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Archive for August, 2009

Harry Blake and his young son Tom suffer a tragedy when Harry’s wife Sara dies after a painful illness.

Harry returns to Fishers Hill, the village where he spent his childhood, in order to recover from the heartbreak and find comfort for himself and his son.  But coming back only brings Harry more turmoil as he finds himself urgently seeking out Judy Roberts, the woman he abandoned in Fishers Hill 18 years earlier when he was just a young man.

Judy is now married to a thuggish brute named Phil Saunders, who has taken away all of her independence and strength.  She aches for Harry, her lost love, who she drove away when she had deceived him years earlier.  Little does she know that Harry is returning to the village, determined to make amends for the past…

This is the first novel by Josephine Cox that I have ever read. Considering how prolific a writer she is, I expected far more from it, but was sadly disappointed. There was virtually no characterisation – every person in the story either lacked any personality at all, or was a typical stereotype.  It also grated that the main character, who was so obviously being portrayed as a decent heroic man, seemed so able to forget his wife and immediately decide he was in love with another woman (there were a few cursory mentions of Sara later on in the book, which appeared to be there purely to remind the reader that Harry had loved Sara and had not instantly started to forget her, but they didn’t alter the fact that he seemed almost dismissive of their life together).  

I also felt that the story went round and round in circles, and at times, I felt as though despite having read another 50 or pages, the plot was at exactly the same stage that it had been at before I had started them.  Finally, there was great deal of over-explaining – it was as though the author felt the need to explain to the reader exactly what was going on, even when it was completely obvious.

It’s not all bad however – there were two twists in the tale at the end, neither of which I saw coming.  Unfortunately though, it was too little too late for me, and I felt a sense of relief when I finished the book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is the story of Anne Boleyn, told through the eyes of her sister Mary.  As a young girl, Mary finds herself manipulated by her avaricious family to become King Henry VIII’s lover, with an end to usurping Queen Katherine of Aragon.  The Boleyn’s believe that if Mary becomes queen, they will be vastly elevated in terms of wealth and social status.  Even after having two children by Henry, Mary finds his interest in her waning, and sees that he is turning his affections to her sister Anne.  There is no other choice for Mary than to assist Anne in dethroning Queen Katherine.  As she matures, Mary grows tired of the political games played in the royal court, and decides to make her own way in life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  The Tudors have never been an exciting subject for me, but Philippa Gregory brings the era to life and makes it fascinating.  It should be remembered that this is a fictionalised account of events, and there are differences between what Mary tells and what current historians believe.  (For example, in the book Mary is portrayed as the younger sister, whereas in fact it is now widely accepted that she was older than Anne.  Also, while in the book there is no doubt that Henry is the father of Mary’s children, in truth it was never known for sure).

Each character is distinct and interesting.  Anne does not come out of this account well; she is portrayed as calculating and ruthless.  Mary is drawn more sympathetically (perhaps not surprising as the book is told from her point of view). Another major character is their brother George, whose own fate is told in this story, and who is a charming and reckless man, who serves in the royal court.  Henry himself is brought to life as a headstrong, spoilt young man, who is utterly handsome and charming in his youth, but who, during the period which the book spans, becomes bloated and unwell.

The story moves along at a steady pace, and even though I knew the ultimate outcome, I still found myself turning the pages quickly, wanting to know what new developments were around the corner.  I would recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in the Tudors (and if you have no interest, this might be a book to change your mind).  After reading it, I found myself wanting find out more about this fascinating and brutal time in England’s history.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Click here for my review of the 2008 movie adaptation.

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Grace Vandenburg counts everything.  From the amount of steps it takes her to walk between any two given places, to the amount of letters in people’s names, even to the amount of bristles in her toothbrush.  She likes to buy things – even such things as bottles of shampoo and boxes of washing powder in sets of 10.

Grace has chronic Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which has cost her the teaching job she loved, and robbed of any semblence of a social life.  The only people she feels able to connect to at all are her niece Hilary (who Grace calls Larry) and Nikola Tesla the long dead inventor who discovered electricity).  She doesn’t see herself as a victim though, because Grace believes that numbers bring order to a chaotic world.

When Grace meets Seamus O’Reilly, her life is turned upside down.  Seamus doesn’t count things, and he thinks that Grace would be better if she didn’t either.  And Grace finds herself having to decide between her safe routines dictated by her counting, or a journey into the unknown with Seamus.

I enjoyed this book very much.  It is narrated by Grace herself, and it was refreshing that despite her condition, Grace came across as a sassy, smart and sharp person with a quick wit, and it was easy to like her.  I also adored the character of Larry, Grace’s niece, who, like Grace, is sharp and sassy, but doesn’t thankfully doesn’t suffer with OCD.

The way that Grace’s condition is portrayed is excellent, and shows how OCD (however it manifests itself) can be debilitating and can keep someone in a virtual prison.  I actually think this would be an excellent book to read for anyone who was looking to learn more about the condition.

I was also surprisingly fascinated by the parts of about Nikola Tesla, Grace’s hero, whose life she describes in scattered parts throughout the narrative.

It is a very quick read (certainly snappy enough to be read in one sitting) and a thoroughly enjoyable one.  However, I do have mixed feelings about the ending.  I won’t reveal what happens, but I am not sure whether I liked it or not. Overall though, this is definitely a book I would recommend.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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As the title would suggest, this book is the story of the world’s most enduring rock ‘n’ roll band, the Rolling Stones – in their own words.

In 2002/2003, the Rolling Stones celebrated 40 years together, by embarking upon the ‘Forty Licks’ world tour (I was lucky to see them in amazing form in Prague).  During that tour, a team of four interviews, including Sir Tim Rice and Down Loewenstein (son of the band’s financial advisor of three decades), interviewed the group at length, and this book is the result.

The book is divided into chapters, with each chapter covering one period in the Stones’ career.  The four members of the group relate their memories, and the narration chops and changes between each member, so that it comes across as a conversation between them, rather than four separate interviews.  At the end of each chapter is an essay by somebody who has had some dealing or interest in the band’s career, including Don Was, who has produced some of their albums; Sheryl Crow, who has supported them on tour; and author Carl Hiassen, an avid fan who was lucky enough to meet the band and spend some time with them.

There are mostly good and a couple of not-so-good parts to this book.  I liked the fact that the interviews were obviously informal, and each member of the band’s personality came across really well – Mick Jagger being sensible and businesslike, Keith Richards being unconventional and uncompromising, Charlie Watts being always polite and reasonable, and Ronnie Wood leaping about with boundless enthusiasm.  Also, the short, ‘choppy’ style of the writing (each excerpt from each member’s interview is no longer than two pages, and sometimes no longer than one sentence, although they all generally have several entries in each chapter).  This makes is very easy and quick to read.

However, there is no input whatsoever from Bill Wyman, who was a member of the band for a very long time, and also no input from Mick Taylor who had the unenviable task of becoming guitarist after Brian Jones was sacked, and who subsequently remained in the band for 5 years.  It would have been interesting to get their perspectives.

This is not as involved and detailed as other biographies I have read of the band; however it is told in the words of the band members themselves, so is therefore obviously very credible.

It probably goes without saying that, as with all biographies, this is really a book for fans only, but I would add that even if your interest in the band is only a passing one, you would probably find something to enjoy here.

(Rolling Stones website can be found here.)

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This is the genuinely entertaining tale of French wirewalker Philippe Petit, who in 1974, commited an astonishingly audacious act when he managed to get a wire across the roofs of the World Trade Centre, New York, and walked across it several times.  The act was of course illegal, but it amazed and delighted people so much that the punishment taken against Petit was incredibly minor (in fact, he became an instant celebrity)!

This film charts the whole event, from the first idea of it, to the actual carrying out of it (for which Phillipe and his team had to carry out acts of subterfuge and deception).  The story is told by Phillipe himself, and the friends who helped him. Phillipe is an engaging and excitable narrator, and the footage taken from the actual events is fascinating.  Even though we know that he carried out the wirewalking extremely well (he is after all narrating the story, so we know that he survived it!) there are still some genuinely heartstopping moments when you see him step out onto the wire.

It wasn’t the first time he had done such a thing – he wirewalked across Notre Dame, and over the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and these events are covered in the story.

Phillipe appears to feel when he is on the wire, whether it be his practice wire, or during any one of his daring acts.  He displays more ease and elegance than many people do on the ground!

All in all, this is a fascinating tale of an audacious, outrageous and simply brilliant performance – well worth watching.

Year of release: 2008

Director: James Marsh

Writer: Philippe Petit (book)

Main cast: Philippe Petit, Jean Francois Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Annie Allix

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Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) sees a man dumping a body of a teenage girl, but isn’t able to positively identify him. When he tells his friend, disabled Vietnam veteran Alex Cutter, Cutter makes his own enquiries and believes than oil tycoon J.J. Cord is the man responsible. Bone is not convinced, but the out of control Cutter is determined that Cord should face justice….but that it will be Cutter’s own type of justice. Events spiral out of control, and Alex and Richard find their lives threatened….
 
As always, Jeff Bridges turns in a superb performance, as the world weary, apathetic, commitment phobic Bone. John Heard and Lisa Eichhorn are also brilliant as the angry Cutter and his depressed and marginalised wife Mo. All three characters seem to be looking for something to give their life meaning (and in failing to find it, Cutter and Mo have turned to alcohol), and maybe the search for justice will give it to them. It’s a shame that not more people seem to have heard of this film; it’s well worth watching. Not brilliant – one character (the dead girl’s sister) seems to almost disappear without explanation, and the ending is something of a surprise – but well worth a watch.
 
Year of release: 1981
 
Director: Ivan Passer
 
Writers: Newton Thornburg (book), Jeffrey Alan Fiskin
 
Main cast: Jeff Bridges, John Heard, Lisa Eichhorn

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