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Archive for November, 2015

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I’ve read novels by Emily Barr in the past and always enjoyed them. However, it had been a few years since I’d tried one, so when I picked The Sisterhood off my shelf (where it had been languishing for SEVEN years!) I wasn’t sure whether I’d like it – after all, tastes change and I know that mine have. My fear was unfounded however – after a slow start due to my own time constraints, I rattled through this book and found it hard to put down. Without giving too much away, the premise is as follows:

London: Liz Greene’s relationship has just fallen apart in a horrible and irrevocable manner. Depressed and lonely she has a one night stand and becomes pregnant.

Bordeaux: Helen Labenne and her brother Tom have just discovered that their mother had a child years before they were born. Bored with her privileged lifestyle, Helen decides to go to London to track down her sister Elizabeth Greene…

The book may start off in almost a chick-lit style, but it becomes apparent early on (and should already be apparent to anyone who has read Emily Barr before) that this is a much darker story, with sinister undertones and plenty of tension. It’s clear from the beginning that Helen has some issues, and an unconventional way of looking at things, but as she begins to insinuate herself more and more into Liz’s life, it gets twistier and creepier.

Unfortunately I can’t say much more without giving away spoilers, and spoilers can really ruin a book like this. However, I can say that the book is told from both Helen and Liz’s points of view – they take alternating chapters – and later, Helen’s mother Mary also narrates some ‘flashback’ chapters.

As the story builds to its climax, there are some huge twists – including one which I definitely saw coming, and one which I most definitely did not!

Overall, a very enjoyable read and one I would recommend to fans of psychological thrillers. My only niggling complaint is that the prologue does kind of give something away unnecessarily, but other than that I liked this book a lot.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This collection of letters from Nina Stibbe to her sister Victoria spans five years (1982 – 1987), and begins when 20 year old Nina moves from Leicestershire to London to become the live-in nanny to Sam and Will, the two young sons of editor/journalist Mary-Kay Wilmers.

Reading like a cross between Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones (as the letters do form a diary of sorts), this book is extremely funny (frequently) and frank. I particularly loved how almost every letter contained snippets of information between Nina, Mary-Kay, Sam, Will and other people (including, frequently, Alan Bennett who was not only a neighbour, but also a very regular visitor to the house).

I did start to make notes of some of the funniest parts, to quote in this review, but when I realised that there were parts I wanted to quote on every couple of pages, I had to stop otherwise I would have been making notes as much as I was reading the book.

As well as liking Nina very much, I also loved Mary-Kay, Sam and Will, who were all clearly intelligent and quick thinking. Nina was – by her own admission – not brilliant at cooking or cleaning, but clearly the family felt that she fitted in with them perfectly, so much so that even after she stopped being nanny to the boys and left to pursue a Literature degree, she subsequently moved back in to live with them.

It’s true that the letters contain a lot of the minutiae of family life, and often not much at all happens, and some reviews have been critical of this, but for me part of the attraction of the book was precisely that, and the fact that Nina could make such humdrum events so amusing.

I would highly recommend this book, and already know that I will be buying some copies of it for Christmas presents.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

 

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Adrian Wolfe seems to have the perfect life. Although he has two ex-wives with whom he has five children altogether, everybody gets along well, and even all go on holiday gather with Adrian and his third wife Maya.

But when Maya steps in front of a bus and dies, after an evening spent getting uncharacteristically drunk, Adrian’s world falls apart. A mysterious woman named Jane appears to be stalking him, his children all seem to be going through personal crises, and then he makes a discovery which causes him to question whether Maya’s death was really the accident he had thought it was, or whether she might have done it deliberately.

As the story moves between present day and flashbacks, secrets are revealed, and the veneer of the perfect extended family starts to crack.

I really enjoyed this book, and read it in two sittings. I thought the storyline seemed believable, even the unconventional relationship between the family. The characters were also very well drawn, and although I didn’t particularly like some of them (Adrian himself seemed charming but ultimately irresponsible, always leaving one woman when someone better came along, but somehow managing to keep relations harmonious), they were certainly easy to find interest in.

The mystery part of the novel – without revealing spoilers all I can say about it is that it revolved around whether Maya killed herself deliberately or not, and what might have driven her to consider it – also added an element of tension, which kept me turning the pages. I was genuinely surprised by the ending, and it’s always pleasant when that happens.

The story segues perfectly from a family drama to a psychological thriller and back again, and it was one of the few books which I didn’t want to put down and kept thinking about going back to to read some more.

Very highly recommended.

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Author’s website can be found here.

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Sherilyn Fenn has the unenviable task of playing Elizabeth Taylor in this made-for-TV biopic, made while Taylor herself was still alive (she apparently tried to stop it). It gives a somewhat rushed run-through of the actress’s life, starting with a brief opening demonstrating her mother’s determination to make Elizabeth into a movie star – Elizabeth, it should be noted, wanted to be an actress, according to this biopic at least; her mother wants her to be a movie star because they are rich.

Moving quickly through her first four marriages to Nicky Hilton (Eric Gustavson), the abusive, jealous husband; Michael Wilding (Nigel Havers), who is charming but cuckolded; Mike Todd (Ray Wise) with whom she seems to share real passion, but who tragically died in a plane crash; and most controversially Eddie Fisher (Corey Parker) was married to Elizabeth’s best friend Debbie Reynolds whom he left for Elizabeth, but he clearly has no idea how to handle her or keep her interest.

Naturally enough, large focus is then given to her relationship with Richard Burton (Angus McFadyen) although their subsequent divorce, re-marriage and second divorce are flipped through in a matter of seconds, via images of newspaper headlines.

There then follows a marriage to Senator John Warner (Charles Frank), who seems to love her at least partly because of the fame marriage to Elizabeth Taylor brings with it – she gets depressed and puts on weight. Their marriage ends and she goes to rehab where she meets her seventh and final husband (to whom she has her eighth marriage) , Larry Fortensky (Michael McGrady). They were still married when this picture was made.

This film does not cover a great deal of Elizabeth Taylor’s professional career, sticking instead with the love, marriages and scandal. There are a couple of scenes which show her work for raising awareness of AIDS, which I would have liked to have seen more of.

Fenn was actually great as Taylor, nailing the accent in particular. Most of the supporting cast did a good job, although I felt that Ray Wise put in a slightly overblown performance. McFadyen looked very much like Richard Burton – uncannily so at times – but I that he also over-acted somewhat and never really captured the character convincingly.

Occasionally the dialogue was a bit clunky, a bit daytime soap opera-ish, but despite that and despite the fact that certain events were skimmed over with only the briefest detail, I have to admit that I did enjoy this film. In the same way that I don’t buy gossip magazines but I’ll have a read of one when I’m at the hairdressers – it’s entertaining even when you know that it’s entertainment first and information second. Sometimes some of the actual vintage footage which was used jarred with the more modern footage, due to the obvious difference in quality, but that did not detract from my enjoyment.

I would recommend this biopic to fans of Elizabeth Taylor, more for curiosity’s sake than for any real factual content.

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Year of release: 1995

Director: Kevin Connor

Writers: C. David Heymann book ‘Liz: An Intimate Biography’), Burr Douglas

Main cast: Sherilyn Fenn, Angus McFadyen, William McNamara, Corey Parker, Nigel Havers, Ray Wise, Michael McGrady

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This biography of Marlon Brando is somewhat unusual in that it concentrates mainly on his professional life and personal philosophy, rather than delving into details of his personal life. After describing Brando’s childhood (with a loving but alcoholic mother, and an overly strict father), Mizruchi goes on to talk about his career in acting, and discusses many of his most famous film roles. She describes his attraction to a role, his preparation for it, and how he went on to become a character, as well as other details about the making of each film. In each case, Mizruchi draws comparisons between the character or storyline of the film and connects it back to events in Brando’s own life.

For that reason, this book is not the one to read if you are looking for Hollywood gossip or salacious details about Brando’s many relationships and often difficult personal life. Indeed, while his career is detailed in relatively chronological order, you would struggle to learn anything else about his life that is not already a matter of public record. For example, Mizruchi mentions his marriages, but does not give any details about the relationships or why they didn’t ultimately work out. However, I found that somewhat refreshing, as instead, I learned far more about Brando’s beliefs, his humanitarianism and his parts in civil rights campaigns, which he clearly felt passionately about.

Mizruchi had unprecedented access to Brando’s own personal book collection, which numbered around 4000, and which – as we are frequently reminded – he annotated heavily. She uses such annotations, as well as his varied choice of reading material to draw conclusions about the man himself. The sheer vastness and variety of the collection does support her view of him as an intelligent and curious man, who found enjoyment in learning.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this book. As mentioned before, I did not learn an awful lot about Brando’s personal life, but I certainly learned more about what was important to him, his views on acting and his determination to leave the world a better place than he found it. At times, it is a little sycophantic – there’s no doubt that Mizruchi is a devoted Brando fan – but it is a respectful, interesting and clearly very well researched biography.

I would recommend to fans of Marlon Brando, or fans of the film making process.

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