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Sue "Sue" (Cyprus)

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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel [DVD] [2015]
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Maggie Smith
Offered by Discs4all
Price: £6.06

4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing in places, poignant in others, 5 Oct. 2015
This features many of the same characters as the first film, who live in the hotel for retired/senior citizens in India. At the start, Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Maggie Dench) have flown to the United States to apply for sponsorship by a large company as they hope to expand the hotel business. They are told that a hotel inspector might visit..

Most of the film then follows the residents, and two new visitors, as they go about their varying daily lives and businesses. The all star cast work very well together. Judi Dench is particularly good in her role as Evelyn, and while Bill Nighy’s character is similar to those of other films, their tentative relationship works well. Maggie Smith is terrific, yet doesn't play such a significant part in this sequel.

The plot, such as it is, weaves around the different characters, giving insights into their lives and that of Indian culture. There are some amusing and also poignant sections, although I found the scenes with Madge (Celia Imrie) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) to be a little confusing and somewhat tedious.

I particularly enjoyed the sections featuring Sonny. Dev Patel is excellent as the keen but naive hotel founder and owner, convinced he knows who the hotel inspector is, but worried that his fiancée is spending too much time with her brother’s best friend.

It’s nicely made, with the bonus of some enjoyable dance scenes, culminating in a celebration which has its own poignancy alongside the tremendous joy and enthusiasm of most of those involved. Rated PG which I’d say is about right, although it’s unlikely to be of any interest to children or young teenagers. There’s no violence or anything explicit, but there’s a sprinkling of bad language and plenty of suggestive references.

Recommended, but make sure you see the original 'Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' first.

Very Good, Jeeves: (Jeeves & Wooster)
Very Good, Jeeves: (Jeeves & Wooster)
by P.G. Wodehouse
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good, Wodehouse!, 30 Sept. 2015
Bertie Wooster is a wealthy upper-class young man from the early part of the 20th century, who isn’t particularly bright, but has a kind heart. He finds it hard to say no, particularly to his rather terrifying Aunt Agatha. His valet Jeeves, by contrast, is a man of high intelligence, always able to solve problems for Bertie and his friends.

This is a set of eleven short stories featuring the classic pair and several of Bertie's friends and relatives. In the first story, ‘Jeeves and the Impending Doom’, Bertie and Jeeves travel to stay with Aunt Agatha in her country home. Shortly after he arrives he sees, to his astonishment, his friend Bingo Little, only to learn that they mustn’t be seen hobnobbing. The plot qthickens, and - as ever - Jeeves sorts everything out.

The same basic plot underlies the other stories too. With Wodehouse, what matters are the brilliant asides, the poetical allusions, and the unlikely situations in which Bertie finds himself, usually because he’s helping out a friend or acquaintance. Everyone is caricatured, of course; yet it doesn’t matter. The humour is in the understatements, the irony, and the clever dialogue.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this volume, which I hadn't read for probably twenty years. Highly recommended.

Gemma in Love
Gemma in Love
by Noel Streatfeild
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Originally titled, 'Goodbye, Gemma', 29 Sept. 2015
This review is from: Gemma in Love (Paperback)
The series was written as contemporary children’s fiction in the 1960s. The Robinsons are a likeable family who live in a small town within easy train distance from London. In this book, fourth and last of the series, Gemma, whose mother has been working in the United States, is very much part of the family despite being rather better-off financially, but all are aware that things are likely to change as they begin to grow up...

While ‘Goodbye Gemma’ (more recently published as 'Gemma in Love') could be read as a standalone, ties up a lot of ends and provides a good finale to the sequel. It’s inevitably slightly dated, but the family interactions are realistic, the people surprisingly three-dimensional and one or two scenes quite moving.

While a child of around ten or eleven might well enjoy the first couple of books in the series, this one is more thoughtful and perhaps appropriate for young teenagers; not that many of today’s teens would be interested in such a family-oriented series, but eclectic readers or those who prefer classic and ‘wholesome’ stories might well like it.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this very much.

The Best of Friends
The Best of Friends
by Joanna Trollope
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Shallow characters, emotive plot, 28 Sept. 2015
This review is from: The Best of Friends (Paperback)
The main protagonist is sixteen-year-old Sophy. Her parents seem to spend most of their time arguing, and it’s become increasingly bitter...

The bulk of the book takes place in just a couple of months. Sophy is a likeable girl, although I never felt that I really got to know her. Joanna Trollope isn’t the greatest at characterisation; nevertheless the situations and descriptions of events managed to pull on my emotions quite strongly.

The writing is terse and well-paced, the conversations mostly believable; places and appearances are described with just enough sensory detail to make them memorable without so much as to become boring.

While there’s a sense in which this is a coming-of-age story for Sophy, it’s also classic women’s fiction of the kind that could be enjoyed by older teenage bookworms as well as adults. There’s some ‘strong’ language, but although plenty of bedroom scenes are mentioned, there are, thankfully, no details.

Three and a half stars would be fairer.

The Emerald Crown (Stormy Petrel)
The Emerald Crown (Stormy Petrel)
by Violet Needham
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting story, if a bit dated, 26 Sept. 2015
‘The Emerald Crown’ was first published in 1940, and set around that period. The location is a fictitious central European country called Flavonia, which has been without its rightful monarch for several decades.

Most of the story is seen through the eyes of 12-year-old Christine, generally known as Pixie. She’s a loyal and determined girl, who catches on quickly to the story's main theme, something which is rather obvious to readers from the first chapter. The storyline is enlivened by the search for the mysterious missing Emerald Crown of the title, whose discovery will herald the appearance of the real King.

It’s an adventure story that could appeal to either boys or girls of around nine or ten and upwards, if they can manage the somewhat dated style and enjoy stories with some excitement and tension, and a little more depth than some more modern fiction. I liked it very much, although the style is a bit awkward in places, and some of the minor characters are very caricatured.

The Island Hideaway
The Island Hideaway
by Louise Candlish
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but disappointing, 24 Sept. 2015
This review is from: The Island Hideaway (Paperback)
‘The Island Hideaway’ was Louise Candlish's first novel, originally published in 2004 as ‘Prickly Heat’. This is a revision, ten years later. The story takes place in the idyllic small Italian island of Panarea.

Eleanor is the main character of the book, and we see events through her eyes. We quickly learn that she is stalking her former fiancé Will, who is holidaying on the same island with his new girlfriend. It’s clear that she’s quite overwrought, and has spent more money than she can afford on this trip.

It’s an interesting storyline, well-written and very readable. My biggest problem is that Eleanor isn’t a likeable person. She drinks and smokes extensively, as do all the other rather caricatured people around her, and they appear to have almost no moral code. This makes almost every character unappealing.

Still, I kept reading, eager to find out what happened. The writing kept me going despite the negative characterisation. The climax of the book seems unrealistic but it leads to a reasonably neat and tidy ending, and a positive outlook for the future.

I thought this rather disappointing after reading the author’s other books, but I’m always interested to read debut novels. I'm glad to have it in my collection although I wouldn’t really recommend it.

The New Mistress At The Chalet School - FIRST EDITION
The New Mistress At The Chalet School - FIRST EDITION
by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely recommended, 23 Sept. 2015
Rather than being about new girls at the school, this about a new staff member. Kathie Ferrars is 22 and delighted to be offered a post at the Chalet School in Switzerland. The first chapters see her with her aunt, and then meeting some of her colleagues as she embarks on the journey from the UK.

The characterisation is good (albeit stereotyped in some instances), and the story-lines nicely done. The writing is, in places, a little repetitive, and features a bit too much author viewpoint; but I'm still glad to have a hardback edition rather than the much-abridged Armada paperback.

The books all stand alone and this might even make a good introduction to the series, although there are so many references to earlier books (with footnotes) that it would probably be better to read at least a few of the earlier ones first. It’s not quite a five-star book, but I’d award it four and a half if I could. Definitely recommended.

The Welsh Girl
The Welsh Girl
by Peter Ho Davies
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Insights into the war years, 23 Sept. 2015
This review is from: The Welsh Girl (Paperback)
‘The Welsh Girl’ is set around the end of World War II. The prologue introduces us to a young man called Rotheram, the son of a Lutheran German mother. He's now working for the British, seeing if he can work out whether a Nazi criminal has lost his memory. Chapter one introduces a young woman called Esther who lives on a farm in a Welsh village. She gets caught up in a very unpleasant situation that shadows her life for the rest of the book. The third main character is Karsten, a German soldier who’s is taken to a POW camp in the village where Esther lives.

The novel follows these different individuals. They are all, seen as flawed by likeable people, sharing different perspectives on shame, on family life, and on the war in general.

The writing is good; I found the characterisation a bit superficial, but the story is told in the present tense which makes for a compelling tale. The author doesn’t mince words in some situations, although in others he leaves it to the reader to see what’s going on. I found it a bit slow-moving in places, but by the end felt that I had a better understanding of what it would have been like to live in the war.

Somehow, though, I doubt if I’ll remember any of the people for more than a week or two, and already I’m wondering just what the story was about. But that’s often the way with ‘literary’ fiction. Still, it made a good read, rather different from my normal fare. Recommended to anyone interested in the war years, who doesn’t mind a fair amount of bad language.

Notes from (Over) the Edge: Unmasking the Truth to End Your Suffering
Notes from (Over) the Edge: Unmasking the Truth to End Your Suffering
by Jim Palmer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.62

4.0 out of 5 stars Repetitive but thought-provoking, 21 Sept. 2015
The book is a bit different from the author’s earlier ones; it’s not so much a coherent account but a mixture of notes, based on his journals during a period of intense reflection on his life and faith. I found the first section annoying; not only was it repetitive, but it read like one of those scam adverts that keep insisting that we need to know (or buy, or do…) the One Thing that will change our lives without saying what that thing is. And it kept telling me I think this or believe that, about things that had never even occurred to me.

But I reminded myself that the author had a damaging childhood, and some bad experiences with fundamentalist Christianity. So I kept reading. I was a little disturbed by what seemed almost Buddhist thinking in places, but Palmer still returns to Scripture and to the words and actions of Jesus. And while the writing continues to be bitty and repetitive, and often not relevant to my background, I thought he made some good points.

I’d recommend this to anyone brought up in an angry or coercive religious environment; but don’t expect great coherence or profound thoughts. It essentially tells us to live in the moment, to look out for God in all situations, to respond as needs arise, and not to worry. It focuses on God as love, in all people and things, but I'd be worried about a Christian message that did not include this as a basis.

For the first section of the book I’d barely allocate two stars, but the rest was four-star material, even four-and-a-half in places. So I’ll compromise on a four.

An Equal Music
An Equal Music
by Vikram Seth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Oddly gripping, 16 Sept. 2015
This review is from: An Equal Music (Paperback)
‘An Equal Music’ is told in the first person, in the present tense, by a musician called Michael. He plays second violin in a prestigious string quartet. The people he is closest to, emotionally, are the other members of the quartet. He has an on-off affair going with a rather younger student, but can never forget his first love, the brilliant pianist Julia, whom he has not seen for nearly ten years….

There are many subplots; flashbacks and commentary about the past, a trip for the quartet to both Austria and Italy, the discovery of some little-known music, a recording contract, and many rehearsals where we see intimately into the way the lives of a quartet are intertwined.

It’s a powerful novel of love and loss, of friendship and betrayal, and - above all - of music. It’s draining at times, and also uplifting. By the end, I could barely put it down. The ending comes suddenly, after rather too much rhetoric (in my view) and didn’t quite tie up all the ends, but perhaps that was deliberate.

Although the writing is fluid and the story well-paced, I found the characters oddly flat. Michael is believable enough, highly emotional and rather volatile. But others are caricatured, or non-entities, including the woman who becomes the main romantic lead. Her motivations are never very clear.

Some of the music terminology went over my head, but that wasn’t a problem. I had more of an issue with sections that were over-wordy, and seemed irrelevant. Some parts could, in my view, have been cut entirely without any loss to the novel - unless, perhaps, they were included to show Michael’s confused and sometimes wandering mind.

Still, it was different from anything I've read before and oddly gripping in places.

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