Category Archives: See & Do

Film | Books | Events | Activities

Book Review | The Bees

Book Review The Bees

The Bees is a difficult book to describe. My best attempt is that it is a dystopian fiction in the tradition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale but with bees – so based on true events…for bees.

Flora is a worker bee of the lowest order. Her kin are worthy only of cleaning the hive and don’t even have the ability to speak. However, Flora different. Larger, darker and able to talk, she has hidden talents. Talents that she must keep hidden in order to survive the totalitarian society. Her love, her loyalty and her life must belong to the Queen and the Queen alone. She serves the hive for the greater good of the Queen… or so she believes. A deep, and forbidden, maternal instinct takes her over and turns her core belief – to accept, obey, serve – upside down.

Her abilities are recognised by a higher ranking priestess bee and Flora is allowed to be elevated above her station, allowing the reader a look into all elements of bee society. We see the devoted nursery workers feeding the hundreds of grubs, the most devout attending the queen, the subservient glorying in the almighty maleness of the drone bees,  the fearless defenders of the hive battling invading wasps, the bold foragers facing an ever ending onslaught of dangers and arriving home to the dancehall to tell of their successes. Flora does it all and more.

The Bees is more than about bees, however. Yes, it does address the many and varied dangers that they face but it also explores some very human issues. Race and class are at the heart of the story alongside politics and theology. It’s an ambitious novel but an incredibly successful one. I really recommend this for fans of dystopian novels. It honestly has everything you would want from this genre but from a completely new and unique perspective. It’s definitely a contender for my book of the year.

Book Review | Techbitch


When Imogen Tate returns to her job as Editor in Chief of Glossy magazine after a leave of absence she is bemused to find herself confronted by her former assistant, Eve Morton. Bemusement soon turns to concern when she discovers that Eve has the backing of the head honchos to turn Imogen’s beloved magazine into an app. Print is dead, long live the internet. The trouble for Imogen is that she is not completely up to date on the whole internet thing (asking assistant’s to print out her emails – what?) so she faces an uphill battle to remain relevant as Editor in Chief of this new look magazine. Coupled with this, Eve is not exactly supportive. The sweet assistant is nowhere to be found and in her place is a business school graduate from a new generation of success hungry entrepreneurs, power-mad, egotistical, and, to be frank, a total tech-bitch.

Techbitch takes the familiar formula of The Devil Wears Prada and flips it on it’s head. Unlike Miranda Priestly *cough – Anna Wintour – cough*, Imogen Tate has got ahead in the industry by being nice. She is well-connected and well-liked. The reader has immediate sympathy for her character – she is returning from work after a period of illness and is faced, unfairly one might say, with dealing with huge decisions made in her absence. And, instead of feeling sorry for herself she just gets on with it.  Eve on the other hand, is very much the baddie. She is jealous, spiteful and mean to her staff. In fact, not mean, cruel.

Some of the situations in Techbitch initially seem quite humorous, until you realise that this is actually happening to people. The forced ‘bonding’ group activities, the working all hours, the sacking of people with no reason and no notice is something that seems to be on the rise in many industries. With the current employment climate still being a bit fraught, people are more willing to accept the unacceptable. For me, Techbitch was particularly nightmare-ish in describing the situation for young writers. Under Eve, Glossy employs an ever rotating roster of bloggers, all of whom are expected to work 24/7, anything less and they are out. This lack of work-life balance is a real problem for many who see no alternative if they want to stay employed.

Overall, Techbitch was an enjoyable read. I liked the main characters, even appreciating the at times, caricature villainry of Eve and it was well paced, if a little predictable. It’s an updated The Devil Wears Prada for the Instagram generation and well worth adding to your summer reading list.

Book Review | I Let You Go

Book Review I Let You Go

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh is very typical of the kind of book I’ve been reading a lot recently – a fairly classic psychological thriller – but this one brings it’s A-game, making it a must read if you are a fan of the genre.

It’s hard to sum up without spoilers, so I’m just going to let the blurb do it for me:

A tragic accident. It all happened so quickly. She couldn’t have prevented it. Could she?

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.

Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating…

The book is split between two points of view – Jenna’s, a traumatised and grieving mother, and DI Ray Stevens, the lead investigator on the tragic hit and run that we see happening in the opening chapter. I really enjoyed this split perspective – you saw Jenna’s emotional journey trying to recover, while through Ray, simultaneously seeing the intricacies of disentangling the case. The author spent 12 years on the police force so this side of the book has an element of authenticity which is often lacking in these kinds of stories. Yes, there is a bit of a clichéd female rookie cop/male senior going on, but it’s not terrible.

If you pick up this book, you’ll see praise on the cover for the “big twist”. If you can resist trying to guess it, it is pretty good. It comes around half way through the narrative and prompts the plot to pick up pace massively. I really liked the twist and how it was handled. Despite what the cover suggests, it’s not the be-all and end-all of the novel – it still holds it’s own after the big reveal and  keeps you hooked until the end.

Overall, I highly recommend I Let You Go if you enjoy thrillers, domestic dramas and crime books – it ticks all three boxes.

#BlogClub June | Talking Paid Links and Disclosure

#BlogClub June

Blogging has become a serious business. As the awareness of bloggers and blogging has crept evermore into the public conciousness, the expectations have risen to ever higher standards, including when it comes to advertising. Although I still see my own blog as very much a hobby and do not plan to monetise it, I do attend blogger events and promotions and occasionally receive samples to review, so understanding the legalities around sponsorship and disclosure is important. With the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) now cracking down on companies and brands who have been flouting their rules (accidentally or knowingly) and readers becoming more aware of the situation, it’s crucial to know where you stand.

So thank goodness for #BlogClub! The June meetup was all about discussing the ins and outs of paid links and disclosure. Sophie from Saints on a Plane led the discussion and had even prepared a handy resource to refer to covering the basics. I’m not going to go into to much detail here as even the basics are a little complicated, but do go and check out Sophie’s post on the subject here if you are interested. It hits the key points about deciding what sponsorship to accept, and how to disclose it properly as well as useful links.

For me, the most important aspect of the whole debate is transparency and trust. Some bloggers seem nervous of declaring when a post or video is sponsored as they think it will discredit their opinion, but actually I think the opposite is true. The more transparent a blogger is, the more I will trust them, including what they say about a sponsored subject. I have a few beauty bloggers who I follow and trust their opinion 100% as I know they are always honest with it. They do have sponsored content, but as this is clearly declared, I can make up my own mind knowing this. I know this is the same for many other blog readers – transparency breeds trust.

#BlogClub June

We were hosted for the evening by Bath & Unwind, a local Bristol company with an awesome office (fully stocked bar and all). I had actually never heard of them before so it was really nice to discover a new company. Bath & Unwind are an online luxury beauty store with a carefully curated line of products from well known brands (such as OPI, Ren and Bumble & Bumble) alongside lesser known brands (Tokyo Milk, Phyto and A’kin). They were really sweet and made sure we had plenty of cupcakes, beer and snacks to keep the conversation flowing. We were also all kindly gifted a product from their range – I received this Aroma Works body cream which smells and feels amazing.

The next Blog Club will be on the 11th August in Bristol and will be discussing how brands can work with bloggers – I’m sure we all have a few ideas on that! You can sign up to attend via Eventbrite here.

I Read the F*@#ing Books | Jaws

Jaws Book vs Film

Here’s a film that I’m sure most people will be familiar with – Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. For, me, it’s one of my all time favourite films. It’s one of the ones I watch repeatedly – whatever time of day, if it comes on TV, I’m hooked again within minutes. I was vaguely aware that it was adapted from a book but never thought about reading it until I happened to see it on offer in Fopp (2 for £5 I think it was). However, as I am interested in book – film – tv – games etc. etc. adaptations I thought I would give it a fair go.

Peter Benchley’s Jaws was first published in 1974, just one year before the film was released as the producers had bought the rights before publication. The overall story arc of the book is the same as the film so will be familiar to most. When a young woman is fatally attacked by a great white shark on Amity beach at the start of the summer, the local police, mayor and business owners are hoping it’s a one off. As a small resort town relying on the summer trade, Police Chief Martin Brody is convinced not to allow the news to go public – believing that it was a one off, a freak accident. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case, the shark continuing to terrorise the beach. When it becomes obvious that the shark isn’t going to move on to more ‘natural’ feeding grounds, Brody teams up with ichthyologist (fish scientist to you and I) Matt Hooper, and pro shark hunter Quint. They head out on to the open water on Quint’s boat Orca to face the great white at sea.

The main difference between the book and the film are the various extra sub-plots in the book and the characterisation of the three main characters. There is also an additional main character – Ellen Brody, the police chief’s wife, who we do see in the film, but don’t get to know her so well. She is an interesting character and although I don’t think this is absolutely necessary, stops the book being entirely male dominated as the film is. Ellen feels like an outsider on Amity island, she is from a wealthy background and used to be part of the holiday crowd so even when she marries the local police chief, she never really feels accepted as a resident. When Matt Hooper arrives they realise they knew each other in their high school years and it triggers a restlessness in Ellen. Their pursuant relationship is uncomfortable, slightly shocking, but adds an element of ‘domestic thriller’ to novel as well as an interesting debate on class and status. It doesn’t redeem Hooper or Ellen to the reader, but instead focuses down Brody’s character more as a consequence. Brody has always suffered with an inferiority complex – from his wife’s wealth. Hooper’s intellect, even Quint’s masculinity – and we see how the fear of being right about this prevents him in confronting his wife about what is going on in their marriage. This also gives you an understanding of many of Brody’s motivations and actions, for example, his reluctance to stand by his convictions and how he allows the mayor and even the local news reporter to dictate how he does his job.

What I found to be lacking in the book was the development of the relationship between Brody, Hooper and Quint while on the Orca. However, I realise this is me looking at it through Spielberg tinted glasses – the scene where they compare scars, Quint makes his Indianapolis speech and they all sing “Show Me The Way To Go Home” is one of my favourites. And, Brody becoming friendly with Hooper just ain’t gonna fly with the whole Ellen affair debacle, BUT, it does mean that all three of them are pretty unlikeable and stay unlikeable for the duration. For this fundamental reason, I have to say that the film is miles, leagues if you will, better than the book.

That said, it’s a good book, even if it doesn’t match up to its, frankly, outstanding film counterpart. If you’re a bit of a sharkophile, you’ll cringe when the shark is described as a mindless killing machine, but because you’ll mostly dislike the human characters you’ll be pleased when he’s doing a good job of munching his way through them.

Have you read Jaws? Let me know your thoughts on it in the comments.

Summer Book Haul

Summer Book Haul

Occasionally I go a bit mad in Waterstones and end up buying all the books. Of every genre. I just love browsing, buying, reading. I’m a sucker for a nice cover and I will read anything. With an hour and a half on the train each day it’s no surprise really. This is what I picked up recently.

Summer Book Haul

Maddaddam is the last book in the trilogy of the same name by Margaret Atwood. It’s a scarily plausible science fiction and I loved books one and two. Can’t wait to see where she takes it.

The Tell-Tale Heart is one of Penguin’s 80 classics for 80p each. I’ve never read it so going to give it a go. Might wait for a stormy night!

Summer Book Haul

All the Light We Cannot See  is an epic set during World War 2 and follows the converging stories of a young blind girl in France and a boy in the Hitler Youth. It’s just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction so I’m sure will be quite the read.

The Bees is literally about bees. It’s a dystopian vision… but with bees. Genius.

Summer Book Haul

I’ve seen a lot mixed reviews about Elizabeth is Missing but I’m intrigued enough to try it for myself. Maud is convinced her friend is missing, but she is in a nursing home for dementia and no one will listen to her.

I Let You Go is a crime thriller following the hit and run of a five-year old boy. It promises a bit twist – will I see it coming?

Summer Book Haul

The Axeman’s Jazz  was something I definitely picked up for the cool cover! Set in New Orleans and about a terrifying serial killer, it sounds like a dark and thrilling ride.

Meanwhile Techbitch, is the polar opposite. Set in the catty world of magazines, apps and blogging, it sounds like a fun chick-lit, not a genre I usually go for, but hopefully will be good.

That’s my recent buys, but not gonna lie, got lots more on the Amazon wishlist. Let me know if you’ve read any of these (no spoilers please!), or any recommendations.

Book Review | Maus

Book Review | Maus

When I was doing my degree, we had a module called Popular Culture and part of this was formed of graphic novels. Maus by Art Spiegelman was not required reading but as it was the first (and only) graphic novel to win a prestigious Pulitzer Prize, it was highly recommended. So it’s a bit embarrassing that it’s only now that I have read it.

Published in 1991, it is the serialisation of Spiegelman’s comic strips dating from 1980 to 1991. The story is of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek’s experience as a Polish Jew during the Second World War. The narrative is split between Spiegelman’s life and Vladek’s story as he is recounting it to his son for his work. This is interesting as it means the book is very meta – it’s referred to constantly, even depicting a conversation Spiegelman has with his wife were they debate what animal she should be depicted as.

The animal depictions are somewhat controversial as Spiegelman re-appropriates propaganda and racial caricatures – Nazi’s as cats chasing the Jewish ‘vermin’ mice, the French as frogs, Poles as pigs etc. In graphic novel form this clearly shows the absurdity of the way people are labelled, categorised and segregated, and how these labels can remain, even out of war-time.

Book Review | Maus

The illustrative style is a stark monochrome. It largely allows the story to be told by text, but the bold visual style allows for flexibility in the storytelling. It can be literal (as much as the animal characterisation will allow) or abstract.

What is quite surprising about the book is the honesty in which Spiegelman depicts his father. He is an elderly man, a holocaust survivor, a widower, transplanted to the US as he could never face returning to Poland, but Spiegelman does not allow sentimentality to cloud the story. At times, he is harsh, getting frustrated, even irritated or bored by his father. However, even in recounting the horrors of Auschwitz, Vladek himself asks for no sympathy – he is telling his story focussing on the practicality and resourcefulness that got him through. It is only when he is transferred to Dachau that we begin to see Vladek’s spirit breaking with the immortal line “And here my troubles began”.

Maus is a devastatingly powerful book. It is a key text in Holocaust literature and a deeply important book. And, it shows what a graphic novel can do. Even if you never read another graphic novel again, Maus should be on your must-read list.