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Archive for May, 2009

When 19 year old Ruby decides that she has had enough of her life in London, she runs away to her grandmother Iris’s home in Cairo.  As Ruby falls in love with Cairo, Iris is in ill health, and fears that she is losing her memories of wartime Egypt and the soldier she fell in love with, who lost his life in World War II.  As we learn the story of Iris and Xan Molyneaux, we also see Ruby growing up, forming a relationship of her own, and bonding with her grandmother.

I really enjoyed this book.  As well as being a retrospective love story (which is wonderfully told), it is also a story of Ruby’s journey, from a troubled and thoughtless teenager, to an intelligent and compassionate young woman.  The story deals with love and heartbreak, fear and memories, and in particular, how the memory of a certain time in life can affect all that comes after it.

Cairo is vividly brought to life – both in the modern day, and during World War II.  It was very easy to imagine how Ruby felt when discovering the city for the first time – while making a parallel journey in which she discovered much about herself.  Reading the book made me want to visit Egypt for myself.

The love story between Iris and Xan is passionate and beautifully told, and never spills over into over-sentimentality or ‘cheesiness’.

All of the characters were entirely believable – more so for not being perfect.  They were well fleshed out and easy to invest emotion in.  The writing is beautiful and flowed easily.  I will definitely be seeking out further work by this author.

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The third book in this series is no disappointment, and is possibly my favourite one yet. In this episode of Mma Ramotswe’s life, she finds herself moving her offices so that she is sharing premises with her fiance Mr J L B Matekoni, meaning that her business and his garage are at the same place. However, all is not well with Mr J L B Matekoni, and Mma Ramotswe is anxious about his health. However, she still finds time to investigate a case of suspected poisoning, while her Assistant Detective Mma Makutsi, finds herself being the sole investigator in a case concerning the contestants of a beauty pageant.

This book, like the others before it, is a charming easy read. McCall Smith must have a deep affection for Botswana, as he writes about it with tenderness here. Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi and Mr J L B Matekoni are lovely characters to curl up with for a couple of hours.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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One February day, Vianne Rocher finds herself with her 6 year old daughter Anouk, in Lansquenet, a small French village.  Having lived in many places and never having settled, Vianne decides to stay.  She opens a chocolaterie opposite the local Catholic Church, and in doing so, encounters the disapproval of the Priest, Reynaud.

Reynaud – a cold man, who suffers with his own guilt and anger – believes that the chocolate which Vianne sells is encouraging his ‘flock’ to indulge in excess and sin.  He watches with dismay as the townspeople start to come to Vianne’s shop, drawn in by her almost instinctive understanding of their lives and thoughts.

When a group of river gypsies, led by the enigmatic Roux come to Lansquenet, Reynaud is further distressed as Vianne’s acceptance of them leads to the other people also accepting them. She helps people discover their inner strength – aiding a woman to escape her abusive woman and comforting a man who has to face the truth about his beloved pet’s illness.

As Reynaud tries to think of a way to stop his flock abandoning him for the pleasures of Vianne’s creations, events come to a climax at Easter time.

I really enjoyed this book.  Quite apart from anything else, the descriptions of the chocolates are mouth watering, and made me hungry!

Vianne is an interesting character, and throughout the entire book, I cheered along with her small victories.  Reynaud is deliberately without charisma or warmth.  He is not a nice man, and neither is supposed to be.  However, he is portrayed with just enough sympathy to make him a believable ‘villain’ of sorts.

There are several other characters, all of whom play their own part in the book…Armande Voizin, Vianne’s friend; Josephine Muscat, an outcast in who Vianne sees something with even Josephine is not aware she possesses; and Roux, the tough but fair leader of the gypsies.  Each and every character in the book is distinctive and realistic.  

This is an ideal book to curl up with on a lazy afternoon (with a big mug of hot chocolate)!  I will certainly be seeking out the sequel.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Deeba, a young girl who lives in London, accidentally ends up in an unusual world where words literally come alive, ghosts have their own suburb to live in, and giraffes are highly dangerous and bloodthirsty creatures.  This is unLondon (Un Lun Dun), and Deeba has entered just in time to see war break out between the unLondoners and the deadly Smog.  She accidentally finds herself in the unenviable position of trying to beat the Smog and save the unLondoners, and along the way, she assembles a motley crew of companions.  The obstacles and dangers they face grow ever more strange and incredible…Will Deeba manage to save unLondon?  And will she be able to get back to her own home in London, before her family and friends forget all about her?

This book is aimed at young adults, but this in no way means that it cannot be enjoyed by adults.  Deeba is a terrific hero – all the more so, because she is an unexpected hero (it is revealed early on that her friend Zanna is the one expected to save this strange city).  But against the odds, people begin to realise that Deeba is intelligent and resourceful.

As well as being a fun story, there is also an underlying message about pollution and the responsible of disposing of our waste – but the book never preaches or lectures.

China Mieveille must have an incredible imagination (and judging by the illustrations in this book, which are also his work, a talent for art as well).  The story moves on at a rapid pace, with plenty of twists and turns.  It never gets boring, and it is impossible predict what will happen next.

A very enjoyable read, and one I would definitely recommend.  Although it could be classed as fantasy, I liked it, although fantasy is not a genre that I am usually drawn to.

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After his relationship breaks down, Zia (Patrick Fugit) commits suicide, and finds himself in a bizarre purgatory especially for people who have killed themselves.  This particular afterlife is very much like ‘normal’ life, except that everything is just a bit worse!  Zia finds a friend in Eugene (Shea Whigham) – a Russian rock singer whose whole family have committed suicide and all live together in the afterlife.  Nothing much happens for Zia until he discovers that his ex-girlfriend Desiree killed herself a month after he did, and he sets off on a strange road trip, accompanied by Eugene, to find her.  Along the way, they meet Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who has recently arrived in the afterlife and believes that she should not really be there, and Kneller (fabulously played by Tom Waits), a curious man who seems to have found some sort of peace in this strange world.

Despite the name of this film, it is not a depressing watch.  While I wouldn’t agree with some of the critics who described it as hilarious, it did have some moments of wry humour.  Patrick Fugit is great as the somewhat bewildered Zia, who begins to realise that happiness can be found wherever you are.  Shea Whigham almost steals every scene he is in, and provides most of the laughs, and Tom Waits possesses an amazing charisma, and is perfect for his role.

Most of the film takes place in the afterlife and is given a washed out effect, contrasting it sharply with the few scenes which are set in the real world (mainly flashbacks of Zia’s life before his relationship went wrong).

Year of release: 2006

Director: Gorn Dukic

Writer: Etgar Keret (book), Gorn Dukic

Main cast: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Tom Waits, Shea Whigham

I was in two minds whether to watch this or not, as I felt it might be disturbing, but I am glad I chose to watch, and it actually left me with a smile on my face.

(A warning for anyone who is considering watching – it is presumably obvious from the title, but there is a strong suicide theme in this film, and while I did not find the movie itself disturbing, an early scene might prove upsetting to some).

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By accident, Mike and Gally Martin stumble across a dilapidated house in the village of Penselwood, Somerset.  Gally is immediately drawn to the property, and they buy it with the intention of refurbishing it and living there.  However, they soon encounter an elderly man named Ferney, who knows all about the history of the house – and seemingly all about Gally.

There is an instant connection between Gally and Ferney, which he understands, but she struggles to do so.  As she learns more about Ferney and about herself, she discovers that theirs is a story which transcends time, and she finds herself torn between her life with Mike and her attachment to Ferney.

I should mention that since finishing the book, I have read several reviews of it – most of them are glowing and extremely complimentary.  However,  I would hesitate to go that far.  There was plenty to enjoy in the book – the writing itself was a joy to read, but the content sometimes let it down.

The main issue I had was that I could not feel any empathy or sympathy towards Gally or Ferney for their predicament.  In any kind of love story it seems quite important to at least like the characters.  However, I felt that Ferney was selfish and thoughtless, and Gally was exasperating.

There are some good points – there are a number of historical events vividly depicted in the book, and the village of Penselwood itself is made extremely easy to picture for someone who has never been there.

Overall, the idea was an interesting one.  However, the story was a little slow moving for me – if the book had been about 100 pages shorter, it would have been more enjoyable.

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