Archive for August, 2010

Vida is 19, has a heart condition, and has spent her whole life waiting to die.  When she receives a transplanted heart, she is given a second chance at life.  But how does someone who has never really lived know how to start?  And why does she think she can remember things which she has never experienced?

Richard’s life falls apart when his wife is killed in a road accident.  He donates her heart, and feels compelled to meet the young recipient.  However, the first time he meets Vida, she tells him that she loves him.  He dismisses her as a silly young girl – but could she possibly be right?  Could it be that her new heart remembers it’s former life?

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  On the plus side, I thought the writing flowed well, and the story moved along quickly, but still had plenty of time to focus on each character.  It was narrated alternately by Vida and Richard, so we got to see both points of view, and to see events from both sides, as it were.  The premise of the story is strongly connected to the possibility of cellular memory – enabling organ recipients to retain the memories of the donors.  I’m not at all sure that I believe in this, but it was not hard to suspend my disbelief for the duration of the book.

There were a small number of other characters – Vida’s mother Abigail, Richard’s mother-in-law Myra, Victor – a friend of Vida, and her best friend Esther.  My favourite character was Esther – a 90 something women who had survived life in a concentration camp in Germany before coming to live in San Francisco, and who was perhaps the only person in Vida’s life who knew what it was like to expect death at every turn.

On the negative side, I found Vida to be an intensely irritating character, especially at first.  While I could understand that due to her mother’s over-protectiveness, she had never really had a chance to mix a lot with other people, and was therefore perhaps lacking in some social skills, I felt that her attitude and some of her actions towards Richard were beyond stupid and insensitive.  He actually came across as very patient under the circumstances.

I also really disliked the ending, especially in regard to Richard’s actions.  I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but I thought it was inappropriate and not in keeping with the way the story had played out prior to that.

Overall, while this book was not terrible, it left me feeling ultimately a bit disappointed.  It had it’s good points, but an irritating main character and an ending which took me by surprise (and not in a good way) made it feel like a bit of a let down.

(I’d like to thank Transworld Publishers for sending me this book to review.  Transworld Publishers website can be found here.  Catherine Ryan Hyde’s website can be found here.)

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This film is a very heavily fictionalised account of the lives of the Brothers Grimm, before they became famous for their collections of folk/fairy tales.  Set in French occupied Germany in the early 1800s, Willheim and Jacob (named Will and Jake in this movie, and played by Matt Damon and Heath Ledger respectively) are shown as a pair of conmen.  They make their living performing fake exorcisms and getting rid of non-existent witches and demons.  However, they eventually find themselves having to solve a genuine mystery.  The town of Marbaden has seen the disappearance of a number of young girls recently, and Will and Jake will need all of their cunning and courage to uncover the truth…

This film received a LOT of criticism, and while I think a lot of it was too harsh, I can see why many people would not enjoy it.  On the plus side, the two main leads – Damon and Ledger – are excellent.  Heath Ledger plays the part of the bumbling and nervous Jake to perfection, while Matt Damon ably handles the role of the more cocky and dominant Will.  As with all Terry Gilliam films, there is an explosion of colour and imagination.  There are also plenty of laughs along the way.  I also enjoyed seeing the allusions to many of the stories which the real Brothers Grimm became famous for.

However, the film did start to fall apart a bit about halfway through.  The plot seemed to get a little bit lost and was certainly overlong.  It seemed to move from the surreal and amusing into the ridiculous.  There was some pretty poor CGI as well; while I’m not normally bothered about special effects in a movie, bad effects can drag a film down.  This is certainly not the best film that either Matt Damon or Heath Ledger have ever starred in – and neither is it the best film from the usually excellent Terry Gilliam.  However, I do like the fact that he is never afraid to try something new and different, and the charisma of the two leads was just about enough to pull this movie through and make it a film I enjoyed watching.

Year of release: 2005

Director: Terry Gilliam

Writer: Ehren Kruger

Main cast: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Lena Heady, Mackenzie Crook

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Young Solicitor Jonathan Harker is called to an assignment in Transylvania – but what he encounters there in an isolated and creepy old castle sends terror through his veins.  Meanwhile back in England, Mina, his wife to be corresponds with her friend Lucy Westernra, who is looking forward to getting married.  But a strange illness seems to afflict Lucy, almost as if her blood is draining away from her body, leaving her weaker and weaker.  And in a seemingly unrelated matter, John Seward, who runs an asylum for the mentally ill, is concerned about the increasingly erratic and irrational behaviour of one of his patients.

When Dr Van Helsing is summoned from Amsterdam – primarily for help in curing Lucy – he seems to know exactly what the problem is…but he knows that solving it will take him and his companions to the very edge of terror and pain…

The story of Dracula is so famous and such a classic that it was something of a surprise to me that I had managed to go for so long having never read the book.  I eagerly picked it up, expecting it to be a fabulous read, but unfortunately I came away feeling disappointed and relieved that I’d finished it.

The story is told primarily through the diaries of Jonathan Harker, Mina Harker, Van Helsing and Dr Seward.  There is also a short series of letters between Mina Harker and Lucy Westernra.  Apart from Dracula himself – who, while talked about a lot, does not actually appear in the book very often – the other main characters are Arthur Goldalming (Lucy’s fiance) and Quincey Morris, a friend of the men.  I didn’t feel that any of the characters were particularly fleshed out – indeed when reading the diary entries, I would find myself forgetting which character’s account of events I was reading at that time – because they were pretty much indistinguishable from each other.  The exception to this was Van Helsing, who was distinguishable due to his habit of writing in very broken English. Unfortunately, I found his entries quite annoying for that reason (reminded me of Yoda from Star Wars).  Van Helsing’s knowledge of vampires and how to deal with them was never really explained – we never find out just why he knows so much about them; it just seems a convenient way to move the plot forward – here comes someone who knows exactly what we need to do.

I will say that there is a good story hiding in this book – and at the time that it was originally published, I can imagine that it was a very chilling tale indeed.  It’s a book which is very much loved by so many people, so I accept that I’m in the minority in not enjoying it, and wouldn’t want to discourage others from trying it for themselves.  However for me, the lack of any characterisation and the all too convenient plot devices were the two main reasons that this book just did not work for me.

(I’d like to thank The Book People for sending me this book to review.  The Book People’s website can be found here.  For more information about Bram Stoker, please click here.)

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After one too many run-ins with the law, rebellious Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) is sent to the Vickerman Gymnastics Association, as part of her sentence.  She encounters a lot of hostility from the other gymnasts there, because years earlier, when she had been a very promising gymnast, she had walked away from a competition, causing the whole team to be disqualified.  Now that she’s back, some people find it hard to forgive – and Haley’s attitude does not help matters; she doesn’t want to be there, and scorns those who dedicate so much of their lives to the discipline.  But coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges) is determined to get through to her, and to set her back on the straight and narrow…

I’ve seen a lot of criticism of this movie, but I did enjoy it.  Haley is quite a stereotypical character, but Missy Peregrym gives her a lot of heart and character, and it was hard not to root for her.  Jeff Bridges – who can always be relied upon to give an excellent performance – is a lot of fun and seems to relish his role as the firm but fair Vickerman.  Vanessa Lengies, Nikki SooHoo and Maddy Curley play their supporting roles well.

The ending was less predictable than you might expect.  I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen, but there was a twist in there which I didn’t predict, and which actually seemed a little at odds with what had gone before it, despite being good fun.

The soundtrack was terrific – lots of punchy and vibrant dance music, and the gymnastic routines were fabulous to watch.

Overall, this isn’t a movie which is going to change your life.  You probably won’t have any great epiphany after watching it.  But you will probably end up dancing around your living room with a huge smile on your face.  It’s an enjoyable movie and a great way to pass a couple of hours.

Year of release: 2006

Director: Jessica Bendinger

Writer: Jessica Bendinger

Main cast: Jeff Bridges , Missy Peregrym, Vanessa Lengies, Nikki Soohoo

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When Ellie Lerner hears that her lifelong friend Lucy has been murdered, she leaves her husband and job in America behind, to fly to London and look after Lucy’s 8 year old daughter, Sophie, who witnessed the murder.  Sophie has stopped speaking to anybody, and her father Greg is falling apart.  As Ellie learns more about Lucy’s life and the secrets she kept, she realises that she did not know her friend as well as she thought she did.  And Ellie also has to face the fact that her own marriage is in trouble – she and her husband Phillip have been steadily growing apart since Ellie suffered a miscarriage two years earlier.

This is a very readable book.  The writing flows beautifully and keeps the story moving along at a decent pace.  All of the characters were well drawn and entirely believable, especially that of Sophie, a bright and sparky 8 year old who finds herself thrust into an unimaginable nightmare.  Ellie demonstrates the healing power of reading, in encouraging Sophie to read Ellie’s own favourite book, The Secret Garden, with her.  While the story of The Secret Garden itself is not explored in any great depth, the effect that it had on Sophie is explored, and I particularly enjoyed these parts.

The book is narrated by Ellie, and she is a likeable main character, although at times I did feel like shaking her in frustration, especially when she seemed to be dallying over what she should do about certain situations, when (to the reader at least), it appeared to be perfectly obvious!  However, her flaws only made her all the more easy to believe and invest in.

There were a number of subplots, including those of Ellie’s brother and her parents.  While these were not relevant to the main thread of the story, they were enjoyable – I particularly warmed to Ellie’s mother – and did not make the story feel cluttered.  Ironically the one character I did not particularly like was that of Lucy.  Although only spoken of in past tense, she came across as selfish and very self-centred.

Overall however, this was a very enjoyable read, which beautifully captured different stages of grief, love, pain and redemption.  I would particularly recommend it to fans of Jodi Picoult or Diane Chamberlain, and will certainly be looking out for more books by Julie Buxbaum.

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

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This novel is told through the eyes of David Church, a young boy (the novel covers four years, from when he is 9 to when he is 13), living in Tennessee in the 1950s. David makes friends with a boy called Malcolm – but David is white and Malcolm is black, and it is a dangerous place and time for a white boy and a black boy to be friends. David’s father tells him that if Malcolm ever sets foot inside their house, he will shoot him.  His father expects David to obey him, but David finds himself questioning his father’s beliefs, and the events that he sees going on around him.

Set in a Southern state in the 1950s, and narrated by a child, comparisons with To Kill a Mockingbird are inevitable.  I personally don’t believe that this book is as good as TKAM (which is one of my all time favourite books) – but it is certainly a good read, aimed at younger readers.  Hopefully it would open up the subject for discussion.

As it is narrated by a child, a certain naivety is to be expected, and certain events are therefore somewhat simplified.  However, the book very ably portrays David’s distaste (and later disgust) with his father’s views.  The writing flows easily and the story moves on at a rapid pace, and I felt that the author did a good job of getting into the mindset of a young boy.

I did feel that Malcolm was not really explored as a person, although he is one of the main characters.  I would also like to have seen more of David’s Uncle Lucas, who does not share the father’s racist views; Lucas was one of the better fleshed out characters, despite being on the periphery of the story.  The one character who was most fully rounded was probably that of Franklin Church – David’s father.

The Ku Klux Klan also appear in the book, and indeed a couple of the scenes filled me with a genuine sense of unease.  There are a couple of genuinely upsetting parts of the story, which might be worth bearing in mind for younger readers.  Overall though, I would certainly recommend this book – as mentioned earlier, it’s aimed at young adults, but I think it’s a worthwhile read for adults of all ages.

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When a young man (Johnny Depp) is brought into the care of psychiatrist Jack Mickler (Marlon Brando), claiming to be the legendary lover Don Juan, Jack finds himself getting drawn into the young man’s world, and realise that some of the magic is missing from his own.  As Don Juan tells the story of his life, and what has brought him to this moment, he starts to have an effect on all around him.  Is he Don Juan, or isn’t he?  And in the end, does it really matter…?

Ahhhh, such a lovely film.  Johnny Depp is probably at his most beautiful here – and plays the part of Don Juan to perfection; this is just the sort of quirky off-beat role that he excels at.  Marlon Brando is also excellent as the world weary Mickler,who finds himself rejuvenated by the magical tales that he is told.  Faye Dunaway (as stunning as ever) plays the part of Mickler’s wife Marilyn, who is curious about the changes she sees in her husband.

There’s plenty of subtle humour in the film, mainly in the form of throwaway one-liners by Don Juan, but it’s also a very charming and sweet movie, which will leave you with a warm glow.  If you’ve never seen it – treat yourself!

Year of release: 1994

Director: Jeremy Leven

Writer: Lord Byron (character of Don Juan), Jeremy Leven

Main cast: Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, Faye Dunaway

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Ronit Krushka left behind her Orthodox Jewish community in London and moved to New York when she was 18.  In New York, she became a successful businesswoman, with a less than successful love life.  When her father dies, she has to go back to London and face her past.  Her wise-cracking, provocative manner shocks the community in which she grew up, but Ronit finds that she is not above being shocked by what she discovers both about herself and her former best friends Dovid and Esti…

Disobedience is a fascinating novel, which as well as being an entertaining account of three people facing their past (and their present), also offers an insight into the world of Orthodox Judaism.  In each chapter there is a short reading from the Torah, with an explanation of it’s meaning.  From there, the narrative switches between the third person, giving an objective view of what is happening, and Ronit’s first person narrative in which she describes events from her viewpoint.

The three main characters – Ronit, Dovid and Esti are all very well drawn and fully rounded characters.  Although Ronit is the only one of the three to narrate parts of the story, I felt that we got to know them all equally.  The peripheral characters were also depicted very well.  I really liked Ronit – her behaviour was sometimes deliberately outrageous or unfair – but her motives for this were explained in her own quick witted way.  I also thought Esti was a very interesting and somewhat enigmatic character.

The writing itself flowed well, weaving the different parts of the story together very well.  I enjoyed reading about the Jewish traditions and way of life, and how it was for someone who had formerly lived in that community to feel like an outsider.

Overall, an enjoyable book and an author I will definitely be keeping an eye open for in future.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Mia is 17, and has everything to live for.  She has an amazing talent for playing cello, a chance to go to Juilliard Performing Arts Conservatory in NYC, a loving family and a wonderful boyfriend.  But then there’s a car crash.  And Mia suddenly sees herself lying in a hospital bed in a coma, near to death.  As her family, friends and boyfriend gather around, while the doctors and nurses try to mend her broken body, Mia realises that she has a choice to make.  Should she stay, or should she go?  It’s the only choice that Mia has to make…but it’s the only one that matters…

Well – WOW!  This was a fantastic book.  It’s aimed at young adults (apparently), but I will ruefully admit that I do not fall into that category and I loved it.  I think it’s a book that would have a very wide appeal.

The narrator is Mia herself, who is able to observe herself in the hospital and see the actions of her friends and family who are all so devastated at what has happened.  She is a fabulous narrator, and a character who I really grew to care about.  Indeed, all of the characters were beautifully drawn, and very believable.  I thought Mia’s family were fantastic, and her boyfriend Adam and best friend Kim could have been people I knew in college!

There are two timelines running through the book – the time that Mia is in hospital where she is able to see her broken and bruised body and observe what is happening to her; and the story of Mia’s life, and specifically her relationships with Adam, Kim and her family.  The two timelines meshed well, and never got confusing.  Mia’s questioning of herself over whether she should stay (in this life) or let go and let herself die is totally believable.  It’s not often that a book moves me to tears, but this one did.

The writing flowed beautifully – not once did I feel bored – I just wanted to know what would happen next, and what would happen to this strong, intelligent and sweet character.  I felt that the author allowed the reader to completely see into the Mia’s thoughts, and in doing so, she has written a beautiful, uplifting, yet sad book. I’m not spoiling the ending for anyone, so if you want to know what happens, you’ll have to read this book for yourself.  I would certainly recommend it very highly!

(I would like to thank Transworld Publishers for sending me this book to review.  Transworld Publisher’s website can be found here.  Gayle Forman’s website can be found here.)

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In 1909, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, accompanied by fellow psychologist Carl Jung, came to New York to deliver lectures on psychoanalysis to a University.  But he quickly finds himself becoming embroiled in the case of two young society girls in the city who have been viciously assaulted.  Elizabeth Riverford was found dead, having been strangled, in her apartment.  Nora Acton survived, but barely and was unable to recall who had attacked her or what exactly had happened.

Stratham Younger, a protegee of Freud’s, is given the job of psychoanalysing Nora and uncovering what happened to her – and most importantly, who attacked her.  In doing so, he employs some of Freud’s controversial methods – but will they work?

I am in two minds about this book.  I certainly thought the writing was very eloquent and evocative of the time in which it was set.  Woven into the story was some of the history of New York City, and how it came to be the vibrant and exciting city which we know it as today.  I enjoyed these parts, and thought that the descriptions of the city were excellent.  The author has clearly done some very thorough research.

The murder mystery was an interesting story, with plenty of twists and turns; it perhaps did get a little too convoluted towards the end, but there was plenty to keep me guessing, and just when I thought I had it all worked out, something would happen which would start me wondering all over again!  I certainly could not have guessed the ending.

There was another storyline concerning Freud’s lectures and the fact that someone is determined to stop both the lectures themselves, and Freud’s ideas from getting into the mainstream consciousness.  This held my attention slightly less, but was still intriguing.

I did enjoy the book for the main part, but a big problem for me was that I felt that the reader needed to invest somewhat in Freud’s theories, and I found that quite difficult to do.  I was quite aghast at some of the methods which Stratham Younger applied during the therapy which he administered to Nora, and found that it actually left me feeling slightly uncomfortable.

The book is narrated in part by Younger, and partly in the third person.  While all of the characters were very well developed, I found Younger hard to relate to.  My favourite character was a Policeman named Littlemore, who, together with the city coroner, was investigating the murder and attack.  Littlemore was delightful – very believable and likeable.  (He apparently features in Rubenfeld’s next novel, and that alone, would be enough for me to read it.)  The story moves along at a fast pace with plenty of twists and turns, and I would probably recommend it to fans of the genre.

Overall, this is an interesting look at New York City in the early 1900s, and well worth reading for anybody interested in the life or work of Sigmund Freud, although the author acknowledges that he has taken liberties with timelines etc.

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