Archive for January, 2009

An unnamed Latin American country is holding an international gathering, in the hope of securing trade with a rich Japanese businessman, who has only attended because his favourite opera singer is performing there.  However, shortly after her performance, terrorists storm the house, but are disappointed when their intended target – the President of the country – is revealed not to be present.  They take everybody there hostage, and a siege situation develops, which lasts four and a half months.  Over this time, the hostages and terrorists become accustomed to one another and form friendships – two couples fall in love – and many people on both sides find out things about themselves that they never realised.

I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that I found the behaviour of almost all of the characters to be unbelievable.  However, for the most part, their actions take second place to the development of the characters, who are revealed bit by bit, so that in the end, we feel like we know most, if not all of them, very well.  The book treats hostages and terrorists with the same sympathy.

The situations which develop seem to be a highly unlikely scenario, but it is interesting to see how people’s personalities and priorities developed in the isolated situation they found themselves in.

The writing is beautiful and poetic – sometimes too much so; I felt that at times, the story got bogged down in too much unnecessary description.  However, those times were few and far between, and for the most part, it was a pleasure to read.

Overall, I would say that if you are looking for a realistic book about a hostage situation, then this might not be the one for you.  But if you are willing to suspend your credibility a little, and enjoy eloquent writing, I would recommend it.  I am certainly considering seeking out more by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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I loved this movie, which is based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.  There are several nods to Shakespeare in the movie – the two sisters’ are called Katarina and Bianca, as in the play, and their surname is Stratford – which was of course where Shakespeare lived.  Heath Ledger’s character’s surname is Verona, and Shakespeare is studied in the high school where the action takes place.)

Cameron is a new boy at school, who falls for the popular Bianca.  However, Bianca is not allowed to date anyone, unless her prickly sister Kat dates as well…but there are not many men wanting to get too close to Kat, who is bad tempered and unsocial. Cameron concocts a plan whereby he gets the resident ‘bad boy’ (played by Heath Ledger) to take Kat out, thus enabling himself to ask Bianca out.  However, things inevitably go awry!

Although this is a high school movie, it’s actually very sweet, and there are moments of great humour – my favourite scene was Verona serenading Kat with ‘Can’t Take My Eyes off You’.  All of the leads are great, and we are reminded once again what a talent the entertainment world lost when Heath Ledger died just over a year ago.  He is very charismatic and funny, and here shows the potential that was realised in his later movies.

The great soundtrack is the icing on the cake.  This movie isn’t going to change anyone’s life, nor is it going to make it onto any ‘classic movie’ countdown.  But as a funny and entertaining way to pass a Sunday afternoon, this fits the bill perfectly!

Year of release: 1999

Director: Gil Junger

Writer: William Shakespeare (book), Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith

Main cast: Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik

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This is a lovely amusing and light hearted book, which I think can best be described as Hyacinth Bucket meets Bridget Jones.

The narrator (the provincial lady of the title) takes us through a year in her life in diary form.  Set probably in the 1930s – although this is never specified – and somewhere in or around Plymouth, our un-named narrator struggles to hold together a seemingly indifferent husband, two young children, a chaotic staff and ever growing financial worries.  Trying to always anticipate and stay one step ahead of her problems causes her to find herself in many sticky situations!

Although the social situations described are very much of their time, the interactions between various characters reminded me of present day relationships, and as the reader is permitted access to the narrator’s innermost thoughts – which of course, nobody else in her life is permitted – I often found myself nodding along and smiling in recognition.  There were also a number of laugh-out-loud moments.

I didn’t feel that the characters were explored in any great depth, but this did not detract from enjoyment of the book – it was more plot driven than character driven, although the narrator was by turns hilarious and sympathetic.

The writing reminded me very much of that of Helen Fielding in Bridget Jones’ Diary, and as this book pre-dates that one by several decades, I can’t help but wonder if Fielding was influenced by this.

Overall, this was a hugely enjoyable book, and I will definitely be buying the two sequels.

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Having just finished this book, I am not sure what to make of it.  Jean Dominique Bauby was the Editor in Chief of Elle Magazine, and had a full and happy life until he suffered a massive stroke in December 1995, and was left paralysed, and only able to communicate by blinking his left eyelid.  And with a patient transcriber, this is how he dictated this book, in which he describes his life now, and details small vigniettes of his life before he fell ill.  To write anything under such circumstances would be an amazing achievement, and in that sense, this book is a testament to the human spirit. However, it left me feeling strangely detached about what must have been one man’s living hell.

The problem with the book as far as I was concerned, was that I never felt as a reader, able to connect with the narrator.  I was not able to visualise the people in his life as ‘real’ people, although they most certainly are.

There were a few touching chapters – one where he describes his children visiting him on Father’s Day, when he is distressed at not being able to hug his son or run his fingers through the boys hair; and the chapter where he describes the events which happened shortly before the stroke.

I have seen this book described as ‘life affirming’, which I am afraid to say I don’t particularly agree with (although at one point, it did make me think that I should stop getting upset about insignificant things at work, and count my blessings).  However, all that is not to say that I did not enjoy the book – I did enjoy it, but I was left feeling somewhat unmoved by it.

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In 1998, a young reporter named David Simon spent a year attached to the Baltimore Homicide Unit, reporting on what he saw, how the Officers did their jobs, various murders which were dealt with and how those cases progressed.  This book is the result of that year – and it’s an amazing and absorbing read (particularly for someone like myself, who generally prefers fiction).  No names were changed, although on a few occasions, certain persons remain anonymous, and there was no poetic licence used – events were written exactly as they occurred.

This book works both as an entertaining read, and a remarkable piece of journalism. One case in particular – the brutal molestation and murder of a young girl – forms a major part of the book, just as it formed a major part of the unit’s lives, and one detective in particular.

The writing itself is amazing and makes some of the cases so visible in the mind’s eye that it is at times almost painful to read.  But what are equally as compelling as the many cases written about, are the little anecdotes about squad room life, and the relationships between the various members of the squad.  Sometimes the detectives come across as callous, racially insensitive, and/or sexist, and certainly they seem to find humour in the darkest situations, but above all they come across as people determined to right some of the wrongs in the world.

It is the only third book I have read this year, but I am fairly confident that at in twelve months time, I will be listing it as one of my favourite books of 2009.  Very highly recommended.

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This is the book that introduced readers to Private Detective Philip Marlowe, who lives and operates in 1940s Los Angeles.

Marlowe is hired by the elderly and ill General Sternwood, who is being blackmailed, and wants Marlowe to make the problem go away.  Marlowe accepts the job but soon finds that nothing is what it seems.  Also complicating matters are Sternwood’s two wild daughters, and the missing husband of one of them.

Marlowe delves into a seedy underworld, where he discovers corruption and cover ups, and lots of double crossings.  He also finds himself in some dangerous situations in his quest to uncover the truth.

In truth, he is not an altogether likable character, but he does have his own moral code which he abides by.  He cares little for other people, or for what they think of him and his occupation, and is something of a loner, unreadable to many of the other characters (and sometimes to the reader).

I enjoyed the novel, although the story – which galloped along at a fair old pace – almost took second place to Chandler’s wonderful turn of phrase.  His descriptions sometimes bordered on poetic, despite the subjects he was describing.

The only slight complaint I would make is that the female characters in the book are almost caricature-like, but that did not really detract from my enjoyment.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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Synopsis on the jacket of the book:

This is the story of Mina, a girl at a Sheffield call centre, whose next customer in the queue is Peter, a Cambridge geography don, who has crashed his car into a treestumo when swerving to avoid a cat.

Despite their obvious differences, they’ve got a lot in common – both single, both parents, both looking for love.  Could it be that they’ve just found it?

Crossed Wires is an old-fashioned fairy tale.  It is about the small joys and tribulations of parenthood; about one-ness and two-ness; about symmetry and coincidence; about the things that separate us and the things that bring us together.

I really enjoyed this novel.  Peter and especially Mina, are very well drawn and believable characters.  Although a lot of the book is about the problems they face in bringing up their respective children, many of the issues are ones which we can all identify with, parents or not.

All of the supporting cast of characters – from Peter’s friends Jeremy, Martin and Trish, to Mina’s mom, stepdad and sister are brought effectively to life, and I found myself really starting to care about them.

The reader gets to see far more of Peter and Mina’s respective lives than they do of each other, and therefore when misunderstandings arise between the two of them, the reader is able to see the truth behind certain events before the characters do.  I  found myself rooting for both Mina and Peter, and groaning when things went awry.

The book is very well written, and is both an intelligent novel and a real page turner. I am definitely going to be looking out for more by this author!

(I’d like to thank the author for sending me this book to review.  Rosy Thornton’s website can be found here.)

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