Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Visitors - Rebecca Mascull

With echoes of Helen Kellers story, we meet Liza, a young girl who due to sickness has become both blind and deaf.  Frustrated at being unable to communicate, her world changes when a young girl Lottie visits the family Hop farm, and teaches her to be able to talk with her fingers.  This then opens up a new world to Liza and for the first time is able to leave the farm and venture to new places, to the seaside and to busy London.

Liza though has her own secret that she is then careful to share, she sees Visitors, the ghosts who haunt the places that they lived in or died near, and it is their voices alone that she is able to hear.

I did so enjoy this little book, the Victorian setting was so vividly described and the characters seemed real and bright, with a little bit of ghosty business tossed in - perfect.  5/5

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Under the Skin

So Under the Skin has to be one of the weirdest alien films I have ever seen I think, both in story and visual concept it is not what we are used to after seeing Hollywood overblown CGI movies of recent years.  Instead this one is simple in its retelling of a story.  We meet our unnamed protagonist, who has been removed from a ditch somewhere, and has her clothes removed by another unknown.  Then we meet her as she trawls the streets of Glasgow in her transit van, scoping out men by themselves.  That bit I found interesting, maybe it gives men an idea of what if feels like to be a woman out on the streets by herself.

Anyways I don't want to give it all away, Wikipedia tells the whole plot.  I might just suggest that this is not a movie for the kids, it is definitely an adult show, and a serious one at that.  No cuddly cute aliens here.  It will be on of those movies that will stick with me for a while with some memorable moments,  4/5

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Winter Sleep

OMG that is three hours of my life that I won't get back again.   Still the warmth of the movie theatre did make me nod off a bit, and I was tempted about four times to walk out and leave, which several patrons did.  A Turkish movie that won awards at Cannes, the appeal of the movie was lost on me.   A boorish self important ex actor sits in his cave home in the Turkish countryside.  He has to deal with some of his tenants who are down on their luck and having trouble finding money to pay the bills and a young wife, bored with her life and marriage.

Way too long and with long long periods of boring dialogue, I have to give it a 1/5 for the scenery of an area in Turkey that I visited twenty years ago.

Particle Fever

So all the physics teachers in the region and me snuck into the movie theatre early on a grey winters day today to watch this little documentary about the Large Hadron Collider.  Luckily for me, there was enough in the way of explanations in the movie for it all to make a little bit of sense and so I didn't feel like a dummy in the audience.

You have to applaud a movie that can make advanced theoretical physics look kind of interesting!!!  And more applause for an hour and a half of viewing that makes you smarter on the way out then you were on the way in to your seat.  4/5

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Noble Family

For me, often the best part of the Film Festival is not over reading about the movies, but just going to one and being pleasantly surprised.  It is also a pleasure to see so many films from around the world, after being force fed a diet of Hollywood blockbuster rubbish at most cinemas.  I am truly over super hero movies, Manboy movies (ones with Adam Sandler/Will Farrell), Monkey movies, Movies that have toys in them, and movies with 20/30 models playing teenage angst.    This movie, I knew little to nothing about, and like most of the people in the audience smiled and laughed throughout.

The Noble Family is the story of a rich Mexican family, where the father has earned millions, and his three spoiled children take everything for granted.  When a health scare forces the father to re-evaluate his priorities, he decides to teach his kids a lesson.  Telling them that all the money is gone, they are forced to live in an abandoned family home and all get jobs to earn money for food and doing up the home.

Like all good moral tales, it is not only the children that learn the value of earning their own money and about what is important in life, but if forces dad to see them differently too.  I sense a Hollywood remake coming on.  A heart warming 4/5.

Dark Aemilia - Sally O'Reilly

Dark Aemilia is an imagined story of Aemilia Bassano, who was Englands first female poet.  An illegitimate daughter of a court musician, she found herself becoming involved with an older nobleman and becomes a farourite of the Queen.  When she becomes pregnant, she gets married off to her cousin a lowly recorder player at court, and is left a large home filled with treasures which her husband slowly gambles away.

It is suggested that she may have been the mistress of William Shakespeare, and her own writings may have influenced him in his plays and sonnets.  I liked a lot of the novel, but it did feel a bit jumpy for me, and I had a hard time keeping the story in my head, as it swung from one idea to the next.  3/5

Music Monday - Sam Smith- Stay With Me

I guess one of the advantages of walking lots of places is that I listen to a lot on my ipod.  Mainly podcasts, but I do like a bit of music, and this one from Sam Smith is one of my favourites a the moment.  Wrapped up warm, I sing along in my head while strolling the streets.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Lunchbox

Hello International Film Festival - very nice to see you again in our city.  It is a sign of the middle to end of winter, and is usually heralded in by my annual winter flu (tick) and crappy weather.  Today you surprised us by being very sunny and warm, as long as you weren't standing in the shade.

This was a sweet little movie.  An about to retire office worker begins receiving tasty meals in his hot delivered lunch, and at first sends an initial note to the maker commenting on the first lunch being overly salty.  Our lovely neglected housewife, at first thinks she is making her lovely lunches for her husband, but realises that they are going to a stranger and so begins their friendship, with them communicating by notes put between the Indian meals.

4/5 and it is probably a good idea to combine it with a night out of Indian food for dinner.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Toast and Marmalade - Emma Bridgewater

I must say I eat my dinner every night off Emma Bridgewater plates and even though they are  over ten years old they make me smile each evening.  So obviously I am a fan, and I did enjoy this book.  It is a real mixture of lovely family photos, recipes,family memories and stories about how Emma set up her business and some of the influences that have made her a worldwide success story.

It was hard not to be jealous of her lovely life with and country houses filled with children and extended family, casual collections of pottery and paintings around the house that you know will be filled with the smells of home baking and flowers.  How I can only dream of such a life!!  You know though that Emma achieved this by working hard and believing in her dream of making that homely mug, plate and bowl that so many of us love.  A scrumptious book.   4/5

Monday, July 21, 2014

Philomena - Martin Sixsmith

A rainy afternoon in the school holidays meant I had time at the library to sit and read this novel while teenage guests went to the movies.  I'd seen the clips for the movie based on this book, and wasn't quite sure what I expected to read.  The treatment of a young teenage pregnant Philomena Lee in Ireland sounded like it should have come out of a Victorian workhouse and when your teenagers complain about how tough they have it, maybe they should read a book like this.  Sent to the nuns to have her baby, young Philomena is abandoned by her family and left to work for three years in the laundry to pay for her sins.  Her young son is taken from her and given to a family in the US to be raised.

I was surprised to see that most of the book was the story of young Mike and his life, I was expecting more of it to be about Philomena and her search.  For that I give it a 3/5.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Love Life - Rob Lowe

Like his earlier memoir, this one surprised me again where I didn't expect to be impressed.  I knew Rob Lowe was a good writer, and his ability to bring you along on his stories makes me think that he is unfairly lucky in been blessed with talent, looks, intelligent and now another career as a successful author.  Once again it is not the sections about his life in the celebrity driven acting world or his famous friends that floors you - it the the paragraphs about his wife who helped him grow up or the story of taking his eldest son to college that allow you to see the man.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Wives of Los Alamos - Tarashea Nesbit

The winter feels like it has finally arrived in our city, with grey heavy dark clouds and temperatures that make you want to head to bed early, and snuggle in for an afternoon nap.  My annual winter cold didn't help to make my week off go as smoothly as planned, but luckily this seasonal combo allowed me a lot more reading time then anticipated.

This clever little novel looks at the lives of the women of Los Alamos during WWII.  Not knowing where or why they are being sent to a small rural town in the desert, the wives are also sworn to secrecy and not allowed to let their families know, or keep in contact with them while away.  With new names and identities they have to learn to get along with the other wives and children in their isolated neighbourhood.

There is also a poetic motion to this story as it is not just the tale of one wife and her circle, but rather includes the experiences of many, the American, British, Russian and many other nationalities of women brought together and of their children, the babies, toddlers, children and teenagers who have to adapt and move forward.

The only thing I was left wondering was what happened to those testing the atomic weapons, what happened when they went home, ten and twenty years after.  How were they affected?


Friday, July 11, 2014

The Promise of A Pencil - Adam Braun

Adam Braun was a lucky guy - he grew up in a happy family with many great opportunities throughout his youth.  With a drive to move forward, study and work meant he was making lots of money in his twenties working for a big firm.  However much money he was earning, he kept thinking about disadvantaged children he met while backpacking across Asia.  With 57 million children around the world with no access to school or education, he set out to make a change, to help communities build schools in some of the poorest regions in Asia and Africa.  It was this bit of the book that was most compelling and heart warming.

I was not so interested in reading about the fund raising, although  interesting  I found that bit a bit dull and wonder if the book was written a bit too early in his life.  It wonder what the next twenty years will hold for Adam Braun - I hope that there are more great things in his future.  I do like that stories such as his are being told and that we are celebrating some of the good people in the world, who reach out to help others, especially in our pseudo celebrity adoring society.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Year of No Sugar - Eve O. Schaub

The author is a writer who convinces her husband and two young daughters to try a whole 12 months without eating anything that has added sugar.  Having to give up cookies, ketchup, fruit juice and many other treats is a challenge for this young family, and I think she does well in informing us about the dangers of sugar - now the new poison of the masses.

I was reading other peoples reviews on Goodreads and thought that the reason so many people disliked the book was the fact that it was a bit of a downer.  It seemed quite sad and they didn't really find any joy in other food and drink options until they discovered the way to add dextrose to baking to make their cookies and cakes sweeter.  Much as I couldn't do it for too long, I would guess the way to survive would be to eat meat and three veg most of the time, and having fruit in place of sweet treats.   Seems simple to me, and is the way that many people eat.  I guess though for many Americans it would be tricky as they have so many more options available and sugary treats and takeaways are often cheaper than eating fruit and veg.  3/5

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Do No Harm - Henry Marsh

Henry Marsh is a Neurosurgeon working at one of the  hospitals I worked at in London, although I can't recall meeting the fellow.  In this book it is part memoir about his life and career and the other part is the stories of the patients with brain cancer, aneurysms, tumours and other abnormalities that he has treated.  In it he is honest about the balance of the surgeons job, of advising patients, and having to admit to errors and be blunt when further surgery may not bring any benefit to the patient and may be too risky.  Doctors like this face ethical dilemmas each and every day, and although they seem to face a lot of bad press in the media, I think that we should be so thankful that there are doctors available with such skills in a difficult area.

He is quite scathing about the all the red tape and political correctness being brought into the hospital by medical management, and that it will end his working career in the UK.

A great read - could only have been made better if it came with pictures!!  4/5

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Mrs Hemingway - Naomi Wood

I adored this little book and was sad when it reached its sad conclusion even though I knew how the story ended.  It is easy to picture the very macho Ernest Hemingway drinking and carousing around, Cuba, Florida, Spain and France, shooting game in Africa, driving ambulances in wartime and writing novels.  In this book we get to meet his four wives, all of whom follow on from each other, as he barely pauses before replacing each one in turn.  The thing that surprised me, was that somehow they all seemed a bit shocked when the new one was already sniffing around before the marriage was over.  That and his last wife Mary, who spent years saying his death was an accident when clearly it was anything but.

Each wife, Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary are given an equal chance to tell their stories and you could feel for each of them, all strong opinionated ladies who were wooed by the charismatic handsome  author, who to his credit married each of them.    It was easy to picture parties in the south of France, and wartime celebrations at the end of WWII and I liked that the book wasn't bogged down by too much detail.  I didn't need page after page setting the scene, instead I enjoyed the authors restraint.


Saturday, July 05, 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North

What a clever clever book this one is.  The story of Harry August,  born in a railway station ladies bathroom as 1918 turns towards 1919.  The live he lives is set in stone - or is it? (cue the creepy music).  For Harry August is one of a special group of people, who are able to relive their lives over and over again, remembering all that has happened in their previous lifetime.

  Imagine the choices?  Would you break up with your partner or marry them, have children or remain childless, travel or stay at home, remember lotto numbers, invest in apple computers, fight or be a pacifist, study or work the land and how would these choices then affect the way your life turned out?  Would it change the world?

I couldn't help but admire the author for being able to keep to her story as surely the spinning plots must have sent her slightly potty.  I did though, have to admit to getting myself lost in various places throughout this novel and I couldn't help but being annoyed that our hero Harry kept finding himself in spots that I thought all of his knowledge could have helped him avoid.

Still a worthy 4/5.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty - Diane Keaton

This book from Diane Keaton was a bit of a ramble.  One part wisdom about ageing, which I am sure must be hard to face in Hollywood, another part about being a mother to teenagers, part memoir and part real estate.  All interesting, but I found it a bit  self centred.  We get that she is sensitive about her thinning hair, but truly I don't think Diane has anything to complain about.  I do think that wearing gloves and turtleneck sweaters in the middle of a LA summer is weird, I get that she has her own style, but I think she has become stuck in it.  In the end I guess I just felt slightly annoyed for I felt that she had little to complain about in the looks department.  She has made a successful career for herself and continues to work.

Doing up the houses is interesting, and sounds like for the most part she has done well in flipping houses, but it must be unsettling as a family to keep moving, and came across as slightly schizophrenic to me, the constant need to move on.  2/5