A Book and Film Blog

Monday, 27 February 2017

I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

The more romance I watch and read, the more convinced I am that this is one of the hardest genres to write. I had a go-to instant buy romance author who I feel like I've discussed extensively on his blog - Nicholas Sparks. But I've fallen out of love or maybe grown out of Nicholas Sparks. They either aren't as good as they used to be or, we were all on something and they were never good to begin with. Sigh. Whichever one it was, I wasn't giving up and have been continuing the search! The thing is, if I'm tired of a book - even in the first few pages, I don't stick around and tend to ditch; and my radar for crap romances is well and truly alert.

I'm ashamed to admit that while I've heard about Sophie Kinsella for years, I just thought - it's main stream "chick-lit" (problematic genre - rant coming soon) so it can't be good. Which by the way, is a really shameful and shallow thought process. Don't do it.
Anyway, I was listening to Emma Gannon's Ctrl Alt Delete podcast as I do every week (I'm really building this up aren't I?) and Sophie Kinsella was a guest and talking about her latest book My Not SO Perfect Life. Sophie Kinsella was giving super intelligent, articulate, thoughtful and real conversation.

So after hearing this voice, I read the blurb of a random book of hers - I've Got Your Number and bought it straight away. This blurb screamed rom-com plot and I bought it on that whim. We all know that a 2-Dimensional love story is far easier to watch than it is to read so Sophie Kinsella really had to come through, and and I was pleasantly surprised?!

I’ve lost it. :( The only thing in the world I wasn’t supposed to lose. My engagement ring. It’s been in Magnus’s family for three generations. And now the very same day his parents are coming, I’ve lost it. The very same day! Do not hyperventilate, Poppy. Stay positive :) !!
Poppy Wyatt has never felt luckier. She is about to marry her ideal man, Magnus Tavish, but in one afternoon her “happily ever after” begins to fall apart. Not only has she lost her engagement ring in a hotel fire drill but in the panic that follows, her phone is stolen. As she paces shakily around the lobby, she spots an abandoned phone in a trash can. Finders keepers! Now she can leave a number for the hotel to contact her when they find her ring. Perfect!
Well, perfect except that the phone’s owner, businessman Sam Roxton, doesn’t agree. He wants his phone back and doesn’t appreciate Poppy reading his messages and wading into his personal life.
What ensues is a hilarious and unpredictable turn of events as Poppy and Sam increasingly upend each other’s lives through emails and text messages. As Poppy juggles wedding preparations, mysterious phone calls, and hiding her left hand from Magnus and his parents . . . she soon realizes that she is in for the biggest surprise of her life.

Guys. I've Got Your Number is like every element you want in a perfect rom-com, but in book form. Poppy is funny and ditsy and also unsure of herself. Because the book is written in her voice it's in her voice, it's really interesting to see the way she talks to herself, because she doesn't really give herself enough credit. She's intelligent and needs o trust her instincts more, but doesn't. But she does grow up and there is a really beautiful and satisfying character development in this book! She's a flawed but unintentionally hilarious and relatable character.


Why its such a good rom-com? Kinsella a. understands her characters and b. understands the balance between comedy and romance. Yes, the situations are kind of ridiculous at times but because there's restraint even with how ridiculous the plot lines go, these plot lines are well developed and because they're so funny, its so easy to roll with it. There are also just as many twists and turns but, always done in a funny and charming way - meaning we do just get lost in the story. I can't emphasise this enough, every, single, twist serves a purpose later on - to its characters and the overall story. It's wasn't linear or predictable, which is at such a service to the characters.

Of course I too fell for Sam in a way in which, it's not even normal to fall for a fictional character. And I think you'll fall for him, at the same time that Poppy starts to fall for him which again, makes you feel like you're really settling into this story. This love story is slow burner that is warm, and sweet and authentic. I mean really, bravo Kinsella. 

I also loved the ending and how it's not a typical fairy-tale riding-off-into-the-sunset-live-happily-ever-after-and-have-twenty-kids-who-grow-up-to-be-super-attractive-blah-blah-blah ending. It's a little open but you can create your own idea of what happens after the last page.

All in all, this is the first time in a long time I've felt inclined to read an author's entire body of work. The writer clearly understands human relationships and I really think I've found something super special here. Romance is a craft, that this book has hit right on the head.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Lessons Learnt from Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

I recently finished Bad Feminist and it was so up my street. This is such a culturally aware book that doesn't just lecture on feminism but sheds light on race, gender and sexuality and looking at these in books, films, TV, politics - it's fab. Here are some lessons/thoughts I had whilst reading the book.

- Yes white privilege exists and is real but as a black woman, even I have privilege. We all have some sort of privilege and it's important to always be aware of it, you know, so that you don't say some whack stuff.

- I should start watching Girlfriends. (I have since started and it was revolutionary?! Oh and funny and intelligent and well written. How was this year the first time Tracee Ellis Ross won a Golden Globe? Girlfriends had 8 great, successful seasons! Sigh

- Don't tear down other women. I knew this before, obvs, but it's good to affirm it.

- "Tell your friends the hard truths they need to hear. They might get pissed about it, but it's probably for their own good ... Don't be rude about truth telling, and consider how much truth telling needs to get done"

-  "[Truth telling] conversations are more fun when preceded by an emphatic "GIRL"" Or in my case, throwing in a "Haha" every couple of words always softens the blow.

- Don't be so hard on Lena Dunham. Yes, there are enough while girl narratives out there - oh my, but she can't be the voice of everyone.

-  You are who you surround yourself with.

- Likeability is a lie, a performance.

- Stand up and speak up when you hear rape jokes/language surrounding sexual violence. There is power in language yet we're becoming more and more careless.

- Katniss really is a babe.

- Silence gives consent.

- Challenge the literature you read and the films you watch. I felt really uncomfortable reading: Men Explain Things to Me, How to be a Woman - both of which exclude women of colour and were problematic for many other reasons. And , I couldn't understand for the life of me how anyone could watch The Help, and feel warm and fuzzy inside. Anyway I never really voiced these but, challenging stuff a lot of people like is good. For you and them.

- "Any time your body represents some kind of difference, your privacy is compromised to some degree"

- "Women's fiction", "Chick Lit" are actually offensive. Since when were men the measure? And then when I read books that are labelled "Chick Lit", people assume that whatever you're reading, is light, fluffy and dumb.

- Are those girls who say that Chris Brown can beat them up, being serious?

- Stop listening to Blurred Lines. And anything else by Robin Thicke.

- It's okay to not want to see Viola Davis in another maid/slave/struggle role again.

- I'm tired of the struggle narrative concerning people of colour. But we should also constructively criticise those who try to do offer other narratives but don't get it right - that's what'll make them better. I was sh-oc-ked when Roxane Gay explained the plot of Tyler Perry's Temptation, a woman in an unhappy marriage, seemingly unsatisfied with her sex life? I don't know but anyway, she has an affair. Her punishment? The guy nearly kills her, her husband saves her life and then leaves her to have a happy life with a brand new family. Her punishment? She gets HIV and at the end of the film, is seen limping to church ....

- Twitter is can be great and powerful and be used as a source of good. Current favourite hashtag: thankyoumattdamon

- We all carry some racism.

- I too am a bad feminist. I'm full of contradictions - Woody Allen is one of my favourite directors, I love rachet sexist music, I make mistakes, I don't always word things in the most thoughtful or diplomatic way. But bad feminism is better than no feminism.



Friday, 17 February 2017

Currently Reading

Think of this as less of a haul (seeing as I only bought one of these books) and more of an accumulation of books since January.

The following three, were sent to me by publishers:

Ideas are your only currency by Rod Judkins

The real currency of our time isn’t money. It’s ideas. You’re surrounded by ideas. Films, products, books, music, money, messages, services and everything in your culture began life as a vision in someone’s head. If you have ideas, you’re at the heart of things.

‘What abilities will someone need to succeed in 5, 10, or 15 year’s time?’ Rod Judkins asks himself this question when he devises projects for his students at University College London and Central Saint Martins. Universities used to teach students skills and then, out in the world, they applied them. But culture sped up. Soon, in the three years it took a student to reach the workplace, their skills were out of date. Now the pace of change is so fast, skills are of little use. To survive and prosper in our new culture, you need to think conceptually.

To be at home in the world of the future, you will need to be an adaptable, open minded, problem solver, communicator, inventor, artist and entertainer. For this reason, the exercises in this book are designed to encourage you to think beyond what is accepted and conventional. An Olympic athlete trains their body. A creative thinker has to exercise just as hard, but train their imagination. There are exercises in this book that will help you develop your ability to have ideas. 

This book is SUPER fun inside. It's got loads of weird creative activities - can't wait to do some of these.

Sockpuppet by Matthew Blakstad

Twitter. Facebook. Whatsapp. Google Maps. Every day you share everything about yourself - where you go, what you eat, what you buy, what you think - online. Sometimes you do it on purpose. Usually you do it without even realizing it. At the end of the day, everything from your shoe-size to your credit limit is out there. Your greatest joys, your darkest moments. Your deepest secrets.

If someone wants to know everything about you, all they have to do is look.

But what happens when someone starts spilling state secrets? For politician Bethany Lehrer and programmer Danielle Farr, that's not just an interesting thought-experiment. An online celebrity called sic_girl has started telling the world too much about Bethany and Dani, from their jobs and lives to their most intimate secrets. There's just one problem: sic_girl doesn't exist. She's an construct, a program used to test code. Now Dani and Bethany must race against the clock to find out who's controlling sic_girl and why... before she destroys the privacy of everyone in the UK.

Books for Living by Will Schalwbe

Why is it that we read? Is it to pass time? To learn something new? To escape from reality? For Will Schwalbe, reading is a way to entertain himself but also to make sense of the world, to become a better person, and to find the answers to the big (and small) questions about how to live his life. In this delightful celebration of reading, Schwalbe invites us along on his quest for books that speak to the specific challenges of living in our modern world, with all its noise and distractions. In each chapter, he discusses a particular book—what brought him to it (or vice versa), the people in his life he associates with it, and how it became a part of his understanding of himself in the world. These books span centuries and genres (from classic works of adult and children’s literature to contemporary thrillers and even cookbooks), and each one relates to the questions and concerns we all share. Throughout, Schwalbe focuses on the way certain books can help us honor those we’ve loved and lost, and also figure out how to live each day more fully. Rich with stories and recommendations, Books for Living is a treasure for everyone who loves books and loves to hear the answer to the question: “What are you reading?”

This book, was written for me. I love talking about books and these are the kind of questions I ask myself, friends and family so I'm so excited about this!

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Stevenson into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

I'm not keen on slave narratives. I mean, what more could possibly be said on the matter? But, it fills me with PRIDE when yet another writer of colour brings out a book that is getting recognition. So I'm going to give it a go.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

I can't believe I'm only now reading Bad Feminist but I have a whole other post on all my feels about this gem. 

I'm borrowing the following two comics from my brother: 

Aquaman Volume 1

The King of the Seven Seas Aquaman returns to his very own ongoing series for the first time in years at the hands of DC Entertainment Chief Creative Office Geoff Johns, who reteams with Green Lantern collaborator artist Ivan Reis! Between proving himself to a world that sees him as a joke, Aquaman and his bride Mera face off against a long buried terror from the depths of the ocean!

Before this week I hadn't read any Aquaman comics - ever. But because I wanted to prepare myself for Justice League, here was my required reading! I'm now beyond excited for the Aquaman stand-alone film and, actually more excited to see Mera on screen than anyone else. What a badass, she has no chill.

Batman: The Killing Joke
by Alan Moore

For the first time the Joker's origin is revealed in this tale of insanity and human perseverance. Looking to prove that any man can be pushed past his breaking point and go mad, the Joker attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon insane.

After shooting and permanently paralyzing his daughter Barbara (a.k.a. Batgirl), the Joker kidnaps the commissioner and attacks his mind in hopes of breaking the man.

But refusing to give up, Gordon maintains his sanity with the help of Batman in an effort to beset the madman.

The Joker's back story?! I'm reading this today and I can't wait. Also, how beautiful is the art:



The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport?

Or be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you? How does it feel to hear a child of colour say in a classroom that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London? What is it like to feel you always have to be an ambassador for your race? How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?

Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.

Inspired by discussion around why society appears to deem people of colour as bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit scroungers, undeserving refugees – until, by winning Olympic races or baking good cakes, or being conscientious doctors, they cross over and become good immigrants, editor Nikesh Shukla has compiled a collection of essays that are poignant, challenging, angry, humorous, heartbreaking, polemic, weary and – most importantly – real.

 I've got a whole post coming up on this but I urgee you to go and read this in the meantime. 

Binge by Tyler Oakley

Pop culture phenomenon, social rights advocate, and the most prominent LGBTQ+ voice on YouTube, Tyler Oakley brings you his first collection of witty, personal, and hilarious essays written in the voice that’s earned him more than 10 million followers across social media.

This short blurb isn't doing this book any justice. Tyler is HILARIOUS and wise (I'm a fan but who knew?!) and insightful and inspirational and also really moving. One of the stand out essays is when Tyler listed his favourite Disney princes. Gold. 

The Fisherman by Chigozie Obioma

In a Nigerian town in the mid 1990's, four brothers encounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family. Told from the point of view of nine year old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, The Fishermen is the story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the ominous, forbidden nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact-both tragic and redemptive-will transcend the lives and imaginations of its characters and its readers. Dazzling and viscerally powerful, The Fishermen never leaves Akure but the story it tells has enormous universal appeal. Seen through the prism of one family's destiny, this is an essential novel about Africa with all of its contradictions—economic, political, and religious—and the epic beauty of its own culture. With this bold debut, Chigozie Obioma emerges as one of the most original new voices of modern African literature, echoing its older generation's masterful storytelling with a contemporary fearlessness and purpose.

I stopped reading after the second chapter unfortunately. This isn't my first attempt to read a book on the Man Booker shortlist but I just couldn't get into Obioma's writing style.

Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels

He shows how to slow down to pray, listen to God, respond to what we hear, practice the presence of God and overcome prayer barriers.

I want to turn to God more and pray more this year. This book I think is a good place to start!


Sunday, 12 February 2017

Film Review: Moonlight

I was drawn into seeing Moonlight after all its award buzz but admittedly, did go into the screening thinking the story of a gay black boy growing up in a rough neighbourhood in the States, was one I've seen before. And arguably, there are slight moments the film panders to stereotypes. But what director Barry Jenkins does in Moonlight is both intelligent and visceral, layered, fresh, and unlike anything I've seen in cinema.

Whatever the trailer or critics may have you believe, this isn't really a story about about a gay black boy. Moonlight asks, who and what shapes us? How do we become who we are?


Moonlight is about Chiron, a boy born into a rough area in Miami. His dad is nowhere to be found and his mum, played by Naomie Harris, is a cocaine addict. Our first introduction, is when he's found by Mahershala Ali's Juan - who calls himself Blue, hiding from school bullies in a derelict building. Blue takes him back to his home where his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) offers him dinner and a place to stay after Chiron refuses to go home.

Moonlight Chiron 3 Actors
The film follows him growing up, marking each life stage by the different names he calls himself. First Little - a boy; his teenage years as Chiron - arguably a more removed version of himself and finally; a young man, Black who is a mirror of Blue but evidently more hardened by his environment and less sure of who he is. As he grows up, he's also discovering his sexuality in a harsh world that doesn't want to accept him. Teresa and Blue's home it seems, is a constant place of refuge.

We could say this is a coming of age story about a possibly gay boy growing up in a harsh African American community. But the film doesn't try to chronicle, judge or neatly box any of these experiences. It's beautifully open-ended, like life itself and is also layered with universal messages, perhaps notably on hyper-masculinity. Its power to create a hostile culture and society where men are not free to express themselves. And how it can create desensitise a person. One of the film's most raw and tender moments is when Chiron asks his friend Kevin, "do you cry?" which is followed by an open conversation in which considering up until this point Chiron has said very little, he's surprisingly articulate about his emotions.

As this is very much Chiron's story, the film is gentle, quiet and understated. Indeed given the characters they were playing, both Naomie Harris and Marhershala Ali could've easily given very bold, venturing on caricatured performances. Instead, both are stripped back - controlled and restrained, which only add to humanity we see presented in this film. Moonlight in fact does rely heavily on the actors' performances, with the camera almost always hovering over their shoulders. Something must also be said for James Laxton's cinematography which to put it simply, is stunning. The predominately handheld and frenetic camera work only adds to the stripped back emotions, that carry this story.

Harris had previously said she didn't want to take roles that would add to the narrative of people of colour being addicts, criminals, etc. But what Jenkins does here, is present a plethora of flawed individuals, and humanises them and their experiences, simply by giving them the space to tell their story. Juan's impact on Chiron's life is his impact is perhaps the most undeniable - whether that's a good or bad thing, I think the film is undecided. But in showing the long lasting impact they each have on each others' lives, we see glimpses of hope, kindness and grace.


Friday, 10 February 2017

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

I wanted to like The Wrath and the Dawn so much. I've been trying to find books by writers of colour and stories from different backgrounds, plus this series has been big in the blogosphere. Plus this book cover is bea-u-tiful.

The book is a love story, inspired by One Thousand and One Nights - a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folk tales. Set in Khorasan, the 18 year old Caliph marries a new woman every dawn and has her executed at sunrise. So everyone is pretty suspicious when 16 year old Shahrzad, volunteers to be his next bride. Of course unbeknown to him, she is there to find out why these executions have been happening and then, kill him for the execution of her best friend and, all the other innocent girls. Her charm gets her through dawn but something is holding her back from going through with her plan ...

The middle-eastern setting of this book, was  my favourite thing about this whole story. It's just so different and refreshing to see a group of characters in a background that we're not used to seeing in mainstream literature. It didn't feel like it was from an outsider's perspective either, you feel very much thrown into the world. The story also sprinkles in some magical realism too. For example, there are touches of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp too which I thoroughly enjoyed.

My biggest problem with it was that I couldn't connect with any the characters and so as a reader, I still felt like an outsider to everything that was going on. Without the setting, this story is essentially every dystopian love story ever told. I mean The Wrath and the Dawn is The Book of Ivy set in historical Iran.

Shahrzad is your stereo-typical heroine and in a way that is sort of shoved down your throat. The book tries to single her out because she's "witty" and "charming" and makes a "sacrifice" though a. she displays no characteristics that I would say are particularly witty or charming and b. not really a sacrifice if she doesn't go in there thinking she's going to die. In fact, I've got no idea why she lives for more than a day - she doesn't exactly stand out from anyone. I also really don't understand why dystopian (FYI - it's not actually dystopian, it's set in the past but it uses all the dystopian tropes) books have their hero/heroine so young - it's just so much less believable and almost erodes the gravitas of these characters just by the age. The Caliph for example, is presented as this brooding, cold, ruthless figure with these deep emotional wounds that he doesn't talk about and for some reason, kills his brides instead. But he's 18. And nothing he says or does matches him leads us to believe this is the voice and actions of an 18 year old. You literally have to forget he's 18 and imagine he's older or, accept that he's 18 and that for me unfortunately, lessens the extent to which I believe he's any of the earlier adjectives. He'd literally give an "order" and I'd be like, why are you listening to this little boy?

The love story was inevitable, because we've seen this story play out a thousand times elsewhere. Girl goes to kill guy because he's evil, girl realises he's not evil, girl falls in love with guy. But he never softens up so I don't really know what Shahrzad is falling in love with. I'm pretty sure he rapes her at the beginning (?) and then he becomes strangely possessive for no reason other than, this is the closest human interaction he's had because this is the first bride who's stuck around for more than a day. Renee Ahdieh uses these weird , dull bedtime stories that Shahrzad tells him, to forge this apparently great "connection" between them but it feels just that, forced.

The ending reveals why the Caliph has been executing these girls and of course, there's something "greater" and more sinister going on. The reveal explains the Caliph's previous behaviour but doesn't explain or justify any of his behaviour in the book. But the characters fail this story because I emotionally checked out of the story about half way through and didn't care why any of this was really happening. Once again, the setting is really incredible and captivating, but not enough for me to pick up any sequels.


Monday, 6 February 2017

what noone told me about living abroad

I've now been on my year abroad, in France, since September of last year! And looking at these pretty photos I took in Nantes, you may assume that I've been having a whale of a time - as everyone keeps reminding me that I must be having! I did actually have a good rebooting day that day. It was the first time being to the cinema in nearly 2 months (!) and the first time I'd left the little town I've been living in. But truthfully, the year so far has had a lot of ups and downs.

Prior to this year, I feel like when talking to people who had lived abroad during university, would tend to tell you that it'll be the best year of your life. Or you'll have people that hint at it not being so smooth sailing, but when prompted, would reassure you that it'll still be "the best year of your life".

I'm just going to be straight up and say, this year abroad has been far from peachy. I think there is a degree of shame in admitting when you're not having a great time. Firstly, what a first world problem, right? You're living in France whilst the rest of your friends are slaving over dissertations in the not so great British weather (which by the way, I miss desperately), so what are you even complaining about. But also, it seems like everyone who is on a year abroad at least on social media seems to be, all smiles in the sun with beautiful views with their new friends or drinking tequila in Instagrammable looking locations.

 I can't say the year abroad experience has been difficult throughout and just a disclaimer, I'm really speaking to my own unique experience. I know people who are having a great time. And I do genuinely believe that whether good or bad, the year abroad is a worthwhile experience. Just want to say that before I slag of France and everyone in it (jokes).

Here's what no-one told me about living abroad.

You might find you have a lot of free time. 
Most teaching assistants work around 12 hours a week - I actually work more than that. And even though it's more hours than I would spend on campus, at university you're always busy doing something - whether it's societies or seminar prep. Outside of working hours, the day really is yours. Now, this has been nice - I've had so much more time to read, blog, etc etc. But, i'm also living in a really really small town which is so difficult to leave. I haven't lived somewhere without busses or trains before this year. And so though the biggest city nearby is about an hour away, it's not that easy to get to. So I've found myself with these free time and being quite bored.

Little loosely related rant, I miss THE CINEMA. Oh my word since leaving England, it's as though 2016/17 has been the best year for film and I've missed everything. It is awards season right now and I have major FOMO. In fact no fear, I'm missing out. People on Twitter were pissed earlier this month, saying Taraji P Henson was snubbed at the Oscars and I couldn't even be mad and join in, because I haven't seen Hidden Figures yet :) I'm going back to England for a week and I can't tell you how happy I'll be to be close to a cinema.

Anyway, all this free time on my hands hasn't been great for my mental health.

It can be a lonely experience.
Like I said, I've felt geographically isolated and as a result, isolated and lonely in general. The situation has definitely improved. In October, my living situation was at times emotionally unbearable but since the start of this year, I've been living with two other assistants who work at another school and I love it! It's so nice having a flat of girls you get on with and it has definitely helped with feeling less alone. Yet even in France, you can feel far away from your family and friends. And if you're living alone or in a far from ideal living situation, you do have to make an effort to find people and reach out,which isn't always easy. I'm someone who normally likes my own company but sometimes I feel really lonely. And a phone call to a friend or my parents, literally makes my week. That's been great though because before, I'd literally never call a friend and now I just really look forward those conversations.

You don't just move abroad, and become fluent in a foreign language.
And what a rude awakening that was.  If you're more than a year into learning a foreign language then you'll already know this, there is nothing glamorous about learning them. So I really thought, like everyone had been saying, that I was going to move to France and alas, be fluent just by breathing in the French air. Ya know? Well, the first few weeks were also eye opening because it felt like I couldn't catch everything people were saying and it felt like I was constantly on the outside of a conversation (again, quite isolating). And I've really had to continue doing grammar and reading French and always trying to talk to people. For an introvert, that doesn't come so easily.

I know I've probably painted a pretty bleak image of the year/whined endlessly but I do think it's important to also just talk about times when you're not feeling 100%. It's been challenging yes, but that's been good for me. The saying "you don't grow when you're comfortable" has never been truer. It's kind of like awkward growing pains that you need to go through that aren't fun. No matter your experience living abroad, I promise you you'll lean so much about yourself and you'll leave more confident than you were coming in.


Friday, 3 February 2017

Don't Look Back by Jennifer L Armentrout

After taking an unintentional hiatus from YA and actually fiction in general last year, this book definitely restored my faith in both.

Don't Look Back centres around Samantha, a mean girl who disappeared with her best friend Cassie and both were involved in some sort of freak accident. Samantha is found walking on the side of the road, covered in blood with absolutely no recollection of what happened. The book then follows her as she tries to piece together what happened to her. This process is pretty difficult because she becomes increasingly aware that she was a massive bitch, and really wants nothing to do with her old life. This amnesia has essentially given her a second chance at life to be a better person and right some of the people she's wronged; mainly her ex ex best friend Carson, who she cut out of her life years ago because his family were poorer than hers. All is well on that front, but Cassie is still missing. And there's someone else who was there that day, and will do whatever it takes to keep Samantha quiet. 

The memory loss aspect of this book was executed very well. I'd be lying if I didn't say I was nervous the minute I realised this was going to be an amnesia story. It's just too easy to have all the plot holes. We've all come across books/films where characters are meant to have amnesia but then remember things that then go unexplained by the writers. Here, the process is a lot more realistic in that the memory gain, is non-existent for a long time. And when it happens, it's very little and often unsubstantial - right to the end - meaning that when trippy stuff starts happening, you're in Samantha's shoes and just as confused. This was a really smart move on Jennifer L Armentrout's part because it allowed her to throw in a lot of twists and turns, right until the very end. For that reason, it's a quick read because you just want to know what happens and the book really doesn't give anything away until the very end. As for the ending itself, I was so preoccupied with trying to guess what happened, I didn't see it coming at all. And for a book that builds up so much, that ending was so shocking and juicy and satisfying.

I loved how the nature of the book changes into a whodunit maybe half-way through because from then on as a reader, you start trying to work it out and whoever you think is the culprit changes from chapter to chapter. And there were times where it felt like a Gossip Girl episode which just made it so much fun to read.

Ooo and also, there's a really slow burning but cute at the same time romance going on here which was just a nice touch and gives the story another dimension.

The book however isn't without fault. I found the characters to be slightly cliched - Samantha the rich mean girl (for no real reason other than she grew up and realised she was rich so decided to be a bitc about it) who becomes nice; all the richer adults are pretty awful people and; we've got sets of disapproving parents who don't want their children to date "poorer" people but are in fact deeply unhappy in their own lives. Though she does this well, I don't think Jennifer L Armentrout has done anything differently on that front.

That aside, the book sets out to be a thriller and if that's what you're looking for, this is a bloody good one. 

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