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Archive for May, 2020

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In Margaret Atwood’s tenth novel, published in 2000, she tells the story of two sisters, Iris and Laura Chase.

The book opens with a report of Laura’s death by possible suicide, shortly after the ending of World War II. An older Iris, writing from the tail end of the 20th century, tells the story of her current life, and also the story of her and Laura’s lives. There is a second narrative – that of Laura’s posthumously published novel The Blind Assassin, which is about two unnamed lovers and their clandestine meetings, during which the man entertains the woman with a rather macabre and violent sci-fi story set on the planet of Zycron.

Margaret Atwood is one of those authors who I love, even when I don’t love her. The Handmaid’s Tale was a solid 5/5 for me, whereas Oryx and Crake was something of a disappointment. But generally speaking I always get something from her books and rarely forget them.

The Blind Assassin was not at all what I expected and for the first part, I was not sure I was going to like it. But it kind of crept up on me and I realised that I was enjoying it. In all honesty I never really felt as though I got a handle on Iris despite her narrating much of the book. In fact, Laura was more of a rounded character – sure she was an enigma, but she was meant to be, even to those closest to her – despite being dead before the story started.

As always with Atwood, the language is intelligent and luscious, and often at times quite cutting. Nobody quite comes out of her books without some sort of mark by their name! I didn’t like the direction that Iris’ life took, but neither did she, so I imagine that was deliberate.

I would recommend this book to any fans of Margaret Atwood – although I probably don’t need to because they will have already read it. I felt always slightly detached from it; it was always a story with me on the outside looking in, instead of one of those books that you find yourself completely immersed in, but I liked it a lot for the writing and for never quite knowing where and how it was going to end.

 

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Nadia and Daniel are two commuters who get the same tube every morning (or whenever Nadia gets up on time to make it). They don’t know each other but Daniel would like to get to know Nadia so places an advertisement in ‘Missed Connections’ a local newspaper section dedicated to people who have seen someone on their commute who they would like to get to know.

And so begins a series of messages between the two, a number of failed attempts at meeting, and several near misses. Will ‘train guy’ and ‘coffee spill girl’ get it together? Read on and find out…

I listened to the audiobook of Our Stop, and thank goodness I did. Because honestly if I had been reading the physical book, I would probably have thrown it across the room in annoyance. To give them their due, Carrie Hope Fletcher and Felix Scott did a great job of narrating Nadia and Daniel, who both told the story from their point of view. I also liked the idea of it – two people meeting in what is essentially an old fashioned way; there was scope for romance, humour and surprise. But this book unfortunately did not work for me. The main problem was with the two main characters; in Nadia’s case, the author gave Nadia a highly skilled job in artificial intelligence as a shortcut to demonstrating that Nadia was an intelligent, modern and independent woman. What would have been more convincing would have been to have actually portrayed her as those things. Instead, she is shown as incapable of setting an alarm because she keeps getting drunk (you’re an adult for crying out loud – you should know how to set an alarm and get to your well paid job on time). She misreads obviously signals, and gets jealous when her best friend and work best friend grow close.

Daniel is portrayed first and foremost as a very woke (I bloody hate that expression but it’s appropriate here) and socially aware young man. So far, so good. Except that I really don’t need it ramming down my throat in every sodding scene. At one point he and his mate are discussing a TV show called Lust Villa (obviously based on the actual abominable TV show Love Island) and he is saying things like, “I just think it’s so hetero-normative.” Purrlease!!! He is almost a parody character at times, and drove me potty. And the date at the end of book was vomit inducing.

Sorry, but it’s just my opinion, and I’ve no doubt that lots of people probably loved this book, so don’t be put off if chick-lit is your thing. I listened to the end because once I’ve started a book I feel the need to finish it, but it definitely is not my thing!

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Chef, written by, directed by and starring Jon Favreau, is the kind of movie you need to watch if either (a) you’re a foodie, (b) you need a feel-good funny movie, or (c) both.

Favreau is Carl Casper, chef at a prestigious restaurant, has a public meltdown after a restaurant critic writes a savage review of his food, and quits his job. Initially bereft, he buys a food truck and travels through (part of) America, providing the opportunity for  himself to get back to cooking creatively and to reconnect with his son.

It sometimes teeters on the edge of over-sentimentality, but never quite tips over. I loved the energy and colour. Carl is likeable even when he isn’t, thanks to Favreau’s geniality. A great supporting cast – Sofia Vergara as Carl’s ex-wife Inez, Emjay Anthony as his son Percy, and a brilliant turn from the fabulous John Leguizamo as Carl’s best friend Martin – add to the enjoyment. Also, watch out for a very funny turn from Robert Downey Jr.

My one slight criticism of Chef is that it may be slightly over-long. But it’s always enjoyable and good fun, and I highly recommend it.

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This is the fifth ‘episode’ in the Cherringham Cosy Crime Series featuring amateur detective Sarah Edwards, and retired New York cop Jack Brennan. I have enjoyed this series very much so far and this episode was just as good as the ones before it.

Otto Brendl, jeweller and puppeteer, who performs Punch and Judy shows for the annual school fair, is found dead, of an apparent heart attack. However, when Jack sees a familiar tattoo on Otto’s body, he starts to suspect that the death was not an accident, and he and Sarah delve into the man’s mysterious past.

Narrated excellently, as always, by Neil Dudgeon, this was an enjoyable slice of Cotswolds drama. I love Jack and Sarah’s characters, and look forward to the next instalment.

 

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This book contains three of Tennessee Williams’ plays – the title play Sweet Bird of Youth, The Night of the Iguana, and Period of Adjustment. In Sweet Bird of Youth, a wannabe actor named Chance Wayne, returns to the town of his youth with an ageing actress. Chance wants to get back with his one true love, Heavenly Finley, but her family – and most of the rest of the town are not happy, and the violence simmering under the surface threatens to erupt.

In Period of Adjustment, newlyweds George and Isabel visit George’s old Korean war friend Ralph. The marriage has not got off to a good start, and it soon transpires that Ralph has marital problems of his own.

In The Night of the Iguana, a disgraced priest named Lawrence Shannon, has taken on a job escorting coach tours, and brings a coach load of his charges to a Mexican hotel, where he knows the owner. The all-women clientele on the coach hate Shannon as he has had relations with a 16 year old girl on the tour. Another lady named Hannah checks into the hotel with her elderly grandfather, and there is a connection between her and Shannon.

The theme that ripples through each of these plays is frustration at missed opportunities, and regret at bad decisions, which often manifests itself as anger. The writing is beautiful at times, and incredibly sad. But worth reading. Tennessee Williams really digs down into the human psyche and writes without judgement.

Not the most uplifting of reads, but definitely well worth a look.

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This collection consists of 55 short stories by Agatha Christie – it should be noted that less than half feature Miss Marple despite the title of the compilation, and also that all stories have also been published elsewhere. However, it’s great to have so many of Christie’s short stories gathered together in one volume. (There is also a collection of all the Poirot short stories – 51 in all – and a further one of more than 50 short stories featuring other detectives who Christie wrote about, such as Tommy and Tuppence, Harley Quin, and more.)

Essentially if you have read and enjoyed any Agatha Christie books or watched any film or stage adaptations and liked them, then you will probably enjoy reading this collection. I personally dipped in and out of it in between reading other novels, but you could just read it straight through.

As with all short story collections, some are better than others, and it comes down to people’s opinions. My favourite were probably Witness for the Prosecution, and Greenshaw’s Folly, despite the fact that the latter was a Miss Marple story and I am not overly keen on Marple (LOVE Poirot though!) There weren’t any that I really disliked, so overall I would call this book a successful read!

 

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In a nutshell: Journalist A J Jacobs decides that it’s time to get healthy, but rather than gong down the more conventional route of eating better and moving more, he decides to focus on a different part or area of the body each month and investigate how to make that particular part the healthiest it can be. This involves learning about lots of differing and (often contrasting) health theories and experiments/studies, and speaking to several experts. There’s a fair amount of quackery going on, but Jacobs takes note of everything he hears, and is prepared to give anything a try.

It’s definitely entertaining and often amusing. For my money, it was not “riotous, madcap” as one review on the cover put it, and it did not make me “laugh my ass off,” as claimed by another review. But it was engaging and easy to read – it explored the science and thinking behind the studies and claims, but did not get too bogged down in technicalities. Jacobs is clearly a huge worrier and he knows it – something that I identify strongly with – and catastrophises a lot, always imagining the worst case scenario (again – this was hugely relatable to me). He’s very engaging and very likeable, which heightened my enjoyment.

One thing to note is that Jacobs lives in New York and this book is very American leaning. Not a problem for me, but some of the things that he tries might not be so accessible to people who don’t live in such a metropolis where everything conceivable relating to health is pretty much on the doorstep!

It’s not a healthy living book, and certainly not to be taken as guidance, as he himself makes clear.

Im summary, if you are looking for a hilarious madcap adventure, then I would not say that this is it. But it was an enjoyable and if you like (mostly) light-hearted non-fiction, then you might well enjoy this.

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This is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series, and they just keep getting better and better!

This one dives straight into the story when Strike’s partner Robin has a severed girl’s leg delivered to the office. Strike immediately and correctly deduces that whoever sent it is trying to send him a message and four suspects come to mind. While the police believe they know which one it is and concentrate all their efforts on that person, Strike is convinced it is one of the other three, and he and Robin focus their investigation on those. Meanwhile, the killer – whose identity is not revealed until the end, but who does narrate certain chapters of the book – is committing other horrendous crimes in London, attacking and mutilating women, leaving a trail of bloodshed in his wake.

As Strike and Robin get drawn further into their investigation, they soon find themselves heading towards real danger.

Considering these books were written by the same mind that created the Harry Potter series, Robert Galbraith aka J K Rowling, takes the reader to some very dark places. This has been a theme in all of the Strike novels, especially this one and the preceding book ‘Silkworm’. If very gory scenes are not your thing, then be warned that this might not be a book for you. However, she writes a great story, and is very capable of springing surprises on the reader and maintaining tension throughout. The relationship between Strike and Robin kicks up a notch in this book, despite remaining platonic, and Robin is still with the odious Matthew.

Strike himself has always been a fascinating character despite his somewhat questionable social skills, and Robin has always been immensely likeable – this is maintained in this third instalment of their work. I’m reluctant to reveal more about the plot for fear of revealing any spoilers, but if you like thrillers, and/or have enjoyed the previous Strike novels, I would definitely recommend this one.

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