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Archive for April, 2017

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Well, I don’t mind admitting that I am a bit of a sucker for this type of film. Going in, you know what you’re getting, and they are undemanding and entertaining. Perfect in fact after a busy day at work, when you just want something to make you smile and relax. Yes, sometimes you want something deep and that requires concentration and of course some people absolutely hate rom-coms, but if you like them, then you could do a lot worse than check out A Dash of Love.

The story revolves around a self-taught chef named Nikki (Jen Lilley) who loses her job when her boss at the local diner retires. She eventually finds work as a PA for her idol, celebrity chef Holly Hansen (Peri Gilpin) but finds that Holly is not quite the boss she would have hoped for (basically the saying that you should never meet your heroes rings very true here).

However, the job does have one perk – executive chef Paul (Brendan Penny). After the initial awkward first meeting (traditional in this kind of film), they end up hitting it off and – you won’t be surprised to hear – end up starting to fall for each other. And when things start to go wrong for Holly in her job, Paul is there to help her.

I thought the lead characters in this were utterly charming and the acting was fine. There was genuine chemistry between the Nikki and Paul, and Peri Gilpin was also excellent as Holly Hansen.

Okay, so this made for television movie is never going to win any awards and it’s not going to change the future of film – but if you want something light and fluffy which will leave you with a smile on your face, you could do a lot worse than give this a whirl.

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Year of release: 2017

Director: Christie Will

Writers: Judith Berg, Sandra Berg, Sib Ventress

Main cast: Jen Lilley, Brendan Penny, Peri Gilpin, Kandyse McClure, Frances Flanagan, Eric Pollins

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Nazneen is born in Bangladesh, the eldest of two sisters, and from the very first page we learn that she is taught to leave things to fate. So when at the age of sixteen her father arranges for her to marry a man over twice her age and move to London to be with her husband, Nazneen accepts it and does what is required. The book covers her life in London from when she moves there in the 1980s, up until the early 2000s. Initially Nazneen cannot speak more than a couple of words of English and so relies on her husband for everything – but it becomes clear that while her husband Chanu is not cruel, he is a pathetic and ineffectual man with big dream and small achievements. He is always just on the verge of something – a new business, a great promotion – but it never actually materialises.

Nazneen forges some friendships, most notably with a lady named Razia, and as she learns to cope in this new country, she also finds strength within herself and ends up falling in love with a young radical, who is at least as unsuitable for her as her husband, if not more so.

I really enjoyed this book, even though it took me a while to read it – but I think it is a book that deserves time and attention. Ali is so observant and so wonderfully descriptive that you really feel immersed in Nazneen’s world, although I could never begin to imagine what her life must feel like. But any reader will certainly recognise the relationships and social politics at work, and the interplay between characters. The book opened my eyes to an immigrant’s experience, and certainly the description of life after September 11th was eye opening, with many people viewing all Muslims with suspicion and hatred. Another surprise was the humour which Ali employs in her descriptions. She has a remarkably funny turn of phrase which made me smile often throughout the story, even when the events described were not funny at all.

A fair part of the book was taken up with letters from Nazneen’s younger sister Hasina, still in Bangladesh, who disgraced her family at a young age by running away to get married to man she chose rather than one who was chosen for her. The marriage didn’t work, but the letters make it clear that Hasina, unlike Nazneen, refused to leave her life to fate and wanted to make her own choices instead, for better or for worse.

I loved the ending of this book – I won’t spoil it for anyone, but I do feel it gave hope for Nazneen’s future. Overall, I would say that while this was the first book I have read by this author, it certainly will not be the last.

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If you’re looking for a film that challenges you, surprises you and throws lots of twists at you…yeah, you’re going to need to look elsewhere. This film is exactly what you’re going to expect it to be, and you’ll know it from the first 20 minutes. BUT, that’s something that you tend to find with rom-coms – it’s not the ending that gets you, it’s the journey that takes you there. And as entertaining journeys go, this one is not half bad. I watched this on a Saturday night, after a busy week, when I wanted something undemanding and not in any way distressing to watch. If that’s what you want too, then this film is ideal.

Former best friends Faye and Lydia (Michele Scarabelli and Jennifer Juniper Angeli) have been at loggerheads for the past ten years, opening rival bakeries in Emeryville, Ohio, and competing against each other in the annual pumpkin pie contest. In the latest contest they decide that their children Casey and Sam (Julie Gonzalo and Eric Aragon) should take over their roles, compete against each other and pass the feud down to the next generation. But Casey and Sam start to fall for each other, and can’t reveal their romance for fear of upsetting their mothers.

I liked the film a lot, because I knew what it was going to be when I started it, and that was exactly what I needed. Yes, it’s predictable and a bit contrived, but it does have a particular charm that kept me watching. Julie Gonzalo was lovely as Casey and I could definitely identify with her lack of culinary skills! Eric Aragon was less convincing as Sam but this didn’t really detract from my enjoyment. What can I say? I like rom-coms, I like knowing what’s going to happen and I like a happy ending.

Overall, an enjoyable but totally unsurprising movie. Perfect for those nights when you want something entertaining that doesn’t take too much brain work!

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Year of release: 2016

Director: Steven R. Monroe

Writer: Nina Weinman

Main cast: Julie Gonzalo, Eric Aragon, Michele Scarabelli, Jennifer-Juniper Angeli

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(Audiobook – narrated by Mandy Weston and Rupert Farley)

The Joy of the title is Joy Stevens, a brilliant and beautiful newly made partner at a prestigious law firm. The story opens a short time after she has fallen – or jumped – from a high balcony at said law firm. The story of what led her to the moment of falling is explored throughout the book.

The chapters alternate from Joy’s point of view (albeit told in the third person) where the day that she fell is narrated bit by bit, while Joy’s history, marriage and the tragedy in her past is also exploited; and the point of view of various people in Joy’s life – Dennis, her husband; Samir, who works in the gym at the law firm; Barbara, her irascible PA; and Peter, husband of Joy’s friend and also Joy’s on-off lover. Their chapters are told in one-sided conversation with a counsellor who has obviously been brought in to help them deal with the shock of seeing their work colleague plummet from the balcony and the fact that she now lies in hospital, clinging to life by the thinnest of threads.

Audiobooks are never my favourite medium for consuming a book but I did enjoy this one in the most part, mainly because of the two narrators. It’s a rare book where none of the characters are likeable, but this book comes quite close to the mark. Although I could empathise to an extent with Joy’s sorrow, I still found her self-centred and in many ways unkind. However, she herself recognised these qualities in herself and at least felt some regret for them. Dennis and Peter were pretty unbearable, but that’s okay because I’m sure they were meant to be. Dennis was one of those crushing bores who nobody wants to get stuck with at a party – full of his own self-importance and in love with the sound of his own voice. Peter was an egotistical chauvinist, who treated his wife and most other people like rubbish. Possibly the most sympathetic character was the obsessive compulsive Samir.

The story unfolded fairly slowly after a somewhat eye-popping start. It’s a drama for sure, if not altogether exactly dramatic. The truth behind Joy’s fall is drip-fed and the ending of the book takes a more surprising turn altogether.

Overall despite disliking all of the characters, I did enjoy the book and found it an interesting read. It did leave me on something of a downer though, and a craving for something light-hearted and upbeat to follow up!

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In 2004, during a weekend away for her father Sean’s 50th birthday celebrations, three year old Coco Jackson disappears – apparently taken from the house where she slept with her twin sister Ruby and other children in the middle of the night. A huge media campaign follows but Coco is never found.

Twelve years later, following the sudden death of Sean Jackson, the truth about what really happened on that weekend is slowly revealed as his family and friends prepare for his funeral.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. Psychological thrillers are a favourite genre of mine but they can also be a real let-down when they venture into the realms of the ridiculous. However, this book seemed actually plausible and I think that may have been due to the writing. And, sadly, possibly also due to the fact that there have been some high profile disappearances of children over the years. Alex Marwood is a journalist and I can’t help wondering if this case was at least inspired by one particularly famous child disappearance.

There is a dual storyline – the first part set in 2004 and told from the point of view of various characters. The truth of what happened is drip-fed bit by bit. The second part is set in 2016 and is narrated by Mila, one of Sean’s daughters from his first of four marriages. As Mila reconnects with Ruby, the twin sister of Coco, she revisits her own past and deals with her feelings about her father and the fragile ties that can bind a family together.

In any event, it’s an absorbing read. Sean Jackson is a deeply unlikeable, narcissistic and selfish character and indeed most of the adult characters in this story are the same. Pity the children who had the misfortune to be part of their families. Speaking of those children though, I did love Mila and enjoyed her character development. I also adored Ruby, who was entirely believable as both a typical teenager and a young girl who had had to live with survivor’s guilt her whole life.

As mentioned earlier, I did think that the final twist was pretty predictable, but there were still a few surprises along the way, and the writing was great and kept me reading on and on.

Overall I would highly recommend this book, and will definitely look out for more by Alex Marwood.

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The first time I saw this show was in May 2014 (review here) and it was just about the funniest thing I had ever seen. Since that time, I have seen the two other major plays that The Mischief Theatre Company  have staged – Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery – and loved them both. So when I heard that this one was coming back to Wolverhampton, I knew I just had to see it.

I’m not going to write a really long review as a lot of it would be just repeating what I wrote the first time, but suffice to say that the show was just as funny second time around. This time it was an entirely different cast – due to the fact that the original cast are currently performing on Broadway!! – but they put on a superb performance and the whole audience seemed to love it as much as I did.

As before, I found that the jokes came at such a rapid rate that you were still laughing at one, when another fresh wave of laughter at the next one hit you. (Seriously, you could have genuine face ache at the end of this show.)

There were some minor changes from the previous performance…I imagine that shows tend to evolve given the individual talents of the cast members – but by and large the story remained much the same and all the gags I had found funniest first time around were still intact.

Members of the cast were milling through the audience prior to the show – including chatting with my parents, husband and myself – and getting the audience in the mood for a good chuckle. My husband actually ended up going on stage prior to the show proper starting as the hapless audience member who had to help them construct the set that was falling apart even as they were building it.

All in all a great night out. Even though I have already seen this show twice, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to go and see it for a third time. I highly recommend this for anyone who loves a good laugh (and lets face it, who doesn’t love a good laugh from time to time)!!

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In this second novel featuring the indomitable Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective receives a letter from a gentleman named Paul Renaldo who begs for Poirot’s help, saying that Renauld’s life is in danger. Poirot and his friend (and the novel’s narrator Captain Hastings) hurry off to Renauld’s home in the north of France, but when they get there they find that he has already been murdered. And so begins an investigation which has more twists and turns than a labyrinth, and is hampered by an over zealous and unfriendly Parisian detective named Girauld.

There are plenty of possible suspects, and several red herrings throughout the story, but leave it all to the ingenious Poirot to untangle all the threads and get to the truth. Of course you know at the start of the book that he will solve the mystery but the real pleasure is in seeing if you can solve it before he does. In my case the answer was…no. I thought I had sussed out the reason for the murder and the identity of the murderer, but I was completely wrong on both counts.

I enjoyed the book, but I’m not sure I liked it as much as Poirot’s previous (and first) outing, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which also had lots of suspects and red herrings but was somewhat less convoluted than The Murder on the Links. If I’m honest, it felt almost as though Christie was a bit too clever when writing this one. I still liked it though, and I still love Poirot – he is such a lovable character. I can’t say the same for Captain Hastings, who if anything came across as rather bland. I do think Agatha Christie must really have had such a quick and intelligent mind, and I look forward to reading more of her books very soon.

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