Saturday, 30 November 2013

Book review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach

The first I heard of Deborah Moggach's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (originally called These Foolish Things) was when the film - starring a bevy of Britain's best acting talent - was released.

I haven't seen the film, but picked up the book for a bit of light reading based on the fact that the film trailer amused me.

Doctor Ravi Kapoor is fed up with his father-in-law Norman - an insufferable old man who can't seem to keep his manners in check or his hands away from places they shouldn't be. When Ravi meets his cousin Sonny, a businessman from India on a trip to London, the two hatch a plan to open a retirement home/hotel in Bangalore.

And so a rag tag bunch of pensioners find themselves living in a hotel past its sell by date, learning about a new world while also coming to terms with the art of being old.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a fun read, and a quick one, with plenty of amusing moments and plenty of blue humour of the likes I wasn't expecting. Still, considering its main characters are a bunch of pensioners who between them have seen and done it all and who are now living each day unsure of whether they'll be around for the next, the honesty shouldn't have been that surprising.

Moggach's cast of characters is vast - there are countless residents at the Marigold Hotel, plus loved ones back home (some of whom we visit, some we don't), plus all the people who work at or around the hotel who the elderly encounter in their day to day lives. With so many characters floating around, Moggach is only able to delve deeply into the lives of a few. This meant there were some who I'd like to have seen more of, but whose storylines were left a little more vague because of space constraints - including the sweet but barely seen Graham, and the prickly Dorothy, whose back story was obviously the most interesting.

I did grow to love some characters, including Evelyn, who morphs from being a bit part to the heart of the novel. I perhaps could have done with more of her and less of some of the others, like fellow pensioner Muriel, or Evelyn's daughter Theresa and son Christopher. It was Evelyn who I felt was best able to get to the heart of what it means to be elderly, and how to cope with the difficulties advanced age brings, but also the freedoms.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an interesting examination of age, and of love, but while I liked it while I was reading it, it's not a book I would reread, or one I will spend too much time thinking about.

How I got this book: Purchased

Monday, 25 November 2013

Book review: London Villages, Explore the City's Best Local Neighbourhoods by Zena Alkayat

With its huge skyscrapers, constant traffic and jam-packed streets, it's easy to forget that London does have its quieter, less manic areas.

In London Villages, Zena Alkayat exposes some of the city's hidden gems, selecting 30 neighbourhoods split into north, south, east, west and central, and recommending some of the best places to visit in each.

Of course, there are the usual suspects, such as Columbia Road and Hampstead Village, 
but most of the places Alkayat picks are little visited by those who don't know and love them well.

This makes for great reading, and great inspiration. Alkayat recommends five places you must visit in each of the neighbourhoods she selects, from cafes to haberdasheries to galleries, but those are just the starting point for readers wishing to explore further.

There are lots of bookshops Alkayat mentions which I plan to visit, and I'll definitely be popping in to the Blue Brick Cafe, which serves a vegan and vegetarian all day menu, in East Dulwich when I get the chance.

Even Londoners who think they know it all will find Alkayat's book helpful, packed as it is with great tips for places to visit. I'll be carrying it in my bag and using it to get to know the city a bit better.

How I got this book: From the publisher Aurum for review

London Villages is book eight in my challenge to read 12 non-fiction books in 2013.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Sunday Post (#28) and Showcase Sunday (#14)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren. They're a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, highlight our newest books and see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, or bought.

Book stuff
Review: The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
My week in books (#13) - World Book Night 2014, Sarra Manning and more

Non-book stuff
Film review: Parkland

I started my new job this week, so haven't had a whole lot of time to write/shop. I did acquire a bunch of stuff though:

Urban Outlaws by Peter Jay Black
The Disgrace of Kitty Grey by Mary Hooper
Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin
Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George

And I got a proper copy of When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan. I also own a proof of this, but haven't read it!

What have you been up to?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

My week in books (#13)

My week in books is a feature where I share things I've found interesting from the past week that concern books, literature and all things book blogging.

Natalie over at Natflix&Books mentioned last week that she'd acquired the new Sarra Manning novel, Adorkable, which sent me on a spiral remembering how much I loved Manning's Diary of a Crush columns, which were printed in J17 magazine when I was a young teenager. I already follow Manning on Twitter, so I went looking for her website, and had a great time reading about her writing. Ahh, memory lane.

With Catching Fire out this week (still haven't seen it, boo), here's a post from Gotcha Movies about 13 Young Adult Adaptations to Look Out For. Some of these look good, others I'm apprehensive about in case they spoil books I love (anything by Maggie Stiefvater).

Flavorwire has a piece here about 10 Great Books Contemporary Culture has forgotten, which is full of authors and books I've never heard of.

Book Riot has a really interesting piece here about the problem with gendered reading. I'm a big advocate of getting kids reading, and there's a particular problem with getting young boys into books. 

Hopefully that problem will be given a good kick with the selection of books for World Book Night 2014 UK and Ireland, which you can see here (a selection are also pictured below). In an effort to reach more non-readers, there are a bunch of quick reads on the list, and books chosen to specifically appeal to males (Robert Muchamore's The Recruit is a brilliant choice). You can also sign up to be a book giver on the night - I'm off to go do my application.

If you've seen anything interesting this week, share it in the comments.

MyMy week in books is a feature where I share things I've found interesting from the past week (usually) that concern books, literature and all things book blogging. - See more at:
My week in books is a feature where I share things I've found interesting from the past week (usually) that concern books, literature and all things book blogging. - See more at:

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Book review: The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

I love Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels, so it was with some glee I picked up The Heist, co-written with Lee Goldberg. My glee wasn't unfounded, The Heist is White Collar meets Ocean's Eleven meets Miss Congeniality, all in book form.

After years of chasing, FBI Special Agent Kate O'Hare has finally caught Nicolas Fox, a handsome, charming con man. Only he brokers a deal with Kate's bosses - he'll help Kate catch America's most wanted if the FBI keeps him out of jail.

The pair's first target is Derek Griffin, a playboy who conned clients out of millions and then ran off to an Indonesian island. Recruiting a rag tag crew of misfits, Nick and Kate head to Indonesia to catch Griffin, and get back the money he's stolen.

The Heist doesn't feature any great surprises when it comes to the main characters. A lot of what it contains has been seen before on our television or cinema screens - Nicolas has more than a whiff of Neal Caffrey from White Collar about him (no bad thing), and Kate is clever and witty and unlucky in love.

But the crew Nicolas and Kate assemble are an interesting bunch, from the egotistical actor to the speed loving 50-something who bought herself breast enhancements as part of her Big Adventure.

The book is a fun read, and does have some great elements. Kate's dad is particularly engaging, and there's a twist in the capture of Griffin that's both unexpected and fun (in a gun slinging kind of way).

The Heist made me remember why I loved Evanovich's writing so much. While the Stephanie Plum series has now gone on slightly too long and only provides minimal laughs, this book had me chuckling throughout. I hope Evanovich's partnership with Goldberg continues for a few more books, and we get to see more of Nicolas, Kate and their crew.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Film review: Parkland starring Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden and Billy Bob Thornton

Nearly everyone knows the story of President John F. Kennedy's assassination - Jackie wore pink, Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK from a 'grassy knoll', conspiracy theories abound.

But as the 50th anniversary of JFK's death approaches (November 22) Parkland takes a different look at that day in Texas in 1963.

Named after Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, where JFK was treated, Parkland is the story of the people behind the scenes of one of the most scrutinised moments in history, from the doctors and nurses at Parkland, to the man who caught on camera the shooting of the President, to the reaction of Oswald's brother.

Crucially, the face of JFK (Brett Stimely) is never fully seen, and even Jackie (Kat Steffens) is relegated to the background, ensuring the focus is on other characters and their reactions. But that's where the great points end.

Zac Efron plays young doctor Charles 'Jim' Carrico, who unexpectedly finds himself tasked with trying to save the life of the President, which we all know is futile. Dialogue at the hospital is kept to a minimum - in these scenes it's all about the (overblown) looks of anguish on the characters' faces. At times, it's farcical, and there are no prizes if you guess the 'twist' at the end for the hospital staff.

Elsewhere, Paul Giamatti puts in a solid performance as Abraham Zapruder, the man who filmed JFK's assassination (see a video here about how LIFE magazine brought the video to light), while Billy Bob Thornton plays the chief of the Dallas Secret Service, tasked with getting the footage developed and catching the suspect. While Zapruder's role is an interesting one, the to-do between the police, the Secret Service and the FBI becomes rather dull after a while, and as Zapruder's entourage becomes bigger and bigger, it all starts looking a bit like an ensemble comedy, rather than a drama.

The most interesting character in the film is Oswald's brother, Robert (James Badge Dale). He's a sympathetic character, who embodies a range of emotions throughout the film, and whose demeanour at his brother's funeral is far more powerful than all the wailing and weeping and sweating that comes before for JFK (a scene where JFK's coffin is forced onto Air Force One by grieving agents is really, really cringeworthy).

But apart from Robert, the film isn't brilliant, particularly when you add in the annoying soaring music over emotional scenes (all of them). And let's not mention Oswald's mother.

Parkland, based on the book Four Days in November by Vincent Bugliosi, had the potential to be brilliant. It had an interesting take on the President's death, but failed to reach the dizzy heights it aimed for. Rather than a thoughtful film, Parkland comes across as a cheap made-for-television Sunday afternoon drama, albeit one with a stellar cast.

•Parkland is out in the UK on November 22.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Sunday Post (#27) and Showcase Sunday (#13)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren. They're a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, highlight our newest books and see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, or bought.

I've had some time off, so have been able to write a few blog posts (*gasp*), leading to some great interactions on Twitter with various authors. Here's what's been happening on Girl!Reporter over the past couple of weeks:

Book stuff
Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Review: Seeking Crystal by Joss Stirling
Review: Model Misfit (Geek Girl #2) by Holly Smale
Review: Resist by Sarah Crossan
Review: The Siege, Three Days of Terror Inside the Taj by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark
My week in books (#12) - stuff about Joanne Harris, Jon Rance and monster bookmarks, plus more

Non-book stuff
Film review: Thor - The Dark World
Reporting tips: Getting the job
Fitness review: Tabata
Review: Natural History Museum Ice Rink
Basketball for dummies: Training with the London Lions

Because I've been busy blogging, I've not had time to acquire many books, which is actually a good thing. Here's what I have picked up, all from the library:

The Arab Uprisings by Jeremy Bowen
The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

What have you added to your shelves?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren. They're a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, highlight our newest books and see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, or bought.
- See more at:

Saturday, 16 November 2013

My week in books (#12)

My week in books is a feature where I share things I've found interesting from the past week that concern books, literature and all things book blogging. - See more at:

My week in books is a feature where I share things I've found interesting from the past week (usually) that concern books, literature and all things book blogging.

I haven't done one of these in a while, so I've been saving up the links for a while.

I'm pretty obsessed with cookbooks. They're just so pretty and full of yummy recipes. To celebrate their newest release, Penguin came up with a quiz here, where you can find out which (Penguin) celebrity chef you are. I'm a Jamie Oliver (I wanted to be Mary Berry or Nigel Slater), let me know who you get.

I loved this Buzzfeed post about the places you need to read in, although I'm not sure what my favourite is.

I've recently acquired a couple of books by Jon Rance, and this piece he wrote about creating female characters is a brief and interesting insight into the process.

I've forgotten if I've linked to this post from The Stylist before, but who cares? It's the 100 best last lines from books, and you can create your own lists as well.

Here's a great article from The Guardian about Edgar Allen Poe and how he's been dividing readers for centuries.

A lot of people are taking part in NaNoWriMo at the moment, so these top 10 tips on writing from legendary crime writer PD James may prove useful.

The Fiction Dreams blog has a great interview here with Joanne Harris, who is one of my favourite authors. I'm very excited about her new work, which is a retelling of Norse myths through the eyes of Loki, who I'm obsessed with (okay, maybe I just like Tom Hiddleston).

For Books' Sake has a piece here about Mills and Boon, which I thought was a great read. I'm still not sure I'll be reading any Mills and Boon in the future though.

And finally, I've had this link open on my browser for months. For those of you into crafts, you can learn how to make your own funky monster bookmarks. They're really easy, and if you want to do something more grown up you can adapt the design by taking away the eyes and teeth and using different types of paper. I've made quite a few, and they're a hit.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Book review: The Siege, Three Days of Terror Inside the Taj by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark

Five years ago 10 young terrorists took one of the world's best-known cities - Mumbai - hostage. For three days they set off bombs, shot dead innocent people and confounded the security services.

In The Siege, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark focus on The Taj Mahal Palace hotel, one of the buildings targeted by the terrorists. Using the stories of a number of guests and staff trapped inside the Taj during the attacks, as well as of police officers and the terrorists themselves, Levy and Scott-Clark have created an intimate, intricate, powerful look at an event that stunned the world.

I remember when the attack on Mumbai happened - 24-hour news channels broadcast footage constantly from the city, and I even remember hearing interviews with people trapped inside the Taj, some of whom feature in this book. But the coverage given on television skims just the surface of what Levy and Scott-Clark uncover.

Taking the reader from the planning of the attack, the recruitment of the terrorists and the involvement of American-born Pakistani David Headley, who worked for both Lashkar-e-Toiba, the group behind the attack, and the American intelligence community, through to the moment the attackers were killed, the book reads like fiction. Knowing that it's true only makes it more compelling, and more harrowing.

There is a focus on Ajmal Kasab, the only one of the 10 attackers caught alive. Levy and Scott-Clark burrow into his background and show how he was trained before being sent to Mumbai. Pictures of Kasab and the other attackers show what look like a group of children wielding weapons, while their grown-up handlers in Pakistan control the action and tell them who to kill and where to plant bombs.

Other pictures in the book are heartbreaking, like one of hotel guests Mike and Anjali Pollack on the steps of the Taj after they escaped - Mike has a huge smile on his face, but Anjali looks fearful and is caught mid-sob. They, like many guests, spent hours and hours fearing they were going to be killed at any moment.

What really struck me from reading The Siege was just how impotent the Indian security services were. The Black Cats, India's elite group of Commandos, were only officially called into action hours after the attack (although they were prepared to respond within the hour), and even then it took them half a day to get to the scene. The police were largely stifled in what they could do, partly by their own leaders, partly by the lack of equipment - the gunmen had far more powerful arms than the security services.

At one moment in the book, police officers Vishwas Patil and Rajvardhan Sinha, two of the only ones to head into the Taj, see on CCTV that all four of the hotel's attackers are in one room. Patil and Sinha believe it's the perfect time to nip the attack in the bud, before more damage is done. But despite their calls for help, no one responds and the attackers soon leave the hotel room with their hostages, intent on causing more damage. That the attack on the Taj could have ended hours after it started if not for the incompetence of higher-ups angered me.

On the other hand, the true heroes in the book, in my opinion, are the Taj staffers. From kitchen workers to the Black Suits (the Taj's security) to the hotel's manager Karambir Kang to Grand Executive Chef Hemant Oberoi, these were the people who put their lives on the line to save as many guests as possible. Kang's wife and two young children died inside the Taj, but he stayed at the scene to help try and control the situation, while Oberoi and others led guests out of danger, and at times put their bodies between those of the gunmen and guests during attacks.

It is these stories, the ones of human endeavour (and there are many in the book) and, in some cases, sacrifice, that make The Siege such powerful reading. I found myself going back over parts of the book again and again, trying to understand why certain things happened. As the fifth anniversary of the attack approaches, The Siege is essential reading for anyone wanting to find out more about the days Mumbai was brought to its knees.

How I got this book: Review copy from the publisher Penguin

The Siege is book seven in my challenge to read 12 non-fiction books in 2013.
How To Be a Woman is the sixth book in my challenge to ready 12 non-fiction books in 2013. I'm failing miserably.
You might also like:
- See more at:
How To Be a Woman is the sixth book in my challenge to ready 12 non-fiction books in 2013. I'm failing miserably.
You might also like:
- See more at:

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Basketball for dummies: Training with the London Lions

The London Lions play the University of Iowa. Picture: LLDC

I think it's fair to say that, at 5ft 2ins, basketball is not the game for me. Still, here I am at the Copper Box, home to the London Lions, about to embark on a training session with the team.

Every player towers over me, so it's intimidating from the start. Added to that, while they wait for the session to officially start they warm up by shooting baskets, effortlessly sinking one after the other while I stand clutching my basketball like, well, a short, unathletic female surrounded by professional sportsmen.

Still, they make me feel welcome, and with some of the team members having grown up in London we chat about travel problems (what else?) and the surrounding area before assistant coach Nigel Lloyd calls the team to order, and instructs guard Perry Lawson to take everyone through a warm up. Kindly, Nigel asks Perry to keep it fairly simple for me. We go through a series of stretches and sprints, which flummox me for two reasons. Firstly, my legs are a lot shorter than everyone else's, so I compensate by skipping forward a few steps during each stretch to ensure I can stay level. Second, there are so many lines on the floor I never know which one I'm running to. By the end though, I'm getting the hang of things.

Once we've warmed up (I'm tired already), Nigel takes us through a series of drills, involving moving up and down the court while bouncing the ball, sometimes in twos, sometimes in threes, and trying to score at each end. Luckily for me, the Lions are a really down-to-earth group of guys who are happy to put up with my inadequacies, and nearly all of them take turns partnering with me. 

By the end of the 25 or so minutes we've been on the go, the team is ready to get to the more intense (more intense?!) portion of their training sessions. But not until I've managed to shoot a basket. The pressure is on, and I have visions of this going on forever, as I keep missing and they keep waiting, and the pressure getting worse and worse - like has been happening so far.

The London Lions play the University of Iowa. Picture: LLDC
So, while the team watches, I aim, I let of the basketball, and, plot twist, I score. Granted, everyone else has scored about 50 more than I have, but it feels really good, and in a sign of how lovely the team is, every one of them high fives me as I walk off the court to sit and watch the rest of the session on the sidelines.

What I want to do is fall down in a heap, but that would just be embarrassing, so instead I gingerly lower my already aching legs down and watch as these guys turn it up a notch.

The rest of the training session, clocking in at two hours in total, is intense. Nigel splits the team into two, and they battle against each other using a series of different manoevres. To my eyes, it all looks really complicated, but the guys are off the mark immediately at every call Nigel makes. After each exercise, the losing side has to do a set of push ups, before getting straight back up to start playing again.

I've seen the London Lions play before, and, along with the thousands of people in the crowd, cheered and whooped at every fancy move the team made. But it's only when watching them train that I realise how much practice goes into making those moves seem effortless.

When the session ends the guys head for their water bottles, sitting down to stretch out aching muscles. I have a quick word with a few of them, before heading out the door. After my 25 minutes training, I'm ready to lie down. The guys might be able to do that when they get home, but unlike me, they have to be back the next day to do it all over again.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Book review: Resist by Sarah Crossan

Good dystopian fiction is hard to find, so it was with some relief I read Sarah Crossan's Breathe earlier this year, and its sequel Resist, recently released, didn't disappoint either.

In a world where all the greenery has been cut down, people live in the Pod, their oxygen determined by how rich and important they are, or not. Led to believe that no one can survive long in the Outlands, in Breathe rebel Alina led rich kid Quinn and poor girl Bea out into the world to try and find the Resistance.

Now, in Resist, the trio have been separated - Alina is with her cousin and other Resistance members heading to Sequoia, the only remaining rebel base. Quinn leaves Bea with the injured child Jazz while he searches for help, and tries to make his own way to Sequoia. And in the Pod, Quinn and Bea's peer Ronan realises the government he has trusted all his life, and that included his father, are instigating a massive cover up. As events come to a head, who will survive?

I loved Breathe because it was a dystopian novel that really focused on its characters, and Crossan keeps that focus in Resist

We see Alina, Bea and Quinn develop in this book. Quinn goes from privileged rich kid to fighter, Bea shows she is a survivor, and Alina's arrogance disappears some. 

And then we have Ronan. Breathe (my review here) didn't feature him much (if at all, I barely remember him), but through his chapters in Resist we learn he played a pivotal role in the final events of the first novel, a role that has woken him up and made him realise things he doesn't like about the world he lives in.

As Crossan opens more of the world to her characters, she does the same to us. I liked learning alongside the characters - it built up the tension and meant my judgements about what to do happened at exactly the same time as Alina, Quinn, Bea and Ronan's.

Resist added a new host of secondary characters to the world Crossan created in Breathe, some good, some not so good. There were few truly evil characters (a couple on each side) but the beauty of most of Crossan's characters is that they're shades of grey, which made them believable.

I said when I reviewed Breathe that comparisons to The Hunger Games would be inevitable, so here's one from me - the ending of Resist felt much more satisfying than the ending of The Hunger Games. But really, the two sets of novels are very different.

If you're looking to try some dystopian fiction, and want something character driven, go get Breathe and Resist.

How I got this book: Gift from a friend

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Review: Natural History Museum Ice Rink

The Natural History Museum has a lot of things going for it on any given day. Dinosaurs? Check. Cool earth display? Check. Grand building? Check.

Every winter it adds an ice rink to its list, and I popped along for a quick skate on a fine weekday evening to try it out. Okay, it wasn't a fine evening. It was raining that sharp, little rain that is actually freezing and soaks you through before you know it.

Anyway, the ice rink still looked pretty, surrounded as it was by a few log cabins serving food and selling tickets, and a carousel lit up and looking gorgeous in the waning light.

After strapping on our boots we tentatively stepped on to the rink, which had a fine layer of water on it from the rain - not great for me, since I'm a shaky skater at best.

Still, once we got going it was fine, and I skated round casually chatting with my two friends. Being a weekday, the rink wasn't exactly busy, but there were half a dozen or so other skaters on there, and plenty of passers-by watching.

We stopped for a quick break once the skates started taking their toll on our legs, but with no benches outside, we were forced to lean against the side of the rink to take the weight off our feet for a couple of minutes before heading back on to the rink.

Sessions at the Natural History Museum ice rink last an hour, which we found was too long. As a group, we lasted roughly 25 minutes before deciding we'd had enough. Tickets cost £11.50 per adult off-peak, and £13.50 during peak times. I feel there's an argument for having a half price ticket option as well, for half the time. A half hour skate would be more than enough for some people.

Despite that, the Natural History Museum ice rink is a good one. There's a cute cafe where you can warm up, but its major plus point is its setting. Housed in the shadow of the majestic Natural History Museum, a day of hanging out with dinosaurs followed by a skating session is a winner on all accounts.

•For more information on the Natural History Museum ice rink, click here.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Book review: Model Misfit (Geek Girl #2) by Holly Smale

I love a fact, and Holly Smale's Model Misfit, the second book in her Geek Girl series, is full of them.

Humans have 70,000 thoughts per day, it takes 30 minutes for a human body to produce enough heat to boil half a gallon of water and the human brain consists of 80 per cent water are just some of the gems dotted amongst this YA read.

Harriet Manners has just finished her exams, her ex-boyfriend has texted her, her parents are obsessed with the impending birth of Harriet's new sibling, and Harriet still only has one best friend (and a friendly, harmless stalker).

So what better plan for the summer than to go to Tokyo to model for a new line by terrifying designer Yuka Ito? There, Harriet makes friends, encounters her ex-boyfriend and finds that she just can't get a break when it comes to modelling.

I confess, I haven't read the first book in this series, so I was a little worried I'd be completely lost. That worry was unfounded though. Smale's descriptions and her characters are so lively that I felt like I knew what was going on immediately.

Harriet is a great protagonist, and despite the fact that hardly any of us were recruited as models when we were 15, she is relatable. Her insecurities are the insecurities of every teenage girl out there, and every teenage girl us adults still feel like sometimes - why do I always look stupid when I really can't afford to, why do I never say the right thing when it's needed, why, why, why?

But for me, it was the secondary characters that really stood out. I loved Harriet's crazy agent Wilbur, who seemed like a cross between that guy from Pineapple Dance Studios and Carrie's friend from Sex and the City. I also loved Rin, despite her faults, and her long-suffering cat Kylie Minogue. And then there was Nick, the teenage boyfriend dreams are made of when you're 15!

Model Misfit took me barely any time to read, and was light-hearted but with an underlying serious side. It's a book for every insecure girl out there.

How I got this book: Borrowed from the library

Fitness review: Tabata

Four minutes. That's all it takes for every muscle in my body to be screaming at me to just lie on the floor and stop moving.

Luckily, this is a tabata class, and four minutes of intense exercise is all I have to do.

Tabata is named after Japanese scientist Professor Izumi Tabata (recognized as the ‘father’ of high intensity interval training), while he was working with the Japanese Olympic speed skating team on their fitness programme.

His tabata method consists of a combination of 20 seconds of intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times. And that's it.

Okay, there's a warm up beforehand, and a cool down afterwards, but the entire class lasts just 20 minutes. The idea of tabata is that you spend four minutes going as hard and as fast as you possibly can, to get to your maximum heart rate and to get the most out of it.

Instructor Richard Scrivener takes my class through four tabata moves (normal classes only use two in any session), including a couple that use the plank as their basis, and then two more which involve a lot of jumping around.

It all looks so simple (even if planks are horrible and my fitness levels are dire), and the idea is that we do each of the moves twice in the cycle of two minutes. 

But by halfway through the first minute my lungs are screaming and I'm constantly confused about which arm and which leg should be stretching and which should be stationary.

By minute two I want to give up, and by minute four I want to cry. Still, it's over and I feel like I tried - my heart is pumping like I've run five miles, my arms and legs have that ache to them you get after an intense workout, and my body temperature is sky high.

For the rest of the day, I can still feel the effects of the tabata, but in a good way. I feel more energised, and my body feels like it's working even when I'm just taking a casual stroll. Granted, two days later I'm in agony, but that disappears, and once it does, I find my mind turning to when I can fit another tabata class in.

•For more information visit the official Tabata website, or find out about classes at Fitness First here.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Book review: Seeking Crystal by Joss Stirling

The third book in Joss Stirling's soulfinder series, Seeking Crystal could all too easily be extremely predictable. Luckily, it's not.

Crystal's family are all brilliant savants. The runt of the litter, her powers extend to finding lost keys and the like. Things only become worse when on a trip to America Crystal's sister Diamond bumps into her soulfinder - Trace Benedict of the legendary Benedicts.

Resigned to living in the shadows of everyone, Crystal heads back to Italy to try and carve out a career as a costume designer. But with Diamond and Trace's impending wedding, Crystal not only finds herself constantly annoyed by Trace's younger brother Xav, she also encounters dark forces that are intent on revenge.

Seeking Crystal is a great YA novel, with a little bit of everything - mystery, intrigue, romance, danger and good old teenage angsting all thrown into the mix.

I loved Crystal - she was really relatable, perhaps because of her lack of savant activities, which meant she seemed more "normal" than Stirling's other characters. And the relationship between Crystal and Xav was interesting to watch, developing steadily throughout the book before exploding. 

With this being the third book in the soulfinder series, the Benedict family now seem like familiar friends, and Sky from Finding Sky and Phoenix from Stealing Phoenix also make appearances. The continuity helps ground the novel, and make it more enjoyable.

Stirling produces likeable characters (including a mega-famous film star) and an intriguing plot in Seeking Crystal. A great read, this is the sort of YA novel you pick up when you want something quick and easy to fill the time.

How I got this book: Borrowed from the library

Monday, 4 November 2013

Reporting tips: Getting the job

For every journalism job, there are dozens and dozens of applicants. So how do you make sure you get that coveted role? Firstly, by having a great application, and secondly, by giving great interview. I've sifted through many, many job applications and conducted and sat in on more than my fair share of interviews, so here's a quick guide to some things (I think) can help you get the job you want, whether it's as a reporter or a news editor.

If you're applying for a reporter position and you haven't got a shorthand qualification of 100wpm or more, your application is going straight in the bin. If you haven't got 100wpm shorthand, I can't send you to court. If you haven't got 100wpm shorthand, it's going to take you twice as long (at least) to write up interviews, because you've got to transcribe them first. And if you haven't bothered to get 100wpm shorthand, why should I believe you're dedicated to being a journalist?

Be accurate
I've been on both sides of this - as a recruiter and as an applicant. With the latter there was a typo in one of my job applications, and it was really, really embarrassing. I wouldn't have interviewed me, but luckily the editors were much kinder than I am. I take a hard line - if there are errors in your application, then my first impression of you is that you're not good at proofreading, and that you don't take care over your work.

Anticipate the questions
Sure, the interviewer could spring something really horrid on you, but you can prepare for some of the questions you'll be asked. Every interview I've done (on both sides) has included at least some variations of the following:
  • Tell us about yourself/your career to date
  • Why do you want to be a journalist/stay a journalist in this tough industry?
  • What's your proudest achievement/biggest story?
  • What qualities do you have that make you a good journalist?
  • Why do you want this particular job?
Know the basics
In addition to the questions above, you're probably also going to be asked a few law and ethics questions. These will largely revolve around the PCC code and your basic law for reporters - contempt of court and libel. If you don't know your 10 points for magistrates' court, what libel and contempt are, and if you aren't well versed in privacy guidance (especially with Leveson having just happened) and the rest of the PCC code, then what have you been learning?

Stop rambling
Taking 10 minutes to answer the first question in an interview ("tell us a bit about yourself/your career") is not going to endear you to the interviewer. Keep your answers to the point, expanding where necessary and stopping when you've run out of things to say. Don't be tempted to keep talking because the interviewer is pausing to write things down, a little silence never hurt anybody.

Familiarise yourself with the product
Please, please, please don't go into an interview without having read the newspaper/website you're interviewing for. And, if time permits, make sure you've glanced at it on the day of your interview.

Show some life
Journalism - whether you're a reporter or a news editor - is about communication with people in person as well as through the written word. Be engaging in your interview, show you're going to be good at the people stuff as well as the computer stuff.

Reveal your passion
Not as risque as it sounds, this is all about showing you've got that hunger for the industry. I want to see you're passionate about your chosen career, whether that's through your work experience history or through your enthusiasm for devouring the latest news and newest social media innovations.

Don't be afraid to be nervous
Nerves can help if you channel them in the right way, and being a little bit nervous before going into an interview shows that you care about the outcome. Just don't let the nerves overwhelm you.

What it says on the tin.

Good luck!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Book review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

You never forget your first love, goes the tagline on Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park. I'm hoping I'll never forget Eleanor & Park, one of the sweetest, most powerful books I've read in a while.

Eleanor is the weird new girl at school, worried about her weight and her looks (which lead to bullying) and her family (abusive stepdad). Park is the quiet boy on the bus, from a not-so all-American family (and he's not quite sure where he fits in). Over the course of months, they bond over music and comic books, and fall in love.

And that's it really. Sure, there are difficulties in Eleanor and Park's lives, but this book is about falling in love for the first time when you're young, and the way it can be all-consuming, no matter what is happening around you.

Switching between sections focusing on both characters, it's only the reader who has full knowledge of Eleanor and Park's lives for much of the novel. In the privileged position of knowing it all, I felt like Rowell had told the perfect story - there wasn't a single moment where I went: "Oh, because I know that I think he/she should have reacted differently."

There are plenty of supporting characters, but we see them all through their interactions with the protagonists, and although some of them help the story move along, they're not as important as Eleanor and Park, what's important is the way they affect the characters' relationship.

Rowell's powerful storytelling had me in tears for much of the novel. I'm not sure if it's because I started reading it at 1am after a night out and I had flu and it was the end of a long week of work, or if it's because the story was genuinely weep-worthy. I have a feeling it's a little of both, and despite the fact I was wiping the water out of my eyes a lot, I did enjoy the book.

Eleanor & Park is a beautiful tale, made even more so by its simplicity. You never forget your first love, and I'll never forget the time I fell a little in love with Eleanor and Park.

How I got this book: Borrowed from the library


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