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I listened to this audiobook across several of my training runs (which is basically how I listen to all of my audiobooks). I generally prefer a physical book to an audio, but I think this one worked as one to listen to.

The two main characters are Tiffy and Leon, and they narrate alternate chapters. Tiffy is just out of a bad relationship and needs somewhere to live, but on minimum wage, and in London, her options are limited. So she answers an ad for an unusual flat share…

Leon is a night nurse, who’s brother has been wrongly imprisoned and Leon needs to earn enough money to pay the appeal lawyer who is working on the case. He only needs his flat from 9.00am – 6.00pm because he is at work the rest of the time and spends weekends with his girlfriend Kay – so the answer seems obvious – he will advertise for a flatmate, who can have the flat to themselves every evening and weekend, as long as he can have it between in the daytime. Although they will be sharing a home and a bed, they need never meet. They still get to know each other though through the various post it notes which turn from quick messages to long conversations, and although Leon is initially bemused by all the girly stuff suddenly filling his flat, they become fond of each other despite never coming into direct contact.

This all sounds like a long explanation, and it is. But it’s set up really well, and I really liked the first half of the book. Both Tiffy and Leon are likeable characters, although very different – Tiffy is verbose and has a tendency to overshare, whereas Leon is quite closed and almost talks in bullet points.

I didn’t like the second half of the book quite as much. For quite a while the story seemed to go in circles and I do feel that a bit of editing could have improved it. It wasn’t awful though and still held my attention. But this being the kind of book it is, I knew – and I suspect every ready will know – how it is going to turn out although there are a few bumps in the road before we get there.

I think books with multiple narrators really benefit from the audio format. Carrie Anne Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune both did a great job of bringing Tiffy and Leon to life.

Overall, while I didn’t love this and don’t share the opinion of the huge amount of reviewers who have fallen in love with this book, it was an enjoyable read and a promising debut.

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Riley and Nadine meet as young children in 2007, and become close as young adults. But it is only after war breaks out and Riley is sent to fight in France, that they are able to admit their love to each other. As they both witness and suffer the horror and heartbreak of World War I, events lead Riley to tell a terrible lie to protect Nadine.

I am honestly not sure what to make of this book. I can definitely recognise the excellent writing, but for much of it, it did not make me feel a lot. I had high expectations due to hearing other readers rave about it, so maybe that was a factor. But much like looking at a piece of art and appreciating the talent required to create it but not feeling moved at all by it, that was how I felt about this novel.

That said, I did enjoy the second half a lot more than the first. The first part of the story was essentially setting up the second half, and as such was fairly slow moving. After the pivotal event takes place, the pace picks up and I liked it more. I also liked the parallel story of Julia and her husband Peter who is Riley’s commanding officer. My favourite character of all was probably Rose, Peter’s cousin, for whom war provides the identity and purposefulness which she had lacked (or been seen to be lacking) before.

The scenes of war were vivid and obviously well researched, as were the descriptions of early plastic surgery and facial reconstruction techniques. These descriptions dovetailed nicely with Julia’s obsession with her looks – all she had ever had to offer the world was her beauty and being unable to help with the war effort made her feel unnecessary and useless; the thought of losing her looks too, was unbearable to her. I was exasperated with her shallowness in parts, but it was forgivable as she too recognised it in herself and was unsatisfied with herself.

Overall I cannot say this was a bad book – in many ways it was a very good one. But it didn’t move me in the way I had hoped; however if you have any interest in World War I, you might want to check it out.

Keeping Rosy (2014)

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This under-the-radar British film delivered far more than I expected, largely due to the (always excellent) Maxine Peake in the lead role.

Peake is Charlotte, for whom a bad day – where she gets passed over for promotion – turns into an absolutely disastrous and terrifying one, when she arrives home and finds her cleaner smoking in Charlotte’s apartment. This leads to a confrontation with tragic consequences.

Things go from disastrous to even more disastrous as Charlotte desperately tries to cover her tracks, and finds herself in situations she could never have imagined, and looking after a young child – something she clearly has no experience with and no clue what she is doing. Eventually she calls her estranged sister Sarah (Christine Bottomley) to help, but things get (even more) worse with the arrival of shifty security guard Roger (Blake Harrison).

I really enjoyed this film – if enjoyed is the right word. It was certainly compelling; it shocked me right from the off, and although Charlotte was initially a deeply unsympathetic character, Peake’s performance was exemplary, and showed just how an ordinary person can end up in a horrific situation.

With a small main cast (the only other major character was the baby!) and a claustrophobic atmosphere, as well as tight pacing, this film had a lot of elements that I  really like in a movie. It is undoubtedly bleak (I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls afterwards to put me back into a lighter mood!), but it is definitely worth a watch.

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I’ve had this film on my planner for ages, and somehow never fancied watching it. But today, with a lazy day to myself, I finally took the plunge – and I have to say, it exceeded all of my expectations, made me feel every emotion, and was well….generally brilliant.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a high schooler who is determined to avoid all the typical cliques and instead stays on the periphery of all high school groups (such as the jocks, the geeks, the stoners, etc). He doesn’t like to get close to people and his only friend – although Greg doesn’t like the word ‘friend’ so instead uses the term ‘co-worker’ – is the titular Earl (R J Cyler). The two of them spend their time making so-bad-they’re-good spoof movies such as Brew Velvet, A Sockwork Orange, Yellow Submarine Sandwich, and (my particular favourite title) 2.48pm Cowboy.

When Greg’s mother tells him he must be friends with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a schoolmate who he hardly knows and who has been diagnosed with leukaemia, he is initially reluctant, but what starts out as an awkward situation soon becomes a real connection. Earl is also drawn into the friendship.

Given that the film is narrated by Greg, and Rachel is the centre of his and Earl’s attention, it’s actually the character of Earl who I found most interesting. On the surface he seems like a bit of a slacker, but he reveals surprising depth and perception.

It’s a beautifully told story – it did make me laugh and also made me cry. Most importantly, it made me feel for all of the characters – the three main characters, Rachel’s mom Denise (played by the always brilliant Molly Shannon), even the relative small character of their teacher Mr McCarthy (Jon Bernthal). They are all believable, fully fleshed out characters. The three youngsters – all of which actors were unknown to me – were brilliant, and the supporting cast did a great job too.

I really enjoyed this film and have no hesitation in recommending it.

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Jessica Ball does an excellent job of narrating this audiobook about the relationship between young married couple Adam and Eva. The story opens with the two of them stumbling home after a drunken night out with friends – and more or less ends just a few pages later with the sudden, heartbreaking death of Adam. I was actually not expecting this, and it came as a real shock – it was not as the result of a dramatic accident of heroic incident; there was no prior illness or telltale signs – a young seemingly healthy young man simply goes to sleep and doesn’t wake up.

From there the story alternates between chapters where Eva is struggling to move on with her life in the present day, and chapters which tell the story of how Adam and Eva met, and how their relationship developed. So there is a dual storyline, and the one set in the past is not told chronologically, but it’s actually far less complicated than that sounds.

I’m in two minds about this book – I can definitely appreciate it, because the writing (and also the aforementioned narration) were both terrific. But I never quite loved this book. Somehow it didn’t quite hit the spot for me.

The death scene and immediate aftermath were so eloquently written – not overly dramatic or overblown, but just believable and moving. I also liked Adam and Eva’s friends Henry and Carmen, both of whom have their own stories and troubles (I would have liked to have read some events from Carmen’s points of view, as she was a really interesting character).

The relationship between Adam and Eva was entirely believable too – they loved each other, but yes they got irritated with other, yes they went through bad patches, and it wasn’t all wine and roses. But they wanted to be together. It’s life, and their relationship was easy to invest in.

There were some parts that delved into Eva’s family history, and events surrounding the division of Berlin by the Berlin Wall, and while this should have proved interesting to me – it’s a fascinating subject – it detracted from the overall story.

Objectively I can see that this is a well written book and that many people would love it. I didn’t love it, but I did like it, just…for me there was something missing, but I feel that was more to do with me the listener, than the book itself.

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This (literally) little book is really an essay extolling the virtue and indeed the necessity of children’s fiction. I read it in about 30 minutes, but although it’s short it’s very enjoyable. Rundell makes the point that adults are often ashamed – or made to feel ashamed – about reading children’s fiction, and suggests that we should be proud to read these books that ignite imagination and make readers think. She gives a brief overview of the history of fiction for children and the part about the retelling and passing on of fairy tales was great. If you have a spare half an hour to kill and have any interest in literature, you could do a lot worse than read this.

 

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Calendar Girls tells the true story of a WI branch in Yorkshire who did a nude calendar (with the strategic use of props to cover their modesty) in order to raise money for a settee in the hospital where one of the women’s husband was treated for cancer prior to his death. The story was made into a film in 2003, starring such acting stalwarts ¬†as Penelope Wilton, Helen Mirren, Annette Crosbie, Linda Bassett, Julie Walters and Celia Imrie. It’s also been made into a play, and now here comes the musical with music by Gary Barlow.

I have to say this musical exceeded all of my expectations – I knew it would be good, but I generally prefer musicals with songs that I know, and I didn’t know any of the songs here. But it absolutely did not matter. The songs themselves were catchy and joyous and helped moved the narrative along. I thought Gary Barlow’s style was all over them, which is no bad thing. However, it is the cast who steal the show here – and they were – without exception – superb.

Annie, the lady whose husband dies, was played by the lovely Sarah Jane Buckley, who was very natural in the part. This is an ensemble piece and the rest of the ladies were played by Rebecca Storm as Chris, Sue Devaney as Cora, Lisa Maxwell as Celia, Julia Hills as Ruth and Vanessa Grace Lee as Jessie. Each one of them had her moment in the sun, and a song exclusively for their character, and without exception each one of them nailed it.

Kudos to Tyler Dobbs and Danny Howker, as Tommo and Danny, the sons of the two of the women, and also to respectively Phil Corbitt as John, Annie’s husband; Richard Anthony Lloyd as Colin, Celia’s husband, Ian Mercer as Rod, Chris’s husband, and Derek Elroy as Lawrence the photographer.

The first half of the show had some extremely funny moments, but also some very emotional ones, depicting John’s declining health (I cried), but the second half of the show is truly hilarious; I genuinely had a stomach ache from laughing so hard. A few cheeky peeks of boobs and bums were funny rather than smutty. This is without doubt one of the best musicals I have ever seen, and I would highly highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.