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Archive for September, 2019

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This (literally) little book is really an essay extolling the virtue and indeed the necessity of children’s fiction. I read it in about 30 minutes, but although it’s short it’s very enjoyable. Rundell makes the point that adults are often ashamed – or made to feel ashamed – about reading children’s fiction, and suggests that we should be proud to read these books that ignite imagination and make readers think. She gives a brief overview of the history of fiction for children and the part about the retelling and passing on of fairy tales was great. If you have a spare half an hour to kill and have any interest in literature, you could do a lot worse than read this.

 

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Calendar Girls tells the true story of a WI branch in Yorkshire who did a nude calendar (with the strategic use of props to cover their modesty) in order to raise money for a settee in the hospital where one of the women’s husband was treated for cancer prior to his death. The story was made into a film in 2003, starring such acting stalwarts  as Penelope Wilton, Helen Mirren, Annette Crosbie, Linda Bassett, Julie Walters and Celia Imrie. It’s also been made into a play, and now here comes the musical with music by Gary Barlow.

I have to say this musical exceeded all of my expectations – I knew it would be good, but I generally prefer musicals with songs that I know, and I didn’t know any of the songs here. But it absolutely did not matter. The songs themselves were catchy and joyous and helped moved the narrative along. I thought Gary Barlow’s style was all over them, which is no bad thing. However, it is the cast who steal the show here – and they were – without exception – superb.

Annie, the lady whose husband dies, was played by the lovely Sarah Jane Buckley, who was very natural in the part. This is an ensemble piece and the rest of the ladies were played by Rebecca Storm as Chris, Sue Devaney as Cora, Lisa Maxwell as Celia, Julia Hills as Ruth and Vanessa Grace Lee as Jessie. Each one of them had her moment in the sun, and a song exclusively for their character, and without exception each one of them nailed it.

Kudos to Tyler Dobbs and Danny Howker, as Tommo and Danny, the sons of the two of the women, and also to respectively Phil Corbitt as John, Annie’s husband; Richard Anthony Lloyd as Colin, Celia’s husband, Ian Mercer as Rod, Chris’s husband, and Derek Elroy as Lawrence the photographer.

The first half of the show had some extremely funny moments, but also some very emotional ones, depicting John’s declining health (I cried), but the second half of the show is truly hilarious; I genuinely had a stomach ache from laughing so hard. A few cheeky peeks of boobs and bums were funny rather than smutty. This is without doubt one of the best musicals I have ever seen, and I would highly highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.

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Blindness is quite an astonishing book, unusually written, and not always easy to read, but well worth the time. It feels almost as difficult to review, so bear with me!

An epidemic sweeps an unnamed city, and there is just one symptom – blindness. It starts with just one man sitting in his car, but before long everyone he has been in contact with  – and everyone that they have been in contact with – are blind. In an effort to contain the illness, the authorities put all of the blind people into a disused hospital, but it is all in vain, as soon everybody is blind. Or almost everybody; one woman never loses her sight, for reasons unknown. However, she pretends to be blind so that she can accompany her husband in quarantine at the hospital.

As the amount of internees grows, the sense of community disintegrates. Before long, there are blind thugs controlling the food that the others receive, and demanding payment in the forms of valuables and sex with the women. The blindness truly brings out the worst in some people and the best in others.

The writing style is highly unusual and is part of the reason that I put off reading this book for so long. It’s written almost as a stream of consciousness, with long, long sentences. There are no speech marks, and dialogue between the characters (almost every conversation is between just two people, a fact I only realised after I had finished reading) is written in the same way – often as one long sentence, and the only clue that it’s now a different speaker is the capitalisation at the beginning of their speech. It helps to read the speech parts out loud.

Saramago pulls no punches with his descriptions – the women in the hospital are gang raped, and society disintegrates into crime and squalor, the sheer mess of faeces all over the floors, dogs eating carcasses of dead people – and it’s not a pleasant read. It really does make you think “what if” though. None of the characters’ names are given, and it’s not important. They are everyone, they are telling everyone’s tale.

So as I say, an extraordinary book, and often a difficult one. But if you are into dystopian or speculative fiction, I highly highly recommend it.

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I’ve found audiobooks a bit hit and miss lately, and as this one was a Daily Deal from Audible (I probably would have passed it over if I had had to pay full price for it, but for £1.99 it’s worth a punt), I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed it – this book kept me company on some long runs, and I actually found myself looking forward to hearing the next ‘installment’.

A quick note on the narrators – we hear from four narrators in the book (one is a character in a book-within-the-book) – and they are voiced by Anjana Vasan, Esther Wane, Sarah Feathers and Andrew Wincott. They were all excellent and I personally think it was a great move to give each narrator their own voice.

The story revolved around Clare Cassidy – one of the narrators – an English teacher at Talgarth High School, which is famous for being the former home of gothic horror writer R M Holland (note – Holland is a fictional character created for this book, more’s the pity, as his short story The Stranger, laced throughout this book, kept me interested!). Clare is in fact writing a book about Holland, and is fascinated by his former quarters at the school which are kept more or less intact. She is horrified when her friend and colleague Ella is murdered, and even more horrified when she realises that the murder is connected somehow to the murders in Holland’s most famous story – and possibly to Clare herself.

DS Harbinder Kaur is the detective leading the investigation into the murder(s) and also narrates parts of the book. She is obviously wry and cynical, but clearly clever and brave, and without doubt was my favourite character. Her narrated chapters were my favourite parts of the story.

The third narrator was Clare’s teenage daughter Georgia, who provides important elements to the story, having inherited her mother’s passion for writing and fascination for gothic horror.

The fourth ‘narrator’ was the main character of R M Holland’s story The Stranger. As mentioned earlier, this story is told in excerpts through the book, and – brilliantly – is told in its entirety at the end.

Each character was distinct and believable, and I loved hearing about the same events from different viewpoints. I don’t want to give too much away because this book deserves to be read/listened to unspoiled, but I would highly recommend it. I actually did  guess the culprit, but it was fairly near the end of the book, and only because if you suspect enough people, you will probably end up hitting on the right one eventually!

I’ve never read anything by Elly Griffiths before but based on this book, I would definitely read more by her in future.

 

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I remember watching this film in the cinema, which was 26 years ago (!!) I didn’t remember much about it other than it centred on a man suffering with bi-polar disorder – and one of the first scenes, where he walks out on a piece of wood over a construction site, endangering his own life, although he clearly thinks he is invincible. Anyway, something about the film must have stuck in my memory enough to make me want to watch it again.

Richard Gere is the titular Mr Jones (we never discover his first name) whose illness means that he suffers from very extreme mood swings. He gets treatment from psychiatrist Dr Libbie Bowen, herself somewhat vulnerable after a relationship breakdown.

Mr Jones is an undoubtedly charismatic character and Dr Bowen finds herself drawn to him, despite professional ethics and personal doubts.

I enjoyed the movie on second viewing; to me, Richard Gere did seem to somewhat overplay the role, but I have no personal experience of bi-polar disorder, and reviewers who DO have such experience have said that he was brilliant, so I concede to their superior knowledge. In any event, whether he overplayed it or not, it did not detract from my interest or enjoyment. Lena Olin was excellent as Dr Bowen, and her feelings towards her patient are believable. When he is ‘up’ he is lots of fun, hugely intelligent, but also dangerously unpredictable. When he is ‘down’ he is vulnerable and introspective; it’s a heady combination.

Anne Bancroft is also in the film as Libbie’s boss, but I felt that for such a great talent, she was underused. However, Delroy Lindo was my favourite character as Mr Jones’s friend Howard. Kudos also to Lauren Tom as fellow patient Amanda Chang.

The only thing that didn’t sit right with me was the convenient Hollywood ending, which felt wrong to me and all too easy. But it’s a quick ending, and thankfully didn’t spoil the rest of the movie.

Overall, worth a watch if you are a fan of any of the actors (or watch it for Delroy Lindo’s small but excellent role), or if you have an interest in the disorder from which Mr Jones suffers.

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Year of release: 1993

Director: Mike Figgis

Writers: Eric Roth, Michael Cristofer

Main cast: Richard Gere, Lena Olin, Delroy Lindo, Tom Irwin, Lauren Tom

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The Van Meter family are gathering at their New England island holiday home to celebrate the wedding of oldest daughter Daphne. Patriarch Winn Van Meter should be looking forward to a joyous weekend, but he is facing it all with a kind of dread. He feels age creeping up on him; discontented with his life, and harbouring a lust for an entirely inappropriate woman, the scene is set for a disastrous couple of days. Meanwhile his youngest daughter Livia is recovering after a relationship break-up, his wife Biddy is patiently trying to ignore her husband’s erratic behaviour – and just why won’t the Pequot gentlemans’ club accept him as a member?!

I am in two minds about this book. The things I liked were: Maggie Shipstead’s turn of phrase. She has an amusingly cynical turn of phrase which made me smile in places at the absurdity of the situations. And…nope, that’s actually about all I liked.

What I didn’t like was almost all of the characters. It’s not necessary for me to like a character in order to enjoy a book, but there has to be something about them that makes me want to read about them – if not likeable, then they should be interesting. This book is told mostly from Winn’s point of view (albeit in the third person) and quite frankly he is not likeable, not interesting and ultimately pretty pathetic. I don’t think he is meant to be a likeable character, but I don’t know whether he is meant to be quite so exasperating. I am not sure in fact why anyone in his family puts up with him; he’s basically a privileged, narrow minded, self-centred egotist, complaining about how hard done to he is. Nothing is his fault, it’s always someone else to blame.

Livia was probably the second most prominent character and she wasn’t much better, although her youth and heartbreak excuse her somewhat. Unfortunately the most likeable characters – Dominique, Greyson and Biddy – are never really explored, because they are the most level headed and decent among the party, and this book is not about level headed decent people!

I realise it’s meant to be satire, but despite the eloquence of the writing, it’s not really funny enough to work. It’s not awful – it certainly held my attention – but it’s just…meh! While I realise that money and privilege does not preclude people from being depressed and unhappy, the things that were causing Winn to be miserable were so ridiculous it was just hard to feel any sympathy at all. I can see that some people might love this book – regrettably I’m not one of them.

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This film is a remake of My Favorite Wife (1940), the hilarious film which starred Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Move Over Darling was originally going to be called Something’s Got to Give, and meant to star Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin. When Monroe was fired before the film was finished and Dean Martin subsequently pulled out of the project, it was rewritten for Doris Day, who starred opposite James Garner.

Ellen Arden (Day) has been missing presumed dead for five years, after a plane she was travelling on crashed into the ocean. Her husband Nick (James Garner) survived the crash, and now wants to have Ellen declared legally dead so that he can marry his new girlfriend Bianca (Polly Bergen). However – wouldn’t you just know it? – on the very day that Nick and Bianca marry, Ellen is brought home after being rescued by the Navy from the desert island she has made her home. Hoping to rekindle her marriage with Nick, she is more than a little surprised to see that there is now a new Mrs Arden…!

It’s been a while since I watched My Favorite Wife, but I remember that I really enjoyed it. Cary Grant was better than almost anyone in these kinds of slapstick roles, and Irene Dunne was always great when she played opposite him. So actors in any remake had big boots to fill – but Doris Day can pretty much do no wrong, and she is fantastic here. She sparkles with the magic she brings to all of her roles, and really shows off her talent for comedy. Similarly James Garner was really great as Nick, and the two played off each other with great chemistry. Kudos to Polly Bergen for playing the somewhat hard done to Bianca, and major props to Thelma Ritter, who played Nick’s mother, Grace Arden.

Overall, a really lovely and enjoyable film – less screwball than MFW, but just as good in it’s own way. I recommend it!

 

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