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.)

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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.)

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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.)

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »