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Another audiobook (and possibly the first one I was tempted to give up on, which gives you a clue as to how this review might go!) The story revolves around Della, whose mother Kitty passes away at the beginning of the book, and Della ends up inheriting itty’s vast collection of cookbooks. She decides to open a bookshop selling just second-hand cookbooks, despite her husband Mark and her brother Jeff telling her it won’t work. As odious as both of these male characters turned out to be, it pained me to agree with them. She wanted to open the shop in a sleepy little village, selling exclusively second hand cookbooks, with the focus more on socialising than buying. I’m not a genius but it doesn’t need one to know that in real life, this is a business model destined to fail.

Although the title would suggest that the book is mainly about the bookshop, it’s actually mainly about Della’s personal life. She has a husband who is quite frankly awful, and a brother who is so supercilious that I dare any reader not to want to give him a slap. The only decent member of her family was her daughter Sophie, who was intelligent and independent despite having a doormat and a lying know-it-all cheat as parents.

Della also discovers some secrets in her own past, which were the best parts of the book, by virtue of the fact that they were more tolerable to read about than the rest. Naturally the bookshop itself is a roaring success, and of course Della finds happiness, because she finds another man to love her and loses weight.

The narration by Gabrielle Glaister was fine, despite some huge pauses in-between paragraphs and chapters, which made me wonder if I had accidentally pressed pause on the playback, but I would be happy to listen to another audiobook with this narrator (although not by this author).

I have looked at other reviews of this book, and they are largely extremely positive, so if this is the sort of book that appeals to you, don’t let my review put me off. I think I probably picked a book in a genre that just doesn’t appeal to me, but at least I now know what kind of thing to avoid!

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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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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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This book revolves around Greg and Zoe Milton, a once-gorgeous couple who are upset with the way they have let their weight creep up through the years, to the point where they are both severely overweight. (Bear with me here, this is NOT a fat-shaming book, and if it were, I wouldn’t be giving it the time of day!) When they enter a radio competition to lose weight – named Fat Chance – they embark on all manner of diets and fitness regimes in their attempts to shift the pounds. This book is their diaries, with each chapter a new diary entry, and the narration alternates between Zoe and Greg.

There’s no doubt that there was a lot of humour in this story, and also a lot of poignancy – both diaries touch upon the fact that even though they are heavier than they used to be, they are still the same people, but yes – society does treat big people differently. Cruelly sometimes, thoughtlessly often, and sometimes downright patronisingly. Overall though, this is a comedy, and the descriptions of Nick’s unfortunate exercise attempts (wait until you get to the treadmill scene!!) and Zoe’s increasingly bizarre diets (I’d never attempt the cabbage soup diet in the first place, but if I had ever been contemplating it, this book would have put me right off!) are indeed funny.

Where I felt let down, was in the one area that wouldn’t have mattered if I had actually read the physical book of this, rather than listened to an audiobook version. The narration didn’t quite click for me. Napoleon Ryan was fine as Nick, but Heather Wilds as Zoe seemed to constantly place emphasis on odd words, and would randomly pause in the middle of a sentence. I did unfortunately find this somewhat off-putting and I think that some of the humour got lost in narration.

Overall though, it’s an enjoyable book and I would probably listen to more by Nick Spalding (or physically pick up one of his books).

 

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(Audiobook – narrated by Mandy Weston and Rupert Farley)

The Joy of the title is Joy Stevens, a brilliant and beautiful newly made partner at a prestigious law firm. The story opens a short time after she has fallen – or jumped – from a high balcony at said law firm. The story of what led her to the moment of falling is explored throughout the book.

The chapters alternate from Joy’s point of view (albeit told in the third person) where the day that she fell is narrated bit by bit, while Joy’s history, marriage and the tragedy in her past is also exploited; and the point of view of various people in Joy’s life – Dennis, her husband; Samir, who works in the gym at the law firm; Barbara, her irascible PA; and Peter, husband of Joy’s friend and also Joy’s on-off lover. Their chapters are told in one-sided conversation with a counsellor who has obviously been brought in to help them deal with the shock of seeing their work colleague plummet from the balcony and the fact that she now lies in hospital, clinging to life by the thinnest of threads.

Audiobooks are never my favourite medium for consuming a book but I did enjoy this one in the most part, mainly because of the two narrators. It’s a rare book where none of the characters are likeable, but this book comes quite close to the mark. Although I could empathise to an extent with Joy’s sorrow, I still found her self-centred and in many ways unkind. However, she herself recognised these qualities in herself and at least felt some regret for them. Dennis and Peter were pretty unbearable, but that’s okay because I’m sure they were meant to be. Dennis was one of those crushing bores who nobody wants to get stuck with at a party – full of his own self-importance and in love with the sound of his own voice. Peter was an egotistical chauvinist, who treated his wife and most other people like rubbish. Possibly the most sympathetic character was the obsessive compulsive Samir.

The story unfolded fairly slowly after a somewhat eye-popping start. It’s a drama for sure, if not altogether exactly dramatic. The truth behind Joy’s fall is drip-fed and the ending of the book takes a more surprising turn altogether.

Overall despite disliking all of the characters, I did enjoy the book and found it an interesting read. It did leave me on something of a downer though, and a craving for something light-hearted and upbeat to follow up!

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In this three part drama, Helen McCrory plays Julie, a 44 year old married mother of two, who falls in love with Aaron, a young man in his mid-20s. They meet because Julie is a wedding planner at a posh hotel, and Aaron is a wedding guest devastated that a girl he dated is now marrying his brother. However, their relationship takes them both by surprise and Julie finds herself with a dilemma on her hands – does she stay in her stale marriage where she feels underappreciated, or does she take a chance and leave with the young man who makes her feel alive? And can such a romance ever really survive in the real world?

I enjoyed this a lot, but there is no denying that it is not the cheeriest of watches. The first episode moves fairly slowly as it sets up the background to the romance, but the second and third episodes pick up the pace. However, it bounces back and forth between moments of joy and bliss, and moments of sadness and anger. And it always seemed that just as Julie was about to find a chance at real happiness something would come along to throw her off course.

The acting was pretty much excellent. Helen McCrory was excellent and utterly believable as Julie. Sean Gallagher was also great as her husband, who has problems of his own, which impact on their lives. Callum Turner was also great as Aaron, although as a woman of a similar age of Julie, I struggled to see the attraction! Yes he was nice looking but he was also sulky and a bit self-absorbed. Nick Dunning and Deborah Findlay came across well as his parents, who struggled to understand his attraction to this older married woman, although his mother had some understanding of what it was to want to feel passionate and alive again.

I’m not going to spoil the ending for anyone, but I will say that it was the most believable ending I could have imagined for this couple. Would I recommend it? Well yes, probably – but be prepared to feel on a bit of a downer afterwards.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Gaby Dellal

Writer: Tony Marchant

Main cast: Helen McCrory, Callum Turner, Sean Gallagher

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friends_with_money_ver5_xlgThis 2008 film is marketed as a comedy/drama/romance, and I’m not really sure that it falls into any of those categories (well, maybe drama). I enjoyed it a lot though, in no small part due to the excellent cast.

Jennifer Aniston is Olivia, the only one of her group of friends who actually doesn’t have money -and who, having left her job as a teacher (for reasons that remain unspecified) is now working as a maid and struggling to make ends meet. She is also the only member of her group who is unmarried, although the marriages of her three best friends range from happy to hateful. There are successful co-authors Christine and David (Catherine Keener and Jason Isaacs) who not only no longer love each other, but don’t seem to even like each other. Their conversations are filed with hate and vicious barbs at each other. Then there is clothing designer Jane and body care entrepeneur Aaron (Frances McDormand and Simon McBurney) who seem generally happy with each other, although Jane is starting to feel old and angry at the world, and almost everyone Aaron encounters thinks that he is gay, and indeed this includes the viewer – well this viewer anyway. Finally there is stay at home wife Franny (who doesn’t need to work because she has a huge trust fund) and accountant Matt (Joan Cusack and Greg Germann) who do actually seem to love each other and have a happy marriage.

The friends try to helo Olivia in various ways – Franny sets her up with a personal trainer named Mike (Scott Can) who right from the beginning is quite obviously a complete swine and only gets worse, and they try to encourage her to get a better job, while being exasperated at her pot-smoking lifestyle.

And that’s more or less it. Lots of things happen, but nothing actually happens if that makes sense. This film is really an exploration of these people’s lives. The kind of scenes that we witness are totally believeable (two of three friends discussing the absent friend), Olivia mooning over a married ex-boyfriend, Christine sobbing over the realisation that she and her husband are no longer happy together…in truth, if you like a lot of action in your films, then this is not one for you. The ending itself is fairly inconclusive. It doesn’t come full circle with a neat conclusion, instead the whole movie is like a slice of life, and the ending is just the point where they’ve stopped showing these lives, but certainly the lives will continue with the little human dramas and triumph that pepper these characters’ stories.

The cast is sublime. Frances McDormand continues to demonstrate exactly why she is so highly regarded – she is one of those actresses who can convey so much with just a facial expression or simple gesture. Catherine Keener’s Christine’s sadness is almost palpable, and Joan Cusack is adorable as Franny, and so real. And if anyone has doubts about Jennifer Aniston’s acting, then there are a lot of films I might direct them to, but I would probably start with this one. She is not always likeable as Olivia, and sometimes I wanted to shake her, but she was absolutely easy to invest in, and just as people do in real life, sometimes I wanted to give her a cuddle and tell her it would all be okay, and sometimes I wanted to yell at her.

Credit also to the male actors – Jason Isaacs played a particularly unlikeable character, but he played him so well. (Isaacs is one of my favourite actors, as he has great range, and is so real in everything he does). Greg Germann was great too as Matt, but I just adored Simon McBurney, who was kind, clever and sweet as Aaron.

In all, I would say that if you like slow paced character studies, rather than high octane thrillers, give this a go. I enjoyed it a lot and hope you do too.

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Year of release: 2008

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Writer: Nicole Holofcener

Main cast: Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack, Simon McBurney, Jason Isaacs, Greg Germann, Scott Caan

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