Posts Tagged ‘family’

Adrian Wolfe seems to have the perfect life. Although he has two ex-wives with whom he has five children altogether, everybody gets along well, and even all go on holiday gather with Adrian and his third wife Maya.

But when Maya steps in front of a bus and dies, after an evening spent getting uncharacteristically drunk, Adrian’s world falls apart. A mysterious woman named Jane appears to be stalking him, his children all seem to be going through personal crises, and then he makes a discovery which causes him to question whether Maya’s death was really the accident he had thought it was, or whether she might have done it deliberately.

As the story moves between present day and flashbacks, secrets are revealed, and the veneer of the perfect extended family starts to crack.

I really enjoyed this book, and read it in two sittings. I thought the storyline seemed believable, even the unconventional relationship between the family. The characters were also very well drawn, and although I didn’t particularly like some of them (Adrian himself seemed charming but ultimately irresponsible, always leaving one woman when someone better came along, but somehow managing to keep relations harmonious), they were certainly easy to find interest in.

The mystery part of the novel – without revealing spoilers all I can say about it is that it revolved around whether Maya killed herself deliberately or not, and what might have driven her to consider it – also added an element of tension, which kept me turning the pages. I was genuinely surprised by the ending, and it’s always pleasant when that happens.

The story segues perfectly from a family drama to a psychological thriller and back again, and it was one of the few books which I didn’t want to put down and kept thinking about going back to to read some more.

Very highly recommended.


Author’s website can be found here.


Read Full Post »

Mary Gibson’s debut novel takes place between 1911 – 1919, and revolves around Nellie Clarke, one of the ‘custard tarts’ who works at Pearce Duff biscuit factory in East London. It begins with her meeting the charismatic Eliza James, who encourages female factory workers to strike for better wages and living conditions, and follows Nellie through the first world war, as she sees the young men in her neighbourhood go off to fight for their country.

As Nellie is just sixteen at the start of the book, the story sees her grow up and have to work hard to keep her family safe and together. She faces numerous challenges, both romantic and financial, and has to make the transition from child to adult very quickly.

I think the book was well written, and it certainly seems that the author has done a lot of research about the era. There were quite a few twists and turns, and while some parts were predictable, there were some surprises along the way too. Having said that, it didn’t ever completely engage me, although I think that is more down to my personal taste – I’m not really a big fan of cosy historical sagas, which I would categorise this as, despite the fact that it demonstrates the hardship of Nellie’s life, and the effect of the war upon her and her friends.

Nellie though was a likeable central character, as was Sam Gilbie, a young man who played a very central role in the story, and even if it was not really my kind of book, I still found myself reading large chunks of it at a time.

If this is the kind of genre that you enjoy, then I would certainly recommend this book, but on a personal level, while I enjoyed it in part, I am not sure that I would try another book of this type for a while.

Read Full Post »

This Woody Allen directed contemporary musical, which boasts a star-studded cast revolves around the love lives of an extended family, and takes place in Manhattan, Paris and Rome.

I only really wanted to watch this film because Tim Roth is in it, and I wasn’t sure whether I was going to enjoy it – I’ve not actually seen many Woody Allen films – but in fact it is utterly charming and really rather lovely.

The story is narrated by Djuna (known to everyone as DJ, and played by Natasha Lyonne). She starts by introducing the viewers to her family – stepfather Bob (Alan Alda), mother Steffi (Goldie Hawn), step-sisters Skylar (Drew Barrymore), Lane (Gaby Hoffman) and Laura (Natalie Portman) and step-brother Scott (Lukas Haas). Not forgetting her actual father Joe (Woody Allen).

While Holden (Edward Norton) and Skylar get engaged, Joe is bemoaning the demise of his latest relationship, and DJ decides to set him up with Von (Julia Roberts) the patient of DJ’s friend’s psychiatrist mother! Von is in an unhappy relationship, and Joe is determined to win her over.

Meanwhile, Lane and Laurie are both in love with the same young man, Bob is distraught that son Scott is turning into a young conservative, despite have extremely liberal parents, and DJ is busy falling in love with various young men. Things get even more complicated when recently paroled prisoner Charles Ferry (Tim Roth) turns up!

The cast mostly sing all their own songs (Barrymore is dubbed) and all the songs are well known musical classics. Obviously these actors are not professional singers, but for the most part they hold their own pretty well – in fact Goldie Hawn and Ed Norton apparently had to be told NOT to sing as well as they were able, as they were not believable as the characters randomly bursting into song which they were meant to be portraying.

There is also some quite amazing dancing, with lots of extras (obviously professional dancers) being used – and this film also contains probably the happiest funeral scene you will ever see! There is also a quite stunning dance towards the end of the film, featuring Goldie Hawn and Woody Allen – it is very cleverly and beautifully done.

The whole cast shines, but I would give special mention to Alan Alda and Goldie Hawn, and also to Tim Roth, who has a great time with his own relatively small role. Edward Norton is also terrific in a role that is very much unlike the kind of parts we are used to seeing him play.

Overall, if you are looking for a film that will make you laugh and feel warm and happy inside, I would strongly recommend you give this one a go. I loved it.


Year of release: 1996

Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Main cast: Alan Alda, Natasha Lyonne, Goldie Hawn, Edward Norton, Drew Barrymore, Woody Allen, Julia Roberts, Tim Roth, Gaby Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Lukas Haas


Read Full Post »

Skunk Cunningham (Eloise Laurence in her debut role) is a young diabetic girl living with her older brother Jed and her single father Archie, in an anonymous city in London. Also living in the house is Kasia (Zana Marjanovic) a babysitter/housekeeper, who has an on again-off again relationship with boyfriend Mike (Cillian Murphy). Their neighbours are the Buckleys (Denis Lawson and Clare Burt) and their emotionally handicapped son Rick (Robert Emms) and the Oswalds (widowed father Bob, and his three wayward daughters, Saskia, Susan and Sunrise).

When Skunk witnesses a mindless act of violence, her life starts to change. As the film progresses, the reason for the attack she sees is revealed and events in the little cup-de-sac soon spiral out of control.

Anyone who has seen this film or read the book it is based on, and who has also read/watched To Kill a Mockingbird, will see the comparisons between the two. After watching the film, I found an online interview with Daniel Clay who wrote the book ‘Broken’, where he said that he took the characters of TKAM as a starting point for his novel.

Despite the bleak subject matter (and it only gets more bleak as the story progresses), I really enjoyed this film. Tim Roth is, as ever, excellent and is by far the most likeable adult character in the show – a hard-working solicitor, who is trying his hardest to bring up his children well, while also attempting to resolve the tensions in his road.

However, the whole cast is superb and nobody puts a foot wrong. Rory Kinnear is brilliant as the brutal, impulsive and reckless father of the Oswald girls (who are all, frankly, despicable). Cillian Murphy is an actor who has slipped under my radar until now,  but I enjoyed his performance a lot.

Plaudits have to be given to young Eloise Laurence however, as Skunk, upon whose shoulders the story largely hangs. I loved the easy father-daughter relationship between her and Archie, and her acting was incredibly natural and believable – hard to believe it was her screen debut.

If I had any criticism, it would be that there was perhaps just a little too much going on towards the end – that said, I was completely absorbed in what was unfolding, and did not get bored or restless at any point.

I’m not going to give away the ending, but I will say that while some reviewers didn’t like it, I definitely did. I thought it was beautifully and sensitively done, and there was a definite lump in my throat (actually, I just out and out cried!)

Overall, an excellent acting debut, solid acting from the whole cast, and genuine tension make this a must-see.


Year of release: 2012

Director: Rufus Norris

Producers: Peter Hampden, Norman Merry, Joe Oppenheimer, Peter Raven, Wendy Bevan-Mogg, Tally Garner, Bill Kenwright, Dixie Linder, Nick Marston

Writers: Daniel Clay (novel), Mark O’Rowe

Main cast: Eloise Laurence, Tim Roth, Rick Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Martha Bryant, Faye Daveney, Clare Burt, Denis Lawson, Bill Milner, Rosalie Kosky, Zana Marjanovic, Cillian Murphy, George Sargeant


Read Full Post »

This book took me two months – to the day – to read. For someone who used to read a book a day and has now slowed down to generally a book a week, that is LONG time. But don’t think that it was because I didn’t enjoy reading this – on the contrary, I loved it, to the extent that I would put it in my top ten favourite books.

Because it is Richard Burton’s diaries, it is not an autobiography as such, but it does paint an revealing and fascinating picture of his life, particularly during his first marriage to Elizabeth Taylor.

The diaries initially start with schoolboy Richard (then called Richard Jenkins) describing his day to day life – with focus on friends, family and sport (and a lot of board games!) but even then you can see his budding interest in books and literature. The majority of the diaries are, as aforementioned, written during his life with Elizabeth Taylor, and they are very absorbing – not just for the private snapshots of their lives together, but also for his thoughtful observations on the world in general, his profession, his children and his reading habits. Because he certainly loved to read – up to three books a day sometimes – and wrote his thoughts about almost everything he read. He had a wickedly acerbic sense of humour and often used quotes by poets, authors and playwrights to support his point.

The diaries tail off towards the end of his and Taylor’s relationship and then start again during his four marriage (to third wife Suzy Hunt). After another long gap, they restart again during his relationship with Sally Hay, and during preparation for the Private Lives tour, when he and Taylor starred together in Noel Coward’s play about a divorced couple who still have feelings for each other. I admire Burton’s widow Sally for releasing the diaries, especially when he writes with such passion and love towards Taylor for the majority of them.

What ultimately emerged from the diaries was a picture of a very intelligent, witty and generous man, with many demons (not the least of which was of course alcohol), but who was all too aware of the flaws in himself, as much as he noticed flaws in those around him.

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable book from beginning to end, beautifully edited (although I would have preferred the notes to be in a list at the back of the book, rather than footnotes on almost every individual page), and one I will definitely pick up and read again. Highly recommended for anyone with even the slightest interest in any aspect of Burton’s life.

(Click here for the official Richard Burton website.)

Read Full Post »

The subtitle of this book is ‘A Neuroscientist and his dog decode the canine brain’.  Gregory Berns – the neuroscientist in question – has done years of MRI work to help understand how the human brain works, but as a dog lover, he wanted to learn how a dog’s brain works.  After first determining that such a thing could even be done, he and his team at Emory University came up with methods of doing MRI scans on a canine brain.  He leads the reader through the initial idea, right through the various difficulties they had to overcome (for example, from being given the go-ahead to do the experiment in the first place, or  training dogs how to lie absolutely still in the MRI scanner.

The two dogs who participate in the experiment are Callie, Berns’ own adopted mix-breed, and McKenzie, the Border Collie owned by a friend of a friend. Berns describes the scientific aspects of the experiment, including how an MRI works and is used, and while the narrative sometimes necessarily becomes quite technical, it was explained simply enough for someone like me – with not the best grasp of scientific concepts – and didn’t lose me or bore me along the way.

Stories about Berns’ family life and his two dogs – as well as Callie, they have a Golden Retriever named Lyra – keep the story bouncing along, and underline the fact that while he is a scientist, he is also a dog lover, with the greatest respect for their happiness and well-being.  For that reason, he was determined that the experiment should not be detrimental to the dogs in any way, and that they should be allowed to not participate if that was what they chose.

It’s a fascinating study, and the telling of it is engaging and, for the most part, upbeat.  I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in this particular branch of science, but also for any dog lovers.  Very enjoyable.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

Read Full Post »

May 1983 – 14 year old Cynthia Bigge wakes up the morning after an almighty row with her father, and discovers that her entire family – her mother, father and brother have disappeared.  The mystery is never solved, and for 25 years, Cynthia has to live with not knowing what happened to them.  Are they dead? Alive?  Did they just choose to leave her, or did some other fate befall them?

2008 – Cynthia appears in one of those hokey true-crime television shows, which revisits the mystery of her family’s disappearance, and soon afterwards, strange things start happening – a phone call from someone saying that they know where her family are; her father’s old hat suddenly appearing in their house, and other events.  Is someone playing cruel games with Cynthia, or is they mystery finally about to be solved?

Apart from the very brief prologue describing the night of the disappearance from Cynthia’s point of view, the rest of the story is narrated by her husband, a high school English teacher named Terry.  Cynthia and Terry have a more-or-less happy marriage, and an eight year old daughter named Grace, but the mystery of what happened to her parents and brother has haunted Cynthia for years, to the extent that when odd events occur, Terry questions Cynthia’s sanity.

If you are a fan of thrillers/whodunnits, then I’d recommend this story.  Sometimes the writing is a bit cliched, and I did figure out the ending before the big reveal, but there was plenty here that kept me entertained.  The writing flowed well, and I read huge chunks at a time, because I was eager to find out what happened (and if my guesses were correct).  The plot sometimes veered close to being ludicrous, but I just went with it, and enjoyed it anyway.  As with most books in this genre, I would not read it again, because it’s more about the destination rather than the journey, so once you know who ‘dunnit’ there’s not much point in re-reading.  Terry was a decent enough narrator, although not a particularly interesting character (to me anyway), but this book is definitely more plot driven than character driven, so the fact that he did not make a huge impression on me did not really matter.

All in all, it’s not brilliant, but it’s an enjoyable diversion and I’d read more by Linwood Barclay.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 35 other followers