Archive for January, 2011

In this drama/comedy, Kevin Costner plays Ernest ‘Bud’ Johnson, something of a lovable loser just trying to get through each day in Texico, New Mexico, where workers are losing their jobs, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a future.  Since his wife walked out, Bud has been bringing up their 12 year old daughter Molly – but in truth, Molly is the adult in the relationship.

On election day 2004, Bud isn’t bothered about voting – despite Molly’s protestations that it’s his civic duty to vote, he decides to go and get drunk instead.  Molly sneaks into the voting booth to try and use her father’s vote but is foiled when the machine power cuts out.  The election, somewhat incredibly, comes down to just one vote – and because of Molly’s actions, that vote is none other than Bud’s.  A frantic race to secure the presidency ensues as both the Republicans (led by the encumbent president Andrew Boone, played by Kelsey Grammer) and the Democrats (led by Donald Greenleaf, played by the late great Dennis Hopper) try to persuade Bud into voting for them.  Each party is prepared to turn their back on their fundamental beliefs in order to secure Bud’s vote, while they search for an issue to campaign on that matters to Bud.  The problem is that nothing much ever really has mattered to Bud…but maybe he’s going to start finding something to care about.

If you can get past the highly improbable premise, this is a very enjoyable movie.  Kevin Costner is perfectly cast as slouch Bud, and Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper are also terrific.  Stanley Tucci is the president’s Chief of Staff, and he is always a welcome addition to any cast.

I couldn’t help thinking about the flaws in the storyline – how can Bud ever have an anonymous vote when the whole country knows that his vote will choose the next president?  Won’t he need protection as there will inevitably be people eager to exact revenge on him for picking who they feel to be wrong?  However, if you can suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the movie for what it is, there’s plenty to enjoy.  I’m sure many viewers might have a wry smile to themselves as both sides change their tune about several important issues in the belief that they are playing to Bud’s ethics.  As a tv producer says, “This isn’t about politics, this is about television.”

And who does Bud decide to vote for???  I’m not telling!!

Year of release: 2008

Director: Joshua Michael Stern

Writers: Jason Richman, Joshua Michael Stern

Main cast: Kevin Costner, Paula Patton, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Madeline Carroll

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Much is known of the celebrated novelist Charles Dickens – his books are loved throughout the world, and he had an ability to craft the most amazing and entralling stories.  However, very little is known of his wife Catherine Hogarth; Far Above Rubies is Catherine’s story – a fictionalised account of her life with Charles.

The narration is by Catherine herself, and starts on the evening she first meets Charles, at a dinner hosted by her father.  Although Charles seems to be drawn to Catherine’s younger sister Mary, it is Catherine to whom he proposes, marries and subsequently has nine children with.  However, while he was undoubtedly an intelligent and charismatic man, he was a difficult husband – developing infatuations with numerous other women, ordering Mary that she must not ever contradict him or argue with him, and acting thoughtlessly and selfishly, with little or no regard for her feelings.

I really enjoyed the story – the writing flowed really well, and it was a pleasure to read.  I felt that the character of Catherine – who so little is known about – really shone through.  Charles was also drawn really well, and while it was easy to see why someone would get exasperated with him, the reader could also see why someone might be drawn to his confidence (verging on arrogance) and intelligence.

At several times in the book, I did want to give the main character a metaphorical shake and ask her why she was prepared to put up such behaviour from her husband, but I also found myself liking her very much.

Overall, this is a fascinating read for both fans and non-fans of Dickens.  I found myself flying through it, and my attention was held throughout.  Definitely recommended.

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Abigail Wood has just come out of a long relationship, and at 27 is facing the uncertain world of singledom.  She has no idea how to navigate the dating scene, but fortunately her flatmate is London lothario Robert, who teaches her the unofficial rules (be brutal, be bulletproof, be cool and detached).  Soon Abigail is having loads of dates and great fun – but at some point she’s going to meet her match, and what will she do then?

I really enjoyed this book, and having read it, now want to get hold of Gemma Burgess’s debut novel, The Dating Detox.

A Girl Like You starts with a short prologue, with a distraught Abigail in a hotel room in Hong Kong, sporting a black eye and clearly upset about something (although it isn’t until later that we find out what).  This taster of what was to come whetted my appetite and I was eager to see how the story got to that point.  The book then jumped back six months to when Abigail was going on her first date after the end of her relationship.

The book is told from Abigail’s point of view, which means that we get to know her character very well.  She is instantly recognisable – I felt that she could easily be someone I knew (and I’m sure many readers would be nodding with recognition at some of the things that Abigail did or said).  Certainly Abigail is the kind of person who we would like to be friends with – loyal, funny and clever, but also sometimes lacking in confidence, unsure of her career, sometimes acting without thinking.  She was a very believable and fleshed out character.

I also loved her circle of close friends – her dating mentor Robert, potty-mouthed Plum, sweet Sophie and funny Henry – again these were all characters who the reader could recognise in real life.

The book made me laugh out loud on a number of occasions, but it also had moments of introspection, sadness and realisation.  The whole speed dating episode had me giggling all the way through!  The author obviously has a quick wit, which comes through in the character of her narrator.

I would definitely recommend this book, and will certainly be looking for more to read by Gemma Burgess.

(I would like to thank Gemma for arranging for this book to be sent to me for review.  Gemma Burgess’s website can be found here.)

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Brenda and Sherilyn never felt like they fitted in anywhere until they met each other.  They always believed that no-one cared about them, or barely even noticed them, but when they first see each other, a instant bond is formed which is so strong that nobody can come between them – not even their own child. They have a daughter, but resent her intrusion into their lives so much that they take horrific measures to get rid of her.

There are no spoilers in this review, as it becomes obviously early on in this book that the Gutteridges have murdered their child in the most stomach churning fashion, and this book takes the reader through the circumstances leading up to the crime, their arrest and trial.  It is narrated by several characters, including the neighbour who can’t help wondering if she should have done something sooner; the harassed social worker who blames herself for not being more thorough; the police officer who stumbles upon the scene of the crime; Brenda and Sherilyn themselves, and their families.

The writing is, on the whole, excellent.  Despite there being a large number of narrators, each one has their own distinct voice, and their stories really drew me in.  They reflected the horror that we all feel when we read about such crimes and the bewilderment at how anybody could do such a thing.  The first half of the book was more interesting to me, but the story did have me gripped throughout.  There was one aspect which I found difficult to believe – this being the idea that Brendan and Sherilyn were so ‘in tune’ with each other that their minds became one, even when incarcerated separately.  This was probably the only flaw in the book, although for other readers, it may serve to enhance the writing.

So, would I recommend it?  In all honesty, I would hesitate to do so.  As a piece of terrific and gripping writing, I definitely would, but make no mistake – this is a truly disturbing piece of writing, which plays on people’s most basic fears.  Definitely a book which makes a serious impact.

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This book tells the story of Nella Castalluca, starting in the 1920s, with her childhood on the family farm in Delabole, where she lives with her parents and four sisters.  Nella harbours dreams of going to school in the nearby town of Roseto, and eventually becoming a teacher.  She does go to the school and at the same time, falls in love with beautiful local boy Renato Lanzara.  However, events conspire against Nella, and she has to go back to work on her parents farm.  She finds herself on the path to a life she never expected, but through it all she retains her feistiness and intelligence.  Along the way, she learns valuable lessons about herself, and what she wants from life.

I’m a big fan of Adriana Trigiani’s ‘Big Stone Gap’ series, and was really looking forward to reading this book.  It didn’t disappoint.  Yet again, the author has created a wonderful cast of characters, who are entirely believeable and easy to care about.  Nella herself is a wonderful main character, full of drive and wit, but with human flaws and idiosyncracies.  I loved the descriptions of Roseto – a town created in Pennsylvania by Italian immigrants, and built to resemble the town of Roseto in Italy.  The community spirit amongst the Italian populated area seems to jump off the pages, creating a warm and comforting read.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about all of the characters, especially Nella herself, her parents and sisters and Franco Zollerano.

I really liked the fact that although this is story which encapsulates love, family, community and friendship, it also describes the grief and tragedy that can happen in a lifetime, and some of the sadder moments of Nella’s life which happened surprised me as I had simply not seen them coming.

The writing flows easily, and I felt like I wanted to sit down and greedily gobble this book up in one sitting!  Highly recommended!

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This book – which is part satire on the British legal system – tells a huge sprawling story about the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, a matter which has been going on in court for over 60 years, which is mired and bureaucracy, and which seems to snare in it’s web the various people who are embroiled in it. 

Caught up in the case are Richard Carstone and Ada Clare, young cousins who gradually come to mean more to each other, but over whose lives the dragging court case will cast a dark shadow.  Their friend Esther Summerson, who is herself central to the plot, partly narrates the story; it is also partly narrated in the third person.

Other characters include the haughty and beautiful Lady Dedlock, fighting to keep a secret from long ago; Mr Tulkinghorn, the imposing and intimidating lawyer for Lady Dedlock’s husband; John Jarndyce, a man who has long since stopped caring about the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case, who is not interested in receiving any money from the matter, and wishes that it would all conclude quickly and quietly.  He becomes guardian to Ada, Richard and Esther, although Richard’s growing obsession with the Jarndyce and Jarndyce matter threatens to divide them; and poor orphan Jo, who unwittingly and unwillingly holds a vital piece of knowledge that could threaten to alter many lives.

At just shy of 1000 pages, this is certainly an absorbing read, and I felt that I had to concentrate hard to keep all the characters straight in my mind.  There was a huge cast of characters – considerably more than those listed above – and some of them seemed to have no connection to others – however, without giving too much away, I thought the ending where many ‘loose ends’ were tied up was terrific.

It hardly seems right to review any work of Dickens without commenting on his wonderful sarcastic sense of humour, which served to lighten the intricate plot.  His humour is usually at the expense of his characters, many of whom he seems to hold in contempt.  I loved his comment on charity: “…he had remarked that there were two classes of charitable people; one, the people who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all.”  When talking about law, one character remarks that it is not enough to have truth and justice on your side, you need law and lawyers as well(!)  Dickens also takes various swipes at the class system in the country and is not above poking fun at some upper class customs of the time.

The characters were all very distinct, and I felt that by the end of the book I did know them all.  Esther was a wonderful, unselfish character, who was easy to care about, and who surely deserved a happy ending (whether or not she got one, I’m not revealing).  I enjoyed her narration more than the third person narrative, although it was necessary to have the alternative unknown narrator, as there were parts of the story which Esther was not privy to.

This book was originally published in serial form, and ran in a newspaper for over a year.  The book is certainly a hefty size and if you are looking for an introduction to Dickens, this probably isn’t the best book to choose.  However, if you’ve read and enjoyed other Dickens books and are wondering whether to read this one, I would certainly recommend it.

(More information on the author can be found here and here.)

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It’s 1946, and author Juliet Ashton is looking for a suitable subject for her next book.  Out of the blue she receives a letter from a man named Dawsey Adams from Guernsey, who has acquired a book which used to belong to Juliet (and which had her address in it).  He writes to her and a friendship quickly develops.  Dawsey is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a reading group formed during the German occupation in Guernsey in the war.  As the correspondence continues, Juliet also starts swapping letters with other members of the literary society, who tell her about their way of life in Guernsey, the way that the islanders suffered during the occupation.  They all seem eager to talk about their friend Elizabeth McKenna, a remarkable woman whose current whereabouts are unknown after she was arrested by the German Officers.

This is a truly delightful read-in-one -sitting book.  It is told entirely through the letters and telegrams of Juliet and the reading group members, and each character has their own distinct voice.  Life under the German occupation was described in vivid details and the author(s) did not shirk away from the showing the dread and intimidation that became part of daily life.

However, this book is also very uplifting and humorous – making me laugh out loud on a number of occasions.  The characters are all very loveable and some of them are very quirky or eccentric.  I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them, and felt as though I knew them all.

I would certainly recommend this story – to use a cliche, it is very heartwarming and a wonderful comforting read.  One to treasure and reread in the future.

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