Top Ten Tunes- 1976

Let me introduce you to a new weekly music feature here at Just Another Blog from a Woman. Every Friday I’m going to post a top ten list of songs from a single year, starting from 1976 through to the present year. Why start from 1976, you ask? Well, that’s the year I was born and I had to find a way to make this all about me, me, me. However, as quite a few of you are probably around my age (and even if you’re not), I’m hoping all you music lovers will appreciate some of the tunes I throw your way.

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A few people taking advantage of the heatwave of 1976

So, starting with the year where we had the worst drought on record in the UK, the first concorde flight took place, rioting started in Notting Hill, the Cod Wars happened and the film Rocky was released. Oh yeah and yours truly was born (the most significant event quite frankly). Here we have my personal top ten songs from 1976 (in no particular order).

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There’s a Spotify list at the end of the post as per.

  1. Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry

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2. I Wish by Stevie Wonder

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3. Golden Years by David Bowie

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4. Jolene by Dolly Parton

5. December ’63 (Oh, What a Night) by the Four Seasons

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6. Dancing Queen by Abba

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7. Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton

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8. Love and Affection by Joan Armatrading

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9. Pissing in a River by Patti Smith

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10. Somebody to Love by Queen

Let me know which is your favourite. Mine’s got to be Queen. See you next week for 1977.

 

Music Tag Thingy

Lucky, lucky me I got tagged by “the world’s sexiest blogger alive” Phil Taylor in his latest Music Monday blog post. Go check out his list of answers and his blog. Whilst you’re there you may as well vote for his book Time to Lie (yes he’s actually written a whole entire book) to win the book cover of the month competition. The quick link to do this is here.

This music tag post will be a nice precursor to my new Friday morning music feature. Every week I’ll be posting my top ten songs from a particular year. I’ll be starting with the year 1976 this Friday.

Right, so now I answer the same music based questions that Phil answered and I’m also meant to tag other bloggers to do this, whilst I’d really love to hear both Em Linthorpe’s  (who wrote the wonderful Women of Rock guest post) and Steve at Talk About Pop Music’s answers, I would actually love to hear anyone’s. So feel free to create your own post answering these questions and tag me, so I can see. Cheers!

A song that reminds me of home: “We Don’t Talk Anymore” by Cliff Richard. Hahaha, so I’m not choosing this one because I love it, BUT it does remind me of home as when I was a child in the 80s my Mum played it and sang it aaaalll the time. I so wish it was something cool, but I don’t want to lie you.

Five songs that are must haves for road trips:

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A song that inspires me: Anything by Bjork inspires me to be more creative, but I’ll go with “Hyper-Ballad” (in particular the Brodsky Quartet version).

A song that puts me in a good mood: Without a doubt that’ll be “A Little Respect’ by Erasure

A song I know all the words to: “Buffalo Stance” by Neneh Cherry. I know, I’m pretty cool. You can find out about my love for Neneh here

A song that annoys me: Urgh, “Ebony and Ivory” by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder is up there (but no doubt there’s many, many more). I mean, I’m totally here for the sentiment of the song, but fuck me you don’t get more nauseating lyrics as “Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony, Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?” I’ll tell you why Paul & Stevie, because human beings are deeply flawed and generally repulsive. Jog on, lads.

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A song I used to like, but don’t anymore: Well, as a child I loved Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You’, but as I matured and became naturally wiser, I learnt it is possibly the worst song he ever wrote (I feel terrible mentioning Stevie twice in a negative light as he is one of my all time favourite artists).

A song I thrashed to: It’s got to be “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, hasn’t it?

A song I like to play loud: I’m going to steal Phil’s answer here- “Song 2” by Blur.

A song that makes me want to dance: Jump Around” by House Pain. Resistance is futile.

That’s me done. I tried to answer these questions honestly, rather trying to be cool (we all know I do that naturally anyway). Let me know what your answers would be. Cheers to Phil for tagging me.

 

 

 

Just Another Book Club- October Book

Please leave your comments below or within the appropriate post on my Facebook page. Please feel free to peruse other people’s comments and respond to them.

A Million Little Pieces

by James Frey

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Synopsis

First of all, it is worth noting that at first this book was marketed as a memoir. However, it came to light that it was in fact a piece of semi-fiction based heavily on James Frey’s experiences as a drug addict and his time in rehabilitation. Therefore, it cannot be looked upon as a non-fiction memoir. The book starts with James waking up on a plane badly beaten up and severely recovering from his latest drugs and drink binge. He is swiftly taken to rehab and the book documents his recovery there.

My Quick Review

If you think this memoir reads like a novel, that’s because essentially it is a novel. At first, when I was reading it, I kept on finding it unbelievable that it is was all real. Then I found that so much of it wasn’t. However, this should not deter one from appreciating this book and the fact that it is a fine piece of writing.

First of all, it is one of those page turning gems. At over 500 pages long, it look me only a week to read it. It definitely had that “unputdownable” quality about it.

One of the first things that strikes you about this book is the writing style of James Frey. There are no indented spaces for paragraphs and his sentence structure is unconventional to say the least. I feel the book was all the better for it. Personally, I thought this symbolised the jumbled, disorganised thoughts and scrambled brain of James the recovering addict. Speech is not indicated by the usual speech marks and sometimes you had to really stay on the ball to realise which character was saying what. This was something that I did not mind and seemed to get used to very quickly.

However, writing style aside this was not an easy book to read. The scene where James determinedly pulls one of his toe nails out purely for some kind of release from mental anguish, will haunt me forever. I could barely read that scene and had to keep on breaking off from it. I only just made it through by reading it with one eye closed (no, I don’t know the logic behind that either). I think I even retched at one point. This however does show the power of James Frey’s writing. That is only one scene that I found hard to stomach. I haven’t even mentioned the dental surgery performed without any anaesthetic, the scene when James finds Lily in the crack house and the many, MANY scenes of him vomiting.

One thing, that kept on puzzling me, was why did Frey capitalise certain words that wouldn’t normally be capitalised. They would always be nouns such as “Room”, “House” and “Road”. I couldn’t decide if it was to emphasise his detachment from the real world (as opposed to his usual heavily “medicated” state) or a way of mocking the whole rehabilitation process OR was it a way to provide more meaning to the words, more significance and weight to them? I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this.

For me, the only negative aspect of this book were the scenes between James and Lily. I always found myself rolling my eyes every time they met up. I found the scenes unrealistic and overly sentimental, almost cheesy. I felt like the book as a whole was better than that. I can see why James Frey introduced a love interest to the story (and of course it may actually have had happened in real life, we’re never sure which parts of the book are fact and which are fiction), but I wish it had been told in a more believable way.

James as a character or a semi-character is deeply flawed (obviously), but does this make him an anti-hero? My first thought is that it does’t. How can someone who has lived his life the way he has be called any kind of hero. However, he does quite miraculously start to rebuild a relationship with his parents, help Lily and other friends he made in rehab and best of all rehabilitate himself. These are commendable feats, but I’m still uneasy with referring to him in a heroic way.

I do also question the rebuilding of his relationship with his parents. He seemed to quite quickly and easily see the faults in their relationship and the things he had done wrong. He then very gracefully communicated this to his parents. Whilst I appreciate someone can become enlightened and broken relationships can be mended, I’m not convinced by the ease that James did this with.

Overall and despite a handful of faults, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was my favourite on the list so far, until…I read the next book on the list. More on that next month.

So, let me know what you think of A Million Little Pieces. I think this is great book for a book club discussion.

Questions to Consider

1. A Million Little Pieces presents some unusual formal innovations: Instead of using quotation marks, each piece of dialogue is set off on its own line with only occasional authorial indications of who is speaking; paragraphs are not indented; sentences sometimes run together without punctuation; and many passages read more like poetry than prose. How do these innovations affect the pace of the writing? How do they contribute to the book’s rawness and immediacy? How is James Frey’s unconventional style appropriate for this story?

2. How does Frey create suspense and sustain narrative tension throughout? What major questions are raised and left unresolved until the end of the book? Is this way of writing about addiction more powerful than an objective study might be?

3. Why does the Tao Te Ching speak to James so powerfully? Why does he connect with it whereas the Bible and Twelve Steps literature leave him cold? How is this little book of ancient Chinese wisdom relevant to the issues an addict must face?

4. James is frequently torn between wanting to look into his own eyes to see himself completely and being afraid of what he might find: “I want to look beneath the surface of the pale green and see what’s inside of me, what’s within me, what I’m hiding. I start to look up but I turn away. I try to force myself but I can’t” [p. 32]. Why can’t James look himself in the eye? Why is it important that he do so? What finally enables him to see himself?

5. When his brother Bob tells James he has to get better, James replies, “I don’t know what happened or how I ever ended up like this, but I did, and I’ve got some huge fucking problems and I don’t know if they’re fixable. I don’t know if I’m fixable” [p. 131]. Does the book ever fully reveal the causes of James’s addictions? How and why do you think he ended up “like this”?

6. Why are James and Lilly so drawn to each other? In what way is their openness with each other significant for their recovery?

7. Joanne calls James the most stubborn person she has ever met. At what moments in the book does that stubbornness reveal itself most strongly? How does being stubborn help James? How does it hurt or hinder him?

8. The counselors at the clinic insist that the Twelve Steps program is the only way addicts can stay sober. What are James’s reasons for rejecting it? Are they reasons that might be applicable to others or are they only relevant to James’s own personality and circumstances? Is he right in thinking that a lifetime of “sitting in Church basements listening to People whine and bitch and complain” is nothing more than “the replacement of one addiction with another” [p. 223]?

9. What are the sources of James’s rage and self-hatred? How do these feelings affect his addictions? How does James use physical pain as an outlet for his fury?

10. How is Frey able to make the life of an addict so viscerally and vividly real? Which passages in the book most powerfully evoke what it’s like to be an addict? Why is it important, for the overall impact of the book, that Frey accurately convey these feelings?

11. When Miles asks James for something that might help him, James thinks it’s funny that a Federal Judge is asking him for advice, to which Miles replies: “We are all the same in here. Judge or Criminal, Bourbon Drinker or Crackhead” [p. 271]. How does being a recovering addict in the clinic negate social and moral differences? In what emotional and practical ways are the friendships James develops, especially with Miles and Leonard, crucial to his recovery?

12. James refuses to see himself as a victim; or to blame his parents, his genes, his environment, or even the severe physical and emotional pain he suffered as a child from untreated ear infections for his addictions and destructive behavior. He blames only himself for what has happened in his life. What cultural currents does this position swim against? How does taking full responsibility for his actions help James? How might finding someone else to blame have held him back?

13. Bret Easton Ellis, in describing A Million Little Pieces, commented, “Beneath the brutality of James Frey’s painful process, there are simple gestures of kindness that will reduce even the most jaded to tears.” What are some of those moments of kindness and compassion and genuine human connection that make the book so moving? Why do these moments have such emotional power?

14. In what ways does A Million Little Pieces illuminate the problem of alcohol and drug addiction in the United States today? What does Frey’s intensely personal voice add to the national debate about this issue?
You don’t have to answer these questions in your comments, but they might help to get you thinking about the book or to prompt a discourse. 

(Questions issued by the publisher.)

November’s book is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I’ll be starting the conversation for this on Monday 4th December.

For a list of all the other books we’ll be reading this year, please click here.

 

Halloween Playlist!

Like a lot of people, Autumn is my favourite season of the year and one of the reasons for this is Halloween. Oh yes, in our house we deck the halls with severed limbs (oh that could be a catchy tune) and stock up on enough treats to leave our neighbourhood children dangerously on the verge of type II diabetes. Hey, it’s all in the name of commercialism and I’m here all day, everyday for the morbidly commerce.

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So to get us in the mood for ghosting and ghouling around, here’s an eclectic playlist of all my favourite spooky inspired tunes (and yes of course it begins with the Ghostbusters theme tune. Of COURSE it does).

 

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For everyone that lives in a country that has to do trick or treating like this.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Everyday Sexual Harassment

I’m not writing this post to garner any sympathy or advice, but in light of the recent sexual harassment revelations in Hollywood it’s so important to highlight that sexual harassment or abuse happens everyday. The majority (if not all) women will experience sexual harassment or abuse more than once in their life. Here’s a list of a handful of times that I have been sexually harassed to illustrate this.

  • The time a man walked past me on the street in broad daylight and grabbed both of my breasts and squeezed them.
  • The time a colleague in a meeting told all the other men in that meeting (our clients) that a video of me being “ragged” was available on YouTube for them to watch (I’ve seriously no idea what he was trying to achieve here, but it left an awful atmosphere in the room).
  • The time I was eating my lunch at my desk and that same colleague told me he loved seeing my mouth wrap round a sausage and then continued to sit and stare.
  • The time he said something suggestive to me when we were alone in a lift.
  • The time he whispered something suggestive again in my ear, so no one else could hear.
  • The time I finally complained to my male supervisor about this colleague and I was told that he was sure it was just a bit of “banter” and nothing else was done about it.
  • The time a group of men much larger than me tried to intimidate me on the street in broad daylight, in the middle of a city and I had to literally jump into the road to avoid them and they all walked off laughing.
  • The numerous times I’ve had sexual insults shouted at me by groups of men in cars or vans.
  • The time a man I did not know called me a slut as I walked past him in the street, minding my own business for no apparent reason.
  • The time when I was 19 years old and worked in a sandwich shop and my boss called me a “slapper” in front of a shop full of customers and colleagues. Later, when the deputy manager pulled him up on it he said that “I loved it”. Readers, I did not.
  • The time a man that I did not know, shouted out of a window that I was slag. I was walking with my boyfriend at the time.
  • The time I was forced against a wall at a tube station and had my sexuality questioned. This man then proceeded to follow me on the tube telling me everything that he would do with my body.
  • The time when I was 15 years old and I was flashed at by an older man masturbating on the street.
  • The time a man came up to be on the street, again in broad daylight and rubbed his crotch against me and when I turned around he showed me his erection.
  • And not forgetting the times that I have lost count of, when I have been groped in a nightclub or bar when walking past a group of men and the assailant would be safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t have a clue who did it as the place would be so crowded.

Interestingly, only one of these assaults happened at night time. All the rest were done during the day and usually in busy places.

Here’s the most shocking thing of all. My story is not unique. I don’t just happen to be “unlucky”. In every case I was not flaunting myself or my body (though even if I was it still would not excuse or welcome an attack). My story is like so many other women’s stories. I know there will be women reading this and nodding along, thinking “Yep, me too, sister. Me too”.

Here’s how these sexual assaults made me feel:

  • violated
  • vulnerable
  • afraid
  • shaken
  • angry
  • humiliated
  • frustrated
  • emotional
  • so fucking scared
  • it made me feel that these men are trying to put me in my place
  • that these men are trying to make me feel like I am nothing but a sexual toy
  • that these men are trying to make me feel worthless

And in all honesty, after some of these incidences they have made me feel a bit worthless, but in the long term, luckily for me it has not worked. Sadly, that can’t be said for every woman who has been sexually harassed or abused.

The reality is that sexual harassment prevails throughout society. It does not discriminate against background, race, age, sexuality, size and so on. Your daughter, mother, sister, aunt, niece, wife, girlfriend, friends, colleagues, that really nice woman that just served you in a shop, that lovely nurse who helped you heal, that fantastic teacher who is great with your child- ALL have been sexually harassed. Women have been sexually harassed and may not even realise they have. It is a huge problem within society.

I don’t have any clever or innovative solutions, but I do know we all need to stand up and stand against it as a society. I disagree with some people saying we don’t need men to speak up for us. We really do. It is something we should ALL be doing. Together. As PEOPLE we should be shocked and disgusted and unapologetically vocal about it.

Incidentally, my post hasn’t talked about the times I’ve experienced general sexism, but then we’d be here all bloody night if I listed those times.

I only reported two of the above incidents to the police. I probably should have reported more, but it was the incident with the man rubbing his crotch against me that I thought “no more”. I wouldn’t hesitate to report an incident again.

I’ll leave you with this thought. As I said, most of the assaults I experienced happened during the day with people surrounding me. If anyone had noticed what happened to me and vocally stood by me, how much would this help society combat sexual harassment? I’m not blaming anyone who noticed and didn’t say anything, the blame heavily lands on the assaulter, but would it make the assaulter think twice about doing it if he was bombarded by people speaking up and not putting up? We do also need to look at why people feel the need to harass at all. It would be nice (understatement of the year) if sexual harassment wasn’t a problem in the first place.

I actually really struggled to find basic information on the internet about sexual harassment and how to deal with it (which is a worry and a reflection of how much it is just generally accepted), but Rape Crisis have given some excellent advice here.

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Just Another Book Club- September Book

Please leave your comments below or within the appropriate post on my Facebook page. Please feel free to peruse other people’s comments and respond to them.

Irresistible: why you are addicted to technology and how you can set yourself free

by Adam Alter

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Synopsis

Irresistible is written by psychologist Adam Alter about how society is becoming addicted to our smartphones, laptops, game consoles and television. In other words time in front of a screen is becoming all consuming for most of us. Adam Atler explores how this affects our everyday life, relationships and mental well being. Towards the end of the book, Atler suggests ways we can use technology differently and how it will lead us to living happier lives.

My Quick Review

Well, this is a book I was in urgent need to read. I am as guilty as the next person of spending too much time on my phone, endlessly checking one social media site and then swiftly onto the next. I would say 80% of my smartphone use is probably completely unnecessary. The amount of productivity I could achieve instead of perusing the Instagram photos of a friend of a friend of friend’s account and LOLling at cute cat videos is beyond ridiculous (though I’m still not convinced cat videos are a complete waste of time). So, I thought this book would be perfect for me to read and digest. By the reaction I got when I first published the list of books we were going to read this year, it seems many of you out there were in need of this book too.

I found this book fascinating and very informative. I learnt a lot about addiction. For me, this book completely dispelled the myth that certain people have “addictive personalities” and it’s only these people that become addicted. It was also very interesting how the way game designers engineer their games, deliberately fosters behavioural addiction.

One small negative that I found with this book was that, I’m not sure how necessary or helpful some of the diagrams in the book were. I’m not convinced that I really needed a breakdown of the number of books that contain the word “perfectionism”. Just the fact that it’s increased over the years would have sufficed.

Alter, covered most aspects of screen time addiction, but I do feel it slightly lacked when it came to discussing people who just aimlessly peruse the internet without any interaction. Adler does provides a very good explanation on the gambling side of technology (referring to both actual gambling and the gambling high people obtain from “likes” on social media).

I also felt it would’ve been useful to have a short, accessible list of his suggestions for reducing technology use at the end of the book. Instead if you want that information again, you would have to read through the final chapter again.

The book did a good job of fairly representing the positive aspects of technology. I don’t feel the book could be accused of presenting a one-sided arguement.

As I said before the book was very interesting and I couldn’t put it down (making the book “irresistible”- boom!), but felt the title was slightly misleading. Whilst there were some suggestions, I didn’t really feel it was a book one read to enable the reduction of technology usage. Though it did provide excellent and detailed information regarding addiction and why technology is so addictive.

Overall, this is an excellent & fascinating book. However, I don’t appear to have reduced my screen time. Maybe I need to reread that final chapter?

Questions to Consider

  1. Did you learn anything new about addiction from reading this book?
  2. Since reading this book has it changed your attitude towards technology?
  3. Have you reduced the amount of time in front of a screen?
  4. Do you think the book explained the influence of the internet on society in enough detail?
  5. After reading this book, what are your views on society’s future with regards to technology and it’s influence?
  6. What do you feel was the overall purpose of this book?
  7. Do you feel this book succeeded with its purpose?
  8. What section/paragraph/sentence left a lasting impression on you, if any?
  9. Do you feel the writing style of the author was accessible?
  10. Has this book inspired you to read more books on a similar subject matter?

(Questions created by me)

You don’t have to answer these questions in your comments, but they might help to get you thinking about the book or to prompt a discourse.

October’s book is A Million Little Pieces by James Fey. I’ll be starting the conversation for this on Monday 6th November.

For a list of all the other books we’ll be reading this year, please click here.

Top 10 TV Character Fashion Idols

The style of a TV character can set trends emulated across the world, but for me when I admire the style of a TV character it’s more about how their wardrobe contents express their personality and how they wear the clothes. I like outfits that you see and say “oh that’s SO them”. I like outfits that I would probably look terrible in, but look amazing on them. And I definitely like outfits that shouldn’t work, but they somehow do. So don’t go expecting any Sex in the City ladies, Mad Men (though I loved the style of MM) or Rachel Green entries in this list of my personal favourite female TV character fashion idols. It’s an eclectic mix from over several decades, so I hope you enjoy some of the fashions. Oh and let me know, who your favourites are.

  • Sharon from Catastrophe

Not only is Catastrophe one of the best sitcoms to have come out of the UK in the past few years (it would be in my 20 favourite sitcoms if my blog post here went up to that number), but it also features the very stylish (and relatable) Sharon. She is all about clashing patterns and bold colours and ALWAYS looks great. How many people could rock a transparent yellow bra?

Catastrophe

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  • Ilana from Broad City

What I absolutely love about Ilana’s style is how it exudes her confidence. Now, I would look like a freaking mess if I wore any of her outfits, but Ilana just looks effortlessly cool. Or beautiful. Or dapper. Her style is so versatile and lively, and I love it. I mean Cheerios leggings, anyone? Plus she still looks good with a stain permanently on *that* white jacket. Also, kudos to Abbie who also always looks fantastic. As a side note, you won’t find on TV a better representation of female friendship than these two.

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  • Diane Lockhart from The Good Wife

Now if you think that anyone’s style says female power dressing better than Diane Lockhart’s then I’m just going to assume that you’re lying. Her image is flawless. It is perfection. Her style somehow gives you class, intelligence, elegance and “this is a woman not to be messed with” vibes all at the same time. When I grow up (not likely to happen any time soon), I want to be as cool as Diane. Also, you’d have thought after all those years of working together Diane’s sense of style would’ve rubbed off on Alicia. As much as I loved Alicia her style was always woeful.

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  • Aunt Polly from Peaky Blinders

Talking about women not to be messed with I present you with the glorious Aunt Polly. Man, this women can look stylish even when she’s got someone else’s blood on her attire. I adore 1920s fashion, so Aunt Polly’s style is right up my street.

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  • Denise Huxtable from The Cosby Show

Anyone who remembers the 80s/90s well, will remember that Denise Huxtable (and Lisa Bonet) were the epitome of cool. Well, at least I used to think so. Never would I ever be as cool as her, so instead I used to admire the way she just seemingly chucked a load of clothes on her and the ensemble somehow always looked immaculate. I give you 80s boho chic whatever.

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  • Jessa from Girls

Yet another on my list that exudes confidence in whatever she wore and only she could have got away with her chosen attire. Jessa often made her hairstyles a great accessory to her outfits. Plaits, hair swept to one side, tied up or just messy, her hair always looked stunning.

Jessa

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  • Sybil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers

You cannot be surprised that Sybil is on my list, surely? The woman was an awe-inspiring, delightfully bold and delectable slick with her choice of outfits. She still managed to look stylish in rollers and her nightgown. The hair with a streak of blonde at the front, the make-up with bright blue eye shadow and eyeliner, all finished off with a cigarette permanently in hand. Just perfect.

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  • Myrtle Snow from American Horror Story: Coven

Notice how so many of these incredibly stylish women on this list are women you would not want to pick a fight with. Step forward, Myrtle Snow. Her name suits her style. Quirky, but oh so fabulously and outrageously divine. She even styled out being burnt alive for gawd’s sake [Spoiler soz]

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  • Tracey from Chewing Gum

I’m a big fan of this show and I’m a big fan of girl-next-door Tracey’s style. It’s all bright colours, lots of fun and cutesy plaits and she carries it off effortlessly. In real life, the stunning Michaela Cole (who plays Tracey and who I have bit of a girl crush on) is equally dapper and wears clothes her evidently very clever Mum makes her.

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  • Mylene from The Get Down

Oh Mylene not only do you have the most amazing singing voice, but you really do have the most amazing wardrobe. I’m all about 70’s fashion. Not so much the flared jeans and shapeless floor length dresses, but more for the fantastic prints and patterns. Everything Mylene wears I WOULD wear. Clearly, I wouldn’t look quite as stunning as she does (though let’s admit it I would look pretty fantastic), but I’d be vey happy indeed if I had all of her wardrobe contents. From 70s school girl chic to glamorous singer, Mylene always looks incredible.

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So that’s it, my top ten female TV character fashion idols. My favourite would probably be between Myrtle Snow and Mylene. Though a thought has just come to me…how could I forget Bet Lynch?

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Just Another Book Club- August Book

Please leave your comments below or within the appropriate post on my Facebook page. Please feel free to peruse other people’s comments and respond to them.

Hotel Alpha by Mark Watson

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Synopsis

Set in a high class London hotel over several decades, this book is told from two different viewpoints. Graham, a loyal, hardworking and traditional concierge and Chas, the hotel owner’s blind adopted son. Both characters have an idolised opinion of Howard, the charismatic owner of Hotel Alpha. But, is everything as it seems at the Hotel Alpha and is Howard everything people believe him to be?

Written by British stand-up comedian Mark Watson, the book also contains short stories at the end of the book and online about smaller characters from the main story,

My Quick Review

To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’m not sure why I would be so surprised, maybe because it didn’t “grab me” within the first few pages, but I soon found myself turning the pages quite quickly and wanting to learn more about the hotel and the characters within.

I liked Mark Watson’s focus on his characters. This was a book that was both character and storyline led. I do feel the former was slightly stronger than the latter though. Whilst I was gripped by this book and desperate to find out the hotel’s secrets, I couldn’t help, but feel slightly disappointed when I found out these secrets. I had felt that I knew them already and that there wasn’t a shocking “big reveal”. The only true secret that was revealed, was that Lara and Ella were in a relationship, which really wasn’t much of a juicy secret for me. It smacked of “and guess what, she was GAY” shock horror! It was a weak big reveal.

There was also quite a big unanswered question (unless I missed it) with regards to Graham’s future. Was he intending to just leave Pattie at the end? He said he was going off to find Agatha, but never said what was going to happened to his relationship with Pattie? Was he going to leave her, then look for Agatha? Was he going to find Agatha first, then decide if he wanted to leave Pattie? Shouldn’t he have left her a long time ago as the author made it so patently clear that he was unhappy with her? Was Graham after all not-so-perfect as the book liked to depict?

I did like how the ending tied up nicely with finally bringing Graham in to the present. I felt quite affectionate towards Graham’s lack of enthusiasm for the modern age, but it was quite a relief when he relented in the end.

I loved all the historical references and nostalgia throughout the book. Many of which I can clearly remember. However, would the book have had as much of a story without the heavy referencing of them. Did these real life events help the author build his story? This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something that constantly propped the book up throughout.

Here’s another big question. Should Graham have actually revealed the truth? Is this a lie that was best left untold? And was it selfish of Graham to tell the truth? I can’t help, but think he did it as he couldn’t stand keeping it to himself any more. It was a relief for him. I’m not convinced he did it solely as he believed it was the right thing to do. Perhaps Chas did deserve to know the truth though.

Howard was absolutely an awful man, BUT he did do his absolute best to make amends with Chas. He brought him up as his own son and clearly loved him deeply. This brings me back to my question as to whether Graham should have told the truth. Did Howard deserve this? Possibly. It was the past catching up with him after all, but he did do his best at trying to redeem himself through Chas.

I’m not really sure I saw the point of the storyline surrounding Graham’s son. It did illustrate how technology was progressing and how that affected people’s jobs, but it generally didn’t hold much interest for me. It also irritated me that Graham seemed to go out of his way far more for Chas than he did for his own son. I can see his reasons for doing that at times, but his lack of fully invested parental interest in his own children was annoying. This also backs up my opinion that Graham was not-so-perfect.

It was really interesting to learn through this book what daily support a blind person needs and how much technology helped Chas. Whilst Graham saw technology as something to be resisted and only saw it through a negative light, technology was nothing but a positive presence in Chas’s life. This offered an interesting juxtaposition between the two characters and their viewpoints. This may be seen as an obvious comparison to make, but I still liked the point it was trying to empathise.

I loved the extra short stories at the end of the book. This was a refreshing idea from the author. It illustrated the convoluted nature of relationships and how nothing is as it seems on first impression. Briefly focussing on characters who had a connection with the main characters of the book and telling their stories helped bring Hotel Alpha alive, which after all was the biggest character of the book in the end.

Overall and despite its flaws, I found Hotel Alpha a very enjoyable and readable book that is worth investing your time in.

The online extra Hotel Alpha short stories can be found here.

Questions to Consider

You don’t have to answer these questions in your comments, but they might help to get you thinking about the book or to prompt a discourse.

1. The Hotel Alpha is full of secrets. Which made the biggest impression on you and why?

2. How would you describe the sense of place in Hotel Alpha, and would you say the hotel becomes a character in its own right?

3. Did your attitude to the characters remain consistent throughout the novel, or did your loyalties shift as you read? Which character provoked the strongest reaction from you?

4. How did the author create Chas’s point of view, given that he is blind and unable to describe things visually? Did you find this effective?

5. ‘In Howard’s own opinion, luck was not a whimsical force which flitted in and out of lives. It was a commodity: something you could make or buy.’ To what extent do you agree with Howard’s view that we make our own luck?

6. How does meeting Kathleen affect Chas and his relationships with others? What did you make of their love story?

7. A pivotal theme of the novel is the rise of technology and the internet. In what ways does the digital revolution aid and thwart the characters?

8. ‘I have heard it said that adversity is the truest test of character, and that the greatest people turn disaster into opportunity.’ Graham is talking about Howard here, but is this also true of other characters? Who else turns adversity to their advantage, and did you find them stronger or weaker for it?

9. Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian as well as a novelist. Would you describe Hotel Alpha as a tragedy or a comedy? In what ways do you think being a stand-up comedian might influence Mark Watson’s writing?

10. ‘I had seen a great many odd sights in the Alpha. That man who broke the door of Room 25, and his wife who hurled her wedding ring up into the balconies; a demonstration of a chemical mixture which, injected into the body of a dead person, could preserve their organs for hundreds of years; the American astronaut who was first to walk on the Moon.’ Some of these incidents, and many more, appear in the one hundred extra stories that accompany the novel and can be found at http://www.hotelalphastories.com. Have you read any of these stories and, if not, do you plan to discover them now you’ve read the novel? What do you make of the author’s decision to continue the story of Hotel Alpha online and how might this affect the reader’s experience of the novel?

September’s book is Irresistible” by Adam Alter. I’ll be starting the conversation for this on Monday 2nd October.

For a list of all the other books we’ll be reading this year, please click here.

Guest Post: To the Women of Rock- thank you

Exciting times here at Just Another Blog from a Woman as I have my very first guest post on my blog today.  Let me introduce you all to Em Linthorpe. Her blog covers everything from music to parenting with a little bit of Cumbria mixed in. She also happens to be a very nice person to boot. She’s here to talk about her time in an indie girl band and about her favourite indie girl bands of the 90s. Enjoy!

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Hello you sweethearts!
I’m Em, captain of the fair blog Em Linthorpe and I have sailed over to this part of the internet to say hello and to have a natter about lasses in music. Thank you very much to Hayley for having me!
Many years ago, when the world lived in fear of the millenium bug and and it was still socially acceptable to like Tony Blair, I was quite cool. I have no idea how this came about. I had a part-time job in a record shop. A vinyl record shop, yes. I had bright pink hair and my boyfriend was a sound engineer, meaning I obtained free entry for almost every gig and nightclub in town.
A second hand guitar happened, some friends of friends happened too, and all of a sudden I was a rhythm guitarist in an all-girl Riot Grrrl-inspired punk band.
I want to make this quite clear, I am not a great guitarist. I could never quite hold down an F chord properly. But the freedom of the Riot Grrrl ethos meant that didn’t matter particularly. I just made sure that all the knobs on the guitar and the amplifier gave me epic distortion and it was all good.
This new and exciting adventure (coupled with the Sociology A Level I was studying) thrust upon me my first real experiences with feminism. Music was so important to me, and I evaluated how little of what I listened to was coming from a woman’s perspective. The artists and bands I grew up listening to that had my heart? Queen, Elton John, Dire Straits, Davids Bowie and Essex…
All blokes.
And the bands that I had discovered myself, through mixtapes or gigs or the NME or recommendations? Super Furry Animals, Lo Fidelity Allstars, Blur, Bob Dylan…et cetera…
…you can see where this is going, can’t you? Of course there were some ladies I listened to, but my balance was all off kilter. I began listening to more girl rock, more American soul, jazz and R&B…in fact, any genre was a goal, but my focus was much more on the women leading the show. I thought I would compile a list of some of the best female fronted and girlstrong bands from the 1990s, as a tribute to the time where my true musical awakening happened.Bring on the girls!
Kenickie – Punka
 It’s not particularly my story to tell, but this song pissed off a fair few folk who had helped Kenickie get to where they did. It still stands as a proper belting tune, I cannot deny them that.
 
 
Catatonia – Strange Glue
 I really held a torch high for Cerys Matthews and her band in the late 90s. Sad to say, I don’t think a lot of the tracks have aged that well. Sorry Cerys. This one however still sounds beautiful.
 
 
The Breeders – Divine Hammer
 
 From the album Last Splash which I played again and again and again. It’s utterly fantastic and I found it inspirational, although I knew I would never have as much talent as Kim and Kelley Deal et al.

 

Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl

Just empowering and perfect and AWESOME. Can’t really say much more than that. Just listen to it.

Republica – Drop Dead Gorgeous

Full of energy, style and strength, despite the admittance of a weakness for pretty boys.

Skunk Anansie – Charity

I was a great fan of this band, Skin’s vocals always blew me away and the band’s heavier-leaning rock sound was something that made me smile loads too.

Shampoo – Trouble

Bubblegum-rebel faux-punk PERFECTLY executed. Marvellous.

Want to read more about the fabulous contributions women have made to popular music? I stumbled across The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women a few days ago and it is a fantastic and inspiring list. A great resource for expanding your playlists.

Take care,

Em

You can find more of my writings on life, music and feels on my blog Em Linthorpe, or if you prefer fewer words at a time, I’m on Twitter too.

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Em in her 90s indie girl band heyday!


And here’s a Spotify playlist of Em’s selected songs.

Just Another Book Club- July Book

Woo-hoo our first book club discussion! Please leave your comments below or within the right book club post on my Facebook page. Please feel free to peruse other people’s comments and respond. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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Synopsis

Set during World War II, the book tells the parallel stories of two children, Werner Pfennig and Marie-Laure LeBlanc. Werner is a clever German boy who is bit of genius when it comes to radio engineering and Marie-Laure is a blind French girl in possession of a valuable jewel. Over 200 chapters we witness their lives before the war, the onset of war, what part they took during the war, how their lives finally connect and events after the war. It is a tale of survival, morals and ultimately love. It’s worth noting that it took American author Anthony Doerr 10 years to write this historical novel.

My Quick Review

All the Light We Cannot See is so beautifully written it actually incites jealousy. I cannot help, but feel envious of the fact that I would never be able to write as well as this. The way Doerr describes scenes is so vivid, the reader has no problem with imagining them. In particular his description of Saint Malo, the house that Marie-Laure lived in and the bombing that took place there, sticks in my mind.

It was very interesting how the books depicts two different families torn apart by war for different reasons. So often books set during wars, tell the story from an adult’s perspective, so it was refreshing seeing how war affected children from both sides.

I recently visited Eden Camp, a Second World War museum inside an actual old prisoner of war camp, in North Yorkshire. It had a whole section on Hitler’s Youth, so I took a couple of (not very good photos) for you all.

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Information on the Hitler Youth

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A member of the Hitler Youth saluting a picture of Hitler

The book is made up of very short chapters. This gives the feel of a fast moving book that keeps you interested and makes you keep on turning the pages.

I can’t decide if I’m satisfied with the ending or not. Werner dies, Marie-Laure never finds her Father and the jewel is lost. However, I also feel this is a reflection on the reality of war. There are obviously so many unhappy endings in war and at least Marie-Laure continues on with a happy life.

Lastly, I want to mention the title of the book. Initially, it would seem to refer to two different things in relation to the two main characters. The more obvious one being Marie-Laure who is blind, whose other senses are heightened because of this. It also could be said that it might refer to the radio waves that we cannot see, but bring much light. This is a reference more so of Werner. However, I think the title also has a third reference, in that during something as hideous as a war, there is still much light. It may not be as obvious and would not dominate the discourse surrounding war as much, but nevertheless it is there. Do you have any other thoughts regarding the title?

As much as I loved this book, the story and the writing, I probably wouldn’t call it a masterpiece as many people are.

Whilst reading it, I could clearly imagine and predict this book will be turned into a film. I can’t see any evidence of it happening yet, but there certainly are rumours.

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Saint Malo today

Questions to Consider

You don’t have to answer these questions in your comments, but they might help to get you thinking about the book or to kickstart the discourse. 

1. The book opens with two epigraphs. How do these quotes set the scene for the rest of the book? Discuss how the radio plays a major part in the story and the time period. How do you think the impact of the radio back then compares with the impact of the Internet on today’s society?

2. The narration moves back and forth both in time and between different characters. How did this affect your reading experience? How do you think the experience would have been different if the story had been told entirely in chronological order?

3. Whose story did you enjoy the most? Was there any character you wanted more insight into?

4. When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he concludes his broadcast by saying “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (pages 48–49), and Werner recalls these words throughout the book (pages 86, 264, and 409). How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story? How does it relate to Madame Manec’s question: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (page 270)?

5. On page 160, Marie-Laure realizes “This . . . is the basis of his fear, all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.” How does this image constitute the most general basis of all fear? Do you agree?

6. Reread Madame Manec’s boiling frog analogy on page 284. Etienne later asks Marie-Laure, “Who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?” (page 328) Who did you think Madame Manec meant? Could it have been someone other than herself or the Germans? What does it say about Etienne that he doesn’t consider himself to be the frog?

7. On page 368, Werner thinks, “That is how things are . . . with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.” But in fact many of the characters show great courage and selflessness throughout the story in some way, big or small. Talk about the different ways they put themselves at risk in order to do what they think is right. What do you think were some shining moments? Who did you admire most?

8. On page 390, the author writes, “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness.” What did you learn or realize about blindness through Marie-Laure’s perspective? Do you think her being blind gave her any advantages?

9. One of Werner’s bravest moments is when he confronts von Rumpel: “All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?” (page 465) Have you ever had a moment like that? Were you ready? What would you say that moment is for some of the other characters?

10. Why do you think Marie-Laure gave Werner the little iron key? Why might Werner have gone back for the wooden house but left the Sea of Flames?

11. Von Rumpel seemed to believe in the power of the Sea of Flames, but was it truly a supernatural object or was it merely a gemstone at the center of coincidence? Do you think it brought any protection to Marie-Laure and/or bad luck to those she loved?

12. When Werner and Marie-Laure discuss the unknown fate of Captain Nemo at the end of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Marie-Laure suggests the open-endedness is intentional and meant to make us wonder (page 472). Are there any unanswered questions from this story that you think are meant to make us wonder?

13. The 1970s image of Jutta is one of a woman deeply guilt-ridden and self-conscious about her identity as a German. Why do you think she feels so much guilt over the crimes of others? Can you relate to this? Do you think she should feel any shame about her identity?

14. What do you think of the author’s decision to flash forward at the end of the book? Did you like getting a peek into the future of some of these characters? Did anything surprise you?

15. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” All the Light We Cannot See is filled with examples of human nature at its best and worst. Discuss the themes of good versus evil throughout the story. How do they drive each other? What do you think are the ultimate lessons that these characters and the resolution of their stories teach us?

Just a reminder that August’s book is “Hotel Alpha” by Mark Watson. I’ll be starting the conversation for that on Monday 4th September.

For a list of all the other books we’ll be reading this year, please click here