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Archive for March, 2018

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This was another audiobook to keep me company while running. It is only this year that I have really got into audiobooks and I have discovered a curious thing – even if I don’t particularly like an audiobook, somehow it seems to keep my attention, in a way that a physical book which I wasn’t enjoying, would not be able to do. This book kind of falls into that category.

The story is told from multiple points of view, but it kind of feels like Ella Longfield’s story, as hers is the only point of view narrated in the first person. Ella is on a train journey when she overhears two young men chatting up two girls. When it becomes apparent that the two men have just been released from prison, Ella becomes alarmed and considers intervening but decides not to. However, the next morning one of the girls, Anna Ballard, has gone missing and Ella feels guilty that she did not step in.

Cut to a year later – Anna has still not been found, and Ella is full of guilt. She starts receiving threatening postcards from an anonymous sender, which tell her that she is being watched. Meantime, the investigation into Anna’s disappearance rumbles on, with chapters told by Ella herself (‘The Witness), Anna’s father (‘The Father’), Anna’s friend Sarah who was with her on the train (‘The Sister’) and Matt, a private detective who Ella employs to find out who is sending the postcards (‘The Private Detective’). There are also very occasional chapters narrated by ‘Watcher’ whose identity for obvious reasons, is not revealed. It soon becomes obvious that everyone connected to Anna has secrets and throughout the story it seems that any one of them could be guilty.

So far, so interesting. The premise is great – what would you have done? Would you have intervened? Would you have left well alone? Would you feel guilty in Ella’s position? And of course there is the whodunnit angle…who is sending the postcards? And what really happened to Anna?

So – there was plenty about this book that kept me listening. However, there were also things that annoyed me. Ella was not a particularly interesting narrator or main character. Can I go so far as to call her dull? (Yes, is the answer.) And considering that actually, she didn’t do anything wrong, she carries a tremendous amount of guilt, almost making the case all about her. I didn’t mind the multiple points of view that narrated the different chapters, and in fact I did particularly like Matt the private detective, albeit a lot of his personal story (his wife had a baby and he learns to adjust to fatherhood) was irrelevant. However, each chapter had a cliffhanger which was obviously a ploy to keep the reader/listener interested, but just ended up being a bit annoying and felt contrived.

The other problem was the ending. Okay, so I didn’t guess who the culprit was, but the things is that I don’t believe anyone guessed, because there was absolutely nothing – no clues, no hints – given earlier on. It seems slightly unfair to keep readers guessing and then to spring a culprit on them out of left-field. The best mysteries to me are when you are surprised by the identity of the culprit but then realise that the clues were there all along.

Overall, I would say that if, like me, you are listening to this in an effort to distract you from something else, it does the trick, but otherwise I probably would not recommend it. Fans of psychological thrillers or whodunnits can find similar stories done much better.

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This book has been receiving all sorts of accolades and applause, and after reading it, I can absolutely see why.

The story is told from the point of view of Eleanor Oliphant, a 30 year old accounting clerk who leads a regimented and lonely life. She goes to work in the week, where she doesn’t mix with her colleagues at all. Her weekends are spent in her flat, on her own, with two bottles of vodka for company. Eleanor’s only interaction with anyone else is her weekly conversation with  her mother, with whom there is a clearly a difficult relationship (and more about it is drip-fed throughout the book). Her life starts to change when she and a colleague help an old man who collapses in the street, and she is forced to interact with others and navigate her way through a world that is alien to her.

I’m not really sure what I expected from this book, but I absolutely loved it. The writing is fantastic and flows so well, balancing humour (and some of Eleanor’s thoughts and interactions are hilarious and simultaneously cringeworthy) and extreme sadness. Eleanor is literally to the nth degree and while she is clearly intellectually clever, she has no idea of how to behave in a social setting. (For example, upon learning that it is customary to take alcohol to a party, she takes a half empty bottle of vodka as a birthday present to someone, along with a packet of cheese slices, reasoning that men always love cheese.)

The ending contained one last surprise which I was not expecting, and which wrapped the story up beautifully That said, I would like to know more of what happened to Eleanor after the end of the book, but at the same time, this book was so perfect that a sequel just isn’t needed.

I highly, highly recommend this book – it will make you smile, it will make you laugh, it might make you cry and it will definitely make you think.

 

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Basically – Richard Gere plays Will Keane, a 48 year old successful restauranteur and well known playboy. Winona Ryder plays Charlotte Fielding, a 22 year hat designer, who has a terminal heart condition. And they fall in love. After navigating various minefields, such as the age difference, and his inability to keep it in his pants, things go well until tragedy ensues.

In all honesty I should have hated this film. I’m not even sure why I watched it – I wanted to watch something uncomplicated and romantic one afternoon and I picked this. I didn’t hate it, as it turns out, but there were things that would have narked me were I not in such a chilled out mood when I watched it. For one – there’s a lot of corny dialogue. Also – Will’s character is a bit of a heel, who at at least one point in the film, she should have kicked into touch. The ending was not only predictable, but actually inevitable, but it made me cry (I cry a LOT at films).

If corny films aren’t your thing, then I definitely do not recommend this. If you can get past that and do fancy something undemanding, then maybe….

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Year of release: 2000

Director: Joan Chen

Writer: Allison Burnett

Main cast: Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia, Elaine Stritch, Vera Farmiga

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Joe Clarke, a married father-of-two wakes up in bed with Bella, the beautiful young intern at his office, and realises that he  must have been unfaithful to his wife Penny. This is disconcerting because (a) Joe is certainly not the unfaithful type, and (b) he can’t remember anything about his infidelity or how he ended in Bella’s bed. From this opening, the story goes on to relate the consequences of Joe’s infidelity, and the unravelling of his life. Added to all that is the reappearance of his horrible college ex-girlfriend – who died a few weeks earlier…

I have read and enjoyed Mike Gayle books before – in fact he is one of those authors that I would confidently buy a book by, because I know I am going to enjoy it. Except…while i can’t say I hated this one, it definitely was not up to his usual standard. It seemed to just go round in circles – Joe and Penny would come close to making up and then drift further apart, over and over again. I felt like telling them to make up their bloody minds one way or the other! I also felt that the ghost aspect of the story was a slant that didn’t quite work for me. The whole thing reminded me of the film Sliding Doors meets the tv show Life on Mars – but it wasn’t as cleverly done as either of those.

It was fairly undemanding – I listened to the audiobook and the narrator David Morley Hale, did do a good job. I also liked the three friends of Joe’s – Van Halen (yes really!), Steve and Paul and was far more interested in their interactions than the ones with his family (don’t get me wrong, I liked and understood Penny’s character, but their story just seemed to go round in circles).

I would read another Mike Gayle book, but only because I have enjoyed other novels by him. Had this been the first book I had tried by him, I wouldn’t pick up another one.

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It’s March. We are a quarter of the way through the year and already I have found a book that I believe is a serious contender for my book of the year.

The Leftovers takes place three years after an event known as the Rapture by some, and the Sudden Departure by many. Basically, 2% of the earth’s population just disappeared in a split second. The monumental event, whatever it was, did not discriminate across gender, sexual, religious, colour or race lines. Set in the fictional town of Mapleton, New York, this novel examines the effect the Sudden Departure has had on the residents, focusing mainly on the Garvey family – father Kevin, the town mayor, who tries to maintain a positive outlook and a sense of normalcy; wife Laurie, who has left the family to join a cult known as the Guilty Remnant; daughter Jill, who is rebelling as a form of coping with seeing her oldest friend disappear; and son Tom, who put his faith in a man who calls himself Holy Wayne and who believes he has the power to absorb other people’s pain.

A lot of the events in the book could be described as mundane, in that it is people just trying to live their lives, coping with loss, not knowing what happened or why, and searching for ways to get through the pain and confusion. It does make you think ‘what if’, but what I loved about it was the fact that although the Sudden Departure itself is implausible, the reactions of the townsfolk to it do seem entirely believable. I wouldn’t class it necessarily as dystopia, and definitely not as sci-fi, but perhaps alternative reality. A reality that I personally would not want to contemplate!

Lives go off on their own trajectories, and people react in different ways. I loved reading about the residents of this small town, and I only wish there was a sequel. Incidentally, I tried watching the TV adaptation before I even knew that it was based on a book, and while the premise fascinated me, I couldn’t get past two episodes before giving up. The second long flashbacks annoyed me and there seemed to be too many storylines going on, but in the book the storylines all meld together perfectly.

Highly, highly recommended.

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replacements

Sports film (not often my genre) about American Football (a game I do not enjoy). Should’ve hated it, but really enjoyed it.

Due to a players strike, the Washington Sentinels American Football team need to put together a team from a ragtag bunch of has-beens and never-weres. (The film was actually inspired by the actual strike of 1987). Keanu Reeves leads the fray as Shane Falco, a washed up player. Other cast members include Gene Hackman as Coach Jimmy McGinty, and Jon Favreau, Orlando Jones, Rhys Ifans (yes really) and Michael Jace as other players, with Brooke Langton as the obligatory love interest.

The film is played for a lot of laughs, and perhaps for this reason, I really enjoyed it. (Also maybe because I watched it with my husband after in the pub. And because Keanu Reeves.)

Recommended to fans of sports films, underdog films, or Keanu Reeves!

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Year of release: 2000

Director: Howard Deutch

Writer: Vince McKewin

Main cast: Gene Hackman, Keanu Reeves, Brooke Langton, Jon Favreau, Orlando Jones, Rhys Ifans

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Lucy and Gabe meet in New York on September 11th 2001, the horrific events of that date causing both of them to want to do something meaningful with their life. Eventually they start a relationship and over the next 13 years, they enter and leave each other’s lives on several occasions, although their choices take them in different direction. However, they are drawn to each other and seemingly unable to forget each other. The book is narrated by Lucy and she is talking to Gabe, although their current (2014) situation does not become clear until the end of the story (although I guessed at what would happen and was more or less correct).

I am in two minds about this book. As I always do when I finish a book, I go online to look at other reviews and it seems that this story polarises readers – most seem to either love it or hate it. Without wanting to be contrary, I am torn. On the one hand, I do think the writing itself was absolutely lovely, eloquent and almost poetic at times. I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by the author Jill Santopolo, and I thought she did an excellent job. I would probably read another book by Santopolo, based on the writing alone.

However….the character of Lucy irritated me SO MUCH!! She and Gabe had a relationship of a little over a year, and during the next twelve years she met and married Darren and had a family with him. Nonetheless, even though Gabe would go months or years without contacting her, he would sometimes email her right out of the blue and she would drop everything to go and see him. I think we were supposed to see Gabe as deep and introspective, but actually he just seemed selfish and thoughtless. At one point he does an exhibition of his photography in a New York gallery, and when puts photos of Lucy in it without asking her permission or even telling her – this, after she has been married to Darren for several years and has children. When she asks him why she would do that and put her in such an awkward position he says he didn’t ask her because he thought she would say no. THAT’S EXACTLY WHY YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO ASK!! Seriously, this guy would drop her like a hot potato and then pop back up when it suited him. He was undeserving of her adoration and it frustrated me that she warbled on and on about him, often to detriment of her marriage.

So, a mixed bag for me – it kept me entertained during long runs, which is the main reason I listen to audiobooks, but it also annoyed me. I would probably recommend it based on the amount of great reviews it has – clearly a lot of people do love this book – but based on my own opinion I would recommend waiting for this author to write something else.

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