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9781471168383

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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At a young age, the virtuous and sweet Fanny Price is sent to live with her Uncle and Aunt Bertram, and her four cousins, the feckless Tom, the moral Edmund, and their flighty sisters Maria and Julia.  Fanny falls for Edmund, but keeps her feelings hidden and has to watch as he falls for their friend Mary Crawford, while Maria and Julia are both attracted to Mary’s sister Henry Crawford.  As the Crawford and the Bertrams become closer, entanglements and complications ensue.

In all honesty, there is too much story to put into one small summary, and in many ways this is the most socially aware and least romantic novel of Austens.  It is also probably the least popular of her novels, and I can understand why, although I did enjoy it.

The thing that struck me about the characters is that none of them are particularly likeable.  Fanny is sweet and kind, and Edmund is very  moralistic and by far the most thoughtful of the Bertram children, but (for me anyway) they were both ever-so-slightly boring.  The rest of the characters don’t have much to redeem them, with Mrs Bertram seeming kind, but practically catatonic for most of the novel, and Mr Bertram being well-meaning, but cold and distant.  The other youngsters are pretty self-absorbed, and Fanny’s other aunt, Aunt Norris, is mean-spirited and never misses an opportunity to put Fanny down.

Despite this, there were moments of humour, and the plot was interesting, with a pivotal scene being the play which the youngsters hope to stage, and which is the point at which feelings and attractions start to develop.  (Edmund’s horror at the thought of something so scandalous a play taking place at Mansfield Park – even with no audience – was unintentionally funny!)  There was a lot of angsty dialogue between the characters, and some scenes were overplayed, but I did like the gradual growth in characters as Edmund tries to excuse some of Mary Crawford’s behaviour which he would have found unacceptable in anyone else, and as Fanny starts to be more confident about giving her own opinion (in the first half of the book Fanny is really little more than an onlooker through whose eyes we see the proceedings, but as the story develops she features more, and becomes more interesting to read about).

Overall, it’s well worth reading, and I didn’t think it the disappointment that some Austen fans do.  Fanny, while not the most engaging of characters – she does not have half as much personality as Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennet for instance – is likeable, and eventually admirable, and the story is well told, even if the ending is predictable to anyone who has read any other of Austen’s books.

(For more information about Jane Austen, please click here.)

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Bill Hicks passed away in 1994, at the age of 32, and his death was a sad loss. This show was filmed in Montreal in 1991, and it’s amazing watching it 17 years later, how relevant it still is.

The first thing to note is that as a comedian, Bill Hicks is very very funny.  The second thing to note is that he was more than just a comedian.  He was a social commentator, who was never afraid to stand up for what he believed in.

I have probably said this in one of my earlier reviews (specifically of Bill Hicks’ ‘One Night Stand’ show), but I still want to mention that Bill always gave me the impression that he was disappointed in humanity, and the lack of humanity that people sometimes show to their fellow men.  Ignorance and stupidity angered him.  Banality and mediocrity angered him.  And he was a very intelligent man who was able to articulate exactly what was wrong with so many factions of society.  Yes, there is crudity in his act, and it may not be for the easily offended.  But I would recommend anybody to check out Bill Hicks.  There’s more than just a load of belly laughs here – there is plenty to think about too.

Among his targets on this show are the advertising industry, the Iraq War (the first one), George Bush (the first one) and of course, the anti-smoking fraternity.

Year of release: 1992

Director: Chris Bould

Writer: Bill Hicks

Main cast: Bill Hicks

(For more information about Bill Hicks, please click here.)

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This is a very short book (91 pages) which I read in one sitting, and which is perfect for a lazy afternoon (which was when I read it).  The book tells the story of a man, who is always referred to simply as The Time Traveler, who invents a time machine, which takes him to the year 802,701.  There, he finds that the human race has evolved into two species’ – the Eloi and the Morlocks.  On the face of it, the Eloi seem to live a wonderful existence, filled with pleasure.  However, the time traveler discovers that, as they want for nothing, and therefore have nothing to strive for, the Eloi have also seemingly lost the ability for intelligent thought.  (Without goals, there is no need for strategy and forethought).  However, there is a darker reality lurking underneath the surface (both literally and figuratively), in the Morlocks – a species who only come out in the darkness, and who inspire fear in the Eloi.

To say more would be to give away too much of the plot, although it is at this point that the story really began to take root.  Suffice to say that I ended up feeling more sympathy with the Morlocks than the Eloi; I have no idea if that is what the author originally intended.

However, I do believe that this book may have revealed Well’s fears for the future; if the upper classes never have to do anything for themselves, they will not be able to look after themselves, and therefore must rely on the lower classes to provide everything they need.But in return, they must give something back to the providers…as demonstrated in quite a clear fashion in this story.

It’s hard to describe how I felt about this book.  It is of course a classic, and with good reason.  Yet, I found it very difficult to engage with any of the characters.  However, I did enjoy it and would definitely recommend it to others.  It is one that I have kept, and will almost certainly reread at some point in the future, as I think it could well be a book that becomes more enjoyable with each reading.  It definitely made me consider reading more books by the same author.  It’s certainly clear that Wells had a vivid and intelligent imagination.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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Only half an hour long – which is not long enough!  That is my only complaint about this show.

Bill Hicks is sadly no longer with us, and I feel that we lost a genuine talent when he died.  Not only is he a very very funny man, but he speaks so much sense.  As well as making the you laugh, he also makes you think, as he unleashes his own particular bitter brand of humour on subjects such as drugs, rock n’ roll and advertising.

Bill was certainly cynical, but it’s obvious that he also thought about things a lot – he cared about what was going wrong with the world, and he could see when things such as drugs and pornography were used as scapegoats – easy things to hang blame on.  Someone once said that they thought that Bill Hicks was disappointed with humanity, and I think that that could well have been true.

This DVD captures Bill doing a very, very funny and thought provoking stand up routine – well worth a watch.

Year of release: (Series 1989 – 1992)

Directors: Peter Calabrese, Robin Shlien

Writer: Bill Hicks

Main Cast: Bill Hicks

(For more information about Bill Hicks, please click here.)

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