Archive for March, 2011

Googlewhack: a single result when you search for a combination of two words on the search engine Google.

Stand up comedian Dave Gorman has turned 31, and decides it’s time to grow up.  He’s going to grow a beard, write a novel, and put his youthful folly behind him.  But a random email from a stranger distracts him from the novel, and he soon finds himself on a trail to find 10 googlewhacks in a row, and meet the owners/authors of the sites where the googlewhacks were found.  The rules of the game are: he cannot find anymore googlewhacks himself, but every googlewhack he meets must find him two more, and so on.  And he has to find his chain of 10 before he turns 32.

Dave’s quest takes him from different parts of America, to China, to Australia, and Wales – amongst other places.  He meets a man who collects pictures of women and dogs (more innocent than it sounds) a group of Mini enthusiasts, an American who takes him into Mexico to buy Coke (the legal kind) and pharmacueticals, a professor in Creationism, and many more interesting and varied people.

The book is genuinely hilarious in parts – I constantly found myself either bursting into laughter or at least having a quiet giggle to myself.  Dave experienced various highs and lows along the way (some of his googlewhack chains came to a dead end), and the reader experiences them all with him.  At times it seemed so unbelieveable that if it had been written as a novel, I might have found the plotline too far-fetched.

And speaking of a novel…the whole time that Dave is on his googlewhacking quest, he is also avoiding calls from his agent and the publisher with whom he struck his literary deal.  But he knows that whatever the outcome he’s going to face the music at some point…

This is a light hearted, hugely enjoyable read, which I would definitely recommend.  (And incidentally, it sounds as though it should be fairly easy to find a googlewhack – but looking at some of the googlewhacks which were found in this story, it’s clear that some imagination needs to be used!)

(Dave Gorman’s website can be found here.)

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This film is based on the Philippa Gregory book of the same name, which in turn is loosely based on the life of Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne.

Henry VIII has become bored with his wife Katherine of Aragon, and frustrated at her ability to produce a male heir.  The Duke of Norfolk Thomas Howard, and his brother in law Thomas Boleyn see an opportunity to elevate their family’s financial and social position by enticing the king with Anne Boleyn – the hope being that Anne will become eventual Queen.  However, Anne quickly falls out of favour, and so the family push Anne’s sister Mary towards the king instead – and the two begin an affair.  When Mary becomes pregnant, the family worry that Henry will lose interest in her, and so enlist Anne to keep his attention away from other women (namely Jane Seymour) and to keep his interest in Mary.  However, Anne has her own plans and soon lures Henry away.  But when Anne becomes Queen of England, she realises that neither her safety nor her security is assured…

As a piece of historical fiction, I enjoyed this film.  However, it appears to be only loosely based upon the novel, and huge (and I do mean huge) chunks of the story have been cut out or changed (for instance, Mary only has one child with Henry in this film – but in the book, she had two; also when Anne was executed, a number of men were also executed for commiting adultery with her – in the movie however, only her brother George is shown as being executed).  This means that the film moves on at a more disjointed pace than the book.

Natalie Portman is truly beautiful as the enchanting and scheming Anne Boleyn, and while I am not always a fan of Scarlett Johansson’s acting, I think she did a good job here, although Mary is portrayed as very meek and mild, which almost certainly was not really the case.  I did feel sorry for her character though – plucked from a happy marriage, to be paraded before the king, to serve her family’s own selfish interests.  However, while certainly the fault of the actors, the characterisation of the characters was largely unexplored – a shame, because it felt like a missed opportunity.

Eric Bana played Henry VIII at a time in his life when the king was still young, handsome and charismatic.  Although he shows flashes of compassion however, he is portrayed as selfish and egotistical.  All three leads played their parts well.  Kristin Scott Thomas was also icily cool as the motherof the Boleyn girls, who is upset at the way her husband and brother in law exploit their daughters.  The only weak link in the cast for me was David Morrissey who played the Duke of Norfolk.  Morrissey is normally a reliable actor, but he seemed somewhat miscast here.

Overall then, as a piece of entertainment this is a film I would recommend to fans of the genre – it certainly held my attention throughout – but under no circumstances should be taken as historically accurate.  (This does not personally bother me; after all both the film and novel are classed as fiction – however, the inaccuracies may bother some viewers.)  One thing that did bother me – the film did not even attempt to explain what happened to William Carey, the first husband of Mary Boleyn (he actually died of a sweating disease), which I felt was something of an oversight.  I’d be eager to see the 2003 adaptation of the book, to see how the two compare.

Year of release: 2008

Director: Justin Chadwick

Writers: Philippa Gregory (book), Peter Morgan

Main cast: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Kristin Scott Thomas, David Morrisey


Click here for my review of the novel.)


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Caz Tallis has a great life living in her dream flat in London and loving her job making and restoring rocking horses.  So when a handsome stranger turns up on her balcony she is surprised to say the least.  Particularly when the stranger turns out to be rock star Ric Kealey – who died three years ago when he was accused of the murder of his bandmate.  After Ric’s ‘death’ the murder investigation was closed.  But now Ric wants to prove his innocence, and Caz gets drawn into helping him.

Caz finds herself drawn to Ric, but as their enquiries progress, she starts to wonder how much she really knows him – and suddenly she doesn’t know what the truth is, or who she can trust…

This was a great story, combining an intriguing mystery with a budding romance.  The story unfolded at exactly the right pace, and I genuinely had no idea how it would end up.  I was able to empathise with Caz’s feelings towards Ric – he was charismatic and attractive, but could also be selfish and irritating.

The story is narrated by Caz, and she’s a great character – easy to identify with, and with a great sense of humour.  The story twists and turns as she tries to sort out the lies from the truth.

There are a few other characters who flesh out the story – Ric’s solictor and manager Phil, who may or may not be trustworthy; his outrageous and unpredictable former bandmate Jeff Pike; Caz’s best friend James; and Phil’s girlfriend Emma.

Overall, this is a very entertaining and fun read, with a genuinely unpredictable ending – I would certainly recommend it, and hope to read more by this author.

(I would like to thank the author for sending me this book to review.  Lexi Revellian’s website can be found here.  Her blog can be found here.)

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On 6th March 1987, the car and passenger ferry Herald of Free Enterprise, capsized shortly after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.  Almost 200 people died in the disaster, which happened because the bow doors were not closed as they should have been.

Stephen Homewood was Assistant Pursur on the ferry, and helped to save the lives of many people on board.  (He was subsequently awarded the Queens Gallantry Medal for his efforts in the rescue mission.) 

This book is his story of the events of that tragic night, and the psychological effect it had on him and other survivors.  It is openly critical of Townsend Thoresen (which were taken over by P&O in the same year), and their slipshod attitudes towards safety.  Indeed, the subsequent enquiry into the disaster said that the company had been riddled with the disease of sloppiness from top to bottom.

The story is certainly a tragic one – I remember the disaster happening well, but was not so aware of the attitude taken by the ferry company after the disaster.  Unfortunately, it appears that the survivors were treated with disrespect afterwards, and it was as if the compay just wished to brush the matter under the carpet and let people forget about it.  Stephen Homewood is understandably angry at this (it’s worth remembering that the book was written just the following year after the tragedy), and lays out his case clearly and consisely.

The author comes across as a thoroughly decent and honest man.  I was concerned that there would be a lot of technical talk about the inner workings of the ferry, but this was not the case, and everything was explained very clearly.

An interesting read, although for obvious reasons I’m not sure I could call it an enjoyable one.

(For more information about the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise, please click here.)

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This is the story of Tonia Shulman, a young Jewish girl growing up on the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz,, in Jerusalem, British Mandate Palestine.

The story starts in 1946, and we meet Tonia, her brother and sister Rina and Natan, and her parents Leah and Josef.  Her father is one of the men who helped found the kibbutz, and his passion for establishing a Labour Zionist movement means that he is often absent from family life.  While the rest of the family will follow their father fairly willingly, Tonia dreams of escape to America, where she can have her own house and freedom from persecution.  When Tonia meets Amos Amrani, they are instantly drawn to one another, but Amos is a member of an underground Jewish movement, which her father detests.

We follow Tonia throughout her life and witness her making some important and difficult decisions, and never letting go of her ambition to move to America.  But even if she fulfils her dream, will it really make her happy?  She truly wants to be with Amos, but will their moment ever come?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Initially I wondered if it would be slightly hard going, but in fact I flew through it.  I loved the character of Tonia, who was so determined and clever, and who loved her own family so much, but felt conflicted between what they wanted for her and what she wanted for herself.  Yael Politis has created an entirely believable heroine, who I warmed to and grew to care for.  I couldn’t always agree with some of the choices Tonia made, but in her position, who is to know what any of us would do?  The rest of her family were all very well fleshed out; I particularly liked her mother and sister.

Amos was a complex character.  He was intelligent and brave, and sometimes very arrogant, which almost made me dislike him at times.  It was refreshing to see two people in a story who felt so much for each other, but yet realised that there were aspects of each other that they didn’t necessarily like.  This is no ‘hearts and flowers’ love story, and it is all the better for it.

There is a section of the book which describes in vivid and painful detail the real life siege of the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz.  The anguish and fear felt by the men left on the kibbutz to fight was so well depicted, and I found that part particularly moving.

The effects of the wars and turbulent time are felt by all, and the reader is privy not just to its effects on Tonia and Amos, but also their families.

The writing is very eloquent and the story flowed beautifully.  The narrative is moving, with humour and pathos and is also very informative about a specific part of Jewish history.

I would highly recommend this book.

(I would like to thank the Holland Park Press for sending me this book to review.  The website for Holland Park Press can be found here.  The author’s website can be found here.)

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This is a BBC adaptation of Winifred Holtby’s novel of the same name, set in the 1930s.  I haven’t read the novel (although I would now like to), but that did mean that I had the advantage of enjoying the tv adaptation on it’s own merits, rather than comparing; and of course I didn’t know how it was going to end.

Anna Maxwell Martin is Sarah Burton, originally from the Yorkshire town of South Riding, who returns there to become headmistress of a girls’ school, after 20 years teaching in London and South Africa.  Sarah’s feminist beliefs raise a few eyebrows, especially when she announces that she wants the girls she teaches to realise that they can have a career and be whoever they want to be, rather than becoming a wife and mother as would expected.  Councillor Robert Carne (David Morrissey) is opposed to Sarah’s views, and initially the two don’t get on at all.  Relations between them do thaw, but there is tragedy in Robert’s past, which threatens to obstruct their budding relationship.

We also see the stories of Robert’s daughter Midge, who blames herself for her mother’s tragic fate; and Lydia, a young girl from a poor family, who is very intelligent, but her family need her to work rather than go to school.

John Henshaw is Councillor Huggins, an outwardly very religious and pious man, but his dalliance with a pert young girl from the village will have repercussions…

I really liked this period drama – it is darker than a lot of dramas from the same period, showing the difficulties of life for many of the villagers.  The central story between Sarah Burton and Robert Carne has shadows of Jane Eyre, but this does not necessarily mean that the characters in this story will have the same happy ending as Jane and Edward did.

The cast were terrific, with Penelope Wilton as reliable as ever as the kind and intelligent Mrs Beddowes, the district’s first female Alderman.  David Morrissey is also great as the dour and tortured Carne.  However, this is really Anna Maxwell Martin’s show, and she really is terrific in the role of Sarah.  This actress has such a fabulous range, and it was a pleasure to watch the character display such turns of emotion and deal with the problems which she met in her life and job.

This is an entirely different sort of period drama to shows such as Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs (both fantastic), which concentrate on the upper classes and their households.  This show centres on the working classes, the everyday villagers, and the youth of the village.

I’m reluctant to give away any more of the storyline, but I would certainly recommend this drama.  I’m off now to hunt out my copy of the book…

Year of release: 2011

Director: Diarmuid Lawrence

Writers: Winifred Holtby (book), Andrew Davies

Main cast: Anna Maxwell Martin, David Morrissey, John Henshall, Penelope Wilton, Charlie Clark, Douglass Henshall, Katherine McGolphin

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Maggie Wilson moved to Brighton to make a fresh start…but it doesn’t seem to be working.  She has no friends, no boyfriend, lives in a horrible basement flat, and the well paid job with American Express which she’s told her family about doesn’t exist.  But she can hardly let on that she’s working as a stripper in a seedy bar.  In short, Maggie is lost and lonely – but one day she accidentally discovers a way of eavesdropping on her neighbours Libby and David.  Soon she is absorbed in their lives.  Even though they are barely aware of her existence, she knows all about their secrets, their arguments and their plans for the future.  When she discovers that they are planning to move to Cuba, Maggie wonders how on earth she will cope with their absence…so to her it seems obvious that the only thing to do is follow them, get to know them, and make them be her friends….

I was totally gripped by this book, and felt drawn into the story from the very first page.  The narrative switches between Maggie’s point of view, told in the first person; and Libby’s point of view, told in the third person.  I felt that Maggie was an utterly believeable character, and the blurring of the lines between what was real, and what Maggie saw as real, was portrayed in an all too realistic fashion.  Tragic events in her past have led her to the point where she is now unable to form proper relationships with people, and she is about to learn that you can’t force people to be the kind of friend you want them to be.  While she wasn’t an easy character to like, she was certainly an interesting one to read about.  However, to say much more about her would be to give away too much of the story.

I felt more ambivalent towards Libby.  She seemed to have a decent life, and a nice husband, yet she was never happy.  But as the story progressed, she was fleshed out and became a character who I could sympathise with and like.  Her husband David was also entirely believeable, as an honest and decent man, but with human flaws.

The story takes place mainly in Havana, Cuba, which I can only assume the author knows well, as she really brought the place to life.  The early part of the book was set in Brighton, which was also portrayed well, but the main part of the story does not unfold until the characters reach Cuba.  Maggie’s backstory unfolded gradually alongside the narrative of events that were happening at the time the story was set, and I felt that that helped the reader understand her actions, even when it was impossible to agree with them.  There was a sinister undertone running throughout the story, and I did find that it was one of those books which was hard to put down.  The writing flowed beautifully and at no point did I lose interest.  I did think that the ending was slightly anti-climactic, but overall this was a gripping story, and I would certainly recommend this author to others.

(A quick note about the cover: I rarely comment on the covers of books, but in this instance I did feel that the cover was not really suggestive of the content.  The picture was perhaps suited to something more in the chick-lit genre, which this book most certainly is not!)

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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America in near future is a very different place.  It’s illegal to be fat (except in the states Louisiana and Alabama), and random spot checks are often conducted on citizens, to ensure that they are within their weight limits.  Chocolate is now only available on the black market, smuggled into the country, and is known as ‘Brown’.  Illegally eateasys are all over the place where people can go to gorge themselves on junk food.

In this new world, Health Enforcement Agent Matt Devlin is juggling the demands of his new job, a volatile work partner, and the pressures of being a single parent (being constantly worrying that his daughter Sylvia is using Brown), and wondering if he will ever find love again.  His life suddenly takes a turn for the bizarre when a prostitute named Cupid Frish, who he and his partner stopped for a random weight check, turns up hours later – dead, and covered in expensive chocolate.  Devlin and his colleague Kate Strong become involved in trying to solve her murder, and in doing so, inadvertently antagonise Homicide Detective Nathalie Ryan.  It soon becomes apparent that Frish had connections to some powerful men in the city – and these men don’t seem to want these connections uncovered….

I have mixed views about this novel.  Dystopia is a genre that I particularly enjoy, and it’s not one that often mixes well with humour.  (It can be done, as Ben Elton’s ‘Blind Faith’ showed.)  There was a lot of potential in the story, but I felt that it ultimately failed to deliver. 

There was not much characterisation – Devlin is a likeable enough main character, but I didn’t feel that I ever got to know him.  The same can be said for his colleague Kate Strong, and the detective Nathalie Ryan.  The two men who are suspected of the murder, Luther Atom and Heston Gotfelt, are little more than caricatures.

There was a decent murder mystery at the heart of the story, which did have a clever twist at the end.  However, the story seemed to get a little bit lost amongst all the attempts to draw comparisons between the world in which the story is set, and the world of today (or yesteryear – for example, eateasys are an obvious comparison with the speakeasys which were popular during prohibition).

There were some moments of sharp observational humour however, and I think I would give this author another try.  To draw a comparison of my own however, this book was something like eating cheap chocolate – moderately enjoyable at the time, but leaving a slightly dissatisfied feeling afterwards.

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