New Year’s Resolutions Book Tag – 2019

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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. It has however been a bittersweet year for reading, and I’m not going to lie, preparing it this year has been harder than before.

However, here’s what I loved in 2018

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

I bought a book of Anglo Saxon Verse a couple of months ago and I’m not sure whether to file it under history or poetry.

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

Easiest category to fill in this year. Note on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig.

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

So in 2016 and 2017, and at the beginning of 2018 I have said 1984 by George Orwell. I still haven’t read it.

So instead this year I’m instead going to aim to read books I already own and try not to buy too many new ones.

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

Most unfortunately this year I haven’t had a book that has gripped me in this way. Normally it is a book of poetry like Rupi Kaur, but not this year. Which I think does say a hell of a lot about my reading this year, which has been sporadic at best.

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

I haven’t really been bargain hunting this year. In truth I have been spending far too much on books this year, because I find book shopping very soothing.

I think the best deal I got was being able to buy Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig a week before the release date because…well still not sure why it was being sold early but it was an amazing moment because I had been looking forward to it so much.

Be more organized – how do you organize your bookshelf?

Not very well; it’s something I need to work on. Still. Certainly tidier than last year.

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

As excited as I was about Matt Haig’s new book it did take me about six months of dipping in and out of it to finish it. However, every time I did pick it up to read the next bit, I ended up reading exactly what I needed to read next to help me with whatever problem was affecting my mental health at the time.

The book I read the quickest was Everless by Sara Holland. I bought it to read on the train when I was going on a day trip. I pretty much only put the book away in order to sprint across a train station to make a connection after suffering some delays. Finished it when I was halfway home.

Go out more – what book isolated you from reality?

Another one I picked up at the train station. Disobedience by Naomi Alderman. I just got completely lost in Hendon, North London, and the Orthodox Jewish community that serves as the book’s setting. Loved it.

Be unique – what was your favourite book of 2018?

Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. I have loved the film for about twenty years now, so I finally got around to reading the e-book I picked up a couple of years ago when it was in a kindle sale.

Normally if I’ve loved one version of a story for so long, like a film based on a book I’ve never read, I’m normally disappointed when I try the book. Not this time; it is very different to the film, but it is just as enchanting.

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

I’m really looking forward to reading through all the books I already own, and I’m really looking forward to going back to a few I’ve only read the once but haven’t read in a very long time. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, are two I am particularly looking forward to reading both again.

In terms of new books to read, I can’t wait to read The Power by Naomi Alderman, which is calling to me after I finished her first novel Disobedience the other week.

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

I really need to try the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness again. I read a Discovery of Witches back in 2011 when it first came out but while I bought the other two in the trilogy I have never read them, and I think it is time I should really.

I also need to read more Kazuo Ishiguro. I read The Remains of the Day over Christmas and loved it, so I certainly need to read more by him this year.

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My Blog Break

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vacation

I’m taking a break from my blog at the moment, because it has become something I had never really intended on it becoming, which was a place where people can find out my views on whatever book/film/tv show I had reviewed recently.

I had always intended on my blog being about writing, and the reviews became a little extra feature I had added out of interest.

And then the reviews took over, and recently I realised I was reading books and watching films I had never seen before, and avoiding things I enjoyed simply because I had already blogged about them.

As much as I am all about experiencing new things, I am nostalgic as well, and I want to enjoy things I enjoy again, and I want to do it without the guilt.

And more than that I realised I was just saying things that other people have already said, simply because I do take a bit longer to get around to formulating my opinions before expressing them. I don’t want to be old news, so I’m going to just stay quiet.

So I am on a blog break. I’ve done this before, and I will come back, but for the moment my writing is going well, I’m enjoying having breaks with reading and viewing without thinking about how I will blog it.

I’m going to have a good think about the purpose of my blog, and I’ll get back to you…someday.

(And if you don’t get that subtle last reference, watch Westworld now, it is awesome.)

How to get the writing started again…-ish

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i-am-a-writer

My writing has been on vacation for a while now. At first I thought this was just my novel writing, but as some of you may have noticed since I posted When the Writing Stops, I’ve stopped my reviews as well.

It isn’t as if I don’t have plenty to post either; I have a massive list of films I’ve seen recently. Most of them were the Oscar contenders, but I just haven’t got around to talking about them yet. I have pretty much just been procrastinating from my writing by playing video games instead.

However, the writing has started up again. Sort of. Technically what I’m doing is editing an existing book, in the hope that if I tidy it up a bit, I might be able to get my head around what I want to do in its sequel.

And it does seem to be working, and it is because of that great bit of advice when you are stuck with your writing.

Try Writing Something Else!

Admittedly I’m already doing this; the books I am working on at the minute I’m doing because I can’t get a book I’ve been working on for nearly a decade to work. It is so frustrating that it has happened again.

I think I mentioned the Importance of Erna, in When the Writing Stops. Honestly, it is an appalling idea; utter rubbish. It was so bad that my brain suddenly spewed out the solution to my writing problems rather than be forced to continue working on drivel.

So here is my advice, take one of your bad ideas and try and write it. Hopefully what will happen next is that that the better idea you were already working on before will work itself out in the meanwhile.

 

When the Writing Stops

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Every now and then my writing just stops.

Whenever I have talked about it before on this blog it has always been in the past tense. Normally, I’ve had a breakthrough and the ability to create a story has come back.

Right now I am smack bang in the middle of not being able to write a word of my novel.

It is the most frustrating feeling in the world; I’m sure there must be a word in some language out there to describe this sort of frustration.

I have the desire to write, but too much doubt to let me because I keep having false starts. I’m more stressed and tense than normal because writing relaxes me. And worst of all I have too much on my mind because my story is in here, but it isn’t coming out coherently.

Essentially imagine you are stuck at the the front of the queue at the grocery store and the people behind you are shouting at you to get on with it, but you can’t because the self-serve machine keeps telling you there is an unexpected item in the bagging area when everything in there is expected or there’s nothing there; the screen keeps freezing and you have to start again; and then you put the wrong PIN number in.

Wait I am describing a scene from Sherlock? Probably.

Well not being able to write feels like that; except the voices I can hear shouting are my characters wondering when I’m going to get on with it already. I want nothing more than to just shout and storm off, except writing is such a massive part of who I am it would be like trying to walk away from sleeping, eating and drinking.

ARGH!!!!

odi et amo scripturae meae

Hopefully I will get to have my breakthrough soon because I’m referencing Catullus now; clearly I’m having problems with originality at the minute.

Which probably explains why I’ve been contemplating writing a book called ‘The Importance of Erna’.

(Go ahead roll your eyes, I did when my frustrated brain came up with that title)

Book Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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John Green is not an author I have ever been tempted to read before, and even though I like ‘Turtles All the Way Down’ I’m not tempted to read anything else by him. It is nothing personal but he just doesn’t write books that suit my tastes.

However, I’ve always been open to trying new authors, and John Green has always been on my radar to try if the right book came along. When I heard his latest book is about a teenager living with an anxiety disorder, I knew I had finally found a book by this popular author that I might enjoy.

And I wasn’t wrong.

The story doesn’t go quite in the direction you think it is going to go when Aza and her best friend Daisy start a man-hunt for a missing billionaire in order to claim the reward. However, Green has written a character going through anxiety that is bloody brilliant.

I have read non-fiction books about mental illness before, some of them a bit clinical and others by the likes of Matt Haig and Susan Calman which are more personable.

The character of Aza though spoke to me in a way nothing has managed to before; she thinks like I think, though a bit more extreme, and the toll her illness takes on her family and friends is relatable. If anyone wants to know what it is like having a mental illness then they need to read this book. It won’t give you insight into what depression and any number of other disorders and illnesses can be like, but it will let you know what experiencing uncontrollable anxiety can be like.

And if nothing else it will more certainly give you insight into how difficult it is for anyone to have a mental illness. As easy as it is for people to say, ‘just stop thinking about it then’ this book is a very accessible way of seeing doing that is one of the most difficult things in the world.

I highly recommend this book; I couldn’t stop put it down while I was reading, and I longed to be able to pick it up and carry on reading it at times when I couldn’t (for instance in order to work and sleep). It’s great, and while I will never be a fan of John Green, I am an admirer of what he has achieved with this book.

Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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When I went to the cinema to see this film I was left deeply uncertain as to whether I had liked the film or not. I tried a couple of times to write a review back then, but I just couldn’t put into words what had bothered me about the film. When I re-watched it the other week I figured out what it was I don’t like.

I don’t like the title.

It’s a strange thing to have bothered me, but the reason is very much because the title places emphasis on Valerian, when the film itself is centred around both Valerian and Laureline. And why does the film centre on two protagonists? Because the comic book ‘Valerian and Laureline’, which the film has been adapted from, does so.

My problem stems from the fact that Laureline is likeable, whereas Valerian, while he certainly has his heart in the right place, is a bit dubious in his attitude at times. I don’t think it helps that there is no chemistry at all between these two characters; the actors didn’t make me believe that these are two people in love. In lust, on Valerian’s part certainly, but not in love. Skewing the emphasis from one character when it was really about two bugs me, especially because it is skewed towards the man, when in truth I much prefer Laureline.

That little quibble aside though, it is actually a really good film. The story slows down in places and goes off tangent from the main plot, but it does keep going, and it does get to a satisfying conclusion in the end. Generally as a writer I judge a film on the plot and the characters, and while they could have been better in this film, the film makes up for it because of another important factor that is crucial for science fiction to work properly. The storyworld.

The settings in this film from a lost paradise, to the market in another dimension to the City of a Thousand Planets which itself gave a multitude of different environments kept my attention on the screen. It is an imaginative extravaganza and I love this film for doing that.

Admittedly, saying that makes me a hypocrite. Generally I bash films for using their special effects to wow me. However, because they did have a decent and fairly original story to entice me in as well (makers of Avatar take note), it sits better with me that they used green screen to create a very different world from many I have seen on screen before. In many cases the setting was relevant to the plot as well, so it wasn’t like the filmmakers were boosting ‘look what we can do’ without reason.

The plot might slow down in places and the title is a bit deceiving in who the main character is, but this is a fun action packed science fiction film set in a very futuristic world, and in terms of utilising imagination, it definitely wins points for that. The overall message from the plot is certainly to be commended. (Slight spoiler – it is about forgiveness.)

Film Review: Groundhog Day

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I know, I know I should have maybe aimed to publish this on Feb 2nd, but there are two very good reasons why I didn’t; the main one being I forgot. The second is because I normally post on Wednesdays, and this one happens to also be Valentine’s Day. While I’m not a massive fan of the commercialisation of my relationship, I am a massive softie and a romantic, and Groundhog Day has always been one of my favourite romantic comedies. And for me this film is the epitome of why I don’t hold a high opinion of V-Day.

It has been years since I last saw this film, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of the film, so I want to celebrate why it is so important to me. You can tell the technology is a bit dated but other than that the film and the story haven’t dated at all. It is classic film; it is about a time loop; about discovering who you are as a person and discovering what really matters in life. A bit of science fiction and a meaningful message is celebration enough to justify why it is a favourite, but I shall elaborate.

A lot of the first half of film is about coming to terms with being stuck in a time loop.

Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

Ralph: That about sums it up for me.

This quote has become my favourite from the film. Admittedly it hasn’t always been my favourite. Before I grew up and understood a bit better this one had always been the best one, quite possibly because of the brilliance of the delivery:

Phil: It’s the same thing your whole life: “Clean up your room. Stand up straight. Pick up your feet. Take it like a man. Be nice to your sister. Don’t mix beer and wine, ever.” Oh yeah: “Don’t drive on the railroad track.”

Gus: Well, Phil, that’s one I happen to agree with.

You can probably guess what my favourite scene in the film is; getting drunk on beer in a bowling alley rather than a bar. Definitely small town America, but Gus and Ralph have always been two of the best characters, quite possibly because they are drunk, but most likely because they were always the ones that seemed to accept Phil’s situation without question and they went along with having some fun. I understand better now why they did because of the quote that has now become my favourite.

And because I understand the above quote better, and I understand how awful it would be to see everything tangible that you achieve in a day disappear into nothing, the film has just got better in time. I understand the frustration Phil feels as he tries again and again to woo Rita in an ever increasing series of getting slapped across the face. I understand the depression, because I have felt months roll into one in my head when I have been ill myself.

Acceptance and the desire to better one’s self comes in the latter half of the film. Listening to some beautiful music and reading a pile of books is something my husband and I joked that I would be doing within a week or two of being trapped in a time loop, but that is because learning new skills etc. is something I have learned is what makes each day different from the last.

At the end, having gone though what is probably centuries and centuries of the same day, Phil becomes the man Rita dreams of finding. And that is how people fall in love with each other; it is not some forced meet-cute and some pretend chemistry aided by the fact the actors themselves personify society’s idea of beauty, but because in real life people have interests, skills, the desire to be content in those skills and in doing the best they can to help other people who might not be having the best day.

This is why Groundhog Day is a classic film, because yes in the end it is about love, but in the majority the film is about life and it is about finding what makes life meaningful, of which love is just one part of living. And why is this film the epitome of why I don’t hold a high opinion of V-Day? Because love is not just for one day of the year.

I don’t have a problem with people celebrating love and I commend the idea. It is the commercialisation and expectation around it that I can’t stand; the idea that love is something that can be measured in tangible purchases. Love is something I nurture everyday as part of a greater whole, just like nurturing meaning in life is something Phil learns to nurture in himself as he lives the same day over and over again.