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Tower Block (2012)

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I generally love movies that are set in one location, and therefore was predisposed to enjoy this. A run down council tower block marked for destruction has just 15 tenants left, all on the top floor. One night they witness a young man being murdered outside their doors. Several months later, they become the target of an unknown sniper, and despite past differences they have to now pull together if they have any hope of escape.

As expected, I did enjoy this film a lot. The cast were excellent, but special mentions must go to Sheridan Smith as Becky – although this is an ensemble piece, if there is a main character, then she is it – and Jack O’Connell as the thuggish Kurtis. Russell Tovey was also great as lonely alcoholic Paul.

I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but safe to say that this did keep the tension high, and also did a good job of peeling the layers away from various characters so we did get to know more about them – Kurtis in particular. It’s fair enough to say that the sniper’d eventual identity and motive were a bit ropey, and there are a few plot holes, but if you are willing to just immerse yourself in the storyline, this is a little gem of a film, and proves that low budget doesn’t have to mean low quality.

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This novel is set over the course of one day, and it starts with Nathan Clark being a witness at his own funeral. His wife, father, children and best friend are all there, along with two people who he can’t identify. Unable to remember how he died, and unable to rest until he can remember, Nathan watches his family from some kind of afterlife, and remembers fragments of their life together while he tries to piece together exactly what has happened to him.

I loved the premise of this book, but I think I was expecting it to be more of a mystery or psychological thriller than it actually was. Instead it’s more of a slow burner – the first part in particular is very fragmented with Nathan being thrown from one scene or memory into another. Sentences end halfway through to reflect half remembered scenes from Nathan’s life, and suddenly he is flung to another time, another place.

There is no doubt that the writing is very elegant, and occasionally exquisite. I loved the idea behind the novel, but somehow despite this I never quite became enthralled by it. I was interested enough to keep reading, and like Nathan, I wanted to find out how he died but in the end, that wasn’t really the point. We find out early on that his youngest daughter Lois died some time before, and although initially Nathan can’t remember how she died, the answer to this particular question is revealed – and that’s when pennies drop and things start falling into place.

I did find this book an easy read despite the heavy subject matter, but I never quite managed to connect with any of the characters. Nathan’s wife Cheryl may have been the love of his life, but for my money she was downright unlikeable – same goes for his best friend Adrian, and his father Frank. I did quite like his two children Gina and Luke, but I never felt that we really got to know them well enough – especially not Luke, who is relegated to something of a background character.

Overall though, while I can’t give this book a definite thumbs up, it’s also not a thumbs down. I would be intrigued to read more by this author.

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Alison, Jeff and their 15 year old daughter Katherine, have a happy and charmed life. They have money, security and genuinely love each other. Katherine is a school lacrosse star, an excellent student, and a popular girl. She is also the absolute centre of her mother’s universe – so that universe feels torn apart when one day a man knocks at their door and tells Alison that Katherine is the biological daughter of him and his deceased wife – it turns out that there was a mix up at the hospital, and that Alison and Jeff are the biological parents of his daughter Olivia. Even worse, Katherine may have inherited the gene that caused the cancer which killed his wife.

The family are thrust into a nightmare as Katherine comes to terms with new siblings, a new history, and worst of all trying to decide whether to take the test which will determine whether she has the dangerous gene.

I wanted to read this book for two reasons – first I thought the premise sounded really interesting. Second, I had read another book by Adele Parks many years ago, and had really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, The Stranger In My Home turned out to be a bit of a let down.

I listened to the novel as an audiobook, read by Rachel Atkins. Overall her narration was good, but there were a lot of whispered parts which made it difficult to hear, and I had to go back a little on quite a few occasions to listen again. (Now, admittedly I listen to my audiobooks when I’m out running, so there is traffic and other outside noises around, but I doubt that I am particularly unusual in listening to a book outside.)

The main reason I couldn’t really enjoy the book was the main character. Alison is the narrator for the most part – there is the occasional flashback to her early life, which is an attempt to explain her devotion to her daughter…I say devotion, but it’s actually more like an obsession. Of course mothers love their children more than it is possible to express, but my goodness this was one obsessed mother. And she never missed an opportunity! By the end of the book I was quite sick of hearing Katherine’s name.

The other problem was that after the initial shock, the book slowed down to a snail’s pace and for ages nothing really happened except teenagers being moody and Alison obsessing about her daughter. In the last part of the book, there is a sudden plot twist, which unfortunately struck me as preposterous, but nonetheless did come as a complete surprise. But for me it was much too little and way too late.

I didn’t hate this book enough to give up on it, but for some reason I feel able to listen to audiobooks even while finding them less than enjoyable. And despite my more scathing than I intended review, it wasn’t awful. it was just far from what it could have been and basically underwhelming.

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This is the story of two New York sisters – Meghan Fitzmaurice is America’s favourite breakfast television anchor, while younger sister Bridget is a social worker, trying to help women from the Bronx projects find a better life. The sisters are good friends, and life seems to be coasting along nicely – until the day that Meghan, not realising that she is still on air, swears on live television and her career and personal life both go into freefall.  The fallout affects not just Meghan, but her husband Evan and their teenage son Leo.

Narrated by Bridget, the story takes in not just the aftermath of Meghan’s error, but is also a love letter of sorts to New York, and a history of the two sisters’ lives as well as their relationships with the men – and other people – in their lives.

I wasn’t too sure what to make of this book. On the one hand, I definitely think Anna Quindlen is a talented writer and I found myself reading large chunks in one go which is always a good sign (a bad sign is when I put a book down after a few pages and look for something else to distract myself). On the other hand….I felt slightly removed from the action. This was not one of those books where you feel excited to find out what will happen next and neither did I really care about any of the characters. Although the on-air gaffe was entirely unbelievable, the incredible over-reaction to it was not so much. I didn’t warm to Meghan much at all, and possibly this was because the story was narrated by Bridget – even though Bridget is possibly her sister’s biggest supporter. I think it was an interesting idea to have the sister as the narrator, but it would have been quite nice to see Meghan’s point of view, even if perhaps they alternated chapter narrations.

From other reviews I’ve read it seems that fans of Quindlen’s other books were largely disappointed with this one. For me, this was actually the first book of hers that I’ve read and I would probably be interested in trying another on the back of it.

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After getting his stash of pot stolen, small time dealer Dave (Jason Sudekis) is ordered by his boss to go to Mexico and smuggle pot back into the United States. Deciding that the best way to make himself look innocent while crossing the border is to take a fake family, he enlists the help of stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston) to play his wife, geeky virgin Kenny  (Will Poulter) to play his son, and streetwise Casey (Emma Roberts) to play his daughter. However, things inevitably go awry and they find themselves chased by a drug lord and his henchman, and trying to avoid getting arrested.

I really liked this film a lot. It’s true that it was never going to win any major awards, but if you want a barrel of laughs – some definitely on the adult side – then this does nicely. Naturally there is some good-heartedness as the rag-tag bunch go from animosity and antagonism to actually starting to care about each other. Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn also showed up as a couple of fellow travellers, who get enmeshed in ‘The Millers’ adventures, and both were excellent. I belly laughed several times.

Overall, if you are looking for a light hearted comedy, and don’t mind some adult humour, I would highly recommend this film.

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Year of release: 2013

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Writers: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, John Morris

Main cast: Jason Sudekis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter, Emma Roberts, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Ed Helms, Molly Quinn, Matthew Willig, Tomer Sisley

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This novel is the first in a series of detective mysteries set in the Peak District and featuring DCs Ben Cooper and Diane Fry. A 15 year old girl is murdered and as the police try to find out who did it and why, they are hampered by the secrets being kept by many of the villagers, as well as their own personal demons.

There was a lot to like about this novel; I enjoyed the setting, which is obviously somewhere well known to the author, and he shows his knowledge through the Cooper character – Ben is a native Peak District inhabitant and knows the area like the back of his hand. Fry has recently transferred to the area from the West Midlands Police Service – for reasons that become apparent late on in the story, although hints are dropped here and there beforehand – and is therefore not as knowledgeable about either the area or the local people. Both are quite spiky characters, although Ben is infinitely more likeable. There are also other characters, mainly their colleagues, who I imagine will also feature in future novels in the series.

The mystery itself was well drawn and I didn’t guess the ending, which was a pleasant surprise, especially as it wasn’t outlandish (I hate it when you read a mystery where the ending turns out to be something completely out of left-field which no reader would have been able to guess; happily that wasn’t the case here).

My only slight niggle with this novel was that I felt there was a fair bit of unnecessary overly descriptive pieces, and I did think that it could have done with a bit of editing. But it’s the first book in a series and also the author’s debut novel, so I will be interested to see how the characters and how the writing develops.

I will be reading more books in this series, and I would recommend this novel to fans of the mystery genre.

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Sophie Honeywell unexpectedly inherits a house from the late aunt of her ex-boyfriend and moves to Scribbly Gum Island, where the only inhabitants are the a large family, who (more or less) take Sophie into their fold.

Scribbly Gum Island is the scene of an old mystery – in the 1930s, local couple Alice and Jack Munro disappeared, leaving their very young baby. Sisters Connie and Ruth Doughty found the baby and took her in, naming her Enigma. Alice and Jack were never found and as a result, the Doughty family have made a huge business out of the mystery, with tours of the house, yearly anniversaries and lots of other merchandise for visitors to the island to spend their money on.

Although the 1930s storyline is told entirely from memories (we never ‘meet’ Alice and Jack), it intertwines neatly with the current day storyline, which revolves around Sophie’s lack of love life, and the individual problems of the rest of the family. Enigma’s granddaughter Grace and her husband Callum have recently had their first baby, and Grace feels trapped; she plans on a drastic solution to her problems. Veronika, Grace’s granddaughter and Grace’s cousin, is extremely resentful of the fact that Connie left her house to Sophie, and makes no bones about it! Veronika’s mother Margie is trapped in a stale marriage with the (frankly revolting) Ron, but maybe her Weight Watchers meetings will bring new meaning and fun to her life. And Sophie is just trying to navigate these new waters and get along in a new family. She is also worried about the fact that she is approaching 40 and still single.

I listened to the audiobook of this novel, narrated well by Caroline Lee, and overall I did enjoy it. I was initially intrigued by the Alice and Jack mystery, but I actually guessed the ending about halfway through, and ended up more interested in the current day family dynamic. I did feel that a lot of the characters were so exaggerated as to be almost caricatures, and were not actually that likeable, but I did feel for Grace (why oh why could nobody see what was staring them in the face?? Grace clearly had post-natal depression and anybody reading/listening to this book would probably be able to spot that straight away. I also liked her aunt Margie and rooted for her probably more than any other character. Sophie was one of those characters that you quite like, while simultaneously wanting to shake her and tell her to grow up. Veronika was hateful in the beginning, and as already mentioned, Margie’s husband Ron was a horrible man who didn’t deserve such a loyal wife. Also – I couldn’t warm to Enigma at all. She struck me as a self-absorbed and quite mean spirited lady.

I liked the ending – as I said earlier, I did guess the mystery behind the missing couple, but I thought Sophie’s story had a lovely and unexpected ending. I also loved Margie’s storyline which again was somewhat unexpected.

Overall, I would say that this is an enjoyable and undemanding read/listen. I thought it went on possibly a bit too long, and could have done with some editing in places, but basically not too much to complain about. I would certainly try more books by this author.