Wrap-Up: September

  • The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter (★★★☆☆)
  • Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (★★★★☆)
  • Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker (★★★★☆)
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (★★★☆☆)

MONTHLY TOTAL: 4
YEARLY SO FAR: 60

Even though I only read four books, one of them was War and Peace, which counts for way more. I completed my Goodreads Challenge of 60 books with War and Peace, actually, which felt very fortuitous! The History of White People took me forever to read because I only read it when I was staffing the Reference Desk at work, and I finished it on September 1st.  Feels a little weird including it here, but oh well!

October should hopefully be a better reading month.  I’m currently reading Now I Rise by Kiersten White (the second book in that series), The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, and Before They Were Belly Dancers: European Accounts of Female Entertainers in Egypt, 1760–1870 by Kathleen W. Fraser.

In terms of TBR, I need to read N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, to conclude the trilogy, before I head to the Sirens Conference at the end of October (I’ll be sure to post about that! Anyone here going?) since Jemisin is the keynote speaker! I’m also aiming to read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and my book club is reading my suggested book, The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani, so I gotta get on that too! I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to read anything else; this is already a pretty full list!

Happy Autumn!

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Book Review: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

18245Title: WAR AND PEACE
Author: Leo Tolstoy, Anthony Briggs (Translator)
Release Date: 1868
Pages: 1357
Publisher: Penguin Classics
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Review on Goodreads

There are two things I want to say upfront before I (try to) get into the meat of an actual review.

First, having completed this book, I must say it is highly unlikely I would have picked it up or enjoyed it in the slightest had I not arrived at it by way of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. It is only with the musical’s vibrant characters in my mind that I was able to maintain my motivation to keep reading. That said, however, I will say that I hardly ever found the “peace” chapters dull or hard to get through. I just couldn’t connect with the characters very well. They were engaging, but I never cared about them as much as I hoped to (except for Helene, and possibly Anatole).

Second, what brings that book down to three stars for me is the insufferable, pedantic detail of the “war” chapters. Apparently Tolstoy is praised for his description of these battles. He does bring a certain realism to the forefront. However, I think that realism could have still been maintained even if huge chunks of these war chapters were pared down. There is just so much detail about random characters and random battalions and flanks and canons and other things I just could not bring myself to care about. And then of course there’s Tolstoy’s own philosophical interjections every now and again which I struggled to read without my eyes glazing over (Part II of the Epilogue…was an ordeal). I’m not going to go into Tolstoy’s philosophical beliefs or his views on history; I think his theories are best left to group discussions than book reviews (suffice it to say, if I understand Tolstoy correctly, I think I heartily disagree with many of his points).

The characters are the meat of this book. Tolstoy writes them well: they are all complex and varied and so different from one another you never had trouble telling them apart (well, the main characters at least!). And they are all so human in all their doubts and flaws. Despite the enormous cast of characters, I would say that there are really 3-5 main characters, in order from most to least importance/screentime: Pierre, Andrei, Nikolay, Natasha, and Marya (to my eternal disappointment, the Kuragins are really only very minor characters).

There are chapters upon chapters dedicated to Pierre and Andrei’s philosophical musings on life, which I found extremely irritating. It read like stream of consciousness at times. Andrei, as I’m told, is considered the Fitzwilliam Darcy of Russian lit, but I personally couldn’t stand him. I found him arrogant, brooding, and self-righteous. I know I’m supposed to have liked Pierre, and I didn’t dislike him, I just found his storyline meandering and dull (his whole thing with the Masonic Society was really weird and pointless). I’m rather ambivalent about Nikolay. I liked Marya a lot; I think she’s a fascinating character who really tries to embody goodness. And Natasha – the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl! Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but I wasn’t at all fond of Natasha’s characterization. She almost always seemed to be described in terms of her affect on other people, particularly men, who were drawn in by her seduction and oddities, and yet her own inner life seemed strangely bereft. Perhaps this is an issue with the translation, but often I found her thought process and dialogue meandering and dramatic to the point of irritation. It was like she was written more as a spectacle, a phenomenon, than a character.

The two characters who intrigued me the most were not featured as much: Anatole and Helene. From the moment they are introduced they are fascinating and contradictory. Anatole is described as kind and generous and yet simultaneously utterly oblivious to the wants and needs of others, or to consequences. Helene enjoys a reputation as a clever high-society woman and yet is thought of as stupid by her husband, whom she seems to despise but tolerates for his ability to raise her status in society. In the musical we get many interactions between Anatole and Helene that show their intense sibling bond; in the novel, however, they barely interact. Rather than being shown we are told about their strong (perhaps incestuous) bond, yet we see very little to convince us of this.

Perhaps that is my issue with the whole book and why I had such trouble connecting. So much of it is told to us. I know it’s probably futile to talk about “show don’t tell” when it comes to an epic like War and Peace. Not just because it’s an epic, but because literary conventions have shifted so much since this novel’s publication that I as a reader am certainly influenced by my own expectations. But alas, my enjoyment of these characters was definitely hindered by my modern day conventions and expectations of literature, and I wanted to see so much more than I was told.

But still much of the novel was engaging and entertaining, though the war chapters did nothing for me whatsoever. The agonizing dullness of the war chapters may have been salvaged by beautiful writing, but the writing is plain and ordinary. Again I hesitate because this is a translation, and perhaps other translations capture a more lyrical tone, but in the case of the Briggs translation I found the writing rather dull and unadorned. It is certainly easy to read, but it also leaves you unaffected. Not once did I pause and admire the beauty of a particularly written sentence or paragraph.

I’m glad to have read this, and I did enjoy many parts, but overall this isn’t a novel that will stick with me or affect me in any way. I wish I felt what so many people do upon reading this novel – which is apparently some kind of grand appreciation for the human condition or something – but I don’t, sadly.

Book Review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

33574211Title: EMMA IN THE NIGHT
Author: Wendy Walker
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 320
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4/5)
Review on Goodreads

It’s difficult to find a thriller that doesn’t rest its laurels on the shocking twist at the end. Don’t get me wrong, shocking twists are great, and Emma in the Night certainly came through with that. However, I also found it to be quite an introspective book, detailing the harm inflicted on children by terrible, narcissistic, and incapable parents.

Emma and Cassandra Tanner’s lives are a medley of dysfunction and sexual impropriety, due not only to their narcissistic mother, but their gross stepfather and stepbrother, both of whom are sexually attracted to Emma. It is this dysfunction that seemingly leads a pregnant Emma to run away, with her younger sister Cass in tow. Three years later, Cass, and only Cass, returns, with a story about being held captive on an island with her sister Emma and Emma’s baby daughter. With the help of Dr. Abby Winters, a forensic psychologist with a narcissistic mother of her own, Cass’s story unravels and is put back together, and Emma is found in an unlikely place.

Like any good thriller, Emma in the Night is compelling, forcing you to ask questions and try to figure out what the heck is going on. But it is a sort of character study as well. Emma, the titular character, is a kind of vulnerable seductress, an insecure teenage girl utilizing the only power she thinks she holds. Her relationship with her narcissistic mother becomes is revealed to be more and more horrific by the second. Hunter and Jonathan Martin, the aforementioned stepbrother and stepfather, are both arrogant, privileged, and misogynistic men whose presence in the girls’ lives screws up their family even more. Their biological father, despite genuinely loving his daughters, is weak and cannot fight for them like they deserve. The girls’ mother, Judy, suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, and therefore is not a mother at all to her daughters, more like a rival.

And finally, Cassandra, the narrator, is a very quiet character, a young girl who has been fractured by the trauma in her past, but healed and became stronger because of it. I liked Cass way more than I thought I would. She is clever and manipulative, stoic and calculating, loving and loyal. Her relationship with her older sister Emma is frustrating and heart-breaking; it is at times sweet, at times utterly cruel, but the blame is to be laid at the feet of their mother, who does her best to break the girls apart so that they are not united against her.

Emma in the Night is a tragedy, the sad tale of two young girls’ whose lives are destroyed by their parents. It will keep you guessing until the end, and the final twist is maddening in its simplicity. There are certainly criticisms that can be levied at this book: the plot is somewhat convoluted, the actions of some of the characters at the very end are unbelievable and were moved only by plot, the story is conveyed through a lot of literal telling and very little showing, but ultimately those flaws work in the story’s favor, elevating it to wildly dramatic heights. With its colorful cast of characters, its dramatic twists and turns, and Cassandra’s soliloquy-like narration, and the allusion to the mythical Cassandra at the very beginning, this book nearly reaches Shakespearean levels of tragedy.

Stage Corner: Cats

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Cats is known to be a rather divisive musical.  Some folks hate it, some folks love it.  When I won the lottery and did some research on it, I figured, well, there has to be something appealing about it considering how long it’s been running for! It’s so popular! Can it really be so successful on Broadway and yet have little to no appeal? As it turns out, the answer to that question is yes.

I’ll start with the little I appreciated.  The stage is quite cool, decorated in a really busy, cacophonous way, and the backdrop of the full moon is gorgeous.

That’s it.  And now the bad.

First of all, and this is probably more of a personal hangup, but I found it incredibly creepy watching humans crawling around and pretending to be cats. It felt like I was watching a demonic rave in hell.  Second, their costumes…I feel like there had to be a…less embarrassing and cringey way to convey that these folks are playing cats.

Third, I couldn’t follow anything that was happening. Was there anything happening? is there a plot? Who knows, not me.  I also didn’t like the music.

And finally: in general, when it comes to media I consume, I can forgive a lot of flaws, but one thing I can’t forgive is boredom.  If something bores me, that’s it, I’m done.  And Cats bored the hell out of me.  I had to work to convince myself not to leave at intermission.  I kept getting distracted, checking the Playbook to see how many songs were left until I could just get the hell out of there.

Cats could have been the silliest, most pointless, wackiest thing ever (and it was), and I wouldn’t have minded if it had kept me interested with good music or good storytelling. Since it had neither, I was basically suffering through a bunch of grown-ass adults dressed as cats running around singing random lyrics.

Top 5 Wednesday: Favorite Fancasts

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

This week’s Top 5 Wednesday is Favorite Fancasts, an awesome topic!

Y’all don’t know how much I struggled with this! I tried to think as outside of the box as I could.  Here goes!

JASMINE CEPHAS-JONES AS NINA ZENIK

I know the ages don’t match, as Jasmine is almost thirty, but Rachel and I were literally just talking about how amazing it would be to see Six of Crows turned into an aged-up gritty Starz/HBO show with Cillian Murphy playing Kaz.  If that ever did happen, there’s no one I’d rather have play Nina, who is my favorite character in Six of Crows.  Known mostly for her roles as Peggy Schyler and Mariah Reynolds in the musical Hamilton, Jasmine has also has some bit parts in TV shows here and there. She’s freaking gorgeous and has that spark of fire needed to play Nina.

ANYA TAYLOR-JOY AS AGNIESZKA

Ever since I discovered Anya Taylor-Joy in the rather terrible film Split, she has been my Agnieszka.  I wasn’t feeling up to changing hair colors in Photoshop, which is why she’s blond here, but have her dye her hair dark brown and she’d be perfect. In the book, Agnieszka is described as plain, and while Anya is anything but, I think she is not traditionally pretty and has a haunting, striking quality that would be perfect for this creepy fairy tale.

ANNA POPPLEWELL AS LADA DRACUL

And speaking of not being traditionally pretty! Personally, I think Anna is absolutely gorgeous, but she’s definitely unique looking.  Lada, a gender-bent alternate universe version of Vlad the Impaler, is described as ugly and hard-looking. I think that were Anna to go without makeup she would actually pull off Lada spectacularly.  She’s also got those clear, depth-less eyes that are more than a little creepy.  I’ve always wanted to see her play someone evil or morally ambiguous, and I think Lada could be a great, meaty role for her.

GOLSHIFTEH FARAHANI AS BARU CORMORANT

I don’t even remember what Baru looks like at this point, but I know I want Golshifteh to play her.  If you know me you know The Traitor Baru Cormorant is one of my favorite books, and it is one of the most heart-breaking things I’ve ever read.  Golshifteh always has this perpetually sad, pensive look to her that would make her excellent for Baru, an accountant turned rebel and spy fighting against the Empire that colonized her home.  I’ve always pictured Baru as somewhat serious and sharp-looking and I think Golshifteh embodies that aesthetic nicely.

GEORGIE HENLEY AS SAFIYA “SAFI” FON HASSTREL

Before anyone asks, I’ve actually never watched Narnia films, and it is by pure coincidence that Anna and Georgie both ended up on this list.  Anyway, when looking for someone to play Safi, I knew I wanted something different than the generically pretty blonde actresses I tend to see fancast as her.  Above all Safi is fiery, contrary, and mischievous, so I wanted an actress who could be very pretty but could also look just as comfortable plotting a heist.  For that I thought Georgie suited this role very well.

What are your thoughts on my choices? I loooove talking fancasts so please let me know in the comments!

The One Lovely Blog Award, Take #2

one-lovely-blog

Thanks for tagging me for this Rachel! This couldn’t have come at a better time. I was supposed to do today’s Top 5 Tuesday but I got super lazy. Then I came close to doing a Tumblr meme I swiped but it turned oddly personal so I decided not to. I guess I can share some facts from that meme, though!

The Rules

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog.
  • Add the One Lovely Blog Award logo to your post.
  • Share 7 things about yourself.
  • Pass this on to as many people as you like (max 15).
  • Include this set of rules.
  • Inform your nominees.

7 Facts About Me

1) I live in New York City, and I would give my left pinky toe to leave (okay, maybe not any of my actual extremities, but you get the idea).  I hate that’s it’s so ridiculously expensive to rent closet-sized apartments, I hate the noise and the crowds, I hate that there’s no nature, and I hate how dirty it is all the time.  Just this morning as I was walking to work holding my breath, I thought, “God, what would it be like to walk outside without having to inhale the scent of piss!” Anyway, it’s nothing personal against NYC in particular (which definitely has a ton of upsides!), I’m just not a city person.

2) I don’t really have a “bucket list” but one thing I really want to do before I die is see the Northern Lights in person. A few years ago I charted a trip to Abisko, Sweden and even found a lodge I could stay in and everything.

3) My fashion sense is very casual/cozy/comfy while still trying to maintain some semblance of professionalism.  Basically, I dress like Clara Oswald, so lots of dresses over tights/leggings with boots/booties.  I even have a leather jacket.  But yeah, comfort is my top priority.  I haven’t worn jeans in nearly a year.

4) I really want to get an MFA (Masters in Creative Writing) at some point soon in my life. I’ve looked up various programs that are fully funded and I’ve got a good idea of where I would like to go.  I’m not sure when I’ll do this, but I’ll probably start looking towards the ~next step~ in my life as soon as I get my MLS (Masters in Library Science), which I’m working on at the moment.

5) As much as it pains me to admit it, I’m a terribly messy, unorganized person. I really want to be organized and every now and then I’ll make an effort to be less of a mess of a person, but inevitably it all comes crashing down around me.  I’m a bit flaky and absentminded to go along with it, so I’m always misplacing things and forgetting things. I really admire people who are super organized and color coordinate everything and whatnot, but I never seem to be able to achieve that #aesthetic.

6) I am not musically inclined at all.  I really wish I could sing, but according to everyone in my family I have a horrible singing voice and can’t carry a tune to save my life.  I took that “Tone Deaf Test” and I’m not actually tone-deaf at all, but I’ve never had any musical training and I know exactly zero about music.  I wish I could play an instrument but only in that abstract way where I don’t have to put any effort into it.  Singing, though, I wouldn’t mind putting effort to become better at; I really admire people who can sing.

7) I’m a really nostalgic and obsessive person and I have trouble letting go of things.  It could be a website or a fandom or a place or even a mood; I have a tendency to find a comfort zone and want to stay there forever. Needless to say, I struggle with change.

Tagging:

She Reads at Past Midnight
Paperback & Flick Chick
Perspective of a Writer

TV Corner: Peaky Blinders, Fridging, and Men Who Can’t Write Women

Peaky Blinders - Saison 3 (4-6)

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD

Before starting Peaky Blinders, I had heard many great things about it, mostly through cultural osmosis.  I didn’t know too much about what it was actually about – in fact the only aspect of it that drew me was that Cillian Murphy stars in it.  I was hesitant about watching a show about a crime gang, because I suspected it would revolve entirely around men and convoluted illegal activities that would surely bore me to death.  But I do adore Cillian Murphy, so on a whim I decided to start Peaky Blinders, and I immediately loved it.

First of all, Cillian Murphy is fantastic as Tommy Shelby, kind of like a grown-up AU Kaz Brekker without the cane and aversion to touch.  The first season also assuaged my fears of not being able to follow along; the plot was fairly straightforward and engaging.  I hadn’t expected to see women in leading roles, but we had two (or three, depending on how you look at it) who were all pretty cool. I had some criticisms, of course (I always do), but overall, I was really enjoying the show.  Then seasons two and three happened and everything went downhill.

I do have some general issues with plot and characterization.  The plot became too convoluted and expansive, moving from small-town crime gang stuff to being blackmailed by Winston Churchill, which made me lose interest.  One of the antagonists literally turned into a mustache twirling villain of ridiculous proportions and then was killed.  But I’m going to focus this post on my main problem with this show, mainly, the treatment of the three main female characters: Polly Shelby, Ada Shelby, and Grace Burgess.

Before I get into their character arcs separately, I want to start by saying that every one of these female characters have been sexually assaulted on the show.  Every. One.  Polly was forced into sex with the aforementioned mustache-twirling douche in exchange for freeing her son from prison, Ada was nearly gang-raped, and Grace was nearly raped.  There’s also Lizzie, a minor character, prostitute-turned-secretary, who was assaulted and raped.  Just putting that out there.

 

POLLY SHELBY

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Things start out promisingly with Polly, played by the fabulous Helen McCrory.  She’s the boys’ aunt, the Peaky Blinders’ treasurer, and Tommy, trusts her more than anyone else. She’s shown to be competent, blunt, and no-nonsense.  Soon enough she shows vulnerability when she reveals to Ada that she had an abortion in her youth, for practical reasons.  Fine, fine – then came season two.

Suddenly, Polly, smart, competent, wise Polly, is going to charlatan fortune-tellers to try to find out what happened to her children, who were taken from her by the police when they were toddlers.  She’s emotional and erratic all the time.  Her entire plotline revolves around finding her children.  Finally, Tommy discovers that her daughter had died of an illness, but her son Michael is still alive.  Michael joins the Peaky Blinders and the show seems to be grooming him to be the next Tommy.

Like, how boring, to be honest.  First of all, Polly’s character is sacrificed to build up Michael, who’s your standard run-of-the-mill angsty teen.  Second, what a missed opportunity for an interesting female character! Imagine if it had been Polly’s daughter who had survived, and she had wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps within the Peaky Blinders? Trying to assert her authority as a woman in a male-dominated field?

When Michael is arrested, Polly is humiliated and forced into sex in order to free him. When he is released and realizes what she did, he shows zero gratitude and acts like an entitled ass.  Polly then tries to get him to leave town for his safety.  Then she shoots the dude who raped her.  Like, okay, first off, I’m really damn sick of this idea that it’s totally fine to have your female character be sexually assaulted in the worst way as long as she gets revenge after.  Like. No. Stop.  Rape isn’t the only trauma a woman can suffer and it is not the only way to make her interesting or show that she’s strong.

ADA SHELBY

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Ada Shelby is Tommy’s younger sister. In the first season, her story mostly revolves around her love interest, Freddie, a communist who used to be Tommy’s best friend. Tommy is against their relationship but when Ada is pregnant, Freddie marries her.

Ada is actually a pretty cool gal, which you would expect from someone who has grown up with a street gang.  She’s tough and and stubborn and takes no shit. One of her most defining moments comes in the season one finale, when the Peaky Blinders are about to face off against another gang in a shoot-out.  Ada walks right in the middle of this impending disaster with her baby in his stroller and basically shouts the men into standing down, thereby preventing a total bloodbath.  It’s incredible.

In the second season, for some inexplicable reason, Freddie has died of some illness. I’m not sure why their relationship was such a huge part of season one only to kill Freddie off-screen, but okay.  In this season, Ada is mostly used as leverage against Tommy by rival gangs. In one harrowing episode, as Tommy is beaten nearly to death, Ada is kidnapped by a group of men and nearly gang-raped, only to be rescued at the last minute by Peaky Blinders.  She’s tough about it and it doesn’t seem to affect her much, but like, why? Why was this necessary? We had just witnessed this gang literally carve Tommy’s tooth out of his mouth, did we really need this to show how ~vicious~ they are?

Though Ada does not feature as much as I would like her to, she is shown to be a budding communist with ties to the Soviets and some pretty interesting views on civil society. Honestly, I’d watch a spin-off with her as the main character. She is ten times more interesting than Arthur and John (her brothers, who feature ten times as much), and I’m frustrated that the show doesn’t know how to use her.

GRACE BURGESS

Peaky Blinders

Oh, Grace. Rarely have I seen a female character done such a disservice.

Things started off well – they started off fantastic, in fact! In the first season, Grace is first introduced as a young Irish immigrant seeking employment as a barmaid.  Soon enough, though, she is revealed to be a spy, working to infiltrate the Peaky Blinders and seeking revenge for her father’s murder. She’s kind of like the female Tommy; their similar personalities are uncanny and probably why they are immediately drawn to each other. They are both stoic, reserved, and tightly-wound, on the verge of exploding, which we see them both do.  She is unfortunately nearly raped by a gross gang boss because of a situation Tommy places her in, but he ends up rescuing her from the very mess he created.

Predictably, Grace ends up switching sides after falling in love with Tommy, though she does fulfill her mission.  She exits the season in a pretty  badass way, though, boarding a train to London after shooting the mustache-twirling villain as he tried to shoot her (for turning down his marriage proposal and sleeping with Tommy).

In the second season, Grace shows up in one or two episodes  She’s married to a banker from Poughkeepsie and they are having infertility problems. She has sex with Tommy and lo and behold, she’s pregnant.  Aside from how insulting it is that this is her only plotline this season, this is awful, rushed writing. Next, Grace has a weird territorial conversation with another woman Tommy is sleeping with that is frankly demeaning to both women’s intelligence. That’s it for Grace in season two.

And then the coup de grace: in the season three premiere, Grace and Tommy get married. Grace suddenly transforms from competent spy to worried, nagging, clingy, insecure wife. Then, in the second episode, she’s shot with a bullet meant for Tommy and dies.

I didn’t believe it at first.  When she was shot I rolled by eyes and thought, “Here we go, she’s gonna spend the next couple of episodes in a bed while Tommy sits next to her and weeps tears of manpain.” But then the next episode opened with the aftermath of her funeral and I had to pause the episode and simply sit there utterly flabbergasted.

First of all, what a complete waste of a brilliant character! Grace is smart and ruthless; she would have been incredible as Tommy’s wife and business partner. Second, I cannot believe that in this day and age a showrunner would bring back a female character only to fridge her for a male character’s manpain. Like, there was no reason for her to die except to create drama for Tommy. They didn’t even have the decency to have someone important kill her; she’s murdered by some two-bit rival gang that gets taken care of in the next episode.

What the hell happened? I’m angry and frustrated, but I’m mostly just tired.  I’m exhausted by how often I get my hopes up only to be let down by writers who clearly have no idea how to write women.  The writers of Peaky Blinders are basically telling us that they cannot fathom a woman whose life doesn’t revolve around either a man or her children and they have no interest in learning, seeing as there aren’t any female writers on the team.  I’m tired.  This is boring and amateur and I’m so exhausted by shows that do the bare minimum with female characters getting massive praise heaped on them.

I’ve put Peaky Blinders on pause for now.  I’m only on the third episode of the third season, but I highly doubt I’m going to pick it up again.

Has anyone watched Peaky Blinders? What are your thoughts?