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I’ve been a fan of Dave Gorman for a long time – his tv shows and stage shows (I’m lucky enough to have been him live) are always witty and entertaining, and his books are always a good source of amusement. In this book, he basically travels around England playing games with strangers. He plays traditional games such as Cluedo, Ping Pong, Darts and Poker, and some other games which were – to me at least – unknown, such as Khett, Kubb, Smite and erm…Rod Hull’s Emu Game (I know who Rod Hull and Emu are obviously. I did not know that there was such a game. And neither did Dave!)

Gorman is an affable and engaging narrator and while the book is not constantly hilarious, it is amusing and made me laugh out loud on a number of occasions. There is at least one episode which took both myself and Dave Gorman himself by complete surprise, and when you’ve finished the book I am sure you will know which one I mean.

Overall, a lovely read which I would definitely recommend. Also, I now would love to find a local Smite team to join!

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I think I may have found a new favourite author. After listening to and loving her novella Evidence of the Affair, this was my next audiobook of hers (I have also bought Daisy Jones and the Six, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo as physical books). This was narrated by Julia Whelan, who I think did a great job (tiny niggle: all the men sounded exactly the same, but that didn’t bother me).

The story centres on Hannah Martin, who has moved back to Los Angeles where she grew up, following a bad break up in New York. She moves in temporarily with her best friend Gabby and Gabby’s husband Mark. On Hannah’s first weekend back home, they go out to a club and Hannah meets her former and first love, Ethan. At the end of the night she has to decide whether to go home with Gabby, or to stay out with Ethan…and this is where the story splits in two, Sliding Doors style.

In the first scenario, Hannah leaves with Gabby and Mark, and is involved in a road accident which lands her in hospital. In the second scenario, she stays at the club with Ethan, and their relationship starts to develop. The two stories are told in alternate chapters, which show the differing paths that Hannah chooses and how they both unfold.

I loved the way it was told; it never got confusing, and it perfectly illustrated how the choices we make affect the courses of our lives. I liked both stories, but on balance I slightly preferred the scenario which started with her leaving the club with Gabby.

It’s difficult to say more without revealing spoilers, but I definitely enjoyed this, and if you like ‘what if’ scenarios, I think you might enjoy it too!

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Nick Hornby has always been what I would call a reliable author, by which I mean that I might not have loved everything he has written, but I have found some enjoyment in everything of his that I have ever read. But actually I did love this book, and think it is his best yet.

Set in the 1960s, it tells of Barbara Parker from Blackpool, who wins the title of Miss Blackpool, promptly decides she doesn’t want it, and heads off to London to realise her dream of becoming a comedienne like her heroine, Lucille Ball.

Before long, Barbara has become Sophie Straw, landed a lead role in a new, successful tv sitcom, and the world – or the UK at least – is at her feet. She becomes part of a close-knit team, with her co-star, writers and director and life is wonderful for a while. But as they grow older and wiser and real life starts to get in the way, they have to rethink just how long the show can continue.

As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed this book. I liked Sophie so much – she was quick-witted, intelligent and full of fun – and I also liked the team she worked with. The writers, Tony and Bill, both gay men at a time when homosexuality was illegal and both dealing with it in very different ways; the director Dennis, gentle, kind, cuckolded by his awful wife Edith; and co-star Clive, who should have been easy to dislike with his womanising, his unfaithfulness and his professional jealousy, but who nonetheless was charismatic and made me laugh.

Hornby weaves real people in and out of the narrative, and I liked this; the prime minister and Lucille Ball both make an appearance amongst others. The tone is light and humorous, but never superficial. I felt as though 1960s London was brought to life.

Definitely a thumbs up from me for this one – I highly recommend.

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This was John Grisham’s first novel, and also the first of his which I have read, although I have seen a number of films based on his works (including the adaptation of this book).

Carl Lee Hailey – a black man living in Clanton, Ford County, Mississippi – finds out that his daughter has been raped by two white men, and murders the rapists in revenge. He stands trial for murder and is represented by young lawyer Jake Brigance. The county is fiercely divided between those who think Carl Lee’s actions were justified and he should be acquitted, and those who think he should face capital punishment for what he did. The Ku Klux Klan are determined that Carl Lee must hang and embark on a campaign of harassment and intimidation. Soon the sleepy Ford County is divided into two sides, both willing to go to any lengths to win this war.

I can see why Grisham is such a popular writer – his story flows easily and this is one of those books where you pick it up with the intention of reading a few pages and hours later you’re still reading. I am unsure of my feelings regarding Jake – I was ‘on his side’ re Carl Lee, but his politics in general put me off him somewhat. I did however like the characters of Lucien Wilbanks – Jake’s mentor, an alcoholic but a smart man, and Harry Rex, another lawyer who helps Jake.

Some of the scenes were disturbing, especially those regarding the KKK, and there is prolific use of the n word, which I found extremely jarring. But the story itself was gripping, and I would definitely read more by John Grisham.

Ghost Town (2008)

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Ghost Town stars Ricky Gervais – in his first Hollywood role – as Bertram Pincus, an irascible, antisocial dentist, who has little interest in other people. However, after a standard hospital operation he suddenly finds that he is able to see ghosts. Everywhere. And they all want something from him. Recently deceased Frank (Greg Kinnear) is desperate to stop his widow Gwen (Tea Leoni) remarrying, and begs Pincus to help break up her relationship. Pincus agrees merely to get Frank off his back, but starts to realise that not only is Gwen’s finance a decent man, but that Bertram himself is developing feelings for her.

Whether or not you enjoy this film is going to depend largely on whether or not you enjoy watching Ricky Gervais. For my money, he is a superb comedian and I’ve never watched anything he has done without thoroughly enjoying it. He’s irritable but also very relatable and brings pathos to the role of Pincus, especially towards the end of the film. Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear are also both excellent in their roles. There is a lot of humour to be found here, and when the film ended I had a big smile on my face.

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I listened to this audiobook, very well narrated by Emma Spurgin Hussey, over a few days. After a brief opening chapter by an unnamed character (all is revealed later), the story properly starts with a young woman named Vicky – who also narrates the story – going to Corfu after graduation, and deciding to stay there. She loses touch with her mother, with whom she has had a fractious relationship ever since her mother remarried and had children with her second husband. In Corfu she meets the charismatic William and falls madly in love. Before long their son comes along. But when real life and big responsibilities kick in, the bliss fades from their relationship and Vicky makes a shocking decision.

At this point the story switches abruptly to narration by a lady named Caro, who runs a holiday cottage business on a farm with her husband Gilbert and their son Fergus. She has a daughter named India, but there is clearly friction between India and her parents. I’m wary of giving away too much of the story, so I’ll just say that Vicky’s and Caro’s stories do converge, and their individual histories come to have great bearing on their current lives, and both end up fighting for their own families.

I actually really enjoyed this book. I definitely did not like all of the characters; Barbara was an awful woman, although not entirely unbelievable. I also intensely disliked India and really wanted to have someone give her some home truths. However, I loved Caro and Fergus, and felt for Vicky.

The ending was very good as it gave closure, but resisted tying everything up in a neat bow; I was expecting something different, and was pleasantly surprised.

If you like human dramas, I’d recommend giving this one a try.

Chronic (2015)

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Chronic features Tim Roth as palliative care nurse David, who looks after terminally ill or severely disabled persons in their own home, having one patient at a time. It follows him through looking after three patients and it is clear that he cares very deeply about his work, and also about the people he nurses. The power here is not always in what is said, but in the silences and in the mundane and sometimes unpleasant tasks that he carries out, without complaint. Make no mistake, this film does not flinch from showing the realities of people nearing the end of life, or unable to look after themselves. In one scene for example, a patient soils herself due to medication, and David is showing carefully soaping her and cleaning her mess up afterwards. In another scene, he is washing a man who is unable to do it for himself; the patient is in the shower room, naked and entirely vulnerable. Indeed, so intimate and private are these moments that I almost felt voyeuristic, as though I was intruding on someone’s life, when I had no right to.

For the always wonderful (in my biased opinion!) Roth, this is possibly a career best performance. Despite his dedication to his vocation, David is not always entirely likeable. He lies easily to strangers – he untruthfully refers to one of his patients as his wife for example – and seemingly has no friends, apart from his patients while he was looking after them. His own history is drip fed to the viewer, which does make his behaviour more understandable.

For some people, this film will be hard to watch. I could feel the pain and helplessness of the characters, their lack of dignity, and the sense of futility for their families, which manifested itself in different ways. One niece asks David about her aunt, underscoring the fact that she didn’t get to know her aunt well when she was alive, and she is aware that David knew her better than her own family.

It’s a stunning film, with an ending that took my breath away. I’m giving no spoilers here because I believe it deserves to be viewed completely unspoiled, which is how I saw it. I liked the ending; other reviewers didn’t. Overall though, this film will stay with me for a long time, and I would highly recommend it.

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I have frequently seen The Farm referred to as a dystopian novel, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. It feels both horrific in many ways, and also extraordinarily close to reality. The titular Farm is Golden Oaks surrogacy centre, where rich women who maybe can’t have children, but often just don’t want pregnancy to ruin their figure (or they somehow feel they don’t have the time to be pregnant) pay vast sums of money for other women – typically women from a poor background – to carry their child. The Farm monitors it’s hosts every move – by video feed, ‘wellbands’ – basically a GPS tracker, and checking of their post and emails. Personal phones and computers are confiscated, and any transgression of the Farm’s strict rules result in a financial penalty, whereby the hosts lose part of their payment.

Jane is a Filipino woman, short of money and in need of a job to support herself and her baby daughter, and the Farm seems a good way to do that. But being apart from her child while carrying the child of an anonymous client takes its toll.

The books raises questions surrounding race, class and exploitation, and while I found it an absorbing and interesting read, it made me very angry at times. That’s probably the point. I liked Jane and her friend Reagan, who features heavily in the book, while I was not so keen on Jane’s aunt Evelyn, or Mae Yu, who ran the Farm for an extortionate salary. But despite the moral ambiguity of Evelyn and Mae, they were represented as believable and nuanced characters, as indeed were most of the others in the story.

So no, I would not necessarily class this is as a dystopian novel, but if you do like books in that genre, I would recommend it. Either way, it was certainly a thought provoking and emotive read.

 

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Book 6 in the Cherringham Cosy Crime Series does not disappoint. Readers (or listeners in my case) will be familiar with the format by now – something suspect happens in the village of Cherringham – which seems to have an awful lot of nefarious activity for such a beautiful picturesque place! – and amateur sleuth Sarah Edwards and retired NYC detective Jack Brennan set out to get to the bottom of things.

In this ‘episode’ Charlie and Caitlin Fox, who run Mabbs Farm, are having a run of spectacularly bad luck with livestock going missing, mysterious fires and all sorts of misfortunes. Caitlin, along with several villagers, believe that the reason is due to an ancient curse which was put on the farm, but Sarah and Jack believe the reason is a lot closer to home and decide to find out who is behind it.

As always, this was a light hearted mystery, and much to my pleasant surprise, just when I thought I had got it all worked out, the ending was a complete surprise. I really do recommend this series to all who enjoy cosy mysteries and TV programmes such as Midsomer Murders or Agatha Raisin. Excellent narration as always by Neil Dudgeon.

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In Margaret Atwood’s tenth novel, published in 2000, she tells the story of two sisters, Iris and Laura Chase.

The book opens with a report of Laura’s death by possible suicide, shortly after the ending of World War II. An older Iris, writing from the tail end of the 20th century, tells the story of her current life, and also the story of her and Laura’s lives. There is a second narrative – that of Laura’s posthumously published novel The Blind Assassin, which is about two unnamed lovers and their clandestine meetings, during which the man entertains the woman with a rather macabre and violent sci-fi story set on the planet of Zycron.

Margaret Atwood is one of those authors who I love, even when I don’t love her. The Handmaid’s Tale was a solid 5/5 for me, whereas Oryx and Crake was something of a disappointment. But generally speaking I always get something from her books and rarely forget them.

The Blind Assassin was not at all what I expected and for the first part, I was not sure I was going to like it. But it kind of crept up on me and I realised that I was enjoying it. In all honesty I never really felt as though I got a handle on Iris despite her narrating much of the book. In fact, Laura was more of a rounded character – sure she was an enigma, but she was meant to be, even to those closest to her – despite being dead before the story started.

As always with Atwood, the language is intelligent and luscious, and often at times quite cutting. Nobody quite comes out of her books without some sort of mark by their name! I didn’t like the direction that Iris’ life took, but neither did she, so I imagine that was deliberate.

I would recommend this book to any fans of Margaret Atwood – although I probably don’t need to because they will have already read it. I felt always slightly detached from it; it was always a story with me on the outside looking in, instead of one of those books that you find yourself completely immersed in, but I liked it a lot for the writing and for never quite knowing where and how it was going to end.