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42 (2013)

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A Civil Rights movie based on true events, 42 tells the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player admitted into the Major leagues, and who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He wore player number 42, hence the film name.

Although some players and fans supported Robinson, he also became the target of racism and discrimination from those who believed that black players should stick to their own African American league.

Fantastic film and fantastic acting by all involved, especially Chadwick Boseman as Robinson. Harrison Ford played Branch Rickey, the sports executive who signed Robinson. It’s also always good to see Christopher Meloni in any role, and here he played Leo Durocher, coach of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Highly recommend this film – you certainly do not need to be a baseball fan (although that may well help). Definitely one of my favourites so far this year.

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Year of release: 2013

Director: Brian Helgeland

Writer: Brian Helgeland

Main cast: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Christopher Meloni, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Beharie, Andre Holland, John C McGinley

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Yet another audiobook! This is the first book in a series set in St Andrew’s, Scotland and featuring DI Andy Gilchrist.

Someone is killing men in St Andrew’s. All of the victims are men who are known to abuse women and all of them are stabbed through one eye and then murdered. DI Andy Gilchrist is head of the investigation, and there are plenty of potential suspects to choose from, as well as severe pressure from his superiors, the public and the press to get a result. Gilchrist has a patchy past, relationship-wise – divorced from his former wife Gail and not as close as he would like to his two children Jack and Maureen, he has had a couple of relationships since his marriage ended, but nothing permanent. Add to this the fact that his boss wants him out of the police service and times are tough for DI Gilchrist.

When I started this book, I felt that it had lots of potential and I was fairly sure that I was going to enjoy it. While I cannot fault the narrator David Monteath, who did a good job of ratcheting up the tension, I actually became disillusioned the story, the more I listened. I am not against violence or gore in books (American Psycho is, for my money, one of the best books I have ever read), the violence here just seemed gratuitous and there was too much of it. I also thought that the author possibly tried too hard to create a huge pool of suspects, and the way he finally worked out who the stabber was seemed highly unrealistic. Let’s just say it involved a cat and lots of convoluted thinking. I got the impression that everything but the kitchen sink had been included in the book!

I did prefer the parts where Andy interacts with others, such as his children and some of the witnesses in the case, although apart from Andy himself, none of the characters really made much of an impression on me.

All in all, it wasn’t terrible – the descriptions of St Andrew’s were interesting and obviously come from a place of intimacy with the area – however, I don’t think I would read any more books in this series.

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There can’t be many people now who don’t know that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym of J K Rowling. Having never read any Harry Potter – or seen any of the films – I have the luxury of not being able to compare her books for adults to her books for children.

The main character is Cormoran Strike, ex-Army, having lost a leg in the Afghan War. He now works as a private investigator but is only just scraping by and is forced to live in his office, as he has just broken up with his fiancee. So he is not best pleased when a temping agency sends him a secretary named Robin, who he did not want and cannot really afford to employ. However on the same day that this happens, the brother of an old schoolfriend walks into his office wanting Strike to investigates the death of his sister, supermodel Lula Landry. The case had previously been ruled a suicide, but Lula’s brother John is convinced that someone murdered her. Strike reluctantly takes the case, and it becomes clear that there is a lot more to Lula’s death than it first appears.

I had actually already seen the TV adaptation of The Cuckoo’s Calling, so I already know who the guilty party was, so I guess it says something that this book still held my attention all the way through and I really enjoyed it. Galbraith (I’m still calling her that for the purpose of this review) pays attention to small details and has a descriptive style of writing which I liked a lot. I also really liked the characters of both Strike and Robin. Strike always seemed to be verging on shambolic in his appearance and style, but was obviously very astute and intuitive. And Robin – well…yay for a female character who is balanced, cheerful, intelligent and resourceful, and also one for whom romance is not her main storyline. Strike and Robin grow to like and respect one another but – minor spoiler – there is no romance there and no suggestion of it (although I haven’t read any of the subsequent books in the series, I hope their relationship remains this way).

The mystery itself is quite tangled and I felt that I did need to pay attention to the storyline, but my attention didn’t wander, and I thought the final reveal was done extremely well. Had I not already been aware of who the killer was, I don’t honestly think I would have guessed.

So all in all, this book gets a big thumbs up from me. I also highly recommend the TV adaptation, and intend on reading the other books before watching the adaptations of those.

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Another audiobook (and possibly the first one I was tempted to give up on, which gives you a clue as to how this review might go!) The story revolves around Della, whose mother Kitty passes away at the beginning of the book, and Della ends up inheriting itty’s vast collection of cookbooks. She decides to open a bookshop selling just second-hand cookbooks, despite her husband Mark and her brother Jeff telling her it won’t work. As odious as both of these male characters turned out to be, it pained me to agree with them. She wanted to open the shop in a sleepy little village, selling exclusively second hand cookbooks, with the focus more on socialising than buying. I’m not a genius but it doesn’t need one to know that in real life, this is a business model destined to fail.

Although the title would suggest that the book is mainly about the bookshop, it’s actually mainly about Della’s personal life. She has a husband who is quite frankly awful, and a brother who is so supercilious that I dare any reader not to want to give him a slap. The only decent member of her family was her daughter Sophie, who was intelligent and independent despite having a doormat and a lying know-it-all cheat as parents.

Della also discovers some secrets in her own past, which were the best parts of the book, by virtue of the fact that they were more tolerable to read about than the rest. Naturally the bookshop itself is a roaring success, and of course Della finds happiness, because she finds another man to love her and loses weight.

The narration by Gabrielle Glaister was fine, despite some huge pauses in-between paragraphs and chapters, which made me wonder if I had accidentally pressed pause on the playback, but I would be happy to listen to another audiobook with this narrator (although not by this author).

I have looked at other reviews of this book, and they are largely extremely positive, so if this is the sort of book that appeals to you, don’t let my review put me off. I think I probably picked a book in a genre that just doesn’t appeal to me, but at least I now know what kind of thing to avoid!

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This was another audiobook to keep me company while running. It is only this year that I have really got into audiobooks and I have discovered a curious thing – even if I don’t particularly like an audiobook, somehow it seems to keep my attention, in a way that a physical book which I wasn’t enjoying, would not be able to do. This book kind of falls into that category.

The story is told from multiple points of view, but it kind of feels like Ella Longfield’s story, as hers is the only point of view narrated in the first person. Ella is on a train journey when she overhears two young men chatting up two girls. When it becomes apparent that the two men have just been released from prison, Ella becomes alarmed and considers intervening but decides not to. However, the next morning one of the girls, Anna Ballard, has gone missing and Ella feels guilty that she did not step in.

Cut to a year later – Anna has still not been found, and Ella is full of guilt. She starts receiving threatening postcards from an anonymous sender, which tell her that she is being watched. Meantime, the investigation into Anna’s disappearance rumbles on, with chapters told by Ella herself (‘The Witness), Anna’s father (‘The Father’), Anna’s friend Sarah who was with her on the train (‘The Sister’) and Matt, a private detective who Ella employs to find out who is sending the postcards (‘The Private Detective’). There are also very occasional chapters narrated by ‘Watcher’ whose identity for obvious reasons, is not revealed. It soon becomes obvious that everyone connected to Anna has secrets and throughout the story it seems that any one of them could be guilty.

So far, so interesting. The premise is great – what would you have done? Would you have intervened? Would you have left well alone? Would you feel guilty in Ella’s position? And of course there is the whodunnit angle…who is sending the postcards? And what really happened to Anna?

So – there was plenty about this book that kept me listening. However, there were also things that annoyed me. Ella was not a particularly interesting narrator or main character. Can I go so far as to call her dull? (Yes, is the answer.) And considering that actually, she didn’t do anything wrong, she carries a tremendous amount of guilt, almost making the case all about her. I didn’t mind the multiple points of view that narrated the different chapters, and in fact I did particularly like Matt the private detective, albeit a lot of his personal story (his wife had a baby and he learns to adjust to fatherhood) was irrelevant. However, each chapter had a cliffhanger which was obviously a ploy to keep the reader/listener interested, but just ended up being a bit annoying and felt contrived.

The other problem was the ending. Okay, so I didn’t guess who the culprit was, but the things is that I don’t believe anyone guessed, because there was absolutely nothing – no clues, no hints – given earlier on. It seems slightly unfair to keep readers guessing and then to spring a culprit on them out of left-field. The best mysteries to me are when you are surprised by the identity of the culprit but then realise that the clues were there all along.

Overall, I would say that if, like me, you are listening to this in an effort to distract you from something else, it does the trick, but otherwise I probably would not recommend it. Fans of psychological thrillers or whodunnits can find similar stories done much better.

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This book has been receiving all sorts of accolades and applause, and after reading it, I can absolutely see why.

The story is told from the point of view of Eleanor Oliphant, a 30 year old accounting clerk who leads a regimented and lonely life. She goes to work in the week, where she doesn’t mix with her colleagues at all. Her weekends are spent in her flat, on her own, with two bottles of vodka for company. Eleanor’s only interaction with anyone else is her weekly conversation with  her mother, with whom there is a clearly a difficult relationship (and more about it is drip-fed throughout the book). Her life starts to change when she and a colleague help an old man who collapses in the street, and she is forced to interact with others and navigate her way through a world that is alien to her.

I’m not really sure what I expected from this book, but I absolutely loved it. The writing is fantastic and flows so well, balancing humour (and some of Eleanor’s thoughts and interactions are hilarious and simultaneously cringeworthy) and extreme sadness. Eleanor is literally to the nth degree and while she is clearly intellectually clever, she has no idea of how to behave in a social setting. (For example, upon learning that it is customary to take alcohol to a party, she takes a half empty bottle of vodka as a birthday present to someone, along with a packet of cheese slices, reasoning that men always love cheese.)

The ending contained one last surprise which I was not expecting, and which wrapped the story up beautifully That said, I would like to know more of what happened to Eleanor after the end of the book, but at the same time, this book was so perfect that a sequel just isn’t needed.

I highly, highly recommend this book – it will make you smile, it will make you laugh, it might make you cry and it will definitely make you think.

 

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Basically – Richard Gere plays Will Keane, a 48 year old successful restauranteur and well known playboy. Winona Ryder plays Charlotte Fielding, a 22 year hat designer, who has a terminal heart condition. And they fall in love. After navigating various minefields, such as the age difference, and his inability to keep it in his pants, things go well until tragedy ensues.

In all honesty I should have hated this film. I’m not even sure why I watched it – I wanted to watch something uncomplicated and romantic one afternoon and I picked this. I didn’t hate it, as it turns out, but there were things that would have narked me were I not in such a chilled out mood when I watched it. For one – there’s a lot of corny dialogue. Also – Will’s character is a bit of a heel, who at at least one point in the film, she should have kicked into touch. The ending was not only predictable, but actually inevitable, but it made me cry (I cry a LOT at films).

If corny films aren’t your thing, then I definitely do not recommend this. If you can get past that and do fancy something undemanding, then maybe….

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Year of release: 2000

Director: Joan Chen

Writer: Allison Burnett

Main cast: Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia, Elaine Stritch, Vera Farmiga

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