Wednesday, 31 August 2011

I Blame the Parents

Recently, my local Tesco has started using those trollies that you have to put in a pound coin to use. And for those of you wondering, yes, that is how all the best stories start.

Normally, my mum contributes the pound and I somehow end up with it. Sitting in a car park yesterday, as you do, she mentioned this, to which I responded:

"It's my payment for taking the trolley back, pushing it out to the car, and being a fucking delight all the way round the store."

She laughed. A lot. Is it any wonder I am the way that I am with a mother like her?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

30 Days of Books Meme (Part 3)

Here are days 07-09. For details of the full list, click the tab to the right. If you're interested, and I'm sure you are, my friend Sara is pretending to do this meme as well, although she never updates her blog. You can find her here: http://makemeacuppa.blogspot.com/a.blogspot.com. Tell her I sent you.

Day 07 - Most underrated book
I had a really hard time picking this one, and the next one. So I decided to pick the book that I wish more people would read. It helps that it's a childrens' book, so most adults would never pay much attention to it.

"Coraline" by Neil Gaiman is an intriguing and frankly disturbing tale about a young girl who moves to a new house with her family and finds a tiny door. She goes through it and discovers a world that at first seems a lot like hers, but soon realises that it isn't like her world at all.

It's a fantastic book, the first of his that I ever read, and it isn't just for children. I was actually scared by it, and I can't honestly say that about very many books. You'll never be able to look at buttons in the same way again.

You might have heard of the film, which was a stop-motion animation (I think) with Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher doing the voices. The film wasn't that impressive, but the book is brilliant.

Day 08 - Most overrated book
This one was easier once I thought about it. "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown is, to the best of my knowledge, one of the most raved about books of recent years. And I have no idea why. Admittedly, I found it quite a difficult read because the plot relies heavily on certain paintings, most of which I had never seen, meaning that half the time I wasn't 100% sure of what was happening. It isn't particularly well-written either, and this is something that a lot of critics agree with me on, so I think it deserves the title of Most Overrated Book.

A close second, however, was "Atonement" by Ian McEwan. Now, I don't actually know if this is overrated, I don't really know what anyone else thinks of it, but I bought the book after seeing the film and loving it. I expected the book to be better because, let's face it, the book is almost always better than the film (I wanted to say always, but knew someone would leave a comment that proved me wrong). The book is dire. It's interminable. I think I actually skipped the whole section when one character is off in Europe fighting in the war. Just an awful, awful book. And "Saturday," the other one of his that I've read, is even worse.

Day 09 - A book you thought you wouldn't like but ended up loving
This one was pretty easy. I hate books that I have to read for school/university. It's probably because I expect to hate them because someone else has picked them, because someone has decided they are worthy of being studied, or even because I dread picking the story apart until there's nothing left but facts that you can't enjoy. Whatever the reason is, I expected to hate "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte. And I loved it.


Well, love is a strong word. For those that don't know, the book is split into two parts, with the second part occuring about sixteen years after the first and concerning the surviving characters of the first part and their various awful offspring. The first part is excellent, I don't think I can fault it in anyway, I even quite like the highly criticised opening narrated by Lockwood instead of Nelly, who tells the rest of the story. The second part isn't so good. In fact, I don't think it's good at all. I always felt it was unnecessary, and kind of tainted the first part. And to be honest, I don't think the second part even makes that much sense. I don't want to spoil it for you, but why would one character be so eager to see two other characters get married, when said character could marry one of them for his or herself? (I take spoilers very seriously).


Thursday, 25 August 2011

30 Days of Books Meme (Part 2)

Here are days 4-6. For the full meme, click the tab on the right.


Day 04 - Favourite book of your favourite series

I caused myself a bit of a problem with this one by picking "Harry Potter" as my favourite series, how can you pick just one to be your favourite? I had it narrowed down to "Order of the Phoenix," "Half Blood Prince," and "Deathly Hallows." After that, it was really process of elimination. I don't particularly like the first half of "Deathly Hallows" even though the second half contains my favourite chapter of the whole book, so that had to go. And then I realised that the film of "Half Blood Prince" made me more angry than any of the others, so on some level that meant that the book was my favourite. It makes sense in my head.


Day 05 - A book that makes you happy

I decided to pick the book that makes me laugh the most. "The More the Merrier" by Anne Fine is essentially a children's Christmas book, and I read it every year. And every year, it makes me laugh out loud. Often hysterically.


At Christmas, everyone comes together at Ralph's house for Christmas; assorted aunts and uncles and cousins, crazy great aunt Ida, and evil Granny who is happy to part with her cash when she thinks it's going to an organisation that teaches parents how best to beat their children. It's a madhouse, and I think most people can relate to it. Is there anyone who actually likes being crammed into a house with their extended family at Christmas? I didn't think so. I can't find my copy of the book, otherwise I'd share some of the funniest lines with you, so you'll just have to go buy a copy and see how funny it is for yourself.


Day 06 - A book that makes you sad

Similarly to day 05, I decided with this one to pick the book that always makes me cry. There are lots of books that make me cry, but "Troy" by Adele Geras really upsets me. Every time.

It's not the book that the Brad Pitt film was based on (actually, I don't think that was based on a book at all) and it follows two serving girls in the final days of Troy. Marpessa and Xanthe are twin sisters, but who are nothing alike, but both suffer greatly in this book. The fact that Marpessa can see and speak to the gods is a little irritating, but I can overlook that because the rest is so beautifully written. It's an excellent book, and if you don't cry at some point, you have a heart of stone.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Okay, so I'm not 100% sure whether these are apes or monkeys or even children dressed up, but they're all I've got so deal with it.

So, I went to see "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" on Tuesday.

And I have no complaints. It was really very good.

Okay, I have two complaints. The first being the fact that there are two "of the"s in the title, which is just wrong, which I imagine is why so many people are referring to the film as simply "Planet of the Apes." My other complaint is a bit of a [SPOILER] so here is your [SPOILER ALERT]. The ape talks. Not all the way through, just at the end, but that really bugged me, because I'm pretty sure animals don't communicate in the same way that we do because their vocal chords etc. just aren't capable of doing so. Not because they aren't intelligent enough to communicate like we do.

But other than that, I thought it was an excellent film. I actually cried at one point, but I thought the balance between the moving emotional stuff and the action was good. After seeing the trailer, I was worried that the interesting emotional stuff would be the first ten minutes and then it would all be mindless action, but I felt the balance was pretty much perfect.

James Franco was good, Freida Pinto was underused, and I think Tom Felton could do with a couple more voice-coaching lessons before he can convincingly pull off an American accent, but it was a lot better than many Americans I've heard doing British accents.

And don't leave as soon as the credits start - there's an interesting bit that follows. Although if you're desperate for the loo, like I was, just watch that little bit and then you can go. There's nothing else after it.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

30 Days of Books Meme (Part 1)

This post is my first instalment in the 30 Days of Books Meme. And yes, I Googled Meme because I didn't know what it was. I know you're supposed to post one book a day for thirty days, but I'm not going to do that, I'm going to do three per post sporadically. Because I can. So, here are days 1-3. For the full meme, click the tab on the right for details.


DAY 01 - The best book you read last year
I read some really good books last year, but the best has to be either "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman, who is fantastic by the way, or "Good Omens" by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. "American Gods" just edges out the other one because "Good Omens" got a little bit dull in the middle, when they had to get all of the characters to the same place at the same time and it dragged a bit.

"American Gods" follows Shadow Griffin as he is released from prison and becomes entangled in the web of Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a former god. I won't tell you anymore, mainly because I don't remember the rest all that clearly (it fits with Gaiman's beautiful and sometimes manic style) and I don't want to give away the bits I do remember, because they're definitely spoilers. It's a brilliant book, maybe not his best, but still excellent. And I particularly enjoyed it because I read it while I was in America, and he happens to mention the town I was living in.


Day 02 - A book you've read more than three times


There are literally dozens of books that I could put under this heading. When I like a book, I tend to read it more than once. I think you get something new from it every time you read it. So, with so many to choose from, I picked the book that I seem to read at least every six months.


"Beauty" by Robin McKinley is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Last semester, we read what felt like thousands of retellings of fairytales. This one wasn't on the list, and I really think it should have been. It's a wonderful book, even if the ending is a bit crap. No, wait, very crap, but I've always had issues with the fact that the Beast becomes a handsome prince. It undermines the whole point of the story. Anyway, it's really good right up until the end, and it's a bit different to other versions that I've read. For a start, Beauty isn't beautiful. She's just an ordinary girl who gets caught up in a messy fairytale and manages the best she can with the situation. Also, it's not a modernisation. Modernisations of fairytales just don't work. And that's not an opinion, that would be a fact.

Day 03 - Your favourite series


Okay, this one's going to "Harry Potter." How can it not? I don't really think I need to explain the appeal of this incredible series. If you don't get it now, I don't think you ever will. Although I will say that if you've seen the films and not read the books, READ THEM. And maybe leave a comment telling me if you understood the films, because I really don't think they can make sense to anyone who hasn't read the books.

So, because I picked the obvious option of "Harry Potter," I'll list my top three series for you.
1 - "Harry Potter", obviously

2 - "Uglies" by Scott Westerfeld - the first three are brilliant, the fourth is going a bit far.

3 - "Pure Dead..." by Debi Gliori - yes, it's for children, but it's worth a read. So funny.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Playing With Other People's Toys

This week I took my first foray into fanfiction. Or made it. Do you take or make a foray? Seriously, this is going to bug me.

I've never really been interested in fanfiction before. I never saw the point in reading something that was bound to be rubbish compared to the original, and as someone who wants to be a published author someday, it kind of bothered me that people could just take your characters and twist them to suit what they wanted.

Take the book I was forced to read a couple of years ago for Critical Reading. "Wide Sargasso Sea" by an author that I will not name because I object to the existence of this book, essentially tells the story of Mad Bertha from "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë. It's an incredibly dull book, which was my first objection to it, but then I realised that this woman is making money using characters that aren't hers. Storylines that aren't hers. And I object to that strongly.

Online fanfiction, however, I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, yes, people are using other people's characters and creating whole new backgrounds or futures or whatever for them. But they aren't making money from it. They're doing it out of their love for the characters and the original text, the original author should be flattered. I know I would be.

I still didn't really see the point of it, though. Why read a Harry Potter fanfiction piece when I can just read Harry Potter?

And then I stumbled upon a story (not using StumbleUpon) and started reading. I don't really know why I did, but I was hooked. It's really well-written, it's a believable premise, and the writer has been very true to the characters. I'll admit that she slips in a few places, but that's to be expected I think, and otherwise it's really very good.

I sat and consumed the story in a matter of days, and it's not a short story. There are 42 chapters. The average chapter is about 4500 words, which is around 9 A4 pages single-spaced. So it's quite an undertaking, especially since it's on a screen not on the page and that makes it much harder to read (because the website's formatting isn't exactly reader-friendly). And then it hit me.

I believe I've discovered the problem with fanfiction - it's unreliable.

And I don't mean in the sense that it deviates from the canon and can find Hermione falling in love with Snape (there is an ASTONISHING amount of these stories online). I mean that many of these stories are written as serials, with the author posting chapters as they write them. I just reached chapter 42 of a work of fanfiction, and discovered that it wasn't finished. Reading the comments, it would appear that between chapters 37 and 38, the author took a year long break. A year. This story has been in production for more than 6 years. And that is the problem with fanfiction. I have no way of knowing when I can finish reading it, and it is incredibly frustrating. All the more so because the writer left the last chapter on a cliffhanger.

Two months ago.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

SUPER 8

Today I went to see Super 8. I don't have a picture because I'm lazy and crabby, but I'm sure I'll put one up soon.

First off, this film is not for kids. It may be rated 12A, and the cast may be primarily kids, BUT DO NOT TAKE YOUR CHILDREN TO SEE IT. Especially if said children are stupid little brats who will talk ALL THE WAY THROUGH and be completely unable to sit still.

Seriously, though, I don't think a lot of kids would understand it. I had to pay attention to follow it in places (and apparently I missed a crucial piece of information whilst fantasising about reaching out and strangling a small child) but it was a really good film.

I liked JJ Abrams last film, (I think it was his last) the new Star Trek, but I was a little put off by the fact that the film stars Dakota Fanning's younger sister Elle. I'm not a Fanning fan, but she was pretty good in the film, I have to admit.

It's funny, too, which I didn't expect. And although you can see the ending coming from several miles away (the middle, in fact) it's still quite a good ending, it works. It fits. It's not exactly a groundbreaking ending, or indeed something new from Spielberg (who acted as producer on this one) but it does work, and I guess I have to give them credit for that.

I only really had one issue with the film (after someone explained to me about that crucial piece of information I missed) and I should probably do a [SPOILER ALERT] now. So, if you haven't seen the film, or didn't work out from the trailer basically what's going on in the film, don't read any further. They fell into the trap of revealing the alien/monster/whatever. And once you've seen it, it's not scary anymore. The film isn't terrifying, it certainly made me jump, but it loses something once you've seen the monster. And there really wasn't much need to show it at all.

So, to sum up, kids should be banned from cinemas, it's not a kids film, and it's pretty damn good. I'm going to have to see it again now, though. At midnight. When all the kids are out setting fire to cars and buildings. Because obviously, not one person over the age of twenty-five is joining in with the rioting. Not even when the riots go on until 3am.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Introducing the World's Best Sister

Yes, I'm talking about myself. Since my useless and frankly unappreciative siblings refuse to acknowledge my sheer awesomeness, I thought I'd do it myself. I am awesome.

My parents are away for a few days, meaning I'm responsible for feeding my little brother. Well, my younger brother, he's six-foot-four. He's also seventeen and should be capable of feeding himself, but that's a story for another time. So, since I'm at home for the summer because I can't afford to pay my rent in Winchester and my parents will give me FREE FOOD, I'm in charge of the kitchen.

And today, I discovered that I am a bonfide domestic goddess. My conversation with my brother about dinner went a little something like this:

ME: What do you want for tea? Pizza or sausages? Bearing in mind that pizza will be a lot easier for me since I don't know how long it takes to cook sausages and since you can't have just sausages for tea, I can either put the sausages and chips in together and we can have charcoal instead of chips. Or I can put the chips in later, and we'll have burnt sausages because the chips won't be cooked yet.

THE BOY: Pizza, then.


And do you know what I made him for tea? I made him the pizza that he so desperately craved. See? Awesome sister.

And now a note for my frankly disappointing siblings - my birthday's coming up soon. Just a thought.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Stalking

I think Blogger is turning me into a bad person. Well, making me worse.

I am obsessed with the stats for my blog, I'm ashamed to admit. I check the stats page more often than I check Facebook, and I check Facebook a lot. My stats tend to be very low, I suspect that my family and a couple of friends are the only people reading my blog, but I am always strangely delighted to see when someone from another country has looked at it. In the past couple of months, I've had people from the US, Japan, Spain, Germany and Denmark read my blog. I like knowing where these people have found my blog, and which posts people are reading. I am becoming obsessive about it. And it worries me a little bit.

What worries me more is how I feel when I read other people's blogs. It makes me feel like a stalker. Now, I don't technically know what stalking someone feels like (contrary to popular opinion) but this is close to how I think it must feel. Some of you might know the feeling from having explored a friend's Facebook page in its entirety. You know, look through all of their photos, read all of the information they've given you, look at every post on their wall. And then you think "what the hell am I doing?" It's like that with blogs. Except, actually, it feels worse, because these people aren't your friends. Well, not necessarily.

I recently found a blog which I love:
http://www.flourishinprogress.com/

I don't actually remember how I found it, it was either a link on another blog I read, or I was flicking through the "next blog" option on Blogger, which I love. It doesn't really matter how I found it, what matters is that I have become obsessed with this blog. I've gone trawling back through old posts, read every word of them and then even read the comments underneath them. But the problem is that this woman doesn't know me. She'll never meet me. And there I am reading every word that she's written. It just struck me that I'm cyber-stalking someone. Well, kind of.

I guess the fact that she's put all these posts out on the internet makes it okay for me to read through it all. It's like she's asking to be stalked. It's like someone changing their clothes with the curtains open and all the lights on. Okay, it's not really like that, but you see what I mean. It feels wrong, somehow, to be reading the blogs of people I don't know.

WOLF HALL

It's taken me nearly a month, but I have finally finished reading "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel. And thank God I have.

It may well be the most boring book I have ever read, and I've read "The Dark Fields" (aka "Limitless") by Alan Glynn. In 650 pages, not one interesting thing actually happens. On a few occasion, interesting events are alluded to, but we don't witness them. We hear them discussed briefly to add context to background characters. I think three times in the book I became hopeful that something interesting was about to happen, only to be thoroughly disappointed.

A little background is probably useful for those of you who haven't read it, especially since you won't guess what it's about from the title, which, as far as I can see, has absolutely nothing to do with the book whatsoever. The book follows Thomas Cromwell's rapid rise in Tudor society as he assists Henry VIII in divorcing Katherine of Aragon and marrying Anne Boleyn instead, which should be interesting. Or so you would think. That period in English history must be one of the most written about, most fictionalised and most sexed-up. I had high hopes. I quite liked "The Other Boleyn Girl" by Phillipa Gregory. I was very disappointed.

I won't sit here and spell out everything that was wrong with it, I will just say that I found it really difficult to follow who was who. Cromwell, the main character, is frequently referred to in the narrative as simply "he," which becomes tricky when he is having a conversation with another man, which is basically all that ever happens in the book. It's also difficult to follow who is who, because their titles and positions change every twenty pages or so. Since they all have the same names (Henry or Thomas, mainly) their titles are all the more important, and I could rarely work out who was actually in a room at any given time.

Finally, I'd like to say something about the title. Wolf Hall is the home of the Seymour family in the book, and as I'm sure most people would know, Henry marries Jane Seymour after he has Anne Boleyn beheaded. And yet, their paths never seem to cross in the book. In fact, at the end, you are left with the distinct impression that it is Cromwell who intends to marry Jane, saying as he does that they have five days free in the summer and that he intends to pay the Seymours a visit.

In summary, it was all very dull, very difficult to read and made absolutely no sense to me. It may be just as boring as "The Dark Fields," but it loses even more points for being more than twice as long.