Monday, 27 July 2020

Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski (book review)

A fantastic debut novel with beautiful intimite writing that will completely envelop you ...

Tomasz Jedrowski takes an interesting approach in his debut novel “Swimming in the Dark” which depicts two young men over the course of the summer of 1980 in Soviet-governed Poland. Prior to starting university they meet at an agricultural camp while serving their compulsory labour requirement for the country and embark on a passionate affair while reading James Baldwin's “Giovanni's Room”. It's described in highly romantic terms where the pair are able to form a world of their own: “we lay facing each other, the tip of your nose on the bridge of mine. Nothing else mattered in the dark.” They discover their own paradise in a beautiful, remote rural location. But, at the same time, the threat of Party politics and the punishment dealt for homosexual acts creates an atmosphere of suspense. Their story could go either way. (source)

Written in the second person ... rather like a series of letters to the authors past lover ... the style works perfectly in portraying a personal & intimite coming-of-age story in communist Poland during the 1980's. What makes this story even more poignant is what's happening in Poland at the moment with whole towns decrying LGBT people and declaring LBGT freezones.

The recent election of Andrzej Duda as President and his continuing rethoric & hate towards the LGBT community fuels an already volitile situation. Read more HERE & HERE. We can expect to see an increase in LGBT people seeking asylum in Ireland in the near future and hopefully we will welcome them. (Don't even get me started on why the hell Europe keeps pouring funds into Poland)

When reading this book it hit me in many ways. It was poignant and melonchonic as you know the story isn't going to end well, but, yet it's such a page turner ... you want to get to the end but you don't. (you know what I mean). The book took many years to write and hone and you can tell as it's really well polished. However, the danger of writing a book for years means it can get overworked & sometimes there are too many metaphors but they for the most part are beautiful & lyrical so you don't really notice their ubiqitnious. My favourites were:

“But like stones thrown into the sky with all one’s might, pieces of that night – the boys and the men who wanted them, the flirtation, the codes of seduction I could only guess at – returned to me with even greater intensity than I had lived. The law of gravity applies to memories too.”

“I was paralysed by possibility, caught between the vertigo of fulfillment and the abyss of uncertainty.”

Somewhat autobiographical, Jedrowski intertwines the reality of living in somewhere like Poland (under communist rule homosexuality is illegal), crushes, infatuation, coming-out, corrupt politics and people. Yet he still manages to ask interesting questions:

“How does one bond with another child, as a child? Maybe it’s simply through common interest. Or maybe it’s something that lies deeper, for which everything you say and do is an unwitting code.”

The only negative I would say about this book is that I would have liked to learn more about living in Poland under communist rule ... I'd like more about the oppressive rule and enforced poverty of the general public & the lives of LGBT people. Although that's only a personal preference, I imagine Jedrowski cannot delve too deeply into those topics as it may alienate some of the readership.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will keep it on my shelf amongst some of my other favourite LGBT reads by Adam Silvera, Shaun David Hutchinson & Benjamin Alire Saénz. I will most certainly be rereading it & give this amazing debult novel a nine out of ten planets. The pressure is on Jedrowski now to write his next novel!

John The Captain Ryan

Monday, 29 June 2020

The Gravity of us by Phil Stamper (book review)

My next book review is on this fantastic debut novel by Phil Stamper - The Gravity of Us.


But first, to put this review into a little bit of context (who knows for how long this blog will be read), at the moment there is a huge amount of Worldwide press and interest on Civil Rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. So as this book is based on Nasa's current mission to Mars I wanted to point you towards the awesome book and movie titled Hidden Figures. This is a book and movie charting the lives of a group of awesome black women - Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson - who were Nasa's human calculators without whom the mission to the moon probably wouldn't have happened. I previously did a blog review here: Hidden Figures, movie review.

And to neatly go full circle, as most of you know we are heading into the last few days of Pride which of course didn't really happen because of our Covid19 lockdown - or as some like to call it a Queerantine - this will probably be the last LGBT title I'll get to review for Pride month.  

In this book we follow the life of Calvin, or Cal for short as his dad is also called Calvin. He has his whole life planned out, college, journalism studies, an internship with Buzzfeed and has been building his social media profile and polishing his journalism skills. He currently has 500,000 followers and does a weekly walk through of New York and what's happening. In the past he has covered local and national stories, politics and elections. He even broadcasts about the hugely popular Orpheus Project - NASA's mission to Mars. 

But then overnight his life is uprooted. His dad is chosen to be the 20th and last member of the Orpheus project and they have to pack up and move immediately. He has to abondon his plans, friends and worst of all his journalism ambitions as StarWatch the company that owns the rights to interviews and publicity for the Orpheus project has a gagging order in place. After a three day drive to their new home they land in the town that has been bought-up for the Astro-families the name given to the families of the Astronauts. Cal, in a moment of last defiance figuring his dad has only arrived and hasn't yet signed the papers and gagging order makes a final broadcast to his fans breaking the news who the final 20th member of the Orpheus Project is. All hell breaks loose as the press & StarWatch descend even before they have unpacked their car. 

Shortly after this mess Cal finds out everything isn't as cosy as StarWatch likes to portray, the other Astrofamiles and Astrokids are not perfect and StarWatch experiencing dropping ratings tries to create drama and excitement - they have full access to the houses of the Astrofamalies and with Cal's exposé they aren't very happy. Cal also meets Leon, one of the only other teen Astorkids in the area and they hit it off. What ensues is a sweet teen romance with enough intrigue and drama to keep you turning the pages.

Before I like to cover the pro's of a book I like to mention the negatives, but, honestly in this debut novel I found none. There is no mature content - the most that happens is two teens kissing so nothing unsuitable for a mature chilld or 12+ reader. One person does loose their life, so I suppose that is a trigger warning but there is not too much detail and the family affected leaves the story very quickly. The only one negative I have is the premise of the book is based on the lives of the family members of the astronauts so I would have liked to learn a little more about them, but that's really it.

The book is really well written and paced. The language is perfectly aimed at a teen market but also an adult that likes NASA, geeky, LGBT stories will also enjoy. It delves into the World of a teenager and their interaction with Social Media and the press. Cal's dad doesnt understand what Cal is messing about with online - it's not a proper thing/job is it? ... the mechanics of social media, online press, modern journalism and followers, I imagine this reflects exactly how today's parents think and misunderstand about the digital World today. As mentioned before the book has enough tension and drama that makes you want to continue reading. It's a throughly enjoyable read. There are two moments I love in the book;

Cal considers himself a fixer of broken things (part of his obsession with planning) but he is reminded that he cannot fix ever broken thing but he can makes things a little better.

Also in the early stages of Cal and Leon's relationship Leon is starting to talk a little about his depression and he realises that Cal wants to kiss him. He asks Cal not to kiss him to make him feel better but to instead kiss him showing affection at a later stage. 

I really enjoyed this book and give it a solid 9 out of 10 stars. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

John The Captain Ryan


Friday, 26 June 2020

Pride Month book review - Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

Hi everyone,

As Pride month draws to a close I'll be posting a couple more LGBT book reviews, my latest is ...

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell.

Pop on over to my Youtube channal and hear what I have to say ...

I give this book a 7 out of 10 planets.

I hope you enjoy it also. Don't forget to check out the first book in the Simon Snow Series - Carry On, my review can be found here:


John The Captin Ryan

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson (book review)

Hi all,

Whilst stuck at home during the lockdown of Covid-19 I've taken the opportunity to catch up on some reading. Check out my latest review, my fave book so far this year. 

I give this amazing book a rating of ten out of ten. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

John The Captain Ryan

Monday, 27 April 2020

The Stand by Stephen King (book review)

Hi all,

Hope you are all doing okay during the great Covid-19 lockdown of 2020. 

Four weeks ago I started learning about creating and editing videos ... here's my second, a book review of an old favourite of mine The Stand by Stephen King

I give this book a rare 10 out of 10 planets.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Alas Babylon (Book review)

Hi all,

Hope you are all doing okay during the great Covid-19 lockdown of 2020. Three weeks ago I started learning about creating and editing videos ... here's my first attempt, a book review of an old favourite of mine Alas Babylon by Pat Frank written in 1959.

I give this book 9 out of 10 planets.

John Cunningham-Ryan

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

The Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (Book review)

Hi all,

I'm back !!! but with a little change up, I've been learning how to make video reviews and here's my latest attempt.

This is an awesome book and I hope you agree. I gave it a rating of 8 out of 10 planets.

John Cunningham-Ryan

Friday, 6 September 2019

IT, Chapter 2. (movie review)

After a 2 year wait we finally get to see what happens to the LOSERS.

IT, Chapter 2.
(source  fortniteinsider

IT's been a long time coming, pun intended ... come on ... give me this one, I did a review of  CHAPTER 1 and gave it a ten out of ten. Read on to see how Chapter two does.


So for those who haven't read the book or seen the movie made in 1990 (HERE):


Chapter 1 covers the story of 7 young teens battling IT/Pennywise, a malevolent force that feeds off the fears of people, it has the power to appear as anyone or anything that person might fear. Cue ... the Worlds fear of clowns and or spiders. I bet Stephen King is responsible for at least half the cases of people that suffer from Coulrophobia.


(source - Bloody Disgusting)

At the end of Chapter 1 the seven friends make a pact to return if IT/Pennywise comes back, perfectly setting up Chapter 2. Only one of the seven friends stay in Derry and he studies and remembers everything, the rest of the friends scatter around the country and persue their careers - forgetting all about that summers activities. But Mike calls them all back to deal with Pennywise once and for all. They all have to go on a quest, to find a personal talisman that helps them to remember what happened.


What follows is a rather long drawn out hour of each character as an adult finding their talisman and facing/remembering something horrific that previously happened that they all feared (and fed Pennywise with). Whilst many will see this as an overindulgence I understand these long sequences. A lot of Stephen King movies have been butchered, either by


1. Too much material in his books that is difficult to translate to the screen

2. The movie producer/adaptation limiting the movie by their lack of imagination or ability to translate the imagery the mind can manage but the movie budget cannot or

3. An over excitable editor cutting out huge chunks of King's work to conform to a specific movie length.


So I can forgive these sections. What is stunning is the special effects and transitions from reality to the mindfuckery that Pennywise creates. These transitions could never have been created in 1990 and this is why I love seeing remakes. We finally have an opportunity to see more of King's amazing vision (and twisted dark soul). It's been many years since I read IT but it will be getting pulled off the shelf in a few weeks. From what I remember this movie adaptation is certainly a lot closer to the book but I can't say that definitively.


I have only one negative to say about the movie. All horror movies need a small bit of comic relief but this had too much. There was a quip or funny piece after nearly every big scary scene. Now, don't get me wrong, I understand the need to lighten the mood every now and again but this is a horror movie people, not a comedy. Richie and Eddie had too many one-liners. Of course as the movie progresses we understand why Richie (in both chapters) relied on comedy to lighten the mood. He has been hiding a huge-ass secret. 










The start of Chapter 2 has a horrific murder of a gay character, he was beaten and thrown over a bridge (and Pennywise finished him off). AND don't even get me started about this lazy-ass movie trope, but, as chapter 2 progresses we learn that Richie is gay and is in fact in love with his best friend Eddie (who he never tells of course). It's Richie's biggest fear that the World finds out. There is a nice touching moment and the end where he acknowledges his love. 

As a lover of Stephen King I have to say I love this movie adaptation. The casting was perfect. Bill Skarsgard is a fantastic Pennywise - yes I still love Tim Curry's version but that's like comparing single malt whiskey and triple distilled vodka. The special effects and transitions from reality to the crazy/fear World were amazing. AND the ending was one million times better than the 1990 movie (although that wouldn't be difficult). I even like the couple of comments during the movie about people not liking the endings of Bill's stories (he was a successful writer) - I like to think this is a reference to the poor ending of Under The Dome (IMHO of course). Anyway, the final verdict. I give IT, Chapter 2 a solid 9 out of 10. (overall that's a 9.5 out of 10 for both parts)

John The Captain Ryan



IT - I Love Remakes.

We all float down here.

Remake of Stephen King's IT

Firstly, let’s get rid of the notion that movies & TV series shouldn’t be remade, rebooted or re-imagined.  That’s just rubbish.  Since the dawning of man (and woman) over 200,000 years ago in the Middle Paleolithic period we have told and retold stories.  You know, sitting around the campfire, char grilling bison and “storytelling” about how you speared that bison to death and how you hoped to be chosen by the good looking woman in the next door cave. 

Drag your humanoid body along to more recent times of around 1600 and there was a famous Bill (not Clinton) writing poems and plays.  Somewhat impenetrable for the reader today without a dictionary and abridged notes (Just read the notes I say) William Shakespeare’s works have been reprinted, re-imagined and made into numerous movies and plays.  Every year there are hundreds of stage productions all across the globe.

Then drag your sorry cantankerous (The original is the best and everything else is rubbish) ass to the middle of the 20th century.  Everyone has heard of Rogers & Hammerstein.   They were responsible for writing over a dozen musicals, over 300 songs, that spawned numerous movies and many stage productions (go on start humming “How do you solve a problem like Maria”).  To date there are over 480 Broadway musicals and this list is growing all the time.

So you see, remakes are not a modern phenomenon.  We hear or read a story. We then retell, embellish, add-to & sometimes take away.  Go back to old Willy Shakes (that’s his contemporary name for his new Rudai23 blog), he wrote fantastic stories but some would agree with me that they are bloody hard to read.  Now, if they were rewritten in today’s English I think that would make them more accessible and open them up to a whole new audience.  Throw in a 140 character description to tweet and you’re on to a winner.  You wouldn’t take away from the original, it would actually give the reader the motivation to check out the original work.  Ebooks have done something similar.  With a lot of old material readily available to download for free, it has opened up a whole new genre of books to people.  If you read Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray for the first time on your kindle I can bet you will download some more of his work. 

Stephen King’s IT is the perfect example, published in 1986 with a mini TV series in 1990, the remaking of the film has generated interest all over again.  Stephen King, The Master of Horror is responsible for many sleepless nights but some of the most amazing and unforgettable books (and subsequent movies).   And those are the titles and famous lines you associate with King... 

Memorable moments in Stephen King movies
IT                                               The Shining                                            Misery

And then think about the stuff you don’t associate with Stephen King.  Shawshank Redemption (Get busy living, or get busy dying), Stand by Me (movie with River Pheonix), The Green Mile, The Running Man (Arnold Washyknickers), Under the Dome (yes, it was before the Simpsons).  

From a librarians point of view and picking up on a previous point about interest getting regenerated for an original book.  On 14th September 2017, 6 days after the release of IT across the Irish Public Libraries there were about 100 copies of IT available and more than 130 holds.  There were 10 new copies ordered to help meet the demand. This from a genre that was once viewed (and sometimes still is viewed) as “not proper literature” for a library.   

But let’s get back to the remake of IT and a little about movie adaptations.  So, you should now agree with me that we should embrace and welcome remakes.  If the recent version is great, brilliant, something new to watch.  If it’s crap, don’t worry because it will regenerate interest in the original.  Everyone wins and of course most importantly the author wins again with more royalties.  As to the remake of IT, go see it for yourself.  It's the best horror film for years breaking all previous box office records for a horror movie and the next chapter is already confirmed.  Whilst I loved Tim Curry in the original movie, Bill Skarsgard is amazing although unrecognisable in this remake.

Pennywise 2017
The new movie is scarier and flows much better.  The previous version is told through a series of flashbacks which were quite jarring and just didn't work.  The newer version is the first half of the story, told through the kids with no flashbacks, altogether a much easier to follow premise. King's work has for decades translated very badly into movies due to the complex layering of the storyline, intertwining plots and memorable & monumental characters.  Unfortunately, both movies fall down in one area of the adaptation, Pennywise is the manifestation of fear and therefore should be different for everyone.  The character of the clown is developed too much in both movies rather than trying to show each person's fear.  However, this is the only negative I have for IT, it's not enough to lose a planet.  

Final Verdict:  A massive success that will instill a fear of clowns for generations to come.
Movie Review by The Captain. 

(Rating - 10 out of 10 planets)

#wexworlds #weallfloatdownhere #rudai23 #remakes #IT

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The Inexplicable Logic of my Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Book Review)

Hi all, I haven’t been blogging for a few months – life has a tendency to get mad at times but I haven’t stopped reading books or binging on Netflix so over the next few weeks I hope to get back on track and catch up on some book reviews.

The Inexplicable Logic of my Life is an amazing book written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz who also brought us Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe which I will be blogged about later in the month. This is Book 5 in my 52-weeks, 52-books challenge.

Plot Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Sal (Salvatore) lives in El Paso, Texas, with his adoptive father, a gay Mexican-American art professor named Vicente Silva. Vicente assumed responsibility for Sal after his mother died, when Sal was just three years old. (The connections between Sal’s mother and Vicente don’t become clear until late in the book, when Sal finally opens a letter his dying mother wrote and left in Vicente’s care.) Although Sal is white, the adoption secures his place in the heart of a loving Mexican-American family, which is headed by the matriarch Sal comes to know as Mima. 

As his adoptive grandmother, Mima refers to Sal as her “hijito de mi vida,” and the adoration is mutual. The warmth of the Silva family magnetically pulls in two other teen characters. Sal’s best friend, Sam (Samantha), is locked in raging conflict with her mom. Another friend, Fito, suffers the effects of a drug-addicted mother and an absentee dad. In order to survive, Fito must hold down two after-school jobs. (more here)

Alternative Book Covers from Goodreads

My tuppence:

There is a huge amount going on and Sal’s best friend Samantha keeps him grounded, their constant communications by text keeping them in contact – they sometimes even text each other when they are in the same room. Sal is dealing with homophobia, losing his grandmother, growing up and all the other stuff that adolescents go through and he’s not doing very well. He is throwing punches and questioning everything. When Samantha’s mother dies in a car accident she goes to live with Sal and Vicente and then the edition of Fito to the mix is fantastic and reinforces to Sal how lucky he is to have a loving and supportive family.

The book deals amazingly with the exploration of self and identity and it’s something we all go through. During the story the love of Vicente’s life –Marco - makes a reappearance. Vicente, once gave up on the relationship with a man he loved when that man said he didn’t want to be a stepfather. At first Sal isn’t in favour of Marco’s return as he knows how hurt his father was but it enables Sal to see how lonely his father is. Sal realises that as he will be leaving for college his father shouldn’t be alone and deserves another chance at love. But central to the story is how we deal with loss, how Samantha comes to terms with the loss of her mother – even though their relationship was always rocky and how Sal deals with losing his Mima when she is diagnosed with late stage cancer – their relationship couldn’t be more different than Sam and her mothers.

There are some great quotes in this book (find a selection of them here) and this is my fave:

Whilst slow moving the book is well worth a read, the way Sáenz deals with the topic of loss and grief is brilliant and heart wrenching. It just keeps you turning the pages. However, this slow pacing style will turn people off and in comparison to other young adult novels it is certainly aimed at the more experience reader.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz (born 16 August 1954) is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children's books. You can read more about him here

Here is another great blog review about The Inexplicable Logic of my Life.

The verdict, a great read for either adults or advanced young adult readers, I give this book an 8 out of 10 planets.

John The Captain Ryan

Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski (book review)

A fantastic debut novel with beautiful intimite writing that will completely envelop you ... source Tomasz Jedrowski takes an inte...