Friday, 28 June 2013

Bookworm: The Soldier's Wife by Joanna Trollope

The Soldier's Wife was leant to me from my Mum. I looked at the cover and wasn't too eager, but as always thought I'd give it a go!

In this fictional tale the reader gets taken into the world of being an army wife and the complications involved when soldiers return from service and are on breaks. 

I'm not married to a soldier and don't really have experience of those living with someone in the army or working in that field. 

However if the author's story is to be believed it makes for a sad tale - lots of lonely time on your own (expected and what is imagined), but moreso a very traditional and old fashioned life in favour of the soldier and traditions and non stop restrictions for the wife/girlfriend. A life of feeling trapped and taken for granted.

The key focus of the book are Alexa and Dan, their twin daughters and Alexa's daughter from a previous relationship. Add to that a male best friend and two sets of concerned parents/grandparents and things get a bit complicated. Not least when the soldiers try to get back into normal life and have just faced such awful sights and events.

I found I enjoyed the book in that it was an easy read, wasn't taxing on your journey to and from work when you want to unwind and I did want to read more and what happened next. 

However, in terms of a story and what happens, I can't help but feel not a lot if I'm honest. 

I felt like I kept on reading and kept on waiting for something to happen of importance and nothing that much did.

Characters were well described and you could imagine them and their situation and I felt the frustrations of the wives. The way the story dawdles on and the ending left me feeling a bit 'so what' in attitude.

There were parts with some drama and a guessing as to how things would turn out. Yet there was nothing major that made you gasp in shock or feel like the turn of events was unexpected. 

Yes I did want to keep reading on to find out what happened, but more because I was looking to see if something big would occur overall!

Good points
Easy read
Feel good read overall 
Good descriptions

Not so great
No real story or plot I felt, which is a pretty major part of a book! 

All in all not one of my favourites as I'm sure you can tell, but not offensive or particularly unpleasant just a bit 'non'. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Blogging birthday: two years old!

Wow TheMelican is now over two years old!

I've got mixed feelings about this - I'm feeling a bit disappointed right now since my two year blog 'anniversary' was actually on June 15th and I missed it!  

I'm also incredibly pleased that two years on my blog is still here, getting visits and I'm still writing for it.

Over this time I've written about fitness, music, social media, job hunting, spinning, horse riding, weight loss, love, friendship, family, relationships, books, the theatre, films, poetry, art, culture, beauty, short stories and lots more. 

If I leave it too long a gap to update the blog I soon hear about it, people notice and complain they've missed reading my posts.

When I first started writing this I was looking to get a new job and move on from my old company. Now I've nearly been at my current company for two years. 

Two years ago when I sat down and started to pour my feelings out I was feeling pretty fed up. Tonight sitting here blogging (on my phone) I'm feeling a bit sad and shameful.

Of late I've had a few 'issues' in my life - both work wise and in my personal life. I've not been feeling great if I'm honest. However tonight I decided to tune into a TV documentary on BBC called Lifesavers. 

You know when you lose a loved one or get some shocking news about someone close to you? 

This program has had the same impact. Put things into perspective. Life is too short.

There is a 17 year old girl on here with a completely smashed hip and pelvis. Now there is a young man who got smashed over the head with a hammer and is not responding after a long period of time and the prognosis 'isn't hopeful'.

It's so true you really don't appreciate what you've got until it's gone in life. 

I hate to be so sombre in mood and so serious. But I also feel this is a reality check opportunity too, something I think I've probably needed lately. 

So on that note I am going to go back to focussing on these inspiring people in the NHS and try to stop whinging quite so much!

Here's to another year of blogging and some more thoughtful and less whiney posts! 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Bookworm: Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

Reading this book was like going back to Jodi Picoult's old style writing (not like the new The Storyteller). But going back to her good work.

Rather than finding the style repetitive, as I started to with other more recent pieces by this author, I found the familiarity comforting. 

Those of you who've read fiction by this American writer before will know how she often tells a story within a story and likes to feature hard decisions and moral dilemmas often centred around some form of court case.

Yes this book does that again, but I really enjoyed it.

In fact on finishing the book today I was left feeling rather emotional, it's a touching read and does offer twists and turns and is not as predictable as you'd expect. 

Centred on Luke Warren - a man who has spent his life living with and understanding wolves with a difference. The book tells of a family's struggle to come together and make some tough decisions . 

You will find it hard not to love and at other times hate brother and sister Edward and Cara. Or feel sympathy for Mum Georgie. 

Good points
Good twists
Moving storyline
The side story I found interesting 
You want to keep reading
Strong characters 

Not so great
Yes it is the same predictable style this author always uses
Some may find parts cheesy

Overall I'd recommend this read and have to say this was a positive book loan from my Mum this time round! 

Friday, 21 June 2013

Spinning: a year on

Sitting on my sofa on a Friday night in my PJs, hungover and having stuffed my face with enough junk food to feed a family for a week, I am about as far away as you can get from a spinning session. However, today marks the day of my 'spinning anniversary', yes it's been a whole year since I discovered spinning.

I remember going to my first class and now I've got familiar with the various instructors and classes at my gym I know I picked a good session to start with. The Thursday night class is a lot calmer and you have more opportunity to go at your own pace if needed. In some of them the instructors are personal trainers and they are like army sergeants!

As I am such a spinaholic now, I thought I'd share a bit about my favourite fitness hobby - why I like it and what it actually involves.

What happens in a spinning class?
Randomly a few people have actually thought spinning is as the name suggests and you spin round and round in a class. No you don't spin round in circles. Spinning is based on stationary bikes that are specially created to allow participants to do the various positions/moves on them - standing, squatting, hill climbs, sprints and so on. At my gym there is a separate room/studio in which around 25-30 bikes are set out in a semi circle featured around the instructor's bike so everyone can see them wherever they are placed in the studio. A spinning class varies from 45 minutes to 60 minutes and can only be called spinning if the instructor is qualified, else it gets referred to as 'RPM'. The class is based around loud, pumping music with a strong beat which you move along to and you can do the class in a dark room or with UV lights or even flashing lights - as if you are in a nightclub! You will find it hard to walk after your first few sessions, particularly the next day and your bum will ache I won't lie! My boyfriend reliably tells me it's quite uncomfortable for men and their bits and pieces too!

On the bike you need to adjust it to suit you, you adjust the height of the handlebars, the height of the saddle, how close the saddle is to the handlebars and of course the resistance once the class starts.

The instructor will shout out the position to get into and often count you down into them and will advise on resistance whether to do a turn up or down and whether it is a full, quarter or half a turn.

How the class runs depends on the instructor, so in classes I've been in there have been exercises/moves such as:

Squats - either actually doing a squat whilst standing, but stopped on the bike or holding in your abs and lowering your legs so the tension is on your quads and you continue to pedal
Spin/sprint - whether off the saddle or seated you have to pedal as fast as you can
Hover position (off the saddle, leaning forward with your bottom just over the seat)
'Position 4' standing upright with your abs in
Seating upright
Seated leaning forward
Seated arm push ups (with arms out for biceps and in for triceps)
Standing arm push ups (with arms out for biceps and in for triceps)
One armed cycling
One leg focused pedalling
Super slow pedalling
Hill climbs (very very high resistance)
Various circuits

Some classes include a variety of moves and constant changes stand up/sit down/stand up/sit down, whilst others focus on blocks of set moves. All these sessions will be hard, but some instructors take a bootcamp approach to running the class, some walk round and turn up your resistance and shout at you to go faster, some are more concerned about technique, some really get into their own spin experience and shout or scream.

A key part to the spinning session is the music - it's got to be fast and bassy enough. I for one am a fan of those classes that feature garage, house, old school clubbing tunes and R&B. When it's dark you can often catch me having a bit of a sing along to some of the songs and if I get songs I like I go so much faster, I get some sort of hidden super boost to my speed!

The last five minutes are used to do stretches - the instructor will take you through a set of appropriate ones and show you how to do them.

* You definitely need a towel - you sweat profusely
* You definitely need a bottle of water (a big one)
* Get a saddle cover or padded trousers or both (the saddles hurt!)
* Some people wear cycling gloves to allow grip on the handlebars (you slip a lot where so sweaty and some bike handlebars are
made from a rougher material so can hurt your hands)
* Try find out what the classes are like at the gym you go to so you can try out a 'calmer' version of the class. If you go to a
more extreme one the first time round it might put you off!
* Go at your own pace and build up (speed and resistance wise)
* Keep your focus on technique - shoulders relaxed and abs tight (you will feel the pain/after-burn more and see better results)
* Make sure you have short or tight fitted bottoms on so nothing can get caught up in the pedals or wheels
* Some people have special cycling footwear which can be 'clipped in' to the pedals to help them feel more secure and be able to
go even quicker
* Keep an eye on the instructors legs/speed to get an idea if your resistance is too high/low
* If you're a girl and have long hair, pull it back, it will get in your face and you will sweat and want to keep cool

What are the benefits?
1. It's great fun
2. I've really found since I've been going it's helped me in my weight loss (you can burn an average 400-700 calories per session)
3. Great for sculpting your body shape - biggest change I've seen in my body shape from doing spin overall (particular my bottom, legs and arms)
4. It takes your mind off things, good stress-buster
5. Great for strengthening your core
6. Great for developing your fitness
7. Focused session which really pushes you, achieve a lot in not a huge amount of time, I realised how I hadn't properly pushed
myself in gym sessions over the years once I started these classes
8. Even if you are tired or fed up it's great because the music and high energy of the class boosts your mood and pushes you on

I could go on about this class and how much I love it, but you'll be pleased to know I'm now going to come to a stop. A year on I still thoroughly enjoy this form of exercise and would recommend it to everyone - we get all shapes, sizes and ages in our class and if you have any injuries you can advise the teacher before and they'll advise what you can/can't do. At times of late just when I've started to feel I might be getting a tad bored with the class then suddenly they seem to get updated/amended! And to be fair I do go to up to 5 classes a week!

On that note I'm off to enjoy my lazy relaxing evening for a bit before tomorrow morning's next spinning session!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Bookworm: Eloise by Judy Finnigan

Eloise was another classic lent to me by my Mum.

As Judy Finnigan works alongside her husband Richard Madeley to recommend books through their Book Club (often seen in WHSmith stores), I was interested to see what she could offer herself.

This story tells the tale of Eloise a cancer victim and mother who dies young. The book focuses primarily on best friend Cathy and her struggle to 'help' Eloise after her death after experiencing supernatural occurrences and 'messages'. 

Throughout the book Finnigan obsesses over locations and eateries in Cornwall. She's a big fan of the location and wanted to get that across. Well unfortunately she does that too well and at times I wondered if she was now doing PR for the area. I wouldn't mind if the places added to the story but they don't  and in fact they detract from you getting into the story at times.

Similarly the writing style is not direct enough and often feels like a person's account of a story and so often parts feel rushed or not well described.

There are some parts I was surprised by and found compelling, but unfortunately this was a small occurrence. 

The so-called ghost parts aren't particularly chilling and that comes from someone like me that jumps at everything!

At times I would feel sympathy for the main character and her mental health past, but then this would be short lived because the writing style would take me out of the story again. 

Just when you felt like you were getting into the story and using it as escapism this would keep happening. 

The book is easy to read however and isn't particularly taxing on the brain. So it's ideal for commuting and lunchbreaks when trying to unwind.

Judy says she was inspired to write the book based on the early death of her close friend Caron Keating, daughter of Gloria Hunniford. However none of the story is based on real life and the only other inspiration/reference is the writer's love of Cornwall and books of the thriller and ghost story genres.

Good points
Easy to read
Relatively novel idea for a storyline

Not so great
Too much description of Cornwall restaurants and sights, not enough description of characters and situations
Bit far fetched at times
Often scenes/events are rushed 
None of the characters are hugely likeable

It's not the most awful book I've ever read but I can't imagine I'll be rushing out to buy her next book (if she ever does another one).

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The power of compliments

I'm currently lying in bed feeling fed up, tired and hungover (yes alcohol probably is the reason for all three feelings listed!)

However one thing has just given me a bit of a boost - looking at my photos from last night and then looking back at some old photos. 

The reason being? Well happy memories from last night obviously. The main reason though is comparing my body from then to now. 

Quite a difference.

In fact lately I've been feeling a bit down for a few reasons, which we won't go into, but most days I've been given a similar boost. Compliments.

How nice is it when you work so hard to improve your weight and fitness and other people congratulate you on it?

I feel - as I've mentioned before - I've reached a stage where I'm on a wavelength and healthy eating and exercise are now a way of life for me. 

However we all have ups and downs and blocks and sometimes feel a bit disheartened. As soon as someone compliments me it just pushes me back on track. It's great.

Over the last week I've had compliments how I look from friends and work colleagues. The guy on my gym reception complimented me on my dress. Another guy on the same evening nearly walked into something looking at me (yes I know I'm as shocked as you are!) And I've also had various car beeps and wolf whistles. 

Now I'm not saying this being vain or showing off, I just wanted to share as it's really made me smile and really inspired me to keep at it.

I've never been overly confident about looks or shape and so I guess I'm also in a bit of shock to think I may actually be getting to a point where for once I am relatively okay with how I look.

I noticed for instance at two recent social events we've been to and I've taken photos I've actually thought I look okay. For years I would look at photos with me in and delete them or crop them to 'cut out my big arms' for example. Now I'm not feeling I need to do that.

And do you know what it feels bloody great!

Granted, how I feel when I step on the scales tomorrow after some of the food and booze I've indulged in this week, may be a whole different matter! 

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Bookworm: The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

I started to read the first few pages of this book on my flight home from a recent short holiday. Then I got a bit busy and neglected it somewhat. 

As most people will be aware the Hollywood film version of this story has recently been released in the UK and I went to view it soon after its release. I'd never read the book.

Yes the film was a bit long and the costumes/scenes were rather OTT but overall I loved the film.

In fact after watching it I went onto my Kindle when home and downloaded the ebook to read.

After finally getting into the book properly I've read it very quickly and in fact found myself surprised how short this fictional piece was.

As per the film the story at the heart of this book is one I thoroughly enjoyed, although it did leave me feeling very sad.

I love the descriptions of the scenery, the characters and the looks of the time. 

Unfortunately my imaginings were heavily influenced by seeing the film and I found myself picturing Leonardo DiCaprio et al quite often and not forming my own ideas as I normally would when reading.

The style at times was a bit confusing and you felt a bit all over the place, but I feel this is intended - when the book's main narrator experiences his mad afternoon/evening with Tom Buchanan and his mistress the writing does reflect the chaos that ensued. 

Good points
Good escapism
Great descriptions
Strong characters
Compelling story

Not so great
Style sometimes not as expected
Order of events in the book sometimes I felt could have more impact if covered differently (however again this could be the influence of seeing how things were laid out on screen).

Overall a recommended read and a book I am glad I've now experienced, even if I have done things the wrong way round!