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The Blurb: 

England, September 1939. Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life in Australia and is plunged into a world of cocktails, jazz and glamorous friends. But as the sun beats down, poisonous secrets begin to surface. Suddenly Lily finds herself trapped with nowhere to go…

Australia, six weeks later. The world is at war, the cruise liner docks, and a beautiful young woman is escorted on to dry land in handcuffs.

What has she done?

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My thoughts: 

I had really been looking forward to reading this book, believing that it was some kind of murder mystery set in turbulent times. It sounded like just the kind of book I would enjoy, and I did enjoy it although it was not quite what I expected and the comparisons with Agatha Christie which I read in some reviews were way off the mark. But that is not to complain – it’s a well written story, definitely more character driven than plot driven. The threat of WWII looms large and causes tension among the passengers, especially when Lily makes friends with a young Jewish woman named Maria, much to the disapproval of some other passengers.

Other than Lily herself, the main characters are a brother and sister named Edward and Helena, who befriend Lily, and a glamorous American couple named Eliza and Max Campbell who have a scandalous background. All the different personalities thrust together in an intimate setting, are bound to make for tension and this tension pervades the story.

I did not guess the ending, although in hindsight, there were clues peppered throughout the book. I did think it was cleverly written and would definitely read more by this author.

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Year of first publication: 2017

Genre: Mystery, drama

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Murder on the Orient Express, is one of Agatha Christie’s best known and most loved novels. Hercule Poirot is travelling on the train when one of the passengers, a Mr Ratchett, is murdered. Now Poirot must sift through the evidence and work out which of the other passengers wanted Ratchett dead – and why.

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Although I am classing this as an audiobook, it’s actually more of a dramatisation of the novel, rather than a straightforward narration. Art Malik is the narrator but he in fact he serves mainly to provide links from scene to scene. As lovely and delicious as his voice is, the real star of the production is of course the character of Poirot, performed here by Tom Conti, who imbues his Poirot with just the right amount of eccentricity with a dash of arrogance.

The mystery at the heart of the story is an excellent one, and if I didn’t already know something of the ending, it certainly would have kept me guessing. My favourite performers apart from Conti were Paterson Jospeh and Sophie Okonedo as Colonel Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham respectively, but the whole cast were excellent and really brought the story alive.

I really hope that Audible gives the dramatisation treatment to more of Agatha Christie’s works, as I found this a splendid and enjoyable listen. Highly recommended.

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Year of first publication: 1934 (novel) 2017 (this dramatisation)

Genre: Murder mystery

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The Blurb:

One simple mouth swab is all it takes.

A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for.

A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love.

Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…

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My thoughts: 

Well…I loved the premise of this book. Slightly dystopian, slightly sci-fi (not heavy sci-fi, so don’t be put off if that is not a genre you like), and fairly believable, I thought there was so much potential. The book follows five people – Mandy, Christopher, Jade, Nick and Ellie – who all find their match. The stories are all completely separate and are told in alternative chapters. The chapters themselves are short and choppy, and almost all of them seemed to end on a cliffhanger of sorts, which had the effect of making me want to read on and find out what happened. Unfortunately this did get a bit tired after a while, and some of the events and dialogue felt like it was out of a wildly melodramatic soap opera. What started out as almost a feasible situation soon turned into the ‘that would never happen’ category. But STILL, I found it compelling enough to read on.

I didn’t think many of the characters were particularly likeable – although Jade was the most sympathetic of the lot. There’s no doubt that John Marrs can think of a good twist, but there were just so many of them. Some of them I certainly didn’t predict though, and that it always a good thing.

For all that irked me, I did want to read the book and never actually got bored – more a case of eye rolling a lot!!

I would probably give something else by this author a try, as I think the initial idea was an excellent one. But one final note – there were so many spelling and grammar mistakes in this book that I can’t help hoping that he has better editors for his future work!

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Year of first publication: 2016

Genre: Sci-fi, dystopian fiction, drama

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This was another short story which I listened to as an audiobook – keeps me entertained for 90 minutes while I’m out running. Detective John Avery investigates a case of assault, where a teacher at an exclusive college was drugged at a party and intimate photographs taken without her consent were circulated.

As Avery digs deeper into the case and comes up against a wall of silence at the college, he eventually pieces it all together.

The story, narrated by Scott Merriman, definitely kept me interested. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Ninth and Nowhere, another of Deaver’s short stories, but that one was so brilliant that it was always going to be a lot for this one to live up to.

The story was more or less a straightforward detective story, although there was a twist at the end. The reader/listener goes through the investigation alongside Avery and receives information at the same time as he does.

Overall, I enjoyed it a lot and definitely want to listen to more by Jefferey Deaver.

 

Cocoon (1985)

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A sci-fi film you can enjoy even if you don’t like sci-fi. Three men (Don Ameche, Wilford Bromley, Hume Cronyn) from a group of elderly people who live in a retirement home use the swimming pool in the empty house next door. When a couple (Brian Dennehy and Tahnee Welch) rent the place, they agree to let the men continue to use the pool as long as they don’t disturb the mysterious cocoons that the couple store there. The pool has a rejuvenating effect on the three men.

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Year of release: 1985

Director: Ron Howard

Writers: David Saperstein, Tom Benedek

Main cast: Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Brian Dennehy, Tahnee Welch, Steve Guttenberg

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Genre: Sci-Fi, Comedy, Drama

Highlights: The older cast members were the heart and soul of this film

Lowlights: Got a bit too sci-fi-y for me towards the end

Overall: Definitely worth a watch on a chilled out Sunday afternoon

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What Richard Did (2012)

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This Irish film based loosely on Kevin Power’s book Bad Day in Blackrock, shows teenager Kevin, who lives a fairly typical teenage life with his group of friends, when a random act of violence inspired by jealousy over his girlfriend, changes all of their lives. He is forced to question his conscience and live with the consequences of his actions.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Writer: Kevin Power (book), Malcolm Campbell

Main cast: Jack Reynor, Gavin Drea, Patrick Gibson, Sam Keeley, Roisin Murphy, Lars Mikkelsen

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Genre: Drama

Highlights: The brooding atmosphere, clever use of silence

Lowlights: None really but this is not a film to watch if you are in need of being cheered up!

Overall: Not for everyone, as for large portions of the film not much actually happens. I like how it viewed the effect of a violent act on the perpetrator rather than on the victims. It’s bleak but strangely compelling viewing

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Year of first publication: 1996

Genre: Family drama

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Overview

When Beth Cappadora takes her three children to Chicago for her school reunion, every parent’s worst nightmare comes true as middle child – three year old Ben – goes missing. For nine years Beth and her husband Pat live in limbo, never knowing what happened to their son, or if he is still alive somewhere. Their older son Vincent is in severe danger of going off the rails completely. And then one day, a youngster knocks on her door and Beth is convinced that this is the missing Ben (no spoilers here; this is in the blurb on the back).

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My Thoughts

I remember watching the film that was based on this book many years ago. It stuck with me a lot, and I wanted to read the book for ages. Unfortunately I would have to say that this is a rare case of the film being better than the book. The premise itself was so interesting if also somewhat morbid; how does a family carry on when a child is missing? It’s not a spoiler to say that in the second half of the book the family and the reader does get to find out what happened, and the focus shifts from the mystery of what happened to Ben, to how everyone deals with the fallout.

The problem for me was not in the storyline itself; it was the fact that it just seemed to go on and on and on, and there was so much in there that didn’t really seem to add anything  – some heavy editing could have made such a difference.

I never really warmed to Beth, but it’s worth bearing in mind that we never really know her prior to her son disappearing, and that event affects her so much that she becomes remote and detached from her whole family – so what is an understandable reaction is actually what makes her difficult to like. Pat was marginally more likeable, but my favourite character was Vincent. After the initial story of the disappearance which is told in the third person, but largely from Beth’s point of view, Vincent himself is the focus of other chapters, and we see how Ben’s disappearance and the consequent family dynamic has affected him.

If you like family drama and drawn out storylines, maybe give this one a whirl. I’ll be honest and say that the last 150 or so pages did drag a bit for me and I was glad to finally finish, but even so, the storyline itself was enough to make me consider reading something else by this author.

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