World Book Day: My Most Memorable Books

Today is the annual event made for avid readers like myself – World Book Day. It is the biggest celebration of books and reading in the UK and Ireland and whilst when I was younger it was an occasion to dress as my favourite fictional character, it has since become a time when readers recommend new books to read via social media.

In celebration of World Book Day, I have decided to look back on the most memorable books that I have read throughout my life:

Harry Potter and the Philosophers StoneHarry Potter

I would think the Harry Potter series would appear on most “life in books” lists. The series is so timeless that it can be read over and over again (in fact I’m half way through re-reading the books again now). Whilst J. K. Rowling may not have the most sophisticated style of writing, she created a world that is loved by children and adults alike.

The characters are all unique, intriguing and relateable and as a child I wanted so much for Hogwarts to be real. The best thing about the series though is that it doesn’t shy from more negative themes that children need to learn about – loss, neglect and danger.

 

A Clockwork OrangeA Clockwork Orange

I originally read Anthony Burgess’ classic ‘A Clockwork Orange’ for my A-Level English Literature coursework and immediately loved it. It was the book that introduced me to dystopian novels and I loved the fact that the themes of the novel were prevalent in modern culture.

When I discovered that the characters all used their own language in the book, I initially thought I would struggle to follow the narrative but I found it easy, perhaps due to the influx of modern day slang terms.

The best element of the novel though, in my opinion, has to be the main character, Alex. You want to hate him, he commits vile crimes and is extremely narcissistic but he is the definition of an anti-hero because in the end you actually root for him to turn his life around.

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ is another one of my favourite dystopian novels. It is set at a fictional boarding school in East Sussex where children are raised being taught the importance of being fit and healthy. It is revealed that the children are clones being raised to provide organs for “normals”.

The novel follows friends Ruth, Tommy and Kathy throughout their childhood at the boarding school, as they move to the “Cottages” a residential complex for young adults and eventually, when Ruth and Tommy become ‘donors’ and Kathy becomes a ‘carer’, looking after those who donate.

The narrative is completely captivating and emotionally heartwrenching. The book has a film adaptation, directed by Mark Romanek, which is extremely faithful to the novel.

The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of novels has become my new favourite book series. Again, set in a dystopian future the narrative follows 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen from Panem, a post-apocalyptic version of North America. Each year, one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts of Panem are selected at random to compete in the The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games is a televised event in which the selected participants are sent to fight to the death in an arena all in the name of entertainment for the rich that live in the Capitol. After her sister Prim is selected at random, Katniss volunteers to take her place in the event.

Collins’ writing style is absolutely fantastic and she keeps you captivated on every page. The novel is carefully written in the way that there is a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter and you just want to continue reading.

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower

Stephen Chbosky’s ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is the last novel I read that made me feel emotionally vulnerable. The epistolary style of writing puts you straight into the mind of the main character, Charlie. By writing in first-person in a series of letters, Charlie is honest and doesn’t hold back. He is extremely easy to empathise with and you end up putting yourself in his state of mind.

This novel also has a faithful film adaptation, with the script adapted by Chbosky. I’ve already written about an article about both the book and the film on this website already. Check it out here – Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower – From Page to Screen.

So there are my favourite books – are any of them your favourites? Which books would be on your lists?

The Best of ‘How I Met Your Mother’

How I Met Your Mother is, without a doubt, one of my favourite shows. There are so many great things about it and I think it’s premise is a great idea.

For those who haven’t seen it, it follows Ted Mosby as he tells his children – you guessed it – how he met their mother. He recalls stories about his life as a bachelor with best friends Marshall, Lily, Barney and Robin.

In honour of the show’s return to UK television tonight, here I run through my favourite things about the show.

The Catchphrases

The show is full of catchphrases (mostly Barney’s) and unsurprisingly, they never seem to grate on you as a viewer. Some of my favourites include:

“Have you met Ted?” 

Due to Ted’s desperation to find a soulmate, his friends sometimes feel the need to introduce him to women he isn’t confident enough to talk to. This is one me and my friends love so much, we’ve taken to mimicking it on nights out.

“It’s going to be Legen – wait for it – dary!”

Barney thinks everything is legendary. Whilst his friends think he is too liberal with the word, he is always looking for things that will outdo the last in terms of “awesomeness”.

“Suit Up!”

Barney loves suits -so much so that in the 100th episode he sings a song about it. He is often heard telling his friends to “suit up” to join him on the hunt for women. Variations of the phrase have included “snow suit up” and “flight suit up”.

The Slap Bet

The best episodes of the show revolve around the Slap Bet. When Marshall and Barney debate why Robin won’t go to a mall, they bet on why, agreeing that whoever wins gets to slap the other. When Barney mistakenly thinks he was correct and slaps Marshall, they soon find out the real reason why Robin won’t go to the mall (see Robin Sparkles) and as the slap bet commissioner, Lily gives Marshall the right to slap Barney five times over all eternity. In a later episode, Marshall wins the right to slap Barney another three times, making eight in total.

The slaps happen at random times throughout the show and are often unexpected. The best one has to be during the episode Slapsgivingwhen Marshall terrifies Barney by introducing him to the “slap countdown” after the slap has occurred, he treats the gang to an original song he had written for the occasion “You Just Got Slapped”. 

Only six of eight slaps have been seen on screen so far.

Marshall and Lily

Marshall and Lily – or should I say Marshmallow and Lilypad – are the most adorable couple. It was clear from the start that they were destined to be together and whatever they’re doing is always sweet. When they’re separated, Lily sleeps with a Marshpillow and he has a pre-recorded “night night song” where he sings her to sleep. They live for Halloween when they can dress up in extreme couples costumes (such as Sonny and Cher and a pirate and his parrot) and are always there to offer Ted moral support.

Robin Sparkles

As previously mentioned, Robin doesn’t like going to the mall. No one can work out why, until they come into possession of a video from her past – a music video of ‘Let’s Go to the Mall’ by Robin Sparkles. It is revealed that Robin was a 90s popstar in her native Canada, although, because Canada was “a little behind”, she looks like she belongs in the 80s.

So far in the show, as well as her debut, we’ve seen her soppy ballad, ‘Sandcastles in the Sand’ and also her double act with Jessica Glitter (Nicole Scherzinger). This series we’ll see what happens when Robin Sparkles deals with unrequited love and discovers grunge…

Guest Stars

The show has seen a number of celebrity guest stars, many of which have joined the show for numerous episodes. Some of the most memorable have been:

Britney Spears as receptionist Abby. She becomes obsessed with Ted and stalks Barney, warning girls to keep away from him.

Mandy Moore as Amy. She gets drunk with Ted and encourages him to get a tattoo with her. Ted opts for a butterfly on his lower back… something he regrets in the morning!

Enrique Inglesias as Gael. As Robin’s first boyfriend following her break-up with Ted, it is expected that the gang will all hate Gael, but they all fall for his charms, even Marshall…

Nicole Scherzinger as Jessica Glitter. Jessica Glitter used to be part of a double act with Robin Sparkles on the show Space Teens. 

Jorge Garcia as the Blitz. The Blitz always misses awesome moments, when he joins the gang for dinner, his curse “the blitz” gets transferred to Barney.

Katy Perry as ‘Honey’. Ted can’t remember ‘Honey’s’ real name when talking to his kids but refers to her as “Honey” because when you recall things she says, you can’t resist replying with “oh honey” because of her naivety.

Katie Holmes as ‘the Slutty Pumpkin’. Ted spends years hoping to meet the girl who got away one halloween, only to find she doesn’t live up to his expectations when they meet again.

The casts real-life spouses have also featured on the show. Alyson Hannigan’s husband, Alexis Denisof, appeared as Sandy Rivers, Robin’s co-worker. Taran Killam, Cobie Smulder’s husband, appeared as Blauman, Marshall and Barney’s co-worker and David Burtker, Neil Patrick Harris’ partner, appeared as Scooter, Lily’s obsessive ex-boyfriend.

The Bloopers

I usually find the bloopers to any show hilarious, but because the cast are so amazing, I think these ones are especially great! Watch them below:

 

Top Five: Social Networking Pet Peeves

When utilised properly, social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, can be incredible networking tools. However, lately I so often find myself typing out status updates or tweets then deleting them because I begin to think “who actually cares about this?”

When I was at university, I was constantly using Facebook and Twitter to plan my social life but as I grow older, I find myself using social networking sites for personal reasons less frequently. Even more so, if I want to communicate with my friends I find myself doing it privately through direct messages.

In the past, I’m sure I did many of these things that I see as an annoyance when I log onto my social networking sites – something I cringe thinking about now – but here are my top five social networking pet peeves:

1. The ‘I’m desperately attention seeking but don’t want to talk about it’ status updater

The sole purpose of social networking websites is to be able to actually socialise online, so when people update their statuses with depressing ambiguous statements, usually relationship based, they should expect sympathy, right? I’m sure you can imagine the kind of scenario:

“Can’t believe I fell for it again!”

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t want to talk about it”

I always find myself screaming at the computer screen “If you don’t want to talk about it, why are you putting it on your Facebook page”

2. The Constant Updater

I have a few regular offenders of this one, especially on Facebook, where I’ll log on and will have to scroll down a few times until I get to a post by a new person. One day, I decided to count the amount of statuses one of my Facebook friends had updated in one day, it was 10. Most of them were complaining (see above) and very few generated discussion.

My initial thought was “surely if you’re going to update your status that often, you would go on Twitter” but I think that also goes against the essence of Twitter, but then I find it so much easier to press the ‘unfollow’ button than the ‘unfriend’ one.

Then there’s the tweeters who like to spam celebrities. As long as you avoid following people with band names/members/albums in their @ name, you should be safe.

3. The ‘I think I’m famous’ updater

Yes, I’ve probably only seen this one once, but I think it’s the most shocking. When did we become a part of a culture where we feel so self-entitled we think everybody cares about our relationship? Most people dread the moment at the end of the relationship where their status changes on Facebook from “In a relationship” to “Single” but others apparently embrace the moment.

Once, I genuinely saw someone make a full blown statement on their status update that would probably be a step too far for a Hollywood couple divorcing after thirty years of marriage. I remember the phrase “we amicably split and no third parties were involved” being used. Is it really necessary? Does anyone other than your closest friends and family need to know the reasons for the split, or lack there of?

4. The ‘non-consistent’ updater

I get so annoyed when people just update with what they think is most socially accepted online, especially when their opinions are inconsistent on different networking platforms. It often comes along with drastic weather, such as snow, so I’m bracing myself for these updates this weekend.

Along with snow, comes the two types of status updater – the lover and the mocker. Whilst some embrace the weather, taking photos of their surroundings, the others mock these people with updates including:

“Wow, don’t even need to look out the window, everyone is taking photos of snow”

“Never knew what snow was until I saw pictures of it on Facebook”

The thing that got me the last time it snowed though, was someone who I followed on Twitter and was friends with on Facebook was clearly just following the crowd. He was posting photos onto Twitter all day, yet mocking people who did the same thing on Facebook?

5. The ‘I should have paid more attention in English’ updater

Users of social networking sites take note:

  • A Sentence Shouldn’t Look Like This – the first letter of each word does not need to be capitalised in the body of text.
  • ‘Your’ and ‘You’re’ mean different things, so do ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’.
  • ALL CAPS SENTENCES ARE PRETTY HARD TO READ AND MAKE IT SEEM LIKE YOU ARE REALLY ANGRY!
  • Text speak is ridiculous, write in full sentences.

As I’ve said, I’m sure I’ve done some of these in the past, but I think there are some things mentioned here just aren’t what social networking was made for. What grinds your gears when you log onto these social networking websites? Feel free to comment below.

Follow me on twitter – @rachelmacgregor

Review: Mumford and Sons – The Road to Red Rocks

The DVD Cover.

The Road to Red Rocks DVD Cover.

In 2011, I was fortunate enough to see one of my favourite bands, Mumford and Sons, live. My friend treated me to tickets for my birthday and we both agreed the gig would be unforgettable as it was held in a tiny venue, the New Wimbledon Theatre.

I find it hard to describe how amazing the gig actually was to people, when they ask I usually just say “I spent an hour and a half with butterflies in my stomach”, mainly because I was bewildered by how incredible they sounded live. Whilst most artists never quite live up to how they sound on their albums, Mumford and Sons were even better and their musical talents shone that night, especially when playing ‘Timshel’ acoustically with no amps. They played an amazing setlist  including unknown songs from their then unreleased second album, Babel.

The night ended in the best way possible when we met Winston and Ben after the gig. They were incredibly humble and kind and took the time to talk to us, although we did feel slightly bad when the people around us recognised who they were and they got bombarded, but they didn’t seem to mind at all.

Since then, I’ve found myself saying part of me doesn’t want to rush to see them live again, just because I don’t think it could be as good as that night. But with the release of their incredible new album, Babel, I’ve found myself in two minds again.

Ben and Winston were kind enough to stop for a chat and take photos with us.

Ben and Winston were kind enough to stop for a chat and take photos with us.

When I heard the band were releasing The Road to Red Rocks, a dvd featuring live footage from two sold-out shows at the Red Rocks Ampitheatre, there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to get it. Upon watching it I found myself in possession of the butterflies I previously had at their gig.

The setlist of the dvd great, with tracks from Babel and some old favourites from Sigh No More. It is clear that the dvd isn’t just a means of promoting Babel, but it is more of a thank you to the fans. My personal stand out tracks are Lover of the Light, Awake my Soul and Dust Bowl Dance. 

The footage of the band  is brilliantly directed by Fred & Nick. It features amazing performances and there are also some interviews and backstage footage where the band talk about their bond as a group and their love of music. Beautifully candid moments are shown when they come off stage where you can see how happy they are to have played at such a prestigious venue and to be in each others company. These endearing moments will melt the heart of any fan.

The band’s love of performing really comes across on stage and, unsurprisingly, The Road to Red Rocks dvd has left me desperate to see them once again. The dvd is, without a doubt, a must-have for any Mumford and Sons fan.

Rating: ****

‘Truthful’ Oscar Posters

Following yesterday’s feature on Oscar nominations, I had to share these hilarious posters from the web of “If 2013’s Oscar-nominated movie posters told the truth“.

Here are some of my personal favourites:

Lincoln: Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay

Django Unchained: Nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay.

Life of Pi: Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

To see the rest of the posters, go to theshiznit.co.uk.

To see the full list of Oscar nominees, go here.

Top 5: Christmas Entertainment Releases

I’ve, surprisingly, found myself to be organised this year and have got my presents already – mainly because my family are all advocates of the “tell me what you want and I’ll get it for you” scenario – but I know how difficult it can be to buy for people when they don’t know what they want themselves.

At the request of a reader I’ve compiled a selection of, what I believe to be, the best entertainment releases just in time for Christmas.

1. Dynamo: Magician Impossible Series 1 -2 – I was fortunate enough to be working in the UKTV offices during the launch week for this incredible series and all the staff were talking about how amazing Dynamo is. I knew little about him before getting the opportunity to watch the first episode on a lunch break and I have been obsessed ever since. It is often the case with magicians that you suspect how they do their tricks or put it down to impressive camera skills, but I can honestly say I have no clue how he does any of his tricks. There are numerous celebrity appearances on this show including Travis Barker, Rio Ferdinand and Ian Brown.

Dynamo Magician Impossible Series 1-2; £18.85

Dynamo Magician Impossible Series 1-2; £18.85

 

2. Jack Whitehall Live – It’s no secret that I adore Jack Whitehall. I’ve seen him live twice now and found him to be absolutely hilarious. Sometimes his middle-class persona can be perceived as self-righteous but he certainly seemed to be very grounded and humble when he agreed to do a Q & A session for me. I suspect we may have heard some of the jokes on this dvd from his panel show appearances, but that’s to be expected. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing this one myself.

Jack Whitehall Live; £13

Jack Whitehall Live; £13

 

3. Far Cry 3 – Fans are already coining this the ‘Game of the Year’ and it’s clear to see why. The game really focuses on what should be included when focusing on open-world gameplay. Set on a lawless island, the lead character, Jason, and his friends are kidnapped by pirates. Jason is able to escape but must work to rescue his friends. Outside of missions, there’s an array of activities to complete, including taking over outposts and radio towers, collecting memory cards and hunting (not for the squeemish).

Far Cry 3; £39.97

Far Cry 3; £39.97

 

4. The Dark Knight Rises – Rounding up Christopher Nolan‘s Batman Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises was a critical and commercial success when it was released in July. The film follows Batman as he c0mes out of retirement to stop the militant  Bane from destroying Gotham City. The film also features the brilliant Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway.

The Dark Knight Rises; £10 DVD, £12.50 Blu-Ray

The Dark Knight Rises; £10 DVD, £12.50 Blu-Ray

 

5. Playstation Move: Sports Champions 2 – Last Christmas, my family found ourselves playing the first Sports Champions game in our down-time. It’s incredibly fun and with an array of different activities, can keep you entertained for hours. This new edition includes six new events – golf, boxing, bowling, skiing, tennis and an updated archery mode.

Sports Champions 2; £12.99

Sports Champions 2; £12.99

One To Watch: Beastly

Beastly (2011)

I’ll be the first to admit, I am an absolute sucker for fairy stories. Some of my fondest memories from growing up are sitting watching Disney films with my sisters. Between us, we probably have every Disney Classic VHS and to this day, I could probably still quote them word for word.

One of my favourite Disney films growing up was ‘Beauty and The Beast’. I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but I think I identified with the main character Belle; she’s very close with her father and has a love for literature, two qualities that I can identify with. The Disney version of the film heavily focused on her, which is any young girls dream, to be able to compare herself with a Disney Princess. I was therefore, initially very hesitant when I heard that the film was being remade in a modern day setting.

‘Beastly’ is set to be released in 2011 and the new trailer has just been released online. It will star Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical fame and English actor Alex Pettyfer. I have to say, after seeing the trailer, I still have my reservations about what the response to the film will be, just because the Disney adaptation is so iconic to people of my age. The film appears to be more focused on Pettyfer’s character, which, for me, could save the film. From the trailer, he seems to be captivating and I’m sure will be a huge success, having already been attached to Now (2011) which stars Amanda Seyfried, Justin Timberlake and Cillian Murphy among many other big names.

Despite my reservations, I’m sure I’ll be checking this film out. What do you think of the trailer?

Q & A: James Buckley From The Inbetweeners

When James And I First Met in June 2009

Like my previous interview with Jack Whitehall, about a year ago I had a Q & A session with James Buckley, famous for playing foul-mouthed Jay in E4’s The Inbetweeners. At the time, James was frequently in the press as he had been filming for the prequel to Only Fools and Horses, ‘Rock & Chips‘, playing a young ‘Del Boy’, a role made famous by David Jason. Here’s what he had to say:

How long have you been acting?
I got my first professional job when I was 11.

Has acting always been what you wanted to do as a career, or did you have anything else in mind when you were younger?
I didn’t ever really decide on one thing I wanted to do as a job. Working never really seemed worth thinking about when I was mucking about with my mates at school.

What was your first acting job?
My first job was in the West End Musical ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ at the Aldwych Theatre.

How did you get the part in The Inbetweeners?
I auditioned for a pilot called ‘Baggy Trousers’, which is basically the Bunk Off episode of ‘The Inbetweeners’. I played Neil in the pilot though.

Do you have any say in any of the storylines of ‘The Inbetweeners’? How involved are you creatively?
We have a couple of little meetings before discussing ideas and us boys are close to the writers so we’ll email or text them funny stories that happened to us while we were at school but it’s mostly down to the writers. They deserve a lot of credit I think.

How did the part in the ‘Only Fools and Horses’ prequel come about?
Again, I just auditioned with everybody else. I wasn’t given any special treatment for already being on TV or anything.

How does it feel to be involved in such a huge programme, with such reputable actors?
It’s a great feeling and something I’m very proud to be involved with. Working with the likes of Phil Daniels and Nick Lyndhurst is a dream come true to a young actor. I made sure I listened to every word they had to say.

Do you have any stories from the set to share?
I did start singing Park Life to Phil Daniels one day, it didn’t go down too well.

How did it feel meeting David Jason? Did he offer you any words of wisdom?
It was a dream come true meeting David Jason. I was in absolute awe. He didn’t offer any wisdom specifically, but having lunch with David Jason, Nick Lyndhurst and John Sullivan and listening to them talk about how they made the original show was so interesting and I’m very lucky to have been in that situation.

You always seem to be busy, what do you do to relax in your spare time?
My spare time is just spent with friends and family. I’m lucky enough to have the same friends from Dagenham since I was about 4, so it might be lunch with David Jason one minute and them lot bringing me right back down to earth the next.

Finally, so many people ask whether you’re similar to Jay, do you ever get offended by that?
I don’t get offended at all. I’m so pleased to be a part of ‘The Inbetweeners’, I just take it as a compliment that my performance is so convincing.

‘Rock and Chips’ was picked up for a series, which James is now filming and there are plans for an ‘Inbetweeners’ movie, so it’s safe to say this Essex boy will be on our screens for some time.

The Low-down on Lip-syncing

Watching the X Factor results show last weekend made me start to think, how is it fair that some of the artists performing on the show are allowed to lip-sync? It hardly seems fair to the contestants, who are made to sing live, regardless of the type of performance they are putting on or whether they are ill. The artist in question, in this case, is Justin Bieber. The teen star has become a phenomenon in the last year, especially in the US. I have to admit, I’ve stayed away from the hype surrounding  him. Admittedly, I think he put on a good show and perhaps, as he has incorporated lots of dance into his performance, his lip-syncing is warranted in some situations. But I think as he was performing on a talent show, lip-syncing was perhaps inappropriate.

Here is the performance in question:

Artists such as Pink and N-Dubz have made pacts to never lip-sync on stage, as they think it’s wrong for fans to pay to see artists performing over playback. However, whether they will stick to this is unknown. In the past, American artist Ashlee Simpson, had also claimed to always sing live, however, she was caught out on the now infamous Saturday Night Live, hosted by Jude Law in 2004 as seen in the Fox News report below.

The list of artists who have previously lip-synced would be almost endless and in some situations, artists are required to lip-sync in particular venues and on particular shows. I think it will forever be a controversial topic as when singers lip-sync, it gives the impression that they aren’t good at live singing without the help of studio technology and auto-tuning. And anyone can sing along to a backing track, right?

The Snow of 2010 … Back Again

The Snow Last Night In South East London

There’s only one thing everybody seems to be talking about at the moment, the snow. Whether it has already hit your area or you’re anxiously anticipating it’s arrival, you have to question; is snow more trouble than it’s worth?

With weather warnings being issued by the Met Office daily, people are finding themselves stranded. Hundreds of schools have been closed making it difficult for parents to get to work and people around the country are literally “snowed in”. Many roads are gridlocked and some trains and buses have been cancelled due to icy roads.

Gatwick Airport has been officially closed, with some flights being transferred to Luton Airport. A spokesperson for Gatwick Airport released this statement:

“Due to severe weather conditions, Gatwick Airport will remain closed and is not due to reopen until 0600 [GMT] at the very earliest tomorrow. Snow clearance activities have been taking place throughout the night and will continue throughout the day to ensure the runway is safe for aircraft to land and take-off. Gatwick has been disproportionately affected by the weather conditions with approximately six inches on the ground and further heavy snow forecast this afternoon and into this evening. It is vital that passengers do not make their way to the airport and check our website and with their airline for updates.”

The Snowman I Built When It Snowed In January

My parents, who live in South East London have informed me they currently have about eight inches of snow, with a further eight inches expected to fall there tonight. Fortunately, (in my opinion) Bournemouth has not yet been hit by any snow. As much as I love the idea of having a “White Christmas”, I think the side-effect of ice is far too dangerous. Having snow in January this year was personally, enough for me.

What do you think of the snow? Do you love it or loathe it? And what is it like in your area?