Monday, 9 June 2014

A Song for Issy Bradley

Sometimes I write about books and I write and write because I love that book so much and I have SO MUCH to say, and I just want to flail around a little, and get my thoughts down and feel all the things really vocally.
& then other times I really love a book, and I want to write about it, but I don’t know quite why or indeed, how, because I don’t have all that many words at all. I just want to kind of bask in a little bit, to sit back and feel and just kind of gesture towards the book and say ‘hey guys, I read this thing and it was super, and you should read it too, but I can’t talk about it too much right now because I am too busy feeling.’
This is one of those times, and so this review is shorter than some, but please know that has zero bearing on my love for this book: I loved this book.

Carys Bray. It’s a name you should take note of; it’s a name we’re going to hear a lot of, if her debut novel A Song for Issy Bradley is anything to go by.
Honestly, this book is beautiful. I devoured it in an afternoon, and it left me breathless.

Issy Bradley is 4 when she dies, quite suddenly, from meningitis. The story that follows is that of her family, and how they come to terms with losing her.

The Bradley’s are a strict Mormon family. Issy’s Dad, Ian, is a bishop and believes staunchly that faith should be enough to carry the family through: losing Issy must be all part of God’s plan, because what other option is there?
Issy’s Mum though, falls apart.
The other children find their own ways of dealing with both their sister’s death and their parents reactions to it, and at the same time try to find a way to keep putting one foot in front of the other, because however much their Mum might wish it had, life didn’t stop the day Issy died: Zippy falls in love for the first time, Al is sort of angry, and views the world with the cynicism of a misunderstood teenage boy and then there’s Jacob. Little Jacob is only 7. He believes that if he just believes hard enough he can conjure a miracle. So he believes as hard as he can. His faith is bigger than a mustard seed, maybe even bigger than a toffee bonbon, and that has to be big enough for the kind of miracle he so desperately needs, hasn’t it?

Every single member of this beautiful flawed family makes my heart hurt in different ways.

This book is beautifully written. It made me cry tears that were utterly unconnected to my hay fever (how high must the pollen count have been this weekend, my God) and it made me laugh. Carys Bray takes you into the hearts and minds of a grieving family and shows you with tact and honesty how life goes on in the midst of utter devastation. You should know, though, that this isn’t a book about death. Nor is it a book about organised religion, although it gives an interesting and clever insight into both of those things.  It’s a book about family, and about love, and about what that really truly means. It’s beautiful.

A Song for Issy Bradley is released later this month, so I believe. I promise it’s worth a look.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

in which Jo loves Disney.

My favourite Disney film is The Little Mermaid (except for Alice, but Alice is Alice. It doesn’t count.) I think I like it – The Little Mermaid – so much because it’s my Disney film. It’s the first one I can really remember watching, and loving. I got the video tape for Christmas when I was 6 and ¾ (my brother, then aged 20 months got The Rescuers. I can still remember us opening them on Christmas Day) and I thought it was the best thing. I watched it over and over and over. I had the dolls – my Ariel had a removable tail and a purple seashell bra, so cool - and I knew the words to all the songs. When I was in the bath I would pretend to be a mermaid.  I tried to make my brother play the role of Flounder but he never quite understood. Prince Eric was the first man I ever loved, aged 6 and ¾ when I hoped an animated Prince would fall in love with me, too. On my desk now, aged 30 and 11 months, I have a small stuffed Sebastian. Sometimes, when I am alone in the office I make him dance across my keyboard singing ‘Under the Sea.’
Disney’s Frozen will be, I think, to my niece Daisy, what The Little Mermaid is for me. She’s only 3 (and ¼) and Frozen is the first film she saw at the cinema. To date, it’s the only film she’s seen at the cinema. And she loves it. All she talks about is Anna & Elsa & Olaf and she sings Let it Go at the top of her little voice, like she really means it. It’s a joy to behold. The other week she tried to get Ian’s attention by yelling ‘YOOHOO! HI FAMILY!’ at the top of her voice – a reference you’ll only understand once you’ve seen the film. When I printed off some Frozen themed colouring pages for her, she did an actual gasp followed by a happy dance. STOP IT WITH THE CUTE.
The other little girl I’m super close to (Lydia, aged 4) has always been a Tangled girl, for the same reason. She cried when I got my hair cut last year because ‘now you can’t be Rapunzel anymore’ and I felt awful.  I felt worse when every time we played pretend for weeks afterwards I was relegated to the role of Mother Gothel. MOTHER GOTHEL, I ask you. That hurt. Now though, Tangled may as well not exist. It’s all about Anna and Elsa for her too. Daisy can rock Let it Go; Lyd’s and her rendition of Do You Wanna Build a Snowman make my face hurt with all the smiling.
I missed it at the cinema, but naturally I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Besides, I love these two kids, I love the very bones of the pair of them (some people are worth melting for) and this film matters to them: I needed to get on board. And then, in the car one time, Let it Go came on the radio.
‘Hang on a minute’ I said, over the top of Daisy’s singing, ‘I know that voice. It’s Queen Idina. LEMME SEE THIS FILM.’

I finally (I am always so late to all the things) saw it this weekend.

The Little Mer-whonow?

Just kidding, I still love The Little Mermaid but when it comes to Frozen, I totally get what all the fuss is about, although I reckon my reasons for loving it so hard are completely different to those of Daisy and Lydia.


I love Anna. (Oh, perhaps not so different to Daisy and Lydia after all, then.) 

Oh my, I love Anna. She’s so feisty, and awkward and clumsy and real and she says things that she wishes she hadn’t said and then dies a little inside (‘I’m awkward; you’re gorgeous. Wait. What?’) and she knows what’s right and won’t give up on it, and she’s just as strong as her sister, if not stronger. I just, I want to be her friend ok. Hey Anna, come and have a duvet day with Helen and me. I promise it will be fun times. She’s so much more everything than the Disney Princesses that came before. She kicks the animated ass of everybody else. She proves that there is more to being a girl than finding a handsome prince – in fact she goes on a journey with her love interest. This kid doesn’t need saving: she is the role model that I want for Daisy and Lydia and all the other little girls.

I love that Frozen makes a stand for marriage equality. You spotted that right, the YOOHOO HI FAMILY scene that our duckling loves, when Oaken's family wave back from the sauna, his partner (or who we assume to be his partner) is a man? GET IN THERE DISNEY. (Googling of this to make sure I am not mistaken takes me to the several news reports of some crazy ass folks who fear that Frozen will turn their children into homosexuals. I’m not even joking, people are actually saying that. Don’t watch the awesome Disney film; it will infect your child with THE GAY. Sometimes the world scares me.) Personally, if the chappy in the sauna is Oaken's partner then I offer Disney the highest of fives.
I also read another article about how Elsa is being interpreted as a metaphor for homosexuality; that gay people can relate to her character; that Let it Go is swiftly becoming an anthem in the gay community. It was interesting reading. I kind of get it, though: Elsa’s is a story of growing up, becoming your own person and being proud of who you are. It’s a story that matters whoever you are.
I think Elsa is an awesome character; Frozen could have been a different but equally fabulous story if it had been told from her viewpoint I think. I would love to go deeper into that whole tale – the teenage me would quite probably have fanfic’d the life out of her – but the story we actually got, the character. I loved it.
I love how when she breaks free from the world that has been holding her back and misunderstanding her she blossoms, and yeah ok she’s kind of chased out of town which sucks, but she doesn’t let it get on top of her, she doesn’t crumble, she grows. She’s finally free, and independent and she can be the person she knows she is because the cold never bothered her anyway. She’s totally fine on her own: she builds herself this awesome castle and gets a pretty dress and sings that song and you kind of want to punch the air, and you definitely want to sing along with her because she’s some kind of beacon of strength. She gives a big old two fingers to the rest of the world but at the same time she’s kind of fragile, and you’re proud of her and you ache for her and it’s fabulous.
Also, I love that the isolated character isn’t a villain this time.
(Alsoalso, anybody else get Elpheba feels when Elsa is belting out her song on the mountainside? It had a defying gravity air I felt. YOU’RE NEVER GONNA BRING ME DOWN. Etcetera. Love it)

Disney films seem to follow a formula, more often than not: Princess Damsel in Distress is saved by ‘True Love’s Kiss’ (or, in the case of Beauty and the Beast, Beast buys damsel a library. Beast is saved by True Love’s Kiss) point is, these films ,which we all LOVE are generally about true love, romantic love and how it’s pretty much a fix all. They’re about falling in love and living happily ever after and whilst that’s all well and good, I love that Frozen is not your typical love story. Frozen sticks to the age old fairytale theme of true love breaking any curse, but it does it differently. It’s not Kristoff and his love for Anna that saves her, as he races across the frozen fjord. It’s Anna who saves herself, through her true love for her sister.
That’s my favourite, the way it shows that you don’t need a man – even if it’s lovely to fall in love with one and be together for a while (or even ever) you don’t need him to save you and that also, there is so much more to love than boy meets girl –the love for your friends, your family can be just as powerful and just as true. A most excellent message – another one. 

This is another thing I loved about Frozen: the way it so blatantly poked fun at Disney films past.
Seriously. The scene with Anna and Kristoff where he is all ‘YOU CANT MARRY SOMEONE YOU JUST MET’ is probably one of my favourite in the whole film. Kristoff (and Elsa prior) are quite right. Marrying someone you just met is all kinds of crazy, but how many Disney princesses have done just that? Kristoff is kind of bewildered about it all, because he doesn’t think you can fall into love; love and relationships take work. Kristoff is a ‘fixer-upper’ so whilst Anna goes on about ‘true love,’ Kristoff tries to tell her that it makes no sense, she doesn’t even know Hans. It’s so refreshing, and I lovelovelove that this is a new generation of Disney film, that little girls might stop waiting, like I did, for their handsome prince and their easy come happily ever after because in Frozen, as in life, it ain’t that simple. I love Kristoff. (Also, the way at the end he asks Anna if he can kiss her. High five again Disney, high five.)

You know what else is amazing about Kristoff? He’s voiced by Jonathon Groff. I didn’t know this for sure til the end credits (the whole way through I was all ‘I know that voice dammit. Is it Jon Groff? No, I don’t think it is, but is it’ but my phone was charging on the other side of the room and I couldn’t IMDB it!) I love Jon Groff. I loved him as Jesse St. James in Glee and I loved him as adorable asshat Patrick in Looking (you all watched Looking, right? Please say you did.) But whilst I was all ‘yeah GROFF’ when I realised it was him, I was also a little frustrated, because, way to underuse a gem of a cast member, people. Jonathan Groff is talented and his cute little song with Sven is cute and all but it’s too short and nowhere near enough. I mean, listen to this (the number of times I’ve played this track is embarrassing.) Boy can sing, right? So if you’re going to put him in a musical then please, let him sing.

Frozen doesn’t end in a ‘happily ever after.’ Frozen is too real for that. It ties up the ends of the story neatly, but it lets you know there’s more to come. Nobody rides off into the sunset. Elsa comes home and is Queen and has to learn to control her power and find the balance between who she needs to be, and who she wants to be – she has to learn how to rule the Kingdom and at the same time still be her; after pretty much a lifetime apart Anna and Elsa have to relearn each other; Anna is starting a brand new relationship with Kristoff, and they’re both less than perfect. It’s a happy ending, but it’s not a happy ever after: it’s the end of the beginning I guess. The story evolves after the film has ended and the film feels like a big step forward.

I love it.

Also that scene where Olaf becomes a giant snowball. Actual gigglesnort. I love Olaf.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Goodness, it's been a week. It's funny how some weeks seem longer than others; I have no idea why that is. I am however, pleased that it's Friday. Today would have been the birthday of somebody who was very dear to me, which is always a weird kind of a feeling. I shan't dwell though, because I always try not to; I shall instead head home from work, and get myself ready for wine and food and the best of company. A little bit of MotherDaughterQT with my Mum and my best friend (and, obviously, her Mum) sounds perfect to me.

Last night I hung out a while with my niece and nephew. Daisy is three now and an absolute joy and delight. The way she wraps her arms around my neck and hugs me with all she has is my absolute favourite thing.
Last night we were stood in the kitchen and she said with an exceptional air of sadness, and from nowhere: 'I want another pet.'
'Another?' her Mum asked with a smile, as Daisy's eyes literally filled with tears, 'we have three already.'
'I know' Daisy sighed, 'but I need a parrot.'

Toby's 10. I think he's awesome; he pretends like I am the bane of his very existence. Last night he was falling asleep on the sofa and was holding off going to bed ('I'm not even a little bit tired') til I told him that if he went up now we'd read a chapter of his book. Seems like even ten year old boys still like to be read to.  He curled up on his bottom bunk whilst I sat on the floor with my back to the bed and read 'The Boy in the Dress.' The way he looked all fast asleep as I kissed his forehead and turned off the light was enough to melt my heart. Being an Auntie is the best. Don't ever tell him about that stolen forehead kiss though. He'll never forgive me! 

I'm about a quarter of the way through The Cazalet Chronicles at the moment, if you're interested in what I'm reading (that is the point of this blog I know, and I do apologise that I often get sidetracked.) It's really good, you should read it.

Have a lovely Friday <3 br="">

Friday, 14 February 2014

Choice. That Was The Thing.

It’s Friday and it’s Valentine’s Day and here, have a picture, relevant because I just read the book this quote comes from and I love it a little a little a lot:

I miss the whole ‘Friday Photo’ thing I used to run on here, it made me happy. Perhaps I should start again with that.

I can’t believe it’s the middle of February already. Somehow, I never cease to be amazed by the passage of time. It’s been a funny old year, so far.  We’ve had a loss in the family this week, which whilst hasn’t touched me directly, it has had a major impact on people I care very deeply about and it’s made me realise, again, how precious a thing life is; how we mustn’t take anything for granted; and above all how important it is to say ‘I love you.’ The weather has been dull and cold, and somehow that post-festive slump seems to be dragging on longer than usual. That said, I’ve spent a few lovely evenings with my friends, helped my best friend choose a wedding dress, been on a couple of coffee dates with my boyfriend and had front row tickets to the Strictly Tour. It’s absolutely not all doom and gloom, it’s just, sometimes things make you sit up and take a long hard look you know? Make you reassess what’s important.

Whilst babysitting for my favourite 4 year old last night (which involved singing songs about lions and doing mermaid jigsaws and hiding out in her bed) I finished reading Sherman Alexie’s The Toughest Indian in the World, which is well, it’s awesome. [It’s going in the post to you next week Jen, if you’re reading this. I think you’ll like it.] It’s a short story collection, each story a standalone but all bound together by a common theme: identity. It’s insightful and clever and sort of brave. It’s angry, and funny, and horrifying and beautiful. Some of the imagery is gorgeous, and some of the language so beautiful it almost hurts a little:

Those were the days before the first color televisions were smuggled onto the reservation, but after a man with blue eyes had dropped two symmetrical slices of the sun on Japan. All of it happened before a handsome Catholic was assassinated in Dallas, leaving a bright red mark on the tape measure of time, but after the men with blue eyes had carried dark-eyed children into the ovens and made them ash.

Her husband had been dead for ten long years, years that hung like lace in the attic…

I will always be a sucker for anybody who uses words like that, makes them beautiful and makes them hurt. Language is amazing, isn’t it? Anyway, I shall not go off on a tangent, not today.
The stories in this book are all exclusively about Indians. That doesn’t make it a book about race though, except at the same time it kind of is. It is a book about race, and about minorities and that’s a very important feature and one we shouldn’t shy away from but more than that it’s a book about people, about life and about human nature. There are dystopian stories and historical stories; stories about sex and love and about loss and about discovery; stories told from the point of view of a woman, and of a man, of a lover and of a child.

I read it because of that quote up there *points* because I saw it on Pinterest and it resonated with me. I hadn’t even heard of Sherman Alexie and I had no idea what to expect. I’m really glad I searched him out, and really glad I read this book, if for no other reason than my enjoyment of it totally validates the hours of my life I waste browsing and pinning. Or so I’m telling myself at least.

In other news, think 2014 might be the year of the reread. I’m planning a Harry Potter read through (again) for the back end of the year; I’m tempted to revisit The Book Thief because of the film (although I still think that maybe I love that book too much to be brave enough to open it again) and a conversation over the past week has had me wanting to go back to Farenheit 451 and Children of Men. I also want to read Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood so I can finally read MaddAddam. It looks like 2014 might also be the year of the dystopia. Ha.
I feel bad sometimes, reading old favourites when I have so many new and undiscovered books on my to-read pile, but then I kind of think that when it comes to my reading habits I don’t owe anybody anything. Nobody cares but me whether I only read one book for the rest of my life, or whether I read a new book every day. If I want to go back to old bookloves then what have I got to feel guilty about? Except, Ian maybe cares, from a space saving point of view. That self imposed book ban really isn’t going all that well, and, I think he probably wants to cry a little bit every time he sees me with a pile of new books on the shelf and a well-worn Prisoner of Azkaban in my hand. Whoops. I shall probably, in the words of  Lemony Snicket, die surrounded by a pile of things I was meaning to read. I care not. Sometimes a familiar story is just exactly what you need.

Happy Valentine’s Day people.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

In which I Love Nina.

Love, Nina is a delight.

I hadn’t heard of it til a couple of weeks ago when whilst having curry with my friend Mark – quite possibly more of a reader than even I am – the talk turned as it often does, to books. ‘You absolutely must,’ he told me firmly, ‘read Love, Nina.’ So I did.

It was funny actually, because I got home that night and downloaded it to my Kindle without even bothering to read the blurb. When I logged onto Goodreads the next day, I saw another friend of mine had left a five star review. Well, 2 recommendations in a 24 hour period? This was a book that had to be read.

It’s basically a collection of letters from a 20 year old nanny to her sister, giving the reader a fly on the wall experience of 1980’s London. And that’s about it. There’s no grand story, no real drama, no real story even; if you’re looking for that then look elsewhere. Love, Nina has none of that. It’s set in a world before mobile phones and the internet and reality TV, and it shows how letter writing really is a lost art. People don’t keep emails and text messages in the same way they kept letters. That makes me sad. It makes me sad because little snippets of conversation like this, will be lost forever:

Me: I hate November.
Will: Why?
Me: Dark, cold and a whole winter to get through.
MK: January seems worse.
Will: I hate February.
Sam: Oi! I was born in February.
MK: February was very nice in 1972.
Will: Well, for one day.
Sam: The 2nd? (His birthday.)
Will: No, the 1st.

Nina has a fabulous narrative voice, made even better by the fact she wasn’t even really trying that hard – these really are just letters to her sister, and she really brings the little corner of the world she inhabits to life. The boys, Sam & Will are so real you feel like you could reach out and touch them, the picture Nina paints of the people around her – herself and her employer Mary-Kay (editor of the London Review of Books) most notably – are honest and real. These people are flawed and they are fabulous. The little snippets of conversation Nina drops in to illustrate her point are spot on every time and Alan Bennett, who I only recently discovered, keeps dropping in for tea. It should be utterly mundane, I tell you, nothing happens (one of the most exciting moments is AB resuscitating some roses with a rolling pin) but instead it somehow manages to be utterly charming and thoroughly fascinating. The letters are all reasonably short and every time I picked it up I’d be all ‘I’ll just read one more…..’ and then keep going for another half an hour. It made me laugh out loud. It made me get up off the sofa and go in search of Ian, ‘hey, listen, listen to this.’

I only have it on my Kindle. I want, no, I need a copy. Everyone needs a copy. This book shall be gifted a LOT this year.

Here, look, see for yourself:

Me: I don’t like the rosebud toilet paper. MK: I know, I know. Me: It’s worrying. MK: I know. I didn’t think it through.

AB: X has got crabs apparently.
MK: Who has?
MK: Oh dear.
AB: He’s been fucking the cleaner.
MK: Oh.

Neither of them seemed bothered – or surprised. AB just carried on eating rice pudding, and as soon as it was polite MK ground the coffee beans (noisy).

Had smoked salmon with bread and butter (and lemon and pepper) at supper followed by my veg soup. I’d done a fruit pie for pudding (blackberry and apple) using a tin of Morton’s pie-filler. I admitted it was out of a tin but didn’t say it was blackberry and apple. AB likes real blackberries but they make him nostalgic about blackberrying in the lanes. So, to avoid a whole lot of disappointment (and his blackberrying anecdotes), I said the pie was apple and raspberry.
AB said it wasn’t bad for a tinned pie-filler, but said it tasted more like blackberry. Which I thought was quite impressive (AB for detecting blackberry and the pie-filler for tasting of blackberry).

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Book of the Year: 2013

First of all, Nashville.

No, wait, first off all Happy New Year blogosphere. Here is to a 2014 that is super wonderful.

Second of all, Nashville. I know, I know, I am (always) a little late to the party but this show is immense. Everything about it appeals to my little country loving heart - why yes. I do have one of those. Of you even know how many Keith Urban albums are in my car right now? - and I can actually feel myself getting sucked right in. The story, the characters, the MUSIC. I need that soundtrack man. Even though I have only actually watched the one episode, suddenly the cancellation of Smash seems a little less tragic ;) If you need a show to watch, basically, then Nashville is currently being repeated.

I wonder what it says about me, how easily I get immersed in a fictional world. All the books. Nashville. Glee. Brothers & Sisters. House. Once Upon A Time. Lordy, Once Upon A Time, that show, though. I might even give it a blog post all to itself, because of Robert Carlyle who I have loved since his Hamish Macbeth days. Anyway, the point is that I have begun this year by allowing myself to be sucked into another television show because I cannot stop with the living inside of the worlds that are not real.  Alongside which, Helen and I have just begun The Great Ally McBeal Rewatch of 2014. Yeah, that’s a thing, a really amazing thing. Ally McBeal was such a great show and you know what’s funny? The DVD’s aren’t in widescreen, s’like instagram TV. Ha.

But but but, to the point, which is (thirdly) what were my favourite books of 2013 I hear you ask. Actually, I don't, but 2013 was a GOOD year and so I'm going to tell you anyway.

The Fault in Our Stars introduced me to John Green, who is not only a man who knows how to use his words but who also seems to be a genuinely awesome guy. I want to be his friend. Oh who am I kidding? I have a massive author!crush on the guy. TFiOS is incredible. It broke me, it broke me into more pieces than I can count, it made me laugh, it made me so sad my chest hurt, it made me cry so hard I had wet neck. It hurt, it hurt a lot. & I would recommend it to anybody in a heartbeat.

Wonder is a very special book, it is an important book. It is raw and honest and real. It's a book I am so glad I read and a book I urge you all to read. Now. Go, go, go.

The Night Rainbow is the prettiest book I have read on a long time, it's a re-read for sure.

The Uncommon Reader has left me wondering why it has taken me my whole life to get to know Alan Bennett.

And finally but never ever finally, Eleanor and Park. AMAZING. The other four are on no particular order but this is absolutely my number one. This book is so good I barely know how to explain it. I want to keep it to myself and I want the world to read it. It's a little piece of magic.

2014 has a lot of work to do if it wants to come anywhere close to any of these. So there, go forth and read. I promise they're worth the time.