The-Fault-in-Our-Stars-Poster-438x650TITLE: The Fault In Our Stars
STARS: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe
DIRECTOR: Josh Boone
RELEASED: June 19th 2014

This story first came into my life at the beginning of 2013 when I wrote a rather gushing review of John Green’s infamous tearjerking novel. Since then, thanks to the growing popularity in YA contemporary literature, the book has gone flying to the top of must-read lists and has become a bestseller pretty much everywhere. With such a huge following, it was inevitable that a film was going to be made and I’m delighted that it appears to have come around so soon. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to an advanced screening and as I do consider the book to be one of my favourites of all time, I was hoping that it would translate well to screen.

It follows the blossoming relationship of Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), an assertive, bookish girl who lugs around an oxygen tank and Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a witty, poetic boy with a prosthetic leg. Meeting at a support group for teenagers with cancer, they fall in love and embark on a romance that drags you along with it right from the first “okay”. From fulfilling their life-long wishes to simply being normal teenagers, they laugh and joke their way through their tragically short lives until the ending strikes, bringing everything back to harsh reality.

Of course, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Their blind friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) provides a lot of the comic relief. The scene in which Hazel, Gus and Isaac throw eggs at Isaac’s ex-girlfriend’s house is full of laughs as Isaac’s blindness prevents him from being able to aim properly as is the scene in Gus’ bedroom where Isaac proceeds to smash everything up in a rage at being dumped. There are also plenty of funny moments between Hazel and Gus while their love is developing and the fact that they are both such clever, witty people only adds to the tragedy.

The film did stick pretty closely to the book and there were certain scenes where you couldn’t help but get choked up. Gus claims that he wants to attend his own funeral so asks Hazel and Isaac to speak at a rehearsal he has set up. Hazel reads out a heart-breaking eulogy about how thankful she is for her relationship with Gus and how much she loves him. This along with the very end are guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes as you reflect on what an ambitious, brave person Gus is. His strength are what keeps Hazel going and it’s a lovely nod to the belief that young love is never insignificant. In fact, it’s probably the strongest kind of love there is.

All in all, the book was definitely better than the film but that isn’t to say that it didn’t come over well on screen. Indeed there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema but as with so many book-to-film adaptations, nothing can ever beat the original text with your own interpretation of the characters. Dealing with Hazel and Gus’ situation in my own mind was somehow much more heartbreaking because I felt more invested in them as people than I did with the cast of the film. However, The Fault In Our Stars is a beautiful timeless love story that is guaranteed to hit you hard. At first glance at the film trailer or back of the book, it may appear to be a fluffy teen romance topped with cheese but it is in fact, so far from that.

The subject matter takes YA entertainment to a new level of emotion. Yes these kids are dealing with normal teen struggles such as discovery of sex, conflicts with parents and worries about the future but they’re doing so while standing on the brink of oblivion -which is what Gus confesses is his only fear. This alone means you have to hand it to John Green for tackling a topic as serious as cancer and writing it in a way that everyone can relate to whether you’ve come into contact with it yourself or not -something only a very skilled writer can do.

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Wow, I can’t believe I’ve reached the 50th AskAlex post! It is almost at the year milestone too, so that’s pretty exciting. Once again, I’m always up to questions from my readers and I’ll always answer them, so please leave them in a comment!

What are your top tips for becoming more likeable?

Seems a fairly obvious answer to this question. Smiling more and showing an interest in other people are clearly positive qualities that come off well when you meet new people. It feels weird answering this question when I have so much social anxiety myself. I know that I am incredibly shy and as a result, I can come off as quite stand-offish with new people. However, I know what I like in people I first meet and so I’ll impart that to you.

I like people who ask questions about me and are receptive to my views on things. People who talk about themselves non-stop or immediately shout down my opinions when it took a lot of courage for me to express them in the first place really get me annoyed. Smiling and maintaining eye contact throughout a conversation is also really important. Any of the little things that make me feel that the person is interested in me and what I have to say ticks all the boxes in my opinion.

Of course, it can be hard to focus your attention on one person especially in a crowded setting but I think it is really important for getting to know someone. I also love people who are open. As a curious person, it really irritates me when people are obviously holding things back or keeping secrets. I can always tell too, so I can go away from interactions like that really irked.

Apart from that, it’s just little personal taste things really. I love people who are kind to animals, creative people, ambitious people and those who are genuinely comfortable in the skin they’re in. There’s nothing more inspiring and refreshing to be around than someone who is happy with the way they are. Of course, arrogance oversteps the mark but those who don’t complain about their looks are a really uplifting influence.

Ok, so I put my sad lame hands in the air on this question. I’ll save myself the jeers and not make it too long!

What is the lamest accomplishment that you’re proud of?

I’m afraid it’s memorising ridiculous, useless information! When I was younger, I could recite the entirety of the Matilda film script -stupid, I know but I remember being so proud of myself at the time. Forgive me, I was no older than nine years old!

Nowadays, my memory still works very well and I can list all 50 US states (despite being English) without using the internet and I can also give you all the names of the 151 original Pokemon, although that does take me a while!

My memory is definitely something I’ve always been proud of and it certainly has served me well when it comes to lame achievements!

An interesting question this week that is unlike anything I’ve answered before. I’m not sure where the answer will go but it’s definitely exciting and intriguing!

What is something you believe to be true but have no actual proof of?

I am not a religious person and never will be. On the whole, I wholeheartedly disbelieve anything where there is no concrete proof because what am I then basing my belief on? Speculation from other people who also have no proof? I don’t understand where people find the blind faith needed to believe in a God and a religion so much so that they dedicate their lives to it.

However, I do believe in something else after this life. I don’t believe in a Heaven, a God or a Hell but I do believe that every living thing has a spirit and that there are spirits everywhere. That may be a pretty creepy thing to think about but I don’t think many people can deny that there is a spiritual quality to humans and animals. The fact that we have the ability to love unconditionally and the power to inspire others is something that surpasses the concrete mundaneness of the real world. I believe that everyone’s soul is made up of who they are -their hopes, dreams, fears and loves- and when we die, that life with those things ends. The soul leaves our body but remains close to those we leave behind. We don’t suddenly sprout wings and become angels or join with an all-powerful deity -we are our own afterlife. Whether we meet up with dead relatives and friends, I don’t know, but if there is nothing after this life, then what is the point? What would be the point in living one life and then that’s it, that’s all you get?

I’ve always been very interested in the supernatural and I love stories of people who claim to have had encounters with the dead. In some cases, I really think there is some truth in it because there are some things that simply cannot be explained without dipping into discussions about the possibility of a spirit world living invisibly alongside ours. Maybe we are also living invisibly alongside them and they are as afraid of us?

Similarly, I also believe that there is life on other planets and possibly stars. It’s ignorant to think that we are the only life in the entire galaxy and the idea of aliens is wholly believable. They probably don’t have as much interest as we do in them which may explain why they have never contacted us but there’s no reason to think that we are an isolated population amongst the vastness of the galaxy and indeed universe. I’m not sure if we’ll ever find them but that definitely isn’t to say that they’re not real.

So although I don’t normally believe in things without proof, spirits and aliens are definitely things I do believe in. We have no real proof of their existence but we also don’t have any proof that they don’t. However, we do have considerably more proof of both these phenomena than we do of any kind of omniscient God.

amgigGIG: Arctic Monkeys
BANDS: Arctic Monkeys, Tame Impala, Miles Kane, Royal Blood
VENUE: Finsbury Park, London
DATE: May 23rd 2014

As soon as I heard about these two exclusive gigs, I knew I had to get a ticket for myself and my boyfriend. Arctic Monkeys are his favourite band and their recent album AM got a brilliant review from me. I hadn’t seen them live before but had been told that they are masters at capturing a crowd. Finsbury Park was of course packed to the brim and to avoid being squashed by people much bigger and drunker than I was, I stayed relatively near the back. As a result, I couldn’t see that much of the stage but I could certainly hear and appreciate everything that was happening on it.

Earlier on in the evening, Brighton rock duo Royal Blood had played a set and introduced us to their garage-inspired sound that has spawned singles Out Of The Black and Little Monster. Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders is a long-time supporter of the band and has been on board with them since before they came onto the scene. With backing such as this, we’re sure to hear a hell of a lot more from them. Scouse musician and The Last Shadow Puppets frontman Miles Kane then played his energetic dirty indie while warming up the crowd. The crowd had quickly grown by the time Australian psychedelic group Tame Impala took to the stage. Plenty of colourful trippy graphics accompanied their weird and wonderful set which included their hit single Elephant. The crowd were certainly pretty chilled out before the headliners arrived.

arctic-monkeysgig1The dark sultry riff of Do I Wanna Know? echoed out across the park and the crowd went wild. Shouting the lyrics back to them, Alex Turner lapped up the reception and retained his distinctive drawl into Snap Out Of It with its catchy rhythm. Continuing the AM theme, Arabella followed complete with a Black Sabbath’s War Pigs interlude. Taking things back a few albums, the frantic intro to Brianstorm began and the long-time fans finally got something else to sing along to. With little to no chat with the crowd, Alex simply glided through to Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair and then back to the old stuff again with Dancing Shoes. An extended intro led to Suck It And See track Library Pictures before the soaring rock ballad Crying Lightning rang out across the field. Latest single Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? came up next and received some of the best feedback yet. Sticking with AM, the tribal sounding Fireside preceded their debut smash I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor.

Bringing the crowd down from their high-energy indie mania, She’s Thunderstorms and No.1 Party Anthem chilled us out for the emotional Cornerstone which saw the band show off their acoustic skills for the first time. Being able to hold an audience across Finsbury Park with an acoustic guitar is something only the best can do and they certainly lulled their audience into a slump following it up with Knee Socks. Flip back to early Arctics for Fluorescent Adolescent and 505 which seemed to bring the gig to a slow, casual end.

amgig2The encore began with Alex Turner’s acoustic solo version of A Certain Romance. It seemed a strange choice for the first track in an encore but as the sun was fading in the park, Alex’s vocals really set a chilled atmosphere and soothed away all the frenzy from the first half of the gig. The undeniable intro to One For The Road then sounded and it gently lapsed into beautiful ballad I Wanna Be Yours. Ending on an explosive last note, R U Mine? got the last slot and continued into an extended outro singing us back to the tube station.

Arctic Monkeys are certainly a great live band. They’d clearly organised their set-list to evoke different emotions at certain points in the show and as a result, they were in complete control of how their audience felt. The combination of the venue, the warm calm weather and the dulcet tones of a great live band had a wonderful early-summer, boho vibe and it really was a great night of indie heaven!

*Photos are not mine.

Another book related question this week that will see me plough my inner most thoughts and delve into my previous reads. I do, of course, have an answer to this question and I’m sure most people who read a fair amount will too. Let me know what your answer is!

What is one book that you feel has significantly changed the way you think about the world and why?

Of all the amazing books I’ve read, I’m afraid I cannot pick just one. However, it is a toss up between two, both written by the same author. I discovered this author in January of last year and I’m delighted that I can now pick up one of his books for a read that I know will be funny, emotional and thought-provoking. These books are The Fault In Our Stars and Paper Towns by John Green.

The Fault In Our Stars is one that I’ve discussed a lot on this blog already and regular readers will know how much of an effect it had on me. After finishing the book, not only was I deeply moved by the story but I was also inspired to work hard at achieving my dream. The way John Green told the story of Hazel and Gus made me realise how lucky I was to be young, fit and healthy with my whole life ahead of me. As someone with anxiety that often holds me back and depression that often leaves me feeling awful, it was exactly what I needed to kick me into finally feeling good about my own life. Of course, I knew that Hazel and Gus were fictional characters but they do actually exist everywhere all over the world. Cancer is real and it affects people in exactly the way it did them. I’m just so lucky that I don’t have it too.

Paper Towns left me with a different message but one that was just as strong. It’s not considered to be one of John Green’s best books with many people preferring The Fault In Our Stars and Looking For Alaska but for me, Paper Towns was another inspirational thought-altering read. It reminded me that not everyone is as they appear to be. There are different sides to everyone and some of those sides we never get to see. In turn, this raises the question of whether we actually really know anyone properly or just a certain version of them. It’s definitely an interesting concept and one that I think has a lot of truth in it. I definitely have different “faces” for different people and it’s possible that most of those people will never know another side of me. This makes it very hard to judge anyone because their actions could be products of a side to them that we know nothing about, so we should just be mindful of this at all times. A simple message but one that definitely affected the way I thought about both friends and strangers.


The-Black-Keys-Turn-Blue-Album-ReviewTITLE: Turn Blue
BAND: The Black Keys
LABEL: Nonesuch Records
RELEASED: May 12th 2014

Having changed their style again, Ohio duo The Black Keys are back with the follow-up to 2011′s El Camino. The lead single Fever was released in March and reached number one in the US Alternative and Rock Airplay charts. Turn Blue is highly anticipated due to the three year gap between albums but current Black Keys fans should beware that their loveable rock ‘n’ roll sound is long gone.

The duo appear to adopt an unusual method of recording albums, as like El Camino, they entered the studio for Turn Blue without any songs written. Singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach said  “Every morning we got to the studio, we’d start from scratch and by the end of the day we’d have a new song and that was really it.”. Like El Camino, Turn Blue was co-produced and co-written with Gnarls Barkley’s Danger Mouse, who may be responsible for The Black Keys’ new electronic sound.

Certainly the main song of note is the six minute long opening track Weight Of Love. A two minute long instrumental intro consists of a slow country twang, whistles, twinkling chimes and a gentle drum. Along comes the piercing notes of a bluesy guitar and a lazy trudging bass. The dreamy rhythm and resonating backing vocals are catchy and beautiful, gently easing you into the quirky modern-sounding album.

the_black_keys_press-2013-650Typical strong drums and bass lines can be heard on the title track, Fever and Year In Review. Turn Blue has a simple hook that repeats throughout and creates a chilled-out atmosphere that is perfect for lazy summer days. It finishes with an injection of electronica and a final hit of bass. Big summer single Fever has an incredibly catchy electronic bounce on the chorus and a thumping beat with easy-to-grasp lyrics, so you’ll soon be singing along and tapping your feet. Year In Review is another chill out festival song with electronic sighs and tones and breathy indie vocals. Ghostly echoes in the back of the vocals are another recurring motif on the album and they add an other-worldly feel to the songs on which they occur. The bluesy guitar solo towards the end is a nostalgic nod to their previous work.

Bullet In The Brain and Waiting On Words possess the spaced-out vocals that their new style encompasses. The former is based on a soft beat and features electronic chimes and a chilled acoustic riff. Tinkling keys and ringing riff appear in the second half and echoes of their indie selves become more apparent. The repetitive lyrics hammer home the message and actually take on the form of becoming the bullet in your brain. Their echoing vocals add a whimsical, casual slant that is common on Turn Blue. Waiting On Words has a light simple riff and ethereal dreamy vocals. The soft piano is haunting with the calm vocal delivery until the drum kicks in halfway through, when the song becomes quirky and a little dark. The heavier drums towards the end provide a dramatic definite stop.

Perhaps the song that is most like their earlier work is 10 Lovers. A funky bass, steady drum and a retro pop feel has notes of their former style but the screeching electronic riff and soundscape in the middle drives it into the present day. It’s an atmospheric summer track with an ethereal chorus which will be a favourite with fans of the band’s Brothers album.

The last two tracks on the album couldn’t be more contrasting. In fact In Our Prime, the penultimate track, was originally the last but the band decided that they wanted to end on a high. In Our Prime is a quirky downbeat track with dreary vocals and a melancholy blues riff and steady piano. Closing track Gotta Get Away is a cheerful beat, a funky country riff and an Americana-filled summer track. It’s a great choice for putting on while driving down open roads, singing along to the catchy melody.

If you love The Black Keys as a retro-inspired rock band, then Turn Blue isn’t going to be your favourite album. However, if you’re ready for a new stage in their career then this is the perfect summer record for you. From the funk of the days of rock ‘n’ roll to the futuristic tones of later decades, The Black Keys are evolving with every album. Who knows what we’ll get in another few years?


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