Book Review: Sparkle by Mara Altman

Having enjoyed her book about body hair and having recently gotten engaged myself, I was curious to read Mara Altman’s book about her engagement, or more accurately, her engagement ring.


Having never seen herself as the marriage or wedding obsessed type, Altman examines her own conflicting feelings about the rock on her finger. As a modern day woman she worries that it’s a sign of ownership, or her fiancé marking his territory. The ring being a “back off” sign to other men.
And what of the size of the rock? Does that matter? Is the value of the rock indicative of the man’s commitment? Or his love? (To me, clearly not)
Being the worrying, obsessive type this kickstarts the book, as Altman explores her own feelings, the diamond industry and the history of rings as a tradition (engagement rings are long standing but the involvement of diamonds is a 20th century invention, by diamond companies)
She interviews various experts, but the involving part of the book is the personal stuff. Altman wrestles with her own fears about conformity, her future and Anger at how much the ring she never thought she needed preys on her. It’s a fantastically frank and open examination of her doubts, fears and insecurity, peppered with a good sense of humour.
Altman is likable and engaging, her only flaw is being prone to over thinking things, but this is what makes her a good writer, she delves into her feelings to produce a wonderful book.
I learnt a lot about diamonds and engagement rings, but what I took was the sweet relationship between Altman and her fiancé, and a fresh insight into the way marketing and social norms effect us more than we know. And the differing views on rings, with some folks getting far too caught up in size or price, as if these two things can show how strong a love or commitment a couple shares.
Verdict: An interesting and entertaining quickread, as Altman uses her jumping off point to explore different themes is a concise, involving manner. She has intelligence and wit as a writer and I devoured this in one sitting. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

A tip? Don’t be rude!: Wahaca, Cardiff

Tipping is a contentious issue, and attitudes about it vary. My own attitude is that if the service is very good I’ll tip. I think that’s the best way for it to work, with the customer deciding what to give and when.
Adding a service charge to a bill is a no-no for me. It feels presumptuous, and means that the staff, regardless of their performance get the same thing. A tip is like a bonus, and should be earned by doing your job well, or at least that’s my opinion.
It’s even worse if the service hasn’t been that great.
Which brings us to Wahaca in Cardiff.


Yesterday MWF and I went there with some mates as an engagement celebration. It being a Bank Holiday Sunday, town was rather busy and the drive from Barry to Cardiff took the best part of an hour (it normally takes around 25 minutes).
Add onto this trying to find a spot in St David’s and MWF and I were running late. My friends, coming from Swansea were also late. The only one of us to make it on time was my friend Rhodri.
MWF and I arrived for our 1PM reservation at just after quarter past, it was here that we encountered an incredibly rude manager.
I’d barely given my name before she started in, giving us grief about the fact we’d booked for one. I explained that traffic was terrible at which point, I’d have considered the matter closed.
But instead she started going on about the fact they’d tried calling me and that “normally we give away the reservation if you’re not here within 15 minutes”.
Hang on, wasn’t one of us already here anyway?
“Yes, but he only just arrived.”
First of all, this wasn’t the case as he’d been there a while. And even if he had “just arrived” it would have been before the fifteen minute mark. So what was the woman’s problem?
It was a pretty hostile response to walk into and her whole manner was rude, abrasive and acting as if we were causing a major inconvenience.
I get we were late, which might have been annoying but it was a booking for 8 people, so surely they stood more to gain by waiting for us than cancelling our table. Especially as the place was only about half full.
Now, part of me wishes right there that I’d just said “You know what, we are late. I’m sorry and we’ll take our business elsewhere.”
I mean, sure we were late but there was no need to give us grief for it, especially as we’d been apologetic. I had been to the restaurant before, but for MWF this woman was the first impression she got of the place. And it wasn’t a good one.
It left a nasty taste in the mouth (unlike the food, which I dug) and although our waitress, Magda, and the other servers were quick, polite and friendly, the manager’s rudeness is what I’ll remember most about the trip.
So, at the end of the meal when around £14 was added as a service charge we crossed it off and tipped about a fiver. This felt fair, the service was alright but the manager lady was part of the staff and service and that made us unwilling to cough up the service charge.
While I enjoyed both my visits to Wahaca in terms of the food and the service, I don’t think I’ll be making a third trip.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

2020 Vision

So Buzzfeed recently ran an item where they asked readers to write a letter to themselves in 5 years time, so here’s my letter to 2020’s Chris.

Dear Chris Me,
How’s it going buddy? I can imagine that a lot has changed by the time you read this. For one thing you (we?) will be married, by the time you read this, and will have been for a couple of years. Heck, there may even be a Chris Jr on the scene?
I’ll also be 35. And I thought 30 sounded old.
Now, on Buzzfeed it was mostly about giving advice, so future me here’s some advice:
1. I hope you’ve lost weight and started running again, if not get MWF or MWW as she’ll be then to give you a slap.
2. Get better at seeing your friends, I leave it way too long before hanging out with the guys. We’re still close, but you gotta put some work in.
3. Write that book!!!
4. If nothing’s off your bucket list, pick something and do it. Just do it! Stop reading about other people’s exciting lives and make yourself exciting.
5. Do what’s right, even if it causes problems.
6. Have the nephew cheering for Wales, not England.
7. Book a holiday, cross another place off the destination wishlist.
8. Keep trying to be nicer. We’re not an utter heel, but there’s always room for improvement.
9. Convince MWF/MWW that Elvis is the true King. I just want to be able to blast some “Jailhouse Rock” in the car


10. Also that reggae is the music of the gods.
Anyway, I’m sure your doing fine and hopefully better than I am now, and that you still have all those great people in your life. Now, stop reading this, kiss your (our?) gorgeous wife and then start on that book.
2015 Chris.
PS This whole two versions of me is a little Looper/Days of Future Past isn’t it? Working out how to refer to myself was tricky.


Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines

I quite enjoyed Peter Clines’ first installment in his superheroes vs zombies series, and the sequels have been sitting on my Amazon wishlist ever since. I finally got around to reading part 2 and it was an utter belter.


A few months after the events of the first book, the LA based heroes continue to protect their fellow survivors. Tensions are high as they try and integrate the former gang members they’ve taken in after a turf war and anti-super feeling.
When an unmanned drone is spotted they realise that other survivors are out there? But who are they? And can they be trusted?
It turns out to be the US Army, and it’s supersoldier programme. Some are sceptical, while others hope for a return to normality.
But as they visit the base more doubts are raised. Have they really worked out how to control the dead? What are their intentions? And who is really calling the shots at the base?
I really dug this book and it feels like Clines has upped his game since part one, with this book expanding on the world he created. It’s an interesting world he’s made, with the survivors having developed their own slang and their reactions to the supers and the zombies feel real and grounded, despite the unreal events.
His characterisation is solid as well, and his narrative device which sees focus shift from the present to the past creates dramatic irony and allows the truth to slowly be revealed. St George, the protagonist, is a solid, old school hero and immensely likable and the other characters, new and old, are well rounded.
It’s a gripping, entertaining read with Clines tying all the threads together wonderfully, and it unfolds at a good pace.
Also the “celebrity zombies” theme from the first continues, and there’s a nice nod to Nathan Fillion who’s endorsement of the first book is what brought it to my attention.
Verdict: A cracking read filled with action and humour, Clines has developed as a writer, with this feeling more confident and accomplished. I won’t be waiting so long before I get into number 3. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Campaign name inspired by whaling? Yeah, you’re probably in the wrong: Thoughts on Project Harpoon

Sometimes it’s really hard to maintain my cheerful, “people are basically good” attitude. Most folks are just trying to get through their day to day and not harm or bother anyone if they can help it.
But often you get these outbursts of nastiness and cruelty. This happens on a large scale and in smaller, petty ways, and both get to me.
I just wish more people paused before acting and followed the golden rule (treat others as you want to be treated).
The internet, which can be used for great things, is often a breeding ground for petty cruelty. The latest online unpleasantness is an odious campaign called “Project Harpoon”.
Like many campaigns it targets women, particularly the larger ladies. Hence it’s nasty name, the kind of thing a particularly obnoxious teenage boy would find hilarious.
The whole campaign, hiding behind the banner of “skinny acceptance” sees photos of plumper women photoshopped to make them thinner. This has been done to celebrities like Rebel Wilson, Melissa McCarthy and Meghan Trainor (see below), but more distressingly to regular women who post pictures of themselves and online.

Some of these women post their pictures as part of their process of becoming comfortable with their bodies and expressing themselves. A process helps the viewers as well, inspiring women to realize that people of the same size can be attractive.
That these pictures are being used in this hateful campaign is cruel, these women have found the confidence to put themselves out there, often after years of the media telling them that sexy means skinny. Just as they gain confidence it is attacked and undermined.
This is fat shaming and bullying, with nothing to do with “skinny acceptance” if that’s what you want, post pictures of skinny women or leave positive comments on the pictures that are already out there.
We don’t need fat or skinny acceptance, we need acceptance of the variety that exists in human appearance and that beauty doesn’t have anything to do with clothes size or weight.
You hope these idiots grow out of it, and in years to come look back in shame at their actions. It’s just not cool, and I’d hazard a guess that we’re not dealing with ideal specimens here, and they would not appreciate someone retouching and being sarky about them, especially in photos they were happy and proud of.
Project Harpoon represents the worse kind of petty cruelty and thoughtlessness we are capable of. I pray the women who fall victim to it rise above and realize that these sad losers are the minority and that all body shapes can be beautiful. And what matters most is how they feel about their body. Love yourself folks.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Having really dug the show Girls and been charmed and amused by it’s creator/star Lena Dunham, who seemed clever and witty. Because of this her book went onto the “to read” list.


I’m glad I did because I thoroughly enjoyed it. Dunham writes with painful openness at times, spilling out her fears, flaws and mistakes with a courageous honesty. At times she’s hard to understand, or at least to me, our minds working in very different ways, but she’s always engaging and oddly likable, and most importantly, funny.
A mix of anecdotes and thoughts on life Dunham touches on her childhood, relationships and fame. She discusses her insecurities and opens up about her past, and then book is by turns amusing, frustrating and moving. The chapter “Barry” detailing a rather unsavoury sexual encounter is heartbreaking as Dunham realises the true extent of what happened, largely due to the reactions of those she tells the story to. It feels like something that has weighed on her for some time and to unload in this manner is brave to me.
Dunham’s writing is filled with humour and energy, and while its not laugh-out-loud throughout it raises a few chuckles and plenty of smiles along the way.
Best of all, like Girls, it’s written without an eagerness to be liked, it’s about self-expression and Dunham comes across as a neurotic, frustrating and complicated person, beset by fears and issues like the rest of us. And it’s this honest, unvarnished approach which ensures that I really did like her and found her writing utterly captivating.
Verdict: A good read, held my attention wonderfully and Dunham is an interesting, clever and talented writer who had me enthralled throughout. It won’t be for everyone and Dunham’s neurotic personality may grate on some, but for me it worked. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: Going Nowhere: A Life in Six Video Games by Sam Leith

Despite having the look and being a geek in many respects, I’ve never been a big game. I’ve had minor addictions over the years (Tetris, Halo, Angry Birds and most recently FIFA) but I’ve never been totally sucked in, and never owned my own console. But I took a punt on this book and it really paid off.


From early excitement over Planetoids to addiction with World of Warcraft, Leith discusses his relationship with video games. But it’s more than that, because Leith talks about how games have impacted on his life and the different reasons which have pushed him to withdraw into virtual realities. He perfectly captures the awkwardness of his teens with an honesty and intensity which makes them painfully fresh. But it’s not adolescent whining, because it’s filtered through adult insight and reflection, the writing is smart, quick and engrossing.
Leith is an open, insightful writer who spills his guts about his personal life, from his teenage awkwardness to his extended adolescence, living with his brother and spending his evenings playing games. He uses them as an escape from the problems of the real world, or as a form of release from stress. But acknowledges that this withdrawal isn’t always healthy and that as a father with more responsibility the allure of gaming is beginning to fade. And that the nature of online living might be changing how we interact.
Leith shows real insight, explaining the appeal of gaming and about his own problems. I read this on a crowded train home and devoured it in less than hour. Leith holds the reader’s attention extremely well and is an engaging narrator,and a writer I will look for in the future.
Verdict: Wonderfully written, a quick read which is very personal, and filled with insight, character and warmth. Leith is a great writer and engages us in his personal journey through video games. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: The Girl at Rosewood Hall by Annis Bell

Finally…a Kindle free book which I actually enjoyed, after months of duds.
This book was a decent enough historical mystery thriller which benefits from some good characterisation and a fast pace which makes it a quick, enjoyable read.


Set in the 1860s it follows Lady Jane, a strong willed young woman who chafes against the confines of the strict societal rules forced on women. An orphan, she has been living with her uncle, but as his health fails, she faces a tough decision. She will lose independence and her life controlled by her jealous, greedy cousin.
Her only hope is marriage, but that would also be surrendering control of her future.
During a winter party a disheveled, starving girl named Polly arrives at Rosewood Hall. She babbles about having escaped a cruel master and other things before dying, including wanting to keep her friend Mary safe. To avoid scandal and worsening her uncle’s health, Jane is aided in covering it up for the evening by Crimean war veteran Wescott, a friend of her uncle and a dashing, mysterious man.
Wescott proposes a unique deal, a show marriage. Allowing Jane to claim her inheritance, and the only condition is that she accompany him on social events.
Jane begins digging into the girl’s disappearance and begins to uncover signs of a conspiracy involving the trafficking of young women as servants and playthings for deviant aristocrats. Can she find the dead girl’s friend and keep her safe?
Meanwhile what is Wescott up to? And can she trust a virtual stranger?
I dug this book, which was a quick enjoyable read. The story unfolds at a decent pace and Bell makes her characters engaging and believable. Her writing is simple and unfussy, but she has a knack for characterisation and building tension with easy skill.
Lady Jane is a good protagonist, strong willed and smart, she throws herself into the mystery and shows resourcefulness. What I liked was that she has flaws, acting too quickly, suspecting the wrong people and endangering herself.
There are a few predictable turns, but a couple of genuine twists, and it’s all a perfectly fine genre piece. Bell also has a few threads which  are still untied, leaving it open for a sequel.
The ending is a little bit rushed, but it’s the only flaw in a thriller which works perfectly well, even if a tad predictably. What impressed me most is that it’s been translated, but you can’t really tell and nothing is lost in switching to English.
Verdict: Moves at a decent pace and keeps the reader involved throughout. It has enough mystery to keep you guessing and the characters are well rounded. The ending is a little rushed, but a decent thriller. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

An ugly glimpse at the gutter

It’s been a year since Robin Williams died, an event which highlighted that even someone who brings joy to millions can suffer from depression. Although it pales into insignificance next to the heartbreak his family must have experienced, it was a death which hit his fans hard as well.


For many people, including myself, Robin Williams was a massive part of my childhood and films like Aladdin, Mrs Doubtfire, Jack and Jumanji meant a lot to us. As I grew up more films joined the list (Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting and The Birdcage), and off screen he always seemed like a good dude.
At 30 celebrity deaths have lost their ability to truly upset me. A few have been shocks, and in all cases I feel sympathy for the families, but none have wrecked me. When my Mum was younger she cried over the death of her rock idol, Marc Bolan, which unfortunately fell on her birthday.


For me, Williams’ death is the closest I’ve come. The circumstances, the connection with my youth, the realisation that he had clearly been suffering for quite some time, all of it was upsetting. I wasn’t alone in this, and every Williams movie we’ve watched since has upset MWF.
A year has passed and it’s still hard to think that such a talented, successful and well loved person could be brought so low. But that’s the thing with depression, it doesn’t give a damn who you are, it’s a remorseless, destructive disease that chips away at who you are and removes all hope from your life.
Sorry, that was rather bleak.
What made me want to write this blog was anger. Pure anger.
At work I saw a trashy magazine which had splashed across its cover a story about Williams’ suicide note being revealed.
I looked at this rag and seethed. This is not news, this is gutter journalism at its very worse. Who goes digging for something like that? The last words left by a man suffering from depression, clearly meant for his loved ones.
It’s an intensely personal thing and one that the rest of the world has no business knowing.
Even by the low, low standards of celebrity journalism this is shameful.
I’ve wanted to be a journalist since my early teems (part of the reason I started blogging), but I can’t imagine ever sitting there and typing out what someone left as a suicide note, especially to put it forward as entertainment. How can you justify that? How can you look at yourself in the mirror after that?
You’re not exposing corruption or bringing wrongdoers to justice, you’re just trading on people’s morbid curiosity and invading someone’s privacy. Worse, you’re dredging up a family’s pain and grief, and opening that up to the world.
And that’s not cool.
Why don’t these people exercise a bit of compassion? A little bit of decency and respect for another human being and their privacy. Just pause for a second and wonder how they’d feel if it was their loved one who’s personal life was being shared with everyone.
Robin Williams deserves to be treated with respect, and who we should remember for his talent and achievements. I don’t know why anyone would want to read a stranger’s suicide note, or buy the kind of shameless mag that would run it.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Film Review: Lava

Last week I saw Inside Out and loved it, and before the film there was a short film. Being a short movie, this will be a short review.


The cute, adorable short follows a lonely volcano who, witnessing other couples being happy sings a song, hoping for a love of his own.
As the years pass he loses his hope and his lava and size dwindles, however, an underwater volcano hears his song and decides to go to the surface to meet him.


Is she too late? Or will they find happiness together?
Based around a simple, glorious Hawaiian style song which puts a grin on your face. The animation is typical of Pixar, full of warmth and character and in a few minutes it manages to be more heartwarming and genuinely affecting than many features manage.
I loved it, making me smile like an idiot and appealed to me as a soft git. It’s full of charm and an easy, light touch which stops it from being too sickly.
Verdict: Brilliantly cheerful and the right kind of sweet, it’ll warm the cockles of your heart. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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