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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 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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captivesfilm

Julia Ormond plays Rachel, a dentist who after her marriage breaks up, takes a job in a prison two days a week, providing dental treatment to the inmates. There she meets Philip Chaney (Tim Roth) and an attraction quickly develops. Nearing the end of his sentence, Philip is on day release one day a week and the couple see each other and fall in love. However, such a relationship could be disastrous to both of them if discovered and matters soon get out of hand.

I really enjoyed this film. Tim Roth is one of my favourite actors and with just a look, he can say so much. Julia Ormond is also brilliant as Rachel, displaying a perfect mix of toughness and vulnerability. It’s unusual to see Colin Salmon playing such an unpleasant role, but he has a flair for it!

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Year of release: 1994

Director: Angela Pope

Writer: Frank Deasy

Main cast: Tim Roth, Julia Ormond, Keith Allen, Colin Salmon

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Genre: Drama

Highlights: Likeable characters, great acting

Lowlights: None

Overall: A hidden gem. Watch it if you get chance

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This book has dual time frames told in alternating chapters:

In 1985 in Chicago – and across the United States – AIDS has devastated the gay community. The story starts with a group of friends mourning the AIDS related death of their friend Nico. These chapters are largely told from the point of view of Yale Tishman and through Yale, we witness the ongoing crisis, and it’s effects.

In 2015, Nico’s sister Fiona, now in her early 50s, has gone to Paris to track down her estranged daughter Claire. Through these chapters we learn about the fates of various characters in the earlier timeline, and understand what Fiona went through, watching not only her brother, but so many of their friends die at the hands of a virus which the government at the time seemed largely unbothered about.

This is without question my favourite book that I have read so far this year – and I’d put it into at least my top 10 of all-time favourites. I absolutely adored Yale, and appreciated that Makkai drew so many believable and distinct characters which made up his friendship group and other acquaintances. She does not portray heroes and villains, just incredibly ‘real’ characters, who I felt like I genuinely knew and cared for. I do feel that the early timeline on its own would have made for an interesting and wonderful novel, but the 2015 story added to it, in that we could see what an effect Fiona’s experiences had had on her as an adult.

I could write about this book all day, and good luck to anyone who asks me about it – you’re going to need to set aside a few hours while I wax lyrical! However, I don’t think I could do it justice. It is a beautifully written, heartbreaking, uplifting, thought provoking novel, and I recommend it to literally everyone.

 

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Otilla McGregor needs to sort her life out. She drinks too much, she is in a relationship with her married boss, her sister has severe mental health problems – but she is determined to sort her life out and get herself together.

I listened to this as an audiobook narrated by Colleen Prendergast. It’s told from the point of Otilla, and employs a type of ‘scrapbook’ method to tell her story; this encompasses emails, snapchats, text messages, letters to the Little Book of Happy (makes sense when you’re listening/reading!) and conversation transcripts with her therapist.

The narration was excellent – Prendergast really got under the skin of Otilla and helped make her into a believable and likeable character. The story itself was also interesting and I liked the deviation from conventional narration, although I think this may work better as a physical book rather than an audiobook.

I would say however, that this is NOT a book to listen to if you need cheering up! As mentioned above, Otilla drinks way too much, her love life is a mess, she thinks that she may be to blame for her sister’s mental and emotional problems, her father passed away a few years earlier and she misses him terribly, her mother has her own problems….on top of all this, Otilla’s best friend Grace is an enabler who believes the only reason to give up alcohol is so that when you go back to it, you get drunk quicker and for less money. Otilla works in a cancer care hospital, so even several of the lesser characters have serious problems.

For all this, although at times I did wonder how much more misery could be stuffed into one book, the story did hold my attention throughout. I adored her new potential boyfriend, and really rooted for Otilla.

I’ve heard good things about other books by Annaliese Mackintosh and would certainly read/listen to more of her stories.

 

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The Blurb:

One simple mouth swab is all it takes.

A quick DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for.

A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love.

Now, five more people meet their Match. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…

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My thoughts: 

Well…I loved the premise of this book. Slightly dystopian, slightly sci-fi (not heavy sci-fi, so don’t be put off if that is not a genre you like), and fairly believable, I thought there was so much potential. The book follows five people – Mandy, Christopher, Jade, Nick and Ellie – who all find their match. The stories are all completely separate and are told in alternative chapters. The chapters themselves are short and choppy, and almost all of them seemed to end on a cliffhanger of sorts, which had the effect of making me want to read on and find out what happened. Unfortunately this did get a bit tired after a while, and some of the events and dialogue felt like it was out of a wildly melodramatic soap opera. What started out as almost a feasible situation soon turned into the ‘that would never happen’ category. But STILL, I found it compelling enough to read on.

I didn’t think many of the characters were particularly likeable – although Jade was the most sympathetic of the lot. There’s no doubt that John Marrs can think of a good twist, but there were just so many of them. Some of them I certainly didn’t predict though, and that it always a good thing.

For all that irked me, I did want to read the book and never actually got bored – more a case of eye rolling a lot!!

I would probably give something else by this author a try, as I think the initial idea was an excellent one. But one final note – there were so many spelling and grammar mistakes in this book that I can’t help hoping that he has better editors for his future work!

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Year of first publication: 2016

Genre: Sci-fi, dystopian fiction, drama

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emma

This was always going to be an interesting read for me in one sense or another. This books is a new version of Jane Austen’s Emma (a modernisation of each Austen novel was written for a Harper Collins series and this was the third of that series). Emma is not only my favourite Austen novel, but quite possibly my favourite novel of all time by any writer. I’m always intrigued by book and film remakes/reboots/reimaginings/retellings or the numerous other re-whatevers that are around so I sorted of looked forward to reading this, while also approaching with some trepidation.

Anyway…to condense the storyline for anyone who is not familiar, Emma Woodhouse is a privileged young lady who gets pleasure from trying to organise her friends lives and relationships, and fancies herself as an expert matchmaker. However, her meddling is about to result in a few life lessons learned for Emma…

Honestly, having finished this book I am  not sure WHAT to make of it. I definitely didn’t hate it – McCall Smith has a gentle and genteel style of writing, which makes it easy reading, and this book more or less stays true to the original storyline. However, it never really sits well in the modern age. The characters still seem stuck in the original era, but whereas in Austen’s novel, there is sparkling wit and humour, and Emma seems quite a modern young lady, here she seems old-fashioned and something of a snob. Austen wrote that Emma was a heroine who nobody except herself would like (I actually love Emma’s character, flaws and all) and McCall Smith seems to have actually created this very Emma. There is nothing particularly warm about her, nothing to make the reader understand her or root for her, and attempts to remind us that it is set in the current day – mentions of modern technology, modern transport etc – do seem awkwardly shoehorned in, just to remind us that this is indeed a modern retelling. Thus, even if you take this as a novel on it’s own merits and try to block out thoughts of the original, it still doesn’t quite work.

I would have liked more Knightley in this one – he barely features – and less padding at the beginning; at almost 100 pages in and Harriet Smith still doesn’t warrant a mention!

So overall an interesting experience. I’m not disappointed that I read it, but I wouldn’t really recommend it to Austen lovers, unless like me, you’re curious to see how the story sits in a modern setting.

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