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Archive for April, 2008

I was pretty disappointed in this book.  It tells a year in the life of one Martin Lukes, a middle management employee, through his emails and text messages.  I expected it to be very funny indeed, but at best, it was mildly amusing in places.  Martin uses all the boardroom lingo cliches you can imagine – ‘blue sky thinking’, ‘thinking outside the box’, and even thinks up an expression of his own – ‘creovative’ (a mix of creative and innovative).

The main problem with this book is that the main character is completely and utterly dislikeable.  One of the reviews in the inside cover says that it is like Bridget Jones….only better.  I disagree – Bridget Jones may have been annoying and exasperating, but she was also sweet and endearing, and the reader rooted for her.  Martin Lukes is tactless, self absorbed, and never thinks about anyone else at all.  I actually found myself eagerly anticipating his comeuppance.  Throughout the year, Martin receives life coaching from a mysterious character called Pandora, who clearly knows nothing whatsoever about her subject.

Perhaps due to the fact that the story was told entirely through Martin’s electronic communication explains why the character never felt properly developed.  Had we seen more of his ‘offline’ life, he might have been a more sympathetic person, or certainly more well rounded.  But he felt like something of a caricature – and not a particularly nice one.

I feel that the main character borrowed heavily from David Brent from ‘The Office’, but was not as amusing.  Good concept, but overall the book felt like a letdown.

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This is a very well written book, with plenty of twists and turns. The main character is Sue Trinder, an young orphaned girl who has been brought up lovingly in a house of thieves run by Mrs Sucksby, in London, in Victorian times.  One day, an acquaintance comes to visit with a plan to scam a young lady and her uncle out of a lot of money. Sue becomes involved in the scheme, and finds herself at a lonely old house in Briar, where she meets Maud Lilly.

From then on, it seems that nothing and no-one is quite what they seem, and events start to unravel. Sue uncovers feelings which she never dreamed she could have had, and also learns the hard way, who she can and can’t trust. For Sue and Maud’s lives are connected in a way that neither of them could ever have imagined…

The writing is lovely, flows beautifully and is very eloquent.  The characters are all very well drawn and very easy to believe and invest in.  The plot is intricate, but not over convoluted, and I would not have guessed the outcome.

I also thought that the atmosphere of Victorian London was extremely well portrayed, and I really felt that the novel placed you there.

Highly recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This film is apparently based on the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 (which sadly has not been an isolated incident, with other similar shootings also having taken place).

The film is very unsentimental, and does not invite the viewer to engage with  any of the characters.  It simply shows a number of students going about their normal everyday routines…except of course, that this day is not going to be like any other day. While many scenes are shot in real time, they also ‘loop back’ on each other, so that we see one situation from several points of view.

The first hour of this movie is tense, as you know that at some point, this terrible massacre is going to start.  And therein lies one of the problems with this movie for me – it felt almost voyeuristic, watching these people go about their normal lives, having normal conversations, totally oblivious to the fact that their lives are about to be changed forever.

I do feel that the fact that all of the actors were unknown added to the tension, and made the characters seem more real – which served to remind me that (although technically the film is a work of fiction), the events upon which the movie is based are all too real.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writer: Gus Van Sant

Main cast: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Elias McConnell, Jordan Taylor, Carrie Finklea, Nicole George

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Quite simply, this film is amazing.  Jeff Bridges (my all time favourite actor) is Max Klein, a man whose worst fear becomes realised when he is in a plane crash. However, Max not only survives the crash, but also leads other survivors to safety.

Surviving the crash causes Max to feel invincible, and he believes that nothing can kill him.  This causes tension in his marriage, and between Max and his son, who are unable to understand Max’s new attitude.  The only person who Max is able to connect with is a fellow survivor from the flight, Carla, a woman whose blames herself for her baby dying in the crash.

I feel that Jeff Bridges should, at the very least, have been nominated for an Oscar for this movie – his performance is simply outstanding,  Rosie Perez, who played Carla, was in fact nominated.  Also marvellous were Tom Hulce as the mercenary lawyer representing Max and his late business partner, and Isabella Rossellini, who played Max’s wife, struggling to come to terms with the change in her husband.

I found myself totally immersed in the story and lives of these characters; the film is totally compelling.  The story itself was beautifully told, showing how extraordinary events can have an effect on people far beyond anything they could have imagined.  The isolation felt by the two main characters was almost palpable.

Some people apparently believe that Max actually represents Jesus in this film.  I mention this because it’s an interesting point of view; however, I don’t actually agree with it.  But the movie is open to interpretation, and I love movies that make you think – this is definitely one of them.

The ending of the movie is particularly outstanding, but to single out one scene is perhaps unfair (there are many wonderful and moving scenes in this film; another that comes to mind is the scene where Max deliberately crashes his car to prove to Carla that she could not have saved her child, and therefore was not to blame for the child’s death).  This is simply a terrific film throughout.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1993

Director: Peter Weir

Writers: Rafael Yglesias

Main cast: Jeff Bridges, Isabella Rossellini, Rosie Perez, Tom Hulce

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This book is narrated by Nicky Dillon, a 12 year old girl, who when walking in the woods by her home in New Hampshire with her father, one wintry afternoon, comes across a newborn baby who has been abandoned.

Days later there is a knock at their door, and a young woman is standing there…

Nicky and her father are battling their own demons as they try to come to terms with the sudden deaths of Nicky’s mother and sister two years earlier, and have cut themselves off from the world since the tragedy.  However, the discovery of the baby has unforseen consequences, which force them to face people again.

The only detrimental thing I would say about this book (and I guess I am nitpicking here), is that I found it a little bit hard to empathise with the characters, but that did not really detract from my enjoyment.  However, for a storyline with such potential for some real exploration of the characters, this does feel like something of a missed opportunity.

However, there is plenty to recommend the book – it’s a real page turner, and a quick read despite the subject matter.  It definitely made me want to seek out more books by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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I was really hoping to enjoy this collection of short stories, but sadly, I was glad to finish it.

There are eleven short stories in this collection, all set in Wyoming, and all centred around cowboys, ranch hands and their wives and families and the tough lives they lead in unforgiving conditions.

The stand out story in this collection is definitely Brokeback Mountain (although the film is better, and there’s not many book/film adaptations I say that about)! Brokeback Mountain and another story – The Bushgrass Edge of the World – were the two I did enjoy – and which saved the collection as far as I am concerned – but the others were so-so.

However, the author did a splendid job of capturing the bleak and barren setting of the book, which compares nicely with the bleak and empty lives of most of her characters.

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Click here for my review of the movie 2005 ‘Brokeback Mountain’.

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