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In the mid 1740s, a young Englishman named Richard Smith arrives in New York, a city in its infancy, with a money order for £1000. As none of the counting houses have that kind of cash available and as there are questions surrounding his honesty and the authenticity of the order, Mr Smith is obliged to wait in New York until the money can be raised and he can be proven to be trustworthy.

The reader is also kept in the dark about Mr Smith’s intentions – we don’t know if he is honest and we don’t know what he plans to do with the money, and we only find out the truth about both questions at the end of the book. No spoilers here though!

His presence in the city divides the people who live there – some believe him and like him, others are convinced that he is a liar and a cheat – and he finds himself in some dangerous and unsavoury situations – some of his own making and others in which he is an innocent party. There are a number of twists and turns along the way.

A curious one this, for me. I really struggled with some parts of it and found it difficult to maintain interest. But other parts were fascinating and exciting and I raced through them. There is a LOT of description about New York in the 1740s, which does really help to set the scene. Spufford also employs the use of language of the era, which could sometimes mean that it didn’t flow as easily as it might have. So all in all a bit of a mixed bag. I did like the main character of Mr Smith, but most of the other characters were not particularly well developed. There is a strong female character named Tabitha, who I wish could have been pleasant as well as strong and smart. She had a much more pliant sister, and I was reminded of Katherine and Bianca from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (although Katherine is more of a sympathetic character than Tabitha, who I just found unpleasant).

With all that said, there was a lot here to enjoy and I would consider reading more from this author.

Anything from the Mischief Theatre Company is worth watching, and after this got postponed twice due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I was really looking forward to finally getting to see it (and finally getting back to Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre, which is one of my favourite places).

If you’re familiar with the Mischief Company’s work, you’ll know that the usually play a group of amateur actors who stage plays that go disastrously wrong, and they have had huge success. A few years ago they wrote a straightforward comedy (The Play About A Bank Robbery) which was extremely funny. Groan Ups has all the laughs and gags you would expect, but there is a surprising tenderness and poignancy in it as well.

We first meet the main cast of five as a group of six year olds at school together, and we can see their early personalities which become more developed as they get older. There’s the precocious, spoiled Moon (played by Yolande Ovid), who spends more time with her au pair than her parents. There’s sensitive Archie (Daniel Abbott), the new boy in the class. Katie (Lauren Samuels) is a worrier and a hard worker. Spencer (Dharmesh Patel) is the popular lad who is not exactly academic. And Simon (Matt Cavendish) is the object of their teasing (and sometimes out and out bullying). After the first part where each child describes their weekend and naively talks about things their parents have done or said without understanding the adult implications of such words and actions, we next meet them as teenagers, where we can see deeper friendships having formed, crushes develop and their adult futures loom. In the final stage of the play they are adults who have left school, but return to the building for a reunion.

There’s a lovely running physical comedy gag about the school hamster, and a fabulous turn from Jamie Birkett as Chemise, the lady who Simon brings to the reunion. The small cast was rounded out by Paul Brown, who played another former schoolboy at the reunion. (Brown was understudy to Killian Macardle).

The sets were fantastic – all set in one classroom, but in teh first part, the doors and furniture were huge, helping to give the impression that the cast were little children. By the time they return for the reunion, the furniture is child sized.

I loved the show; it was so clever, so funny and very sweet. Everyone in the audience seemed to be having a great time and laughing a lot! The whole cast was great and I highly recommend going to see this if you get chance.

New York in the late 1960s, and the four young Gold siblings – Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon – are on their way to see a mysterious fortune teller who is said to be able to tell you the date you will die.

The novel then follows each sibling in turn, starting with the youngest (Simon) and ending with the oldest (Varya) as they grow up and live their lives, and how the prophecy each received affects their behaviour and choices. Simon moves to San Francisco to find love and adventure, Klara becomes an illusionist and magician but is a haunted soul. Daniel tries to make his place in the world a worthy one by becoming an Army medic, while Varya turns to science.

I’m not going to reveal spoilers here as this book deserves to be read with no idea of what’s going to happen. But it’s fair to say that if you knew the date you were going to die, would it affect the way you chose to live? And would the prediction you had received become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Anyway, I loved this book. I felt that each character was brought to life beautifully and was entirely believable. The four lives were very different, but the human emotions and feelings were so well written and described.

Despite the subject which was at times fairly heavy, the book never become clogged down or difficult to read. I enjoyed Simon’s section a lot and was sorry when it ended but then Klara’s part was just as good. The same with Daniel and Varya, both of whom could be difficult to like at times, but never difficult to invest in.

All in all, an excellent read, and I will definitely look out for more books by Chloe Benjamin.

This is a novelisation of the 1993 film Philadelphia, which won Tom Hanks his first Academy Award. It’s important to note that the book is based on the film script rather than the film being adapted from the book, because when the book comes first there are usually at least some changes in the film. In this case however, the novel is quite literally a scene by scene story of the film, with the same dialogue throughout.

For anyone who isn’t aware, Philadelphia tells the story of a talented and successful lawyer named Andrew Beckett. He is gay and has full blown AIDS, which he has so far managed to keep to himself, his partner and family and his close friends. However, when the partners at the huge corporate law firm that he works at find out about his illness he is fired. Although they claim that it is due to the mediocre standard of his work, he is convinced that it is because of his illness and/or sexuality, and he decides to sue them. But finding a lawyer who will act for him in court proves difficult and he ends up hiring homophobic personal injury lawyer Joe Miller. Joe does not want to take the case because of his own prejudices, but his prevailing sense of fairness compels him to do so and now the two of them have to prepare for the biggest legal battle either of them have ever faced.

It’s virtually impossible to review the book without also reviewing the film, and while I have always considered both Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington to be superb in their respective roles in the film (Hanks is Andrew Beckett and Washington is Joe Miller), there are better films about HIV/AIDS crisis, and there are definitely better books about the subject.

Because the book is just a recap of the film, there is very little characterisation, because that all came through on screen. Consequently, all of the characters are basically cardboard cut-outs – Andrew is a brilliant and intelligent opera lover, Joe is a charismatic but prejudiced family man, Andrew’s partner Miguel is a hot-headed Spaniard. (Miguel’s character suffers the most from not being more fleshed out – I would have liked to have seen more about how he coped with his lover’s illness, in an emotional sense.)

The prose is certainly undemanding, despite the subject matter and I read the book very quickly. However, while it is perfectly functional, it never really does more than scratch the surface of the situation.

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This novel tells the story of two young women, trying to come to terms with their pasts. Georgetown Easy moved to small-town England with her mother and aunt when she was just a young girl, but she really wants to find the father she never knew. Her search takes on a physical and metaphorical journey.

Meanwhile Helena Jones knows her past, but wants to leave it where it belongs and escape the self-imposed confines of her life. Always at loggerheads with her layabout brother Troy, Helena has been the sensible twin for as long as she can remember, and now she is ready for change.

About 65% of the novel is narrated by Georgetown, and the remainder is mainly narrated by Helena. with a page short parts narrated by a young lady named Aurelie who blasts her way into the lives of the many characters, and leaves all of them changed.

There’s a lot to like about this book. Georgetown’s scenes and conversations with her mother and aunt are very believable and peppered with humour. I really liked her character and heart. Helena was less interesting to me, and without the difficult relationship between herself and Troy, she would not have been a particularly memorable character.

But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the novel because I did, although I think it started to lose it’s way somewhat towards teh end. The titel comes from the name of a blues bar where the characters often met and I must admit the scenes set there did make me wish there was somewhere like that near to where I lived!

Overall, an assured debut – I would probably read more by Kat Pomfret.

1 Mile to You (2017)

Okay, full disclaimer: I watched this film because Tim Roth is in it. Partly also because it’s about running and I love running, but mainly the Tim Roth thing. So to make it clear for any fellow Rothians – he’s not in it much at all!! Anyway onto the film itself…

Kevin Schuler (Graham Rogers) is an athlete in a high school team, coached by Coach Jared (Roth). Kevin’s girlfriend Ellie is also in the team and is Coach Jared’s daughter. When Ellie and several of Kevin’s team mates are killed in a roac accident, he turns to running to help him cope with his loss. He starts at a new school with the unconventional Coach K (Billy Crudup) who helps with Kevin’s running training.

Kevin finds himself trapped by memories of the past byt hoping to forge a new future and is torn between his life before the crash and his life after it.

If I’m honest, I was slightly disappointed by this film. Not just because Tim Roth’s involvement ended after about 15 minutes, but because I unfortunately don’t have much patience with teenage angst. While I totally understand that losing your girlfriend and best mates in a crash is far more than just normal teenage problems, Kevin was never really that likeable to me. I did like Coach K though and thought this was a great performance from Crudup. Overall, a perfectly passable way to pass an evening, but not the great running movie I had been expecting.

There can’t be too many books about a time-travelling serial killer, who murders women in different decades of the 20th century, but here’s one of them. Part sci-fi, part horror, part crime fiction, the books tells the story of Harper Curtis, a monster of a man who discovers a house which allows him to move through time. He goes to see his future murder victims (his shining girls) when they are children, and then comes back when they are adults and murders them. Kirby is one of his victims who actually survives his attack and determines to track down the man who almost killed her.

A week after finishing this book and I am still not sure what to make of it. I sort of enjoyed it, but in parts it was slow and seemed repetitive. I liked Kirby’s character although I did think she was slightly cliched. Harper was irredeemable, horrible, and had not one tiny bit of anything remotely good about him. As bizarre as the idea is, it’s quite appealing in some ways, and I think if the book had been about 100 pages shorter, I would have enjoyed it more. It’s not really the kind of book I ordinarily got for though, so I may not be the best person to ask for an opinion.

A word of warning if you are thinking of reading this – some of the murder scenes are particularly gruesome and there is a scene of animal cruelty, which had I known about beforehand would probably have put me off reading it altogether.

Roger Dodger (2002)

Another evening, another Campbell Scott movie. In Roger Dodger he plays against type as Roger, a sleazy, womanising ad agency executive in NYC; the film opens with a short scene in a bar after which Roger is unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend Joyce (Isabella Rossellini), who is also his boss. Shortly afterwards his awkward 16 year old nephew Nick turns up in the Big Apple looking for advice from his uncle on how to attract the ladies. What follows is a journey through a NY night out, where Roger introduces Nick to various women and imparts his own brand of wisdom on how to attract and treat ladies. Roger has no respect for women, or indeed for practically anyone. He proudly admits that his job is to make people feel bad about themselves so that they will buy into whatever he is advertising. He is basically an extremely charismatic bastard. He would be easy to hate, but there’s the thing – there are moments, just a few but enough, that you do feel sorry for him. He may not admit it to himself or to anyone else, but we can see that he IS hurt by Joyce finishing their relationship. Campbell Scott is fantastic in this movie because in the hands of a lesser actor, Roger would just be a very one-dimensional character, but there’s clearly more to him somewhere. Kudos also to Jesse Eisenberg, who embodies the nervous, slightly misfit teenager.

It’s a very talky film – lots of lots of dialogue and not an awful lot of action. Roger and Nick drift from scene to scene encountering different women but it’s really all about the words. If action is your thing then this might not be for you, but if you like dialogue-heavy films, then you may enjoy this. I also love films that take place over one night or over one short period of time, and this dilm does exactly that.

Saint Ralph (2004)

I’d been meaning to watch this film for ages and when I finally got around to it I was not disappointed!

Saint Ralph aka The Miracle of Saint Ralph stars Adam Butcher as the titular character, a 14 year old boy at Catholic school in the 1950s, who has a mother desperately ill in hospital. When a nurse tells him that it will be a miracle if his mom recovers he decides that he will create the miracle that is needed by running and winning the Boston Marathon. One of his teachers, Father Hibbert (Campbell Scott, one of my faves) offers to train him against the wishes of the strict headmaster Father Fitzpatrick (Gordon Pinsent).

Considered to have absolutely no hope when he begins training, Ralph is determined to complete his mission and the local town starts to see his as an embodiment of their hopes and desires and everyone who initially laughed at the idea starts to support him. He also provides a new lease of life to Father Hibbert, who gave up some of his own athletic dreams when he joined the priesthood.

This is such a sweet film, with lots of humorous moments – although it isn’t really a comedy, and lots of poignant moments. All of the main cast are excellent, including Jennifer Tilly as the nurst who looks after Ralph’s mom, and by extension, Ralph himself. Campbell Scott is perfect as the slightly rebellious priest, and I defy anyone to watch this and not end the film with a smile on their face.

I have always enjoyed Ben Elton’s books, so I’m not sure quite why it took me so long to get around to reading this one. But I’m glad I finally did. Scotland Yard Detetice Inspector Ed Newson investigates the brutal murder of an equally brutal man who was killed in a most unusual manner. With the aid of his Detective Sergeant Natasha, who Ed is secretly in love with, he starts to connect the dots between this murder and others that have happened – and which continue to happen. Essentially someone is going round murdering bullies and is using the same methods that the bullies themselves used on their victims.

This novel was written in 2004, and the now defunct website Friends Reunited features as a prominent part of the story. Ed himself joins the site as a way of connecting with his old classmates which leads to him meeting a number of them again – some reunions being very welcome (the school beauty Christine) and others not so much.

I did work out who the killer was before the reveal, but I jumped about between a few of the characters beforehand, so although it was guessable, I wouldn’t say it was so obvious that it would mar enjoyment of the story.

It’s not out and out comedy, and there is a serious issue within the story about how bullying in youth can lead to severe problems later in life – but you can always rely on Ben Elton to make you smile and some of the dialogue exchanges between Ed and Natasha were very funny.

Just a warning to anyone who doesn’t like gore or sex – some of the murders are particularly unpleasant, and there is one fairly lengthy sex scene which is eye-poppingly excruciating, revolting and hilarious all at once.

Overall, if you have read and enjoyed Ben Elton before, I would imagine you would definitely enjoy this book. If you haven’t read anything by him before, why not give it a try?