Sunday, 10 December 2017

A Review of Some Kind of Wonderful

Some Kind of Wonderful is a book by Giovanna Fletcher. Lizzy Richardson has been dating Ian Hall for ten years, since she was 18. When he gets cold feet during a proposal in Dubai and chickens out, Lizzy, while obviously sad, decides to look back over who she is and who she was supposed to be without Ian's influence.

I am not picky. I've read a lot of chick-lit, I like a good deal of the chick-lit I've read. Good chick-lit is fun, sweet escapism, and this was good.

Lizzy had been with Ian since the first week of university. That's a long time, and I don't think she was unreasonable in expecting a proposal. I dare say people change more in their three years at university than they do between the ages of 13-18. You are not a perfectly mature adult at 18. As Lizzy says, she still doesn't know who she is. Her personality was so affected by him during some, shall we say, adult formative years? Ten years together is a long time, and it would be ridiculous not to expect him to influence her a little bit. Much of her stuff is left with memories of him, except for the things he had no interest in. However, she would have naturally grown up and changed over those years, with or without him. One of the best parts is Lizzy modifying Ian's interest in exercise into something which works for her, and redeveloping a healthy relationship with food.

I love that, even though Lizzy is understandably upset, her first reaction is not to fall apart or concentrate on finding a new man, but to use being single as a positive to find out who she is. A lot of this book does show how good it can be to be single, whether that's just eating what you want without judgement or being able to enjoy yourself independently at a party. As someone who has found that single > relationships, I loved this. And there is a lot of girls supporting girls in this book, too! And there is also a lot of girls messing up, making insensitive mistakes, and not thinking things through.

I also don't think Ian is completely to blame. He's been trapped almost by expectations, everyone wanting him to propose and holding on to a relationship that doesn't make him happy any more, mainly because of how long it's been. Just, maybe you could have found a better way to tell her than during what she thought would be a proposal? Also, he's the sort of pretentious that makes me want to shake someone and ask if they've ever had any fun.

This book also makes a point about how the concept of defining your entire life around one person isn't healthy. Don't even get me started on the term other/better half. You are not less of a person because you are not in a relationship, and being in one shouldn't complete you. You are whole without someone else, and while a relationship can enhance your life, it shouldn't become the only thing in it.

The romance is hugely rushed, and that disappointed me because I was hoping for Lizzy and Natalia. Still, it's a refreshing change in chick-lit to have the protagonist realise she's okay by herself. Also, if I could never again see Ross and Rachel or Bella and Edward held up as ideals of perfect couples, I'd be happy.

Recommended for any chick-lit fan, and as quite a lot of it takes place in December and as it's so pretty, it would make a great present!

Monday, 4 December 2017

Movie Review: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes is a 2017 biopic about the famous tennis match of the same name between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. It stars Emma Stone and Steve Carell, and was directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. King (Stone) is one of the top players in Women's tennis, but the ageing Riggs (Carell) claims he could beat any women at the sport. With the upcoming match looking to be one of the most important in the sport, the pressure is on for both of them.

With a movie like this, the characters are it's heart. Stone plays King with charm and vigour - she's really started to show her range in her last few films, and why she is known as one of the greatest actresses of her generation. Carell plays Riggs as someone who you might almost feel sorry for, so comedic that you can't take him seriously and with a surprising depth in how he interacts with his wife and youngest son. It's hinted - almost outright stated - in the film that the male chauvinist pig thing is an act for the cameras. The other female tennis players featured in the film are well-cast and work together well as an ensemble. It is pointed out in the film that even though they compete on the pitch, off the pitch they are supportive of one another. Honestly, I wish they could have had more screentime.

I have to dedicate some portion of this review to talk about King's relationship with who was in the film her hairdresser, Marilyn, since it is almost as important as the match itself. I am not the person to comment on whether it was good representation, however. I didn't know that King liked the same sex, and her work for LGBT rights. From what I understand, they largely embellished the relationship.

I can't quite put my finger on it - maybe it's just the technology and fashions of the time giving it this style - but the movie feels like a film from the 70's. Not just one that was set then, one that was made and shot then. Also, the staging of the tennis match makes it feel like a epic real-life tennis match with the boring bits cut out, where you don't know the outcome. I found myself wanting to jump up in my seat and cheer.

In fact, if this movie has a fault, it is the fact that the result of the match is both known to history and so obvious in the film that it can take some of the tension out of watching. But it still works as a "how we got here," to the point where the movie could have opened with news of King's victory.

I've talked before about how the circumstances in which you watch a movie can influence your perception of it, and this was the first movie I ever watched on my own at a cinema. I found that I could really get lost in the movie, and I wasn't worried about whether the person next to me was enjoying it.

I would recommend this movie to professional sports players, and aspiring professional sports players and tennis fans. However, I am not particularly a fan of any sport myself, so this is by no means the only groups this film might appeal to.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

A Review of Moxie

Moxie is a young adult novel by Jennifer Mathieu. Sick of the way her high school's football team treats girls, Vivian Carter starts a small "zine" that she calls Moxie, inspired by Riot Grrls. As more problems in her school become apparent, Vivian creates more issues of her zine, asking the girls to do small things to protest. As it catches on with more girls and starts handling tougher issues, Vivian realises this thing might be bigger than she ever imagined.

I've always thought that the best sort of books are ones that can teach us things, and I knew next-to-nothing about Riot Grrrl culture until reading this book. For many people, it could serve as an introduction to modern feminism, or a reminder that other people feel the same.

Vivian is no expert in feminism and feminist issues. She learns about them and develops as the book goes on. She's also delightfully awkward around people she doesn't know. And I don't mean just cute-awkward, actual awkward. Claudia is unconvinced by the whole idea of Moxie at first, but certain events bring her round. Her friend Lucy is more confident, a big-city fish out of water in small-town Texas. It's easy for Lucy to step in and take charge, but she often has to be careful that she doesn't take over. One of the things that I liked was the diversity in the types of girls who responded to Moxie's message. From every different clique in the school, some of the girls did something. I will admit that when cheerleaders were first brought up, my reaction was "oh, no." But the biggest theme here is girls supporting girls, so my initial thoughts were off. I can't finish off my round up of characters in this book without bringing up Seth. He asks if he can kiss Vivian, and is genuinely willing to learn from her about what her life in East Rockport is like as a girl. He's not perfect, however, trotting out "not all guys" pretty often.

Sometimes, parts of American culture in books are hard for me to understand. Through books and other media, I often think I've picked up a lot of information about the American high school system, but something often throws me. Here, it was the way the entire town shuts down for high school football games. I know high school sports are a huge deal, but that would seem ridiculous in the UK. I don't even know of any secondary schools with a dedicated sports team.

I actually went to two different secondary schools. My first one had a clique system that isn't far off the one I see depicted in US media, with the popular crowd, but my second one was really too big for such a system to develop. Vivian's school experience doesn't line up exactly with anything I went through, but the thing is that no two schools are the same. School is a bubble, and if something catches on, it can spread through the school like wildfire.

Dress codes are another thing I don't get, seeing as I had to wear uniforms. My schools were on the "No jewellery! Hair up! Black shoes! No nail varnish no individuality no fun" end of the spectrum, too. But I think being called out for wearing a strappy top is ridiculous, especially seeing as it's Texas. It would be better if the rules were consistent, but calling a girl out of class to measure the length of her skirt has it's own level of problems. What someone is wearing is not more important than their education. Personally, I'm starting to think that a uniform might be the best solution, but allow students to wear a little jewellery and accessories to personalise it. High and secondary school is where people really start to figure out who they are, so give students the freedom to experiment.

Moxie's (the zine) influence is small. It's not going to change the world, even as it does obtain a wider influence towards the end of the book. But then Vivian isn't trying to change the world, just her small Texas high school. It's distribution is also a learning curve for Vivian. Things that worked on a national level for the Riot Grrrls in the 90's may not have the same effect in a single small town. She and her friends also learn about feminism and feminist issues from the chain of events Vivian starts. It's a lovely way to show that something small can turn into something big.

The editing in this book could have used some extra work. Page 67 in my copy contains the line "I guessed I shouldn't any questions." Some sentences have way too many commas in them and could have done with being rewritten. And there is this event: "I spot Lucy Hernandez in the front row with a copy of Moxie in her hands ... I almost don't notice that Lucy has a copy of Moxie sitting out on her desk." I would have made that second sentence "I almost don't notice that Lucy has left her copy of Moxie sitting out on her desk."

Recommended for fans of Holly Bourne, Moxie is a book about the effect that something small can have over a wider community.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

A Review of It Only Happens in the Movies

It Only Happens in the Movies is a novel by Holly Bourne, author of the Spinster Club series. Audrey is in the second year of sixth form, and a new job at a movie theatre. She's coping with her parents divorce, and her ex-boyfriend dumping her after their first time having sex. Her brother has moved to University, and she's feeling increasingly distant from her friends. When she meets Harry, she assumes he's trouble, and everyone else tells her that, too. But he could be just the type of trouble she needs.

This was my first Holly Bourne book, and this was the book I needed five, even ten years ago. So much of my life mirrors Audrey's. A dropped interest in drama? (Mine was because of a bad teacher, but still.) Painful first-time sex? An impending move of my parents when I went to Uni? (Mine was because of them moving voluntarily, but it was still so weird to come home to a different house in a place I didn't know, and just feeling so uneasy with something they were so excited about.)

Audrey has a huge, justified, hate of romance movies, but she also obviously did like them once. Many fans of these movies know they are unrealistic, but enjoy them as a form of escapism. Audrey never does assume fans of these movies are idiots themselves, so I'll give her credit for that. And I like her point that they give as unrealistic an idea of women as they do of men. In fact, I'd love to see a romantic movie with a protagonist with the insecurities that she lists. I think it could be a way to give more rounded characters in them. Also, I love that she has a passion, but she dropped it because of her ex-boyfriend. Ehh... She loved drama and wanted to go to RADA, obviously with a dream of acting professionally. Why would she give this up because of a arsehole like her ex?

Because he is, in fact, a total arsehole. The first word Audrey uses to describe Harry is "fuckboy" but this applies more to her Milo. He dumped her for after they attempted to have sex for the first time, which they stopped because it was too painful for Audrey. And the manner in which it happens is almost sexual assault. Sure, Audrey does say yes but her body language starts saying no during it. This is why we need education on consent in schools - to let people know that they should check in with their partner throughout sex, and be aware of their physical cues during it. Even if this wouldn't stop Milo, Audrey would realise that what he did was just awful. But she still displays attraction to him in the first part of the book? Surely, as soon as someone does this, that is grounds for "fuck him, I'm just going to try extra hard to enjoy life to make him suffer."

Alice, Becky and Charlie are Audrey's best friends, who exist to be her best friends. Alice gets some decent development, and manages to be the most supportive best friend ever. Leroy is Audrey's other best friend, and is well fleshed-out for a side character. He has a boyfriend, also into drama, and is a gaming YouTuber with a specialism in Mario Kart.

Harry is a total flirt, every movie cliche rolled into one. However, he knows when to tone down his teasing based on the tone of someone's voice. And at one point, he pulls "you're not like other girls, are you?" on Audrey, leading her into a rant that everyone needs to read. But after she explains how it's "sexist bull..." he apologises. And no "I'm sorry if," a genuine apology. I was rooting for you. However, thinking back on it now I can see a lot of things he did were problematic, and I don't think he and Audrey would have worked long term, even if he hadn't cheated.

There are some problematic terms used in this book, but I think it's more Bourne drawing on her own experiences about what teenagers say and think. Also, there is a lot of girl hate in the book. I actually don't mind a slight amount of bitchiness, since there are some nasty people in the world, and . But I wanted to find out that Jessie feels guilty about splitting up a family and that's why she acts cold towards Audrey and Dougie. I was expecting Courtney to find out how Milo treated Audrey, after which she dumps him. I want to hear that Rosie doesn't automatically see Audrey as competition. I want to know about Mariana's hourlong commute from a poorer area and the large family she has to support, which is why she's determined to run such a tight ship, so she keeps her job. In real life, everyone is going through things you know nothing about. I know that books can't develop every minor character that exists, but I like to imagine how their lives are when we don't see them on page.

I think I would recommend this book to people who like movies, even romance movies. Like I said, there's no judgement from Audrey about people who do like them, and the book itself is more of an affectionate parody. I also think this is one book where the target audience of teenage girls will get a lot out of reading it, not that it can't also be enjoyed by people outside that demographic, either.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

A Review of Ink

Ink is a novel by Alice Broadway, and it is short-listed for the Books Are My Bag 2017 Reader's Award in the Young Adult category. In Leora Flint's world, everyone is tattooed when they have a significant event in their lives. When you die, your tattoos are preserved forever in your skin book, if you are deemed to have lead a worthy life. If not, you are forgotten, and your skin goes up in flames. People without tattoos are called blanks, and they were exiled long ago to a different part of the land. Upon the death of her father, Leora starts to learn that her world is not as simple as she always thought.

This is the first of a planned series, but I want to review this book on it's own because I'm a rebel against my own rules. Well, they're more guidelines, really.

Ink had a cover that caught my eye instantly, and a blurb that put me off. It made it sound like a standard YA dystopia. However I gave it a try and learnt an important lesson: judge a book by it's cover, not it's blurb. Okay, that was tongue-in-cheek, but I swear that for me covers are a better way of telling if I'd like a book than the blurb.

My first credit is for Leora having an ambition, and it's one that actually makes sense in her world. She wants to be an inker, someone who designs and applies people's tattoos. However, women inkers are rare, and people express doubt that a man would want to be inked by a woman and question her feminine style. If there is something I would like to see less of, it's sexism even in a fantasy or future world.

Leora has a good relationship with some of the men in her life. I know that we need to show more girls supporting girls, but I think it is also important to show people that boys and girls can be friends. She gets on well with her mentor, Obel, is friendly towards her friend Verity's brother Sebastian and has a burgeoning crush on Oscar. Romance in general is not at all important in this book, a refreshing change. She also has a good if rocky relationship with her mother, and a supportive friendship with Verity.

It's one of only a few dystopias I've seen give a large amount of attention to school. Leora hangs out and revises like any normal teenager might. Obviously, school is an important way that dystopias brainwash people into believing their line of thinking. During one of Leora's school exams, she's asked to describe how life would be different if the blanks still lived among them. Isn't that telling? Leora writes that "society would be divided. It would be hard for such diverse groups to live together without conflict." If human history has shown us anything, it's that there is truth in that, but if some cities in recent times are taken into account, it's that it doesn't have to be. The future that I would like to achieve and work towards is one where diverse groups can live side-by-side.

Bad points - there is about a two long paragraph section where Leora describes herself that wouldn't be out-of-place in a young adult contemporary. You know the sort - "Who would want me? I know for a fact I've never [turned anyone's head]. I've got to be the only sixteen year old on earth who's never been kissed by anyone. I'm not the right kind of pale... I'm more of a dull grey. My breasts are too small to be curvy and I'm sure my bum is too large to be skinny." I won't quote the whole thing, you get the idea. Credit where credit is due, though, she doesn't have the whole world telling her she's beautiful while she thinks this. I understand that insecurities are part of growing up and a teenage protagonist who doesn't think she is pretty is good for girls to read about. But one of the things she complains about it her mousey brown hair, and I just have to wonder how reading that so much makes people with that hair colour feel. Some of the prettiest people I've ever seen had hair of light brown. I remember how I used to feel when protagonists described their brown hair and eyes as boring. I feel like it would be better if we could point out the positives about appearance-based attributes.

There is also a story in their world that functions as a fable or fairy tale, about why they have their marks. In it, there a two sisters, and one is "as beautiful as she is good" and people travel from miles around to see her, and she marries a prince and her marks appear magically on her skin. People often forget that her sister exists, because she's not as pretty as her sister. Of course, she turns out to be a witch and curses a large part of the land. Also: Leora is descended from the sisters in the story. Is that not the most overdone twist in fiction?

In fact, there are stories periodically inserted into the novel, telling some of the myths of the land. Many are creative and interesting, but one is literally Sleeping Beauty. However, it does end with the line "She told him he shouldn't kiss sleeping girls." I'm so happy that was included!

Here is a good article from the Guardian that details some of Broadway's mindset as she came into writing this novel. It's an interesting read. The ideas of faith, religion and questioning your beliefs are done subtly, but they are also important to the story and handled well.

I recommend this one if you like dystopias. Many of the standard tropes are at play here, so if you generally dislike dystopias, nothing here will change your mind. However, if you do enjoy dystopias, you may like this.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

A Very Potter Day - Harry Potter: A History of Magic at the British Library and the House of MinaLima! 3/11/17

At The British Library, from 20th October 2017 to 28th February 2018, there is an exhibition going on about Harry Potter and the History of Magic. It's main focus is how myths and legends from our world influenced Harry Potter. So, I didn't expect to be able to go. But long story short, an advert for it appeared in Dad's paper, and I talked him into it like the mature 25-year-old that I am. Although it didn't take much talking. I'm not dragging him along, here. He hides it well, but he's almost as into Harry Potter as I am!

Under a cut due to a large amount of pictures! I didn't get many from the exhibition itself, for reasons I explain below, but I did get some nice ones from the House of MinaLima!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

A Review of The Island at the End of Everything

The Island at the End of Everything is a middle grade novel by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, who also wrote The Girl of Ink and Stars. Amihan Tala has lived her whole life on Culion Island in the Philippines, with her mother, who has leprosy. After a decision is made to turn the island into a dedicated leprosy colony, Ami is sent away to an orphanage on a nearby island. There she meets Mariposa, a girl named for butterflies, and the two of them set off to return to her island.

My word, how is this a book for children? It's about a colony for people with leprosy, that was an actual place! I don't mean that because children shouldn't read about things like this, because they absolutely should. I just mean that if you're expecting a light fantasy adventure more in line with Hargrave's first book, you're in for a surprise. And a treat, because this book is exceptional, even better then Hargrave's first.

After loving The Girl of Ink and Stars, I admit I overlooked this one slightly in shops. I assumed that it would be more of the same. An island, a corrupt government official, a girl on an adventure home. I also assumed there would be fantasy elements, even though that is not stated anywhere. But it couldn't be more different, showing Hargrave's range as a writer, but also her style is coming through.

As in Hargrave's first novel, female friendships are important. Mari is the first person on her new island, and possibly one of the first in her life, to treat Ami kindly, something which throws Ami off at first. There's a lack of any romance here, implied or otherwise, and I couldn't help but wonder is something might be between Ami and Mari when they get older. And I did like how this one focuses on a relationship between mother and daughter, too. The one thing about Hargrave's characters I really like is that they act like children. They make mistakes, they get things wrong, they get irrationally angry at things.

Butterflies are often used in fiction to symbolise a lot of things. Death, love, rebirth, chaos theory. Here, they symbolise many things at once. Mr Zamora likes to keep them on display behind glass, symbolising his love of order, and showing what he'd like to do to the island - make a museum of it. The overall idea for the children of Culion is to take them somewhere where they can have a better life, giving them rebirth. Of course, the definition of better life is subjective and doesn't include the opinions of the children themselves. In it's way, Ami's journey home was her own rebirth. And at 12 years of age, they are very much in the chrysalis stage of their lives - growing and changing into who they will be. Mari's name symbolises her kind nature. And taking the children from Culion was the trigger for the rest of the events in the book - rather like the theory that a butterfly flapping it's wings in Mexico can cause a hurricane.

Absolutely recommended for everyone from confident younger readers up to adult fans of historical fiction. If any book has ever defined the term "universal appeal" it would be this one.