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REVIEW- Confessions: Kanae Minato

Thanks to BookBridgr and Mulholland Books for sending this book in return for an honest review.

Teachers are aware of the possible cruelty of children- we deal with name calling, fights, bullying. However, underneath it all, we still want to see our students as inherently good people. But what if a child in your class had carried out an act so callous that it could be called evil? And what if that act was direct towards your own son or daughter?
In Confessions Yuko Moriguchi’s four year old child died at her work place (a middle school) and everyone thought it had been just a terribly tragic accident. However, on the last day of term, the last day she will work at that school, she addresses her form class to inform them that Manami’s death had not been an accident. In fact, two of the pupils in that very class had been responsible, and what’s more… she has devised and already carried out a very cunning method of revenge upon them.
In many ways this in itself could be the entire plot line for a novella- full of twists, shocking plot line. Some authors would take this storyline and simply milk it for as much as they could. However, Minato doesn’t stop there. Following Moriguchi’s confession (first chapter) we are given the perspectives of the young teenagers in the class and their families, allowing us to discover more twists and facts which help to make the preceding events make even more sense.
In terms of style, Confessions is an easy read- the first person narratives allow for each new character to be direct, conversational and honest without giving the reader every necessary detail all at once. Restricting our point of view to one character at a time allows Minato to skilfully present each new twist and turn at just the right time in order to keep the reader in a state of constant suspense.
Conversely, in terms of content, this is not an easy read- it covers the death of Manami (a four year old girl) several times from several perspectives, and also allows an insight into the mind of someone who would carry out such an act.
I found none of the narrators (except possibly Naoki’s sister) to be particular likeable- but in many ways I found this to be a relief. I didn’t want to like them. Moriguchi’s motivation was well expressed and explained, I did feel for her but I still can’t condone her actions.
There were some elements of the plot I found to be implausible (I won’t state here due to spoilers) but I didn’t find it ruined my consumption of the book. Ultimately, I found this to be a roller coaster read full of twists and turns, shocks and suspense. It’s difficult to say I enjoyed it because of the brutal subject matter but I found it to be a well-written compelling read.
Book available- 14th August 2014

Hufflepuff Tote Bag: Finished!

A week or so ago I showed you the beginning of my crafted gift for a friend. Now that I have given it to her I am happy to share with you the final product.

The bag itself was just a plain 100% cotton tote that I drew onto with a water soluble fabric pen- I just did it by eye as I knew any mistakes would disappear! I then used fabric pastels to add colour to the bag. I might experiment next time with paint to get a more even coat but the pastels were quick and easy to use. Just iron the image on (through baking parchment) and you are ready to go.
The details were added with embroidery. The white collar lines use a chain stitch whilst I used a simple back stitch for the piping on the sweater and the black lines on the tie.
I was nervous about giving it to her but luckily it all went well. She was over the moon and squealed with happiness when she saw it was Hufflepuff! Whether she uses it or not, I’m glad that she enjoyed the thought.

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Top Ten Characters I Would Want With Me on a Deserted Island

A fabulous blog entitled The Broke and The Bookish hold a weekly feature/web-meme/ link up entitled Top Ten Tuesday. Each week has a different theme where bloggers from around the world contribute their own top ten and are able to discuss each other’s choices. This week we have been asked to choose the characters we would want to be stuck with on a deserted island.

At first I thought about characters that could possibly just transport me off the island straight away- eg Harry Potter (could fly me away on a broom or we could do side-long apparition), Superman (we could fly away) or
The Time Traveller (with his Time Machine of course- we could travel back and never get on the transport that led us to the island). However this would mean I wouldn’t need anyone else and that would be the end of my top ten list, so I decided to avoid any characters with magic powers or magic machines.

1) Finnick Odair
The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins
I enjoy a good fish supper so Finnick would be a great companion on the deserted island. He’s handy with a spear, comfortable around water and he’d be something pretty to look at. (Sorry Mr H, you’re not fictional. I can’t take you with me so I’ll have to settle for Finnick).
2) Lizzie Prain
Season To Taste or How To Eat Your Husband- Natalie Young
In case we found any animals we’d need an expert in making unusual meats as palatable as possible. If Lizzie can rustle up a dish of husband foot she must be able to do wonders with a hog or a rodent. (Also would come in handy if anyone died and we felt the need to eat them).
3) Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe- Daniel Defoe
OK, so being back on an island may disturb him slightly but he developed some great skills last time and it’s always good to have experience on your team.
4) Dr John Watson
Sherlock Holmes- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Intelligent, field experience in the army, medical expertise and intelligent but probably not as know-it-all as Holmes. Definitely a useful person to have around.
5) Kensuke
Kensuke’s Kingdom- Michael Morpurgo
OK, this is a very similar suggestion to Robinson Crusoe. Kensuke has experience of being on an island, he knows how to safely manage himself in the water (and how to look after someone who has been stung by a jellyfish) and he could teach me how to paint on shells.
6) Cassandra Mortmain
I Capture The Castle- Dodie Smith
We could talk about books and boys (well, Finnick Odair) and carry out the Midsummer Rites together. I think she’s be good company and would appreciate the beautiful scenery around her.
7) Neville Longbottom
Harry Potter- J.K. Rowling
OK, I know I said no-one with magical skills but Neville’s magical skills are fairly negligible at times… but we would need a good botanist to help us find safe plants to eat, medicinal plants and to keep us away from poisons. Also, he’s just so lovely!
8) Mark Darcy
Bridget Jones Diary- Helen Fielding
When I’m tired of looking at Finnick Odair (would that ever happen!?!) I would need a real man to keep me busy (again- sorry Mr H but you are not fictional- you can’t be on the list). Someone intelligent, handsome and not too put off by silliness and flightiness. If Mark can put up with Bridget, he can definitely put up with me.
9) Evelina
Evelina- Frances Burney
I think she could join my girl gang with Cassandra and Lizzie. I think Evelina would really enjoy having the opportunity to gossip. I’m not sure how much use she would actually be to the island though… I don’t see her as very handy.
10) Snoopy
Peanuts- Charles Schultz
As they say in Shakespeare in Love, “comedy, love and a bit with a dog.” And what better dog to have with us than the dancing beagle himself!

What do you think of my list? Who would you take with you to a deserted island?

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Book Themed Craft: Hufflepuff Tote

Whilst I have been off work I have been trying to find ways to express myself and distract myself from irrational thoughts. One way has been through reading, another through crafts. I’ve been making things for myself, my house and my friends/colleagues as gifts.
I wanted to make a little gift for a colleague and I know she’s a huge Harry Potter fan and a very proud Hufflepuff. I’m a Ravenclaw and if I was making a tote for myself I’d probably base it around Luna’s Spectrespecs or ‘wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.’
I wasn’t sure how to Hufflepuff it up and then it came to me- turn it into the uniform.
I’ve got one of those magic disappearing ink fabric pens so just had a go at drawing a tie, sweater and then the outlines of a cape. I considered adding the Hufflepuff crest but thought it would be too obvious and more importantly too hard.
I filled in the outlines with fabric pastels and ironed it under baking parchment to ensure the colour remained secure.
My job now is to add collars for the shirt, black lines on the tie and black piping on the detail of the sweater at the neck.
What do you think so far? Is it working ok? What would you suggest? Have you made anything similar?
If it works I am considering making a Ravenclaw one for me!

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Creating a Reading Room

My husband and I have recently bought a new house.  The financial arrangements are going through and hopefully in the next month or two we should be able to move.  The new house we are moving to has an extra sitting room in addition to the main living room.  Although in the future it would make a perfect playroom for children, we don’t have kids at the moment.  Our intention is, therefore, to create a quiet room away from the TV for reading, playing the piano and chilling out.

I’ve started to explore ideas for this on Pinterest and thought I’d share my inspiration with you today. I’m going to try and craft some accessories (cushions and things) for the room and will also share these with you as we go.  The board is developing and I’m going to keep adding things as I come across them.

If you have a Pinterest board with reading nooks and areas, let me know.  I’d love to take a look and follow you.

 

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REVIEW: The Boy’s Own Manual To Being A Proper Jew- Eli Glasman

When non-religious rebel Josh turns up at school, Yossi is asked to look after him, and while Yossi educates Josh on the ancient traditions of their race, Josh does some educating of his own. Through their relationship, Yossi learns to see the laws of Judaism in a very new light.

But when he and Josh are caught kissing in the bathhouse, Yossi’s life takes on a dramatic new turn, and he can ignore his new reality no longer. The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew is full of heart and human blundering, as a family gradually learns to accept the parameters of its faith, and how to work around them. –

I’m not gay, male, Jewish (Orthodox or otherwise) or Australian but boy, this book spoke to me! This is an incredible first novel by Eli Glasman and a fantastic addition to YA fiction.

The book is both a coming-of-age and a coming-out narrative but although the the sexuality of the main character is important I don’t think it is the lost important thing about him. Yossi isn’t written as a stereotype, he is a fully rounded individual. He is not simply defined by his sexuality although the book does focus on him coming to terms with being both gay and Jewish.

Glasman was brought up within the Orthodox Jewish community of Melbourne himself (although not part of it anymore) and he explains the aspects and terms of the Jewish faith really well. I know a little about Judaism but not very much about the Orthodox practices and I learnt a lot from this novel. However, this is not an educational text about faith. It is a thought provoking and engaging novel about a teenager getting to grips with who he really is and what he wants to be.

An absolutely fantastic addition to the YA shelves, and a really important text on the relationship between self, religion and sexuality.

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Top Ten TV For Readers

The lovely people at The Broke and The Bookish hold a weekly feature/web-meme/ link up entitled Top Ten Tuesday. Each week has a different theme where bloggers from around the world contribute their own top ten and are able to discuss each other’s choices.

This week the focus is on TV and film.  Now, I love a good film and have been known to fangirl out over a series or two (!?!), so narrowing it down to ten was particularly difficult.  In the end I decided to look at Top Ten Programmes (TV and Radio) for Readers.

Where possible I have indicated where shows are available through a streaming package or, in the case of the radio programmes, for paid download.

Other shows may be available through paid streaming (eg Amazon Instant Video) or on DVD.

In no particular order:

Sherlock

For Sherlock Holmes fans and for those who read/write fan-fiction

I’ve never read any of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories but I have a friend who is a huge Holmes fan.  When I told her about Sherlock she was sure that she wouldn’t like it. However, despite the modern setting and the inclusion of modern media in the stories, she absolutely loves Sherlock due to the spot-on characterisation.

I think Sherlock is fantastic but what I thought was amazing in the first episode of the third season was the huge nod to the idea of fan-fiction and shipping. Sheriarty and Johnlock are huge concepts in the Sherlock fandom and to have this represented by Sharon Rooney’s character was a little affectionate knowing wink at reactions to the end of season 2.

Available on Netflix UK.  I’m not sure about other countries.

Doctor Who

For Sci-Fi fans and Classic Literature, Art and History fans

I could write so much about how great Doctor Who is, how literary the story arcs and the twists are and the fantastic minor characters.  I think Strax deserves focus in a blog post of his own! However, even if you are not a Sci-Fi fan, there are certain episodes of Doctor Who which appeal to those who are fans of classic literature, art and history.  If you love historical fiction, take a look at ‘The Fires of Pompeii’, ‘Tooth and Claw’ and ‘Victory of the Daleks.’ If you’re a classic literature fan try ‘The Shakespeare Code’, ‘The Unquiet Dead’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ or ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp.’ My absolute favourite episode featuring a real historical figure is ‘Vincent and the Doctor,’ a beautiful love letter to the artwork and sad story of Vincent Van Gogh and one of the most moving representations of depression I have seen on mainstream TV.

Available on Netflix UK.  I’m not sure about other countries.

Flight of the Conchords

For fans of poetry and lyrics

I’ve spoken at length about my love for story telling through song and how lyrics can be as powerful as great poetry.  The songs in Flight of the Conchords  are funny, fit in well with the storylines but are also good for listening to as a stand-alone song.  I have a habit of listening to them on Spotify when my mood needs a bit of a lift.

Writing lyrics isn’t easy.  Poor Murray struggled with the words to tell the girl from Tech Support how he felt about her:

However, Bret found that the right lyrics can help you get the girl:

Freaks and Geeks

For fans of YA fiction

I love a good YA novel even though I’m definitely not a young adult anymore.  I especially like realistic young adult novels which really take me back to the emotions and awkwardness of growing up.

I was very late to the Freaks and Geeks party.  It’s actually not available in the UK anymore (it was originally shown on E4 in the early 2000s but I never noticed it).  I ended up tracking down episodes on YouTube in order to watch it, and I just got hooked.

Sam Weir is a geek with a crush on a cheerleader whilst his older sister Lindsay is an ex-geek who is hoping to branch out into a new friendship group- the “freaks.”  This programme is hilarious but also incredibly cringe-making at times.  I ended up in a lot of embarrassing situations as a teenager including falling down the stairs on the crowded school bus and tried to save myself from landing on the people below by grabbing a bar above my head and ending up swinging in mid-air, clarinet case flying across the bus.  At the time it was terrible, in retrospect I can laugh at it… just! In fact, a lot of the comedy in Freaks and Geeks comes from the cringe-factor: Sam streaking through the school, Sam in his powder blue disco suit, Bill’s dancing, the Hallowe’en costumes.  It’s not just about the cringe though… there are some absolutely lovely honest beautiful reflections upon growing up including Ken and Amy’s romance, Lindsay’s confusion about whether she fits in best as a Mathlete or a “freak”, and Daniel’s participation in the Dungeons and Dragons game.

Orange is the New Black

“It’s so interesting, all these lives.  It’s like Dickens”- Susan Fischer (Lauren Lapkus)

OK, so correctional officer Susan Fischer was talking about monitoring the personal phone conversations of inmates but the quote above really does clearly and succinctly explain the appeal of Orange is the New Black to many viewers.  Showrunner Jenji Kohan admitted that the show does use the story of Piper Chapman’s introduction and assimilation into prison life as a ‘Trojan Horse’ device.  As the programme develops we begin to hear the story of other women, many of whom would have been marginalised in other TV programmes.  My favourite back-story in Season 2 was that of Miss Rosa, an older woman with cancer who we discover was once a successful bank robber (successful with her team, not so much on her own… that’s how she got caught).  I just adored the friendship that developed between her and the teenage boy with cancer and was just so happy with the absolutely perfect way the second season ended.  You go Miss Rosa!

Available on Netflix.

(I’ve added a trailer rather than a clip because I didn’t want to be too spoiler heavy).

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

For fans of character focused Sci-Fi

Deep Space Nine tends to split Star Trek fans.  There are those who think it’s the best series and those who absolutely cannot stand it.  I adore DS9 because of its focus on character development and relationships rather than a simple space quest narrative.  Unlike the other Star Trek programmes, DS9 is based upon a static space station- characters come and go, live, work, go to school there.  The focus is not only upon the Starfleet Officers but the whole of the community.

I think where DS9 is at its best is on its development of relationships and friendships.  I can’t decide whether I prefer that of Quark and Odo (classic frenemies) or Bashir and O’Brien (classic bromance). However, my favourite romance is definitely that between Rom and Leeta.

Coupling

For fans of Unreliable Narrators

Unreliable narrators in TV are not uncommon these days, one of the best examples being Ted in How I Met Your Mother.  However, Steven Moffat shows how a story can be told from multiple points of view to great effect in Coupling.  The first season episode ‘The Girl With Two Breasts’ told the same story twice, once from the point of view of a character who only speaks English and once from the point of view of a character who only speaks Hebrew.  This episode was so popular that Moffat and Vertue went on to include similar devices in each season.  End of the Line (season 2) involves non-linear narrative and the use of flashbacks to show us the issues arising in Susan and Steve’s relationship. Split (season 3) not only tells the story of Susan and Steve’s split but the entire episode is filmed in split screen allowing us to see their respective visits to The Temple of Woman (a beauty salon for Susan, a strip club for Steve).

I couldn’t get the clip of the split screen to show so instead here’s my favourite romantic moment from the show.

Cabin Pressure (radio- BBC Radio 4)

For fans of Wodehouse and comic farce

Good old fashioned comedy, fantastic cast, excellent writing! I fell upon this by accident.  I needed something light to listen to whilst pottering about in the garden and noticed this on iTunes.

Cabin Pressure is based around MJN, a charter jet firm (or airdot rather than airline) with a staff rostrum of 4: enthusiastic but only adequate pilot Captain Martin Crieff (Benedict Cumberbatch), skilled but sneaky First Officer Douglas Richardson (Roger Allam), the most optimistic cabin steward ever- Arthur Shappey (John Finnemore- also the writer), and his mother and CEO of MJN, Carolyn Knapp-Shappey (Stephanie Cole).  The team spend their time playing word games, trying to get out of scrapes and attempting to keep Arthur away from strawberry yoghurt (he’s allergic but forgets), games of Charades (he attempted to mime ‘Apocalypse Now’ without knowing what an apocalypse was) and Peach Schnapps (“Peach schnapps is to Arthur what water is to Gremlins”- Douglas).

I can’t work out whether I can’t wait until the final episode on Christmas Eve or whether I’d rather the final episode never came so then there could never be an end. In the words of Arthur Shappey, this show is brilliant!

Cabin Pressure is available on iTunes in the UK and I believe also in the US.  I’m not sure about other countries.  The last episode will be broadcast on Christmas Eve on BBC Radio 4.

I’ve attached two clips just to give you a taste of the wonder of Cabin Pressure.  In the first clip Martin and Douglas place bets on who will be the first passenger (an orchestra travelling to Gdansk) to get to the toilet after the seatbelt sign has been on for over 40 minutes and the drinks trolley has been around twice.  In the second clip Carolyn informs the crew that they won’t be flying straight home from New York as planned.  Instead they will be taking a detour to Qikiqtarjuaq.

Neverwhere (audioplay- BBC Radio)

For Neil Gaiman fans and fans of fantasy writing in general

I’ve tried to not just pick adaptations of books but I had to make an exception for this fabulous audioplay.  It’s obviously abridged but is exceptionally well done making for a very faithful adaptation.  The characters are incredibly well cast meaning that you are immediately plunged deep into the world of London Below.

It’s available on iTunes in the UK.  I’m not sure about other countries.

Black Mirror
For fans of dystopian writing

WARNING: This series is not for the faint-hearted and is definitely NSFW.

Master-minded by writer and TV critic Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror is a worrying look at the routes that media and technology could take us in the future.  So far there have been two seasons each consisting of three stand alone stories.

The episode which garnered the most controversy (but also many positive reviews- SPOILERS IN THIS LINK) on release was The National Anthem (NO SPOILERS IN THIS ONE) which saw the kidnap of a princess (strikingly reminiscent of Kate Middleton) with the You-Tube ransom video requesting that the Prime Minister of Britain carry out an obscene and illegal act in order to ensure her safety.  I watched most of this episode from behind a pillow as although I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen I was so worried about what was actually going to unfold.

In my opinion, the best episodes are The Entire History of You, a chilling tale of a world where our memories are held as videos in chips to be played and replayed,and White Bear, where Lenora Crichlow’s character wakes up in an unfamiliar flat with amnesia, a splitting headache, a crowd of people videoing her on smart-phones and a set of masked violent psychopaths keen to torture and kill her. (If you do watch White Bear and find it slow at the beginning, stick with it! It really does all make sense and become amazing if you watch it until the end!)

Black Mirror is now available in the US on Direct TV, in the UK on Netflix and in Canada on SuperChannel.