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Three stories combine…

Present Day: In Ridinghouse Bay in Northern England, Alice Lake, single mother of three young children and three dogs, finds a man on the beach. He has no idea of who he is, why he is there, or how he got there, but Alice takes pity on him and lets him stop at her holiday house. While he is there, she tries to help him recover his memories.

Meanwhile in London, young newlywed Lily who has come from her home in Ukraine to live with her husband Carl Monrose, is desperate for answers when her husband fails to come home from work. The police are dismissive of her at first, so she sets out to find him on her own.

1993: The Ross family are holidaying in Ridinghouse Bay. Son Graeme and daughter Kirsty are with their parents on the beach when a handsome and enigmatic stranger strikes up a conversation. None of them realise that this is an encounter which lead to disaster.

These three stories start out separately but soon start to intertwine, and while some parts  were sort of guessable, there were plenty of surprises too. It did take me a while to get into and I was somewhat sceptical about it at first as I did not really enjoy the last book I listened to by Lisa Jewell. However, this one won me over in the end. I listened to the audiobook which held my attention during some long and hilly runs! Narration by Antonia Beamish, who did an excellent job.

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Not having ever read the play by Alan Bennett, or seen the film adaptation of The History Boys, I went into the production knowing very little about it. Set in the 1980s, the story revolves around six bright, high-spirited students and their very different teachers – Hector (Ian Redford) and Irwin (Lee Comley). The teaching staff is rounded out by Jeffrey Holland as the results-obsessed headmaster Felix, and Victoria Carling as Mrs Lintott (in fact, the only female in the whole play).

Hector is a man confused about his own sexuality, which causes issues for him and others, and who wants to, if not incite the boys to rebellion, at least make them think for themselves about what they want to do with their lives, rather than merely follow the path to Oxbridge which Felix is determined they must do. Young supply teacher Irwin is brought in to temper Hector’s anarchic style of teaching. Mr Lintott is the foil to all three of the male teachers, seeing things more clearly and stating things more succinctly. The boys not only have to cope with the pressure of dealing with their futures, but also with everything that comes with being a teenager – they can be loud, raucous, in some cases, discovering their own sexuality, and for at least one, turning to religion to the bemusement of his unseen parents (they were prepared for dealing with drugs, but not for God!)

The beauty of this production was in the script, which was fast paced, humorous and poignant, but also in the casting; whoever was in charge of picking the cast did an outstanding job, as there was not one single weak link in the whole cast.

The boys were played by Thomas Grant as Posner – in love with a fellow student, coming to terms with his homosexuality, but with a sweet sense of humour and a lovely singing voice which he was able to demonstrate on a number of occasions; Jordan Scowen as Dakin, cocksure for the most part but displaying vulnerability too, witty and clever; Frazer Hadfield as Scripps (I adored him), probably the most level headed of the group, sometime narrator to the audience, and an excellent piano player; Joe Wiltshire Smith as the non-academic Rudge with a dry sense of humour; James Schofield as Lockwood; Arun Bassi as Akthar; Dominic Treacy in a very humorous turn as Timms; and Adonis Jenieco as Crowther.

The musical interludes – featuring well known songs from the eighties with video clips of the cast, showing what is going on with the characters outside of what is going on on stage – were ingenious and allowed seamless set changes on stage.

Overall, a truly wonderful production – highly highly recommended.

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In 19780s Deptford, widower and merchant Jonah Hancock is shocked to discover that the captain of his trading ships has traded the ship for what seems to be a mermaid. As news of the mermaid spreads through the community, Mr Hancock is catapulted into high society, where he meets the beautiful and notorious Angelica Neal. The scene is set for a tumultuous journey for both of them…

I honestly wasn’t expecting too much of this book when I picked it up, but I reasoned that I had bought it, so something about it must have attracted me. (It does have a most beautiful cover, so it could have been that!) Actually though, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s definitely slow in pace, but for me that was a bonus as it gave me chance to savour the beautiful and luscious writing.

I never felt much for Mr Hancock, and did not particularly like Angelica at first, although my feelings towards her did change and become more positive. The mysticism of the mermaid combines with the gritty reality of life in a shipping town, and focuses a lot on how inhabitants of brothels live their lives, and it is all described wonderfully.

The book is split into three sections and the third section was my favourite, but I enjoyed the whole thing. If there was one niggle, I would have liked to have known more about certain characters (Polly for example) and what the outcome of their stories was. Otherwise though, this is an example of an original story with wonderful writing.

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I listened to the audiobook of The Cows, expertly narrated by the author herself, Dawn O’Porter, plus Karen Cass and Laura Kirman. It’s a mixed bag of a book for me – definitely held my attention throughout, but when looked at in retrospect a lot of the things that happened were verging on ludicrous.

The story centres around three women – Tara, a tv executive who makes a silly mistake one night and it threatens to ruin her life; Cam, a well known blogger who has a hugely successful career, but her mother and sisters despair of her life choices; and Stella, a young woman mourning the death of her sister, who is driven to desperate lengths to get what she wants out of life. Each in her own way, refuses to follow the herd and this has consequences for all of them.

Without giving away any spoilers, I thought the story was entertaining enough and as mentioned, extremely well narrated. Although I listen to and enjoy audiobooks, I generally prefer printed books. On this rare occasion though, I think listening to the book enhanced its appeal. Some of the events that happened just seemed so unlikely that it was fairly obvious they were simply there to move to story along. Stella’s story in particular, while it achieved the point of showing how far people will go to make their dream come true, seemed so ridiculous that I almost lost interest. I liked Tara, I quite liked Cam, and I hated Stella although I did feel some sympathy for her.

I think I expected the book to be more of a comedy – and it isn’t. It is a drama, firmly set in the current day – the internet and social media play surprisingly large roles in this story.

Overall, I enjoyed it enough to try another book by Dawn O’Porter, but this is a flawed read, which I would recommend but with some caution.

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The first book I read in 2019 was Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King. I loved it and doubted whether I would enjoy another book quite so much throughout that year (I actually did, but Sleeping Beauties is still ranked in my top 3 books of last year)).

This year the first book I read – not counting audiobooks – was Under the Dome by Stephen King. I may have started a tradition here by starting each year off with a Stephen King novel, and so far it has worked out well, because I loved this book too. It’s dystopian rather than horror – although there are certainly some horrific scenes contained within – and I do love this genre. And of course there is a reason that King is one of the most popular fiction authors of all time – he knows how to spin a good yarn.

The story revolves around the Maine town of Chester’s Mill, which is suddenly and for no reason enclosed within a transparent dome. Everyone in the town is trapped inside and there is no way in from the other side. Naturally the air gets dirtier and supplies run short; people panic and react in different ways. The situation brings out the very best and the very worst in people and pits townsfolk against each other. It’s a great big brick of a book with a big story and lots of characters, including some major players and some more peripheral parts. As the situation gets more and more dire in a short period of time, people get ever more desperate, and while some just want to find out what has caused the dome to be there and search for a way to get rid of it, others take advantage of the situation.

I loved every page, and would highly recommend this book to Stephen King fans, lovers of dystopian fiction, or anyone who just loves a good story.

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I listened to this audiobook, narrated by Tom Kotcher, over the course of several days. it is billed as the first in the Karen Pirie series, but Officer Pirie is very much on the periphery of this story (I suspect it was to ‘test the waters’ before writing a series based around a particular character).

It’s a book of two halves; the first half is set in 1978, when four students – who are known by their nicknames, Ziggy, Gilly, Weird and Mondo – in St Andrews stable across the body of a young woman named Rosie Duff, who is vaguely known to them. She has been attacked and left for dead. The police launch an investigation which fails to find the killer, but suspicion falls upon the four lads, and follows them around for the rest of their time at the university.

25 years later, the police reopen the cold case, but things take a strange turn when two of the former students are murdered and the remaining two decide that someone is taking revenge on them for the murder of Rosie. With the police not seeming to get anywhere, the two men decide to do some sleuthing of their own.

This is the first Val McDermid book I have ever read or listened to, and I have to say that I did enjoy it. Tom Kotcher did a good job narrating, with the exception of his American accent, which was pretty atrocious. Fortunately there are only a couple of American characters and neither of them feature very heavily, so that was not really an issue.

McDermid describes the tension and atmosphere extremely well, and I did feel that the four young men were all very distinctive; their relationships with each other were also well portrayed and formed a large part of the story. As for the mystery itself – I did actually figure out who the killer was when I was about a third of the way through, but nonetheless I still liked listening to the novel.

Based on this book, I would definitely try more by this author.

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I recorded this film months and months ago, because something about it intrigued me. I’m not sure what and it took ages for me to get around to watching it – somehow whenever I was trying to pick a film I fancied, I passed this one by. But finally I settled down to watch it, and wow! It FAR exceeded my expectations (and if you will allow me to be shallow for a moment, it also awakened me to the fact that Viggo Mortensen is a beautiful man!)

The story revolves around Chester McFarland and his wife Colette (Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst), who are holidaying in Athens. They meet up with Rydal (Oscar Isaac), an American tour guide, and hire him to show them around. Rydal is something of a con artist, but as the audience quickly learns, so is Chester. This fact catches up with Chester when some disgruntled victims of his hire a private detective to track him down and Chester accidentally kills him. Rydal stumbles upon Chester trying to hide the body (don’t worry, this all happens very early on, so there are no spoilers here) and not realising the other man is actually dead, helps Chester.

The two men are then inextricably bound to one another – both has the means to get the other into trouble, and also the motive – Rydal is clearly attracted to Colette, and the feeling seems mutual.

An uneasy alliance forms as the three of them are forced to stay together – I won’t say more as there are lots of twists and turns and the storyline deserves not to be spoiled for first time viewers.

I really liked this film – it’s basically an old fashioned thriller, done extremely well, with great actors. The main three are all excellent, with Mortensen and Isaac competing for who steals each scene (Dunst is also fantastic, but I think she was given less to work with). Fans of Alfred Hitchcock will like this; I feel sure that if Hitchcock were making movies today, this is the kind of thing he would come up with. It also looks stunning, the locations and the lighting were beautiful, and the music was reminiscent of thrillers from the 50s and 60s.

I was entirely unsurprised to discover after I had finished the film that it is based on a  book by Patricia Highsmith. It is undershot with just the right amount of tension, and you are never quite sure who if anyone will come out on top.

I highly recommend this film, and will also add the book to my reading list.