Monday, 24 October 2016

What was today's freebie? Sockpuppet by Matthew Blakstad

How did I get it? A giveaway by those wonderful people at Goodreads


This review is on my profile at Goodreads.


SockpuppetSockpuppet by Matthew Blakstad
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Matthew Blakstad obviously knows his stuff. A brief glimpse at his profile shows that he has qualifications in maths and has worked in online communications. This thriller isn't just a clever page turner, it's highly plausible and increasingly believable.
Dani Farr lives in an online world. She's created an online presence called sic_girl that shows intelligence and learning. It's all fun and showing off, until sic_girl starts getting herself involved in politics and out of Dani's control....

Blakstad plays on fears already present in our society - Big Brother; privacy; hacking; identity hacks. It's also possible Blakstad understands politics and spin. This book has more than just data and tech wizardry - it's a well crafted study in politics and spin. Even more plausible than the fact that privacy is vulnerable is the notion that politicians are out of their depth when it comes to modern life and are at the mercy of advisors, reliant on their explanations. It takes little imagination to believe that politicians may believe all the hype they read in a paper and launch the next great thing, only to be undone quite quickly with their own trust and naivete.

It's not just the plausibility and excitement of this book that should make it a hit, it's the fact that it avoids all other obvious thriller cliches. Violence and sex are present, but not graphically illustrated as if everyone is a trained assassin or hot porn star lover behind their quiet exterior. Those scenes are themselves believable, real and show a vulnerability in the characters.

It's the characters that show the final breath of fresh air in a thriller - the strongest and most interesting characters are all female. Jonquil, Beth and Dani herself are complex characters, all quite different and not subject to fitting in with the regular notion of lead females in thrillers. All their vulnerabilities are clearly played out, it's refreshing to recognise lead female characters that actually resemble people one might meet in real life.

The copy I received was an uncorrected proof for review, won from Goodreads. The hardback release deserves great plaudits. And I'm not just saying that because I think Blakstad will post all my secrets if I say otherwise.

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Sunday, 23 October 2016

Cow Pat hand cream. No, really.

Today's freebie? Cowshed's Cow Pat handcream

Charming. Who threw that at me? Stylist magazine


A photo posted by @thebestthingsinlifeblog on
OK, I'm not in the habit of reading women's fashion magazines. Stylist is a freebie (I should review it and it's brother publication Shortlist one day) given out in Manchester and other cities. I get a copy for Mrs Bestthingsinlife and sometimes have a punt at competitions where the prize is something I'd enjoy.

In this case it's a unisex hand cream. It's a posh one - £8 for 50ml - so should show results. So why the offputting name? Well, Cowshed were founded in a ... cowshed. It's a cowshed at Babington House, I grant you, so quite a nice one. They've grown and now have spas across the world and a range of products with names like Lazy Cow, Knackered, Cow Slip and this one, Cow Pat.

The smell is wonderful. Gently spicy and certainly not feminine at all. I put it on last thing at night and fall asleep smelling my hands. No, it's not weird.

Does it work? Well, I certainly felt some benefit when wearing it. Judge for yourself - I took before and after photos from the time I received the cream to when I finished it. I'd say it did it's job just fine.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Tracey Ullman's Show - several of a kind

What's the freebie? Tracey Ullman's Show on DVD

How did I get it? A competition win from The Daily Mirror's We Love TV


A photo posted by @thebestthingsinlifeblog on
Tracey Ullman had several very successful years in the UK in the early eighties. Sketch shows A Kick Up the Eighties and Three of a Kind led to Girls on Top via huge music hits such as Breakaway. And then she disappeared...

...well, of course she didn't. She followed her husband to America and had even more success with her own show which trivia fans will also know launched The Simpsons.

And then she same back to Blighty. Tracey Ullman's show launched on the BBC in January 2016 to some critical acclaim. Was it any good? Well, having watched the first few I thought it was ... not bad. Now, having had chance to see the whole series .... it's not bad.

Ullman shows herself to be an adept impressionist. With the help of prosthetics (the voice needs no assistance) she does a great job taking off Judi Dench, Angela Merkel and others.

To be fair most sketch shows are hit and miss to me and this one is no different. There are some great characters - the US tourists amuse, the topless feminist MP raises a smile and the app guy (with a totally convincing male voice by the way) has the cringe worthy quality that the best comedy can provoke, whereas others such as the possessive zoo worker lack punchlines and the northern powerhouse businesswoman with a hatred of the south is a tired idea. maybe watching once per week stretches the gaps between episodes to make repetition less noticeable, but it can become tedious if you plough through a box set.

Ullman has always had talent and she's still on top of her game, certainly as creative and funny as any other sketch show I've seen for the past few years. She's always seemed to need to be the star - leaving a group to have her own show, having a music career and returning with another eponymous show. This series is a useful vehicle for her talents as a character actress and maybe a sitcom beckons - she would certainly provide excellent support characters to edgy comedies. To me, that's a better bet for the future rather than a second series of sketches.