Monday, 3 August 2015

Orange is the New Black (2010) Book/TV Show Review

Sitting through the first ever episode of OITNB I was so convinced that I was going to hate this series that I gave up watching and played on my phone to pass the time. The opening hour of the TV show is filled with raunchy sex scenes to try and entice the viewer to keep watching. For me it was a cheap tactic instead of just making a great TV show. In fact the rest of the series was literally nothing like the pilot and it turned out to be one of the best and funniest TV series I've ever watched. Mostly because it has the widest range of the most complex and interesting and enjoyable characters.

I was surprised to learn, then, that the book includes little to no sex at all, considering the amount that has been shown throughout OITNB's three series. It has mentions of "gay for the stay" women who are short-term lesbians to pass the time which I thought was clever and funny. In fact the original book version that the TV series is based on rarely dips into the issues fully explored within the series, and that's one of its biggest downfalls, along with the lack of humour. The book is humorous at times, but not enough to evoke a full blown belly laugh. More like a chuckle every so often at a funny comment. It makes it funnier because the book is more based in real life and it's hard to imagine the events really occurring. 

This is one of the few exceptions to my rule of preferring to read the book before the TV show/movie. This time around it really helped to know the characters and to be able to put a name to a face because there are so many names that otherwise it would be hard to keep up. Also interesting was being able to read the source material for all of the much-loved characters of the series. If I hadn't known them, I wouldn't have cared much at all for the poorly described characters briefly touched upon in the book. For most of the women their crimes are secret and Piper Kerman never finds out why exactly they have been locked up. The focus is on Piper herself, her struggles and her ups and downs, naturally as it is her book. The TV show is more widely dispersed between character's backgrounds and with time being divided, especially in the third series, quite equally between Piper and her fellow inmates. It is so much more involving to have the flashbacks in the TV series that show why they are locked up, their backgrounds, their crimes, their families. You get to know every single inmate, every single officer, and care for each of them. In the TV series no one is written about enough to know much more than the very basics for moving the plot on. The blanks are filled in by what you know from watching the series. 

Also, Crazy Eyes is only a very, very minor character! WTF! 

However on a more positive note the book is well paced, intriguing, and interesting. The TV series deviates from the plot so it's not exactly the same. I was keen to find out whether Piper and Nora get together, whether she stays with Larry, what people were really like in the original story. It's a good, easy read that doesn't require much thought or concentration. It is kind of watching TV and I can see how easily it was considered as an adaptation. It works well, better even, seeing the prison life played out visually. However it's good to read about how a real, normal woman survived a year in prison. I tend to think of criminals stereotypically, not helped by other shows/books. This one breaks those character cliches and stereotypes and shows real women struggling with their prison lives and to fit in with other inmates. 

The book is even tamer than the show, with barely anything negative happening to Piper at all. There are ups and downs but they are more like small bumps in the road than the mountains I would have expected from twelve months locked inside of a low security prison. It's filled with real life facts and statistics about prison and particularly incarcerated females in America. Real-life Piper now works within a foundation helping women in prison and so it's hard not to read the book as a kind of preachy text with obvious goals and I think as such it probably manipulates the truth to suit her purpose of teaching the reader about the injustices that occur within American prisons. 

A good book with intriguing insights into female prison life, but not as good as the TV show.


Sunday, 2 August 2015

1000 Views! Thank You!

Wow! Thank you!

Today I logged on to Blogger to see my blog post "Internet Trolls" had hit 1000 views! While this might not seem a lot in comparison to the thousands of hits other articles might have, this is big news for me when the next biggest views on one of my blog posts is just over 100 for "The Truth About Homesickness". I'm glad the blog posts that are receiving the most attention are the ones where I've tried to portray my opinion about issues I find important.

I write my articles for myself but with the idea in mind it could be interesting for someone else to read my view point and either agree or disagree and to potentially open up channels of communicating or discussing issues/films/books/music whatever it might be. So far the comments have been basically empty but maybe one day there will be some kind of open discussions going on through this blog. 

I don't mind telling you honestly that most of my blog posts get less than 20 views each so this is really great feeling for me. It's nice to write something and to put it in the public domain for inspection, dissection and judgement but it's also amazing to know that at least some of the stuff I'm writing is actually being read. 

So just a little post to say thank you if you read my blog because it is appreciated. I hope you keep reading and enjoy.

Jess x

The Girl on the Train (2015) Book Review - No Spoilers

No Spoilers! 

Not since Gone Girl has a mystery book been so widely hyped. Rightly so, too, as this book actually deserves every good review and advertisement screaming its praises that seems to have been floating around for the last few months. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was actually released in January but its prominence in the literary world and its popularity has experienced a kind of snowball effect, and now it is being made into a film directed by Tate Taylor, according to IMDb he's only been a director for around three films, one being The Help and the others being relatively small. Apparently it will also star Emily Blunt as TGOTT's main narrator, an overweight, unreliable, alcoholic, compulsive liar. Sounds just like Emily Blunt, doesn't it?

It's hard not to picture this novel as a film when you're reading it though, it's fast paced with loads of settings and different view points, and there are plenty of creative opportunities for the drunken flash backs, blackouts, memories, sober flashbacks and piecing together the night in question. The characters all seem equally as guilty throughout and it really is impossible to pin down who could be the murderer. Each character has hidden depths that the novel slowly delves into and uncovers, and they are all connected in a web of lies, deceit and intrigue that unravels until the very final pages when all is revealed.

I actually thought this book was really well paced for how slowly things were revealed. It builds tension to the point where skipping to the last page to find out everything is ridiculously tempting. Characters who seem the guiltiest are sometimes the most innocent, and the most innocent characters have unexpected, hidden secrets seemingly linking them to the crime. 

My only problem was that when seeing the story from Rachel's POV is that she dwells too much on repetitive issues every single chapter. There are full paragraphs of "should I do this? Should I do that?" or alternatively "what happened that night? Who is he/she? What did I do?" The repetitiveness of it is a bit grating after a while but because of the mystery you keep ploughing through for answers regardless of the occasionally low standard of writing. Also the conclusion of the story, while satisfying, seemed a bit cliché. The criminal, after a whole novel of believable and relatable characters, suddenly changes their personality completely after being exposed to become a stereotypical baddie.

Otherwise in The Girl on the Train, the mystery was well executed, the tension built expertly, the story satisfyingly concluded, the characters realistic and intriguing, the story well paced. I would recommend this even to people not well acquainted with mystery novels.


Saturday, 1 August 2015

To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) Book Review

About 6 or 7 years ago when I was doing my GCSEs I was forced to read this book for my exams. I hated it. I thought it was boring, slow-paced, seemingly written in riddles, big deals were made out of nothing, the writing was too long winded and we all made fun of Tom Robinson behind our teacher's back, pretending to be a T-Rex with shortened arms. About the only quote I took away from the book was "yessum" which we sqwuarked out repeatedly each lesson like stupid parrots.

How I wish I could go back and smack some sense into my fifteen-year-old self. If I'd sat down and properly read the book from start to end I probably would have enjoyed it more. If it hadn't been a forced requirement of English Literature GCSE to read it, I probably would have enjoyed it more. Any book assigned by school, college or university instantly loses its appeal before you even crack the spine. So TKAM was studied but not enjoyed. Read but not understood. Circumstances meant that at the time I couldn't properly appreciate this amazing novel. 

Before I begin, anyone complaining about spoilers, this book is FIFTY FIVE YEARS OLD. And has, like, two movie adaptions. Not my bad.


I opened the book on Wednesday and despite working and you know, life, I closed the finished book on Friday night. For the snatched hours in those two days I was transported into Southern America in the 1930's. I thought it was written then and I couldn't believe that this book was actually written in the 60's. Everything is so vividly written it's impossible not to get sucked immediately into the story. From one of the first pages where "ladies bathed before noon, after their three o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft tea-cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum" you can picture everything; the people, the oppressive heat, the buildings, the smell and feel of Maycomb. The novel is written conversationally from Scout as an adult reflecting back on three years of her childhood where she grows to understand morals, injustice, racism, rape, inequality, all of which are subtly and implicitly alluded to for an adult mind to understand through the innocent eyes of an unknowing child. What I thought at fifteen were riddles of irrelevancy I know understand are expertly written passages containing information to be interpreted and picked apart by the reader, to take from it what they will. There are so many times where it is imperative to read between the lines that you become a part of the story and take a viewpoint whether you want to or not.

The characters become real through Harper Lee's story, whether from their opinions, actions or dialogue. The speech is heavily accented with a southern drawl that's comprehensible, endearing and adds to the unavoidable sense that the novel is based on real events. It's hard to explain how well thought-out and intricately planned every aspect of the novel is. 

Scout, the narrator, is a loveable tomboy who defies everyone's Southern way of thinking that she should be more ladylike. She fights, speaks her mind, fiercely defends anyone she loves and because of all that you will for her to stay exactly the way she is.

Her brother Jem is much like a young Atticus, learning who he wants to be and how to achieve it. His moral compass is mostly set well apart from times when his young age holds back his mind from logical adult thinking, as hard as he tries. 

Atticus is by far my favourite character in the novel. He is plain good. Uncorruptable, generous, thoughtful, calm, intelligent, proud, stubborn, a great father, smart, likeable... He is a "goodie" that can be believed in without having to use cliche or stereotypes.

Tom Robinson is a tragically doomed character who makes the fatal error of being too nice, as a black man, to a white woman. His intentions are clearly innocent and the injustice of his death is affecting in a way most characters in books who aren't the main character usually falls flat of.

Calpurnia is like a stand in mother for the children with her tough love. Scout's eventual understanding of her double life is an interesting and complex chapter of the book full of morality, thoughtfulness and the struggles of defining race and the boundaries at the time between black and white people.

Miss Maudie is a mischievous older woman who acts like a kind of grandmother to Scout, guiding her to understand her father and the town. She speaks her mind, like Scout, and her moments of shutting up the gossiping, air-headed women feel like a small victory.

Boo Radley is an enigma throughout most of the novel. He is, in a way, Scout and Jem's obsession but also their guardian angel. He leaves them presents, he cares for them like they were his own children, and crops up at random points throughout the novel to do good deeds for the children. In the end it is for them that he comes out of his reclusive state to save their lives, risking his privacy and going against his natural extreme shyness. He is loveable and flawed, like most characters in the novel.

Atticus not only teaches the children lessons about life, but the reader too. A lot of the lessons are about thoughtfulness, acceptance, patience, and how to be a better person in general. For example he tells Scout, "if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from is point of view [...] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." I think this is something we could all benefit from if we thought of it more often. 

Of course from the title there is Atticus' immortal words, "Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingird." Obviously after an initial reading we know that the mockingbird is a metaphor for Tom Robinson and later Boo Radley. They are both so purely good. Tom's death is needless and a show of the injustice that was a side effect of racism back then and still today. The novel's themes and probes into racism, equality and closed-mindedness is one that is still highly relevant in modern society. Just think of all the incidents in America with police killing black/white men and the difference in reaction/empathy/justice just because of skin colour.

After Mrs Dubose passes away, Atticus teaches the children about the true meaning of bravery. This also later links to the Tom Robinson court case. He says, "son, I told you that if you hadn't lost your head I'd have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her - I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew." This quote captures so beautifully the different struggles of the characters and how in real life we never really know what problems people have behind closed doors that we might not know about. Harper Lee really knows how to word issues that are normally so hard to define and give meaning to, but she frames the story around the need for compassion and empathy for others. 

All in all this book wonderfully captures the energy and feeling of childhood, surrounding very adult themes and issues. It was enthralling, captivating, beautifully and vividly written, and when the novel ends you feel like you know the characters like real people. Amazing book, now my second favourite ever. I cannot wait to read Go Set a Watchmen and I've heard it complements its predecessor well. 

This book is perfection. 


Paper Towns (2015) Film Review

Being a fan of John Green, hearing that Paper Towns was being adapted into a movie was big news. The Fault in Our Stars had been an amazing book and film, equally as amazing and moving and re-watch/readable. Nothing could or should have been changed about TFIOS that would have improved it. It made you laugh in parts, cry in others, and knew exactly how to manipulate your emotions so it really was a rollercoaster. 

I got to see Paper Towns tonight at an advance screening that I was so glad to have found to save an extra three weeks of waiting to see this highly anticipated (on my behalf) film that has been publicised so well. Especially now, thanks to Cara and her awkward interview which appears to have gone somewhat viral. Definitely a big help as the film nears its UK release date but I'm sure it was just a crazy, unexpected incident....

I'll start by saying Paper Towns has its merits but on no level was it near TFIOS. I know it's unfair to compare films because they aren't all that similar apart from a general love story and an unexpected ending. Paper Towns was enjoyable, a really good film with an amazing soundtrack that I've been playing for weeks before seeing the film and probably for weeks from now, but it didn't particularly move me. I laughed in places but even the ending didn't even have me with a lump in my throat. Bear in mind that the Google advert once made me cry. It's not that hard. The ending of the book, in my opinion, could have been massively improved. John Green doesn't like stereotypical happy endings, fine, but at least have SOME kind of emotion. With no sadness and no happiness it end up feeling a bit "meh". The film tried it's hardest to deviate from that and actually improved it somewhat but the feeling that something was missing was hard to shake. 

Nat Wolff as Q was perfect. His constant nice-guy smile, shyness and likability was perfect for the character. He's the kind of average seeming guy that Q is supposed to be. Really great casting.

Radar and Ben were well cast but I think Ben's character could have been fuller. He was funny but his character especially was left a bit shallow considering the amount of screen time he had.

Cara Delevingne as Margo was badly cast in my opinion. She overacted every single scene. She was a decent Margo but she wasn't the book's Margo at all. The book's Margo is supposed to be kind of average, like most girls, because she's a real girl and it's just Q's love/obsession of her that makes her appear perfect to him and we see through his eyes. Cara Delevingne is a supermodel with very few flaws and not really the "average" kind of girl. It's not Q making her out to be that beautiful/amazing/pretty because of his love, she just really is. Besides that, her performance was just too over-the-top for me.


The biggest disappointment for me was the revenge night. WHERE WAS SEAWORLD?!?!!? The best part of the revenge night, they didn't even include!!! The best chapter(s) of the book, with the best laughs and the tension of sneaking in to Seaworld, and the emotion, and the will-they-won't-they reduced to a few stupid pranks and a slow dance in the tower. I was SO disappointed. I really thought that seeing it played out in a movie would be a million times better, they had such quality material to work with and play with, and it was funny but I expected so much more. I kept waiting for the big moment they broke in and how exciting it would be, and it just didn't happen. In the beginning when Margo asks Q to break into Seaworld with her and he says no, I thought that was an allusion to later in the movie when there would be a big "moment" where he would realise she was worth breaking into Seaworld for and they would have an amazing, revelation-filled time. Nope.

The road trip was pretty good, but shortened massively. The cow scene had people gasping and gripping their seats. When the three boys chat about high school I felt that it was really relatable for anyone who has left or who is leaving school and seemed really natural and real. This links to the end when Q realises his miracle was his friends all along, not "just a girl". The extra moments added to the film about his friendships with Radar and Ben added a new depth that helped shift the book's meh ending to one of hope and it gave the whole road trip real purpose. After the book finishes you're left feeling a bit like, "well what was the whole point in that?!?!" In the film it's nice because the purpose was actually a final event for them all to remember their best friendships by, to bring them closer as buddies and realise some truths to take with them to college.

Overall the film was pretty good, mostly well acted, no bland or boring bits, and the soundtrack was amazing. I probably won't rewatch it any time soon though and was left feeling a bit let down after expecting a lot more from the adaptation.


IMDb:  7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 5.5/10