Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Review: Personal Shopper

From IMDB:
'A personal shopper in Paris refuses to leave the city until she makes contact with her twin brother who previously died there. Her life becomes more complicated when a mysterious person contacts her via text message.'

I watched Personal Shopper last night, and I'm still figuring out what I think about it. I went into it expecting a fairly simple horror film, albeit one with an odd name. Still, the first act plays out much like a horror. I found the first ghost that we see more funny than scary, but it does have some genuinely creepy moments throughout.
Even when it started to shift in tone, I thought we were getting into The Babadook territory, that it might have some depth and something to say about grief. In fairness to the film, it does tell the story of Maureen's grief very effectively. The problem I had on the whole was there were so many shifts in tone that every time some momentum built from the unnerving scenes, it would be followed by a scene that could put me to sleep. Maybe that's a little harsh, with a little tighter editing I imagine it would have been fine.
A lot has been said about the scenes that revolve around Maureen texting with a stranger, and that was impressive. Kristen Stewart is fantastic throughout but especially in those scenes. If anything I think I would have enjoyed this film more had she been alone more. Those were the scenes in which she really shone. She tends to receive negative comments, especially because of Twilight but it's films like this that really show her talent.
Without getting into spoiler territory, there's an odd section in the middle in which the stranger she's messaging with encourages Maureen to explore a particular activity that she is afraid of. I found that to be a little disconnected from everything else, though it's possible it's something that went over my head.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Review: Sparks by S.J. Adams

S.J. Adams
Published by Flux

This is one of those books that I just happened upon while browsing Amazon one day. I'd never heard of the author before. It sat on my shelf for a while since I've read more Kindle books this year than anything else. I finally got around to picking it up this week and I'm so glad I did.

"There was no point in trying to cover up the fact I'd been crying. 
My face was probably as red as a monkey's butt." 

This book is unusual in ways that it really shouldn't be by now. Mostly because of the happy, healthy, well-adjusted lesbian protagonist. Debbie is a brilliant character, she's funny, unsure of herself but one thing she knows is she is deeply in love with her best friend, Lisa. Her voice is beautifully written, endearing and often hilarious without trying too hard. Now, I can't say I understood Lisa's appeal exactly, but the author does a great job of giving the reader a sense of their friendship, so it didn't really matter.

"Broken hearts are fucking gross."

There are a lot of Full House references, and while I imagine that it does add something to the reading experience if you're familiar with it, I don't feel like I missed out by not having watched it. I thought it was sweet how Debbie could relate to it so much and knew it so well.

"Will you stop staring at me? Haven't you ever seen a lesbian 
having a panic attack on a toilet before?" 

Much more interesting than Lisa are the friends Debbie makes during the story. We get to know them well throughout the quest. Speaking of the quest, it was so much fun to read that I wished I could tag along. The various locations the quest took them to are perfectly described. At times it seemed like another world, like ours but just a little different. It was definitely an interesting place to go for a while.


Friday, 21 July 2017

Blog Tour: Artificial Sweethearts by Julie Hammerle - Review

Artificial Sweethearts by Julie Hammerle
Release Date: 7/10/17
Published by Entangled Teen

It’s not chemistry between Tinka Foster and Sam Anderson that made them agree to fake date. With her parents trying to set her up with an annoying student golf coach, and intentionally single Sam’s family pressuring him to bring a date to his brother’s wedding, they could both use a drama-free summer.

So it’s not his muscular arms and quick wit that makes Tinka suggest they tell everyone they’re both taken. Definitely not. And it’s not butterflies that makes a kiss for appearances during the lake party go on way too long—so long that Sam wishes it were real.

But Tinka keeps people at arm’s length—she’s always been second best, even to her parents. And her relationship-for-show could crush everything when she realizes she’s done with fake, pretend, and second-best.


The Setting:

I love North Pole! If you haven't read either of the books yet, North Pole is a fictional town in Minnesota which collectively loves Christmas so much that it is Christmas all year round! No matter the weather, it's the Winter Holiday. A little like that film channel that's currently showing Christmas films throughout July. It's a surreal setting, and maybe in theory it shouldn't work, but it does. The author describes it so perfectly that I had to look it up to find out if it was real (super disappointed that it isn't!). I'm not sure I'd want to live there, but it sounds like an awesome place for a holiday. It's an ideal setting for romance, I can see why Hammerle has chosen to set a series there, it can definitely be expanded more. 

The Characters:

Tinka is a wonderfully flawed character. Not in the traditional quirky, clumsy, funny, kind of way (although she is all of those things too!) but in a very unhappy, and made bad choices to deal with it kind of way. It's this aspect of her character that places a ticking time bomb in the story from the beginning. It makes a refreshing change that it has nothing to do with the love interest, Sam, but instead her best friend Jane. It adds more depth to the story which I loved. Friendship can easily be forgotten in romance. There are quite a few supporting characters in this story but it's easy to keep up because they're all so well-written. 

The Love Interest:

Speaking of Sam, he is wonderfully likable without being too perfect. His love of film is conveyed in a realistic way. Also some serious past pain, and beautifully drawn sibling relationships make him very relatable. 

If, like me, this is the first you've heard of Julie Hammerle's North Pole series, pick up one of these books today! Will be definitely be keeping an eye on them.


Buy Links:

About the Author:

Julie Hammerle is the author of The Sound of Us (Entangled TEEN, 2016) and the North Pole, Minnesota young adult romance series (Entangled Crush, 2017). She writes about TV and pop culture for the ChicagoNow blog, Hammervision, and lives in Chicago with her family. She enjoys reading, cooking, and watching all the television.

Social Media Links:


Sunday, 16 July 2017

You are not obligated to talk to anyone

I'm writing this post just in case no-one has ever told you this before: You are not obligated to talk to anyone at all, especially if they make you uncomfortable. Maybe it's just because I've always been shy or maybe it's just the way I was raised but I've rarely doubted this fact. What I'm noticing again and again though, is that a lot of girls were not taught this. I have a couple of examples.

This week my wife and I were out clothes shopping, something that happens very rarely. While we were in a store that's is aimed predominantly at young women, a lone man in his mid-fifties passed us by. I felt like something was a little off right away, he was alone and walking along smiling for one thing, but no big deal. Until we stopped to look at some jeans and I noticed he'd circled back and he approached us. I didn't know until afterwards that my wife hadn't noticed that. He started talking, mainly to my wife.
Now, I'm pretty pissed at myself. I walked away. I was so confident that she would do the same that I didn't think anything of it. I only walked around to the other side of the stand, but far enough that I regret it now.
He asked her if she's a student (she looks a few years younger than she is), she said no and he began to ramble about how he's looking for a rich woman to marry. What I didn't know until afterwards, you know when somone's talking to you and they'll kind of tap you like on the arm or something, to keep your attention? This guy did that, but tapped her stomach. If I'd stayed, I would have at least slapped his hand away. Eventually he wandered off.
We talked about it, and I asked her why she humoured him at all. My sweet, understanding, wife said that maybe he was lonely or mentally ill. I'll be honest, this is one of those instances where I really don't care. He was deliberately hanging around in a women's clothing store to chat up young women.

It reminded me of something that happened at my old retail job. Two huge guys came in and asked my co-worker for help. While she tried to tell them about products they'd asked for help with, they kept interrupting to tell her how beautiful they thought she was and to ask her out. They weren't even quiet about it, but she did her best for at least ten minutes before finally walking away. She told a couple of us while the guys were still there, and our manager threw them out. HA! Just kidding! Management were all male and even after hearing how scared and uncomfortable she felt, they left them to it. One of our male co-workers served them instead which didn't take long since all they wanted to do was harass her.
After they left and we were talking about it, I asked her why she kept trying to serve them for so long. "I didn't want to be rude." It didn't cross her mind that what they did to her was so unacceptable that she could just walk away. When they returned later, deliberately seeking her out from the moment they walked in, I told her to go in the stock room. At first she wouldn't because she didn't want anyone to think she was being lazy and not doing her work. This is insane. On a side note: I completely lost faith in our store managers that day, who cared so much more about getting money in the till that they'd allow that to happen.

Obviously, it isn't always safe/possible to 'walk away', you do have to be safe. Often, that is the best course of action. So what if some stranger thinks you're 'rude' or even 'lonely'? It's incredibly rude to harass people and maybe this is why they're alone. If this seems really obvious, that's awesome! However, if it's the first time you've heard it or thought about it, taking some time to think about whether you have some personal examples of the same kind of behaviour and how it was handled by those around you.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Review: All Things New by Lauren Miller

Synopsis from NetGalley
Seventeen-year-old Jessa Gray has always felt broken inside, but she’s gotten very good at hiding it. No one at school knows about the panic attacks, the therapy that didn't help, the meds that haven’t worked. But when a severe accident leaves her with a brain injury and noticeable scars, Jessa’s efforts to convince the world that she’s okay finally crumble—now she looks as shattered as she feels. 
Fleeing from her old life in Los Angeles, Jessa moves to Colorado to live with her dad, but her anxiety only gets worse in the wake of the accident.  That is, until she meets Marshall, a boy with a heart defect whose kindness and generous spirit slowly draw Jessa out of her walled-off shell and into the broken, beautiful, real world—a place where souls get hurt just as badly as bodies, and we all need each other to heal.
All Things New is a love story about perception and truth, physical and emotional pain, and the messy, complicated people we are behind the masks we put on for the world.
Release: August 1st from Three Saints Press

Although when I first read about All Things New I was desperate to read it, and thrilled when Netalley approved my request, it took me longer than usual to get around to reading it. I'm going to blame the cover for that, it was hard to remember how awesome it sounded with that cover, here's hoping it's altered before release. 

"We've all got stuff. It's so much 
work pretending that we don't."

Without a doubt, this is the best book about a character with anxiety that I've read. The writing is descriptive and at times beautiful, without ever info-dumping or becoming preachy. Jessa's struggles are so realistic, perfectly realised. The accident happens very early in the story and is a catalyst to everything that follows, but it's the anxiety and panic that are really the star of the show. The fact that that was already a part of Jessa's life before the accident happens makes it all the more realistic, a lesser book would have had that begin because of the accident. The writing is so skillful that we can feel Jessa's exhaustion from the years of carrying this around with her. What the accident does do, is accelerate the plot so that the anxiety isn't the story, still just like in real-life, it's ever-present. 

"Watching him, I'm swept up in sadness, 
why do we rip ourselves apart?"

If I'm honest, I do sometimes have trouble connecting to books with a male love interest. However, All Things New has one of the best. Marshall is such a well-written character. At first he seems like a standard quirky, light-hearted type but the more we find out about him, the more of a parallel can be drawn between his experiences and Jessa's. They appear to be genuinely perfect for each other, rather than that fact being forced. He's a fully fleshed out person who I could easily imagine myself being friends with. In fact, his family is wonderful. This book has some very strong supporting characters. The parents, both Jessa and Marshall's, play a decent role in the story which can be a difficulty in YA. 

"no-one wants to talk about how messed up things are, 
so we let each other play pretend."

Even if you've never experienced anxiety yourself, this book would be a great introduction to it, especially if you know someone who does struggle with it. It does the impossible by putting the complex feelings into words, and beautiful words at that. And that isn't all, imperfect parent-child relationships, addiction, and teen burn-out all play a part in the plot. That being said, it never feels like there's too much going on. 
So pre-order All Things New now, you won't regret it. 


Friday, 30 June 2017

Casual Conversation

A couple of days ago I went shopping with my wife and one of our friends. I don't know whether I was listening out more to the people around us or whether it was just bad luck, but I heard a lot more negative casual comments about mental illness while we were walking around. I think maybe because I heard something that bugged me early on, I just tuned in more throughout the day. I kind of wish I hadn't.

1. While I was paying for something, the two people working there were talking about how messy their staff area was. One of them said laugh 'I just have to tidy it' more laughter 'It's my OCD' laugh laugh. 

2. Next I heard two guys talking about a video game that one of them would have made had he not quit the course. He described the main character as 'well he's a bit weird, I mean, he has mental issues'. The other guy responded like that was a specific character personality description. He then continued with how 'weird' it all would have been.

3. This one was short and sweet. Two girls were talking, one of them was talking about an annoying girl she knows, the other said 'Ugh, people like that make me want to kill myself'.

I'm pretty sure I'm preaching to the choir here, but this is the kind of stuff that just makes it so hard. These types of comments fuel the misconceptions and mean that we have so much more explaining to do when we need to talk about our stuff. I wish people could hear themselves the way some of us hear it.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

In which I've become the kind of person who cries at things on TV

All my life, my Mum has been one of those people who cries at everything on TV. I'm talking about 'normal' stuff like weddings, births, and the less traditional, like adverts. Those old BT ads with Chris Marshall and family got her every time.

My Dad and I had always gently teased her about this, and she takes the piss out of herself too. I never got it, I'd watch these things dry-eyed. Some stuff does get me. When I watch The Middle it's a 50/50 chance I'll cry at the end of the episode. (It's mostly the warm and fuzzies when it's about Brick's 'quirkiness' or Mike actually talking about his feelings.)

Now, at almost 29, I think I get it. Throughout the big Grey's Anatomy rewatch my wife and I are having right now (currently Season 7) I've cried a couple of times about Callie and Arizona. Last night we finished the latest Season of Orange is the New Black. (SPOILERS AHEAD! IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED IT ALL YET, TURN BACK NOW!) When Piper proposed I suddenly said, "That's weird, why are my eyes so itchy?" Not that my wife fell for it for a second.

It was last night that really got me thinking, and not just because I was mocked the way I used to do the mocking. I am totally the kind of person who cries about lovely things on the TV, it just needs to be people I can actually relate to. If my Mum cries about almost anything on TV, that's because straight people are 99% of what's on TV. I'm only now realising I'm one of those people because the representation of WLW has never been so good.