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First, a couple of points to be aware of regarding this book: (1) You do not need to be a fan of Jimmy Carr to appreciate and enjoy it. That said, I am a Jimmy Carr fan – in fact he is probably my favourite comedian – but even if I had never heard of him, I would have really liked this. (2) This is not a joke book. It’s a book *about* jokes. There is a joke (typically a snappy one-liner) at the foot of every page, and at the end of each chapter there are about four pages of jokes related to the subject of that chapter, but essentially this is a book about the history of jokes, the purpose they serve, the way they evolve, and the value of jokes in various cultures and across generations.

It’s a fascinating read, told in an engaging style by Carr and Greeves, and each chapter held my interest. They manage to keep the tone light but also really informative, and cover such subjects as why clowns are scary, and how different cultures have mythical japesters, some of whom are not only funny but also fairly sinister. The politics of joking is covered, and also a chapter on where (and if) humour should draw a line. Are there for example, some subjects which it is never safe to joke about?

I found this thoroughly absorbing and very well written. Hats off to both authors for a terrific read.

 

 

 

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The story of the fall and rise of Dick Cheney, vice President to George W Bush. This film charts the transformation of a young, drunken ne’er-do-well Cheney, into one of the most powerful men in America, and a man who basically played George W. Bush like a violin. It stars Christian Bale (both brilliant and unrecognisable) as Cheney, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush. Amy Adams stars as Lynne Cheney, Dick’s wife who is just as detestable and ambitious as her husband. The film aims to tell the truth as far as possible, but there are moments of high comedy and satire which are genuinely laugh-out-loud in places (unexpected in a biography of such a hate-filled and unpleasant character), and certain scenes necessarily take a certain dramatic licence.

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Year of release: 2018

Director: Adam McKay

Writer: Adam McKay

Main cast: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons, Lily Rabe, Tyler Perry

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Genre: Drama, biography, satire

Highlights: The whole cast are superb

Lowlights: The only lowlight is that Dick Cheney is actually a real person

Overall: Excellent – well acted, well scripted, compelling and even funny in parts. Recommended.

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The book starts on the night of an auction, when a long-lost and recently rediscovered painting by famous artist Antoine Watteau is being sold. The prospective buyers are introduced to the reader, and it is clear that there is a huge buzz surrounding this painting.

Cut to six months earlier, when a young lady named Annie McDee, who has no idea whatsoever about art, is looking for a gift for her new boyfriend, and stumbles across a painting in a junk shop. She buys it but has no idea of the adventure that this painting will lead her to. It is also clear that there are others who would dearly love to get their hands on this painting for more nefarious reasons, and at least one person is desperate to get it in order to stop a dark secret being exposed – and he is prepared to go to any lengths to achieve his goal.

I bought this book more or less on a whim, and picked it up to read with not particularly high hopes. However, I have to say that I found it utterly delightful and I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. Annie is a great character for the story to hinge upon – she has no idea of the picture’s history and significance, so she discovers it at the same time as the reader does. She is a hugely likeable character and very easy to identify with. I also really liked Jesse, the young artist who helps her in discovering the history of the painting, while quite obviously falling for her at the same time.

There are a lot of other characters – if this book was turned into a film, it would need a large cast! – but skilful writing means that it never gets confusing. I also loved the fact that occasional chapters were even narrated by the painting itself – it sounds kooky and gimmicky, but somehow it works.

It’s a great story, imaginative, often funny and very sweet and intriguing – I highly recommend this book, and will definitely look out for more by this author.

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The subtitle of this book is ‘The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us’. And that sums up what the book is about. Rather than a history of Hollywood (which is what so many people think of when they think about cinema and film), this book discusses the first time that moving pictures were created, right up to the current day when we are all watching very different types of screens, films can be watched on phones, and people play video games for hours on end.

The basic structure of the book is that each chapter covers one – or a small number – of significant film makers, primarily directors, although Thomson also talks about writers, actors and producers. It’s less a chronological series of events, but more a picture of various people who helped create the movies as we know them today. Thomson covers a lot of French cinema for which he has an obvious passion, as well as American, and also touches on film-makers from other countries, as well as other entertainment mediums that we view on screen (video games, and of course television for example).

Did I enjoy it? Well, sad to say, not particularly. Getting through the book felt like a bit of a slog, although I did enjoy the last quarter considerably more than what came before it. But there’s no denying that it was extremely well researched and written with obvious passion for the subject and I truly feel that the reason I didn’t enjoy it is more down to me than down to the writing. The information given was very dense and there seemed to be so much to take in that I only felt like reading a little bit at a time.

If you are at all interested in the history of movies, I recommend this book, but if you are looking for a bit of light reading, be warned – it’s verbose and throws a lot of information at you!

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This novel tell the story of a marriage, and simultaneously of politics in Trinidad and Tobago in the latter half of the 20th century.  The book begins in 2007, with George and Sabine Harwood, a couple who moved to Trinidad in the 1950s, for George’s work.  While he instantly loves the island, Sabine struggles with life there, and is always looking forward to when they can return to England.  However, as disenchanted as she is with Trinidad, she cannot help being fascinated by young dashing politician Eric Williams, who becomes the Prime Minister, promising great things for Trinidadians.  Sabine writes to Williams on a daily basis, although she can never bring herself to send the letters.  By turns, she is both adoring and loathing of Williams, resenting what she sees as his ineffective efforts to improve life for the citizens of the country.

After the first part of the story, the book goes back to the Harwoods’ arrival on the island, as a young and very happily married couple, and then shows how the struggles of Trinidad itself are mirrored in their personal struggles to keep their marriage alive.

I had had this book on my shelf for years, and eventually picked it up when I wasn’t sure what I fancied reading, and I thoroughly enjoyed it from the very first page.  George and – particularly – Sabine were very well drawn characters, entirely believable, but not always likeable.  However, I really liked Venus, the young woman who became maid and friend to Sabine; loyal and kind, but caught between the rich white people who she worked for, and those in Trinidad who wanted rid of them.

The book is informative about the political struggles of the country from the 1950s onwards, and demonstrates how Eric Williams started out as a new hope for its citizens, but was eventually unable to make the improvements to their lives which he promised and hoped to do.  The Trinidad riots of 1970 are shown from Sabine’s terrified point of view, and I made a point of learning more about Williams and his PNM party as a result of reading the book.

Brilliantly written, with eloquent but never flowery language, this book is compulsively readable, perfectly balancing the story of two people with the story of a country and it’s leader.

I loved The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, and would highly recommend it.

Author’s website can be found here.)

 

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The Biscuit Girls is the true story of biscuit factory Carrs of Carlisle, started by businessman Jonathan Dodgson Carr in 1831, told through the eyes of six of its former workers – Ivy, Dulcie, Barbara, Ann, Dorothy and Jean.

Ivy, the oldest of the girls, started working at Carrs in the years following World War II, and remained there for 45 years.  During her time there, she eventually helped to train some of the other women featured in the book.  Each chapter is devoted to one of the women (all feature in a number of chapters, which eventually bring their lives up to the present day), and as well as looking at their work at the factory, the book also delves into their personal lives.

I really enjoyed this book and found it to be a thoroughly entertaining and interesting read.  Although all of the women featured had different reasons for joining Carrs, and came from varied backgrounds, they all seemed to have enjoyed their jobs, and the camaraderie and friendships that came with it.  Each chapter incorporated some of the history of Carrs, and there was plenty of information about the area, and the wider biscuit industry.  Working there brought different rewards for each woman (Barbara for instance worked there purely for the money, while Ivy wanted to work there having seen other women going to work there and thinking how smart they looked in their uniforms).

The personal aspect of the book made it an interesting and relatable read, more so than a straightforward biography of Carrs would have done.  I thought it was interesting how just as Carrs passed down through generations of the family, you would find many generations of local families all going to work there.  It is clear that the factory was a major source of employment for many people living in the area, and by and large the Carr family treated their workers well.  Although labour-saving machinery and health and safety legislation have brought about inevitable changes in the industry and at Carrs, it appears that many of the old ways of working still remain, as the later chapters explain.  (Carrs is still in operation although it is now part of the United Biscuits Group, owned by McVities.  One of Carrs most popular and famous products is Carrs Water Biscuits, which still sell vast amounts today.)

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone familiar with the Carlisle area (although I really enjoyed it, and have never even been to Carlisle), or anyone who is interested in the lives of women in the 20th century.  It’s engaging and clearly well researched – and will definitely make you want to sit down with a cuppa and a biscuit!

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Everybody knows the story of The Three Musketeers and their friend D’Artagnan, right?  Well, if you’re like me and you were basing your knowledge  upon the various screen adaptations of the story, then you may be amazed by how much of the story – and the characters – that you don’t know.  D’Artagnan, a young man from the Gascony area of France, who goes to Paris with the aim of joining the King’s Musketeers.  After a few initial misunderstandings, he becomes firm friends with the melancholy Athos, the rambunctious Porthos, and the foppish Aramis.  The book follows their adventures as they become embroiled in trying to stop the evil machinations of Cardinal Richelieu, who is determined to bring down Queen Anne, wife of King Louis XIII.

The book was a delightful and action packed adventure, full of humour, fighting and romance.  I was surprised that there were chunks of the storyline that didn’t actually feature D’Artagnan or the musketeers, and also by the fact that, unlike the screen adaptations, the four servants of the main characters featured almost as heavily as the main characters themselves, and were very instrumental in the musketeers’ plans and actions.

The plot moves on very quickly, and there are LOTS of twists and surprises, but despite this, Dumas still found time to establish each main character’s personality.  It’s fair to say that at times they act in a less than gentlemanly manner, but despite this, I still found myself regarding each character with affection.  It is also, in parts, a very funny story (there is one particular scene where D’Artagnan visits Aramis, who is constantly planning to leave the musketeers to become a man of the cloth, and finds him in consultation with a curate and Jesuit superior, which had me laughing out loud all the way through).

The seductive but evil Lady de Winter, and Cardinal Richelieu are a substantial part of the story, playing the two main villains, with ‘MiLady’ always trying, and often succeeding to stay one step ahead of the musketeers who seek to bring her down.

Overall, this is a hugely entertaining romp through Paris, and I believe that everybody should read it at least once.  For me, it’s a keeper, and one I intend to re-read at some point.

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Click here for my review of the 1993 film, based on the novel.

Click here for my review of the 1973 film, based on the novel.

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