Thursday, 30 May 2013

monthly roundup: may 2013

Not a lot of commentary this month as I'm currently spending my days in the British Library Newspaper Archives in London. On the plus side, there's a little more music in the monthly mix today! The news in brief: book of the month = Paper Aeroplanes, movie of the month = Fast & Furious 5.

books read

Dawn O'Porter - Paper Aeroplanes (7/10)
Graeme Simsion - The Rosie Project (5/10)
Andrea Cremer & David Levithan - Invisibility (5/10)
Natasha Farrant - The Things We Did For Love (6/10)

new movies watched

Iron Man 3 (8/10)
Little Miss Sunshine (7/10)
Scott Pilgrim vs The World (6/10)
Star Trek Into Darkness (9/10)
Casablanca (9/10)
Fast and Furious (6/10)
Fast and Furious 5 (8/10)
Fast and Furious 6 (7/10)
The Great Gatsby (6/10)



Get Lucky (Vanderway Remix) - Daft Punk
Get Free (Vacationer Remix) - Major Lazer
Dreams (Fleetwood Mac Cover) - Bastille ft. Gabrielle Aplin
Midnight Scrubs (TLC vs. M83) - lobsterdust
Peaks - SPEAK
Diamonds - The Boxer Rebellion
Modern Hearts (feat. St Lucia) - The Knocks
Right Here (feat. Foxes) - Rudimental
Adornocene (Bon Iver vs Miguel) - The Hood Internet
Radioactive vs Radioactive - Imagine Dragons & Marina and the Diamonds
Crosses (Dinner Date Remix) - Jose Gonzalez
Fireproof - The National
Get Lucky (Daft Punk cover) - Daughter

Saturday, 25 May 2013

things making me happy: 25 may 2013

things making me happy this week

Just the one this week...

Last weekend's Mad Men


This ep was so off the wall that it's a week later and I still don't know if I loved the episode or if I even understand half of what it was trying to say! Watching it for the first time was quite the headfuck but amongst all the craziness the Stan/Peggy scenes were everything I hadn't realised I wanted at this point. I love their dynamic this season and I'm really excited to see where it goes.

Also, there was this...

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

book review: the things we did for love by natasha farrant

The Things We Did For Love by Natasha Farrant
Genre: Historical YA
Rating: 6/10
As war rages in Europe, teenagers Luc and Arianne fall passionately in love. But German forces are closing in and Luc, desperate to atone for his family's past, is drawn into the dangerous world of the Resistance. Arianne will do almost anything to keep him safe, but someone else is secretly in love with her - someone who will stop at nothing to get rid of his rival...

This review is proof that I find it very difficult to differentiate between how I feel about a book and how good a book actually is. I think this book does all that it sets out to do and as a book meant for teens I think it would probably work really well as an introduction to war fiction. The plot is loosely based on real events during the French Occupation (if you'd like to know which ones click here) though the central characters and their relationships are fictional. The Things We Did for Love is compelling - I read it in two sittings - and although the book isn't very long (only about 230 pages) I did get a real sense of place and the character dynamics were really efficiently set out. In all those respects the book is good, it works but ultimately, I was left feeling a little unsatisfied.

I love war stories and I love YA but I'm beginning to realise that war stories told in historical YA don't work for me. My problem with The Things We Did for Love is that the story it establishes is one in which the choices made by Luc, Arianne, Romy and their families directly contribute to later events. They make choices and those choices have consequences. But the book finishes too soon and crucially, changes the narrator for the final section, so that we don't get to see the characters coming to terms with what they set in motion. Questions of morality are always complicated, especially so in war time yet the book's conclusion ends up negating the moral ambiguities of our protagonists' actions by ending with an event which we can all understand as being terrible and unforgivable. I love that books such as this are telling stories in which teenage characters are agents whose actions do have an impact but I want to read books which are expressly about those choices and their consequences. I want books which not only raise questions of agency and complicity but which explicitly explore them through character arcs.

Some of the best discussions of conflict and rebellion etc. occur in YA (Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking Trilogy is a really glorious example of this) but they always seem to be lacking in YA based on 'real' history. I acknowledge that as a 24yr old historian I'm probably not considered to be among this book's target audience and, like I said before, I think the book succeeds with what it wants to do (namely tell the story of a historical atrocity in a way that will most engage a teenage audience) but it raises some interesting questions about the difference between using fictional characters to tell war stories and using fictional wars to tell character stories.

Monday, 20 May 2013

book review: invisibility by andrea cremer and david levithan

Invisibility by Andrea Cremer & David Levithan
Genre: Paranormal(ish!) YA
Rating: 5/10
Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.

If any book was going to deal with 'looking beneath the surface' you'd think that it'd be a book about invisibility but this book fell flat to me because it was ALL surface. The main characters were both fine but as the book pretty much starts (there's a 5 page info dump to spell out the 'rules' of Stephen's invisibility) with Stephen/Elizabeth's meet-cute their back-stories are never fully developed and their personalities never really rounded out - they're given 'ticks' (Elizabeth likes comics, Stephen likes the park) but it was too easy to misinterpret who was narrating each chapter. More importantly, the book doesn't get the balance of magical realism right. For the first 100pages it reads like your standard contemporary YA - girl moves to new city, meets cute boy next door, they flirt, fall in love, but he has a secret etc. - in which one of the characters just happens to be invisible. Then the magic is revealed (Stephen's invisibility is the result of a curse) but the mythology of this magic is never really developed - there's very little history and there's no sense of the magical realm extending beyond our characters. You could MAYBE get away with this superficial mythology IF the magic was simply a vehicle to enable the authors to tell a story focussed on the experience of invisibility and how Stephen navigates through the world knowing that he can never really be a part of it but the book isn't doing that. The book isn't about what it means to be invisible and the magic isn't the subject of the story so in the end I was left feeling more than a little confused as to what the point of it all was.

Recommended if you want standard contemp YA with a dash of Neil Gaiman but if you like your fantasy with plenty of world-building I'd give this a miss.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

things making me happy: 18 may 2013

things making me happy this week

#1 - The Fast & Furious Franchise

I don't believe in 'guilty pleasures'. You like what you like and, as long as you're not hurting anyone, good for you. I do, of course, acknowledge that the quality of pop culture (be it music or films or television) does vary and there are some things which are objectively bad, but your enjoyment of something is made no less valid because it's poor quality.

With that in mind, I fully accept that these are not good films - the dialogue is terrible, the acting's not so great and the plots are full of holes - BUT I LOVE THEM ANYWAY! In preparation for F&F6 I rewatched the movies that matter (1 & 4-6 - 2&3 are better forgotten!) and realised just how much I like them. I love the central dynamic between Dom and Brian and later on with the ensemble - found families just give me a lot of feelings! The movies are ridiculous but they're funny and have some heart and considering that they exist in what tends to be a pretty bullshitty genre, they get extra kudos for being action movies which feature and celebrate both people of colour and ladies.

So I saw F&F6 yesterday and it was pretty great! OBVIOUSLY it was flawed - the set pieces were huge leaving little room for the sincere (but usually horribly written!) conversations/character pieces and all the action sequences had been spoiled by the trailers BUT it was funny, there were lots of call backs to the earlier films (the titles were a best-of sequence!), they managed to give all the characters something to do, the action sequences were INSANE and I JUST REALLY LIKE MOVIES ABOUT PEOPLE WHO LOVE EACH OTHER! It's by no means profound but it is the perfect mix of 'HOLY CRAP!' and 'I LOVE YOU GUYS!'

#2 - That Man of Steel promotion is ramping up

This is probably the film that I've been most excited about this year and we're so close now! I'm very happy that we're starting to get more promo material after years of silence.

Hope you're all having a nice weekend and that plenty of things are making you happy!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

book haul; may 2013

This is always a funny time of year for me in terms of reading. The sun comes out and there's nothing I want more than to sit outside with a good book but as I'm now in dissertation mode I spend most of the day in front of academic articles or historical texts and after hours of this 'heavy' reading I don't always feel like reading fun stuff! I wanted to make sure I posted something this week but I haven't finished anything recently (I'm currently halfway through 'Invisibility' by Andrea Cremer & David Levithan) so we'll have to make do with a book haul!

Having bought plenty of books over the Easter vacation I wasn't planning on adding much more to my shelves in May but that hasn't worked out so well! Who am I to turn down buy one get one half price, 2 for £5 and £5 off if you spend £12 offers! It wouldn't be so bad but I've spent most of my free time in the last few weeks watching movies (Star Trek! Iron Man 3!) instead of reading so I'm adding much more to my TBR pile than I'm getting through!

I'm looking forward to all of these but am particularly excited about getting to The Quietness, The Things We Did For Love and The Teleportation Accident. (The latter is definitely a contender for my favourite cover of the year!).

Have any of you acquired any particularly beautiful books this month?

Saturday, 11 May 2013

things making me happy: 11 may 2013

As I mentioned in my monthly roundup post last week I recently started listening to the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour Podcast (you can see the blog here). I love the discussions and reviews they have on the show but my favourite part is always the final segment called 'What's making you happy this week?' - it's really nice to hear people being excited and enthusiastic about pop culture and unabashedly sharing things that they enjoy, no matter how silly! Assuming that the world/blogosphere can never have too much happiness or enthusiasm, I figured that I'd steal the idea and make it a feature here!

things making me happy this week

#1 - Elizabeth Wein has written a companion novel to Code Name Verity!

Code Name Verity is one of my favourite novels - it's beautiful and heartbreaking and just wonderful - so it is safe to say that I am THRILLED that Elizabeth Wein is writing more about lady pilots in WW2!

Rose Justice is a young American ATA pilot, delivering planes and taxiing pilots for the RAF in the UK during the summer of 1944. A budding poet who feels most alive while flying, she discovers that not all battles are fought in the air. An unforgettable journey from innocence to experience from the author of the best-selling, multi-award-nominated Code Name Verity. From the exhilaration of being the youngest pilot in the British air transport auxiliary, to the aftermath of surviving the notorious Ravensbruck women's concentration camp, Rose's story is one of courage in the face of adversity.
According to Amazon, Rose Under Fire will be released in the UK on 3rd June 2013.

#2 - I saw Star Trek Into Darkness and IT WAS EXCELLENT!

I saw it on Thursday and I'm still a little giddy! I'll probably be going to see it again this week and may well dedicate a whole post to it because it was awesomesauce and I want to gush!

#3 - John Krasinski & Jimmy Fallon's Lip Sync Battle

Handsomeness + hilarity = happiness!

Feel free to share some of your favourite things in the comments! I hope you all have a lovely weekend!

Friday, 10 May 2013

book review: the rosie project by graeme simsion

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Rating: 5/10
Don Tillman is a socially challenged genetics professor who's decided the time has come to find a wife. His questionnaire is intended to weed out anyone who's unsuitable. The trouble is, Don has rather high standards and doesn't really do flexible so, despite lots of takers - he looks like Gregory Peck - he's not having much success in identifying The One.

When Rosie Jarman comes to his office, Don assumes it's to apply for the Wife Project - and duly discounts her on the grounds she smokes, drinks, doesn't eat meat, and is incapable of punctuality. However, Rosie has no interest in becoming Mrs Tillman and is actually there to enlist Don's assistance in a professional capacity: to help her find her biological father.

Sometimes, though, you don't find love: love finds you...

To make sure that our choices are varied my book club chooses a book from a different genre every month - this month's genre was romance and we settled on The Rosie Project as an alternative to more traditional romance novels. I was quite looking forward to reading something light and fluffy. In many ways this was an easy read - the plot is quite straight forward and it's not intellectually or emotionally challenging - but I actually found this quite a stressful reading experience.

To be fair to Graeme Simsion, most of my anxiety had little to do with the content/form of the book but with the subject - I've been burned so many times by attempts to make comedy out of mental health/behaviour disorders (see: The Big Bang Theory and Silver Linings Playbook) that I spent the whole time just waiting for this to descend in to stereotyping and claims that 'putting yourself out there' is the cure for social disorders. In fairness, the book avoided saying anything particularly offensive (though I raged a little at the insinuation that Don was 'playing up' his neuroses for attention) but I was on tenterhooks the whole time. Obviously, this wasn't helped by the fact that the book was marketed as a romance so I was pre-emptively irritated by the inevitable 'love cures (or at least smooths over!) all' ending.

This book is set in Australia but I kept forgetting that! The only time it was really obvious was when they made reference to time differences after travelling to New York - otherwise it was quite easy to assume Britishness/American-ness! I really enjoyed Don's voice throughout though I wish there had been more of his backstory (especially about his relationship with his family). The ending was fairly predictable - I would have much preferred an open and slightly vague ending compared to the rushed and overly neat one we got but it was the ending regular romance readers would want/expect.

Because of my sensitivity to mental illness etc. I found the book more stressful than other readers might and that detracted a lot from my experience of reading this. It didn't resonate with me personally but I can see the appeal for people who want a gentle story to read in a lazy afternoon.

Monday, 6 May 2013

book review: paper aeroplanes by dawn o'porter

Paper Aeroplanes by Dawn O'Porter
Genre: Contemporary YA, British
Rating: 7/10
It's the mid-1990s, and fifteen year-old Guernsey schoolgirls, Renée and Flo, are not really meant to be friends. Thoughtful, introspective and studious Flo couldn't be more different to ambitious, extroverted and sexually curious Renée. But Renée and Flo are united by loneliness and their dysfunctional families, and an intense bond is formed. Although there are obstacles to their friendship (namely Flo's jealous ex-best friend and Renée's growing infatuation with Flo's brother), fifteen is an age where anything can happen, where life stretches out before you, and when every betrayal feels like the end of the world. For Renée and Flo it is the time of their lives.

The tagline for Paper Aeroplanes is 'The story of a friendship': never has a tagline been so on the nose! At its heart this is simply a book about what it means to be a girl at 15 and how much of that experience is pinned on to your friendships and relationships. Alternating between the POV of Renée and Flo, the perspectives change but they always ring true. The book is set in 1994/5 so it pre-dates my teenage experience by about 10 years but there were so many times when I found myself nodding (and cringing) with a sense of 'been there, done that'! I loved both of the girls and was just so happy to be reading something that was so focussed on female characters, their lives and their relationships - this book passes the Bechdel test several times over! Dawn O'Porter really succeeds in portraying teenage friendships as being supportive and loving but also really complicated and fraught with social politics and emotion.

This book is at its best when it's simply letting the girls be and when we're just watching them muddle through the everyday trials of adolescence. The book deals with a lot of 'issues' but the scenes that resonated with me the most were the really simple ones such as Renée describing her favourite dinner and the awkwardness of borrowing things from friends and Flo's struggle to tear herself away from a toxic friendship. I will say that the book got a little carried away with melodrama involving secondary characters in the last quarter which I could have done without - I would rather have just spent the time with Renée and Flo!

This is the third book published by Hot Key Books that I've read this year (I'm proof that promotion via Twitter and blogs works!) and it's great to see British YA flourishing. Of those three novels this is by far the most British in style and tone, you can tell that it's literary heritage is Adrian Mole and Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging as opposed to Judy Blume and Sarah Dessen! It deals with things such as periods, sex and complex family relationships with humour but also with brutal frankness. In particular I really loved how it dealt with sex, addressing it openly with no sense of hysteria or judgement. The book's frank tone meant that not only were characters allowed to have sex but that references were made to oral sex and condoms in a way that felt really natural. The style might not appeal to readers more familiar with the more glossy contemporary YA but I found this perspective really refreshing.

Overall, I really enjoyed Paper Aeroplanes for its honesty and heart and its refusal to smooth-out or ignore the unglamorous awkwardness of being a teenager. It's an excellent debut novel which I highly recommend.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

monthly roundup: april 2013

I hope that everyone had a lovely April! I got to spend most of mine at home which was lovely - I didn't do a whole lot of work but I did get to play a lot of MarioKart, watch lots of musicals and spend time with my family!

In addition to the books and movies I'm also really loving this season of Mad Men. Knowing that I like Mad Men is a constant in my life but it's only when it's airing that I remember just how much I love it. I'm so into it at the moment that I can't cope with just one ep a week so I'm rewatching the whole series! It's so interesting being able to directly compare S6 with the much earlier stuff. I just love that it rewards close watching.

I also started listening to the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast this month and I love it - their commentary is intelligent and engaged and so full of love. I'm so jealous that people get to talk about pop culture as a job!

Anyway, here's the monthly run-down. There are lots of remixes/mashups in this month's playlist - it's spring, time for the upbeat music!

books read

Rachel Hartman - Seraphina (7/10)
Lydia Syson - A World Between Us (6/10)
Ernest Cline - Ready Player One (8/10)
James Dasher - The Maze Runner (5/10)
Sally Gardner - Maggot Moon (8/10)

new movies watched

The Host (5/10)
West Side Story (8/10)
Oblivion (7/10)
Funny Face (7/10)
A Late Quartet (8/10)



Hollywood Blvd - RAC x Penguin Prison x Empire of the Sun x Felix da Housecat x TEED
We Belong Together (It Ain't Over 'til It's Over) - Mariah Carey x Lenny Kravitz x K'naan x Max Herre
Ignition (1901 Remix) - R. Kelly vs. Phoenix
Ghost Machine, Where Have You Been - Rihanna, Florence Welch x Deadmau5
I Knew You Had A Heart Attack - Taylor Swift vs. Demi Levato
How Ya Doin'? - Little Mix
Habits - Tove Lo
Analyser - Aluna George
Imagine It Was Us - Jessie Ware
Oblivion (feat. Susanne Sundfør) - M83

book review: maggot moon by sally gardner

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Genre: Dystopian YA, Sci-Fi
Rating: 8/10
What if the football hadn’t gone over the wall. On the other side of the wall there is a dark secret. And the devil. And the Moon Man. And the Motherland doesn’t want anyone to know. But Standish Treadwell — who has different-colored eyes, who can’t read, can’t write, Standish Treadwell isn’t bright — sees things differently than the rest of the "train-track thinkers." So when Standish and his only friend and neighbor, Hector, make their way to the other side of the wall, they see what the Motherland has been hiding. And it’s big...

I wasn't going to do a review of this because, as you'll see, I don't have much to say beyond, 'This is great. You should read it!' but it's a British book which I haven't seen discussed very much within the blogosphere and I just wanted to draw some attention to it.

Maggot Moon is a hard book to review because it's one of those books which is more of an experience than a story. It's not long or even particularly complicated but it's one of those books that demands to be felt and you should all get to experience it first-hand. All you need to know is this: it's set in a dystopian world (obviously modelled on the European dictatorships of the C20), it's told through first-person narration of dyslexic teenager Standish, it's dark but shot through with humour and hope, and it contains some of the most effective use of illustration I've ever seen. It's a quick read (it's made up of 100 really short chapters) but it'll leave its mark - you'll be thinking about it for days.

It's great. You should read it!