Book Review: The Complete Beauty Book

I bought this impressively heavy tome on Amazon Marketplace a couple of years ago. I’d been browsing YouTube tutorials for ’80s makeup looks, none of which were quite 100% period accurate, and a commenter recommended this book – it came out in 1985, and was apparently considered one of the ultimate hair and makeup guides of the era.

The Complete Beauty Book

Like everything else in life, I like my hair and makeup to look vaguely ’80s – not full on backcombing and Boy George blusher (unless I’m going clubbing!), but using the correct techniques for day makeup that were popular at the time. This book provides a really good immersive experience in that sense. There are also a lot of very pretty pictures of ’80s bathrooms and dressing tables with lots of plants everywhere!

It also gives a really interesting insight into the mindset of beauty specialists at the time. This is a little tangential, but when I studied history at university, the realisation that made the most sense of the passing of time to me was that you don’t know you are living in a particular period of history while the world is still going through it. Since the mid-’90s, society has had this very particular cultural view of the ’80s that it was the decade of excess – in fashion terms, that means big hair, big shoulders, excessive makeup, everything over-exaggerated. But reading the words of the authors in 1985 paints a very different picture. From their perspective at that time, it was the ’60s that were stark and over-exaggerated in makeup trends – white panstick, black eyes, no nuance – whereas ‘nowadays’ the trend was a lot softer and ‘more natural’. Given that we’ve been told for more than twenty years that ’80s makeup looked anything but natural, I found this standpoint absolutely fascinating!

I’m not the greatest at makeup, so I haven’t really perfected all the eyeshadow patterns yet, but the book does give a lot of tips to try out. It’ll be staying in my collection!

Book Review: Five Give Up The Booze

This book review’s fairly timely for me, seeing as it’s my last day of drinking today.

I think it was a couple of years ago that Bruno Vincent’s ‘Famous Five for Grown-Ups’ series started appearing in shops, and Geth and I bought a couple of them as gifts for people for Christmas 2016. However, it wasn’t until last summer that I actually got round to reading this one.

If you’re familiar with the original Famous Five stories, there’s a lot to enjoy in these. The kids from the original books have grown up and are now dealing (very comedically) with adult issues, in this case deciding to do Dry January after a particularly heavy New Year. Their resolve is complicated by an upcoming wedding, and some characters find they replace drinking with alternative bad habits. Timmy the dog, meanwhile, just puts his head down and waits for it all to be over.

It’s very well done and very funny and I will definitely be picking up the others in the series. I may even dip into my old childhood copies of the original Enid Blyton stories!

Book Review: The Girl On The Train

The Girl On The Train was one of those books that I only ended up reading because of what I think of as the Kindle’s ‘3DS effect’ – i.e. the Kindle offered me a sample to see if I liked it, similar to the way the Nintendo 3DS offers me demos of its games to see if I like them.  I’ve ended up buying a lot of 3DS games this way, and similarly, I was intrigued enough by the sample of this book to buy the whole thing.

It’s a mystery told in a really intriguing way, with lots of unreliable-but-maybe-not narrators.  For me, the most interesting character was the protagonist, Rachel, whose alcoholism means it’s often hard for both her and the reader to see things clearly.

It’s a good, gripping read and I can understand why it’s been so popular.  At some point I’ll read Paula Hawkins’ follow-up, Into The Water, to see if I enjoy it as much!

Book Review: A 1980s Childhood: From He-Man To Shell Suits

Last year, for my birthday (so 364 days ago now!), Geth got me an ’80s box filled with cool stuff like t-shirts (the Stranger Things t-shirt has become a wardrobe staple; sadly the ‘I Love The ’80s’ one got a hole in it after about two wears, though thinking about it, it would have been perfect to wear at Electric Dreams given the other clientele) and books about ’80s music, TV, and general nostalgia.

A 1980s Childhood by Michael A Johnson was one of these books, and ended up being one of my summer reads.  It’s set out really well – the chapters each focus on a different aspect of pop culture such as music, TV, toys, and film, and comprise a short history of the topic interspersed with the personal recollections of the author (who was born in 1977).  There’s also a list in each chapter of the most notable examples of ’80s bands, TV shows, etc.

For me, it was the personal recollections that I enjoyed the most – the majority of the pop culture history I know off by heart.  It was a good read, and this next year I’m going to try and get round to all the other books that came in the ’80s box!

Book Review: The Colour Of Magic

I decided in the summer that I was going to re-read all of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series from the beginning.  I’ve managed one so far, so it’s probably going to take me some time.  There’s just so many other things I want to read!  Still, it should be fun to read them in order over the course of a few years.

The Colour Of Magic
The Colour Of Magic.

The Colour Of Magic is a lot of fun – in Rincewind, Pratchett immediately created what is probably his most enduring character, and Rincewind’s unwilling adventure with Twoflower is quite a nice, jolly romp.  At this point in the series, though, the narrative is a bit rambling, and so the story is just a disjointed series of scrape after scrape that ends on a literal cliffhanger.

I’m having a similar issue with my current re-read of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, so maybe it’s just that I personally prefer a more structured narrative.

I’ll make sure to read The Light Fantastic soon, before my recall of the first entry gets too fuzzy!

Book Review: Knots And Crosses

I first read most of Ian Rankin’s Rebus series when I was a teenager, mainly because Black And Blue is (was?  This was nearly twenty years ago) a central text for Higher English, and so every high school kid in Scotland had to read it.  I kept up with the books for a while, but never got round to reading the later ones, so I decided recently to re-read the lot from the start, aided by my Kindle.

Knots And Crosses by Ian Rankin

Knots And Crosses is interesting if you’re familiar with the series, because it’s still kind of finding its feet.  It was written (and hence set) in 1985, quite a bit earlier than the bulk of the books, and so the main character, John Rebus, is not quite yet the grizzled, cynical maverick that he will later become.  There’s quite a lot of interesting stuff going on with his relationships with his brother and daughter at this point, and a few characters are introduced who will become very important later in the series, but by and large it can feel like a bit of a strange prequel with hindsight.

The plot zips along nicely, though, and the fact that it’s a bit more straightforward than later stories will be is actually quite a refreshing way to start reading the series again.

Of course, as an Edinburgh native, the setting is my favourite thing about the books, and here as ever the city is depicted beautifully.  Something that’s always frustrated me since I started university in my hometown is the way that some people can live in Edinburgh for years and still never see beyond the picturesque, touristy, student-friendly surface.  Ian Rankin’s writing, by virtue of its subject matter, evokes every aspect of the city, from its architectural beauty to its dark underbelly, from Morningside to Pilton.  I know every street Rebus walks down, if not quite every pub in which he drinks (some of them have not survived the intervening thirty-three years!), and for me that really gives the stories life.

I have the next few entries on my reading list, so I’m sure I’ll get round to them soon!

Book Review: Rod: The Autobiography

As I’ve mentioned before, It’s only really been the last few weeks – mainly due to my holiday in Canada – that I’ve finally picked up the Kindle I was given for Christmas and loaded it up with ebooks.  Last autumn, I decided I needed to read a few rock star autobiographies, largely because one of the novel series I’m writing – the first of which I did for last year’s NaNoWriMo – involves the world of 20th century rock stars, and I needed to do some research into it.  Also, I thought they’d be pretty fun to read.

The first one I read, while on holiday in Canada, was Rod Stewart’s autobiography from 2012, and on the latter point it did not disappoint.

Rod: The Autobiography on Kindle
Modelled by my Kindle.

Stewart tells his story very engagingly and comes across as very likeable, even at the points when you want to shake him and scream ‘you’re married to yet another beautiful woman – WHY CAN’T YOU STOP WOMANISING, YOU MUPPET???’  I found his justification for why he has always felt Scottish from a football fan perspective really interesting, even if I still don’t really understand it.  The book also provided a really interesting look into all my favourite eras of British pop and rock music, as he’s been involved in the industry for a long time now.

Also, Mum’s read this one as well, because of course she has – she’s read everyone’s autobiography.  As such, we were able to have a good discussion of it while we were in Canada.  We’re distantly related to one of Stewart’s ex-wives, model Rachel Hunter, through the Shetland connection (she’s my fourth cousin!  See the Wikipedia entry if you’re not sure how cousins work.  Suffice to say it’s pretty distant).  Because of this, Mum was pretty pleased that she was the only ex-wife he never cheated on.  You gotta take those victories somewhere!

Overall, it’s a nice optimistic, fun read and I really enjoyed it.

Top fact that I gleaned from this non-fiction work: while everyone knows that it was John Peel who mimed the mandolin playing during the Top of the Pops performance of Maggie May in 1971, it was Ray Jackson from Lindisfarne who played the part on the actual recording!

Book Review: Password To Larkspur Lane

Something that has really surprised me in recent years is that when I pull a book out of my childhood collection for a quick read, there is a 90% chance – even if it’s a story I revered and loved as a child – that the book will be utterly, unbearably terrible.

Password To Larkspur Lane, the tenth entry in the series of Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene, is no exception.

Password To Larkspur Lane
I know this cover says it’s actually the twelfth entry, but I’m going by the Goodreads profile for the book.

I grabbed it off the bookshelf for a quick bedtime read a few weeks ago, after I’d put up the bookshelves in the bedroom.  I thought it might be quite fun to read through my Nancy Drew collection again, as I’ve not done so for over twenty years.  After reading Password To Larkspur Lane, however, I’m not sure I can stand to read any more.

First of all, the main character is ridiculous.  Nancy is absolutely, unrealistically perfect.  In the course of the story, she wins a flower-arranging competition, saves a child from drowning, knows the details of the American homing pigeon association off by heart when one happens to land in her garden, manages to escape from a completely dark and sealed cellar by climbing the wall with her bare hands and a scrap of broken wood, knows how to drain a plane’s fuel tank, and in the end solves two cases that – of course – turn out to be related.  She hardly ever involves the police in what she’s doing, because she doesn’t want to worry them.  When she does, they are – of course – laughably inept.  Despite the fact that she is a teenage girl meddling with the plans of dangerous criminals, her lawyer father just lets her do what she likes, bows to her wisdom regarding the police, and seems to spend his time supporting Nancy’s efforts and buying her new cars rather than actually being a lawyer.  I don’t like the term ‘Mary Sue’ because people in online fandom throw it around to mean ‘character I don’t like’, but Nancy is a Mary Sue if ever there was one.

Pretty much every other female character is utterly useless and petrified of everything, except for Nancy’s friend George, and that’s only because the latter is an extremely two-dimensional tomboy character.

The story is insanely unrealistic too – clues just fall into Nancy’s lap out of nowhere, and she always just happens to know someone who is an expert in whatever she needs to know about next.  Usually, however, this isn’t necessary, as she’s an expert in most things herself.  At one point, a character is declared by a doctor to have suffered a ‘slight heart attack’ (he’s perfectly fine and up and about the next day), which is the moment I nearly threw the book at the wall.

At the end, when the criminal gang is rounded up, they just explain their whole plan in front of the police, in true inept villain fashion!

Terrible as this book is, I will definitely read at least one more of these when I feel up to it, because I have to know if the others in the series are all just as bad.

My new(ish) toy

I spent most of today buried in my Kindle.  I got it from Mum and Dad for Christmas but it’s only this last week that I’ve actually loaded it up with ebooks and started using it.  There are a few odd things that it keeps doing without asking, and it’s not got a very good system for turning itself on and off, but it makes reading so easy that I’m a total convert after one day of use.

This is very good news for my poor, groaning bookshelves, as well as for the limited amount of space in the house.

Getting back to old habits

By the post title, I mean deliberately getting back into one, and trying not to get back into another!

The good one is reading.  As a child I was a voracious reader and the only time I didn’t have my nose in a book was when I was writing my own stories.  Then I grew up and the internet happened, and I went to university where I had to read nonfiction books for research all day long, and so my reading habits shifted from novels to blogs and forums, and my fiction-consuming habits shifted almost solely to TV shows and videogames.  I’ve never really fully got back into the habit of reading books, although I do make a concerted effort every few months – I’m fully aware that my own writing improves when I read actual published works rather than stuff on the internet, interesting as a lot of stuff on the internet is.  As such, for the last couple of weeks – ever since we got access to our books – I’ve been reading for an hour before bed.  Also, I got a Kindle for Christmas, and in the last week or so I’ve been filling it up with ebooks to read while I’m on holiday.  I’m looking forward to having some time for that again.

The bad habit – which I indulged in today but am not intending to repeat – is buying mounds of cheap clothing in Primark.  Since my wardrobe cull, it’s been very important to me that I don’t end up replacing the mounds of cheap and unwearable clothes with more mounds of cheap and unwearable clothes, and so the clothes I’ve been buying so far this year have been better quality investment pieces that I know will get lots of wear.  I realised that I don’t have enough lightweight summer clothes for my upcoming holiday though – in the UK climate you don’t usually need a lot of summer clothes, although the ones I do own have been seeing a lot of use during the heatwave we’ve been having for the last few weeks – and so I did break my Primark ban this morning.  I don’t expect the clothes will last long, but I know I’ll get a lot of use out of them this summer – and that I now have the de-hoarding mental strength to get rid of them when they do wear out, which is the important thing.

I’m nearly getting to the point where I have enough clothes again.  Not quite, but nearly!

(Books, on the other hand, I have far too many of – hence the Kindle, to make sure I don’t buy any more physical ones.)