Aug 19, 2015

The book that made me realise I don't know much about South Africa

I thought I knew a bit about South Africa.
Apartheid. Nelson Mandela. Cricket. Rugby. Charlize Theron. Vuvuzelas.
I've read some Bryce Courtenay and Wilbur Smith novels.
My daughter's boyfriend is South African and he's told me at least three interesting stories.

But when I started reading Russell Eldridge's debut novel, Harry Mac, I realised I didn't know much at all.

Thankfully, this fascinating story is told through the eyes of a young boy, and I learned about the turmoil in his country in the 60s, at his pace, with his innocence. As he matured and became aware of his and his family's standing in society, learned the consequences of certain actions, and tried to understand the political unrest in his country, I felt I too knew a little more with every page I turned.

Tom and Millie are best friends who live in a quiet lane, hang out together after school, and have secret meetings in an abandoned house, where they share their stories and try to make sense of the adults around them. Tom, who suffers from polio, feels the biggest mystery is the black car which drives slowly up the lane every night.... at least until he overhears something which he believes entwines him in a deadly secret with his dad, Harry Mac.

Harry is the editor of the local newspaper. A strong man prone to secrets and long silences, Harry is seemingly unafraid when it comes to protecting his family and his freedom of speech; a freedom which is being eroded by the regime the citizens find themselves living under in this new Republic.

With secret meetings and unrest on the increase, Mandela in hiding, and his eldest son conscripted into service, Harry continues to push the buttons of those 'higher up', and a series of shocking events and discoveries threaten to tear young Tom's world apart.

Not something I might normally choose to buy for myself, I must thank Allen & Unwin for sending me this book, as I genuinely found this story interesting and wonderfully written. Russell Eldridge has created an image of not only the physical environment Tom lived in, but the temper of the times. I still don't 'know' South Africa, and possibly never truly will, but I have definitely become more acquainted with her. 
A fabulous debut novel.
I gave it four stars on Goodreads.

Jul 24, 2015

Hush, Little Bird

This book made me cry. It really did.
I finished reading Hush, Little Bird by Nicole Trope and promptly burst into tears.
I don't even know what sort of tears they were.... happy, sad, anguished, hormonal.... a mother's tears, a daughter's tears.... too many emotions jumbled together, and I couldn't possibly separate them. I just cried. 

"A celebrity wife.
A damaged young woman.
United by a secret neither will reveal."

We are introduced to Rose and Birdy in alternate chapters, with voices as far removed from each other as the lives they have led. They have both committed crimes and find themselves in the same prison, a low security facility where most of the women are coming to the end of their sentences. Both women feel hurt and betrayed. And they both hold onto their secrets.

And.... I really don't want to tell you much more than that. How did they get here? What are they hiding?  This is a story which needs to slowly unfold as you read it, and not be spoiled by revealing too much, too soon. 

Nicole Trope has crafted a story that seems to be so gently written, and yet is harsh and powerful all at once. It is at times uncomfortable and heartbreaking, and confronts us with a horrible reality; children sometimes get hurt, and adults sometimes fail them.

The message of this thought provoking and compassionate story is that kids just want to be seen and heard. And safe.
In fact, we all do.

I gave it Five Stars on Goodreads.
Trigger warning: sexual abuse

Jul 2, 2015

TRAINWRECK (Subtitle: I Am Besotted With Amy Schumer)

I've decided that when I have my next big birthday (or my funeral, whichever comes first), I want Amy Schumer to write the speeches and play the role of me in an interpretive dance during a musical interlude, Judd Apatow to direct it, Bill Hader to serve drinks, and LeBron James to sit amongst the attendees, clapping and yelling "sexual intercourse!"
I hope I survive so I can be there to see it....but honestly, it would also be a spectacular send off.

My fantasy is the result of viewing a preview of the movie Trainwreck, written by and starring the incredibly talented Amy Schumer, and directed by the brilliant Judd Apatow.

Since Amy Townsend's (Schumer) parents divorced and her father (Colin Quinn) drilled into her that monogamy is not realistic (in such a hilarious opening scene that I desperately need to see it again; we were all laughing so much I fear I missed some of it - this applies to the entire movie), she has embarked on a path leading to adventurous one night stands, no romance, and no commitment. She drinks too much too often, is bemused by the contentment of her happily married sister (Brie Larson), and breaks the heart of the only man who manages to get more than one date, her regular Friend With Benefits, Steven (the totally ripped John Cena).

As carefree as this seems, Amy appears to be in an unfulfilled rut. She bounces from one sexual encounter to another, and from one hangover to another. Her progress at work, writing for trashy men's magazine S'nuff alongside her kooky friend, Nikki (Vanessa Bayer), is stymied, and reliant upon the whim of her ball-breaking, brutally honest boss, Dianna (a hilarious turn by an almost unrecognisably bronzed Tilda Swinton), who only likes Amy because she's "clever, but not too brainy, you're prettyish and you're not gorgeous. You're approachable."

Amy's life is turned on its head when Dianna assigns her a profile piece on a sports medicine doctor, Aaron Conners (a very charming and funny Bill Hader), in the lead-up to his groundbreaking surgical procedure on basketball star, Amar'e Stoudemire (as himself). This also introduces basketball legend, LeBron James, as a patient and friend of Conners. I was pleasantly surprised, especially as a mad basketball fan, at how well James played himself - or at least what I assume is a fictionalised version of himself; confident, slightly self-important and extremely Scroogey. I have no idea what he is really like, but this version was very funny.

When Amy and Aaron get beyond the first date, where she breaks her own No Sleepover rules and displays relatable quirks regarding pillow placement (I'm also a 'don't touch me, I can't sleep if you touch me' type), Amy eventually realises this might be an experience she would be willing to repeat. As she juggles career options, money struggles, arguments with her sister, and the emotional toll of an ailing father who has not been a perfect husband or parent, Amy battles her own demons in an attempt to learn what it is to have a proper, grown-up relationship and share her life with one significant person.


This is no schmaltzy Disney romance, folks. Be aware, this movie is not for the faint-hearted pearl clutchers. If you know anything about Amy Schumer (and her series, Inside Amy Schumer) you wouldn't expect it to be. She is a gifted writer with incredible comedic talent who pushes and breaks boundaries. In fact, I'm guessing she doesn't even acknowledge those stoopid boundaries, but keeps going, and cocks her eyebrow and laughs with delight when someone points out, "Hey, there was a boundary back there that you seem to have crossed."
And I LOVE that about her. She is charming and wicked and funny and smart and vulnerable and honest and original and sharp and adorable and provocative and clever and sweet and naughty and all of the things, ALL AT ONCE.
Exactly how I want to be when I grow up.

There is so much to love about Trainwreck. The mix of gut-busting laughs and more thought-provoking moments, the bluntness and complexities in the varied relationships, sporting backdrops, family issues, and the famous faces (the intervention scene involving several cameos is gold) all combined perfectly for my viewing pleasure.
Schumer and Appatow have melded their exceptional talents into a consistently hilarious, entertaining and honest comedy.
I am besotted.
Also, Amy favourited my tweet.

More besotted than ever.

Jun 23, 2015

The Renovation

We bought our circa 1905 Renovator's Delight in 2003, and quickly found the renovating part...the delight was a little slower to appear. Bit by bit, as time and finances allowed, we've done the old girl up... Kitchen, bathroom, every bedroom, living room, gardens front and back, new front fence, added a carport and pergola, built on a new family room, re roofed the whole house, and painted everything....some things twice already.

The one area still lacking was our laundry and back porch. We knew what we wanted to do out here right from the start...including adding a second bathroom... but knew it would be a big job requiring big dollars. Finally, almost twelve years after my brain started whirling with ideas, it is happening.

The laundry and porch were basically a tin shed attached to the back of the house... corrugated iron walls, concrete floor, all wiring and plumbing exposed. It was as hot as hell's dance floor in summer, and as cold as a witch's tit in winter. Doing laundry for the last twelve years has not been much fun. And let's face it, doing laundry is bad enough, if the environment is challenging too....then it can be as soul destroying as binge-watching Toddlers & Tiaras.

When we moved in, this area didn't even have proper windows. The laundry, on the left, had louvres, and the porch just had fly screens. And because these face west...the direction most of our weather comes from.... the rain used to pelt in, along with cold winds in winter, and dirt and hot winds in summer. Awesome. Needless to say, we had these green aluminium windows whacked in reasonably quickly and they served us for 11 years. Frustratingly, the rain still got in occasionally....... we have surmised the original builder of this laundry/shed knew nothing about roof flashing or guttering. Or building.

Anyway, down came this iron contraption..... WOOHOO! ....revealing the ugly back wall of our house, which was a little worse for wear. 

I remember this stage being quite exciting because I had wanted that corrugated monstrosity gone for so long, but also a little sad at the thought that the original owners' simple, early 20th century construction efforts were disappearing.
No, I'm lying. I was ecstatic.

And then....madness. Machinery and men, digging trenches and laying the foundations of a new, much bigger area to house a new bathroom, laundry and study nook. It all went at such a cracking pace, we could only stand back and watch in awe as within a week we had this wet slab in place of a wet shed.

From there, it has continued along like greased lightning. (What even is greased lightning? Never mind...). I swear, we had the BEST team of carpenters ever. They were hard working, efficient, smart, full of ideas, productive, helpful, hilarious, great company, and had 80s music blasting all day. What's not to love? They did all the framework, roofing, windows, and boarded the bathroom and laundry, and will be coming back to do all the finishing touches, like doors, skirting boards and architraves. 

We are about five weeks into the renovations and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. 
Of course, the light is from a portable fluoro because there is no power in the extension yet, but that's ok. Plastering jobs are about three quarters done (would be finished if it wasn't for the first plasterer, who may or may not have been stoned while working...he got the boot, set us back several days), tiling is half done, outer brickwork is half done, I have all my fixtures and fittings ready to go in, and things are coming together rather well.

I've even had an ironing station installed in the wall.
For The Husband, of course.

We've only had one slight mistake occur so far, which we realised this weekend, but luckily it's not too late to remedy it. We would have had a lovely new clothes dryer mounted on the wall, but no power supply to plug it in to....oops. Not one of the three power points in the laundry would've been in reach. Details, details. 

The only slight downside of this renovation has been our bathroom situation. As we are adding a new one, we have modified our existing bathroom into an ensuite to our main bedroom. And as that part of the work has almost been completed, it means everybody has to trek through our bedroom to use the bathroom. 
Like, The Son. When he comes home at 1am. And we're asleep. And suddenly I wake to this large figure looming over me as he tries to tiptoe past me. Slightly disconcerting.

All in all, it has been a reasonable experience so far, and all the early starts on these cold, wintry mornings, all the noise from power tools, all the cleaning of layer upon layer of red brick dust and grey plaster dust which travelled through the house, all the inconvenience of doing my washing out in the garden.... it will all be worth it in the end. 


Fingers crossed.

stay tuned

Jun 18, 2015

Minions: The one where I was surrounded by kids but still had a good time

So, when this invite landed in my inbox, I thought....a kids' movie? In 3D? Do I really want to go? There might be...y'know....actual KIDS there.

Let me point out why I hesitated...

1. While I do go to the movies regularly, it has been a long time since I went to a kids' movie. My offspring are now 22 and 20, and whilst they sometimes act 12, mess up their rooms, do dumb stuff, and still go to see silly movies, they can now indulge on their own. Though I'm pretty sure I'm still funding it.

2. I have not been to a 3D movie for more than 30 years. Remember Jaws 3D in 1983? It was shit. And as someone who wears glasses all the time, because I like to be able to see, I have avoided all 3D movies ever since and been perfectly happy in my limited dimensions.

3. It's winter, cold outside, and I have a comfy sofa and warm fire at home.

But then I watched the trailer.
I laughed out loud three times and came away with a smile.
So I guessed that this was going to be like many other movies I've enjoyed (like Shrek, Monsters Inc, etc) which might be predominantly aimed at kids, but has plenty there to keep the adults entertained too.

And I was right. It was SUCH GREAT FUN! I loved the minions, there are some excellent characters throughout, the storyline was fab, the 3D effects were AMAZING (the glasses have come a long way in 30 years), and I laughed a lot. And not just at childish jokes! There were some funny references that only adults will understand, unless you've managed to educate your kids on the 1960s era (oh, how I LOVED the music).

So take your kids....borrow a friend's children if you have to.... and go see Stuart, Bob and Kevin (Pierre Coffin) take on the world's greatest supervillain, Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock). 

Or be brave and just take your adult self. I was surrounded by youngsters and had a good time.
Good preparation for when I have grandkids....

Thanks to Universal Pictures for the invite, it's always good to have a midweek laugh.

Jun 9, 2015

My Paris Dream

I have an as yet unfulfilled Paris dream. It involves a Spring weekend, a cafe and a baguette. Maybe a Frenchman. Or the Husband will do. Fairly simple.

But Kate Betts, whose work resume would come to include editor-in-chief at Harpers Bazaar and #2 editor under Anna Wintour at Vogue, had dreams which were much bigger than my musings of a possible four day stay at some point during my life. 
When she finished college, Kate took the plunge and moved to Paris to immerse herself in the culture, learn the language, and hopefully land a job that would keep her there long enough to fulfil her dream. 

In Kate's memoir, My Paris Dream, she brings to life her early days in the French capital; from the job searches, the language difficulties, the loneliness and feelings of being an outsider, to her initiation into the high fashion world during a time of change, which saw the likes of Helmut Lang and John Galliano rewriting the rules.

Kate delights with anecdotes ranging from the everyday life of the family she first boarded with who gave her a crash course in French slang, her story assignments, hectic fashion shows, and falling in love, to receiving huge baskets of roses from Karl Lagerfeld, and how she feels whenever she returns to the country she once called home. "I revisited the same spots, like a record needle in a groove."

My Paris Dream ultimately brings to life the romantic fascination many of us have for France. Nightclubs, restaurants and food, shopping, fashion, travel and lavender fields; there is a little of something for everyone. 

Kate Betts found her dream, found her voice, found herself, and as she says, "I found my tribe."

If you have ever lived in France, or visited, or even just dreamed of it, like myself, you may find this memoir truly enchanting. And have you craving a baguette.

Jun 1, 2015

I'm Gonna Tell You Something...

I think we all have one, or at least know of one.
That friend, relative or acquaintance who is always "gonna". 
Gonna do this, gonna do that.
Gonna send you a message.
Gonna reply later on.
Gonna send you that information. 
Gonna show you that thing you wanted to see. (Not a euphemism, keep it clean folks)
Gonna give you those details of that thing.
Gonna look up that book title and tell you. 
Gonna organise that thing.
Gonna explain that thing.
Gonna answer that question you raised.
Gonna get back to you tomorrow, because busy today.
Gonna let you know how it goes.
Gonna tell you about it next time.
Gonna keep you updated.
Gonna do that thing for you.
Gonna get it to you soon.
Gonna call.
Gonna text.
Gonna email.
Gonna stay in touch.
Gonna try harder.
Gonna make an effort.

Yeah. And mostly they are just gonna let you down.

I think there are a few different ways to deal with the varying types of Gonna.

1. Accept that this is totally who they are. Believe that they are a Born Gonna, and are like this with everybody - closest friends and immediate family included - and don't take it personally. Take every "gonna" with a pinch of salt, and forget it as soon as you hear it. Do not dwell on it, or your head will explode and every "gonna" they ever said to you will cause the brain condition called Irreversible Expectation Damage. Shut up, it's a thing. You know, deep down, that you should have no expectations of this Born Gonna. And yet they creep in, undermining your intelligence, because you are only human and hope that maybe this time will be different. And it isn't. And your brain starts eating itself. Or something. So stop that shit. The Born Gonna will not change for you, no matter how much Damage you sustain yourself....or threaten to inflict on them.

2. Accept that this is just a part of who they are. They are a Recovering Gonna. Perhaps with their immediate family and besties, who are in their face daily, reminding them of their promises, they are more reliable. Maybe only their outer circle of contacts get the more disappointing Gonna persona. Again, don't take it too personally - unless you didn't realise you were in the outer circle until now. This is particularly embarrassing if the Gonna is your partner. I'm terribly sorry, but I guess they're just not that into you. It is perfectly understandable if you let yourself have some hope when dealing with a Recovering Gonna, as they do sometimes come through for you. But keep your expectations low, so you can be pleasantly surprised when they actually get back to you the next day. This may help to counter future Expectation Damage to your brain. Like building up your immune system.

3. Accept that this is who they are when they are dealing with you, and possibly just you. They are a Selective Gonna, and you may well be the selected one. To everyone else, they say what they mean and mean what they say, but you are fobbed off with a stream of dismissive "gonnas". Take it personally. They just don't want to deal with you. It's not necessarily your fault, or theirs, but there just isn't a strong enough friendship/chemistry/incentive for them to commit to anything for you, no matter how simple, and they are too weak to just say no or terminate contact altogether. You will probably have to be the one to end your relationship with this Gonna, but honestly, are you gonna miss their "gonnas"? Again, if it's your partner, start googling lawyers.

4. Accept NOTHING.  All Gonnas are arseholes. Seriously Gonnas, just do it or shut the fuck up.
I mean, even Rick Astley was a NEVER Gonna.

*Allowances should probably be made in most cases for someone who could quite feasibly qualify as a Potential Forgetful Gonna. This includes the elderly, sleep-deprived-gin-drinking parents, women of a certain age approaching menopause, and Ten Second Tom.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna.... do that thing I said I'd do.... .

May 27, 2015

West of Sunset

When I think of F Scott Fitzgerald, I think of Gatsby.
How could I not? It is one of my all time favourite books, and possibly the only one I have read multiple times. 
But beyond that....well, I knew he and his wife Zelda were the darlings of the Jazz Age, and that he died far too young, probably due to his life of excess and alcoholism. And that's about it, I'm ashamed to say. 

So when Allen & Unwin sent me a copy of West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan, a fictionalised biographical novel covering the final three years of F Scott Fitgerald's life, I was instantly excited to learn more.

While, of course, not every intimate detail of his final years can be verified (hence, the 'fictionalised novel' part), Stewart O'Nan has painted a vivid picture of Scott's time in Hollywood in the years leading up to his death; the major movie studios, the stars, the writers, the affairs and the politics. 

This engrossing, sometimes heartbreaking story follows the troubled and broke Scott as he tries to scrape together enough money to pay for Zelda's treatment in a mental asylum, and their daughter Scottie's education. His health is declining, his literary success is mostly forgotten, and his only option is to call on some old friends to give him a shot as a screenwriter. After moving to Hollywood, Scott falls in love with English gossip columnist Sheilah Graham and embarks on a passionate affair, while guiltily trying to maintain some sense of loyalty to the unstable Zelda.

The Golden Age of Hollywood is brought to life with fascinating depictions of stars including Joan Crawford and Humphrey Bogart, studio bosses, various directors and the other screenwriters holed up in the "Iron Lung", where movie scripts were churned out constantly, written and rewritten on a director's or producer's whim, until they were sometimes unrecognisable from the original drafts. I found this creative process both intriguing and depressing, and can imagine how stifling and frustrating it must have been for someone with Scott's talent. No wonder he drank.

Stewart O'Nan, on the other hand, was free to write this novel as he saw fit, and he did so beautifully. This bittersweet portrayal of Scott's struggle to keep his life together, and regular failure to do so, was written with sensitivity, grace and wit. O'Nan is no slouch himself; he has written many fiction and nonfiction books, including a collaboration with Stephen King.

With West of Sunset, we have, as author George Saunders says, "One brilliant American writer meditating on another - what's not to love?"

I certainly loved it, and I feel like I now know a little bit more about the man behind Gatsby.

May 5, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 is ACA-AWESOME


And they have not lost their touch. Three years have passed since the Barden Bellas had us tapping our feet, laughing loudly, and discovering A Cappella competitions are "actually a thing". Now they're back, as three time defending champions, and ready to take on the rest of the world.

Beca, Chloe, Fat Amy and the girls are as tight as ever, until a hilarious mishap involving a "birthday gift from down under" in front of a very important audience humiliates them and has them banned from competing.

As the Bellas try to regain both their dignity and their place in the collegiate competition, their attempts result in disaster and disharmony. The only way to be reinstated is to win the World Championships. The girls have to break everything down to build it back up and find their sound again.

I was invited to the Adelaide premiere of Pitch Perfect 2, and I was aca-excited, I can tell you. I loved the first movie, and often get nervous about sequels not living up to the original, but I had seen a couple of trailers which had me feeling optimistic. And I wasn't disappointed. 

It was a rollicking rollercoaster of fun, hilarity and aca-awesome music from beginning to end. I loved it all; the familiar faces, the new faces, and the introduction of a new rival team to take on the Bellas. I laughed so much, my face ached, and as soon as it finished, I said I desperately wanted to see it again straight away.

Fat Amy (the incomparable, side-splittingly funny Rebel Wilson) once again stole the most hilarious and slapstick scenes, and Lily's (Hana Mae Lee) few whispering lines had us in stitches. Newcomer Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a Legacy inductee as her mother was once a well known Bella, is a delightful addition to the lineup, with a lovely voice and sweet, slightly dorky character. Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Chloe (Brittany Snow) make a great team as leaders of a group which is on the brink of splintering as graduation approaches, and find they need to be reminded of their strengths - as Fat Amy says, "You're Beca and Chloe, together you're Bloey".

Anna Kendrick excels in her role, although I think she does every time I see her on screen. Her performances appear effortless, as though she isn't "acting", but really is whoever she is supposed to be. She is one talented chick. Act, sing, dance. The whole package. 

The introduction of Das Sound Machine from Germany as rivals to the Bellas for the world title brought a new enemy into the game to replace the Treblemakers (who do make a fabulous early appearance), and I thought that was a really good, fresh touch. Their musical performances were sharp, dynamic, and absolutely stunning. DSM's statuesque leader, played by Birgitte Hjort Sorensen (you may know her as Katrine if you've ever watched the Danish tv series, Borgen), is a tad nasty in a beautifully confident and sexy way, and throws the Bellas, particularly Beca, for a bit of a spin; when Beca searches for an insulting jibe, all she can come up with is, "Your sweat smells like cinnamon!"

And of course, everyone's favourite A Cappella directors and commentators, John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks), are back again with (her) unveiled sarcasm, (his) blatant misogyny, and resultant downright hilarity. This time, Banks not only acted and produced, but also directed the movie, and I thought she pulled it all together brilliantly. I have great admiration for everything Banks does, and this movie is no exception. 

Thanks to Universal Pictures and Event Cinemas, it was a wonderful premiere. We were aca-flashmobbed by the Festival Statesmen group, had a glass of wine, and we even got our own Pitch Perfect cupcakes....which Rebel Wilson herself thought was cute!

So, go see it, Pitches! If you enjoyed the first instalment, you won't be let down by Pitch Perfect 2.


Oh, and don't leave the cinema when the credits start to roll.....just aca-saying.....


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