{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

April 29, 2016

Refashion || Bye-bye sleeves, hello crochet straps!

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My mom made a bunch of maternity-sized shirts for me when I was pregnant with Emma. The fabric is too pretty for me to let them go, so I've been altering and refashioning them.

In this shirt, the combination of the sleeves with the boatneck was not particularly flattering, making it a little tight over the bust and under the arms. Solution: remove the sleeves! It took a while for me to figure out what to do for straps or sleeves instead. The neckline did not make matters easier.

But then I came across this pattern for a loose collar in one of my old Ideas magazines. I continued the pattern until it was long enough for the straps I needed and just finished it off simply without the buttonhole.

I unpicked the sleeves and the edges of the neckline, as it was lined...

...then sewed the crocheted piece into the lining, ensuring that it would be the right way up when I turned the shirt back inside out.

I was going to trim the sides a little, but since baggy '60s and '70s styles are in now, I just left it!

What do you think?

April 26, 2016

Emma's DIY Dinosaur Birthday Party

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My little girl is already three years old and we celebrated with her first official birthday party this past weekend. Don't let anyone tell you that organising all the eats for the event is easy! It's hard work, especially if you're not certain how many people will actually be attending. Luckily, I made just a little too much, and mostly everything was eaten.

Check out my spread below to see some of the things I did for Emma's birthday with links on where I got my inspiration from!

The Eats

From top left: the dinosaur in the middle is actually holding the balloons, but I didn't get a full picture of it :( (inspiration here) - there is also a plate of dinosaur-cutout peanut butter and jam sandwiches (inspiration here); Flies in Amber jelly treats (inspiration here); Biscuits with dinosaur footprints (inspiration here); dinosaur nest cupcakes (inspiration here); and dinosaur bones (inspiration here).

I served up hot dogs to accompany the sweets. You'd swear the children had never seen food before, everything was devoured!

The Decor

We had an outdoor party so didn't go too crazy with the decor. I hired a dinosaur jumping castle for the occasion, which went down really well with the children, especially since it also had a roof. The company I went through also did delivery, setup and collection, so they're highly recommended! Everything else was pretty simple.

From top left: Stencilled party packs and serviettes (inspiration here); an Emmasaurus throne for the birthday girl; dinosaur masks, which also went down well, especially with the younger kids; a dinosaur fossil banner with Emma's name (inspiration here); and, of course, a 'Land Before Time'-themed birthday cake (inspiration here).

So much work and planning for a few hours of a day... But Emma had a blast and the look on her face when everyone sang Happy Birthday to her was priceless!

More Dinosaur Party Inspiration (aka: Things I Wanted To Do But Didn't Get Around To):

How to Mix Spooky Cocktails With Dry Ice
How to Make Dinosaur Cupcake Toppers
Dinosaur Soaps
Roaring Dinosaur Boys Birthday Party
Modern Dinosaur Birthday Party
Outdoor Dinosaur Birthday Party Ideas
Dinosaur Birthday Cakes We Love
Dinosaur-Themed Goods from The Party Lady

April 23, 2016

Book Review || Chemical Pink by Katie Arnoldi

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Katie Arnoldi's 'Chemical Pink' is a novel of NOTE. It had me absolutely mesmerised from start to finish.

Delving into the world of female bodybuilding, Arnoldi has used her own knowledge of the industry to recreate a world of bodily obsession and fetishistic sexuality.

Charles, a skinny eccentric man used to getting his way, is obsessed with creating the perfect male form in the female body. Jeanine, a single mother desperate for success and stardom, offers him the perfect canvas: her bodily symmetry is ideal for the sport and will take her far.

The two form a symbiotic relationship where Charles - who seems wealthy beyond belief - provides the training, tablets, and finances for Jeanine to continue perfecting her body, while she indulges his every fetish and sexual whim. But how far is too far?

This voyeuristic look into obsession is as addictive as the concoction it is named for. With intriguing characters who are all as obsessive as the others - Hendrik who is at once trainer, drug dealer, and pimp; Skip who believes he is in love with Jeanine; a daughter who becomes obsessed with her mother's former lover; and even the entire industry itself - the novel sweeps the reader along to an ending that is an attempt at resolving the overall conflict but culminates in a climax deserving of a cult novel such as this.

That being said, this dark comedy is at once thought-provoking and heartwarming and makes us all wonder at our own obsessions and how far they will take us before we are destroyed.

April 18, 2016

Book Review || Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

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I became a fan of Tracy Chevalier after reading 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' and while 'Burning Bright' is still a beautiful historical novel, it does not stand out from the former novel in richness of detail, setting and character.

Set in 18th century London in the suburb of Lambeth, it attempts to give insight into poet and artist William Blake in the time before he is accused of being a revolutionary and supporting treasonous notions. Told through the eyes of London-born Maggie and Jem, a boy come to the city with his family from an out-of-the-way rural area, the plot is held together by their relations with Blake and a mystery that Maggie won't reveal to Jem, as well as the awakening sexual tension between the two adolescents.

My favourite aspects of historical novels are the potent details about life at the particular time, so I loved the conversations about buttony (and am actually inspired to seek out some tutorials about it!), the contrast between country and city life and those who dwell in each, and also the look at the Astley's circus. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the carpentry in which Jem and his father excelled.

However, I rather felt that William Blake was inserted into the story only to hold the plot together. There is not such personal insight into the artist as was seen in Chevalier's work on Vermeer and I rather felt I was reading only to alight on some information on, some personal experience with the poet, who was my favourite when I was younger. Yet we only see him through the eyes of Maggie and Jem who are  involved with him on the surface and rather spend most of their time spying on him and his wife. Although their interaction with him is fundamental to the plot, and while he reveals himself to be caring and interesting throughout, I feel as though I was robbed of an experience much more like that in a 'Girl With a Pearl Earring'. I suppose that much can be said of expectations.

Certainly it appears that the location and the overarching themes of the novel are its compelling points. London and its people are perfectly rendered in the mind's eye as are those from the country, while revolution, eccentricity, human rights, and even gender politics are some of the themes one is left to ponder instead of what makes a man like Blake intriguing and revolutionary.

April 8, 2016

Book Review || The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

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Anita Diamant's 'The Red Tent' is a beautiful rendition of womanhood. Set in the time of Jacob in the Bible, it follows the oft untold story of biblical mothers and daughters who are often only mentioned in passing. Though set hundreds of years in the past, its themes and concepts are - frighteningly - still valid in much of the world today.

The narrator is Dinah, whose story in the Bible consists of mere mention as a daughter born to Jacob of Leah in Genesis 30:21 and then later as a reason for the destruction of Hamor and its people in Genesis 34.

Dinah has neither voice nor agency in the Bible and her story and existence is glossed over as her brothers take vengeance for her defilement by the Prince of Schechem.

'The Red Tent' tells Dinah's story - and that of her mothers Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah - through painstaking historical details that must have taken a lot of research on the author's part. We learn about the segregation of women during their moon blood, how the history of families is passed down through the stories of mothers told to their daughters, and how women worshipped matriarchal goddesses who aided them in birth, life and death. The novel tells of womanhood as a treasure and how the old ways honoured woman as the wellspring of life, finding no embarrassment in menstruation and indeed honouring it the way we are in awe of the full moon today.

It shows that traditions and family histories and genealogy were the realm of the woman, and I must question that if this was so how did ancient men remember their histories and stories? Diamant answers this question:

"The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men who had no way of knowing." [3]

The novel is also a contrast between woman and man: the former are shown to have a deep sense of duty, respect for history and life, an innate civility and kindness, and also a generosity of person; the latter are shown to be violent and possessive, lustful and prideful, and always aspiring to have more.

The women seem pleased to be part of family life, to fulfil their duties well and learn from each other. However, the novel does raise the question - via Dinah's experiences - whether this is all by choice or because of the patriarchal time in which they lived.

The novel has brought an interesting perspective to biblical stories, their basis in men's written history and the complete omission of women's beliefs or perspectives. Women in the bible are often reduced to trade items, objects to be avenged or condemned, or even examples of femininity and thus examples of what men should aspire not to be.

Though the novel has a historical basis, much still rings true today. While a girl was considered a woman once she menstruated, girls are in most parts of the world not legally marriageable until at least 18 years of age. However, in some parts of the world, girls even younger than menstrual age are given in marriage to men much older than them. Many times the marriage is of benefit to the girl's father in some way, making the girl nothing more than chattel; other times it also depends on the family's state in poverty and insecurity, the overall culture of patriarchy, the institution of gender inequality, and sometimes traditions.

'The Red Tent' is written with an amazing insight into womanhood and a deep respect of humankind and religious origins. The research that went into such a deep novel is beyond reproach and has aided Diamant in creating a world that is rich in detail and utterly believable.

Further Reading:

About Child Marriage
From Eve the Temptress to Mary Magdalene the Prostitute: The Strange Truth About Biblical Women

March 29, 2016

Just Read || The Unspoken Journey of Life by Lerato Nthati Dorah Tsamai

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'The Unspoken Journey of Life' is the heartbreaking autobiography of one woman's struggle with an abusive husband and an unsupportive community.

Ms Tsamai courageously documents the terrible situation she found herself in after falling in love, failing to acknowledge the signs, and remaining in a relationship fraught with danger. Her unflinching faith and trust in God is what she says aided her in her trial.

Her novel can serve as a legacy for women like herself who believe in the power of love, acceptance, and change but remain stuck on the undeserving end of abuse, unable to leave because of devotion or fear or both.

It is also a must-read for those who blame the women for staying with abusive men - Ms Tsamai uncovers her thought processes as she finds herself on conflicting ends of the scale: stay and face the torrent of abuse and believe in change or leave and face the ridicule of her family, his family, and the community.

It is also a diatribe against those who support abusive partners in relationships: her husband's family and most of her friends and community members did nothing to end her pain and showed no support for her as she struggled against the forces of abuse and love.

'The Unspoken Journey of Life' is a reminder that so many partners suffer in abusive relationships with the feeling that they have no one to turn to and the misdirected shame that comes with a failed marriage.

It is disheartening to experience Tsamai's life with her and realise that much has not changed for women in South Africa. Her story begins at around 1957 when she meets her husband - that's around 50 years ago. Domestic abuse is thought to be one of the most prolific crimes in the country. According to a Mail & Guardian article:
A study conducted by the World Health Organisation in 2013 found that 50% of the South African women surveyed reported that they had suffered emotional and verbal abuse. Fifty percent. Let that number sink in. That means one in two women suffer a form of abuse in this country – and it continues to be swept under the rug
That's a massive number of victims. The scariest is that it's unlikely that many women will report their abuse because of the stigma associated with it, as well as the fear that their harrasser will escalate the violence. GenderLinks reported:
A 2010 review conducted by Gender Links and the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) titled The War at Home provides a detailed analysis of how GBV can be measured. In this paper, GBV includes physical, sexual, psychological and economic intimate partner violence; rape and sexual assault by a partner, acquaintance or family member; and sexual harassment at school or work. The research further notes that in the period 2008-2009, 15 307 cases of domestic violence were opened in Gauteng and 12 093 cases involved a female victim. 
The same study involved a province-wide household survey. It revealed that 18.1% of women had been abused at least once in the 12 months preceding the survey, while 29% of men had abused their partner in a similar time period. This shows that routine data collected at local police station level is just the tip of the iceberg. Although 25.4% of women experienced rape at least once in their lifetime, only 3.9% had reported it to the police. Just 2.1% of women raped by an intimate partner reported the incident to police. Women that experienced sexual or physical abuse in their relationship were more likely to be diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, test positive for HIV, suffer from depression or consider suicide.
It cannot be denied that many women and men suffer at the hands of an abuser - but why can nothing be done to stop it? Is it the unending effects of patriarchy? Is it our increasingly lonely and left alone children? Is it the culture of violence from the West? What do you think?

Further Reading:
How to Legally Protect Yourself Against Domestic Abuse
A Guide to Family Law: Domestic Violence and Abuse
South Africa's 2014/2015 Assault and Sexual Crime Statistics
Gender Violence Must be Included in Crime Stats

March 28, 2016

Just Read || The Five Love Languages of Children

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My mom lent 'The Five Love Languages of Children' to me, telling me I should give it a read as it is interesting and may help with Emma in future, considering that children so young apparently don't have a set love language. It is true that it is interesting and it has changed my manner of relating to Emma on a daily basis.

The book basically suggests that although parents truly love their children unconditionally, they may not express this correctly according to their child's primary love language. If love is not expressed in this love language, the child will not feel as though the parent loves them. Indeed, parents should be practiced in all five love languages, merely placing more focus on the primary one.

Certainly this theory has merit but it puts the child's life and future entirely in the parents' hands, even saying that empty love tanks are to blame for such issues as drug abuse, poor academic performance, and self esteem. This might be possible, but personally I believe that it only forms part of an array of causes that would result in such emotional issues. To blame the parents to me does not seem entirely fair in every case.

Below is a quick look at the five love languages:

- Physical Touch - A parent needs to touch their children often in the form of hugs, holding hands, sitting closely together, supportive gestures such as back pattings and so forth. Interesting takeaways from this chapter include:

  • The suggestion that fathers believe touching their sons will feminise them, which will not occur if their - both the fathers and the sons, I assume - emotional tanks are full to begin with.
  • Boys go through anti-affection stages. I question this suggestion because it sort of contradicts the first point I mentioned, doesn't it?
  • Girls who lack attention from their fathers either seek it from the opposite sex in unhealthy ways, causing their peers and the boys themselves to disrespect them, or they are shy and withdrawn. Girls will have healthy self-esteem and thus healthy relations with the opposite sex if their love tanks are full from the primary male role model in their lives.
  • Children whose primary love language is physical touch should not be punished with it, as it empties the emotional tank faster.

- Words of Affirmation - This includes all positive praise, encouragement and reinforcement of emotional feelings. Interesting takeaways from this chapter include:

  • Children think we deeply believe what we say, thus we should be honest and not use words to hurt or punish our children.
  • In terms of endearments, the words 'I love you' have a deeper meaning to the child if they are said with the matching tone of voice, feature physical closeness, and show true appreciation for the child.
  • In terms of praise, appreciation for what the child does should be meaningful and given when the child knows they have done well. However, when praise is given when performance is only average, the child will come to believe the praise is insincere.
  • In terms of encouragement, parents should also feel encouraged to give their children courage. Anger is the enemy of encouragement, as it leads to anti-authority behaviour, thus parents should always be pleasant, even when angry.
  • In terms of guidance, a positive message combined with negative delivery will develop into negative results. In other words, guidance must be loving and must be done with the child in mind, not to make the parents look good, for example.

- Quality Time - This book says it wonderfully: quality time is the 'Gift of Presence'; being with your child both physically and mentally. Takeaways from this chapter include:

  • Being together means you spend time with your child, sharing your values and morals with them and indulging in positive eye contact.
  • Sharing thoughts and feelings allows parents to connect with their children on emotional levels. This will aid your child in communicating in their future relationships.
  • Use stories to help children express their emotions and discover the possible consequences of their behaviour.
  • According to the book, 
'This lack is a primary reason for drug abuse, inappropriate sexual activity, and anti-authority attitudes and behaviour' (64).

- Gifts - Gift-giving is a difficult love language, as it must apparently be done in conjunction with the others: the emotional love tank must be full in order for the gift to be appreciated. I don't know if this qualifies as a love language of its own in that case; it should rather be a supplementary love language. Takeaways from this chapter include:

  • Giving gifts as a replacement for the other love languages distorts the practice, resulting in manipulative and materialistic children.
  • Too many gifts will burden the child.
  • Choose gifts your child really wants; even better, choose them together.
  • Children whose primary love language is gifts will make a show of gifts, displaying them and regarding them as physical expressions of love.

- Acts of Service - If you didn't know it yet, parenting is all about serving your child. However, children will be self-centred if you help them too much. I love this part:

"We serve our children, but as they are ready, we teach them how to serve themselves and then others." (91)

Takeaways from this chapter include:
  • Acts of service should communicate your love to your child.
  • They should be done with the purpose of showing children to serve others and repay kindnesses done to them.
  • Parents should be role models of service.
  • Acts of service should not be offered in exchange for good behaviour or other things, as it distorts the process - they should be about loving kindness and concern.
  • Hospitality with friends and family will also show children how to have meaningful relationships.
  • Positive responses to children's requests for aid will show your love for your children.
The book goes on to talk about how to discipline your children, but is at pains to indicate that discipline will only work if your children already feel loved. We as parents have to remember that children do not have mature emotions - they are selfish by nature - and they should not feel compelled to behave well to earn love: love must be freely given. It is also important when disciplining a child to find a cause for a child's misbehaviour before jumping into a punishment otherwise punishment will not work.

Punishment ideally should result in remorse on the child's part - if it does not, the punishment has failed. Punishment should also teach children the power of apologies and forgiveness. It should also be fair.

An effective disciplinary practice begins with endless instruction on the part of parents, who remain considerate of their children's immature emotions and make pleasant requests. Commands follow the requests - without the first step, the children will come to believe their feelings and opinions are not important. If commands do not work, physically, but gently, moving your child into a position where they can fulfil the original request may work. This has been particularly effective with Emma. :)


Overall, I feel that I have been given some insight into love and relationships through this book. I don't need to read the first book to figure out what the love languages are of the adults with whom I currently have relationships are. It certainly seems as though using the idea every day will be helpful, but only if the other part of the relationship has also read the book - all efforts will be one-sided in that case, causing the person filling the 'love tanks' of their loved ones to have an empty tank at the end of the day.

Have you read the book and found it helpful?

{Image credit: By Scott Harris - Flickr: Matthew Getting Mouth Washed Out With Soap, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15576481}

February 19, 2016

Book Review || The Giver by Lois Lowry

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Reading 'The Giver' by Lois Lowry was a delightful treat for me. It is a young adult novel that has depth and meaning beyond the usual animal and magic stories, and I can see why the novel has achieved so many honours in the literary world.

Set in the future, Jonas is living what appears to be a perfect life in a utopia-like community free of war and strife. The community in which he lives is perfectly controlled and runs like a well-oiled engine: everyone and everything has its place and the individual does not exist. Indeed, the Elders choose everything, from spousal members to babies to occupations to meals. Jonas has reached the final ceremony indicating his entry into the near-adult world as a Twelve, where the Elders reveal the occupation they have chosen for him. But Jonas has the ability to 'see beyond' and he is selected to be the new Receiver of Memory.

What is this mysterious role? Jonas, who up until now believed he had experienced pain, family, and contentment, is introduced to depths of emotions he could never have fathomed until now. However, he experiences them alone, with only the Giver as a guide. Holding the memories is meant to give him wisdom, but Jonas' wisdom comes far sooner than it had for the Giver and he realises the society in which he lives is in fact antiutopian and far from perfect. He decides things have to change.

'The Giver' at the heart is a novel about ignorance and knowledge, and freedom of choice and individuality.

When Jonas is given the truth about life and death, and the emotions that come with being alive, he sees the community as cold and ignorant, killing toddlers and old people when the Elders deem their time has come, endeavouring for sameness at the loss of individuality, creativity, beauty. The ignorance that comes from having no knowledge of the truth leads Jonas to despise the world he is living in - a world that has no idea of the depth of emotion and the beauty that exists. The knowledge Jonas gains gives him wisdom but he does not believe that a single person should be the only one with access to this knowledge and its resulting wisdom.

While the community is happy in the humdrum order of their days, Jonas realises that they have never known true happiness - they have never lived.

The book raises the question of whether the masses should be controlled to avoid the inevitable grief, fear, pain, and lust that comes with living, or whether we would choose to really live instead.

The ending was sad for me. Spoiler ahead: It is a point of contention amongst fans of the book that the ending somehow represents Jonas and Gabriel's deaths at the end. Just as they reach the pinnacle of their journey, experiencing real snow for the first time, finding happiness, finding family, finding love, the book ends. But if this is the case, at least Jonas was really alive for the first time and I hope that death is so sweet for all of us despite the pain that has come before.

Have you read the novel? Comment and let me know what you thought!

Keep an eye on the blog for a comparison of the novel and film coming soon!

February 17, 2016

Potty Training Troubles? Here's How I Did It

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Getting Emma potty trained was quite a daunting task for me. I had already heard horror stories about how long it took other families to make the transition, including a story of a four-year-old who rather peed in the corner of the bedroom instead of the toilet. I prepared myself for a gruelling task.

I had tried to train Emma around March or April of 2015 and she was clearly not ready. She struggled with the concept of recognising her bladder's requirements and also with telling me when she needed to go. But sometimes it's just a matter of waiting until your toddler is ready. I tried again in August and she was potty trained in two weeks.

What was the trick, you ask? Three things, really:

1. Time: You have to be willing to set aside some time to spend just training them. A lot of parents try to train their toddler when they're at home but then when the children are at creche, they're kept in a nappy because it's easier for the care worker. This won't work. I set aside two weeks to train her.
2. Patience: While you need to let your toddler know that weeing on the floor or in their pants is not acceptable, you need to be patient enough not to lose your cool - it will simply upset them and they will relate potty experiences with your anger.
3. Persistence: It is really simple to just give up because they seem to be uninterested or there appears to be no progress, especially at the beginning. However, keep at it and you will be surprised.

It also helps to have some kind of plan. I started off by putting Emma on the potty every 10 minutes. If she happened to wee at that time, I praised her extensively. I increased the time span by five minutes throughout the day and the time spans became longer every day. I also used one of those portable potties so I could continue the training when we were not at home. A portable potty also made sense because it could be hers exclusively, making it special. And we could both use the toilet at the same time: it helps that they see you do it, too. When it came to using the big toilet, it was more of an adventure. She no longer uses the little potty. With number two, I continued to stress that using the nappy for it was wrong. She eventually started using the toilet for number two on her own. Our only hurdle now is night training, but we're waiting for her to be ready for a big bed.

Another thing that worked, especially for number two, was allowing her to be naked: she could not hide it if she just went where she was standing.

A lot of other techniques involve rewards and incentives, such as decorating the clothing with stickers to show another caregiver how well they performed or dropping a coin into a potty piggy bank. Personally, I feel as though using rewards is more of a bribe, making a simple act such as using the potty a give-and-take situation when it shouldn't be. (I recall Sigmund Freud believing that a child withholding a number two is meant to punish the parent, to me a sign that our bowel movements should not be a reward-based achievement.) It may also set an unhealthy precedent.

Other techniques you can try include:

- Splitting the training into sessions. Take three hours in the morning and three in the afternoon for two days where you put the toddler onto the potty every 15 minutes. With this technique, a full third day of training is required.
- If your child is old enough and struggling with number two (some children view it as a part of themselves and don't want to get rid of it), try explaining how the digestive system works. Use pictures.
- The wait-and-pee method, where you place a potty into the bathroom and wait for signals that your child needs to use the toilet. Apparently, your child will be in nappies a little longer.
- Using disposable training pants. These still allow the wet sensation, but then your child has been sitting in his own pee for a while already...
- If you must use the rewards method, try using prizes relating to toilet use, such allowing them to flush the toilet.

Once your toddler is using the toilet on their own, remember that accidents will still happen. Sometimes a game is simply too fun or they won't get to the toilet on time. Be upset but don't act as though it's the end of the world. When you overreact, they're less likely to come to you for help again.

{Image credit: Flickr/Tim Johnson (CC)}

February 16, 2016

Movie Review || The Dressmaker

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The Dressmaker is a dark comedy surrounding the arrival of Myrtle (Tilly) Dunnage in the hometown that kicked her out after she supposedly murdered a fellow child. Her experience of the event was misty, as much memory is, and she travels to the town not only for vengeance but also to discover whether she really is a murderess.

It is fitting that I went to see the film on Valentine's Day this year: it is definitely a chick flick, albeit a long one, filled with zesty innuendo that is certain to raise a giggle (or few), tweaked with a bit of buttery romance, and rounded off with a spicy cocktail of tragedy and revenge.

Kate Winslet is glamorous and elegant in a role practically written for her. As with all her work, she brings a depth of passion to Tilly and her tragic story. Hugo Weaving is brilliant as the cross-dressing policeman who has a soft spot for Tilly and her 'mad' mother, played by Judy Davis, is every bit as entertaining to watch as she is to listen to. Of course we must mention Liam Hemsworth, who lit the screen on fire (Practically!) with his zeal and intensity.

The Dressmaker will take you from amusement to grief in a single scene, while the mystery that is the foundation of Tilly's story and need for vengeance unfolds slowly throughout, providing a solid basis from which to view the parodied version of a small town and all its prejudices.

At its core, the film is also about appearance (read fashion and style) and how these outward aspects can do so much to hide the true beauty or ugliness within. For while the small town appears peaceful - indeed it is swathed in darkness when Tilly first arrives - this facade is only a shroud over the grim reality of selfish people living selfish lives.

Oh, and if you love fashion design, this one is for you!

Have you seen the film?

{Image credit: Facebook/TheDressmakerMovie}

February 12, 2016

Book Review || A Dance With Dragons II by George RR Martin

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I am torn with regret and wonder: Since I know that 'A Dance With Dragons: After the Feast' is the last published book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, I know that I won't travel to Westeros again until at least 2017 (Yes, 2017!?) and so was loathe to complete the novel until such time as I could continue reading without any gap. But, alas, the story was just too compelling to put down. Now, I am left wondering what on earth is going to happen combined with the knowledge that I have at least a year before the truth of the story is out! And I am also wondering: what the hell are the screenwriters of the HBO television series thinking!?

[Stop reading now if you don't want to read any spoilers :)]

Let me start with the novel that I have just finished. As you may have read in my post about the first part of 'A Dance With Dragons', thus far George RR Martin has really raised the stakes for all the characters and their kingdoms, and it really feels after reading the second part that the plot is coming to a head, reaching the moment where you're almost at the end of your climb to the top of a mountain peak.

Very much unlike 'A Feast for Crows' and even Book 1, the story just flows along and everything is falling into place. From the goings-on at the Wall and Stannis' march to Winterfell to Daenerys' struggles with ruling Meereen and Arya's induction into the House of Black and White, it all seems to be working up to something amazing and I can't wait!

I was so pleased to read about the Greyjoys and Theon's struggle with himself. I also thorouhgly enjoyed the insight into Victarion, Theon's uncle as well as Jon's exploits at the wall. Every character is so interesting I cannot fathom how anyone can pick a favourite.

After the slump of 'A Feast for Crows', Martin must have received his second wind with this one as the plot twists and turns are intricate and interesting, the storyline is gripping fills in gaps between events with different viewpoints effortlessly, and the new characters are potent. This book has been so difficult to put down, even though I wanted it to last much longer than the few days it did.

After finishing this novel, I am even more adamant at boycotting the series. Not only because of the ridiculous promotion of some plotlines over others and the flawed omission of characters such as Prince Quentyn of Dorne, Lord Connington and the Golden Company, and DAENERYS' BROTHER AEGON TARGARYEN, but also because it is ruining the story for me.

I am at heart a book lover. Certainly, I love television, but books are my medium of choice and while I appreciate the merit of artistic interpretation when taking a story from text to screen, the omissions, focus and plot changes make absolutely no sense to me. In a way, I can see the thought process that goes behind, for example, leaving Quentyn out of the story, since he doesn't last very long in Meereen: it shortens filming time and producers don't have to search (and pay) for a new cast member. However, leaving this aspect - indeed any aspect of the plot - out of the television series merely makes for confusion, and leaves out all the fabulous political intrigue and back history that make Westeros and its fellow continents so compelling. To stick with this example, Quentyn arrives with a secret missive pledging Dorne's support of the Targaryens. To me, this seems a very important part of the puzzle: it explains why Dorne has deigned to remain apart from the doings of Kings Landing and the North. Regardless of the fact that Quentyn is killed, his death is also a wake-up call to Doran, the ruler of Dorne, who is adamant that he has the right of it. Quentyn's death is what will help his character develop.

This is merely one example. There are many others: the omission of Arianne's arc, skipping over Tyrion's meeting of Connington and Aegon, and the entire Greyjoy arc. All of these I believe add up to an irreplaceable, intense, complicated, and realistic plot, showing the depth and breadth of all those involved in a continental war.

I know the majority of people support these changes for streamlining and speeding through the story, but me? Nah.

Indeed, the complicated plot, histories, and general lives of characters in the books were why George RR Martin didn't believe a series of the books would work anyway. It was a massive gamble and while the production team has been praised for its work in maintaining this complication, the praise is in my opinion misplaced, especially for the last few seasons, which have overlooked major plots and plot points entirely.

The series has also spoiled the book in small ways. When I first read about the Red Wedding and even Joffrey's death, I had stones in my belly I was so shocked. But there was nothing surprising about Jon's death or Daenerys being carried off by Drogon. These are moments when I should be able to feel a connection with the story and instead I simply felt cheated.

The sacrifice of Stannis' daughter, the suicide of his queen, these are apparently plot points still to come in the next books, but I would rather have the entire story than one picked through for the choicest cuts. My only problem come April is avoiding spoilers!

Have you read the books and if so, what did you think of the changes?

February 10, 2016

Addendum: Movie Review || Misery

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After being pleasantly surprised by Stephen King's 'Misery' novel, I was starkly disappointed in the film version. Rob Reiner's film has filtered the book down to the least possible physical horror and turns Annie's psychological problem into nearly no more than a celebrity obsession that's gone out of hand.

I suppose that the film was more targeted at the psychological thriller buffs than it was to those with an affinity for the horror genre. This could explain why James Caan's Paul Sheldon seems to be more perturbed at being at the mercy of Kathy Bates' Annie Wilkes than terrified and broken, as the novel's version is. Sheldon in the film is calm and collected, despite Wilkes' psychological breaks and rapid mood changes. Her proclamations of love for him merely brings to his face the annoyance any celebrity would feel when yet another fan praises him and puts her intentions strictly into 'stalker' territory. He really seems rather irritated at his situation, certain that his survival is a given and that the mad woman he is living with is not that crazy. It is only near the end of the film that Caan allows the audience to see how much he hates this woman. But therein is the problem: the novel's version of Sheldon's reasoning for killing Annie is because he can see no other way to survive and this makes the situation seem a lot more terrifying than in the film.

And even though the film is meant to be a thriller, in comparison to the terror that the novel's Sheldon experiences - from rushing through the corridor in a wheelchair as Annie's car comes up the driveway to having his foot and thumb cut off, from being thrown into a damp, rat-infested basement to a very real fear of starvation, and the fact that she has also made a codeine addict of him - the film has no comparison to the thrill of this. Even Sheldon's own near-madness at the end of the novel - when he and Annie cackle together over the fact that she's never eaten caviar before - is missing, giving the film a hollow ring rather than the deep, bone-thrumming hum at the book's horror of Sheldon's truly dire situation. For if he does not kill Annie, he will die. If he remains undiscovered after killing Annie, he will die. There is no echo of the relief of survival and escape in the film.

Rather, as a viewer, it felt confusing since we are meant to be afraid of Annie Wilkes with no reason other than her mood swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other. The situation only really becomes serious after Sheldon sees her scrapbook recording her evil deeds, once she hobbles him and kills the police officer. And even then we know that Sheldon will be rescued because we see the police investigating the couple, discovering Annie's history, and even visiting her house. It is the uncertainty of his survival that would have made this movie more striking and memorable.

Are you a fan of the book or the film?

{Image credit: Facebook/Misery}

February 9, 2016

Book Review || Misery by Stephen King

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I know it is hard to believe me when I say I am a horror fiction fan if I am not a fan of Stephen King, as though the two facts cannot exist separately, but I have read only a single other King novel aside from 'Misery' - 'The Shining', and while that novel intrigued me, it did not inspire me to rush to the store to purchase his entire oeuvre. 'Misery', on the other hand, is known to be unlike any of his other work, focusing entirely on being a psychological thriller rather than a supernatural one. This is perhaps why I enjoyed it so.

Paul Sheldon is a writer who has just managed to escape the rut of historical romance by writing what he believes may be a literature prize-winning novel. His drunken celebrations, however, lead him to a snowy car crash, a mangled body, and a rescue by a crazed nurse, who just happens to be his 'number one fan'. Disgusted with his new book, she forces him to destroy it and to bring the heroine of his commercial success back to life. The novel drops Sheldon into a terrifying world that hangs on the thread of Annie Wilkes' mental health, a thread readers learn tangles and untangles unpredictably, putting Paul's own sanity at risk.

I felt that 'Misery' seemed a very personal novel for King as a novelist himself. Sheldon, as a writer, speaks often about the work of writing, the torture that an empty page, a lack of inspiration, can bring to someone who sees, feels and remembers so much, as well as the euphoria of capturing an idea that fits perfectly into the plot and theme. Sheldon is physically restrained and tortured by Annie in much the way he is psychologically restrained and tortured by his craft.

Sheldon is, of course, the point of view from which we read the book, and so his terror of Annie becomes our own. Some believe that this novel will not inspire the kind of deep-seated fear that they have come to expect of King's writing, but I disagree: readers, when reading a supernatural horror, come to a subconscious agreement with the author that everything exists only on the page they are reading. While they may be compelled to continue reading, 'the gotta' that Sheldon speaks of is only so the story can be resolved - the horror dissolved - and we can return to our daily lives and sleep peacefully in our beds. But this novel's representation of terror is cloying: Annie Wilkes could really be out there. Her madness was not supernatural and exists in reality and to me this makes it all the more frightening. Of course we can see all sorts of possibilities for escape in our times, such as cellphone GPS tracking, but the novel is set in the days when the only fast communication was the post or the telephone. Of course, Paul has access to neither. He is entirely alone except for a woman who swings between sanity and depression.

King's representation of Paul's disbelief, fear, confidence, shock, and eventual resignation is stark and affective, and the terror of Annie Wilkes is not only the certainty of her madness and the uncertainty of when it shall strike, but the breaking down of Paul's spirit, the claustrophobic subconscious restraint she places on him using his own horror, his very helplessness and physical impairment.

But perhaps the most frightening thing of all: Paul did his best work while under her spell, suggesting that the best inspiration cannot take place without a little sacrifice.