REVIEW: Letters to Eloise by Emily Williams

*I received a free e-copy of this book in return for an honest review*

When Flora, a post-graduate Uni student, falls unexpectedly pregnant during her final year of studies her plans for her future are thrown into chaos as she now has someone else to look out for. As Flora reads many baby books she must figure out if she will continue with her recent affair with a handsome lecturer or should she chase after the past with her estranged first love?

Letters to Eloise is an example of epistolary fiction as it’s made up of a series of letters from Flora to her unborn child. They start as soon as Flora realises she’s pregnant and follows all the ups and downs of pregnancy. The letters also slowly reveal the circumstances of her baby being conceived, the potential dads (though Flora is always confident in who the father is, it takes a while for her to tell the reader) and the good and bad times Flora has had with friends, family and love interests. Sometimes it can be a bit confusing as Flora’s letters go back and forth from the present to various points in the past but I soon got my head around it.

I’ve never read a book where one of the main themes or storyline is pregnancy (and I’ve never been pregnant myself) so I was unsure how I would connect with a book, and a character, whose pretty much whole life now revolves around being pregnant and being an expectant mother. But I did connect with Flora. Her student life and the friends she has at university, are what pulled me in to start with but she’s a likable and understandable character and I wanted to see her happy.

I loved the dynamic between Flora, her best friend Brooke and their housemate Brian. It felt like the sort of relationship I had with my university friends and flatmates, especially how there’s very few secrets between them.

Letters to Eloise is set during the early and mid-1990’s and I really liked how the lack of mobile phones and the internet was naturally woven into the story. Flora would send letters to people or have to go to a phone box at the end of the street if she needed to call someone as her student house didn’t have a landline. It’s great as this time where people weren’t necessarily so easy to contact allows for some drama and surprises.

Letters to Eloise is a book that sucks you in, it’s a small, almost personal story but it’s a touching one. 4/5.

The A to Z in April Blogging Challenge – 2017 Edition

Spring has sprung and that means the A to Z in April Challenge is almost upon us! Now somehow, I’m a little less organised this year compared to the previous three years I’ve taken part so I’m a bit later actually saying I’m going to take part and I’ve yet to write any of my posts.

But before I get into all that, I should let you know what the Challenge is if you’re new to it or to my blog. The challenge is to post a blog every day of April bar Sundays. Since there are 26 days in April (not including Sundays), that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. So, on April 1st, blog about something that begins with the letter “A”, April 2nd is “B,” April 3rd is “C,” and so on and so forth.

This year my “theme” for the challenge is My Favourite Things. This includes pretty much anything – my favourite foods, favourite songs, favourite actors, characters, films, things to do – anything! I currently have something for 24 days of the challenge (I’m missing something for G and O right now) but I haven’t started writing any of them. I will probably start writing and scheduling posts by the weekend, I’ll definitely have to make sure I’ve got posts from 7th-11th April scheduled as I’m going away for a friend’s wedding over that weekend.

The A-Z in April Challenge has kind of been a bit of a blogging tradition for me now and I’m looking forward to taking part in it again this year. My usual book and film reviews might take a bit of a back seat during April as my focus will be on the challenge, though I suppose it depends on how I do with scheduling everything.

To find out more about the challenge (and you’ve still got time to sign up!) check out their blog here and if you want to see what I’ve written previously for the challenge you can have a look at my 2014 Masterpost, 2015 Masterpost and 2016 Masterpost.

A to Z in April Blogging Challenge 2016 Masterpost

My theme for the 2016 Challenge was my favourite characters and I loved gushing about characters I loved, whether they were from book, films or TV shows. It was a great chance to show off some more obscure fandoms and it was a very successful month of blogging for me.

Sign Up Post
A – Angela
B – Clint Barton
C – Evelyn Carnahan
D – Darcy Lewis
E – Elle Woods
F – Frank Castle
G – Cat Grant
H – Hermione Granger
I – Inej
J – Jessica Jones
K – Kingsley Shacklebolt
L – Aaron Livesy
M – Malcolm Ducasse
N – Nimona
O – Oda Mae Brown
P – Peggy Carter
Q – Happy Quinn
R – Ralph Dineen
S – Number Six
T – Sergeant Terry Jeffords
U – Nyota Uhura
V – Victoria Barton
W – Wadjda
X – Professor Charles Xavier
Y – Yvaine
Z – Zazu
Reflections on the Challenge

REVIEW: Free Fire (2016)

In Boston in 1978 a gun deal in an abandoned warehouse between two gangs goes wrong and turns into a shootout as everyone tries to survive the night.

Free Fire is hilarious. Its humour might not be for everyone because it’s kind of stupid and ridiculous but it works really well. The script is razor sharp and witty, every line is brilliant and the cast just look like they’re having a great time.

Sharlto Copley does slightly mad and/or weird very well. Every line out of his mouth was perfection and had me laughing every time. He plays Vernon, the gun dealer, and Vernon has a bit of a screw loose even before the shooting starts. The rest of the cast is great but Sam Riley’s Stevo was my favourite because he was completely off the wall but kind of innocent at the same time.

This isn’t a film that delves into character backstories or anything, there’s the odd line to help flesh out a character but you don’t really need to know anything about them as it’s just focused on one night in a warehouse and how they all react to this shootout they’re in. They’re personalities and values shine through the mad situation they’re in and that’s all you need.

I don’t usually talk about sound design in my film reviews (mainly because I don’t usually notice anything especially interesting sound-related in what I watch) but I’ve got to talk about it in regards to Free Fire. There’s really clever things done in Free Fire with the dialogue. You can hear voices shouting out and you can tell where the characters are in regards to what’s on screen because it comes from all angles. There’s often a lot going on onscreen so to have the sound like that helps ground you and it’s definitely the sort of thing you get the full effect of when sitting in a cinema.

Free Fire is completely mad, absurd and hilarious. It’s a lot of fun and is well worth the price of a cinema ticket. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Czech Republic: How I Came to Know Fish by Ota Pavel

How I Came to Know Fish is Ota Pavel’s memoir of his childhood in Czexhoslovakia, fishing with his father and his Uncle Prosek on the peaceful rivers and ponds of his country. But everything changes when the Nazis invade – Pavel learns to steal their confiscated fish back from the SS while his family still tries to provide for him and his brothers.

How I Came to Know Fish is a very short book, just over 130 pages long it’s a simple story about an innocent childhood and how that changes during war. It’s kind of a love story about fishing and will strike a chord more with those who love to fish and know the ins and outs of the best way to catch different fish.

While I was not particularly interested in the fishing part of the book (mainly as I have no real knowledge or interest in fishing myself) it was still well-written and accessible for fishing novices like me. It was when the memoir was more about how life was like in Czechoslovakia when the Nazi’s invaded that the story picked up for me. Patel recounts events quite bluntly, things like the fact his father and brothers were ordered to go to work camps is almost a passing footnote. As a Brit when we learn about World War II in school we largely learn about Britain’s part in the war, Nazi Germany itself but very rarely learn about the countries the Nazis invaded and how they controlled the people there.

Seeing how things changed for the Pavel’s, a Jewish family, even in subtle ways like the fact they were no longer allowed to keep pets was truly eye-opening. And also, atrocities like the massacre of the village of Lidice, an event I’d never heard of but Ota Patel could see the smoke from the ruins of the village from his hometown affected whole generations.

If you like a simply written story about a family, their love of fishing and how life can change during war then maybe pick up How I Came to Know Fish, it won’t take a lot of time to read at all.

REVIEW: Kong: Skull Island (2017)

A team of scientists led by Bill Randa (John Goodman) aided by a unit of soldiers led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) set out to explore an uncharted island in the Pacific but they soon find themselves outgunned as they venture into the domain of the mighty Kong.

Kong: Skull Island is a lot of fun. It’s an action/war/monster movie hybrid that manages to work most the time. It’s an action movie with colour! Not to the same extent of films like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Pacific Rim (2013) but enough to make it noticeable in a good way. The stuff it does with smoke, fire and shadow is also brilliant, the scale of Kong and the other creatures living on the island comes across great and the film knows how to amp up the suspense.

Kong is brilliant. The scenes with him smashing helicopters or creatures are thrilling and then there’s the quieter moments when you see Kong just going about his life and being a good King. It’s brilliant animation work and every moment he’s on screen you can’t take your eyes off him.

The cast is a proper star-studded cast. Some have more to do than others, for instance Tom Hiddleston’s James Conrad is a tracker and is ex-SAS who does seem to be pretty amazing at everything he turns his hand to, while the majority of the soldiers are expendable and don’t always have decent character beats. Brie Larson was great, she played Mason Weaver a war photographer who thinks there’s something up with the expedition and she has good chemistry with pretty much everyone on screen. That being said, a lot of the characters are archetypes. That might not work for some people but it worked for me, most still have a moment where it makes you care about them and you only need

There are jokes in Kong: Skull Island, some fall flat especially at the beginning when it seems as if the film is finding its feet, but the rest of the time they work for the most part – or if they miss the mark, there’s so many monsters and fighting going on then you don’t really notice. The jokes do become more frequent when we meet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) and his lines tend to work more often than not.

The soundtrack is also worth mentioning. It’s great, full of popular songs from the 1970’s but they don’t always fit what’s happening on screen – there’s only so many shots of someone switching on a record player to show why there’s suddenly some David Bowie or Creedence Clearwater Revival playing before it comes a little tedious.

Kong: Skull Island is great fun. The CGI is ace, the action scenes are fun and exciting and it’s pure, fun entertainment for less than two hours. Oh and there is a post-credits scene and it’s worth sticking around for. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Somalia: Hiding In Plain Sight by Nuruddin Farah

hiding-in-plain-sightWhen Bella’s beloved half-brother Aar dies in a terrorist attack in Somalia she’s in Rome, living her life as an aloof fashion photographer with no ties and responsibilities. But now her teenage nephew and niece are effectively orphaned (their mother Valerie walked out on them years ago) she must decide whether she can come to their rescue and be their guardian. She travels to Nairobi where the two are in school but confusion and tension lies ahead when Valerie resurfaces bringing her own baggage and claiming she wants full custody of her children.

Hiding in Plain Sight is a story about a family’s grief and different and sometimes strained familial relationships. Salif and Dahaba feel like realistic teenage siblings, they argue and Salif often finds his younger sister annoying. While they both love and like their Aunt Bella they’re unused to her being their main authority figure and all three of them have to figure out where they stand with each other. Then there’s Valerie, an absent mother who’s often needy, selfish and quick to anger. She’s an unlikeable character for the most part but slowly you get to learn about her past and why she acts the way she does – though the story never really condones her actions. (more…)