A Hollywood Double Feature – Tarantino Style

Disclaimer I guess??? This review contains language relevant to Tarantino’s body of work. Sorry if cursing offends you.

I don’t typically pick up novelizations or tie-ins for movies I’m not diehard in love with. And I never pick up novelizations of movies from directors I don’t particularly enjoy. However, when I heard that the novelization of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was not only going to include the “director’s cut” of moments that weren’t in or just couldn’t be included in the film but that Quentin Tarantino himself was going to write it, I was intrigued. Throw in the face that it was only being published as a vintage-style mass market paperback, and I was buying it immediately on release day. What can I say, pulp novels are an aesthetic joy of mine.

But then I started reading it and well… I was not expecting any of the thoughts it would bring to me. I was not prepared for the emotions I brought back that I haven’t experienced since film school graduation left me bitter, broke, and jaded as all hell. I wasn’t ready to literally feel LOVE radiate out of a fucking Quentin Tarantino movie-turned-book.

T H E F I L M

Seemingly pitched to viewers as a movie of the Manson Family (especially considering it was released the summer of ’19 – the 50thanniversary of the Tate-LaBianca murders), Quentin Tarantino’s movie was anything but. Following actor-on-the-downfall, Rick Dalton, and his stuntman-turned-personal-assistant, Cliff Booth, the movie Once Upon A Time In Hollywood gives us an entirely realistic view of how the Golden Age of Hollywood was. Of course this is still Tarantino, though, so this reality is still slightly-to-the-left as the ending gives us a happier conclusion of what happened on the night of August 9th, 1969. 

The movie is fun, goofy, and heartfelt while still keeping to the ridiculous Tarantino bloodbath ending. The scale of the cast alone is magnificent to see as huge actors play the smallest roles – a feat I truly think only Tarantino is capable of doing. Over the last two years I kept my opinion on the fact that it was a good enough movie, but my dedication to true crime and the many research projects I’ve done on Charles Manson and his girls kept my head out of the point. I could tell it was a homage to old Hollywood, a salute to what came out of it, but I didn’t think too much more.

Rewatching the movie after reading the “novelization” was a treat and a half. I noticed far more of the details, appreciated what Tarantino was doing far more. Leo DiCaprio’s subtlety as vulnerability as Rick is sublime and every scene with Mirabella (Trudi) made me tear up. Naturally it’s still a bit of a let down we only see Damon Herriman as Charlie for like two seconds (he’s an amazing actor), I know I can still get more of him in the role by watching Mindhunter. It’s difficult to keep on track with talking about the movie because there’s just so much going on in it, but I can happily say I adore it to it’s core at this moment.

T H E     N O V E L I Z A T I O N

Many millennial and gen-x readers will be familiar with the concept of novelizations, books that came out after a successful film that was a direct adaptation of screen to page. Sometimes they were fun and sometimes they were terrible, but they were always the story we expected. These days, move-to-book adaptations are less of an adaptation, and more of a tie-in, adding more dialogue or context and nuance to better convey the story and add more depth to scenes that were potentially shortened in the editing room or by producer demands.

When it comes to Quentin Tarantino’s own novelization of his film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, this is not a novelization in the conventional sense, and that point needs to come with something of a disclaimer.

If you do not give a flying fuck about the history of film and television production during the 40s through the early 70s then this book is not for you. Doesn’t matter if you love the movie, you have to love the boring parts of cinema as well, the important details in production, to give a shit about this book.

I’ve always loved the little details in film and my obsession with true crime and pulp novels means I have a soft spot for this “golden age” of Hollywood. Having fallen even more in love with production details while in film school, the fact that the first 100-or-so pages of this book reads like a text on critical film theory regarding genre films and international arthaus as political commentary made me so happy I was basically giggling like an idiot while reading. Sans for the part where Cliff says he liked Breathless (I hate this stupid French film so much), I agreed with just about everything that was being said.

As the novel goes on, in Tarantino’s typical non-linear fashion, it becomes less and less a story of Rick Dalton fighting against the Manson Family, and more a story of how Hollywood has always torn down it’s icons at every chance. It’s a character study of men hitting middle age and learning where they went wrong and trying to do better for themselves. As Rick’s role on Lancer starts eating at him, the way Tarantino weaves together the story of the pilot with the story of Rick’s self-hatred, it’s a beautiful thing to follow along.

If you’ve ever wanted to be a fly on the wall of a Hollywood set, this is a book that does that. While I have had my own reservations about Tarantino’s work in general, this “novelization” has shifted so much of how I think of him. No matter what your opinion is, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: A Novel is the biggest love note to cinema that I have ever come across and it is slap-you-in-the-face clear just how much Tarantino cares about his movies, others’ movies, others’ shows, and every one of the actors that takes place in them. 

Did this book make it any more of a Manson story than the bit pieces in the movie? Absolutely not. Was it any more accurate? Hard no. But it was a bigger realization that this wasn’t a Manson story. This isn’t about Charlie or the girls. This is about a period in time and you can’t ignore what was going on just to tell a story about a failing Western super star. You can’t mention the collapse of Spahn Ranch without mentioning Charlie.

Absolutely not for everyone, this is a book I know I will be reading again and again. This is a book that reminded me why I loved film, why I pushed myself through film school despite how hard it was to bear, why I still care about film without working in it anymore. 

A few days ago I said I would fight Tarantino in a Denny’s parking lot with joy, that I was giving him a chance to truly impress me with this book. And I’ll be damned if he didn’t do just that. He impressed me and reminded what it is to love art. Cheers, Quentin. You bastard.

ARC REVIEW: Bofuri #1

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this light novel

Bofuri – I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Max Out My Defence! is probably one of the most adorable and wholesome light novels I have read in a long time and having seen the first two episodes of the anime prior to reading, I’m so happy with how wonderful it was.

The series primarily follows Kaede as she assumes her in-game persona, Maple, in a new VRMMORPG after her best friend Riza (Sally) talks her into playing. Afraid of getting hurt in-game, Maple chooses to main as a great shielder and throw all of her skill points into her defence. Stumbling her way through the game as someone who doesn’t play many video games at all, Maple gains bizarre skill after bizarre skill thanks to her strange build and starts to gain a lot of attention from the other players. Of course, being the sweet girl that she is, Maple has no clue just how many people are noticing her.

Maple is honestly the sweetest most innocent gaming-isekai character I have ever come to adore. She’s kind to everyone and so thankful when others are kind to her. As she stumbles around in her naive way, the other gamers around her can’t help but want to give her a hand. And honestly, it’s the other gamers that make me so happy while reading this. An element of the novel is told through a forum chat between some anonymous players who have made it their goal to keep an eye on Maple so people don’t take advantage of her. Even though these players are mostly at a distance, Chrome – another great shield player who is a part of the chat – has a few moments on page that show what a caring person he is. The way he mentions how much he instantly connected with Maple is so sweet. Gaming IRL and gaming as shown in anime are always so competitive and focused on PK (player-killing) story lines, it’s so incredibly nice to have a light novel set in a gaming world that has a little more joy to it.

Maple’s best friend Sally is also a total sweetheart, she’s also more of a gamer than Maple is so the two of them work together to level up and learn all about the weird world they’re playing in. She’s just as cute as Maple is and just as happy with things. What really made me love Sally is a single moment that – to me – felt like a pure homage to Sword Art Online (arguably the best gaming-isekai in the world, I will die on this hill). While watching a floating castle in the sky, Maple asks Sally if she thinks they’ll ever get to look around a place like that. Sally gets quiet, saying that she once played in a floating castle in a different game. Whether intentional or not, a reference to Sally being an SAO survivor tugged at me. Even if I’m projecting haha.

If you’re looking to get into light novels but want a “beginner” series to start with, I high recommend picking up this one. I can’t wait to see what’s to come from the series and I look forward to Maple forming a proper guild party of her own and being a cool, happy-go-lucky gamer with all of her friends.

Bofuri #1 (the light novel) is now available to purchase online and in stores. The anime adaptation is also currently available on Funimation!

ARC REVIEW: Aetherbound

Thank you to Penguin Teen Canada for providing me with an eARC via NetGalley.

I’m a big fan of E.K. Johnston’s work in the Star Wars universe, so I was very excited to receive and ARC of her newest stand-alone sci-fi YA novel, AetherboundI was even more excited to learn that the incredible Ashley Eckstein was going to be narrating the audiobook – what kindStar Wars fan doesn’t love Ashley?!

Aetherbound is an interesting foray into worldbuilding. Society has been seemingly reduced to live aboard space stations and cargo ships, everyone having a place and a use to the rest of the collective or else they are placed elsewhere (or even killed for being a waste of supplies). A certain kind of magic exists as well, in tune with a force called the Aether. Pendt Harland is in tune with the Aether but in a way not useful to the crew, but of potentially high value to others and is at risk of being sold to another ship or station upon her 18th birthday. When she decides it’s time to escape her life and her family, Pendt meets the Brannick twins and the three of them work together to make their lives their own.

The worldbuilding in this novel is intense. I loved all the concepts introduced and the complexity of the essentially closed societies that have been formed on the stations as well as the ships. That being said, a lot of it was told through massive info-dumping rather than being teased out by the characters. It made the novel feel like it wasn’t quite formed in its entirety at times and read more like a planning guide rather than a finished story. I would have liked it to have been explained more through dialogue or character actions rather than informative narration as I feel that would have built a closer connection to the characters and been a more immersive story. I liked the characters enough, Pendt is a sweet and perseverant girl and I loved the Brannick twins immediately, but I wanted more from them. I wanted more of a reason to cheer them on than just the upsetting circumstances this world has put them in.

Said “upsetting circumstances” definitely did make me uncomfortable at several moments, so I did appreciate the trigger warnings for medical trauma and calorie counting (not eating disorder based for anyone wondering, it’s more of a portion control thing) that were listed at the beginning. Selling off young girls (yes, 18 is young) for the sake of them being able to have children is really uncomfortable and the insemination moments had such an intense air of violation that I skimmed over the scene as fast as I could. I almost think that this novel would have been better has it been longer, with more time to tease out the world building, and marketed as more of a new adult or even straight up adult science fiction novel.

I still love E.K. Johnston and I will still continue to support her work, but I won’t like and say my 3-star rating for this one is mostly based on Ashley Eckstein doing an amazing job with the audiobook….


Aetherbound is now available in stores and online.

ARC REVIEW: Do Not Disturb

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for providing me with an ARC. I send my apologies for not getting to it sooner.

Do Not Disturb by Claire Douglas is a domestic thriller set in a small, remote village in Wales. After her husband suffers a mental health crisis, Kirsty thinks it would be best to start over somewhere fresh. Uprooting her family from their life in London, Kirsty, Adrian, and their two young daughters move into a Gothic old guesthouse with Kirsty’s mother in hopes of beginning over again as the owners of a cute B&B. When estranged family brings drama with them, things take a dark turn and results in a murder that any one of them could have committed.

What I was hoping for out of this novel was a Clue-like murder mystery filled with tension and false leads. Unfortunately for more, this was actually a domestic thriller – a sub-genre that I always think I like more than I actually do. That’s not to say this book isn’t good – I mean, I read the whole thing in less than three days – but domestic thrillers just aren’t my thing.

What I liked was the pacing, the way the drama unfolds is fast paced and makes you itch for what is going on. The first-person perspective from Kirsty really adds an extra layer of suspicion regarding who can actually be trusted, making the pace seem even faster as it makes you want to keep reading. The twists were wild and for a moment, actually tricked me into thinking this was a different kind of book all together. I applaud Douglas on writing so many different red herrings and interweaving so many individual story threads. If domestic thrillers are your thing, I 100% recommend this one.

Trigger warnings: attempted suicide, mentions of completed suicide, child abuse, mentions of sexual assault, alcoholism

REVIEW: Territory of Light

I’m going to start this review right off the bat by saying that I picked this book up for the sole reason that Tsushima Yuuko is the daughter of Dazai Osamu, my favourite Japanese author in history. Had it not been for that connection I honestly doubt I would have picked it up at all.

Territory of Light is a short novella made up of serialized vignettes that look into the life of the nameless narrator as she does her best to raise her two-year-old daughter in the midsts of a separation. Dreamlike in the way these peaks into a life on the edge of losing it all, this novella drifts in and out of time as it deals with loss, longing, depression, and the hardships a young single mother faces.

From the beginning, my own childhood definitely resulted in this book inflicting a few gut punches, but then it began to shift in a way I’m not sure I can explain and instead of seeing myself in the place of the narrator’s daughter, I imagined the author and her mother overlapping within the characters. Tsushima was only a year old when Dazai was discovered dead, having drowned in a canal with his lover, Yamazaki Tomie. I can’t begin to imagine the trauma that caused for Tsushima, let alone her mother who had clearly been abandoned due to Dazai’s self destructive whims and ever changing moods. When the narrator discusses the death of her father within the story, and the way it affected the character of her mother, it read to me as an accusation – but not necessarily a negative one – directed at Dazai for not being there, for leaving them not only for another woman, but in death as well.

Knowing what I know about Dazai absolutely coloured my reading this book and I found something cathartic in reading it as well as greatly appreciating the different perspective – even if it’s a fictionalized one – regarding a man I greatly admire. I definitely plan on seeing out more of Tsushima’s work available in English and hope to one day be able to read her stories in the original Japanese. It would be curious to see if her style is similar to that of her father’s. Especially considering both were cursed with only placing second for the Akutagawa prize.

REVIEW: Pretty Boy Detective Club #1

Long time anime fans will be more than aware of the talents of NISIOISIN, author of not only the Death Note novels, Another Note: Tales of the BB Murder Case and L: Change the World, but also his own famously popular Monogatari series. When I first heard of this series through the trailer for the brand new anime, I grew even more excited to know it was based on a new series from NISIOISIN.

Book one of the Pretty Boy Detective Club is titled The Dark Star That Shines For You Alone and follows narrator, Dojima Mayumi, as she takes to her middle school’s mysterious Pretty Boy Detective Club to help find a star she has not been able to locate for 10-years. The stakes for this aspiring astronaut are high as she has promised her parents that she would give up her space travelling dreams by her 14th birthday. The boys determine her case is a beautiful one and agree to take it on… only to be caught up in a much bigger plot than any of them expected with far more danger than anyone signed on for.

Right off the bat I fell in love with every single one of the characters. The boys themselves are entirely original combinations of shojo boy tropes and a female lead that is equal parts ditzy and observant. From the get-go, the way the cast interacted with each other reminded me of Ouran High School Host Club and as things got going, it was absolutely The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya levels of chaotic. It made me laugh so much while also making me relate wholeheartedly to the dejected, self-depreciating Mayumi.

I wanted something light to read, I wanted someone fun. And that’s exactly what I got. I wish nothing but the best for the anime adaptation (which has a theme song by the incredibly sumika and has given us all a goofy new dance to learn that seriously only intensifies the comparison to Haruhi Suzumiya since the dance makes me think of the Hare Hare Yukai) as it continues on.

If you’re new to light novels and want some slice-of-life shenanigans, I highly recommend picking up this one. If you’ve been around for a while and want some nostalgia, I highly recommend picking up this one. The Pretty Boy Detective Club is absolutely a read for everyone.

Three cheers for NISIOISIN’s continued success.

REVIEW: You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked.

In his debut novel, Sheung-King weaves a story of a dying relationship through a combination of first and second person POV. The layers created by folktales and references to classic literature make for a bubble of reality that feels like being stuck in a dream. 

As “you” and the narrator twist their way through the world, the style of the writing was reminiscent of the surrealness Murakami Haruki is most known for while reminding me specifically of the odd “real but slightly-to-the-left” unease of Murakami Ryu’s work – but without the violence, of course. This is a very arty story and I don’t know who I would ever really recommend it to while also being a book I would absolutely recommend simply for the beauty in Sheung-King’s metaphors. Similarly to the complicated comparrisons Lars von Trier makes in his film Nymph( )maniac (such as fly-fishing to nymphomania or cake forks to femininity in wealthy men), Sheung-King manages to grasp a similar method using a man who walks pigs as an antonym of corporation and national pride as a lie made by dictators and white colonizers. Even cucumber sandwiches. I live for this kind of poetry in writing, and it doesn’t hurt to mention Yozo’s antonym game from No Longer Human in order to win me over.

(If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll be more than aware of my deep-seated adoration for Dazai Osamu)

But what’s ended up leaving a true mark on me after devouring this novel in a few hours, was the section discussing anti-Asian racism. Sheung-King draws specifically at one moment on the Hollywood example of Lost in Translation. As a white person, my problems with that film have always been the age gap between Scarlet Johansson and Bill Murray, not truly looking at the racism issues within the film until far more recently. The gist of the film is two lonely white people are lonely and white in Japan until they meet and bond over their mutual isolation in a country they are unfamiliar with. It reinforced that “others” are always meant to conform to white people needs – even in their own countries. In North America, immigrants and tourists alike are expected to adapt and conform to white society or else risk facing harassment and/or violence. Meanwhile, white tourists are constantly expecting to be catered to no matter where they go. It made me wonder if Lost in Translation would still be critically acclaimed and “profound” if it was about people of colour attempting to navigate the US or even Canada.

This section also made me sad as the narrator “apologizes” for growing angry and upset about the strange kind of racism he specifically faces. I cannot know this pain, I will never truly understand it, but it hurts to think of anyone feeling they need to apologize for being angry in regards to the racism they face. No one should be made to feel like that.

You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. is a book to think about in regards to have to simply live, to simply love. I absolutely adored how it unfolded like a collection of stories from Akutagawa Ryunosuke I read recently, layered as it was in varying formats. I loved reading the descriptions of Toronto as it really feels instead of how it’s more often discussed as if it’s the only big city in Ontario.

I may have gotten a little ramble-y with this review so I’ll end it here by saying that I will certainly be keeping an eye out for what Sheung-King comes out with next.

ARC REVIEW: Yokohama Station SF

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for an eARC of this light novel.

When it comes to finding new light novels to read I go for two things: title and cover. I find that much like starting a new anime, it’s fun to dive in blind and be taken along for the ride and light novels are much the same way for me. I picked up Yokohama Station SF on the basis that it had “Yokohama” in the title – one of the main places I have a deep-seated desire to visit when I eventually make it to Japan – and the stand-alone science fiction aspect.

Yokohama Station SF is a futuristic dystopian novel akin to something like Space Odyssey 2001 (which is funnily enough referenced several times throughout the novel) as it involves a self-functioning station that has taken over the majority of Japan after starting out as a system meant to be used to assist with the efficiency of subways stations constantly under construction for upgrades and the likes. The station has gotten out of control and people unable to afford the special chip implants needed in order to stay within the station are dying of starvation or otherwise forced out of their homes by the ever-expanding station. A young boy from one of these settlements end up entering the station with a special limited pass, on a mission of someone else’s to see to stopping the expansion once and for all.

Right away, I loved the concept of this station going haywire, and appreciated the author’s note in the back of the book that mentioned it was inspired by constant construction in large cities, referencing Yokohama subway station specifically. Being from Southern Ontario, it reminded me of the horrors that are the construction closures constantly effecting the Gardener Expressway as well as Union Station in Toronto. As much as I loved the concept, I felt something was lacking at times. It is a slow burn of a story that follows a few different characters but I felt each of them lacked the depth needed to create a sense of caring for them. I was more interested in the rest of the world building rather than the mission at hand for the cast or the stakes they were facing. 

Once the climax of the book was done with, it was a bit of a dull ending. Again, though, I still enjoyed reading this book and loved the concept overall. What I will suggest though to North American readers, if you are unfamiliar with the geography of Japan, the map in the cover of the finished copies or having Google Maps open on another device will make understanding the layout of the Station a lot easier to follow.

Yokohama Station SF by Isukari Yuba is available now!

REVIEW: Notes of a Crocodile

『There was no one I wanted to share my thoughts with. There was nothing I could do to lessen the pain, no source that I could pinpoint. Secrectly, though, I did sort of enjoy being a fucked-up mess. Apart from that, I didn’t have a whole lot going on.』

I don’t recall how I stumbled upon Notes of a Crocodile, but I have to say that this reality bending book out of Taiwan that was written in 1994, somehow found every single one of my vulnerabilities and laid them out before me.

Qui Miaojin (as translated beautifully by Bonnie Huie) complies a novel in fragments collection from a journal-like format of a story. These fragments follow our queer narrator, nameless but for the nickname Lazi in certain fragments, as she struggles with friendships, relationships, and meaning in a life of romantic suffering and existential dread. It is a story of messy people who just want to be loved but not knowing how to reciprocate or even to love themselves due to each of their respective intimate holdups. But more than that, it is a general story of identity and longing for acceptance. The metaphor of the crocodiles in human suits is one that could be applied to many different identities, sexual orientation, gender or gender expression, anything that separates one from the “norm” of society. At first a tricky metaphor to navigate, it ads a truly beautiful and all encompassing layer to the thesis of the book.

(Although I would like to point out that the crocodile metaphor is intentionally directed as a media fascination in Taiwan in the 90s that resulted in lots of shameful “undercover” reporting that is reportedly the cause of the suicides of several girls and women who were outted as a result of the coverage.)

Now, everyone has had a messy relationship. Romantic or platonic, we all know what it feels like to be dumped, left behind, forgotten, replaced, or otherwise rejected. Sometimes it is a mutual parting but in my own experiences, it has almost always been messy or at the very least complicated. I know that it is a loss that is unique because you are mourning something that is technically still there. It is also easy to leave something you are afraid of losing through self-sabotage, forcing the other person to walk away first. It is a habit that is hard to break and the regret of such actions often weighs heavily – Qui does an amazing job of really getting across just how heavy that weight really is.

It is difficult to “review” a book like this, especially when it hits your buttons. All that’s really left to say is that if you have ever felt left behind without closure, read this book. If you feel lost and alone, read this book. If you struggled with a sense of self in the current reality, read this book. 

I am incredibly thankful to have been able to experience this writing in English.

REVIEW: The Boys From Brazil

This is probably the most random book discovery I’ve ever made. I’m a big fan of the adult cartoonArcher and when first watching the show back when it started, I was always curious about the jokes being made towards the scientist character, Kreiger, about his being “a boy from Brazil” and the other strange Nazi-related digs directed at him. Back then when I googled what they meant, I learned that while most of the jokes are related to the monstrosities committed by Dr. Josef Mengele – the Nazi known as The Angel of Death – the “boy from Brazil” references are from this book written in the 70s by author Ira Levin (best known to the world as the author being Rosemary’s Baby that was later adapted into an incredibly success horror film directed by Roman Polanski and starring Mia Farrow).

It’s been years since I’ve thought of the existence of this book but while re-watchingArcher on Netflix, I figured maybe it was time to change it up a little and give The Boys from Brazil a read.

Levin’s book is set in the 70s as the trials of Nazi war criminals are mostly coming to a close in Germany and Austria. Meanwhile in Brazil, Mengele and several of his SS collegues have formed an Organization to carry out a secret plan that will re-introduce the Reich: kill 94 seemingly random men across the globe that are in civil servant professions and are approximately 65-years-old. When “Nazi hunter” Yakov Liebermann gets wind of what is happening, he is determined to learn what Mengele is up to, no matter what.

Despite the content, this is a fairly easy book to get through and I enjoyed the sci-fi twist in the events that explain who “the boys from Brazil” are. I was invested in the story from the start and the way Levin combines fiction with reality was very well done. The only thing that got to me was his depiction of Mengele. The man was made of cruelty and evil, one of the most terrifying and dangerous people to come out of WWII, and yet there were moments of him talking to portraits or photos of Hitler (and at one point, the sky) in a way that honestly felt like a child confessing their undying love to a poster of their favourite celebrity. It made me laugh and roll my eyes every time it happened because it just felt like such a caricature. That aside though, I did appreciate that the content wasn’t too heavy in regards to the things Mengele actually did, as even in 2021, his “research” gives me the chills. 

If you’re a fan of spy-like thrillers and are looking for a WWII twist, I definitely recommend this book. I’ve yet to see the film adaptation, but I have also heard that is worth watching.

The only other thing I will say – as it is hard not to spoil what happens – is that I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I wish this book was how Mengele actually died. His real-life drowning was too good for him and he should have been taken out like he was in this book.