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Archive for July, 2010

e squared is the story of just over a month in the offices of Meerkat360, a very ‘cutting edge’ advertising agency in London.  It’s told entirely through the emails, text messages, MSN conversations and blogs of various members of staff, with the odd news article included.

Some of the main characters are David Crutton (‘The Man’, who really would prefer to be called by his proper job title of Managing Director); his long suffering wife Janice; Ted Berry (‘MC Ideaz’, head of the creative department); Liam O’Keefe, member of the creative department team, who is heavily in debt, deeply offensive (and funny) and descending into bankruptcy; and Harvey Harvey, Dr Who fanatic who is so naive that he responds to spam mail.

Because of the style in which the story is told, the reader is fed bits and pieces which fit together to form complete pictures of what is happening.  Most of the characters are caricatures, but they have elements of their personalities which everyone who has ever worked in an office environment will surely recognise.

Some of the main stories include Liam’s money and relationship problems, David’s marriage problems, some very trivial gossip between Suzi Judge-Davis-Gaultier and Milton Keane (two PAs at the company) and the company’s attempt to produce a cigarette campaign promoting the product as a healthy addition to anyone’s lifestyle.

Perhaps due to the fact that we only get to know the characters through their electronic communications, it’s sometimes hard to empathise with them.  However I did warm to the characters of Harvey Harvey and Liam.  I also liked David’s long suffering assistant Dotty, who was incredibly dense, but very sweet.  Suzi and Milton were irritating beyond belief, although this was presumably intentional.

The book certainly made me dissolve into giggles on several occasions.  Some parts were completely outlandish, but that didn’t bother me – after all, it is satire.

The only sections of the book that didn’t really work for me were the blog posts by ‘Hornblower’.  This man turned out to be a former colleague of some of the characters, who has now moved to France and blogs with extreme pomposity about his new life there.

Overall though, a very funny and enjoyable read.

(I would like to thank Transworld Publishers for sending me this book to review.  Transworld Publishers’ website can be found here. Matt Beaumont’s website can be found here. Meerkat360’s website can be found here.)

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Shirley and Kate Winters may be sisters, but they are about as alike as chalk and cheese.  Shirley loves vintage outfits and dreams about falling in love (with the divine Declan Greenwood), and she wants to make the world a better place. Kate is glamorous and flirtatious, never able to stick with any relationship for long.  She’s a designer label addict and selfish in the extreme.  Both girls are hoping the make their way in the world, and certain men feature heavily in their plans, although for Shirley true love is all that matters, whereas in Kate’s case, she just wants to find a rich husband.  

Meanwhile, Johnny Hogan, the owner of the Ballroom on Magnolia Street – the only nightspot in the area – is rethinking his life and planning to move to America – temporarily at first, but maybe permanently.  After all, he lost the love his life to another man many years before, and having given most of his life to making the ballroom a success, he now feels ready to move on.  

But secrets from the past are about to resurface and it won’t be long before circumstances cause everyone’s life to irrevocably change…will anything ever be the same again?   While chick-lit is not a favourite genre of mine, when it’s done well, it can be very enjoyable.  Unfortunately, I did not think it was done well here.  The characters are cliched (Shirley might as well wear a halo, and Kate should have little horns coming out of the side of her head) and hard to care about.  Declan Greenwood – the object of Shirley’s affection – is just too good to be true and in the case of Johnny Hogan, I ended up confused about whether the author was trying to portray him as someone we should like, dislike or just feel plain sorry for.  

The storylines were also just not believeable, with unrealistic turns of events happening all the time, and certain characters seeming to have unexplained personality transplants for the sake of plot.  The plot itself also seemed to promote the idea that all any woman really wants is a man to take care of her. Any single or independent women in the book are portrayed particularly unfavourably.  

Finally, there were some very long stretches of dialogue which served no purpose for the plot.  The chapter where the two sisters are introduced into the storyline features a heavily drawn out exchange between the two of them, which was boring and unnecessary.  

Are there any good parts?  Well – a couple of the stories had potential and certainly a book which concentrated on Shirley and Declan – leaving out many of the peripheral characters – might have been more enjoyable.  There are also some amusing parts when describing the actions of certain characters – in particular, Shirley and Kate’s parents.   It was also an undemanding read, and I finished it quite quickly (although I only finished it at all because I hate to give up on any book once I’ve started it).   Unfortunately, not one I’d recommend.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This film tells the true story of the 1919 ‘Black Sox’ scandal, when members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team, fed up with being underpaid by their boss, accepted bribes to throw games and deliberately lose the World Series. The first half of the movie concentrates mainly on the setting up of the bribes and the games themselves, and the second half of the movie deals with the fall-out of the resulting scandal – the truth being uncovered by suspicious journalists.

There is a stellar cast, including John Cusack as ‘Buck’ Weaver (a player who knew about the bribery but refused to become involved or take any money; sadly he suffered the same punishment as the other team members); D.B. Sweeney as ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson, an illiterate but brilliant baseball player; Gordon Clapp as Ray Schalk, the ‘catcher’ for the team who did not know about the bribery and was frustrated at the teams’ apparent inability to play well; and John Mahoney as ‘Kid’ Gleason, retired baseball player and now coach of the team, who had no knowledge (but maybe some suspicions) about the bribes. Charlie Sheen also stars – normally an actor who can be painful to watch, but he’s actually pretty good in this.

The film was enjoyable and far more compelling than I expected.  Although the players were obviously in the wrong to take the bribes, their reasons for doing so were made clear and their actions were somewhat understandable (if not excusable).  These men were playing their hearts out, but only succeeding in making other people rich, while being double crossed and cheated out of a fair wage.

The film was not told from any specific player’s point of view, but perhaps centred most on that of Buck Weaver, and certainly he is the character whose story stuck out the most for me.  He was invited to take the bribe, but refused to do so, and also refused to play at any less than the best of his ability. However, because he chose not to reveal the actions of his fellow team players, he suffered the same punishment of eventually being banned from professional baseball (something which he apparently challenged many times up until his death in 1956).

Overall, an interesting and enjoyable film, which tells a huge part of baseball history.

Year of release: 1988

Director: John Sayles

Writers: Eliot Asinof (book), John Sayles

Main cast: John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, Michael Rooker, Gordon Clapp, D.B. Sweeney

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As a 13 year old living in Venice in 1782, Cecilia Cornaro is seduced by the famous Casanova, and becomes a long term lover of his. Their relationship lasts until Casanova’s death. Twenty five years later, and Cecilia is a renowned and respected portrait artist working in Albania, when she meets arrogant young poet Lord Byron and the two begin a turbulent relationship. As Cecilia progresses through life, the memories of her two relationships will have a lasting effect on her.

The first part of the book focuses on Cecilia’s relationship with Casanova. Here, the famous lothario is portrayed sympathetically, as a mischievous but not malicious man, and one who is certainly capable of feeling true love and compassion.

The second part of the book focuses on Cecilia’s relationship – such as it is – with Lord Byron. Byron comes across as a thoroughly dislikeable man, who was arrogant, childish and constantly in search of the latest depravity, with not a thought for how much his actions cause hurt to others.

The book also focuses on how both relationships affect Cecilia and cause her to know herself and examine her life.

The characters are well drawn, and I felt that Cecilia herself was easy to empathise with. The book is told mainly from her point of view (with occasional chapters narrated by Casanova’s cat(!) and a gondolier in Venice), and the first person narrative works well in this instance, especially as Cecilia’s actions may not have been as understandable if described in the third person.

The writing itself is luscious and sensual. The descriptions of 18th and 19th century Venice are beautiful and really brought the city to life, to the extent that Venice itself was almost another character in the book. The setting for the story certainly added to the enjoyment of the reading.

It is clear that the author has done extensive research into the lives of Casanova and Byron, and many true life events are incorporated into this book (although Cecilia and her family are fictional characters). I felt that I had gained knowledge through reading this book, which is always a bonus.

The only negative comment I would make is that I did feel that the story could have been tightened up a little. Some of the events felt as if they lingered on too long, and at just over 600 pages, this was a read which I felt would have been better had it been perhaps 100 – 150 pages shorter.

Overall though, an enjoyable read, and one I would recommend to others.

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Reese Witherspoon plays Elle Woods, a pretty and popular blonde sorority queen.  She is stunned when her boyfriend dumps her because he needs “a Jackie, not a Marilyn.”  She decides that the only way to get him back is to go to Harvard Law School – where he is also going – so he can see that she is proper ‘wife material’.  Elle amazes everyone by getting into Harvard, but once there, she finds that a ditzy blonde with a love of fashion is not going to be very popular – and she will have to work hard, not just at her studies, but at fitting in and making friends.  And will it all be worth it in the end?  Will she get her boyfriend back?

Reese Witherspoon is a great actress and really shines in romantic comedies. Here, she plays the part of Elle to perfection, and makes the audience root for her all the way.  Able support is given by Luke Wilson (adorable as the only real friend she makes at Harvard) and Jennifer Coolidge, as Elle’s beautician. (Connelly, who I often find quite annoying, was great in this film).  Selma Blair also shines as Elle’s love rival.

The only scene which didn’t work for me is the ‘bend and snap’ scene, where Elle teaches a number of women in a beauty salon how to do a move which will make men find them irresistibly attractive.  However, I can certainly forgive one slightly dodgy scene in an otherwise good film.

The ending is pretty predictable, but the film is no less enjoyable for that.  The charisma of the main actress carries the audience along, and this is a movie that left me with a big smile on my face.  I’m certainly not surprised that this was popular enough to become a hit musical stage show.

Year of release: 2001

Director: Robert Luketic

Writers: Amanda Brown (book), Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith

Main cast: Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair, Luke Wilson, Jennifer Coolidge

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Nina Robinson is leaving London to return to her home land of Malta. Last time she came was not a happy event, as her family rejected her, having previously disowned her for becoming pregnant with her son Christopher while at university in England. Christopher is accompanying her on the trip, while her husband Matt and daughter Molly stay in London.Nina believes that Malta is where people go to heal – and she needs to heal for she is suffering from grief and heartbreak which threatens to totally overwhelm her. However, when she arrives in Malta she finds that it is crowded with the souls of the dead, who have come to find peace there. Able to see and communicate with the dead, Nina finds herself on a spiritual journey…will she find the peace and comfort she so desperately needs?This is a beautifully written book. The style is truly unusual and hard to describe. It is told mainly from Nina’s point of view, although there are smaller sections which are told from others who observe Nina. To say too much more would be to spoil it for anyone who has not read it. 

Nina’s grief was almost palpable. She has suffered a huge loss, which is made clear near to the beginning of the book; however, she is also grieving for the loss of family life, as she has been estranged from her family for so long.

The other characters were also interesting – especially Jesus, who features largely in this book. However, this is a Jesus like none you will have ever read about…he is a fan of reality tv and wears bright coloured toenail polish. If you are not religious, do not be put off by the fact that Jesus features in this book – it is not a story about religion.

Malta is practically another character in the story – vividly brought to life, reading this book made me want to visit there and explore. I can only assume that the author is either very familiar with the island, or has done some extensive research.

Ultimately this is a story about family, grief, home and redemption. Hard to review but easy to read and very very absorbing. Highly recommended, and I will certainly be looking out for other books by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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