Big Brother being afraid of orgasms, we felt that leaving shirts on just didn’t take things far enough. Additionally, we were both a bit disappointed that there were no actual rats in the show. We get how difficult it can be to wrangle animals, but I did think there’d be at least some video or disturbing images of rats, and there is not. To be fair, our ability to be freaked out by rats is really mitigated by living in Boston. I see at least one rat a week when I’m commuting. And they’re big ones. Finally, we thought that the clock in the room reading 1:01 was a bit too cute.
Overall, this is really cool experimental theater. Attending it won’t be like any other play you’ve attended. Come prepared to be a bit anxious for 101 minutes and maybe dehydrate yourself a bit ahead of time so you can last the full time without intermission. Personally, I think this is a beautiful adaptation of 1984 that really lives up to the spirit and intent of the book, while using modern tech and trends to keep it relevant.
Cathy and her brother Rob live with their emotionally distant grandfather on family land in England because her mother left, and her father died in a mental institution. Cathy and Rob seek refuge with each other against the world, but World War I won’t let them keep the world at bay forever.
I generally enjoy controversial books, and I heard that this historical fiction included the always controversial plot point of incest. The short version of my review is: it’s amazing how boring a book about incest and WWI can actually be. For the longer version, read on.
The book is told non-linearly in what appears to be an attempt to build suspense. The constant jumping with very few reveals for quite some time, though, just led to my own frustration.
I was similarly frustrated by the fact that Cathy’s childish interpretation of her father’s mental illness never progresses. She never moves from a child’s understanding to an adult’s understanding. This lack of progress gave a similar stagnant feeling to the book.
Of course, what the book is best-known for is the incest between Cathy and Rob. I found the scenes of incest neither shocking nor eliciting of any emotion. There are scenes where Cathy and Rob discuss how “unfair” it is that they cannot have children and society will judge them. But then again there are scenes that imply that Rob took advantage of Cathy. Well, which is it? It’s not that I demand no gray areas, but the existence of gray areas in such a topic would best be supported by a main character with insight. Cathy remains childlike throughout the book. Indeed, I think the characterization of Cathy is what holds the whole book back. Because the book is Cathy’s perspective, this lack in her characterization impacts the whole thing. What could be either a horrifying or a thought-provoking book instead ends up being simply meh. A lot of time is spent saying essentially nothing.
That said, I did enjoy how the author elicits the setting. I truly felt as if I was there in that cold and often starving rural England. I felt as if I could feel the cold in my bones. That beauty of setting is something that many writers struggle with.
Overall, this book read as gray and dull to me as the early 20th century English countryside it is set in. Readers with a vested interest in all varieties of WWI historic fiction and those who enjoy a main character with a childlike inability to provide insight are the most likely to enjoy this book. Those looking for a shocking, horrifying, or thought-provoking read should look elsewhere.
3 out of 5 stars
Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge
Happy Valentine’s Day my lovely readers!
I know, I know, it’s a made-up holiday. But I think there’s something lovely about celebrating romance in the middle of winter. Even if your version of celebrating it is delighting in the quirks of the genre and maybe not necessarily romance in real life.
(Personally I will be celebrating it in real life, but hey, I’m a newlywed. 😉 )
So maybe you’re finding yourself at home with no plans for Valentine’s Day. Sure, you could watch re-runs of The Bachelor, but why not spend the wintry day curled up with a quick romance read? Not sure what to read? Here are three speed read romances, vastly different from each other. What makes them a speed read? They are all less than 200 pages. And don’t worry. All three of them got 4 stars or more here on Opinions of a Wolf.
Braided: A Lesbian Rapunzel
By: Elora Bishop
Mood: You believe in fairy tales and happy endings!
Length: 61 pages
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel. Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day. The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship. She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into. Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.
Listening to Dust
By: Brandon Shire
Mood: You like a tragic romance that makes you cry. Keep the tissues handy for this one!
Length: 142 pages
A chance meeting between orphaned British writer, Stephen, and American soldier, Dustin, leads to a passionate love affair in England. But when Dustin chooses to go back home to his small Southern town to care for his mentally challenged brother, Stephen is left behind, sending letters that are never answered. He finally decides to follow Dustin home and arrives only to discover that Dustin is no more.
Love Among the Chickens
By: P.G. Wodehouse
Mood: You enjoy slapstick and want to laugh. A lot!
Length: 176 pages
Jeremy Garnet, a novelist, is living a relatively quiet bachelor life in London when his old school friend Stanley Ukridge shows up. Ukridge is starting a chicken farm with his wife, Millie, and wants “Garnie old boy” to come stay with them. He’ll get to write in the country in exchange for a few hours of work a day. In spite of the fact that Ukridge is planning to run the chicken farm without any prior knowledge or studying “the better for innovation, my boy,” Garnie takes him up on it. Of course, life with the eccentric Ukridge surrounded by chickens isn’t quite the quiet writing environment Garnie was planning on. Not to mention the Irish professor neighbor’s lovely daughter that Garnie can’t quite get out of his head.