Tag Archives: Books

BOOK REVIEW: My Sweet Revenge by Jane Fallon

In the summer, my cat makes me sit outside where I can’t get any WiFi. Apparently she is too scared to stay in the garden by herself, and just feels safer when I’m there.

I suppose I could spend my enforced no-WiFi time doing Yoga and meditating on how I became so devoted to such a demanding creature, but it’s actually a great chance to catch up on some reading.

My Sweet Revenge was written under the furry supervision of author Jane Fallon’s diva moggy Ollie (she’s a girl) Fallon-Gervais, so it’s only right it should be read while under the paw too.

Ollie has her own Twitter account (37,000 followers) and my familiarity with her social media antics clued me in that I would love Jane’s world. Not that Jane writes Ollie’s Tweets, of course.

So I really have to thank Olls – because this isn’t the kind of book I’d grab off the shelf. I know it’s not necessarily a popular term, but ‘chick lit’ isn’t generally for me. (Fair play to all such writers out there –  I would never have the talent to write it.)

As expected, Jane Fallon’s work has too much drama and deceit to be fluffy or girly. It’s chick lit written by an evil feline genius.

The heroine, Paula, works in a bakery (hence that mouthwatering jacket cover) and her idea of getting back at her (apparently) cheating husband isn’t just to fling a cream pie in his lying face.

(See? That would be the plot of my own romantic revenge novel.)

Paula and her husband Robert met at drama school; his acting career took off, hers didn’t. Robert’s not exactly Benedict Cumberbatch famous, more like second-billed lead on a soap (or ‘long-running drama’) famous, and beloved by the nation’s grannies. The couple’s teenage daughter Georgia is the only celeb sprog on the planet to not be an aspiring actress/photographer/model, and has her heart set on medical school instead.

Their life is shattered when Paula makes a discovery leading her to believe that Robert is having an affair with a gorgeous co-star named Saskia, who is married to a producer on their show Farmer Giles (!). Paula doesn’t confront her husband, deciding instead to execute a scheme for retribution that will make him fall back in love with her, while scuppering any chance he has of happiness with Saskia.

It’s playful, addictive, and about as likely as a sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, calorie-free pastry ever tasting good. Paula is a great main character – likeable and with enough gusto to keep the reader engaged. I honestly could not see the twists coming. The book has been an absolute joy and a great vacation read.

Verdict: I haven’t enjoyed a story set in an bakery so much since Pushing Daisies.

Blogger Appreciation Award

Last month, I was nominated for the Blogger Appreciation Award by the Green Onion Blog. How cool is that? Very Cool.

I would like to extend my thanks to the G.O.B AKA the blogging superhero Green Onion for this award. I love all things green and oniony.

Spring is finally on the horizon and hopefully the allergies that have wiped me out for the last few weeks will ease. Until Hay Fever season at least…

Now, I think I’m supposed to write a few things about when and why I started my blog. Briefly – I started this blog a little timidly in 2014. I had no idea what to write about, just that I had always wanted a creative career.

Last year I finally had the confidence to start blogging more regularly. I’m still a bit reticent, but I’m finding my voice at last. I’m not in a position to give any advice exactly, because my situation is of course very unique to me.

But if you’re lacking in confidence, take your time. (Or dive right in, what do I know?!) Eventually you find your niche and make new bloggy friends along the way.

This brings me to the fact that this award is an opportunity for bloggers to share a little appreciation around.

This is difficult really – I’m sure I’m not big enough or influential enough to really boost smaller sites, and I don’t want to pester busy bloggers with yet another award nomination. So I would just like to say that I appreciate the incredible knowledge and hard work of all the bloggers I follow, including The Green Onion Blog, Captain’s QuartersJason’s Movie Blog,  Raistlin0903, English Language Thoughts, & Oliver’s Twist and too many others to name!

Mini movie reviews for 2017!

There was a monumental flub at the Oscars ceremony this year: I wasn’t invited! The organizers obviously read my blog and know I don’t like travelling. Yes, yes, that must be it.

I’m not going to hold it against them.  Instead, I’m going to mini review some of the movies nominated in various categories. Starting with the biggies, like Best Actor and Picture..

Manchester by the Sea

Deep in a wintry Boston suburb, depressed janitor Lee (Casey Affleck) has his guilt-ridden existence ruined by the death of his brother (Kyle Chandler), forcing him to return to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for teen nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

Like another Oscar contender, Jackie, it’s all about planning a funeral, except here the ground is too hard and cold to bury the dead. Flashbacks show Lee as a boisterous man married to Michelle Williams. The couple have a shared tragedy – the reason for Lee’s misery and why he can’t stay.

I don’t know how Kyle Chandler came up with this Hedges kid, but he’s fine (cringe-worthy crying scene aside) as a selfish teen who doesn’t want his grimy life uprooted, or to be stuck with a violent, inarticulate time bomb – Affleck has a terrifying authenticity that the likes of Gosling couldn’t match.

I didn’t find it too harrowing thanks to the well-observed humour, but it’s very long – whether it’s a bona fide masterpiece or just another well-made Sundance indie.

La La Land

“I hate jazz,” says Emma Stone’s aspiring actress Mia to jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) at the start of their relationship. Ugh, me too. And I know little about the Hollywood Golden-Age movie musicals that La La is a ‘tribute’ to.

My ignorance granted, there seemed to be a lack of memorable knockout numbers. I thought the waltz and tap were nice and the music and voices thin – are we going to be singing tunes from this five decades from now? City of Stars? What a dirge.

I’ve seen it described as big and bombastic, but I found it a slightly melancholy, albeit  visually lovely treat about two selfish creatives in a dull relationship.

Hyped as a movie for the ages, perhaps that’s because of a lack of competition in the genre.

Captain Fantastic 

Viggo Mortensen is raising six kids in the Pacific Northwest forest, home schooling them and teaching them survival and endurance training.

Eldest son Bo has secretly got into every Ivy. There’s two redheaded interchangeable sisters and a pair of blond moppets, but the only other sprog to emerge from the picture is angry preteen River Phoenix/Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton).

Mom is in a psychiatric facility, when news filters through to the wilderness of her death. The family take their bus to her funeral, and Bo and Rellian discover they’re clueless about the world, while their cousins are Typical Western Teenagers in all their ignorant, idle glory.

I expected a fish-out-of-water comedy, then an agonising teen drama about an overbearing, misguided parent, but it’s a neat little drama that holds back from portraying Ben as either a megalomaniac cult figure or as a saintly man with all the answers.

Kubo and the Two Strings

A stop-motion set in ancient Japan, young Kubo lives in a cave with his ill mother. No ordinary boy, he is a one-eyed storyteller who can bring origami figures to life.

His magical gifts entertain local villagers, but he must be home before dark because his grandfather (Ralph Fiennes) and fluttering Dementor-like aunts want to steal his other eye. When Kubo stays out one night his mother has to use the last of her magic to spirit him away.

Charlize Theron voices Kubo’s monkey-guardian in the kind of bored, superior tone she might use for press interviews.

Kubo got a thumbs up everywhere, and I have to acknowledge the painstaking work that goes into creating something like this, but.. animation leaves me cold.

Doctor Strange 

Bad guys led by Mads Mikkelson vandalise a book and chuck it on the floor, so Smug Superior Being Tilda Swinton goes all Inception on them.

Doctor Strange, an arrogant surgeon, has a car crash and damages his hands, so he comes to Smug and her sorcerers – including Mordo (Chewitel) – for advice on spatial paradoxes and continuum probabilities.

Smug won’t train Strange in case he turns to the dark side and starts damaging library books, but Mordo vouches for him and they have actorly shouting matches, while Mads and Rachel McAdams have settled for more thankless Marvel roles.

At least there’s no metal-clanging showdown of superhero tradition – instead, there’s Parkour and freerunning over buildings and stairways that move and shift, like Hogwarts on acid.

To think I nearly made it through a Marvel thingy without resorting to headache pills. I got vertigo instead. Thanks doc!

Deepwater Horizon

Based on the 2010 offshore rig disaster, early scenes establish Mark Wahlberg as a family man (Kate Hudson will be worried-wife-on-the-phone) with a cutesy movie daughter whose school project explains daddy’s job deepwater drilling.

Soon, we’re off to the rig! Once the one-liners and jokey banter have been mined to completion, wild-eyed BP exec John Malkovich gives Transocean employees grief. If you’ve seen the SNL sketch of Kylo Ren as an Undercover Boss – it’s like that.

Things go wrong, and the action doesn’t let up. But I got the impression the explosion occurred because Malkovich was a money-hungry %$&*. The reality was probably more complex, but the movie does its best to serve as a tribute to the bravery of survivors and those that lost their lives.

BOOK REVIEW: Lion (A Long Way Home: A Memoir) by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose

In 1980s India, five-year-old Saroo, like many small children in poor communities, looks after a younger sibling; he has special responsibility for his baby sister Shekila. He washes and feeds her, and plays games of peekaboo. Saroo’s streetwise big brothers, Guddu and Kallu, take care of each other and little Saroo.

With no father at home, their mother works on construction sites, carrying rocks and stones on her head in the baking heat. Despite this hardship, Saroo is lucky – his family are poor, but they are, Saroo will recall, “reasonably happy”.

Saroo’s mother is warm and kindhearted, and people in the dry, dusty central Indian town watch out for each other. The little boy loves flying kites, chasing butterflies and tagging behind his older brothers when they hustle for food and money.blogbooks2

On one longer jaunt with his eldest brother Guddu, an exhausted Saroo is left to nod off on a bench on a railway platform. When he wakes up, it is dark, and his brother has vanished. Saroo stumbles onto a waiting train and goes back to sleep.

Childhood memory can be unreliable, but suffice to say Saroo found himself alone and trapped on a moving train, carrying him 1,500km east to the megacity of Kolkata.

There, people mainly speak Bengali. Saroo speaks Hindi, and is unable to pronounce the name of his town or his last name. (It later turns out he was mispronouncing even his first name – his name is actually Sheru, or ‘Lion’ in Hindi.)

He spends a unbelievable three weeks on the streets until an older boy takes him to a police station. When attempts to establish his identity fail, he finds himself first in a frightening juvenile home, and then mercifully in the care of a adoption agency, ISSA, and then flown to his adoptive parents in Tasmania – Sue and  John Brierley.

From the impoverished child with broken teeth and a heart murmour, Saroo grows into a healthy and amiable adult, a “proud Tassie”. Yet he never forgets India or fully moves on. Nobody can find his original home until a new technology – Google Earth -leads him to months of searching, eventually reuniting him with his past.

My thoughts (updated after seeing the movie)*

This is a remarkable story that captured the attention of the world. Reading Lion, it’s impossible not to have compassion for little Saroo as he finds himself trapped and terrified, then lost amid Kolkata’s immense Howrah Station.

Despite the pitiless indifference and random cruelty of adults – not to mention some of the sinister near-misses he had on the streets – the adult Saroo says that his journey left him with a sincere belief in the goodness of people.

80,000 children go missing in India each year, yet Saroo does not seem to suffer from the survivor’s guilt that was the driving force in the film adaptation*. Instead he emphasizes the importance of grabbing opportunities when they are presented.

Lion may now be a major Oscar-nominated movie starring Nicole Kidman, but I’m very glad it jumped out at me from the bookshelf first.

🦁🦁🦁🦁🦁

TV REVIEW: SS-GB Episode 1

Where The Crown was a soothing, nostalgic view of Britain’s unique greatness, new BBC drama SS-GB – based on Len Deighton’s alternate-history novel – is a dystopian 1941 where the Nazis won the Battle of Britain and occupied the country with their Swastika flags and spiky road barriers.

Hitler’s head might be on postage stamps and Buckingham Palace in ruins, but Sam Riley’s Superintendent Douglas Archer just wants to keep on policing like nothing has happened.

He’s a Humphrey Bogart-esque detective with a throaty growl (top tip – subtitles ON). Sadly Scotland Yard’s finest hasn’t realised that his secretary and lover Sylvia (Maeve Dermody), and his old-school sergeant Harry Woods (Commander Mormont from the Night’s Watch on secondment) are both working with the British Resistance.

When the corpse of a shady antique dealer turns up with fatal gunshot wounds, things get murky, not least when Archer spies New York Times journalist Barbara Barga (Kate Bosworth) slinking away from the scene of the crime. “That outfit’s always going to get you noticed,” he growls of Bosworth, world-famous clothes horse.

She’s in London working on a piece about Americans who decided to remain under the occupation. “A journalist. AND a liar,” proclaims Archer.

As the murder inquiry becomes part of a more sinister investigation, Archer is assigned to work with Standartenführer Huth (Lars Eidinger), a haughty (naturally) high-ranking SS officer. Archer finds himself caught up in rivalry between his new SS and German Army overlords, as well as targeted by hardliners in the Resistance who see him as a collaborator.

“Do you work for the Gestapo daddy?” asks Archer’s son. No, daddy works at Scotland Yard for the Met police. The Gestapo are in the building next door…or something. Perhaps the reason for Archer’s strange ambivalence is simply that there isn’t much evidence of the repressive Nazi machine or their death-dealing ideology.

Despite its ambition, great acting and noirish intrigue, SS-GB plays more like a standard police procedural with Nazi window-dressing than a chilling counterfactual hell.

SS-GB is on BBC1, Sunday at 9pm.

Photo: BBC/Sid Gentle Films Ltd.

FILM REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Ransom Rigg’s YA fantasy Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children sold millions and has been translated into 40 languages. Now Tim Burton’s adaptation has found a perch at the top of the US and international box offices.

On the advice of his shrink, the story’s hero Jake has left his Florida home for rainy Wales, hoping to unravel his Grandpa’s tales of growing up in an orphanage for “Peculiars” with extraordinary abilities – ranging from super strength and invisibility, to a girl with teeth at the back of her skull, and a lad who likes to belch up a swarm of bees.

Count me out of school dinners at this place.

peculiar

20th Century Fox. (Halloween costumes sorted!)

Jake finds a gateway to the 1940s orphanage, which exists on a one-day time-loop. He bonds with Emma Bloom (rising star Ella Purnell), a Burtonesque blonde ingénue who’d float away without her platform shoes. Poor Jake – she’s blooming beautiful, but she’s also an octogenarian who used to fancy his granddad.

Headmistress Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) is a “Ymbryne”, who can a) manipulate time and b) transform into a falcon – a mother bird hiding her young from Samuel L. Jackson’s mad scientist and the monstrous, eyeball-chomping Hollowgasts.

The most haunting moment comes when she gathers her pupils to reset the day, and she plays the popular WWII era song Run Rabbit Run on the gramophone. We know Grandpa witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust (Hollowgast?), but the movie does not engage further with the historical context.

The movie has some scary imagery, but it wasn’t the dark fantasy elements that I found most unnerving. As if being cursed with a set of teeth at the back of your skull and dodging evil creatures that want to eat you isn’t bad enough, imagine being trapped for an eternity at school.

It’s driven at least one Peculiar mad; seer Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) – among stiff competition – is the creepiest inhabitant of this child prison world, with his old-fashioned manners and weird fixation with tailoring.

There’s something skin-creeping about the movie, like a Victorian era freak show. It’s like one of those nursery rhymes with a sinister meaning – and as someone who spent their childhood secretly hoping they’d fall through a wardrobe into Narnia, it’s a fictional fantasy world I would not want to visit.

Miss Peregrine’s Eva Green talks social media, roles for women with The Edit

As soon as I started writing about Eva Green, my font immediately switched itself to ‘Century Gothic’. It would have been ‘Baroque’, but I just don’t have that option on my laptop, sadly.

The otherworldly Miss Eva covers the latest issue of The Edit, Net-A-Porter’s online magazine. She is promoting her new movie Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, directed by Tim Burton.

The movie is based on Ransom Riggs’ New York Times best seller about a boy who discovers an abandoned orphanage and becomes absorbed in the world of headmistress Miss Peregrine and her young charges.

Eva told The Edit how much she loved playing a character defined by her devotion to her students. “It was nice not to be a love interest,” she said. “To play the guardian of those children, who would risk her life to protect them – I loved the idea that her children are her life.”

In The Edit interview Eva also shared that she hates social media and selfies. The cynic in me thinks this is a popular statement for celebrities who wish to appeal to middlebrow gossip fans and cultivate a certain image.

But for what it’s worth, Burton has described his new star as “private” and “mysterious”.

The director is famed for working with his now ex-partner Helena Bonham Carter and with one Mr. Johnny Depp. Back in 2012, Eva made her Burton debut alongside both stars in Dark Shadows.

Eva certainly fits Burton’s strong, beautiful imagery and the cool/creepy vibe of his movies. But this time there is no HBC and no Johnny. Instead, it will be Eva leading a strong cast including Samuel L. Jackson and Judi Dench.

Although Dark Shadows paled in comparison to Burton’s earlier classics like Beetlejuice, I’m looking forward to Miss Peregrine. I haven’t read the book, but it sounds similar to the Lemony Snicket novels, which led to an underrated movie starring Jim Carrey. (A Netflix series is now in production with Neil Patrick Harris.)

For anyone mourning the end of Penny Dreadful, you can catch Eva in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, out September 30 in the UK and USA. Personally, I think I’m more excited for Eva’s red carpet looks!

BOOK REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Passionate fans aren’t happy with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the new play that (we’re promised) concludes the story of The Boy Who Lived.

The script is a collaboration between J.K Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne and Cursed Child’s director John Tiffany, with the magic being brought to life at the Palace Theatre in the London West End. The release of the script was timed to coincide with the play’s opening, and naturally it has become a publishing sensation.

Unfortunately, some Muggles didn’t realize that Cursed Child is not a new novel, or a novelization of the play, but a play. Oops.

The action is set 19 years after Harry and pals defeated Lord Voldemort, and it revolves around Albus Potter’s and Scorpius Malfoy’s quest to go back in time to save Cedric Diggory. Why? Because the teenage Albus doesn’t get along with dad Harry, that’s why.

This immediately throws up problems, because time travel in Rowling’s universe has previously been a closed casual loop that can’t affect future events.

It’s surprising that Harry and Albus don’t see eye to eye – in the epilogue to Deathly Hallows Harry seemed very attuned to his son. Other students harassing the boy because of his famous dad is pretty believable, but again, I’m left wondering: does Hogwarts have any anti-bullying policies at all?!

Albus has been sorted into Slytherin with Scorpius, who has his own troubles. Rumours persist that his frail mother Astoria traveled in time to get knocked up by Lord Voldemort, because Draco is firing squibs. Harry isn’t happy with the boys’ friendship, which feels slightly unHarry, and more Ron, who is of course married to Hermione, now Minister for Magic.

Albus and Scorpius get their hands on a time turner, and thanks to some encouragement from Cedric Diggory’s cousin Delphi Diggory, Albus and Scorpius go back to the Triwizard Tournament to stop Cedric from winning with Harry and getting killed by Voldemort.

They succeed, only to discover that changing events means the future they return to is altered. Albus is now in Gryffindor and Hermione is a bitter unmarried Hogwarts teacher.

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The boys go back again to put things right, but only make things worse, ushering in a future where Voldy won and Umbridge is headteacher at Hogwarts. Harry Potter is dead, thus no Albus. Scorpius is in this mess all on his own.

This is the second act of the play, and it sees the return of Snape, still alive, still teaching potions and still undercover. He is joined by Ron and Hermione, who are hiding as fugitives. Thanks to their help, Scorpius is able to put things right and go home.

This is where the play’s biggest twist occurs: Delphi is Voldemort’s daughter with Bellatrix Lestrange, and she wanted the boys to change history so that she wouldn’t have to be an orphan. Only now does she realize that entrusting her plan to two confused adolescents wasn’t the best idea.

A lot of fans balk at the thought of Voldemort and Bellatrix having a relationship, but seriously – Voldemort got rid of his nose, not his….er, other appendages. As for Bellatrix’s husband, I guess he would have had to be OK with it really, unless he wanted to die in a duel with his evil overlord.

I’m not completely against a Voldebaby, but it feels awkwardly conceived, and just maybe that child didn’t need to go bad. Poor Delphi. Like her father she grew up orphaned and unloved and is irredeemable.

And as if poor Harry hasn’t suffered enough, the play has him and the gang (plus Draco) save the day again, forcing Harry to relive his parents’ deaths. Meanwhile, the memory of noble Cedric is corrupted – could humiliation really make him angry enough at the Wizarding World that he would become a Death Eater?

The script manages to be a compelling read. Scorpius is arguably one of the most endearing characters in the Potter world, and Cursed Child is as funny as Rowling’s novels. Still, I can get on board with fans’ disappointment. A script-book is no compensation for the magic glow of a new novel.

For now, I think seeing Harry, Ron and Hermione portrayed by a trio of real actors is worth the hassle and the cost of a ticket.

BOOK REVIEW: Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sisterland is a tale about identical twin sisters with hidden gifts. Growing up with a hostile, depressed mother and an ineffectual father in St Louis, Violet and Kate called their eerie dreams, insights, and premonitions their “senses”.

We follow Kate, the novel’s first-person narrator, as they take divergent paths through adulthood. Kate has suppressed her senses and taken the conventional route in life, living with her husband and their children in the suburbs, whereas Violet is a proud, rebellious misfit, earning a crust as a psychic and medium.

After a minor earthquake strikes, Violet has a premonition of a catastrophic follow-up. When she announces the date in a television interview, she becomes an overnight media sensation and the international attention rocks Kate’s domestic life and the siblings’ already tense relationship.

The chapters alternate between the present day fallout and the twins’ troubled back story. It covers a lot of familiar territory for Sittenfeld – such as awkward adolescence and self-identity.

Kate’s abilities are an innate part of her, and are presented as matter-of-fact. These extrasensory flashes are a blessing for the reader, as they help break up Kate’s mundane adult life and judgmental inner voice. As someone who enjoyed the extreme introspection of Sittenfeld’s other, rather similar heroines, Kate is irritatingly priggish.

Violet is lazy, stubborn, and delights in provoking her straight-laced twin, whilst Courtney – a work colleague and friend of Kate’s geologist husband – subtly ratchets up the sarcasm and cutting remarks.

Even if some of Kate’s choices feel unbelievable, Sittenfeld’s characters and the intricacies of female relationships are again depicted with an alarming – almost spooky – perceptiveness.

The ways in which earthquakes – romantic, emotional and physical – play out for the characters make for an absorbing conclusion.