The Clasp by Sloane Crosley These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

RTW- Laugh Factory

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This Week's Topic is: Good for a laugh: who is your favorite comedian or funny book and/or movie?

Favourite Comedian

This is a really difficult question. I love our British humour. I have fond memories of howling with laughter at Fawlty Towers, Keeping Up Appearances, The Real McCoy, Goodness Gracious Me and Absolutely Fabulous. Apparently I really liked Spitting Image too even though I was only seven when it ended. However, this makes sense as I am sure the main reason I laughed was because it was all about impressions. I love a good impressions show. I also love all the funny women who are killing it at the moment (didn't Amy and Tina do well the other day?!). Therefore, as I am dragging my 2012 patriotism for Queen and Country lark kicking and screaming into 2013, I think I will give this one to funny lady and fellow Brit Ronni Ancona. 
I know my friends and I would spend a lot of time in the playground doing impressions of her impressions. Incidentally, I was lucky enough to attend a discussion on women in comedy with Ronni Ancona and Ruby Wax- needless to say I was a little starstruck!
But here's Amy and Tina anyway. One of my favourite zingers of the night was when Amy Poehler said to Ben Affleck "I'm from Boston too...You're not better than me". 

Favourite Funny Book

Hmmm, I don't tend to read too many funny books. Most have humour in them somewhere but very few are comedy books. From my recent reads, I thought Swim the Fly by Don Calame was quite funny. However, the king of all awkward, precocious teens is Mr Adrian Mole. I've read the first two diaries over and over again since I was about twelve. If you've never read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, I suggest you to go and buy it right away. 

Favourite Funny Film

I couldn't possibly choose! So many: Zoolander, East Is East, The Hangover, Matilda (!), Mean Girls, Confetti, Napolean Dynamite (Eat the food!), Team America...the list could go on and on. 

Hey Girls, Your Boy Done All Right

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Oscar nominations were released on Thursday. The Critics' Choice Awards happened that evening. The Golden Globes are tomorrow. Everything is going off and I have only seen ONE film in the running (Silver Lining's Playbook- it was good but Oscar worthy? Well, that's a topic for another day) so I have a lot of catching up to do. Why then did I find myself in the cinema at 9pm last night watching Gangster Squad?! 

I have to say, I was a little bit worried about this film. I haven't been able to get a handle on perception of this film- I think a lot of people wanted to like it so they went in open minded and came out generous with their words. This is partly because they- no, we, because I feel the same way- want Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling to continue doing well. They have that likeability factor that you just cannot fake (did you hear that Eva? You know I think you're pretty cool but the others aren't going to come around so easily). Alas, this is not an analysis of celebrity and the 'X' factor. 

Gangster Squad was fun. It was a good Friday night film that didn't require too much thinking- just sit back, relax and take in the (sometimes gory) visuals. There were some nice little stylistic bits- slow-mo's, tricks with guns and lighters, the bit with the cuckoo Carmen Miranda style performance. Even though the setting was 1949, the style of the film reminded me of those late 80s and 90s action films (Christmas tree bit and Die Hard, anyone?). 

The cast worked really well together. Everyone brought their own slice of cool to the table. Josh Brolin was brilliant as the act first, think second Sgt John O'Mara. Sean Penn brought the crazy for villain Mickey Cohen. Emma Stone worked well with what little character development she had. As for your boy...he played the wingman really well. Not being the leading man allowed him to camp it up with little quirks such as the high pitched voice (every time he spoke, I thought of Connie Corleone for some reason) and the girly drinks. He got to do the charming, 'aw shucks, I got the girl' best friend bit again, which bought him legions of fans after his turn in Crazy, Stupid, Love (not surprising as that was his most accessible film during that busy 2011). 

For once, I don't have much to say about the score. It wasn't bad but it didn't stand out either. There were a couple of Hans Zimmer 'whomps' I think, which seemed a little out of place but I have just checked who composed it and it's Transformers' Steve Jablonsky (no matter what you think of those films, you have to admit the score is pretty epic- if you like that kind of thing that is) so I give him a pass.

Overall, go and see Gangster Squad if you want a well deserved break from awards season mania. In the meantime, watch the trailer for The Place Beyond The Pines, which was attached to Gangster Squad (at least over here). Everyone fell silent when it began and then afterwards there was a cacophony of whispered 'we have to see that' as everyone turned to their companions. I love the piano piece towards the end. Anyway, just watch...

How To Save A Life by Sara Zarr

Publisher: Usborne Publishing Ltd
Format: Kindle e-book
Rating: 4/5

This book has been sitting on my Kindle for months even though it was on my must reads of the year list, last year. I finally got to it this week and I was really impressed. 

Jill is still grieving the loss of her father when her mother decides it would be a good idea to adopt a new baby. Better still, why not make it an open adoption,  without any advice from social workers or lawyers, and invite the young mother to stay? Enter Mandy. Needless to say, Jill is not impressed. 

How To Save A Life plots the ups and downs experienced by Mandy, Jill and Robin- all of whom have their own issues- as they prepare for the arrival of the new baby. I love Sara Zarr's style of writing and I respect her for approaching challenging topics. She has a way of reeling you in and getting you to really think. I remember this experience from reading Once Was Lost (which I loved. If anyone has any other recommendations for other exploration of faith type books, I would be most grateful). Not much happened in this story in terms of action- it wasn't fast paced at all. However, by the end, I really felt close to the characters and I genuinely wanted the best for all of them.  Also, the ending was brilliant- I had no idea this was possible. 

I am a firm believer that one of the greatest gifts you can give someone (other than your time) is a home and a sense of belonging, therefore I truly appreciated the essence of this book. Coincidently, this week an adoption map was released in the UK showing the areas that have the highest number of children waiting to be adopted. 

This was a good read and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a YA novel that will make them think.

It would be a crime to not include this song, right?

The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp by Eva Rice

Monday, January 7, 2013

Publisher: Heron Books (an imprint of Quercus Books)
Format: Bound proof
Rating: 5/5

I absolutely adored The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp. Eva Rice’s The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is definitely one of my favourite books so I had high hopes for her latest novel and I was certainly not disappointed. Many thanks to The Reading Room and Quercus Books for sending me this wonderful novel.

The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp follows Tara from childhood to late teens. One of a large family of even larger characters, Tara’s ability to sing allows her to stand out a little from her siblings. Chance meetings and childhood friends come good means that Tara ends up in London with a blossoming singing career amidst the backdrop of the rock ‘n roll 50’s giving way to the swinging 60’s. Familiar faces- both real and fictitious- pepper Tara’s whirlwind seventeenth year, opening her eyes and heart to new experiences and new ideas.

Coming of age tales are ten a penny but very few are so rich and satisfying without being over the top, poignant without being contrived. I loved that Tara was so no-nonsense and true to herself without being a typical rebel. She was very much an ordinary girl thrown into an extraordinary situation. Well, at least it was extraordinary to us. When you are part of the now, you don’t ever realise history is being made.

Obviously, it helps that I really enjoy reading and watching films about this period of time- and don’t get me started on the music!- but I was really blown away by the fullness of this novel. There were many characters spanning all age groups but each felt fully formed and distinctive, which is not an easy feat.  Also, endings are often difficult and a little flat but the ‘Afterword’ was good- one that I wouldn’t mind happening to me and that’s what a good book is all about, no?

I’m not one for all these adaptations but I truly believe this would make an excellent mini series on BBC4 or something. I would watch it anyway. It would be a brilliant platform for fresh talent along with perhaps some more established actors in the older roles (Tom Hiddleston for Billy?).

I can’t even begin to delve into the themes of the story without giving anything away but I was genuinely moved by the building preservation storyline. In and around London we are constantly witnessing our colourful and eclectic heritage being bulldozed away in favour of these uniform boxes and it is heartbreaking. A chapter towards the end summed up all these feelings in an eloquent yet informative fashion.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and no doubt it will join that very small list of books that I regularly re-read. 

Mm whatcha say: Taking the N - Word an Nth Too Far

Sunday, January 6, 2013

As I walked into the kitchen this morning, I was greeted by my sister sitting flabbergasted at the table reading The Style magazine. She then proceeded to show me that an article entitled 'Don't Call Me Dude' had used the N word in a guide to 'Manspeak'. I glanced at the article and sure enough, there it was- albeit using the slang spelling rather than the 'er'. At first I was angry and then I just felt disappointed. I thought perhaps it was written by a newbie, man-boy fresh out of Goldsmiths or whatever, trying to earn his stripes but no the piece was written by Stephen Armstrong- an accomplished journalist. 

So, how did this happen? How did The N- Word end up in a supplement of my favourite newspaper, The Sunday Times? Well, first of all it must be down to laziness and poor editing. No doubt, he asked a couple of 'youf' about the latest slang on the streets and then just copied them down verbatim without considering the repercussions. Sure, there are probably some people who use this word to refer to one another (although none that I know) but considering the controversial nature and the never-ending debate on who can and cannot use this word- or rather should and should not- surely the editor should have said said 'hang on a minute, do we really want to print this one Stephen?' Thus, we have a failure in the departments of common sense and in basic editing skills.

However, there is a greater minefield to navigate. The word has invaded mainstream media and culture more and more over the past few years and we are weaving a very tangled web. Firstly, we have that song with arguably one of the sickest beats of this decade being blared everywhere from clubs to shops to incidental music on current affairs pieces. I was lucky enough to attend one of the Watch the Throne concerts and I distinctly remember my sister hitting me and saying 'did he just say what I think he said?' looking at the man behind us who was f'ing and n'ing with relish. I shrugged. It's complicated. How can I have a go at him when the very man who created the song is pointing back at us, raring us up, and shouting it to the rooftops? Yet at the same time, I felt really uncomfortable. What about the guy who was let off for shouting the n-word across the street because he is a hip hop fan? Is this a viable excuse nowadays? Should I just sign off and forget this discussion because maybe Stephen Armstrong is a hip-hop fan, therefore he is entitled to print the n-word in a reputable British paper? If this is logical reasoning at work, then I need to have my degree revoked because I would have never passed with such an argument. 

Secondly, we have the whole Django Unchained hubbub. Now, as soon as I heard about this film I knew I would not be seeing it- at least not in the cinema. Partly because I am not really a Tarantino fan but mostly because I just don't like the vibe the trailer gave off. Obviously, as an avid reader, I know you must not judge a book by it's cover but on the other hand we all have our personal boundaries and I just know this is not my kind of film. However, I am not stopping anyone else seeing it- do as you please. I am a little bit worried though about the liberal use of the n-word. I cringe just thinking about sitting in my local cinema, in my not very diverse town in the suburbs, having that word shouted at me over 200 times whilst my fellow townsfolk guffaw. Awkward.

We are getting to the root of the problem here I think and I apologise in advance for my poor exegesis but here it goes: This film is about slavery. The word is used because it is historically accurate in terms of the context of the film. Fine. Thus, it is demonstrating that this is a derogatory word used by slave owners to denigrate their 'property'. Yet, it is also used by the black characters in the film to refer to one another- like that song, like Stephen's Manspeak. It is used over 200 times, so by the end it is just normal, no? Everybody laughs. Everybody comes out, discusses the film, goes home. Then, in the subconscious of a certain number of people, it is thought to be ok to use this word once again because even though they have just seen that it was used as a derogatory term, the black characters, the bro's, used it in the same way as 'dude'. I can't explain it very well but hopefully you get the picture. This is wrong and I will be disappointed, once again, if this gets any awards for the script. 

Anyway, that's enough ranting and raving for now. The Style magazine should never have printed that word but they think it's ok because the word has been rendered a joke- an 'I don't mean to offend- but I do *wink wink*- thanks to how it has been handled over the past few decades. We're in a bind my friends and I'm not sure how we can get out of it. Rembert Browne over at Grantland explained the situation much better than I ever could so give it a read- here- and let me know what you think. 

Shine Bright Like A Diamond

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Now, I'm not really into beauty products all that much (hair products on the other hand...) but I've been wanting to sort out a skincare regimen for a while. I'm not getting any younger and, as they say, prevention is better than cure. So, after a lot of research (that means trawling The Fashionspot for posts on skincare routine), tallying, and crossing off brands I have already tried and disliked (looking at you Clinique and Clarins) I finally decided on Shiseido and Liz Earle. To be fair, Liz Earle got more raves but I like saying Shiseido. There is no place for such fickleness when it comes to skincare I hear you cry but Shiseido is a reputable brand- I could do a lot worse.

Anyway, I've started with the Shiseido 1, 2, 3 routine and so far I like what I see- skin definitely looks brighter. However, I prefer the smell of Liz Earle stuff so I might move onto that one soon. Smell is important, no? My friend and I were talking about this the other day. How can you walk around with something on your face all day when you dislike the smell? It just cannot be done. What do you think? 

I have also signed up for three months of goodies at Glossybox so fingers crossed I get some nice little testers. I'm not very good at committing to one product (as you can probably guess) so I thought this would be an interesting thing to do for a while. 

Next on the beauty agenda is to find a mascara that is good for people with sensitive eyes. But for now, which skincare brands do you prefer? 

Dare Me by Megan Abbott

Friday, January 4, 2013

Publisher: Picador
Format: Hardback
Rating: 2/5

I've had this on my shelf for a while as a result of a little rampage through Waterstones Piccadilly. I am currently trying to get through the rest of that pile whilst also devouring my copy of The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp by Eva Rice, courtesy of Quercus Books, to whom I am extremely grateful as I have been waiting for a new Eva Rice for a long time. A review will be with you shortly.

But I digress, back to Dare Me. Addy and Beth are your typical gruesome, twosome queen bee-yotchs that are now a staple of high school novels. Oh, and they're also cheerleaders- fancy that? However, the arrival of the tightly wound Coach French and a couple of recruiting officers halts double trouble in their tracks and their lives are turned upside down as they partake in a deadly game of  one-upmanship. 

I still don't really know what to make of this book. From the cover, to the blurb, to the subject matter, it seemed like it was my cup of tea. However, I felt absolutely no connection with any of the characters or even the plot. There are just no motives behind the actions- some of which are truly absurd. Why does Coach behave that way? What happened to her? What happened to Beth and Addy? Where are their parents? It was frustrating! There were just pages and pages of words that in the end amounted to very little indeed. 

Overall, this just wasn't for me. I really wanted to like it because there's so much potential for a dark, gritty, electric tale but it fell flat in my honest opinion. Give it a whirl if you come across a paperback or cheap e-book version. Let me know if you gleaned something I might have missed. 

The Good Father by Diane Chamberlain

Publisher: Mira
Format: Kindle e-book
Rating: 3/5

I purchased this e-book after reading the review at Book Addiction.

Travis is a single father in his early twenties who is in desperate need of a visit from lady luck. After a tragic accident, Travis and his four year old daughter Bella are forced to live in his van whilst he looks for work in the Chapel Hill area of North Carolina. With no other options immediately available, Travis is forced to accept a dangerous job offer that puts everybody else's life in jeopardy. As a result, he must rely upon the kindness of strangers and a few blasts from the past to help him untangle his sticky situation. 

I liked this book. It was a nice, quick and easy read. The book is split between the voices of Travis, Erin (the kind stranger) and Robin (the blast from the past). At first, I was annoyed by how quickly the chapters ended and the voice changed again without ever really learning much about the characters, however by the end the stories intertwine quite nicely. The ending was a little twee for my liking (as was the child character, actually) but it fits the genre just fine. 

Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who likes a good old silver linings, everything works out in the end, style book. Better still, get it if you were a fan of that Peyton/ Jake and little Jenny storyline in One Tree Hill.