Thursday, 19 December 2013

Stop worrying about Christmas weight! Just listen to your body and enjoy yourself.

As summer approaches, women are told we need to get in shape so we look good in a bikini. As winter arrives, we are told to go easy on the mince pies so that we look good in our party dresses (though we are somehow also persuaded to indulge in said mince pies just so we sign up for the amazing new diets which will no doubt appear in the New Year). The very worst thing we can do is listen to the adverts!

Christmas is a time for family, for relaxation and, of course, for eating. We have more time off, more family meals and plenty of chocolate treats. It’s not surprising then that many women (and men!) put on a bit of weight over the holiday season – but this should not be a reason to panic! For one, there are clear reasons behind it. We eat a lot more chocolate, mince pies and other fatty treats and we don’t often get up from the sofa.

Personally, I couldn’t care less if I gain a bit of weight over the next few weeks. I’ll have fun doing it and in the New Year it will go away of its own accord when I stop eating so much chocolate and so many mince pies and start getting more active again. I’ve done the diet thing and it made me miserable. I lost far too much weight and became massively lethargic. I got colds far more easily and was constantly feeling run-down and in need of a rest.

This holiday season, I just want to enjoy myself with my family and friends, no matter what the adverts tell me about that party dress I simply must squeeze into. A party where I don’t relax or eat anything for fear of someone noticing that I don’t have the world’s flattest stomach doesn’t sound like much fun at all.

The holiday season would be thoroughly miserable if we all panicked at the sight of a mince pie or left half our roast on the plate for fear of calories. Diet book and class sales would no doubt do very well in the New Year but we’d have no fun in the interim. There are healthier alternatives for you to investigate if you’re worried but once the food is made just listen to your body (it will tell you when you’ve had far too many chocolates!) and enjoy yourself!

Maybe get the whole family out for a walk on Christmas Day too…

Happy holidays!

Book highlights of 2013

2013 was the year I prioritised writing over reading, but there was no way I could cut out reading entirely! As if!

An incredible debut which caught my attention was the first of a series by young writer Samantha Shannon. The book, The Bone Season, is a clever and captivating tale about clairvoyants who have been ostracised and forced into a life of crime. It creates that world within a world that will keep the reader hooked throughout and there is also a strong female lead and the fascinating Warden who takes her on.
One of the most sophisticated and classy novels I had the pleasure of reading this year was Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub, a story of one woman's battle with both her private and public personas, as she moves from a rural upbringing to the bright lights of Hollywood's golden era.

Though the books are not new to 2013, film adaptations released this year have sent me to some incredible novels, including the complex and fascinating study of human behaviour, World War Z by Max Brooks and the delightfully dark and romantic Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion. There was also the superb memoir 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and the delightful Austenland by Shannon Hale (which led to a rather entertaining and heated debate at the book vs film club!).

There were lots of great bookish events to enjoy this year too, including meeting the lovely Victoria Fox at the launch of her new book Wicked Ambition and the glamorous RNA winter party. The highlight, though, has to be a trip to the BBC to see Sarah Alexander record the vocals for The Wedding Knight by Sophie Kinsella as it was prepared for their Books at Beachtime series.

Of course 2013 was also the year the fantastic Kirsty Greenwood launched her book Yours Truly in paperback!

What have your book highlights been this year?

Monday, 16 December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug film review

I was one of the minority it seems in that I thoroughly enjoyed the first Hobbit film. It built at a great pace and was a fun, action-packed adventure. For The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, however, the careful pacing of the first film seems to have gone out the Hobbiton window, leaving behind a film that is, in parts, jaw-droppingly spectacular (seriously, my jaw actually dropped!) and in others, mind-numbingly dull.

As the film begins, a darkness is spreading over Middle Earth. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is getting concerned and implores Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves (led by Richard Armitage) to hurry along with their quest before their window of opportunity closes. Thorin (Armitage) starts getting more ruthless the closer he gets to reclaiming the wealth and home of his people and Bilbo begins to use the ring, which starts to reveal a little more of the power it holds over him.

There is plenty of action – between all the walking and running – including a hilarious sequence involving barrels. On their journey, the group runs into many scary creatures, including an animal who can shapeshift, many dreaded orcs and plenty of ill-tempered elves. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) makes an appearance and scowls his way through every scene he's in. Fortunately, many of these scenes take place alongside Evangeline Lily's newly-created Tauriel, who becomes a welcome breath of fresh air, bringing a spark, ferocity and heart to an otherwise dull group of male characters. The film boasts an impressive cast list but sadly most of the characters which are intending to be menacing or strike fear in the viewers are laughable and have no depth. You would think with all that time to develop their characters, a bit more attention could have been paid.

That said, one character who is anything but dull is Bilbo himself. Thanks to Freeman, Bilbo manages to bring courage, inner turmoil over his precious ring and humour to the role. Many of the laugh out loud moments are thanks to him and his mannerisms and when he finally meets the dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), he – like the dragon himself – truly shines. Smaug's arrival is undoubtedly the best part of the whole film. I'd say he is worth the wait but even that might be pushing it. Both the special effects used to bring Smaug to life and the incredible vocal talents of Cumberbatch make for one of the most incredible, breath-taking creatures ever seen on screen, from the moment his eye is first visible to that when he reveals his full size and power.

The real issue with the film is that the really good parts of it are far too sparse and by the time they arrive, you've barely got enough motivation to keep paying attention. The group spends so long walking and talking that every time a literal or figurative roadblock is put before them, you figure out a way out long before they do. It quickly becomes easy not to care and when Smaug finally appears, you may find yourself willing him on instead.

It is really such a shame that this brilliant story has been dragged out over three films. Though this second of the trilogy offered a few moments of spectacular, the rest just felt like filler. The end result is overly long and self-indulgent.

Film - 2.5 FOBLES