Thursday, 31 July 2014

Review: The Vogue Factor by Kirstie Clements

Kirstie Clements is probably not a name people cite when asked to list present and former Vogue editors - those honours go to Anna Wintour, Alexandra Schulman and Carine Roitfeld.

But for 13 years Clements was the editor-in-chief of Vogue Australia. Granted, it's not the brand's biggest or most important title, but Vogue is Vogue, and Clements played a crucial role is shaping the magazine, until she was sacked in May 2012.

In The Vogue Factor, Clements recounts her career, from working as a receptionist at the magazine, through her time in Paris as a freelance reporter and the period she spent working on the upstart Harper's Bazaar, before her ascension to the top spot at the most famous name in fashion magazines.

Clements begins her book at the end, recalling the day she was called into the office of the CEO of Vogue's parent company and told she was being fired, before taking us to the start of her career in magazines. This beginning made me think that Clements would circle round to her last days at Vogue, giving an insight into what happened as the end neared, and her thoughts on why she was sacked. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen. Instead, we get a few pages at the end in which Clements muses on how companies like to change staff when new management comes in, which I felt was diplomatic of her, but also didn't make for great reading.

Other parts of the book are equally bland. Clements likes to list the many, many people she worked with over the years, when I'd rather have heard about what she was doing, both because it would be more interesting and because I love to hear about the inner workings of the journalism industry. Instead, there's endless lists of photoshoots, and hirings and (not that many) firings. Clements also occasionally does the really annoying thing of starting a story but not finishing it. This most stood out to me in the chapter when she starts hiring a team at Vogue. After spending a page talking about needing to hire a new art director and the qualities needed, she fails to the reader who she hired. What was the point of that? 

The endless lists and recounting of trips are not very exciting, but when Clements delves into the big issue in fashion - the size of models - that's when the book comes to life. She recalls the practices she has encountered, and details exactly why certain types of models are used, holding the fashion industry as a whole to account for unhealthy female models. Her stories are quite horrifying (models eat tissues to feel full), more so because they're told in such a calm way. The story of a Russian model so hungry by the end of a multi-day shoot that she couldn't sit up and had to be laid down so the magazine could get its final shot is awful on many levels, not least because Clements and her team have a role to play in stopping this kind of practice, and on this occasion, while they called the model's agency to report the problem, they also didn't bother putting a stop to the shoot.

Clements is also interesting when she's talking about the role of Vogue Australia in relation to other Vogues, with the basic idea that Vogue Australia is the poor relation. It's in these discussions that the book fun is funny and witty, but unfortunately they're few and far between. What could have been an insightful look at the fashion magazine industry instead turns into a rather bland recounting of a career in The Vogue Factor. Unfortunately, this book is the Vogue Australia of books about fashion magazines.

How I got this book: From the room of unwanted books at work.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

TV recap: The 100 episode four - Murphy's Law

Last time on The 100, a tween girl stabbed Wells in the neck in the middle of the forest. That is all.

We open with Clarke sitting beside a grave (Wells' grave), as Finn comes up behind her. To be honest, Clarke doesn't seem that devastated by Wells' death, especially considering she'd just made up with him after finding out he'd been protecting her mum. Clarke is very good at compartmentalising though, something that served her well in the last episode when she had to kill Adam.

Anyway, a short discussion with Finn later and we discover that The 100 think Wells was killed by one of the Grounders. In a clumsy bit of exposition, Clarke tells Finn he should stop wandering around at night, and he points out that he's reckless and she's responsible. Well, that sums up their character traits, just in case you hadn't noticed. On his wanderings, Finn has found an "art supply store", and brings Clarke back a pencil. Romantic.

Finally, Clarke shows a bit of emotion over Wells' death, and then anger over her mother's betrayal of her father. Clarke wants to seek revenge on her mother, by taking her wristband off. I'm thinking this move is not so clever, although it will definitely make her mum feel bad. On the plus side, Monty manages to take Clarke's wristband off without damaging it, meaning he could possibly use it to communicate with the Ark.

In camp, The 100 are building fences, and unfortunately Bellamy has made Murphy head foreman. After a guy falls to the floor, tired, Murphy responds to his request for water by urinating on him. Humiliating your fellow survivors is no way to ingratiate yourself with anyone, and Murphy is on a course to destruction.

Meanwhile, there's a bit of hero worship going on - our tween murderer Charlotte is clearly enamoured withe Bellamy, who gave her that all important advice about slaying her demons.

In good news, Jasper is up and about, and Octavia is trying to get him to step outside of the camp, but he's too afraid. Her reassurance that there's nothing to be afraid of is negated when the pair see fingers and a knife lying on the floor.

That knife is made from parts of the drop ship, and Clarke and Bellamy now face the fact that there is a murderer within their midst. The pair argue about whether or not to tell the rest that Wells was killed by one of them - Bellamy thinks that The 100 are united by their belief that Wells was murdered by a Grounder; Clarke thinks that The 100 have the right to know Murphy, whose initials are on the knife handle, killed Wells.

Clarke wins, and confronts Murphy. Despite his protestations, Murphy's terrible behaviour ever since he landed on earth means no one believes he is innocent. Clarke uses Murphy's behaviour to appeal to The 100, telling them murder isn't right but, having grown up on the Ark, they only know one kind of punishment - they want to "float" Murphy. A riot ensues, and Murphy gets beaten to a pulp and strung up on a tree, while Charlotte watches in despair, Clarke tries to stop The 100, while Bellamy gets tempted to give in to the will of The 100. In the chaos, just in time to stop Murphy's death, Charlotte confesses to murder.

Now Clarke and Bellamy face another problem. Outside the drop ship, Murphy is braying for Charlotte's blood, determined that she should face the punishment that was going to be meted out to him, although the rest of The 100 aren't initially so keen. Inside the drop ship, Clarke, Finn and Bellamy try and find out why Charlotte killed Wells, and discover that she took Bellamy's advice of slaying her demons a little too literally. Murphy knocks Bellamy out and tries to find Charlotte, only to discover that Finn and Clarke have whisked her into the forest.

Finn takes Charlotte and Clarke to the art supply store. In an uncharacteristic display of emotion, Clarke screams at Charlotte about how killing someone was completely wrong. It seems Clarke can't compartmentalise as well as she thought. While Charlotte sleeps, Finn and Clarke bond in candlelight. Now that's (sort of) romantic. Unfortunately, Charlotte's not asleep, and hears them discussing the possibility of Murphy killing them for helping her.

Clarke and Finn fall asleep leaning on each other (aww) and wake to discover that Charlotte has disappeared. Out in the forest, Charlotte is being pursued by Murphy and his band of bandits, as well as by Finn and Clarke, but it's Bellamy who finds her first. He shows a rare glimpse of his humanity, trying to protect her even though she's determined to give herself up to Murphy.

At the climax, Bellamy tries to hold Murphy back from Charlotte, as the pair stand at the edge of a cliff. Murphy is screaming for Charlotte to be handed over, Clarke is screaming for everyone to stop. Murphy takes Clarke hostage, and then Charlotte pays the ultimate price, throwing herself over the cliff, giving The 100 the gift of not having to decide what to do with her, and freeing herself from her pain the only way she knows how - by slaying a demon. It's a shocking moment, mainly because she's so young, yet seems to understand that she does have only one way out. 

Bellamy is devastated, and decides Murphy must pay. He wants to kill Murphy, but Clarke says murder is not the way, but that justice and rules do need to be put in place. They decide to banish Murphy into the woods. Bad idea. Such a bad idea.

But for the first time, in front of The 100, Bellamy and Clarke stand united as they explain their decision. To add to the feeling of peace, Monty has managed to set up a rudimentary communication system. It doesn't last long though, Monty's system fries all the wristbands.

After a very, very tense episode, The 100 ends on a romantic note. Octavia shows her soft side and gives Jasper a very sweet kiss, while Finn and Clarke start their romantic encounter with a shouting match. Finn, for the first time, loses it after thinking about the population of the Ark dying, and Clarke talks him down. It inevitably leads to kissing, and more. Poor Raven. And also, though he doesn't know it yet, poor Bellamy. I am for Bellamy and Clarke all the way - a true Bellarke believer.

On the Ark
Clarke's poor mum is in disbelief when the transmission on Clarke's wristband dies. Now her husband is dead, and she thinks her daughter is dead, and the people on the Ark are also dying.

Now more determined than ever to get to the ground, Abby's behaviour is drawing suspicion from Kane, who has noticed her heading frequently to an unused part of the ship. She puts him off by telling him that she's got a sort of quarantine set up there, and then swiftly heads to see how Raven is doing with repairing that ship. Not too well is the answer, and Raven heads off to try and get a difficult to find but absolutely essential part that will mean the ship can be launched.

Raven heads to see Nigel (a woman), determined to get the pressure regulator she needs. No dice. Nigel says she can have the pressure regulator, but only in exchange for Raven sleeping with another client of Nigel's. Raven breaks the bad news to Abby, who decides she'll have a go, offering Nigel medicine in exchange for the part. Unfortunately, Nigel is an informant for Kane.

In a little aside, when Kane goes down to the poor part of the Ark to speak to Nigel, we discover that his mother is a preacher of sorts, and he doesn't get on that well with her. It seems Kane has lifted himself well above his station to get to where he is. I wonder what he had to do to do that?

Raven tries to repair the ship now that she has the part she needs, and Abby is told that Kane is on his way to arrest both of them. She instructs Raven to finish the podship and then launch it. Abby realises she will be floated for this, but, like Charlotte on the ground, is willing to give herself up for the greater good. She's arrested by Kane but Raven manages to launch the podship just in time, and finds herself hurtling to earth. Little does she know that as she's risking her life, her boyfriend is cheating on her with Clarke.

Solid ground
So here we have it, The 100 have meted out justice "properly" for the first time. Violence only begets more violence, so they've matured and decided other measures are needed. It's admirable and shows that they're beginning to bring together the bare bones of a society, but this particular punishment is also unwise in some ways. Firstly, with a few members of The 100 already dead, is it wise to push another way? And secondly, Murphy is dangerous. I wouldn't be surprised if he pops his nasty head up somewhere down the line, and since he'll have been living wild and on his own, he'll only be more dangerous.

While this episode was about justice, what was really at its core was sacrifice, and the importance of human relationships. Both on the earth and on the Ark, people sacrificed themselves in the hopes of a better life for those left behind (as it were), while relationships became stronger, as everyone realised things are much better when you feel connected.

As The 100 continues, it shows us that there are consequences to everything, but that there is still good in people who are pushed to their limits.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Review: The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

I am a massive fan of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels, and the thought of reading anything else by her scared me, which is why The Casual Vacancy has sat unread on my bookshelf for more than a year now.

But for work purposes, I decided I really needed to read her first novel as Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo's Calling, before the second one, The Silkworm, was released. And in doing so, I discovered I had nothing to be scared about (at least not when Rowling is writing as Galbraith).

Private detective Cormoran Strike isn't exactly having the best time. He's broken up with his fiancee, losing his home, and his business isn't doing too great. On the same day a new temp arrives at his office - the unassuming and fiercely intelligent Robin Ellacott - Cormoran is hired by the brother of a troubled model who fell to her death from the balcony of her home. Everyone assumes it was an accident, but Lula Landry's brother is convinced foul play was involved.

Full disclosure from the off, I only got three quarters of the way through The Cuckoo's Calling before I had to abandon it to read The Silkworm (my review of which you can read here). That was really annoying, because as brilliant as The Silkworm is, I was so caught up in this novel that I really wanted to know who murdered Lula Landry. For me, all the characters were suspect, and I couldn't work out whodunnit.

There are plenty of twists and turns in The Cuckoo's Calling, perhaps one too many, but I loved the old school detective novel style Rowling adopts, with Cormoran working out who the murderer is before the end, and then leaving you in suspense for a number of chapters. It's very Poirot or Marple, and I really enjoyed it.

I also really enjoyed the relationship between Cormoran and Robin - it starts out with both assessing each other and slowly moves into a solid friendship based on mutual respect. There is a hint of attraction there (more from Cormoran towards Robin than vice versa) but this is very under the surface, and I like that Rowling doesn't dwell on it. Rather, Cormoran and Robin are more Harry and Hermione than Ron and Hermione (I couldn't have written this review without at least one Harry Potter comparison).

Despite never being able to forget in the back of my mind that I was reading the work of Rowling, I was swept away in The Cuckoo's Calling, and found it a grown-up read, which was both a great murder mystery and a fabulous novel about two compelling characters who are very, very different.

The Silkworm has proved that The Cuckoo's Calling is not a one-hit wonder, and with plans for plenty more Cormoran Strike novels, we could all soon stop identifying Rowling by Harry Potter. Okay, maybe not, but we'll identify her by more than just Harry Potter.

How I got this book: Bought

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

TV recap: The 100 episode three - Earth Kills

Last time on The 100, the teens on the ground discovered they have an enemy who managed to survive the nuclear war, but that didn't stop them turning on each other. Bellamy and Clarke are locked in a battle for control of the group, and Finn's (thanks @Chapter5Books for pointing out he looks like Ben Barnes' Prince Caspian) getting his flirt on with Clarke. Up in space, the people of the Ark have been given a 10-day reprieve from death, leading Abby to employ the services of engineer Raven to fix a ship that will take the two of them to earth.

Let's start at the end, because woah, did that actually happen? I know I said Wells was kind of boring, but that doesn't mean I wanted to see him stabbed in the throat by a clearly post-traumatic adolescent girl. Sheesh. This might not be Westeros, but The 100 is clearly taking cues from Game of Thrones - no character is safe.

So let's rewind and figure out how we got to that twist of a final scene. A screaming girl, aged around 12 or 13, wakes up and is comforted by Clarke. Charlotte is scared and haunted by the killing of her parents, who were floated on the Ark. Clarke empathises, and Charlotte tells her that she was jailed for apparently assaulting a guard, although it seems she can't quite remember carrying out the deed. Clarke tells Charlotte that being on the ground gives them a second chance, and that they can all try and move past the bad parts of their lives on the Ark, and Charlotte seems to believe her.

Two random kids from the spaceship are lost in the woods when a yellow mist comes out at them. It burns them and leaves them for dead.

The rescued Jasper is still suffering (a spear was thrown at his chest), and there are calls from other members of The 100 to kill him. In good news, Bellamy has let Adam down from the tree he tied him to (and since Adam's not a glutton for punishment he's now ignoring Octavia), but in bad news, Murphy is trying to persuade Bellamy to end Jasper's suffering. He's not being altruistic though, Jasper's pained noises are simply paining Murphy.

Octavia calls Bellamy out for power tripping, but Bellamy points out that The 100 need to know who's in charge. They're both distracted by Jasper's screams - Bellamy believes Jasper will die and says he'll kill him if he doesn't get better within 24 hours, Clarke is determined to fight to save him. Clarke is relying on hope, Bellamy is saying he has the guts to make the hard choices. Their situation is echoing that of Abby and Kane up on the ship - hope vs tough decisions. Who wins? And which is right? I love the setting up of Bellamy and Clarke as two very different kind of leaders, and right now, it's difficult to see who's right. 

Controversially, on the decision of Jasper's future, Prince Caspian, sorry, Finn, sides with Bellamy - could this be a chink in the early Finn/Clarke flirtation? Clarke's not giving up, and realises that the paste on Jasper's wound must be an antibiotic. Finn identifies the plant, and along with Clarke and Wells, heads off to find more to try and save Jasper. Mostly, Finn's doing it to keep Clarke on side, while Wells is continuing in his bid to get Clarke to stop hating him. On their travels, the trio discover an old car buried in the forest. Moving on, they find the plant they need, only for all the birds in the forest to start going crazy, and a horn to start sounding. And then the yellow mist (some kind of acid fog) appears...

Clarke, Finn and Wells take shelter in the abandoned car (this should be good), while Bellamy, who found Charlotte following him while he was out hunting, finds a cave for the pair to hide in. Finn finds alcohol, and when Wells disapproves, Clarke promptly decides to indulge. Turns out, she's kind of a dour drunk, and the alcohol gives her the courage to confront Wells about dobbing her father in. Clarke may be brave and honourable, but she's also a classic perfectionist, hiding her pain and bottling up any extreme feelings she has until they explode (in this case ending with her telling Wells he should kill himself). How will this personality trait serve her on earth?

Chalotte wakes up screaming, and is this time comforted by Bellamy, who tells her she needs to confront her fear. He tells her to "slay her demons" while she's awake, and tells her that weakness and fear are death. I'm not sure these are wise lessons to be teaching a girl as unstable as Charlotte, especially when you've given her a knife.

At the ship, the kids are going stir crazy, not helped by Jasper's screams of pain. Murphy decides to solve the problem by trying to kill him. Luckily, he fails.

The fog clears, and Clarke, Finn and Wells head back to camp. Finn picks Wells' brain, asking why he would betray his best friend's confidence. Wells refuses to be drawn, saying simply that he made a choice, and if the consequences of that are Clarke's hatred, so be it. I'm guessing there's more to Wells' story than we initially thought. And since he's so good, I'm guessing he's really, really honourable. Finn plants a seed of doubt in Clarke's mind about Wells' betrayal, asking if Wells was really the only one who knew about her dad's plan to tell the Ark they were running out of oxygen.

Clarke and Finn hear Charlotte screaming, and find her and Bellamy. They've found Adam, who didn't make it to a cave on time, and is now dying from whatever the acid rain did to him. In an intriguing role reversal, Clarke comforts Adam and then gently stabs in the neck to relieve him of the pain of living, realising there's no way she can keep him alive. Her actions, so in contrast to her need to save Jasper, show she is a realist and can make tough decisions. And they also earn her the respect of Bellamy, who was unable to kill his friend. It's the first time Bellamy really sees Clarke. Unfortunately, she's also witnessed stabbing Adam by Charlotte.

Everyone finally makes it back to camp, in time to save Jasper. What might not be saved is Bellamy's relationship with his sister, who clearly blames him for Adam's death, as well as Bellamy's control on the group, which may start to erode after he has a confrontation with Murphy. 

Clarke, remembering back to her time on the Ark, connects the dots and realises her mum told Jaha about Jake's plan. She asks Wells to tell her the truth. Turns out, he's been protecting her all this time, which is very, very sweet.

And then Wells, reflecting in the jungle for a moment, is joined by Charlotte, who tells him that she's had a nightmare, but that she's found a way to make them stop. AND THEN SHE STABS HIM IN THE NECK! Looks like she took Bellamy's advice to slay her demons instead of Clarke's about moving on.

On the Ark
A flashback reveals that Clarke and Wells' families are great friends. Clarke's dad Jake, gets called away, and it's clear he's up to something. Turns out, he's realised the Ark is running out of oxygen faster than previously thought.

Jake tells Abby the Ark only has a year or two of oxygen left. He's already told Jaha, and now wants to tell the entire population of the Ark. Abby is against that, saying the Ark's people will panic. She's in favour of peace, even if it means lying, Jake's in favour of truth, because he thinks it will save his family in the long run.

Clarke's dad has told her what's up, and she confides in Wells, telling him her dad is planning to go public with the truth. She makes him promise not to tell anyone what she's revealed.

Jake records a video telling the Ark it is running out of oxygen, and Clarke says she wants to help him. The two hug, but Jake is then arrested, and just before he is floated Abby tells him that the people on the Ark do have an option - earth. Clarke turns up to say goodbye to her dad, accompanied by Wells.

Solid ground
A great third episode of The 100, although events on the ground were clearly far more interesting than the flashbacks on the Ark. We've got plenty of complex characters battling various demons, and it seems that nothing is black and white, which is brilliant, as layered characters prove much better viewing.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

TV recap: The 100 episode two - Earth Skills

Last time on The 100, 100 juvenile delinquents went sent down to check if earth was habitable again, 97 years after a nuclear war. The surprisingly attractive bunch, who all still looked good after hurtling to earth in a spaceship which crashed, soon began to enjoy their newfound freedom, with the exception of politician's son Wells. Meanwhile, heroine Clarke took a bunch of kids off to find Mount Weather, and one of them got a spear thrown at him and is presumed dead.

So, turns out Jasper's not dead, despite getting a ruddy great spear through his chest. When Clarke, Finn, Octavia and Monty hear screaming, they turn back and discover Jasper has disappeared. Cue Clarke: "They took him." They who?! Wasn't everyone wiped out by a nuclear war? Ooh, I'm guessing this is a bad guy alert. Surely whoever has managed to survive a nuclear war on earth isn't going to be too attractive (remember the two-headed deer and the giant eel thing)?

Wells, hated by everyone, takes the time to bury the two guys who died as the spaceship carrying The 100 descended. He's such a nice guy, but also so boring. Sorry Wells. Heading back to camp, we see that everyone else is pretty het up - this is what I imagine a frat house looks like when it's located in the jungle. Talking of frat houses, Bellamy heads out from the ship, which he seems to have taken over as his castle, topless and saying goodbye to some girl. At this point, I'd just like to say that with only 100 people around, it's not a good idea to start sleeping with a lot of people. 

But Bellamy, chest out, gun strapped to his waist, knows that his virility makes him look powerful, and he uses it to his advantage, becoming de facto leader of the pack. Compared to him, Wells is nothing more than the runt of the litter, letting noble ideas and morals get in the way. I love that The 100 is exploring the idea of survival of the fittest (let me be juvenile for a second, fittest in all senses of the word). It seems cleverness and morality won't do Wells much good, it's all about physical prowess, brute strength, and giving the people what they want, even if it leads to chaos in the short term ("what's wrong with a little chaos?" asks Bellamy).

Cheekbone boy, who I knew looked bad from the moment I set eyes on him in episode one, is now holding people over fire so that their wristband shows the crew up on the Ark that they're in pain. And then cheekbone boy (I'll find out his name soon) starts beating Wells up, and just as he's about to knife him, Bellamy finally steps in. To hand Wells a knife. Wells bests cheekbone boy, but then Clarke returns, ordering him to let cheekbone boy go. And he does. So now we have Bellamy - commanding by force and fight - and Clarke - commanding by respect. Who will win?

Even though he's spent the last day enjoying himself, Bellamy's quick to have a go at Clarke and Finn for coming back without food, something he then realises doesn't matter when the gang reveal they were attacked by a Grounder. Lo and behold, The 100 have a new enemy. But they're still fighting amongst each other - Clarke pleads with The 100 to leave their wristbands on, but Bellamy wins the popularity contest with a rousing speech about how the kids are now free, and how they can beat the Grounders. Goodness, Bellamy is pretty to look at, but he's acting stupidly right now.

Clarke and Wells have a moment, but not enough of one that Clarke will let Wells go with her to rescue Jasper. Seriously, Clarke needs to wake up and see she can't let old grudges get in the way of, you know, survival. Finn wants to stop Clarke heading out, but she's stubborn and heads out, with Wells following doggedly.

Also bonding are Bellamy and Octavia, and then Bellamy and Clarke. Tough he may be, but Clarke knows how to get to him, and plays on Bellamy's need to be respected as leader to get him to accompany her on the search for Jasper. She's good, and it seems brains is currently winning out in the fight for dominance. Unfortunately, Bellamy gets cheekbone boy - Murphy - to accompany him. Seems Bellamy has a plan to make the Ark think Clarke - or Princess as he nicknames her (early stage flirting) - is dead so they don't come down to earth.

Meanwhile, Bellamy has left Adam in charge of Octavia. Got to say, Octavia's not nice, but I feel for her, being treated like a child by your brother is no fun. She tries to manipulate him by flirting, only to get locked in the ship by Adam, revealing that she was trapped under the floor for 16 years on the Ark. Oh, now I'm beginning to feel for Octavia a little. And she and Monty get a little bonding time, as Monty tries to fix the communications between the ship and the Ark. He fails, but nice try. Episode two would be a little too early for anything that lucky to happen.

Locked in a battle of wills, Bellamy once again loses out to Clarke, who refuses to take off her wristband. Finn turns up and heads off with Clarke, while Bellamy tries to manipulate Wells by telling him that while Finn is around, Wells will never get a look in with Clarke. Oh Bellamy, you're terrible but also clever - he has a knack for discovering what it is people really want, and then trying to set up the circumstances so they can get that. Is Bellamy actually a worthy leader of The 100, or is he just a canny politician?

When he lets her out, Adam and Octavia have a bonding moment. Also bonding are Finn and Clarke, who engage in a little flirtation in the river (do they not remember the giant eel thing?). It turns serious when Finn shows he's a little more intuitive than previously thought, and then turns scary when the pair discover blood on rocks - Jasper's?

Back at camp, Octavia follows a butterfly to a glow-in-the-dark field, and Adam follows her, and they kiss. I'm pretty sure this insta-romance is going to insta-end very soon. Bellamy was very clear that anyone touching Octavia would answer to him.

As they track Jasper, Clarke and co are being watched through the trees by someone(s). Bellamy continues to goad Wells about Finn and Clarke's closeness, and then there's a bellowing that one can only presume is Jasper. And it is, it's just that he's tied to a tree. What?! And his wound has been treated. While the Grounders may not be friendly, it seems they are civilised. That adds a whole new depth to The 100 - have the space kids come down and encroached on territory belonging to someone else? Are they literally aliens?

Surprisingly, Wells proves to the hero during the rescue of Jasper, shooting dead a giant panther-like thing when everyone else can only stare. Does he do it because he's brave, or does he do it because it will make Clarke like him?

The group returns to camp, with Bellamy triumphantly bringing the panther-thing with him as food. Now he's not only acting as enabler and protector, Bellamy is also acting as provider to The 100. He exchanges food for wristbands, showing he's also got power. Clarke's not impressed, and heads off to nurse Jasper and bond with Finn, who gives her some sort of metal sculpture (note that Raven has a metal raven on a necklace) as a present. Cute. Finn shows for a second time he's not all joker by grabbing food for himself and Clarke, in spite of Murphy's protests.

Just when it seems things might be alright, Bellamy catches Adam and Octavia kissing. Annoyed that Finn and Clarke seem to have bested him, Bellamy takes out his anger on Adam, stringing him up on a tree as punishment for his dalliance with Octavia. He "won't be disobeyed", he tells Adam, signalling his authority at the same time. It's a dangerous game for Bellamy to be playing, eventually he'll be pushed into a situation where he'll be forced to take action he doesn't like, all to show he's in control. And what will he do then?

And whoa, who is that? Someone, dressed in a metal mask, is watching The 100. The guy that threw the spear at Jasper? One of the ones who tied him up? Whoever he is, he spells danger.

On the Ark
People are suspicious about the missing teenagers and the fact that they saw a ship launched. Abby is worried about The 100, who seem to be dying because their bracelets are going offline. Everyone thinks the teens are dying because of radiation poisoning, but Abby is convinced that's not the case.

Jaha has lost hope, and has Kane whispering in his ear. In fun news, Jaha's first name is Thelonius. Amazing.

Abby tells Jaha that Kane is planning a secret vote on culling the population of the Ark, but Jaha tells her there's no point putting faith in The 100. I'm pretty sure Abby's going to succeed in winning Jaha over, it'll just take time. And it will require Kane to disappear - the man's a piece of work and Jaha knows it. Kane denies having a role to play in the shooting of Jaha, but in the next breath says something has to be done to save the population of the Ark.

And here's someone new, a fiesty Latina (The 100 is still stereoptyping) called Raven, who's also a brilliant engineer. She's got a boyfriend in prison, and is suspicious about a so-called quarantine put in place which means she can't see him for two months, so approaches Abby. When that gets her no answers, Raven sneaks into the control room, and discovers what's happened to The 100. She unwittingly reassures Abby, quickly realising The 100 are not dying, they're taking off their wristbands.

Bad guy Kane is becoming a little less of a bad guy - he points out that the longer the council waits to cull the Ark's population, the more innocent people will have to die. And here's another interesting dilemma explored on The 100 - how much can be sacrificed for the greater good? Is what amounts to murder right if it's sanctioned by leaders and is for the benefit of the masses? Kane may be cruel, but he's a realist and willing to do the difficult thing, while Jaha is an idealist. Together, they could make one truly great leader, apart, they're risking more lives every day.

Jaha abstains from voting, buying in to Abby's doctrine of hope. Granted, he's not murdering anyone directly, but he's also risking the lives of everyone on the Ark.

The reprieve is enough for Abby to call Raven in, and ask her to repair a spaceship which she can use to head down to earth to prove it is habitable. Raven, who's pretty clever, bargains her service in exchange for a place on the ship with Abby. She must really love that boyfriend of hers, whoever he is. I'm thinking it's Finn, what with his metal sculpture abilities. While Raven gets to work fixing the spaceship, Jaha, Kane and Abby watch as one by one, lights go out on The 100's wristbands.

Solid ground
A great second episode from The 100, continuing to further explore ideas of justice and power, and of right and wrong, both on earth and on the Ark. Things are moving pretty fast for The 100, who are making friends and enemies inside and outside camp, and the most interesting aspect is definitely Bellamy and Clarke's power struggle over the teens. So far, Bellamy's winning, although Clarke has the higher ground, but neither can carry this on for much longer. In a programme about the survival of the human race, The 100 cleverly shows that there's more than one way to lose humanity, with both Bellamy and Kane willing to do, it seems, whatever it takes to ensure their own survival.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Review: My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Your first 'proper' job was probably a challenge, but I doubt you had the added awkwardness of working for the agency that represented one of the most famous writers in the world, and one of the most reclusive.

Joanna Rakoff did, and in My Salinger Year she tells the story of her year working at one of New York's oldest literary agencies, which happened to represent J. D. Salinger. To say that this is a book about Salinger, though, would be an exaggeration. The author plays a tiny role in My Salinger Year, which is more about growing up than it is about the guy behind Catcher in the Rye.

Set firmly in the world of publishing, My Salinger Year is a great insight into the way things used to be done, and into the way some facets of publishing took ages to catch on to digital. One particular favourite moment of mine is when Rakoff describes how her boss acknowledges she doesn't know what an electronic book is (this is 1996), but she's still not signing away the rights for it. That, plus the agency's pink card filing system, the introduction of one computer, and the pedal-driven dictaphone Rakoff uses, among other things, all made me smile, shake my head in disbelief and then smile again. One thing that didn't make me smile, though, was when the agency lost Judy Blume as a client, which I can only put down to its reluctance to try new things, and should be a lesson for everyone.

Since the book is called My Salinger Year, I guess I should address the issue of the author himself, who comes across as a nice but slightly-deaf man who doesn't enjoy fame one bit. Rakoff's reading of Salinger's fanmail is full of emotion - I can't help but think of all those people who wrote to Salinger and never got replies, because most of them seemed to pour their hearts out on paper to a man they thought would understand them. My Salinger Year wonderfully illustrates the power of authors to connect with individuals, even as they write for masses.

We're never told the name of the agency Rakoff is working at, or the name of her boss, which I found unnecessary all of the time and jarring most of the time. It's unnecessary because a quick search online will lead you to discover the agency is Harold Ober Associates and Rakoff's boss is Phyllis Westberg. I resisted until two thirds of the way through before I decided to go online, but it was tough. And it's jarring, because by never naming them, Rakoff is always substituting "my boss" or "the agency" for real names. One moment where it particularly doesn't work is after the death of someone very close to Rakoff's boss, which leads Rakoff to ask a colleague: "Is my boss okay?" In a situation like that, you'd never use a person's title, and it really grates.

But that's a small gripe, because My Salinger Year usually flows so well that you think you're reading fiction. However, any encounters with Don, Rakoff's then-boyfriend, make you realise this is real life. There is no way any writer could have created a boyfriend as lazy and self-absorbed as Don, and a protagonist who just didn't see any of his faults right until the very end. But Rakoff's relationship with Don is also one of the most compelling parts of My Salinger Year, since it gets right to the heart of the growing up that Rakoff is doing during her year at the agency, which also includes negotiating old friendships and relationships.

My Salinger Year is part The Devil Wears Prada, part New Girl, and better than those two because it's real. Compulsively readable, My Salinger Year will take you racing through the New York publishing scene in 1996, and then have you reaching for your copy of Catcher in the Rye.

How I got this book: Borrowed from a friend.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

TV recap: The 100 episode one

Nuclear war, battles over how to start civilisation anew, political intrigue - this is hardly the stuff that occupies teen dramas usually seen on The CW, home to shows including Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries.

Never fear though, The 100 (pronounced The Hundred) has all of the serious stuff in it, but is also accompanied by The CW's usual hallmark of beautiful cast members and romantic entanglements.

The 100 is based on Kass Morgan's novel of the same name, although it uses the source material very lightly. In the programme, shown on E4 here, 97 years have passed since a nuclear war wiped out much of the population of earth. Some of the human race survived, aboard spaceships which are now running out of oxygen. In a bid to ensure humans have a future, 100 juvenile prisoners are sent to earth to see if it is habitable again.

The action of The 100 starts straight away, with viewers meeting Clarke (Eliza Taylor) as she carves a picture in her prison cell. There's a clumsy voiceover from Clarke, where she spends two minutes telling viewers what has happened - at least we get the exposition out the way early. When two guards come to take her away, she protests Katniss Everdeen-style before her mum appears, telling her she'll be heading to earth and that she'll be fine. Blonde, beautiful, clearly clever, it's obvious from the off that Clarke will be one of the show's heroes. She's our Serena Van Der Woodsen, just in space (or not).

And then Clarke, and a bunch of other misfits are aboard the space ship and hurtling towards earth, which is where we meet Wells and Finn. Wells knows Clarke, but she pretty much hates him for some reason we don't know yet (Clarke hasn't told us about this yet in voiceover). And then, on a screen, appears the leader of the space colony, Chancellor Jaha, (Isiah Washington), who tells The 100 that they're expendable and that's why they're being sent to earth - it doesn't matter if they die because of nuclear poisoning. Way to get a bunch of criminal kids on your side, Jaha. Oh, and he's Wells' dad, which is going to come back to bite Wells on the arse.

If we know Clarke is a leader, we know that Finn, who meet aboard the ship to earth, is the joker of the pack, at least from his initial scenes. His reckless antics result in the death of the first members of The 100, who copy his "cool" deed of floating aboard the spaceship. Floppy haired and cute he may be, but from his initial appearance, I'm not loving Finn. Unfortunately, his banter with Clarke seems to be setting the two up for some sort of romantic encounter down the road.

Predictably (and, it has to be said, there's a fair amount that's predictable about The 100's first episode), the progress of The 100 to earth goes wrong, with the ship crashing in the middle of the jungle, far away from the place (Mount Weather) it was meant to land. As the ship crashes to earth, Wells decides it's the perfect time to tell Clarke he's sorry for getting her father arrested. Really, Wells? I know there's a lot of setting up to be done, but add Wells' confession to Clarke to the clumsy list.

And then, hello, here comes our brooding, troubled hero Bellamy - I can tell he's brooding and troubled because he doesn't smile at all and because he's handsome and willing to head outside straight way in spite of the fact that the air might be toxic, and I can tell he's our hero because he snuck onto the ship to protect his younger sister Octavia (aww, and double aww when the two reunite) and because he's handsome. Octavia, by the way, has a huge chip on her shoulder, not sure I like her.

And then the doors of the space ship open, and goodness, earth is kind of beautiful. There's cheesy sunlight shots, and lots and lots of greenery, accompanied by some swelling music. We enjoy it for a few minutes, and then all the kids get out and chaos ensues - started by Octavia's triumphant shout of "we're back, bitches".  What do you expect will happen when a bunch of teenagers, previously imprisoned, get to run riot on an unpopulated land after being told they're expendable? Even Bellamy and Clarke manage a smile. 

But Clarke soon stops smiling, determined to get to Mount Weather. And when Wells is faced with hostile members of The 100, you know it's only a matter of time before things go from bad to worse. That kid with the sharp cheekbones is mean-looking, I can just tell he's going to be trouble, and Octavia is determined to be obstructive. Clarke's first attempt at a crowd-rousing speech doesn't go too well, resulting in Wells getting beaten up.

Octavia tells Bellamy she needs to be free (sounding like a whiny teenager), and Bellamy in turn tells her he did something bad. Will that come back to haunt him later? I'm an (unofficial) expert in shows on The CW, and I say yes.

Clarke, Finn, Octavia and two other kids - Jasper and Monty - head off to Mount Weather, leaving Wells behind. I've got to say, I'm not sure leaving Wells with 90-odd people who hate him because of who his father is is a great idea. Still, they leave, with Octavia and Clarke immediately clashing over Finn (I knew he'd be a love interest), before the group engages in a bit of comedy. Despite not being set in high school, there's an awful lot of Beverley Hills 90210-type flirting, drama and comic relief going round.

At the ship Wells is confronted again by a few of the kids who hate him, but stands up for himself. I'm not sure what to think about Wells. He's kind of bland, despite the fact that he apparently came to earth so he could apologise to Clarke, which ordinarily would be heroic. Still, he's not the one causing trouble, that's Bellamy, who incites the group to take off their bracelets because it will mean "liberating" themselves. I'm still pretty sure that Bellamy's our hero, but right now he's acting a little mean. And it only gets worse when night falls and everyone goes slightly freedom-happy. An inspirational speech by Wells doesn't calm them down (the "good" characters need to work on this aspect), but Bellamy's rousing speech (amounting do "let's do whatever the hell we want") does find favour with The 100.

Back with the Mount Weather hunters, Clarke continues to be a ray of sunshine, telling the others that the Ark is dying. Maybe the payoff is worth it, since it leads to a little bonding moment between Finn and Clarke (told you!), which is soon shattered by Octavia stripping off and jumping into a river. In poisoned earth moments, adding to the two-headed deer we've already seen, Octavia's impromptu swim leads to her getting pursued in a river by a massive eel type thing, but she's rescued and the group bed down in the forest for the night. That gives Finn and Clarke another bonding opportunity, as they connect over glow-in-the-dark animals.

The next day, Clarke and co find a way to swing across the river with the killer eel in it, and nerdy Jasper goes first, and makes it! In a moment of triumph, he pumps his arms in the air. And then gets shot in the chest with a spear. Woah.

On the Ark
Interspersed with The 100's descent to earth are scenes on board the Ark, which show the population noticing something is wrong, and the rulers trying to keep from them that The 100 have gone to earth. There's a mean guy, Kane, played by Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond from Lost!), who is constantly clashing with Clarke's mum Abby. And there's lots of cool tech aboard, which helps the Ark monitor The 100, something The 100 aren't too keen on, with one of their first acts of rebellion being to rip off their monitoring bracelets.

And oh, look, Jaha was shot on the Ark before the ship carrying The 100 left for earth, and guess what? Bellamy did it. I've got to say, while the latter was predictable, that The 100 told us so quickly about Bellamy's crime is interesting, and shows that maybe this programme is more than it appears to be on the surface, which is a good sign. Sure enough, the shooting of Jaha leads us to the revelation that Kane is planning a takeover of sorts, and is keen to give the order for parts of the Ark's population to have their oxygen cut off. Is there a coup ahead?

To add to Abby's worries about kids on earth, including her daughter, dying, she's then sent to prison by Kane for using too much blood to try and save Jaha, and since every crime is punishable by death, she's going to get "floated". But don't worry, Jaha manages to get up in time, and saves Abby just before she's dropped into space. That outcome was a little, alright, a lot, predictable.

Solid ground or space debris?
The first episode of The 100 is filled with stereotypes (the serious heroine, the joker, the brooding hero, the privileged but honourable son, the Asian geek) and tropes The CW loves (if that's not a love triangle brewing between Finn, Clarke and Bellamy - forget Wells, too boring - I need to go back to school), but it's brave and ground-breaking in other ways. Its scene with Jasper getting attacked is its Ned Stark moment - a bit of action you didn't see coming, having been lulled into a false sense of security by what came beforehand, and Bellamy, who seems to be set up as the leader of The 100 and as the show's hero, is acting more like a villain right now. If The 100 goes on to tackle issues such as justice ad punishment properly (which I felt Morgan's book didn't do), and if its characters continue to be complex, it'll be a beautiful piece of programming.

Monday, 7 July 2014

The 100 season one recap masterpost

Episode one - Pilot
And then gets shot in the chest with a spear.

Episode two - Earth Skills
Cheekbone boy, who I knew looked bad from the moment I set eyes on him in episode one, is now holding people over fire so that their wristband shows the crew up on the Ark that they're in pain.

Episode three - Earth Kills
I know I said Wells was kind of boring, but that doesn't mean I wanted to see him stabbed in the throat by a clearly post-traumatic adolescent girl.

Episode four - Murphy's Law
But for the first time, in front of The 100, Bellamy and Clarke stand united as they explain their decision.

Episode five - Twilight's Last Gleaming
Got to say, this is the stupidest thing Bellamy has done since arriving on earth, and he's done some stupid things...

Episode six - His Sister's Keeper

Episode seven - Contents Under Pressure
Well, hasn't The 100 taken a turn for the dark, and wasn't that turn down to the one character you least expected it from?

Episode eight - Day Trip
Bellamy's happy to have found the guns - and he's eating nuts, which I'm sure will come back to haunt him later. He tells Clarke she needs to learn how to use a gun, and DID YOU SEE THAT?

Episode nine - Unity Day
This is the most relaxed and smiling we've ever seen Bellamy and Clarke, and it's lovely, even if it doesn't take a genius to work out that this must be some sort of calm before a storm.

Episode 10 - I Am Become Death
And never let it be said that The 100 is afraid to show what hurts - whether it was tragically ill people, murder or even just a heartbreaking break-up, The 100 this week handled it all with brutal honesty.

Episode 11 - The Calm
But, you know, he's a murderer so I wouldn't get too close.

Episode 12 - We Are All Grounders part one
The Ark, traditionally the more boring of the two arcs in The 100, has really been coming into its own.

Episode 13 - We Are All Grounders part two
Please don't say Bellamy and Finn are dead. Please don't say Bellamy and Finn are dead. Please don't say Bellamy and Finn are dead.
Please don't say Bellamy and Finn are dead. Please don't say Bellamy and Finn are dead. Please don't say Bellamy and Finn are dead.  - See more at:
Please don't say Bellamy and Finn are dead. Please don't say Bellamy and Finn are dead. Please don't say Bellamy and Finn are dead.  - See more at:

Review: The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

Slinky, sensuous and sexy are just a few of the words used to describe Helen Walsh's The Lemon Grove, set in a hot summer week in a small town in Mallorca.

So now that the novel has come out in paperback (it was released in hardback in the dead of winter), and the weather is hot and humid, I figured it was the perfect time to read this book.

Every summer Jenn and her husband Greg holiday in Deia. This year, Jenn's stepdaughter Emma brings her boyfriend Nathan with her. Caught off-guard, Jenn finds herself attracted to Nathan, an attraction that could lead the whole family into chaos.

Let me say from the beginning that I was a little wary of reading this book, just because I wasn't sure how comfortable I would be reading about a middle-aged woman in lust with an 18-year-old boy, but The Lemon Grove is about so much more than forbidden attraction. Sure, there were a few scenes that made me cringe, but they were the ones where Jenn's attraction for Nathan went into overdrive, turning into obsession, and a dangerous obsession at that.

Jenn starts the novel as a rational human being, but ends it as a liar, a cheat and a thoroughly confused woman. Her attraction to Nathan also brings out all the long-suffering resentment she feels towards Greg - who she feels tries to mould her into something she's not - and towards Emma - who she feels gets everything her way. Jenn's relationship with the latter is particularly interesting, and for me any scenes between them, or where Jenn was thinking or talking about Emma, were the best of the book. That Jenn, a woman who has brought up Emma as her own, feels jealous of and resentful of her daughter is both taboo (as much as being attracted to an 18-year-old who is going out with your daughter) and, as we get glimpses of Greg, Jenn and Emma's family life, understandable at times.

Nathan, who elicits such lust in Jenn and such devotion in Emma, also manages to get Greg's hackles up, and I have to say, I'm with Greg on this. From the outside looking in, it's easy to see Nathan's faults, guess at his misdemeanours and assess just how much of a selfish brat he is (sorry to be so blunt). In one way, it's difficult to see why Jenn is so attracted to Nathan, but in another it's not - for Jenn he's escape and revenge wrapped up in one person, and he makes her feel that she is powerful and powerless, both of which she seems to thrive on, even if she's not enjoying it.

The thing that Walsh is the best at, in my opinion, is creating a sense of place. From the beginning of the novel I could feel the heat of Deia, picture the town and its surrounding mountain roads, and almost smell the sea. The setting wraps itself around the action of the novel, and soon becomes stifling for the characters, who find it difficult to live up to the beauty of their surroundings.

The novel builds to its finale in the same way the heat of the novel builds, slowly and in layers before breaking and cooling. I enjoyed the first ending to the book, but Walsh adds in a twist in the final few paragraphs, which I personally thought was unnecessary - I feel like so many novels I read nowadays with slightly unlikeable characters and slightly unreliable narrators like to add in that final "ta-da" moment, and sometimes it's not needed. I felt that was the case here, but it's only a small point, and a personal preference.

The Lemon Grove is worth reading for Walsh's descriptive talent alone, but it's also one of those novels that is perfect for summer.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Tinder Press. This did not affect my review.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Review: The Storms of War by Kate Williams

If Downton Abbey hasn't lived up to your expectations since the end of season one, then you need to pick up Kate Williams' The Storms of War, which is the novel that Downton would have been if it had more historical insight and research behind it and less of the over-the-top drama.

It is 1914, and Celia de Witt is a privileged 15-year-old living a charmed life with her English mother and German father. But when war breaks out, the family quickly falls apart - her brother Michael heads off to war, her sister Emmeline runs away to London, her father is betrayed by the country he has grown to consider his own, and her mother collapses in on herself. Celia is left to try and fend for and find herself in a world that is disintegrating around her by the minute.

From its brutal opening chapter, which recreates an image of the First World War we've all heard about and which never gets any less heartbreaking, to its surprise, shocking final pages, The Storms of War is a stunning novel recreating a time when Britain was turned upside down.

Williams is a historian and you can tell she knows her stuff, although she cleverly folds her research into the narrative of the book, never once taking the reader out of the story to inform them about a particular historical facet. Williams covers the class system (more on that in a bit), sexuality, women's rights, pacifism and industrial progress in a thorough and thoroughly absorbing way.

The characters within The Storms of War are all sympathetic and interesting, from the below-stairs household staff to the de Witts themselves. Celia is our eyes and ears into the pre-war world, as well as the horrors of France (along with Michael) and the changing face of London. As she travels from place to place, first just visiting her sister in the capital to then driving wounded soldiers to hospitals in France and then back to London and finally to her family's country estate, we see her change and grow.

But while change is afoot in many places in the novel, I found it fascinating that so much of the class system stayed in place during the First World War. Emmeline, who runs away from her family to London, is still snobbish at the thought of anyone of her class having a relationship with someone of the serving class, and even Michael, sweet, dear Michael, automatically snaps back into his role as someone of the upper class when he is afraid or uncertain. It is only Celia who wonders why class matters so much when the world is being destroyed around her, but as a reader, I could see that the class system was something that made sense to people when so many other things didn't.

The Storms of War is billed, on my proof at least, as Downton Abbey meets Atonement, which I thought was a tall order before I read it. I now firmly believe The Storms of War meets its billing, and have high hopes that its sequel will be equally absorbing, and told with the same respect for its time period and for its characters.

The Storms of War is out on July 3, 2014.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Orion. This did not affect my review.


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