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Archive for May, 2008

I have read books by Ben Elton before, and always enjoyed them.  This is no exception. In his book ‘ Dead Famous’, Elton took a pop at the tv show Big Brother, and he continues his knock at reality tv, with this book, which is very clearly a satire of shows such as Pop Idol, X Factor, etc.  I use the word ‘satire’ perhaps inaccurately; I suspect there is a lot of truth in this book, about the way that reality tv shows work, and what really goes on behind the scenes.  Calvin Simms is the brains behind ‘Chart Throb’ and is clearly based on Simon Cowell.  Beryl Blenheim is the mumsy, mother hen type female judge (clearly based on Sharon Osbourne), and Rodney Root is ‘the other one’ (the Louis Walsh character).  The book shows how such shows manipulate the audience and exploit the people taking part, and that the only winners in the long run are the makers of these shows.

Calvin Simms actually comes off as a rather likeable bastard – the kind of person who you like despite yourself, as we see his attempts to make the Prince of Wales the Nation’s Chart Throb!!

There isn’t a great deal of characterisation – there’s no need for it, because we see the real life counterparts of these characters all the time.  We know who these people are supposed to be.  However, the parts which show what happen behind the scenes of the show are very funny and I suspect, disturbingly close to the reality (of course, these scenes are exaggerated; that’s necessary to get the point across).

I personally am cynical about shows like X Factor, and do feel that it is cruel, cheap tv, so I enjoyed this book.  I wouldn’t recommend it to fans of such shows, as it may cause disillusionment!!  The only complaint I have is that the ending is a bit of a let down. There is a twist which I never would have guessed, but it was something of an anti-climax.  Nonetheless though, this is an enjoyable read.

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Only half an hour long – which is not long enough!  That is my only complaint about this show.

Bill Hicks is sadly no longer with us, and I feel that we lost a genuine talent when he died.  Not only is he a very very funny man, but he speaks so much sense.  As well as making the you laugh, he also makes you think, as he unleashes his own particular bitter brand of humour on subjects such as drugs, rock n’ roll and advertising.

Bill was certainly cynical, but it’s obvious that he also thought about things a lot – he cared about what was going wrong with the world, and he could see when things such as drugs and pornography were used as scapegoats – easy things to hang blame on.  Someone once said that they thought that Bill Hicks was disappointed with humanity, and I think that that could well have been true.

This DVD captures Bill doing a very, very funny and thought provoking stand up routine – well worth a watch.

Year of release: (Series 1989 – 1992)

Directors: Peter Calabrese, Robin Shlien

Writer: Bill Hicks

Main Cast: Bill Hicks

(For more information about Bill Hicks, please click here.)

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This is a very good read, although I wouldn’t say it was fantastic.  It is set in 1958, when Adam Strickland, a talented Cambridge student is sent to the mysterious ‘Villa Docci’ in Italy, to do a thesis on the 400 year old memorial garden attached to the villa.

As Adam starts to unravel the story told in the memorial garden, he realises that he is investigating a 400 year old murder.  He also finds himself trying to solve a more recent murder – that of the Docci family’s eldest son Emilio, who was killed 14 years earlier.

Adam finds himself getting drawn further and further in by his fascination with the garden and the Docci family – this leads him into a web of deceit and intrigue, where nothing and nobody is quite what they seem.

I did enjoy this book a lot, although I felt that some parts of it were very improbable; however, if this does not bother you, then I would definitely recommend this.  The characters weren’t explored in any great depth, but this didn’t really matter, as the book is more plot-driven than character driven.

A lighter and easier read than I expected – also made me interested in reading Dante, at some stage in the future, as Adam takes much of his inspiration from The Divine Comedy.

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I absolutely loved this book.  It is the third in the Montalbano series, which I am reading in order, and so far I think it is my favourite.

In this one, the world-weary Montalbano gets embroiled in a case involving an apparently respectable retired businessman who was murdered in the lift at his building, and a Tunisian fisherman murdered in a trawler boat just off the Sicilian coast.  During the course of the investigation, he finds himself becoming reluctantly a kind of ‘surrogate father’ to a young boy, Francois, whose mother, a cleaner and prostitute named Karima, who is involved in the case, and who goes missing.  This puts great strain on the Inspector’s relationship with his girlfriend Livia.

Montalbano is a character who I really like despite myself.  His friends and colleagues consider him to be unreasonable, and possibly crazy, and yet they still like and respect him.  This reflects this reader’s impression of the man.  Overall, I would recommend this book, and indeed the whole Montalbano series, based on the books I have read so far.

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I really enjoyed this book, although I expected it to be much more light hearted than it was.  The main character is Genevieve Shelby King, an Aristocratic English beauty, who has moved to Paris with her rich American husband.  Genevieve is obsessed with shoes, and has over 500 pairs (and the descriptions of shoes in this book are so intricate and lovely that I wanted to go and buy lots of shoes at once)!  She also has a rich and devoted husband, a beautiful apartment and a hectic social life, with her best friend Lulu, a popular bohemian singer.  But when Genevieve spots the most beautiful shoes she has ever seen on one of her society rivals, she becomes obsessed with getting a pair of shoes for herself, by the man who made them, Paulo Zachari.   Zachari is famous for picking his customers, rather the other way around, and he is very discerning about who he will make shoes for.  Genevieve becomes obsessed with the shoes, and subsequently, with Zachari himself.  She becomes miserable in spite of her happy life, and is forced to confront a painful memory of her past, and try to find out why her life feels so empty.

Genevieve is a well rounded character, and although she sometimes did things which seemed unreasonable or unkind, it was easy to see her reasons for doing so.  I also thought Zachari was a well drawn character.

However, one of the things I liked the most about the book was it’s colourful descriptions of  society life in 1920s Paris – it made me wish I could have been a fly on the wall.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book – even if it did make me want to go out and buy a lot of shoes!  With a bit more substance to it than a lot of chick-lit, this is recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This was my 20th book this year, and the second one in the Salvo Montalbano series, by Andrea Camilleri.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it is definitely one of my favourite books so far this year. Montalbano is a gruff, sometimes bad tempered, Inspector, with a penchant for good food and wine, and deep morals, as well as a wry sense of humour, and a very intuitive mind.

This book sees him hearing the dying words of a powerful member of the Mafia, which leads him to a hidden cave, where he finds the body of a young couple, who have been dead for at least 50 years…the whole scene is being watched over by a life size terracotta dog.

Montalbano becomes wrapped up in trying to identify the dead couple, and understand how they came to be in a cave, and the significance of the terracotta dog.  His investigation takes him to some dangerous places, and places his life in peril, but he is determined not to give in.

The book really paints a picture of Sicilian life, and the characters really seem to come to life.  Additionally, you can almost smell the gorgeous food which Montalbano is so fond of, coming off the page!

Terrific writing, quirky characters and a hugely enjoyable read.  Highly recommended!

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