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Posts Tagged ‘family’

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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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I’m not entirely sure how this film slipped under my radar for so long as it is exactly the kind of thing I enjoy, but I’m glad I caught it eventually.

There are three interlinked stories – all about the connections we make online, and the consequences.

In one, a couple (Paula Patton and Alexander Skaarsgard), ostensibly together but emotionally torn apart by the death of their child, have their identity stolen, and set out to find out who is responsible, with the prime suspect being the man who Cindy has connected with on an online forum for people who are bereaved.

Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo), an outcast at his school, gets pranked by two schoolmates (Colin Ford and Aviad Bernstein), who create a fake online profile of a girl and fake a relationship with Ben, with disastrous consequences. Ben’s father Richard (Jason Bateman, great in a rare serious role) attempts to connect with Ben’s ‘girlfriend’ Jessica to see what might secrets his son was hiding, but in so doing finds himself becoming isolated from his wife.

The third story concerns a journalist (Andrea Riseborough) who is investigating a story about runaway teenage sex workers, who broadcast themselves committing indecent acts on the internet, but ends up getting too involved with the case of Kyle (Max Thieriot).

Each scenario demonstrates how online relationships can get in the way of real life relationships and cause people to disconnect from each other. At times the film is bleak – beyond bleak – and it doesn’t offer any easy answers or convenient endings – but it’s a stronger film for that. The characters are believable and in just under two hours, I came to care for a lot of them.

It’s a very relevant film with more and more people forging more and more relationships online to the expense of their real life connections – on countless occasions I have seen two people out for a meal or drink together, but both scrolling through their smartphones, and not actually speaking to each other.

If you get chance to see this hidden gem, I highly recommend it.

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This was another audiobook, and the third Lucy Diamond book I have listened to. I really enjoyed ‘Sweet Temptation’ and ‘On a Beautiful Day’ so I had high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, while it did have a fair but going for it, it did not match up to the other two, and had I not listened to those two already, I’m not sure I would listen to any more by this author. I note that this book was written before either of the other two, so for me at least, her books get more enjoyable the longer she has been writing.

The story revolves around the three Jones brothers and their wives / partners / potential partners. The brothers’ parents Lilian and Eddie run a holiday cottage in Dorset, but it’s starting to get too much for them – and more worryingly – Eddie’s memory seems to be failing him – and they decide they might have to give it up. They hope that one of their sons might take over, but the only one who initially seems interested is youngest son, loveable but unreliable Charlie…

Oldest son Hugh is married to Alicia. Alicia is approaching 40 and feeling older – she loves Hugh, but feels as though she is stuck in a rut. Maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit.

Middle son David is married to Emma, but they are going through a rough time, as David has recently lost his job, and their plans to have a baby don’t seem to be amounting to much.

Izzy Allerton has recently moved to the area with her two young daughters after escaping a violent marriage and swearing off men forever. But then Charlie Jones comes into her life, and despite her instincts telling her to leave well alone, there’s just something about Charlie!

The book is mostly told from the three female points of view, in alternating chapters. I liked Emma the best but Alicia and Emma were also likeable characters. I think what put me off the book was that apart from some fairly shocking events that take place about halfway through, the whole thing is so very ‘twee’. I also found the narration a tad irritating. Jilly Bond has such an upper class English accent that it really grated – please understand I have nothing against such an accent, just that it didn’t seem entirely appropriate for this book. Also, I hated pretty much all of the character voices she did. Hugh was so incredibly posh that he was basically a caricature, and the voices of the children were awful. I’m sure she is a great narrator, but not for this particular story, which required some regional accents and those didn’t come over very well.

Nonetheless, the book held my attention to the end – I think it could have done with a bit of editing, as for some time the story seemed to get stuck – and based on the other Lucy Diamond books I’ve listened to, I would give this author another try.

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David Dow is a death penalty lawyer in Texas – this must be one of the hardest jobs to do, *especially* in Texas. He believes that the death penalty is always wrong and fights to save his clients’ lives, while acknowledging that the vast majority of them are guilty of their crimes. He freely admits that he doesn’t like a lot of his clients but he is compelled to do what he believes is right.

This book however, while discussing other death penalty cases, focuses mainly on the case of Henry Quaker, a man who is convicted of murdering his wife and children – and who was almost certainly innocent of the crime. In discussing the various measures that David and his team take to try and save Quaker’s life, some deeply uncomfortable truth about the justice system are revealed. Quaker was a poor black man with a deeply incompetent trial lawyer. Despite there being another very viable suspect, and several reasons why Quaker almost certainly did not commit the crime, the lawyer failed to disclose any of this at the trial. Indeed, the book talks about public defender lawyers who literally go to sleep in the middle of trial.

I am completely against the death penalty in any and all circumstances, so I was also predisposed to be drawn into this book (I can’t say I enjoyed it, and it’s not a book that is really meant to be enjoyed, but it needs to be read). However, whatever anyone’s views, the truths about the ‘justice’ system revealed here should make anyone feel uncomfortable about the death penalty. I felt angry and frustrated learning about how bureaucracy and red tape, the laziness of judges, the incompetence of lawyers all have more to do with someone’s fate than the evidence for or against them.

The author also talks about his home life with his wife and young son. He has a lovely family and he acknowledges this. But there is no doubt that the job he does would have an effect on anybody, and he includes snapshots of their lives to illustrate this.

I recommend this book very highly. It is not always an easy read, but it is as compelling as any novel and the lessons contained within need to be heard.

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Never afraid to tackle controversial subjects, Jodi Picoult has based this novel around a hostage situation in an abortion clinic in Mississippi. It’s told in reverse chronological order, which I wasn’t sure I liked at first, but actually the format does work quite well. The story starts with the hostage situation already well underway, at least one hostage dead at the hands of the gunman, and a police negotiator desperately trying to end the situation without more harm – because his fifteen year old daughter is one of the hostages.

Each chapter starts an hour earlier than the last one, taking the reader all the way back to the early morning and showing how each character came to be in the clinic that day.

While the book does look at the abortion argument from all sides – and this is obviously very relevant to the story – and also goes into some details regarding how abortions are performed, on one level this is a story of a hostage situation that could have taken place in any public area. We get to know the various characters and peel back the layers of their lives, each chapter revealing a little more. I thought a few of the characters were very well fleshed out – Hugh the negotiator, and Wren his daughter. I really liked the feisty nurse Izzy, but my favourite of all characters was Dr Louie Ward, who I really cared for by the end of the book.

This is not my favourite Jodi Picoult novel and I’m not sure if that was because of it being told backwards as it were, but I still did enjoy it and would probably recommend it.

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The Blurb:

Every few Sundays, Anna and her extended family and friends get together for lunch. They talk, they laugh, they bicker, they eat too much. Sometimes the important stuff is left unsaid, other times it’s said in the wrong way.

Sitting between her ex-husband and her new lover, Anna is coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy at the age of forty. Also at the table are her ageing grandmother, her promiscuous sister, her flamboyantly gay brother and a memory too terrible to contemplate.

Until, that is, a letter arrives from the person Anna scarred all those years ago. Can Anna reconcile her painful past with her uncertain future?

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My Thoughts:

I am in two minds about this book. First of all, I listened to it as an audiobook and the narration by Karen Cass was excellent. Secondly, I really liked the format of the book – each chapter revolves around a different meeting of the Sunday Lunch Club – the Piper family take it in turns to host – and the menu for each gathering is at the top of the chapter. From the events of the each ‘club’ meeting, it becomes clear what has happened between chapters.

However, I was a bit put off by the obvious attempt to shoehorn as many social issues into the story as possible. It was so obviously politically correct that it got a bit tiresome (to clarify, I have no issue with political correctness but there were so many instances crammed in here that it felt very deliberately done). The ending was predictable and I was waiting for a particular twist that never came.

I wouldn’t say it was awful but just a bit too treacly for me. Nonetheless it helped pass time while I was out on some long runs.

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Year of first publication: 2018

Genre: Family, drama

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Year of first publication: 1996

Genre: Family drama

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Overview

When Beth Cappadora takes her three children to Chicago for her school reunion, every parent’s worst nightmare comes true as middle child – three year old Ben – goes missing. For nine years Beth and her husband Pat live in limbo, never knowing what happened to their son, or if he is still alive somewhere. Their older son Vincent is in severe danger of going off the rails completely. And then one day, a youngster knocks on her door and Beth is convinced that this is the missing Ben (no spoilers here; this is in the blurb on the back).

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My Thoughts

I remember watching the film that was based on this book many years ago. It stuck with me a lot, and I wanted to read the book for ages. Unfortunately I would have to say that this is a rare case of the film being better than the book. The premise itself was so interesting if also somewhat morbid; how does a family carry on when a child is missing? It’s not a spoiler to say that in the second half of the book the family and the reader does get to find out what happened, and the focus shifts from the mystery of what happened to Ben, to how everyone deals with the fallout.

The problem for me was not in the storyline itself; it was the fact that it just seemed to go on and on and on, and there was so much in there that didn’t really seem to add anything  – some heavy editing could have made such a difference.

I never really warmed to Beth, but it’s worth bearing in mind that we never really know her prior to her son disappearing, and that event affects her so much that she becomes remote and detached from her whole family – so what is an understandable reaction is actually what makes her difficult to like. Pat was marginally more likeable, but my favourite character was Vincent. After the initial story of the disappearance which is told in the third person, but largely from Beth’s point of view, Vincent himself is the focus of other chapters, and we see how Ben’s disappearance and the consequent family dynamic has affected him.

If you like family drama and drawn out storylines, maybe give this one a whirl. I’ll be honest and say that the last 150 or so pages did drag a bit for me and I was glad to finally finish, but even so, the storyline itself was enough to make me consider reading something else by this author.

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