Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: Getting Over the X by Steve Brookstein

Hi!

I saw a couple of people talking about this on twitter one night during the Xfactor (namely Kellie) and it sounded like a good read, so I took advantage of a special Kindle offer and downloaded it there and then.


"'One of you will leave with a million-pound recording contract, and the other will leave with nothing,' Kate Thornton had said on the night. Eight months later, I had never envisaged that it was possible to leave with both."

I've watched every season of the Xfactor from the beginning. In later years, I've become a bit disillusioned with it due to the trend of publicly humiliating people who aren't very good, or by putting novelty acts through (Wagner, anyone?!). The first year, I watched mainly because I had seen Tabby Callaghan's band Petronella live a few times the previous year while in college. I don't really remember being too concerned about the other contestants. The only thing I remembered about Steve was that he had released a cover of Against All Odds.

When people enter TV shows like the Xfactor, they are labelled pretty much straight away. For Matt Cardle, it was "House Painter". For Leon Jackson, it was "Works in a shoe shop". For Rebecca Ferguson and Stacy Solomon, it was "Single Mum". For Steve Brookstein, it was "Pub Singer". Steve was in actual fact far from a pub singer - he had already supported Dionne Warwick the year he applied for the competition, and turned down a job supporting Lionel Richie to take part in the show. Hardly a bog standard pub singer. In Steve's own words, he had "better irons in the fire." Steve was labelled overconfident from the very beginning, yet at one point Simon Cowell said of him "He found self belief when we gave him a stage." At the final, Sharon Osbourne tore into him in a most unprofessional manner, saying she had enough of his "Mister Humble" act. So which is it?! Overconfident, lacking in self belief, or humble? As you learn to watch out for certain phrases that the judges dole out, you realise they just recycle the same labels over and over again - if they take a dislike to you for whatever reason, they have the power to turn the public against you (ask Christopher Maloney). If they love you, they will champion you to the end, regardless of how the public vote goes ("the real winner").

As I read about the way Steve was treated when he won the show, I was disgusted. I'm not a fan of Simon Cowell anyway - that level of ego is not endearing to me. He comes across as incredibly self-involved, surrounded by people who are willing to fall at his feet and lick his boots. Steve's story is a cautionary tale of what can happen when you dare to put forward your own ideas, or step outside the Cowell 'bubble'. The sheer power of the "Simon Cowell Collective" is shocking. The press manipulation, misdirected quotes, false accusations - they can, as Max Clifford (don't even get me started on him) stated, "bury you".

"What have I become? I'm 35. I'm sitting in a mansion trying to impress a guy who turned up late to his own microwave dinner party. Why wasn't I saying 'What the f*ck's this sh*t?!'"

This stuff about the Xfactor having "a real winner" was obviously there from the beginning, as G4 were given the moniker in 2004. G4 themselves would later tell the press that the Xfactor was a pantomime, with staged bickering between the judges. You can see that in every year since - especially this year. One incident in particular this year was just ridiculous - "real winner" Fleur East (who came second to Ben Haenow) - was given a track called Uptown Funk to sing. Fleur rocked the song, and shot straight to number one on iTunes. If a contestant can score a number one before the show has even ended, what's the point anymore? The winners' careers seem to be lukewarm, and the management appears to lose interest before the next series begins. So what's the point of the prize? Of the competition?

Back to Uptown Funk - singer Lily Allen accused Simon of "industry corruption" because the song hadn't actually been released when Fleur performed it. As a result of her reaching number one, Mark Ronson had to push the single release date forward before people lost interest in the original (yet unreleased) version. In a media press conference, Simon claimed "This corruption thing is ridiculous. To be honest, I didn't even know what label it was on." Simon's record label SYCO is 50% owned by Sony, who also own Mark Ronson's record label. Presumably they wouldn't even have needed clearance from Ronson to perform the song on the show - are we supposed to be so stupid that we would think that Simon knew none of this?! Oh, and Mark Ronson's version is now head-to-head with Ben Haenow's debut single for Christmas Number one - but that doesn't matter anyway, because the song already seems old after hearing a contestant cover it. Well played, Simon et al.

Poor Ben seems to be the latest addition to a long line of male winners, set to be overlooked in favour of the "real winner" - he's already being referred to as "Ben Whonow?" on twitter and he only won it four days ago - I would be shocked if he were to be invited back to perform on next year's show.

I think Steve's book is a great read, it really exposes the staging and pettiness of the whole show. It was never a singing competition - it's about the judges, their egos, and how much money they can squeeze from the general public. If you do what you're told, you're wrong. If you step outside your comfort zone, you're wrong. The corruption, manipulation, and sheer deceptiveness regarding the media is shocking - but sadly, after recent revelations including the whole Max Clifford debacle and the demise of the News of the World - unsurprising.

Referring to 2014 contestant Jake Quickenden's stint in the Jungle (that's a whole other ballgame - a contestant on a TV show going straight into the Jungle as a "celebrity" before the show had even ended?!) Simon had this to say at a press conference: "I think with any competition, if you don't want to win, that tells me you haven't got that killer instinct to do well in the real world. If you're happy to come fourth or tenth and end up in the jungle.... what we want on this show are people who want to be recording artists in the real world. I mean, that's just the way it is."

But...........that's NOT the way it is. Every single year, Louis Walsh sits like a Pantomime Dame defending whatever novelty act he has chosen to put through to the live shows, while genuinely talented people go home. Simon Cowell plays with people as if they were puppets - putting people through to spite other judges (Raign & Cheryl Cole?!). Take a show like The Voice - I haven't seen a single novelty act on that show. I'm sure it's not perfect, it's still TV, but it seems so much fairer than leading lambs to the slaughter after telling them they're perfect for the TV rounds before tearing them to pieces and laughing at them. We have had whole hour-long shows dedicated to "The Worst Auditionees", yet people who actually won the whole blimmin' show have been snubbed.

Steve has proven that he definitely has that killer instinct - and here's hoping he continues to do well in the real world. The Xfactor bubble may be the dream of many a young starlet, but it's definitely not something I'd want any of my loved ones involved in. I'm really glad Steve wrote this book (with the help of Tony Horne), because it just confirms opinions I've had about Simon Cowell for a long, long time - does he have any actual interest in the music at all?!

A must-read.

You can get the book here on Amazon.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Books I Read in November

Hi!

November was a very light month for me on the book front. To be honest, the majority of my spare time was spent doing this:


When I had that finished, I started this: 


I want to get both stockings finished and made up as soon as possible, so the reading has been pushed to the sidelines a bit! Still, I did manage to read 5 books throughout November, and I'm making progress with 2 more.



Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner - Freakonomics
This was a Rick O'Shea Book Club pick for November. It reminded me a little of Ben Goldacre's Bad Science but with a lot less wit and a lot more filler. I didn't find it an enjoyable read at all, and found myself skimming it a fair bit. Much as Clarissa didn't actually explain it all, these guys do not "explore the hidden side of everything". I found this really boring.

Aimee Bender - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Rose is almost 9. Without warning, she gets a hollow, overwhelming feeling of sadness after eating lemon cake made by her mother. The book follows Rose as she deals with her "gift" but the gift is not the subject of the book. Simply Irresistible this is not (that's probably a good thing) - it's a very strange quirky little tale that focuses more on family relationships than on Rose being able to taste emotions.There's a story arc involving Rose's brother that is just bizarre, but altogether it was a good book and wasn't a taxing read.

Amy Poehler - Yes Please
I enjoyed this. I thought that the idea to bring other people in to tell their opinions on some stories were genius - like her parents' anecdotes about Amy's birth. I didn't start this book as a fan of Amy Poehler, and I'm not sure I ended it as one, I just thought it was a funny, witty book that had a lot of heart without being too try-hard. I will take the quote "Good for her, not for me" to the grave with me, I have thought of it several times since reading the book. This isn't a behind-the-scenes of Saturday Night Live, nor is it Bossypants II. It's just Amy.

Neil Gaiman - The Ocean at the End of the Lane
I got a gorgeous hardback copy of this book last Christmas and to my shame never picked it up until I saw it one morning and it called out to me. I adored it - it's the story of a man returning to his homeplace for a funeral. He visits a spot he used to frequent in childhood, and reminisces about the summer that changed his life, when the family lodger took his own life and set in motion a series of horrible events. It's a beautiful book, I think fans of Coraline would enjoy it.

Andrew Kaufman - The Tiny Wife
Shortly after 3pm on Wednesday 21st February, a thief (dressed like Prince, it has to be said) walks into branch #117 of the British Bank of North America. He doesn't demand money from those inside - instead, he demands to have the item currently in their possession that holds the most sentimental value. As the customers and staff hand over their items, they are unaware of what will happen. What happens is a series of bizarre and unexplained events - the titular character begins to shrink, until she is the size of a car key. Another woman witnesses her lion tattoo jump off her ankle, grow to full size, and chase her. The husband of a third woman turns into a snowman. A fourth woman discovers she is now made of candy. A man's family history literally collapses on top of him. This was an odd book, and a quick read - but nothing was explained. It's filled with metaphors about facing fears, but we weren't told why the thief wanted the items or who he was. It was all a little disjointed and rushed for me, I would have liked a longer book with more explanation and more detail into the individual stories.

The two books I began in November that I'm currently reading are:


David Nicholls - Us
Written from the point of view of Douglas, who has just been told by his wife Connie that she wants to leave him. I'm finding this a hard slog, I don't like Douglas' voice as a narrator. He actually reminds me a lot of Don Tillman from The Rosie Project. I have heard that it picks up though, so I'll stick with it.

Lena Dunham - Not That Kind of Girl 
I'll be honest, I know nothing about Lena Dunham. I've never seen Girls and I don't think I've ever seen or heard an interview with the woman. I picked this book up after the recent controversy over supposed "confessions" made in the book, because I had some opinions on it but felt like it was unfair to speculate without reading the book. So far it's okay - pretty standard fare.



One pretty cool book-related thing happened in November - a while back, I reviewed Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng for Little Brown via Netgalley. They recently contacted me to get permission to incorporate some of my review into a graphic as part of a huge twitter drive on the day it was published - it was such a cool thing to be involved in!


If you haven't read the book, I really recommend it. You can see my full review on Goodreads here.

Bring on the Christmas reads! If I ever get the stockings finished........




Monday, November 3, 2014

Books I Read in October

Hi!

I had a massive reading plan for October. It included several books that I've wanted to read all year but had been 'saving' for Halloween. Then, two things got in the way.

Firstly, I decided on a whim to finally go back to a HUGE book after attempting to read it almost 20 years ago. That was pretty much the entire second half of October taken up. Secondly, I got Christmas fever halfway through the month and got the urge to make cross stitched stockings for the twins. I don't know if anyone else does cross stitch - but it's SO time consuming. You can stitch for 4 hours straight and have something the size of a small matchbox at the end. That pretty much ate into all of my reading time.

All that being said, I managed to finish 8 books this month, which was okay - considering my heart just wasn't in it. My original October reading list looked like this:


  • Natsuo Kirino - Real World
  • Mary Downing Hahn - Wait 'til Helen Comes
  • Patrick Ness - A Monster Calls
  • Joyce Carol Oates - Zombie
  • Shirley Jackson - The Haunting of Hill House
  • Katie Alender - Bad Girls Don't Die
  • Curtis Richards - Halloween
  • Stefan Kiesbye - Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone
  • Jay Anson - The Amityville Horror
  • Johan Harstad - 172 Hours on the Moon
  • Robin Hardy - The Wicker Man
  • Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights
  • Joe Hill - Heart Shaped Box
  • Peter Straub - Ghost Story
  • Kendare Blake - Anna Dressed in Blood
  • Norman Partridge - Dark Harvest
  • Shirley Jackson - The Lottery
This is what actually happened:



The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Every year, on June 27th, the 300+ villagers gather in the town square for the lottery. There are many preparations to do before people are allowed to draw from the box, and the story opens as the town is preparing. This was a ten minute read, full of suspense and tension, with a horrifying conclusion as the terror is slowly revealed over the last page. A fantastic short story!

The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, Long Island was the scene of a horrific homicide in 1974, where Ronnie DeFeo killed his parents and four siblings. The house was later bought by the Lutz family, who were not superstitious and didn't mind the history - at first. A mere 4 weeks after they bought the house, they fled, fearing for their sanity and their lives. This wasn't scary at all, and there were far too many exclamation marks. A huge let-down.

The Doll by JC Martin
I found this for free on Kindle while browsing - it's a short story set around "La Isla de la Munecas" or "The Island of the Dolls". Joyce and her 6 year old daughter Taylor visit the island as part of a vacation. They are told that the creepy dolls that adorn every part of the island are in honour of a little girl who drowned there, and whose spirit is said to haunt the island. As Joyce and Taylor return home after their holiday, Joyce thinks that they may have brought back something other than souvenirs.......this really creeped me out (not only because the island is a real place) and it was a great Halloween read. It could have been an episode of "Are You Afraid of the Dark" back in the day.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
I read this because it was mentioned on a thread in a book group - and several people raved about it. I think Dracula is partly to blame for the disappearance of my reading mojo around the end of the first week in October - it was a hard read. The first part, documenting Jonathan Harker's journey to Transylvania to meet the elusive Count Dracula was amazing. Atmospheric, dark, filled with suspense - it was just brilliant. Unfortunately, that all went to the dogs and we were then treated to a couple of hundred pages of letters, meetings, and general waffling about how to catch Dracula. There wasn't nearly enough of the man himself, and the ending was boring. Not remotely scary and I wanted Dracula to burst in and eat the stupid men at the end.


Diane Hoh - The Wish (Point Horror Nightmare Hall)
I had picked up some Point Horrors at a boot sale earlier in the year, and only remembered them last month. The Wish was pretty much a Big rip-off, but with a 90s horror twist - Alex is unnerved by the scary fortune-telling wizard booth in the local pizza place. When her friends start making wishes and they begin to come true in terrible ways, Alex remains skeptical about the wizard.......until she becomes a target.

Diane Hoh - Truth or Die (Point Horror Nightmare Hall)
Parrie just started at Salem University and doesn't know anyone. She attaches herself to a group of girls and gets embroiled in a game of Truth or Dare that turns very dangerous very quickly. But who is responsible for the dares that go wrong? And can Parrie stop them?

Peter Lerangis - The Yearbook (Point Horror)
David Kallas is 17 and pretty much obsessed with classmate Ariana. After a mild earthquake brings them closer, David finds himself agreeing to join Yearbook Staff as a way to spend more time with Ariana. David is on his way to the printers one night when he finds a body.........and it won't be the last.......

All 3 of these Point Horror books were standard fare - the scene is set, the tension builds, something happens to throw us off the scent, and BANG, there's the ending. I devoured so many of these when I was a child - I do have a couple more to read and I will read them, it was a nice way to spend a few hours.

Stephen King - IT
I bought a paperback of this book when I was about 12 - it was definitely the summer before I started Secondary School. The main problem I had with the book back then was that the thing was like a weapon it was that big - over 1100 pages. Also, the print is TINY. It has moved with me along with my other books for the past 19 and a half years, and when I saw it on the top of my wardrobe I thought it was about time I finished it. I'm so glad I did - while I didn't read it every day, I did find myself wanting to go back to it. It's the story of 7 friends who encounter and defeat terrible evil one summer - roll on adulthood, where 6 of the 7 are no longer living in their hometown. The seventh is now convinced that the evil is back - and asks the other 6 to return to help him defeat it once more. The book is split up into different sections, and as with all King books reads flawlessly. Every character was unique and had their own story and history. There aren't many books that top a thousand pages but never get drawn out or boring. Stunning. It may have taken me the guts of two decades, but I got there in the end!

And that was pretty much it for October - I didn't get round to reading most of my intended list, but I'll be pulling the odd one or two from it over the next month if I can shake the Christmas obsession that seems to have set in!



Thursday, October 2, 2014

Books I Read in September

Hi!

Septembers books were mostly the results of a huge Netgalley binge - I won't be doing that again in a hurry, it's much nicer to pick and choose books at my own leisure. I ended up with a list of stuff to review and felt like it was a chore. Not fun! In future, I'll only be requesting things that I really, really want to read.

The total amount read in September was 13 - 11 of those were within the first two weeks, then I completely lost my reading mojo and only read two in the last fortnight.

I'll start with the Netgalley approvals, firstly the two I read for Rick O'Shea's Book Club:


Martin Amis: The Zone of Interest
This story is set in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. It's told from the point of view of three people in the camp - Paul Doll (Camp Commandant) thinks of the entire Holocaust as an inconvenience; Szmul (a Jewish prisoner), works to dispose the "pieces", or bodies, and knows his days are numbered. Thomsen (a Nazi Civil Servant) is obsessed with Doll's wife and tries to woo her while simultaneously driving Doll mad. I didn't enoy this book. The majority of it went over my head and I found it hard to follow. I still couldn't put it down - it was weirdly enthralling - but I wouldn't read it again, nor would I seek Amis out in the future. I didn't like his style of writing at all and the whole thing had a Monty Python/Allo Allo feel to it, whether intentional or not.

Emily St. John Mandel - Station Eleven
If you had told me that I'd end up loving a book about a post-apocalyptic Travelling Symphony who perform Shakespeare for survivers of the Georgia Flu, I'd have laughed you out of it. This is an amazing little book - it begins with actor Arthur Leander dying on stage during a production of King Lear, then goes forward 15 years into the future after 90% of the population has been wiped out by the disease. The book links 5 people connected to Arthur in some way and goes back & forth over their lives. One of my favourites of the year!


Sarah Belle - Miss Spelled
On the night of Lou and Aiden's one year Anniversary, Aiden proposes. All is going well until someone from Lou's past shows up with the potential to destroy her happiness - so she turns to a spell from an Internet Witch to try and erase him from her past. Only....she erases a whole lot more, and now Aiden is engaged to someone else and has no clue who she is. Can she put it right? I enjoyed this, it was a cute read.

Jill Steeples - Hopelessly Devoted To You
Ruby is engaged to Finn, but is afraid to tell him that she wants to call the wedding off. When she finally plucks up the courage, he storms out and falls down the stairs. When he wakes from a coma, he seems like a completely different person - even his accent has changed. He can't remember Ruby breaking up with him, but with this "New Finn", does she want to break up? I didn't like this book - it had a deal-breaker for me - Ruby repeatedly says no to sex and Finn responds with:  "It'll be fine, we'll be quick. god, you are so beautiful, Ruby. How the hell am I supposed to resist you?" and does it anyway. The repeated references to his new accent making him sound like Hugh Jackman smacked of fanfic.

Brenda Novak - A Matter of Grave Concern
Aldersgate School of Medicine, London, 1830. Abigail Hale hires "The London Supply Company" - Grave Robbers to the rest of us - to supply her with a corpse to enable the students of the medical school to practice. Outspoken, arrogant Max Wilder crosses Abigail and doesn't expect her to stand up to him - but what is he hiding? As Abigail and Max get closer, secrets are revealed that could threaten all their lives. This was a bit more Mills & Boon than I would have liked, but it was enjoyable even if some parts were a bit twee and predictable.

Celeste Ng - Everything I Never Told You
Set in 1977, this is the story of a family dealing with terrible grief and sadness after they discover their oldest daughter Lydia has died under mysterious circumstances. It follows the lives of Marilyn and James, and we see how they deal with prejudice over James' race (Chinese) and how Marilyn gives up on her dream of being a doctor to raise a family, pushing her dream on to Lydia. Parts of it are achingly sad, but it's a really good read and beautifully written.


Emma Taylor - Anastasia
Cinderella. With lesbians. This took just under an hour to read, and I did enjoy it - there was a hell of a lot packed into such a small book! A curse, a ball, a fatal sickness, a spirit in a tree - it was a fun read.

Fiona Valpy - The French For Christmas
Evie has had a tough year. She has lost her baby, and her marriage has fallen apart. When she gets the opportunity to go to France and spend Christmas alone in her friend's holiday cottage, she decides to go. She brings her Grandmother's cookbook and learns to ive and love again with the help of new friends and good food. This was alright - it had too many food analogies for me ("his accent was as chewy as a slice of tarte tatin") and the insta-love was unconvincing. It lacked Christmas atmosphere, but France came off really well.

Jimmy Wayne - Walk To Beautiful
This is the true story of Jimmy Wayne. Jimmy grew up in care after his parents left him. He vowed that if he made it in the music business, that he would give back - he's a popular Country Music star now, so he's going to walk from a foster home in Nashville to a foster home in Phoenix (1700 miles). This is Jimmy's life story - and it's an amazing, inspirational one. It stayed with me for a long time after reading it.

Next up are two books that I've owned for a while but hadn't read:


Scott Lobdell, Paul Lee & Fabian Nicieza - Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slayer, Interrupted 
This is a comic that I got in a big order of used books online a few years ago. I came across it while looking for Halloween reads - there are two stories in it, the first one "Dawn and the Happy Bear" features a young Dawn Summers receiving the gift of a cursed teddy bear mistakenly meant for Buffy. The second, "Slayer, Interrupted" is reminiscent of the actual episode "Normal Again" but not as good. Dawn finds Buffy's diary and outs her to their parents as a Slayer. She is committed to a mental institution where there are strange goings-on. We get a fleeting glance at a pre-Buffy Willow, and a look at Giles coming face-to-face with his Ripper self.

Shirley Jackson - We Have Always Lived in the Castle
This is narrated by 18 year old Mary Katherine (Merricat) Blackwood, who lives with her sister Constance and old Uncle Julian in a big house secluded from the rest of the town. The rest of Merricat's family fell foul of a terrible poisoning incident - for which Constance was charged but acquitted. The townsfolk dislike the Blackwoods intensely, and the girls receive few visitors - until one day, cousin Charles shows up looking for information on the family fortune. When Charles sees how the girls live, he decides that it's time for a few changes - but Merricat won't take that lying down... brilliant book, I'm sorry I didn't read it years earlier!

I bought two books in September (well.....not including boot sale ones.....):


Louise O'Neill - Only Ever Yours
Freida is an "eve" - one of a number of girls created for men. Women are not born anymore, they are created and programmed. Every year, from the school they inhabit, ten will be chosen as companions to bear children. Others will become concubines - their only role is to pleasure men. The remainder are stripped of their vanity and remain in the school as chastities, helpers to the upcoming batches of eves. The eves are obsessed with their looks, their weight, their appearance in general - when one starts to put on weight she is immediately ostracised. They are in constant competition with each other and will stop at nothing to make sure they get the position they want. Intelligence is punished. Asking questions is punished. Termination date is 40. The girls names don't even have capital letters, they aren't that important. This book was absolutely fantastic, I think it should be compulsory reading for teenagers.

Donna Tartt - The Goldfinch
I don't have much luck with award winning books, so lord knows why I decided that I was going to tackle this - when kindle estimated that it would take over 12 hours to read, I almost had a spontaneous poo. The Goldfinch in question is a painting, stolen from an art gallery by 13 year old Theo Decker after he is instructed to take it by a dying man. The gallery has been bombed, and Theo's mother, center of his universe, is dead. What follows is the story of Theo's life, and how the painting brings him in contact with many different people. I really liked this book a lot more than I thought I would. I know that some people feel the ending was long-winded, but to be honest, I was after reading over 700 pages, I was just glad to SEE the ending. I would recommend it - it's not a life-changer or anything, but it was a good read.


So - that's it for this month. My favourites were Station Eleven, We Have Always Lived in the Castle,  and Only Ever Yours.

I decided that for October, I'm only going to read books that fit in with a Halloween/Scary/Spooky theme, so I've been scouring Goodreads lists and Youtube videos for inspiration. Here's hoping that the mojo I lost after The Goldfinch will make a reappearance soon!

If you want to read my Goodreads reviews of all the books above, go to the "Books 2014" tab at the top of the page and click the individual book covers to go to the reviews.

Sticking with the Halloween theme for a second, what's your favourite spooky book?




Monday, September 22, 2014

20 Years of Friends - it's a Friend-a-versary!

Hi!

20 years, folks. It's been 20 years to the day since Friends first graced television screens in America. 20 whole years since Rachel raced into Central Perk wearing a wedding dress, bumped into her old friend Monica, and became part of our lives.



The One With The Husband Who Doesn't Get It
Well - I say our lives, but it's really a marmite show, isn't it? My husband cannot stand it. He absolutely does not get it, doesn't think it's funny, doesn't like the audience laughter, and doesn't watch it. He passes no remarks if I'm watching it, but I know it drives him up the walls. My mother never got it either - but my sister and I could spend a very happy half hour throwing Friends quotes back and forth at each other. I remember last year, I said something like "I have a really sore throat" and husband replied "Oh yeah, I had that, and a runny nose" and it continued, I have this, I have that -  then I said "Okay Ben, it's not a contest" - see, my sister would have WEEPED at that. He just looked at me and went "Who the hell is Ben?!" Sigh.

The One With All The Rewatches
It's something I never tire of - I'm currently halfway through Season 3 of a rewatch. My rewatches happen about twice a year - I start from the Pilot episode (one of only two episode names that doesn't start with The One With..., the other being The Last One) and work right up to the end. I got my boxset on Amazon for under €50 here - it's gone up over £70 now, but it's on sale regularly so keep an eye out - it's full of unseen footage and comes with loads of great extras (bloopers, interviews, etc). I do still watch any episodes I happen to catch on TV too.

The One Where The Kids Grow Up
Altogether, there were 7 children born on the show. Ben, Frank Jr. Jr., Leslie, Chandler, Emma, Jack and Erica. The actor who played Ben from seasons 3-8, Cole Sprouse, is 22 now. Frank Jr. Jr. (aka Dante Pastula) is 17; Leslie (Allisyn Ashley Arm) is 18; Chandler (Sierra Marcoux) is 16. The twins who played Emma (Cali & Noelle Sheldon) are 12, and the twins who played Jack & Erica would be 10 this year. Feel old enough?

The One With The Truth About The Big White Dog
You know that big white dog in Chandler & Joeys apartment? The one Ross rescued from the bailiffs when Joey went a bit mad with the cash in Season 2? This one?


It actually belonged to Jennifer Aniston. Some friends of hers bought it for her as a good luck present when she started acting, and she donated it to the show.

The One With The Creepy Fan Fiction
Ahh, you have to love fanfic writers. They really do put an enormous amount of effort into their work. You'd imagine there would be just a lot of Chandler/Joey stuff, but people have gotten really inventive. Not necessarily in a good way. There's this story, titled "The Abduction of Erica Bing" - in which little Erica gets abducted at her sixth birthday party. This one is all about Rachel as a child, and there are ones I wouldn't even link to - they go way, way into the dark side. Why you would want to take your favourite characters and introduce self-harm, rape and murder - I do NOT know, but it's there. It's all there.


The One With All The Guest Stars
I can't think of any other sitcom that had the kind of guest stars Friends could get. Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Fergie, Chrissie Hynde, Sean Penn, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Bruce Willis, Charlton Heston, Danny De Vito - the list is endless. My favourite guest appearance had to be Brad Pitt, I thought he was absolutely hilarious.


The One Where Life Imitates Art
In the show, Monica and Chandler have fertility problems. In reality, Courtney Cox discovered that she has a rare antibody in her blood that will attack a fetus. In order to have her daughter, Coco, she went through IVF and had to give herself injections of a blood thinner daily. Right after one miscarriage, she had to film the scenes of Friends where Rachel was giving birth to Emma. Ever since I found that out, it makes me so sad watching her in that episode.

The One With The Best Poster Ever
I first saw this graphic over on Chloe's blog, and again a few days later on a blog I happened to find randomly. I tracked the poster down to iposters.co.uk and have bought 4 of them to date - my one takes pride of place on the back of my bathroom door, and it gives me a laugh every time I see it.


The One With The Catchy Music
The theme tune by The Rembrandts - I'll Be There For You - was released as a single in 1995. Accompanied by a video featuring all 6 main cast members, it shot to number 1 in the US and Canada. It hit number 5 in the Irish charts. What I didn't know until recently, was that it was co-written by Allee Willis, who penned (among others) September for Earth, Wind and Fire. Other co-writers include Martha Kauffman and David Crane, co-creators of Friends. While the theme is catchy, it's not quite at the level of some of Phoebe Buffay's material. To this day I cannot hear or read the name Emma without hearing "Your name poses a dilemma" in my head. Her Christmas song, in particular the line: "Please tell Joey, Christmas will be snowyyyyyyyyyyyy" pops into my head randomly.

The One With The Inaccurate Quiz Results
On this Buzzfeed Quiz (you know how much I love a Buzzfeed quiz, Facebook friends) - I got Monica. Monica!! I KNOW!! You can take the quiz here and share your equally inaccurate results below if you want. Or not, whatever. I'm breezy.

The Best Ones
This varies from person to person. Actually - it varies from day to day if I'm honest. I have my favourite episodes - The One Where Ross is Fine, The One With Ross' Tan, The One With All The Cheesecakes, The One With All The Resolutions (leather pants), The One Where Ross Got High and The One Where The Stripper Cries are all favourites. Some of the lines still have the power to make me laugh out loud:

"The answer is - the brazil nut." "What was the question, what's more boring than him?"
"It's a Moo point. Like a cow's opinion. It doesn't matter. It's Moo."
"Go! Go Alan! Run you hairy bastard!!"
"I am *this* close to tugging on my testicles."
"He...he comes in here, Mr. Johnny new eggs, with his - his moving the mail and his *see ya pals* bleeeggggghh"
"Ohh, it's okay Pheebs" "Honey? That's your name.."
"I went to that tanning place your wife suggested." "Was that place........the sun?"

I'll stop, or I'll never stop. Thanks, Friends. Thanks for the arsenal of smart-arse responses. Myself and my slow wit are forever grateful.

And for the record - I really, really hope they never do a movie. Have we learned nothing from Sex and the City?



Banned Books Week! 21-27 September 2014.

Hi!

I do have another post coming up later on today, but I thought I'd draw your attention to the fact that from September 21st - September 27th, it's Banned Books Week in the U.S.A.


Currently, there are no banned books in Ireland. A "book ban" only lasts 12 years, and no books have been banned in the last 12 years. This, interestingly, isn't because the law has changed - it's because nobody is complaining anymore. "Morals have changed," said a spokesperson for the Censorship of Publications Board. "What was considered obscene in the 1940s is very different to what is considered obscene today." [source]

A book can be prohibited in Ireland for one of two reasons:

1. They are indecent or obscene.
2. They advocate the procurement of abortion or miscarriage or the use of any method, treatment or appliance for the purpose of such procurement.

I'm not going to get into an abortion debate here, but isn't it typical of Ireland to have abortion right up there alongside indecency and obscenity? This all still stands today, by the way. If enough people wanted to complain about a publication, all (5) members of the Board would have to read it and could pass a law to prohibit it.

[Source]

In the U.S.A, people are still a little more vocal with their complaints. Here's a look at the ten most challenged publications of 2013, with the reasons below.


The Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey: Offensive language, violence, unsuitable for age group.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: Offensive language, sexually explicit, violence, unsuitable for age group.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, masturbation, unsuitable for age group.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Religious viewpoint, unsuitable for age group.
A Bad Boy Can Be Good For a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
Looking for Alaska by John Green: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya: Occult, satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
The Bone series by Jeff Smith: Political viewpoint, racism, violence, unsuitable for age group.

A couple of these did surprise me - in particular, the reasons. I had no issue with the nudity or sexual content in Fifty Shades of Grey, for example. I did have a problem with the romanticization of a dangerously controlling, unhealthy relationship - but if people choose to read it, that's up to them. None of these books are currently banned, but they were reported hundreds of times in 2013. [Source]



Banned Books Week is a little more serious than just giving two fingers to the Establishment while reading Animal Farm on the bus. It was founded in 1982 by activist Judith Krug. It encourages readers to examine challenged literary works, and promotes intellectual freedom in schools, libraries and bookstores. It's goal is "to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society."

Amnesty International also celebrates Banned Books Week by drawing attention to individuals "persecuted because of the writings that they produce, circulate or read." You can read about the 2014 cases here. It makes for scary reading.

Image copyright Dav Pilkey
This year, graphic novels have been chosen as the theme for Banned Books Week. There's a wealth of information on the official website here: Banned Books Week . There's also a dedicated Youtube Channel featuring a lot of great videos by authors, booksellers and librarians.

Some of the more surprising (to me, anyway) books to be banned over the years include:

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Banned in Ireland in 1932 due to references of sexual promiscuity.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: Banned in China in 1931 for its portrayal of animals acting on the same level of complexity as humans. 
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: Banned in Lebanon in 2004 for being offensive to Christianity.
  • Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss: Banned in 1965 in China for its portrayal of early Marxism. The ban was lifted after Seuss' death in 1991.
  • The Lonely Girl by Edna O'Brien: Banned in 1962 in Ireland after Archbishop John Charles McQuaid complained personally to Charles Haughey that it was 'particularly bad'.
  • The Lottery by Shirley Jackson: Banned in South Africa during Apartheid.

In more recent years, campaigns have been launched in hundreds of schools to get books removed from reading lists and/or school libraries - books like The Handmaid's Tale and To Kill a Mockingbird. If you're interested in the type of complaints that are submitted - have a look at this section of the PABBIS (Parents Against Bad Books In Schools) website. It's an incredibly detailed collection of book quotes and references that people have complained about. If you're a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I bet you a fiver you're thinking of MOO right now. I'm not mocking, I promise - I do believe that if a parent thinks a piece of literature is unsuitable for their underage child, then they have a right to not allow that book in their home. I just don't think that they have the right to tell other parents to follow suit. 

This week I'm aiming to read at least one banned book. I've picked The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. Will you join me in reading something that was once banned or challenged? There's a great collection of lists on Goodreads here if you need some inspiration.




Monday, September 1, 2014

Books I Read in August

Hi!

Once again, I start this post with an overwhelming need to apologise for how much I read - isn't that awful? I realise that this is coming straight after a post in which I said I don't have time to scratch myself some days - but I always make time to read. I've read a minimum of 6 books a week since I was old enough to read. If I told you I watched 19 TV programmes in one month, I don't think that would provoke much reaction.

So here are the 19 books I read in August instead of watching TV. Apart from the Great British Bake Off. ESSENTIAL.

I read 11 books from Netgalley this month, and 8 that I bought myself.  I'll start with the Netgalley ones:


Joanna Briscoe: Touched
Touched is a Hammer Novella. It's about a young mother who moves to a sleepy English village with her husband and five children. The cottage they are moving into used to belong to the husband's mother, who was very close to Eva, one of the children. The house seems to be refusing all attempts at renovation - plus, there seems to be a hidden room. Throw in a creepy builder who seems to have a fascination with one of the other children, an "imaginary" friend and a few family secrets, and you have a dark atmospheric novel that kept me guessing until the end.

The BUST DIY Guide to Life
BUST magazine isn't something I've heard of, but the story of how it started is included here and is worth a read. The founders (one of whom is also the founder of Stitch n' Bitch) wanted to start including craft/DIY articles from a feminist slant to show women that they could still be strong, independent and make a damn good cheese ball. The book has loads of craft articles and ideas - some were too hipster for my taste (quilted wall art, pot holders) but there are still a lot of great hints and tips like how to hem jeans, or how to make a vest and pants from a large t-shirt. There are also great sections on how to support your immune system naturally, and how to support yourself financially. A lot of it is not applicable to someone who lives in very rural Ireland (as opposed to a kitsch apartment in Greenwich Village) but it was still a fun read.

Stacy McKitrick: Bite Me, I'm Yours
I haven't read any vampire fiction since the Twilight books came out, and I didn't even finish reading that series. I'm very loyal to the Buffy vampire world (turn to dust, don't sparkle, etc) but I thought I'd give this a go. Initially, it's okay. Sarah is recently divorced and meets a magnetic, enthralling guy (vampire) who seems drawn to her. The story was nothing special, it was standard girl-meets-boy, girl-has-crazy-ex, boy-fights-for-girl fare, but there was some unnecessary crudeness here that I didn't like. I'm not a prude by any sense, but when a story is trundling along nicely, it does kinda throw you when the male MC starts talking about his "other head". Seriously. There was also a very cringey scrabble scene that would never happen in real life, but I don't suppose any of it would happen in real life. It went a bit Mills & Boon and it's not a genre I'll be following. Contains allusions to a brutal rape that may be triggering.

Jessica Shirvington: Between The Lives
This was a new take on the Young Adult genre for me. The first line was "I am a liar." Every 24 hours, Sabine switches to a parallel life. In one, she has a younger sister. In another, older brothers. The only constant is that her name is Sabine in both worlds. The two lives have never crossed, but when she breaks her arm in one life and it's not broken when she switches - does this mean that there's a loophole? That potentially, she could choose a life? If so, which one would she choose? When she decides to tell her parents in one life what's going on, she is admitted to a mental hospital. It's pretty obvious which life she should choose.. until someone believes her. The ending was rushed and the "twist" was a bit meh, but I enjoyed this book a lot and could see it becoming really popular.


Peter Monn: The Before Now and After Then
This book prompted me to send out my first ever Goodreads Recommendation. I just thought it was such a sweet book, and even though the main character is gay, it's not a book about being gay. It's a coming-of-age story about a boy who finds his person in the wake of a great loss. Loved it.

Kelly Rimmer: Me Without You
A tragic love story, nothing we haven't seen before. This is a dual POV and I had issues with that - from Callum's view, he came across as a self-obsessed nitpicker. From Lilah's, he was sensitive to her feelings and intuitive. It was like there were two different Callums. This book has been compared to Me Before You (<sarcasmfont>sure if you can't draw a comparison to Gone Girl, go for Me Before You, eh?</>sarcasmfont) but it actually reminded me a lot more of the movie Love and Other Drugs. It didn't make me cry, which is unusual considering I can cry at an ad, but anyway. It was okay.

Rachael English: Each and Every One
This was a nice, easy read about the Shine family in modern day, post-recession Dublin. Gus Shine and his wife have been supporting their adult children for most of their lives, digging them out of financial ruts and making sure they have all they need. When Gus makes a series of bad investments, the business is in danger of imploding and Gus decides that it's finally time to cut the apron strings. Some of the Shines deal better than others - it was a good read and there were little surprises here and there. Well written, it would make a nice holiday book.

Paul Gitsham: No Smoke Without Fire
This is the second in a series - I haven't read the first one and it didn't spoil my enjoyment of this, I didn't feel in any way out of the loop. At the beginning, a man is released from prison after serving a long sentence for a string of violent sexual offences. A year later, a young woman is found dead after a brutal assault. DCI Warren Jones and his team are called on to the case and soon realize that they could be dealing with a serial killer. There were lots of red herrings, lots of twists, and it kept me reading to the end. Enjoyable, and also really nice to read about a cop who isn't an alcoholic or estranged from his wife.


Ella Harper: Pieces of You
This was a sad little book. Lucy and Luke are the type of couple others envy - best friends, happily married, and still crazy about each other after 8 years. Sadly, ongoing fertility problems are causing a strain on their marriage - but Lucy is pregnant again and this time the pregnancy is going well. When Luke has a terrible accident and ends up in a coma, a woman Lucy has never met comes to visit him. The woman seems to know a lot about Lucy........and the woman is also pregnant. Through flashbacks from Lucy, we see that the marriage could have been under more strain than either she or Luke were willing to admit. We get POV from Luke's mother Patricia and his sister Nell here too. I could have lived without Nell's, but I understand why it's there. Patricia is trying to hold the whole family together and deal with her own issues too - it's a devastating book in parts but it was a great read. Not mad about the ending.

Gillian Anderson & Jeff Rovin: A Vision of Fire
Actress Gillian Anderson's debut novel (written with Jeff Rovin, who writes the Tom Clancy spin-off novels, among others) is a real treat for sci-fi fans. Dr. Caitlin O'Hara, adolescent psychiatrist, is called to the UN after the daughter of the Indian Ambassador has a suspected mental breakdown. But as other teenagers in different parts of the world begin to exhibit similar symptoms, is there something powerful and sinister at work? What does it all have to do with the mysterious artifacts being collected by "The Group"? And is Caitlin putting her life at risk to try and save her patient? Loved this, can't wait for the second one in the series. Some parts near the end were ridiculous but it was all really enjoyable and I couldn't put it down.

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2014, edited by Paula Guran
A collection of 32 stories by horror authors, all published in 2013. As with every anthology, there are going to be a few duds - the ones that didn't enamour me included The Legend of Troop 13 which is essentially just about a lot of over-sexed middle-aged men in unhappy marriages who are on a bus to try and find a group of hot girl scouts that went missing years ago. Ick. Stand-outs were Phosphorous, based on the true story of the Bryant & May matchgirls (but with a really horrific twist), and Dark Gardens - a genuinely scary tale of a man who moves into a house once owned by a magician with a penchant for mannequins. I did a more detailed review on Goodreads here.

On to the books I bought:


E. Lockhart: We Were Liars
This is one I'd been meaning to pick up for a long time. Beachwood Island is inhabited during the summer by the extended Sinclair family. The liars in question are cousins Cadence, Mirren and Johnny, along with Gat, who was taken in by a relation. Cadence is the narrator, and at times she is an unreliable one. She uses strong metaphors to convey her emotions - in the first few pages she states that her father shot her, using the description of being shot as a metaphor for being heartbroken. She talks of 'bleeding' a lot. Cadence has an accident one summer and suffers horrific migraines as a result - she returns back to the island for the first time since the accident and feels that her family aren't being truthful to her. There's a lot done for appearances and show in this book - god forbid the family be made to look bad. It's a strange one, I'm not sure how I felt about it - but it's definitely one I'd recommend and one I will probably re-read. It reminded me a little of the movie The Uninvited.

Heléné Gestern: The People in the Photo
The main character (also called Heléné) is seeking information about an old photograph, and puts an ad in the newspaper. She has one response, from a man named Stephane, and a friendship blossoms. Family secrets are revealed (slooowwwly) and Heléné learns that things are not always as they seem. This book was actually quite sad and melancholy - I suppose the main message was to grab life with both hands. I couldn't connect with either of the main characters, and the addition of photographs would have been nice considering the whole story was built around photography. I found it dragged, but the writer has an amazing skill at describing images.

Annie Lyons: Dear Lizzie
Lizzie has just lost her wonderful sister, Bea, to cancer. She goes to her funeral, and back to the house for the sake of Bea's son and husband. Lizzie left her family home a long time ago after a falling out with her mother - and has no desire to return. After a few jibes from her mother, Lizzie is all set to leave that part of her life behind - until Bea's husband hands her a package. In it are 12 letters, from Bea, with instructions for Lizzie to carry out over the next year. It is a little like P.S. I Love You, but with sisters. And better. As Lizzie tries to build a life for herself, it becomes apparent that Bea was hiding something from Lizzie. Something that affected the course of Lizzie's life, and something Lizzie is unsure if she'll ever be able to forgive her for. This could have been really predictable, but it wasn't. I liked Annie's writing style a lot and will be looking for more of her books.

Stewart Lewis: You Have Seven Messages
I thought this was going to be like a kind of When a Stranger Calls type thing. But it wasn't. It was about an extraordinarily privileged young girl who has lost her mother, but found her mother's cell phone. On the phone are seven voicemails - will they provide clues as to what really happened in the lead-up to her mother's death? This was another eye-roller - the main character takes a couple of photos and by the end of the book she has a meeting with Annie Leibovitz. "I may be fourteen, but I read the New York Times" was one of the opening lines - the character was so overly dramatic. "I blew out the candles on the cake and felt empty inside" - how everyone remembers their FOURTH birthday, I'm sure. There was a bit of an odd atmosphere to it - like a dark undercurrent that never quite bubbled to the surface. Overall I found it more annoying than anything else, but it's my own fault for expecting it to be a mystery.



Eve & Leonora Epstein: X vs. Y - A Culture War, A Love Story
A throwback to the 80s and 90s as seen through the eyes of two sisters 14 years apart in age, this was a joy to read. I covered it more in a blog post here.

Liz Nugent: Unravelling Oliver
This was the August choice for Rick O'Shea's Book Club. It's the tale of Oliver, a wealthy, sucessful Dublin man in his 50s who has just hit his wife so hard that she is in a coma. We get multiple points of view to build a picture of Oliver - a meticulous, calculating sociopath who has destroyed the lives of many of the people he has come into contact with. I didn't enjoy the book, unfortunately. It divided the book club, though - many really enjoyed it and thought it worthy of recommendation, so don't be put off by my opinion.

Jenny Han: To All The Boys I've Love Before
This is a YA book about a 16 year old girl named Lara Jean, who has had crushes on 5 boys. To help her get over them, she has written each of them a letter, never to be seen by them. So it's surprising that she not only puts the letters in envelopes, but addresses them. Can you guess what happens next? Someone posts the letters - and all hell breaks loose. Only, it doesn't. The main character comes off as much younger than 16, and the "fallout" from the letters is fairly mild. Unless you count agreeing to be used by a boy in order to make his ex jealous, or having it off with your sister's boyfriend. I'll be honest - I didn't finish it, nor had I any desire to. Disappointing. I'm not overjoyed that this song has been in my head for the last 6 days, either.

Bonnie Nadzam - Lamb
I added this to an Awesome Books order after I read Lorraine's review. It had been sitting on my kitchen windowsill ever since, until I came across Paula's review. I picked it up yesterday morning and couldn't stop reading it. Tommie (11) and David (54) meet when her friends dare her to walk up to him and ask him for a cigarette. She does, but in order to teach her friends a lesson, David pretends to kidnap Tommie, to show her the dangers of talking to strangers. What if he were a bad man? Lucky he's not a bad man. He drives Tommie home safely. They begin to meet up regularly -  He just wants to be Tommie's friend, to buy her nice things and show her the mountains. Maybe they'll take a trip. Maybe for a week. Or longer. The sense of unease and dread that filled me while reading this is hard to describe - I was on edge the whole time. What didn't happen scared me more than what did. A very unique, disturbing book - but a must-read.

Favourites this month - Lamb, A Vision of Fire, Dear Lizzie, Touched, X vs Y and The Before Now and After Then.





Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Talking 'bout my Generation - Music

Hi!

I saw Lindsay talk about this book a while ago and I knew I had to read it.



Eve and Leonora Epstein are two sisters, born 14 years apart. Eve is part of Generation X (born mid 60s to late 70s), while Leonora is part of Generation Y (born early 80s to late 90s). I would definitely put myself in that "grey area" in between the two, the people born between 1979 and 1984 who identify with a lot of stuff from both generations. Some of the late 90s stuff seems alien to me - I would have considered the whole Mean Girls age to be a completely different era, but it's easy to forget that time went pretty quick there for a while - Clueless was released a mere 5 years before Mean Girls.

In this book, Eve and Leonora cover chapters on Music, TV, Fashion, Movies, Sex & Dating, Books, and Technology. It's peppered with really good graphics, lists, conversations between the sisters - I loved the Mix Tape lists (definitely identified more with Gen X on that one). I loved this book a lot, you can get it on amazon here.

I thought I'd do some graphics and some lists of my own to show you the kind of stuff that I'd pick as a representation of my generation - I was born in 1983. My husband is very much generation X (born in the 70s) - but we have a huge amount of similar interests. Leonora states in the book - "Generation Y couldn't exist without Generation X because we've (selectively) made their nostalgia our nostalgia." I definitely agree. I also agree with the occurrence of "Fauxstalgia" in Generation Y - we tend to pine for things we've never experienced. I had fond memories of watching Live Aid on TV - I couldn't have watched Live Aid on TV, because I had just turned 2 a month before it aired.

Like a lot of 30 somethings, I've gained a new respect for the nostalgia of the older generations. I understand what it's like to hear a heinous remix of some song you loved when you were 11. I understand what it's like to see a 14 year old wearing the T-shirt of a band she's never even heard of. I understand what it feels like to look a favourite video up on youtube and find the comment section peppered with references to the fact that it was just played in the background of some hipster programme or that you're there because some obscure twitter personality just tweeted about it. But I will never, ever understand how jelly shoes are back.

Music
My music education came courtesy of Dave Fanning or Ruth Scott on 2fm, who introduced me to "alternative" music back in the day (through the radio, obviously). Also deserving credit is the legendary Larry Gogan with his Golden Hour, and the DJs from Atlantic 252 (Rick O'Shea, Dusty Rhodes). A love of radio from an early age meant that although I could sing every word of every Backstreet Boys song, I still knew who David Bowie and REM were. Atlantic 252 was my favourite, and if you want to listen to some of the jingles from back in the day, here's a great site I found courtesy of DJ Fergal D'Arcy a while ago: Aircheck Downloads.

This is from an actual mix tape that I made. 

Edit: When I went into the living room to get the cassette tape from the press, two guys from one of those Pawn Shop/Auction programmes that my husband watches were singing "My Generation" by The Who. I had already written the title of this post - I LOVE when shit like that happens.

I put this at 1998 given the songs, so welcome to the music world of 16 year old me.....there's no accounting for taste, is there?


There were a few albums (on tape, obviously) that everyone had to have around the time I started to get old enough to buy my own tapes. My favourite thing was to sit in on a Sunday and tape stuff off the radio, but here are the ones I owned on proper tapes. I got my first CD player in 1995 but CDs were still so expensive that I rarely got them, I did have the Five, Titanic & Garbage albums on CD but the rest were all tapes.


It's amazing how even an album title can bring back so much memories - 1995 in particular was an epic year in albums - and I sang them all to death. Even if I did make up all my own words to most of the Pearl Jam album. Anyone up for a chorus of La Vida Loca in Spanish? No?

I had one other tape - one that became such a favourite that I actually had one of the songs from it in our wedding two years ago (Feels Like Home). It's the quintessential teen tape of the mid-90s - the one I listened to while simultaneously reading the series of books based on the show, dreaming about Pacey Witter and wishing I had Joey Potter's hair.


I'm not going to go on, or I'd be here all day, but I discovered the glorious world of 80s hair bands around this time too and built up a collection of compilation tapes, all with names like Best Driving Songs even though I could just about ride a bicycle, let alone drive. The Britney Spears & N*Sync era followed, then I went through a phase of buying film soundtracks - Edward Scissorhands, Wild Wild West (bought for one Enrique Iglesias song), Back to Titanic. Nothing says Sad Girl more than a teenager sitting listening to music from Titanic alone in the dark. 

In the X vs Y book, one of the girls speculates on the upcoming Generation Z - is this the first generation who will never have to wait for anything? I mean, if you hear a song now all you have to do is Shazam it or Google a few lyrics and you can have the track on your phone in seconds. I remember waiting weeks for songs to crop up on the radio, stalking the chart shows and Atlantic 252. Sometimes I'd get the same song on the same tape 2 or 3 times to try and get the "best" version of it. That excitement is all gone now.

I'll shut up, but I'm leaving you with this - potentially my sister and I are the only two people who remember this as clear as day and still sing it word for word, but see if it rings a bell with you. It was on telly morning noon and night around the earth in the late 90's - does anyone else remember it?



Next time - movies!!





Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Books I Read in July

Hi!

Apologies for the lateness of this, August seems to be running away from me. We had to get a new laptop as well, after 8 years the old one finally gave up the ghost, so I'm still trying to transfer pictures and files. Oh, and for the record, I HATE WINDOWS 8. On to the books.

The Booktube-a-thon ran for a week in July - it was an intensive readathon organized through social media. I've already covered the 10 books I read during that week, so I'm not going to include those in this post, but you can read about them here if you want to. I joined Netgalley in July, too - it's a fantastic site that allows you to build a profile and request books to review before they are released. It's completely addictive, but I still have a world of books that I've bought to get through, so I'll mix & match.

Before booktube-a-thon, I read these:


Ava Dellaira: Love Letters to the Dead
Laurel is a teenage girl who has recently lost her sister, May. Laurel idolised her and doesn't know quite how to cope, especially as she knows something about May that she has never told anyone. When her English teacher sets an assignment to write a letter to a dead person, Laurel chooses lots of different celebrities (Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix) and uses her letters to tell them about her life, about her sister, and about the boy who is slowly becoming a big part of her existence. This is a really nice coming-of-age story with a very hopeful message, and it's beautifully written.

Ken Wheaton: Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears (Netgalley)
This was my first request granted on Netgalley, so it's pretty special for that reason alone! Ken Wheaton isn't a writer who I was previously familiar with, but I'll definitely read more by him. This is a story told from the point of view of a 50-year old Louisiana woman who is desperately trying to avoid family drama - until tragedy strikes and she has to return home. I would have read another ten chapters, it surprised me how much I enjoyed this book. If he wrote a series about the main character I would read every single book! It was warm, witty and touching.

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan: Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
I keep saying this title to the tone of "Joey and Janice's Day of Fun", but leaving that aside, the premise of this book sounded great - a boy is browsing the shelves of his favourite bookstore and happens upon a red notebook daring him to begin an adventure. The author of the notes, Lily, is a dreamer (and has serious temper issues judging by the screaming and tantrums that regularly crop up). The finder, Dash, is a hipster and really bloody annoyed me. The whole book annoyed me - it was more like a book of questions than a book of dares, and I thought Lily was miles too good for Dash. He reminded me instantly of Jesse Eisenberg, who I am not a fan of, and who I have mixed up with Michael Cera, who played the male lead in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, written by the same authors. Not my cup of tea at all, I was glad to finish it.


Ben Goldacre: Bad Science
Technically I started this way back in April, but I finally finished it in July. It's not the type of book I could sit down and read straight, I had to keep going back a chapter at a time. Ben Goldacre debunks lots of popular treatments and fads, using very funny examples like creating a toxic foot bath for a Barbie. The book was enjoyable, but the one part that had me crying laughing was the one about Dr. Gillian McKeith claiming that
green vegetables have more chlorophyll and oxygenate blood: "Is chlorophyll high in oxygen? No. It helps to make oxygen. In sunlight. And it's pretty dark in your bowels...even if Dr. Gillian McKeith PhD stuck a searchlight right up your bum to prove her point, and your salad began photosynthesizing... you still wouldn't absorb a significant amount of it through your bowel, because your bowel is adapted to absorb food, while your lungs are optimized to absorb oxygen. You do not have gills in your bowels." Brilliant!!

Kate Karyus Quinn - Another Little Piece
I first heard about this on one of Lindsay Hearts Books haul videos, and I immediately wanted to read it. A week before her 18th birthday, Annaliese Gordon is at a party in the woods with lots of other young people. During the party, Annaliese emerges from the woods, covered in blood, runs screaming, and is not seen again...until she turns up halfway across the country, almost a year later, suffering from memory loss. This is not a run-of-the-mill missing person book - I got completely and utterly lost after about 30 pages until I realised that there's a strong Supernatural element at play here (think The Skeleton Key mixed with The Buffy episode The Wish and a dash of teen angst) and Annaliese is not who or what she seems. This is a really unique book, something I hadn't read before, but man - that ending. Still haven't a clue what happened. It's still worth a read, see if you can decipher it and get back to me!

Tawni O'Dell - One of Us (Netgalley)
This book is about Sheridan "Danny" Doyle, who is a forensic psychologist based in Philadelphia. Danny hails from the small mining town of Lost Creek, but has avoided going back there for a long time. When his Grandfather falls ill, Danny returns - and as luck would have it, he discovers a dead body. While he's in Lost Creek, he begins to discover that all he thought he knew about his family is at risk - and there's someone else back in the Creek too, determined to get what's rightfully theirs...I really enjoyed this book, the villian was at times almost cartoon-like in their evilness. This has been compared to Gone Girl but it's nothing like that.

RANT:  I actually wish we could stop comparing every thriller to Gone Girl and every romance to Me Before You. They immediately make me all judgey and I don't like it, it's not fair on the books. This is more than good enough to stand up on its own without having to depend on a Gillian Flynn comparison. And while I'm on that subject, in my humble opinion, Sharp Objects was a million times better than Gone Girl. /RANT.

I read these last three books after the booktube-a-thon.


Katlyn Duncan: This Summer (Netgalley)
Hadley and her friend Lily are determined to spend their last summer before college having fun. They both have jobs at Hadley's Dad's summer camp, and are looking forward to a summer of freedom after Hadley split up with her boyfriend of a year. The only problem is, someone from Hadley's past has returned. How will they deal with seeing each other again after he walked out on her without saying a word more than two years ago? This is geared more towards teenagers, but it was a light summer read and I enjoyed reading a book about a summer camp again. There is one particularly hot scene which surprised me, so I wouldn't be handing this to a 13 or 14 year old, but anyone over 16 would enjoy it.

Mhairi McFarlane: You Had me at Hello
The blurb says - "what if the one that got away came back?" but this is my bugbear with this book - he doesn't just "come back", she practically hunts him down because time and consequences suit her. Even though she rejected him several years before, and he's now married. If you're married, this will irk you. It's not that anyone cheats as such - but the thoughts of someone getting back in contact with a man they were very close to years ago and then practically obsessing over him (immediately condemning his wife to be a bitch, of course) doesn't sit well with me. The same with a husband who is supposedly happily married but has no problem mocking his wife in front of a former University friend or having secret lunch meetings to give dating advice to said "friend". I didn't enjoy it, it dragged (but yet nothing happened) and the two main characters deserved each other because they were both awful.

Karin Slaughter: Cop Town (Netgalley)
This is one of the best books I've read this year, and I'm almost ashamed to say that it's my first Karin Slaughter book. I wrote a separate blog post all about it, because it deserves a post to itself. It's brilliant.

So, that's it! 19 books for July, my favourites were definitely the Karin Slaughter, Ken Wheaton and Virginia Bergin ones. I'm well on my way with my August reads, which include Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent, the first pick for Rick O'Sheas book club. If you want to join, have a look at the facebook group here and get reading!




Thursday, July 31, 2014

Book Review: Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Hi!

I do have a "What I read in July" post coming up next week, but I thought this deserved a review all to itself.


" This woman's lib stuff works for rich girls, but all you've got going for you is your face and your figure. You need to take advantage of both before you lose them"

So says Terry Lawson, uncle of Atlanta Police Officers Jimmy and Maggie Lawson. There's a shooter on the loose - he's targeting cops, and he's not showing signs of slowing down any time soon. When Jimmy's partner gets killed, Maggie (along with new recruit Kate Murphy) steps things up a gear and tries to get some answers - but this does not go down well with the male officers. This book covers the events of one week. Will the shooter be caught, or will there be more casualties first?

Sexism, misogyny, racism, segregation and homophobia are rampant on the streets and in homes. Maggie raises some really valid theories about the killer, but is immediately dismissed and told to shut up. Her Uncle is in control of all the money in the household, and has no problem shutting Maggie up with his fists if he doesn't agree with what she says. The female officers are verbally abused, groped, and taunted by most of the men, and this is all completely expected. They expect the drawing of the penis on the ladies' changing room door every morning. They expect new recruits to be given the wrong size uniforms on purpose. They expect to be hit on, fondled, and groped. They expect to be called sugar, princess, doll, sweetheart. It's just what happens. The male officers do not want the women there, doing a man's job. Black officers and White officers agree only on one thing: that women should not be wearing that uniform.

Never in my life have I been more disgusted or annoyed while reading a book than I was by Terry Lawson in this book. He is vile, absolutely abhorrent. To think that there are men out there like that, with his viewpoint on society and on women (and there are, because I know it still exists) is beyond comprehension. He riled me something rotten, to the point that I was wishing for a bullet with his name on. I HATED him. The amount of adversity and downright bullshit those women had to put up with was unbelievable. They were every bit as intelligent as the males, moreso in some cases, but they were dismissed because of their sex.

The main character in this book for me is Atlanta. As Kate's father in the book says, "There is no one city"  - two people could live in the same city for years and not experience the same things or see the same people or streets. Everything the female officers experience - that won't be experienced by their families or their friends. After reading this, I wanted to get a feel for the place, so I had a search around - album.atlantahistorycenter.com has an amazing collection of photographs. Just type 1975 into the search box and knock yourself out - I lost hours on that website.

The Atlanta Police Department have one of the most sophisticated websites I've seen in a long time. It has a detailed history of the force, as well as a current interactive map where you can zoom in on different zones and crimes committed. It has also finally reached staffing levels promised by a former Mayor - "2,000 by 2,000".

I found a video from 1974 by a Grady High school student about noise pollution - watch it, it will give you a great idea of what the area was like.



Also worth a read is this article from Atlanta News Anchor Monica Pearson, who became the first black person AND the first woman to read the six o'clock news on TV in Atlanta in 1975 (beating out Oprah Winfrey in the process). What she experienced from some viewers is pretty much in line with the book - pulled over by a condescending prick of a cop for no reason, receiving comments from viewers like " Put a bone in your nose and go back to Africa" or "N*gger, get off the air". 

Karin Slaughter herself uploaded a video of an interview with a female police officer in Atlanta in 1975, I think that you should watch it if you're planning on reading Cop Town. It gives such a great insight into the minds of women like Kate and Maggie at the time.



The two main female characters - Maggie and Kate - were brilliant. I feel a little sad that the book is over and I don't get to read any more about them! The story itself was fantastic too. I didn't guess anything and I was in no rush to get to the end. Everything was wrapped up perfectly.

One of the best books I've read in 2014 by far, thank you to the publisher for granting my request to read it on Netgalley.