I don’t remember stopping…

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Life has been a bit of a whirlwind lately; a festive holiday of writing my novel, seeing family and friends, before returning to work and just barely having time to stop and ponder for even a second on what to blog about because of the post holiday rush (and panic).

I don’t remember stopping…except I do remember whenever I have sort of stopped I’ve been knitting or crocheting, not blogging. And this has been going on for a while now. Many of my recent posts, except Star Wars, I wrote at the beginning of December and scheduled. Blogging has fallen to the wayside.

However, I’m not worried too much about it, even though I’ve felt the desire tonight to blog about the fact I’ve not been blogging. I have had this urge before; to seemingly try and justify something I know I don’t need to explain.

For once I really want to, because for the first time I’ve not been blogging for a positive reason rather than a negative one. I have bounced back from being ill last year, and at the moment feeling normal is driving me to achieve in many areas of my life. And I love it.

I’ve got home from seeing a great film (Molly’s Game), and I have another to look forward to on Saturday (Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri). I have a pile of books I can’t wait to read (I haven’t got time to list them!). My writing is going better than ever, and I even have some plans to add to my writing blogs again this year rather than just doing reviews.

Normal blogging service will resume shortly and I will try not to revel too much when it does that the hardest decision I have to make at the moment is which great book to choose next (but only from the pile I already have – in theory).

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New Year’s Resolutions – Book Tag 2018

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It wouldn’t be the New Year if I didn’t do the New Year’s Resolutions Book Tag. I adore preparing this tag, and reflecting on what I have read and what I want to read. Here’s what I loved in 2018

Get in shape – name a book that doesn’t quite fit on your shelf correctly

The White Book by Han Kang – I just don’t know where to put it. It isn’t that the shape is awkward, I just don’t know how to categorize it.

Eat healthy – name a book you feel was good for you to read

Cheer-Up Love by Susan Calman, because it reminded me that I am not alone in having depression and somehow she made talking about the topic funny.

Forces of Nature by Prof Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen as it reminded me that despite the impression I was left with at school, I can and do understand science.

Read more – name a book you keep telling yourself to read but haven’t yet

So in 2016 and 2017 I have said 1984 by George Orwell. I still haven’t read it; however I have bought a new copy as my husband’s copy is delicate and wouldn’t survive my handbag, so this year might be the year. Maybe.

Quit smoking – name a book you kept going back to even though you had finished it

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. I finally found poetry that makes me cry and I adore it. The Sun and her Flowers, her second collection, is also amazing.

Save more money – name a book you got for a really good price

Tom Hank’s Uncommon Type – I was going to wait for it to come out in paperback, but I managed to get the hardback at a reasonable price from a supermarket.

Be more organized – how do you organize your bookshelf?

Not very well; it’s something I need to work on.

Be punctual – shortest time and longest time it took you to read a book

Call me by your name by Andre Aciman lasted about four hours. They were exquisite hours.

I’ve been dipping in and out of  The Book of Human Emotions by Tiffany-Watt Smith for a few months now, and I’m only half-way through the alphabet.

Also I’m still reading Vermeer’s Hat in sporadic intervals. That’s a one that has been on the go for over a year now.

Go out more – what book isolated you from reality?

I have a couple of contenders for this one. Call me by your name, in conjunction with the film and soundtrack has devoured me.

However, I think the winner might be Love from Boy – I remember reading this outside in the hot spring sun, and it was as if I was in Dar es Salaam.

Be unique – what was your favourite book of 2017?

I’m not going to lie, I’ve had a rough year, and one of many low points for me was the backlash fans had against the new series of Sherlock. I wrote about this in ‘My Many Selves as a Geeky Fan.’

Therefore I think that discovering Mark Gatiss as a novelist has been a highlight and something positive for me to reflect upon in relation to one of my favourite writers and actors. I adored Lucifer Box; so this year it isn’t a single book, but three: The Vesuvius Club, The Devil in Amber and Black Butterfly.

Be more personal – what book are you most looking forward to this year?

The novelisation of the new Star Wars film, and once it gets released in paperback, Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami. I have Norwegian Wood waiting in the wings to keep me going in the meanwhile.

Really, resolutions – which book do you promise to read during the year?

Less a specific book, and more I have a lot of non-fiction books that I’ve acquired over the year and need to read.

I also really need to read some more Kazuo Ishiguro, and I have to go back to Benedict Jacka at some point.

Film Review- Star Wars: Episode 8 – The Last Jedi

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Spoilers

‘Hope is like the sun.  If you only believe in it when you see it you’ll never make it through the night.’

General Organa, quoted by Vice Admiral Holdo and Poe Dameron.

‘The greatest teacher failure is.’

Master Yoda.

The first quote is utterly beautiful, and I will refer back to it for years. The second is a philosophy I have always tried to live by; if I do something wrong, I have learnt a way that doesn’t work.

The theme of this film is failure, which is exactly what the filmmakers did as well. They failed, because I can see their puppet strings. I can see their influence over the characters in order to make the plot they wanted work.

Let’s go back to that first quote; Vice Admiral Holdo is not a stupid woman, yet for some reason she doesn’t tell anyone on board the plan. She doesn’t tell them there is a base nearby, which they can all escape to in order to survive. Instead this woman who demands that Poe Dameron should trust her, gives him absolutely no reason to do so, because she clearly doesn’t trust any of them. Except, you wouldn’t become a Vice Admiral under General Organa by displaying any of these tendencies. You most certainly wouldn’t be her friend.

The puppet strings keep Holdo quiet, because for some reason that is how the filmmakers wanted Finn and Rose’s plot to be able to happen. And it was a great disservice to Holdo, Poe, Finn, Rose and even to Leia.

I normally delay my posts about new Star Wars films in order to give people the chance to see it and not have it spoiled. Unfortunately, in the case of ‘The Last Jedi’ I have delayed it for a different reason. The first time I saw it I absolutely hated the film, and it is solely because of the above plot point. I needed to think about it, and see it again so I could discuss it properly.

Fine, Holdo might not have trusted Poe because he disobeyed orders and destroyed the Dreadnaught. Equally though destroying the Dreadnaught extended the life span of the Resistance, because if they hadn’t the Dreadnaught would have followed with the First Order’s new tracking technology, and with it’s big guns could have destroyed the rest of the fleet. Poe was proved right pretty quickly that they needed to take that opportunity to destroy the ‘fleet-killer’, even though the cost was high.

When a leader like Holdo can no longer see the hope in the faces of those around her and there is a brig full of people being charged with attempted desertion, and the man everyone rallies around is asking to know what they are going to do, someone like Vice Admiral Holdo would tell them. Hope is not something physical you can always see, but the point of great leaders is to inspire hope when hope is needed, which is why people were easily swayed into committing mutiny by Poe. Leia and Holdo have strong faith, but the very fact Leia wanted Luke back as a spark of hope for those who have weaker faith is very telling of just how much hope they all needed.

But the filmmaker’s puppet strings were used to stop Admiral Holdo from telling Poe Dameron the plan, because had she told him the plan, half of the film then wouldn’t have happened, or at least it wouldn’t have happened how it did.

Had Holdo told Poe the plan was to aim for an old rebel hideout, when Finn and Rose went to him with their knowledge, then he would have taken them to Holdo and a better plan of action could have been put in place as a back-up plan in order to save the one ship they had left that had shields and weapons. The entire sub-plot involving Finn and Rose could have been better; the former storm trooper and the girl who works behind pipes all day could have a proper plot, not what felt like a slapdash afterthought.

Had Finn and Rose gone on an authorized mission, they could have taken an experienced member of the Resistance with them to advice that parking on the beach is a crap idea; that running around a high stakes casino and blatantly looking like you don’t fit in is a bad idea; and that you need to retrieve the person you have been sent to retrieve because a friend you trust, trusts them. Just retrieving someone else you don’t know who you met in a prison cell (I repeat in a prison cell) is a bad idea!

The theme of failure needed to be explored, because failure is a great teacher like Master Yoda says, and it is also a very good way for writers to develop character arcs, but it was forced. And the only reason I can think they wanted to do it the way they did was so Benicio del Toro could play a complex, double crossing, slightly mysterious code breaker. Apparently that was more important, so they had to make Finn and Rose incompetent, shallow characters, which they aren’t, in order for the meet-cute with DJ to happen, and to override their common sense by playing up their desperation.

Personally I don’t know why DJ couldn’t be the one Maz Kanata trusted in the first place? True, she has a lot of experience and wouldn’t be easily fooled, but other aspects of this film talked about how people are not perfect, they are not legends. So why couldn’t there be a character in the Star Wars universe that proves even Maz isn’t right all the time? I mean Kylo Ren manages to fool Supreme Leader Snoke in a spectacular twist, so why couldn’t DJ be someone who would betray Maz’s faith in him?

Tip for filmmakers: it is fine for your darlings to fail, however if you set them up to fail through incompetent writing they don’t fall as far. If you set them up doing everything right, with everything going their way and then pull the rug out from under them, not only are you more respectful of your characters’ competence and determination, the impact of failure has more resonnace with the characters and the audience. If you set it all up to make the ending you want work and do so by making characters act out of character, what actually happens is you end up with a character like DJ, whose lack of loyalty is so predictable you wouldn’t have been able to lay a bet on whether he’d sell the Resistance out to save his own skin because it was a dead cert.

I’ll stop now, because just thinking about how badly executed the plots surrounding the Resistance were executed riles me up (I can’t even bring myself to mention Captain Plasma because I might wear out my caps lock function discussing her abysmal cameo), which is a massive shame, because otherwise the film is utterly brilliant, with some spectacular cinematography and as always a soundtrack by John Williams, which proves why he is the best at what he does.

Chewbacca falls to the wayside a bit with the Porgs (who only exist because puffins are real and if you film at one of their nesting grounds, they turn out to be hard to CGI out; good excuse for something cute in my mind), but Chewie’s there when he needs to be, and gets to hug Leia this time so it’s not all bad.

The storyline between Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren is brilliant. The filmmakers nailed it. There are still a few unanswered questions, and a few questions that got answers which may not necessarily be true, but it worked. I feel as if Rey may have forgiven Kylo Ren just a little bit too quickly for killing Han, but the time scale of the film meant she had to turn to Kylo Ren as quickly as she did because Luke was slow on the uptake and too haunted by the past to want to help her find what she is looking for: someone to show her what her place in all this is meant to be.

And in the Red Room she finds her place; she may have let her naivety lead her to that room, and her certainty about being able to save Ben Solo might be misplaced, but she doesn’t let her failure deter her or blind her to what’s needs to be done next if she can’t rely on Ben Solo to help her save the Resistance. Unlike Kylo Ren who looses focus because of his anger and hatred, in moments of clarity she finds her practical instincts kicking in. Jakku might have been no-where, but it was a good training ground for teaching someone how to survive on nothing, which is what the Resistance needs.

The resolution of Rey and Kylo’s storyline will make the next film very interesting indeed, hopefully sans puppet strings, and lots more sly looks from General Hux in Kylo’s direction that clearly say ‘Really, you want to do it that way? Okay, it’s not a good idea but I don’t want to be force-choked.’

Film Review: Moana

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Spoilers

Moana sort of passed me by when it came to cinemas, and because it didn’t have as massive a hype as Frozen it sort of kept passing me by. That is until lots and lots of adults I know both in real life and via social media were absolutely buzzing about this film.

And unlike with Frozen I can understand why; Moana is one the most determined and fearless Disney characters of recent times. And OMG is she patience, because Maui is intolerable.

I know he was written to be like that, and there are elements of his personality that can be sympathetic (mainly his tattoo who I felt really sorry for), he is one of my least favourite Disney characters.

But then again I don’t like people who don’t take responsibility for their actions. I hate it even more when others have to fix their mistakes, and the person responsible isn’t willing to admit they even made one. I am gritting my teeth just thinking about him.

Thank goodness the ocean was on Moana’s side, because Maui extremely selfish. I would have thought a better ending would have been him having to accept life without his precious hook. Given he essentially pushed Moana into the ocean to drown her multiple times, and left her locked in a cave to starve, he really needed to be taught a lesson and I don’t feel as if he had been.

I understand perfectly why Te Fiti became Ta Ka, all because of Maui. And the ending was something special; Moana approaching Ta Ka with reason and admiration, and quite a lot of understanding as to why Ta Ka was so angry. The message that not everything has to be resolved with violence was something we really do need more of in our world.

There is so much I really love about this film. I know that there still is quite a lot of discussion about how appropriate it is for Disney to use Polynesian culture for profit. Cultural appropriation is a serious matter. However, if you look beyond the profits, and look at the story and the history behind the story, there is a great deal cultural appreciation.

Moana for me is a way I can appreciate Polynesian cultures, which I have always admired a great deal, because of the immense talent of the Polynesian seafarers. And I want to learn more; I don’t want to use their culture in order to make myself appear enlightened and worldly. I want to quietly read more about their history, so that I learn about them and their perspective on the world.

And what more could you ask of a kid’s film? A great protagonist and a desire to learn more. Well…Maui, but I think you know my opinion of him.

TV Review – The Crown (Season One)

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The Crown has been on my watch list for a while now, and when my husband and I finished watching Westworld we were after something else to interest us for an hour or so each evening.

I generally have quite positive opinions of the monarchy, mainly because of the Queen, who is an brilliant role model for girls and women. Apart from the death of Princess Diana though, I don’t actually know anything about them.

The first season of The Crown is utterly brilliant. Even if it wasn’t based on real life, the drama of the series is gripping. The writing is spot on, and a large amount of research has obviously gone into it to make it as historical accurate as a television drama will allow.

What I really love about this series is that it has made the monarchy human; real human beings are having to live in this weird world of being royal. More than that, The Queen has to live with the reality that she has a duty to protect the Crown which is integrated into how government works. She has to work very hard to do her bit and she has several brilliant moments of setting men of power straight.

She also has to do it while dealing with the illness and then death of her father the King; the family politics of her Uncle who abdicated; the politics of the country under the aging Churchill; a sister who has fallen in love with someone deemed unsuitable; and the expectations of her husband having to adjust his life to fit around her in an age when wives did that for husbands not the other way around.

Just thinking about it makes me want to watch it again, and the second series which is already underway. I know I will come back to it again and again, all because the writing, acting and production is superb.

Film Review – Sing

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I had wanted to go and see ‘Sing’ at the cinema, but it was just one of those films I just couldn’t find the time to get there in order to see it. However, now I have seen it I’m quite delighted really.

I had expected it to be like the X-Factor or similar, but it being a talent show was even better. It was more about the hard work that has to go into performance, both in practicing music and in negotiating real life. It isn’t a perfect film but it is a really good kid’s film, and I sympathise quite a lot with the majority of the characters.

I loved Meena the most, as being frightened and being pushed in directions you might not be ready to be pushed in is something I relate to a lot. I don’t have great self-esteem and her journey towards pushing herself is something I recognised in myself.

Then I think Rosita’s story line was my next favourite; I loved it because despite being a very busy mother, she wasn’t willing to let that define her, especially when the definition of her existence was to essentially be invisible. How none of her children nor her husband noticed she wasn’t there I will never be able to fathom? And while Gunther is the sort of person who would irritate me a great deal in real life, his positive encouragement was exactly what Rosita needed.

And the short film about Gunther being a babysitter for them is hilarious, so find that as well.

It is a great film about how hard it is in the arts, and a great message to kids that if you try to do something you love, be prepared because it is hard work, and you will come across attitudes of people wishing to deter you, and you might not be successful, however if it makes you happy then that is important as well.

Book Review – The Humans by Matt Haig

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This book wasn’t quite what I had expected when I first started to read it. I had expected it to be about a Professor who has a break-down and feels alienated among the humans he knows. Sometimes I feel a bit like this when I have bad mental health days, and being familiar with Haig’s ‘Reasons to be Alive’, I had assumed he had drawn on that experience.

Turns out on reading the interviews at the end, this is exactly what Matt Haig did, but with the story he took it a step further, and my goodness what a brilliant step.

Because Professor Andrew Martin doesn’t just feel alienated, he is an alien. I often wonder what aliens would think of us, and this is what this book is about. From the moment he’s reading a magazine and questioning the point of consumerism, which I often question myself (except books, I never question buying books), I fell in love with the story.

The only one of the protagonist’s opinions of us that I disagree with is his confusion towards our attitude to clothes. I quite like them, but then again I live in Newcastle and we have chilly winds here. Other than that I felt I related better to this alien than I do some people I’ve known in my life.

I’ve been a fan of Haig ever since I read ‘The Radleys’ a few years ago and he did a brilliant twist on a vampire story. In ‘The Humans’ he has created a character who at first views us with contempt but slowly and surely finds enjoyment in simple pleasures, such as music, poetry, and in what it means to be in love. Despite that latter one being hard, with complicated rituals, the protagonist finds himself feeling more and more at home.

The book is a superb reminder to the reader to cherish the little things which make us feel content, because in truth that is the point of human life. Appreciation of what we have and of each other is more important than money and the selfish pursuit of individual triumph at the cost of sacrificing those closest to us.