Our Thanksgiving, and How We Nearly Died

We weren’t too sure what we were supposed to do at Thanksgiving. Most of my knowledge comes from various U.S. sitcoms, and the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. But what it did mean was a four-day weekend, so we weren’t complaining. So we had lots of awesome food, booze, and fun.

To follow one Thanksgiving tradition, I’m grateful for the following things:

  • My husband’s ability to make a smashing roast. He did pork; turkey is rubbish. Plus there is a rafter/gang/posse (I Googled the collective noun) of wild turkeys that keep appearing in our parking lot, and I feel an affinity with them. They pick fights with cats and squirrels.
  • Funyuns. I have weekly pangs for a bag of Monster Munch (usually when hungover, when I also especially miss Vimto and Jaffa Cakes), and this is the closest thing I can find.
  • Livermore Public Library. Yes, I know I blather on about it, but I do love the place. It’s crazily well-funded, and has such a huge selection of books. It is also the place that enables my tutoring. I attended a meeting for tutors a couple of weeks ago, to share ideas and experiences, and it was so much fun. I feel like I’m part of a great community.
  • The fact that I have a fantastic life.

Which brings us to…
How We Nearly Died

I mentioned this incident briefly on Facebook, which started a wealth of bovine puns from the ever-amusing Martin Crawley (cheers dude). But it was so dramatic is warrants a full blog post.

In brief, we got caught in a stampede. No, we didn’t try and brave the mall Black Friday sales. We went to Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park for a hike, and got on the wrong side of some cows. Actual cows.

We were having a lovely hike in the sunshine, admiring the bits of green that are slowly appearing on the ground, minding our own business. There are lots of cows dotted around the park. Earlier that day we’d walked very closely to a couple of them, and I possibly said something patronizing about their lovely eyes, and word got round.

So we carried on walking, when we came across some more bovine bastards. One cow rammed another, and I obviously laughed because it was hilarious. I asked Will if he’d seen it, and he sensibly suggested that we just keep walking. Quickly. Then, the aforementioned aggressive cow let out a very chilling “moo” (if you can imagine such a thing. Ask me for a demonstration next time I see you). Then the main cow and her crew ran across the path we’d just walked over, and up a small hill, where there were yet more cows. Will commented it looked like a turf war, and we carried on walking.

Then we noticed the sound of running hooves was getting gradually louder, and turned to see what can only be adequately captured by the following stills from The Lion King (imagine cows instead of antelope, and my face instead of little Simba).
I’ve been scared quite a few times in my life. I once walked out of a film because I couldn’t cope with the weird noises (La Casa Muda, still haven’t seen it all). But I’ve never felt an actual, seemingly inescapable  threat. You can at least attempt to reason with psychotic clowns luring you down the sewer. But this was real fear. I don’t care to experience it again.

Luckily, there was a little ridge that the cows would have found it difficult to traverse, so Will and I quickly made our way up there until the stampede had passed. Which, thankfully, it did. We obviously lived to tell the tale, but now I’ve got a fear of cows. Which, according to Will, is perfectly reasonable. Apparently, an average cow weighs about 1,500lbs. That is more than 10 times my weight. That’s a battle I would not win without a very pointy stick. And I didn’t have one to hand.

I’ve just had a quick gander at what one is supposed to do in this situation. Apparently, cows rarely aim for people, and their eyesight is quite poor. One site suggests “making yourself big”, but at 5ft 2, I’d find this quite challenging. One of the lovely ladies who works in our local also suggested making a lot of noise, which I’m extremely capable of. So, while I won’t be embracing cows anytime soon, I will proudly wear my leather jacket while chomping on a burger, safe in the knowledge that those violence buggers could one day end up in my sandwich.


Review – Disgraced, Berkeley Rep

I have a list of my four favorite plays*, and they’ve not really changed over the last few years. But yesterday, I saw a play that joined those hallowed ranks before the curtain had fallen.

Disgraced is the second Pulitzer Prize-winning play I’ve had the honor of watching this year (the first was Between Riverside and Crazy, review can be found here). Previously, I’ve had the egregious misconception that plays that have won such an accolade may be a little “worthy”, expressing ideas and concepts with all the subtlety of a polka-dotted sledgehammer. Boy, was I wrong! Much like Riverside, Disgraced makes the audience constantly question their beliefs and prejudices through entirely believable scenarios and characters.

At the center of the play, we have Amir, a successful New York lawyer, born in America to Muslim parents. Given his negative experiences of the Muslim faith, he renounced his faith as a young person, and is now settled with his blonde, artist wife, Emily. Amir’s nephew, Abe, attempts to persuade Amir to use his legal knowledge to help a local imam, who has been imprisoned for allegedly using funds collected at his mosque for terrorist activities. Encouraged by his wife, Amir reluctantly agrees, but a New York Times article reporting the trial makes it seem as though Amir is representing the imam. As a lapsed Muslim, this is a professional and personal position Amir does not want to be seen in.

Some time later, this article becomes the subject of discussion at a dinner party between a clearly distressed and increasingly drunk Amir, Emily, Amir’s colleague and fellow lawyer Jory, and her husband Isaac, an art dealer with the power to boost Emily’s career. It is this dinner party scene that contained some of the best dialogue I have ever heard. The tense encounter is completely believable; conversation topics such as religion, terrorism, media bias, religious misinterpretation, the Constitution, and domestic violence are all completely viable topics at a meeting of intelligent people, especially when one of them is incredibly inebriated, and has a major religious chip on his shoulder.

I’m aware that I may have done the playwright, Ayad Akhtar, a huge disservice with this clunky synopsis. Ultimately, this is a play about human emotion, and the factors that drive us; whether that be art, religion, career, love, or the pursuit of justice.

Akhtar has created five incredible characters, and a script that constantly amuses, shocks, and sparks ideas. The plot, and the intentions of the characters, are revealed at a perfect pace. But through the first three-quarters, while the tension built to dangerous levels, I couldn’t imagine what the all-important “fucking hell” moment was going to be.** And when it arrived… It’s something I’ll never forget. And on reflection, it was a moment so beautifully seeded in previous dialogue. This is an incredibly well-written script.

The cast are all absolutely fantastic. There is something consistently uneasy about Amir, and Bernard White captures this inner-conflict perfectly. But the star for me was Zakiya Young as Jory. Not only is she an incredibly striking stage-presence, she has the benefit of some of the funniest lines in the piece, and her delivery is flawless.

Huge congratulations to scenic designer John Lee Beatty, who perfectly created a Manhattan apartment, with full balcony, on stage. I never for a second questioned the authenticity of the set. Christine A. Binder’s lighting design was also something to behold, especially when expressing the passage of time. Subtle, but so beautiful.

I cannot recommend Disgraced enough. This was only my second visit to Berkeley Rep, and I already feel spoiled by the sheer quality of their productions. If this gushing review isn’t enough to convince you, then I don’t know what will.

Disgraced is playing at the Roda Theatre, Berkeley Rep, until 27th December. For more information, click here.

*For those interested, the other four plays (in no order) are The Pillowman (McDonagh), Orphans (Kelly), The Last of the Hausmanns (Beresford), and Blackbird (Harrower).

**Some of the best plays  have a moment where I cannot help but look at the floor in shock and go “fucking hell”. For another example, see The Nether (Haley). 

Road to Lake Tahoe

Last Friday was the one-year anniversary of my marriage to Will. Here are some couples that we’ve already outlasted:

– Lisa Marie Presley and Nicolas Cage (I don’t even remember this happening)

– Drew Barrymore and Tom Green (really Drew?! Were things really that bad?)

– Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock (ugh, really?! Yikes.)

We have very happy memories of our wedding day, and I will be forever grateful to those who attended, and especially to those who helped out (I can’t list you all here, but you know who you are).

Anyway, I’m sure you’re all dying to hear about what Will and I did to mark our small victory over minor Hollywood celebrities. Well, Will did a fantastic job of arranging a long weekend in Lake Tahoe, which he managed to keep completely secret from me until we were in the car loading the directions.

We stayed at a place called The Landings, which was amazing.

Yeah, it was pretty awesome. This was our view.

IMG_0050 We did a lot of drinking, eating, chilling, reading, and sleeping. We visited the spa and got an amazing Swedish massage. I never realise how many bits of my body are a bit knackered until all the dents are being hammered out.

Places we ate/drank at that I would definitely recommend:

Jimmy’s – The amazing restaurant in The Landing. Great food, fantastic service, and the view is breathtaking.

McP’s Taphouse – Lots of different beers, great atmosphere, and pub food. You can’t go wrong.

Stateline Brewery – They make their own very tasty beers, and the food is pretty awesome too.

Will also had his first experience of a Nevada casino (Lake Tahoe is right on the state line between California and Nevada. You literally cross the road and end up in a different state). Did we win thousands at Blackjack? Did we hit the jackpot on the slots? Hell no, we found House of the Dead 3 and killed some zombies. Then we got the heck out of there because it was very, very seedy. I forgot how much a dingy casino floor can drain one’s life-force.

I’d never been to Lake Tahoe before, and it was amazing. It was the off-season, so it was pretty quiet, which was nice. However, on our final night, it snowed, which made for a very cautious drive back to Livermore, but everything looked magical. It was also a little crazy how within a three-hour drive, we went from inches of snow to pretty warm sunshine in Livermore, yet we didn’t leave California. Madness.

Will did a great job of organising an unforgettable weekend. I have renewed my subscription to his services for another year.

“You’re Not That Far”

I turned 32 this week. I used to joke when I was very young (and stupid), that I was going to die in a plane crash when I was 27. Spoiler alert – that didn’t happen. Little did I know when I was spurting that little nugget of bullshit that my life wouldn’t be completely awesome until I reached my thirties.

Being 31 was probably the best year of my life so far. But that’s how it should be, right? Surely every year should just get better and better? Anyway, 31 was the age when I got married to the love of my life, took the trip of a lifetime to Maui, and moved to a part of the world many people would kill to visit. The pressure is on 32. You’d better deliver the goods!

My birthday weekend was great. Will and I met up with my friend Karen and her husband, Corey, on Friday. I hadn’t met Corey before, and I’m pleased to report he is an absolute delight. Turns out, he’s a bit of an Anglophile, and one of the highlights of the night was singing the theme tune to The Young Ones with him. Very weird, but absolutely hilarious.

On Sunday, Will and I visited Santa Cruz, which is about an hour’s drive away from us. We’d visited Santa Cruz a couple of years ago, when we did our PCH road-trip, and there was a mini golf score to settle. We went on a few rides on the Beach Boardwalk (if you’re a fan of being thrown around, and would like an authentic feeling of impending death, I can highly recommend The Giant Dipper). Then we played mini golf, which Will unfortunately won. Here’s a picture of him offering you his ball.  Then we spent some time Downtown, as I wanted to visit Bookshop Santa Cruz, which is an absolutely amazing bookstore. Their graphic novel section is unbelievably good, and they offer quite a lot of used books too. Surprisingly, I didn’t buy anything, as I’m currently working through my ever-growing pile of library books. But still, I am never happier than when I’m surrounded by books.

Then on my actual birthday, I did a great deal of chilling out, and then went for drinks with more friends. We went to First Street Alehouse in Livermore, which has the best waiting staff ever, hands down. Not only did one of our favorite servers buy me a drink, it came with a candle in it. Amazing. Look at my happy little face. You can’t buy that kind of joy (you probably can, quite cheaply).

Will bought me some awesome things, the highlight of which is an amazing hummingbird feeder called, wait for it… 
Amazing. Hummingbirds are quite common in Livermore, but I’m still absolutely fascinated by them. So I’m very happy Will gave me the means to start my own hummingbird army.

So turns out my first birthday in California wasn’t too dissimilar to the ones I had in Manchester. Booze, friends, fun, all the good stuff. I’m very, very happy out here.


I’m proud to have clocked up quite a lot of hours volunteering in the few months that I’ve been here. It’s enjoyable, but extremely humbling. I treasure my time with my Korean student; she tells me some amazing stories and is absolutely hilarious. Her English is already showing signs of improvement.

Working at the thrift store is fantastic. The people I “work” with are great, and the store has recently employed a new manager who is making some really positive changes to the place. But I am often reminded how fortunate I am, as some customers HAVE to shop there, as they can’t afford to buy new things. It will not come as a surprise to those of you who know me, but I’m incredibly nice to everyone, and I’ve already got some favorite customers. I also get a lot of comments on my “exotic” accent.

But I suppose the most humbling volunteering I do is my position with Incarcerated Voices. There seem to be a lot of misconceptions about prison inmates, which I’m sure I was guilty of before I actively sought to change this. Every week, I hear from fiercely intelligent and articulate inmates, speaking about topics that they have in-depth knowledge of. Their opinions and insights are extremely valuable, and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to expand my knowledge and understanding of the world through them.

And before you start assuming I’m having some kind of mental breakdown and am a “pen-pal” to these people, take a minute to have a look at the valuable work Incarcerated Voices does. I’ve found the whole thing incredibly rewarding, and if this sounds like something that appeals to you, I highly encourage you to get involved. It’s not scary in the slightest.


Spooky Special!

I bloody love Halloween. Probably more than I like Christmas. So it’s pretty cool to live in a country where they completely embrace it. Look at this house, just down the street from where we live.

The main reason I love Halloween so much is that I’m slightly obsessed with the supernatural. I prety much always have been. I think I got it from my Grandma, who is convinced she’s seen at least two ghosts in her life. My Grandma also introduced me to the wonders of Tommy Cooper and Morecambe and Wise. In short, she’s an absolute badass.

Anyway, the point of this is to share with you a few recommendations for reading, watching and listening for Halloween. Please feel free to share any obscure terrors with me!

Bewitching Books

IMG_0160The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley

No, that’s not a spelling mistake. This book really is called The Loney, the name of the mysterious location where this book is based. A teenage boy, Tonto, goes on a pilgrimage to this strange location with his family, a priest, and other strange characters, in the hopes of healing Tonto’s brother, Hanny, of his learning disabilities. Throw in a few weird locals, an unnerving local ceremony, and you can almost hear Edward Woodward’s cries of “Oh Jesus Christ!” on the wind.

For fans of: The Wicker Man, Kill List

imageA Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay

I thought I’d already mentioned this in the blog, and frankly I can’t believe I haven’t. This is one of my favourite books of this year; I devoured it in a day. A Head Full of Ghosts is about the Barrett family, as they struggle to deal with their oldest daughters mental health problems. When the word “possessed” is mentioned, father of the family John sees a quick money-making opportunity, and the family find themselves the subject of a reality TV show. And then, of course, shit goes bananas.

For fans of: Ghost Watch, The Exorcist 

imageThe Silent Land – Graham Joyce

I will be eternal grateful to Neil Gaiman for recommending this book on his blog. I first read it about four years ago and it has stayed with me ever since. It’s about a couple who go on a skiing holiday, and get caught in an avalanche, they somehow manage to survive. However, the ski resort is now completely empty, and weird things are happening. I think it’s probably the one book I actively had to put down because I was so scared (I should have followed Joey’s advice and put it in the freezer). Joyce died last year of cancer, and I was absolutely heartbroken. I can’t express how atmospheric, terrifying, and ultimately beautiful this book is. It’s wonderful.

For fans of: Neil Gaiman, beautiful fiction

Spooky Sounds

imageThe Same Dog – Robert Aickman (read by Reece Shearsmith)

This story is taken from Aickman’s short story collection, Cold Hand in Mine. I struggle with Robert Aickman. I find some of his “short” stories a little long, and too short on terror. However, this one is incredibly disturbing. It’s a story about a man recalling his youth, and a strange girl he made friends with. When he tries to revisit the place where they met as an adult, things get very peculiar indeed. It’s one of those stories that willl have your bloody running cold by the end, and Shearsmith’s narration is just perfect. It’s available in its entirety on Soundcloud. Click here if you dare!

Radio 4 Fright Nightimage

You can’t really beat Radio 4 for spooky radio plays. Over the years they’ve done amazing adaptations, such as The Willows by Algernon Blackwood, The Exorcist, and a terrific series of scary shorts (which I still regularly listen to) called Fear on Four.

Anyway, this year we’ve got two cracking new adaptations to look forward to. First up is Ring, based on a film that you’ve all hopefully seen already. If not, don’t fear. Yet. The captivating premise of Ring is that there is a video tape that can cause you to die within a few days of watching it. So, of course, people try it, don’t they? What can possibly go wrong? Anyway, I won’t spoil it, but you should definitely listen in on Halloween.

The next adaptation you may not be so familiar with; Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape. This was originally a TV play (remember those?!) that was broadcast in the 1970s. It’s about a team of scientists who discover that stones can “record” bits of history. Unfortunately, some bits of the history they discover aren’t very pleasant. I bloody love Nigel Kneale, as he’s a bit of a hero of mine, and this adaptation looks very promising indeed. Both plays will be on BBC Radio iPlayer (available worldwide, thank god) for a month or so after the Halloween broadcast.

More info on Fright Night

Link to the original Stone Tape TV play – worth a watch. Incredibly good.

Vile Videos

imageThe Signalman

The BBC used to do this bloody brilliant thing in the 70s called A Ghost Story for Christmas. And rather than them being full of laughable CG ghosts and pointless jump scares, they were properly horrifying. My personal favourite is The Signalman, based on the Charles Dickens ghost story, and starring the delightful Denholm Elliot. Elliot plays an isolated railway signal worker, who is visited by a man who immediately unnerves him. They eventually warm to each other, and our eponymous hero shares a few disturbing stories concerning the railway.

If you watch this, and like it, I’d recommend Whistle and I’ll Come to You (the 1960s one, not the recent one), A Warning to the Curious, and Lost Hearts. There is a lovely box set including some great extras if that’s your bag too.

Link to The Signalman

imageGhosts on the Underground

This is probably my favourite documentary of all time. All the information you need is in the title. There are some seriously creepy stories contained in the film, so if you ever want to travel alone on the tube at night again, you might want to steer clear. But I love it. The one about the weird photograph is especially unnerving.

Link to Ghosts on the Underground

imageThe Woman in Black

No, not the one with Harry Potter. This is another Nigel Kneale masterpiece, based on Susan Hill’s incredible novel. No CG, no happy ending, just out-and-out terror. You probably know the story already; Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer, is sent to the mysterious Eel Marsh House to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased client. Things go bump in the night, there’s a curse on the village, it’s all very horrifying. But this film mentally scarred me as a youth. There’s a particular scene (and you’ll know it if/once you’ve seen it) that gave me nightmares for years afterwards. My English teacher made us watch it in our second year of high school. And I’m eternally grateful for it.

The whole movie is available on YouTube, link below. Settle in.

Link to The Woman in Black

26 Foreign Films – Week 8

Film: The House at the End of Time (2013)

Country of origin: Venezuela

image*Sneaks back in, hopes nobody noticed that she was gone.*

Ah yes. Now, where was I?

I’m a huge horror movie fan. But my preferences fall more towards the supernatural side of things, rather than the gorefests which unfortunately make up the majority of recent horror offerings. Personal favourites include The Exorcist (which may not be “scary” any longer, given the countless parodies, but there’s no denying that it’s an unsettling movie), Rosemary’s Baby (the book is one of my favourites too), and the original Nigel Kneale Woman in Black (again, great book).

But anyway, this is beside the point. I was very excited to find a foreign horror movie to fulfil this week’s quota (and in the spookiest month of the year too. Despite the blazing California sunshine). However, The House at the End of Time isn’t exactly what I would consider a supernatural horror film. Throughout, the threat always feels human. And even though there was some scary moments, it’s ultimately a story about a struggling family.

At the start of the film, we meet Dulce (played by Ruddy Rodriguez), just before she finds her husband murdered in the basement. She also catches sight of her son, before he disappears into thin air. Dulce is charged with both of these murders, and is imprisoned. After severing thirty years, she is permitted to return to the house of her nightmares. She is convinced that the house itself is to blame for the murders, and enlists the help of a local priest to get to the bottom of the mystery.

The first thing that struck me about this film, was the baffling decision to not employ an older actress to portray the elderly Dulce, but rather apply questionable make-up to Rodriguez. Maybe with later plot developments, it kind of makes sense, but it just looks really terrible. Almost hysterically so.

Luckily, the plot of the film is very interesting, and undoubtedly original. You just have to stick with it for a while before the mist clears. On the surface, this is yet another haunted house movie, relying on jump scares and dark figures in the periphery. But it turns into so much more than that. Although, to be fair, the highlights of the first half of the film come from the connection the audience forms with this struggling family. The horror comes as much from real life tragedy as it does from spooks.

I really don’t want to give too much away, but this movie is certainly worth your time. It may not be immediately apparent, but it’s a very clever film. The performances are all great too; I’m always impressed when child actors manage to be likeable as well as dramatically convincing, and the young men who play sons Leopoldo and Rodrigo manage this with aplomb (kid from The Babadook, take note. Jeez). Ruddy Rodriguez is fantastic, even with unconvincing “old lady” make-up.

This is writer/director Alejandro Hidalgo’s first movie (according to IMDB anyway), and it’s an extraordinary achievement. And apparently, Venezuela’s first supernatural thriller! Please, give it a watch. By the end, I was genuinely shouting (at the screen, on my own, in an empty apartment), “Fuck, this film is amazing!” Next to “yes, mate”, that’s one of the highest honours a film can receive.

What I’m Reading – October 2015

Brace yourselves, September was quite a big reading month!

Graphic Novels

imageYep, still reading the comics. Still getting strange looks for being a seemingly grown woman in a Batman t-shirt reading what is essentially a picture book on a Wednesday afternoon. Not really, I don’t think they let people into Livermore library if they aren’t lovely.

I’ve read many graphic novels since my last post, so I’ll do a very quick breakdown (you can click on the links if you fancy a more in-depth look).

The Guild
– Written by Felicia Day, she of internet fame. The Guild is a sweet, short graphic novel about a girl liberating herself from her awful musician boyfriend and finding joy in online gaming. I’m aware it’s based on the TV show, which I haven’t seen. To be honest, after reading this, I don’t feel particularly inclined to check it out. Make of that what you will. Not earth-shattering, but quite enjoyable. And Felicia Day seems pretty cool.

Y: The Last Man – This was interesting. It focusses on young Yorick (as in, alas poor), who is literally the last man on Earth. This first volume sets up the scenario and the characters nicely, including a monkey called Ampersand, Yorick’s only fellow male. I really enjoyed it, and wanted to read further, but the library only has volumes 1,3 and 4. Doh!

The Arrival – This book is beautiful. Through gorgeous illustrations, it tells the story of a man leaving his native land to seek employment and money to support his family. It beautifully conveys the problems that come with emigration, such as language/cultural barriers, and trying to establish yourself in new surroundings, all without written dialogue. Highly recommended for fans of unconventional storytelling.

Beautiful Darkness – Don’t let the vibrant watercolours fool you, this book is bleak. This one is about a group of little creatures that make up the personality of a little girl. Except, the little girl is dead in the woods, and these little creatures have to fend for themselves. Like if the Brothers Grimm wrote Inside Out. Very weird, with lots of dark humour, this was another hit with me.

Displacement: A Travelogue – Lucy Knisley’s memoir of a cruise she went on with her declining grandparents. I appreciated Knisley’s honesty about how it can be frustrating to deal with aging family members, especially when you love them so much. Knisley also includes sections of her grandfather’s war memoirs, which was a wonderful addition. A genuinely interesting story, and I was completely engrossed.

Tomboy – Another graphic memoir, this time by Liz Prince, about visual expectations of femininity. I could completely relate, as I am perfectly capable of covering myself in make-up and sticking a dress on to conform to traditional expectations of how a woman should look, but most of the time you will find me in jeans and the aforementioned Batman t-shirt. There wasn’t too much a narrative in Tomboy, so it wasn’t as strong as Displacement, but still a good read.

I read some other graphic novels, but they weren’t too amazing. Black River, Sloth, and It Never Happened Again, if you’re interested.


imageI’ve read a couple of lighter books this month, because why not? Surely any kind of reading is good, right?

Many moons ago, a good friend recommended Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I made a mental note of it, at the time not enquiring what the book was about. Recently, I learned it was about a young woman, Lou, who gets a job as a carer to a man, Will, who is recently disabled. The book is about their initially uneasy relationship, and how eventually how they bring out the best in each other. Possibly a little more chick-lit than my usual tastes (sorry, I hate that term, but you can’t argue that the genre doesn’t exist), but this was still an enjoyable read. The characters were realistic, and mostly likable. I’m sure the movie will be great, as Emilia “Daenerys” Clarke is playing Lou. I don’t agree with the casting of Sam Clafin as Will (too young), but what do I know, eh?

I also read a book called Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, which is actually by celebrity ghost-writer Hilary Liftin. The book is about a young Hollywood starlet who is seemingly selected to fall in love with an older actor who is involved with a mysterious quasi-religious organisation. IN NO WAY IS THIS BOOK BASED ON THE LIFE OF KATIE HOLMES. DEFINITELY NOT. What does it matter that the main character was in a popular teen-drama, completely different from Dawson’s Creek, when she was younger? Or if this religion is highly secretive and makes people disappear? This is a work of fiction, my friends. Yep. It’s also pretty entertaining. If you want something for a flight, or a few hours by the pool, this might be the book for you.

The Good Stuff


Yes Please, by Amy Poehler – I worked my way through this inspirational, funny, and powerful book within two days. Put it this way, when I begin to have negative thoughts about myself, I now imagine a tiny (tinier? She’s the same height as me) Amy Poehler beating up my inner demons for me. And it works too! She’s badass.

Seriously, this book is great. I love Poehler. If you can get through that difficult first season of Parks and Recreation, it is a very rewarding series. Poehler’s section about her favourite memories of the show and the cast are wonderful, and frequently reduced me to tears (much like the show does). But my favourite parts of this book are when Amy is sharing her very personal experiences, and passing her wisdom onto the reader. There is also a very moving chapter written by her friend Seth Myers, where he (rightly) sings Amy’s praises. (Self-indulgence time – it reminded me of the time a dear friend wrote something similar for me.)

Yes Please is now up there with Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman in terms of a survival guide for me. It is such a wonderful book. Everyone should read it. Or listen to the audiobook like I did. Hearing Patrick Stewart read haikus about plastic surgery is like an instant injection of joy.

Hangmen, by Martin McDonagh – I probably miss having the opportunity to nip to London to randomly see a play more than I miss Manchester at the moment. Martin McDonagh is one of my favourite playwrights, and his play Pillowman is in my top four plays of all time (along with Blackbird, Orphans, and The Last of the Hausmanns, since you asked). So I was gutted when I saw Hangmen was opening at the Royal Court once I’d already left the country. Especially since of my heroes, Reece Shearsmith, is in the cast.

Anyway, I did the next best thing, and read the script. It’s fantastic, I knew it would be. It’s about a group of ex-hangmen dealing with the abolition of their “trade”, amongst other things. And of course, it’s full of McDonagh’s sharp, hilarious dialogue, and beautiful devices that keep the reader/audience exactly where the playwright wants them. Luckily, the play is transferring to the West End just in time for my brief Christmas visit to the UK, so I may get chance to see it yet. But Shearsmith won’t be in the cast. Arses.

Pretty Is, by Maggie Mitchell – Another book following my strange fascination with child abduction (see Room, Our Endless Numbered Days, Tiger Tiger, to name but a few), this is about two girls who were kidnapped by a stranger when they were 12, but were rescued six weeks later unharmed. As grown-ups, Lois has written a novel based on the incident, and Carly May is an actress who has been cast in the movie adaptation. The two girls fell out of touch over the years, and mentally revisit their experiences in anticipation of their upcoming encounter. The two female characters are interesting, and the book is okay, but it ended a little abruptly for me. I got the sense that things weren’t fully resolved, but I guess that reflects the fact that the girls never found out why they were selected to be kidnapped by this strange man. If the theme of this book appeals to you, I’d recommend the three books I mentioned earlier over this one.

Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh – I spent most of this book having no clue where it was going, but thoroughly enjoying the ride. And when everything was revealed, it was extremely exciting. A definite “holy shit!” moment. I won’t say too much about this one, but if you enjoy the work of Shirley Jackson, or any novel with a strange, insecure female protagonist, please pick this up. One of my favourite books of this year.

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin – I’ve saved the best, or certainly the most personal, for last. Eilis, an Irish teenager, is given the chance to leave her small-town life to start an exciting new chapter in America. Once she arrives, she falls in love, makes new friends, and has limitless potential. But when a family tragedy brings her back to Ireland, people assume she will resume her former life as if she’d never left. They also think she gives the impression that she’s now better than the people she left behind. She has to decide whether she wants to continue the stagnant life of her hometown, or resume her exciting life overseas.

Like the graphic novel The Arrival, the book is about establishing yourself as a new person in unfamiliar surroundings. It is also trying to ignore any jealous attempts by the people you’ve left behind to devalue your new experiences. Given my circumstances, it spoke extremely loudly to me. I’d recommend this book to anyone who has ever attempted to change themselves, but felt dragged down by people who have never taken any steps to change themselves in a positive way. Alternatively, there’s a movie adaptation by Nick Hornby coming out in November, which looks great.

So that was September! At the moment I’m making a start of the Maus graphic novels by Art  Spiegelman. I’ve also got Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees, although after the trauma of A Little Life, I’m not sure I’m emotionally ready for it! I’ve also got Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, as well as The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue. And I’m still listening to Carsick, by another one of my heroes, John Waters.

Free Horror Audiobook!

imageAudible have done an audio adaptation of Joe Hill’s graphic novel series Locke and Key, and it is FREE for a limited period. No catches, you can just log into Audible with your Amazon details. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I enjoyed the graphic novels, as well as Joe Hill’s work in general, and the cast includes Kate Mulgrew, who is a phenomenal voice actor (as well as Janeway and Red). Click here to have a look!