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Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit [DVD] [1994]
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit [DVD] [1994]
Dvd ~ Whoopi Goldberg
Offered by HarriBella.UK.Ltd
Price: £3.74

2.0 out of 5 stars A sequel far from equal, 5 Oct. 2013
'Sister Act' is one of my favourite films, and given its worldwide success, it's easy to see why Disney were so keen to make a sequel post-haste. (Whoopi Goldberg was apparently less keen, and only agreed when Disney agreed to fund her pet project, 'Serafina'.) Unfortunately, this film falls somewhat flat in comparison to its uplifting predecessor. It's far from awful - it just feels laboured. The plot is weak and heavily contrived to a) get Goldberg back in a nun's habit and b) stretch an extra chapter from a story that actually got a perfect ending at the close of the first film. It's great to see the majority of the original cast back (even though Dolores and the Mother Superior now being friends means the comic conflict is lost), but the scriptwriters simply don't know what to do with these characters, and seem to hope the audience will just be happy to see them again. And in a way we are, but it's a bit like a school reunion in a small town - it's great to catch up with all your old friends, but after a while you realise you've moved on and there's a reason you live in the city now.

For a background film on a rainy bank holiday, 'Sister Act 2' is amiable enough. By the end though, you'll be glad all involved resisted the urge to milk the cash cow a third time.


The Unnamed
The Unnamed
by Joshua Ferris
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A compelling idea which loses its way, 9 Sept. 2013
This review is from: The Unnamed (Paperback)
I discovered Joshua Ferris' debut novel 'Then We Came to the End' by accident in a charity shop and having been greatly impressed, was very much looking forward to 'The Unnamed'. Things start promisingly with a highly original premise - lead character Tim, a highly successful lawyer, has an unidentifiable condition which means he may start walking at any time and cannot control where or for how long he will walk. Doctors are convinced the condition can only be mental, while Tim is equally convinced it is purely physical. The novel examines not only the obvious negative impact the condition itself has on Tim and his family, but also the sheer frustration of a lack of diagnosis or recognition (hence the title).

Ferris' prose is of the highest standard throughout, and it is hard not to sympathise with all three central characters. However, in an ironic case of life imitating art, Ferris seems to share Tim's lack of control and direction as the novel goes on. Lack of attention to practicalities is a major problem; specifically money. While it is realistic that a New York lawyer at the top of his game for many years will have accrued some significant financial reserves, the condition persists for several years - during which time Tim is demoted to a junior role, his wife considers giving up work to nurse him full-time and the pair spend a fortune on experimental medical treatments - before the couple even consider selling their eight-bedroom house. In a novel based around a fictional condition, some attention to real-world issues would not only be an interesting contrast, but also help readers empathise with an otherwise unimaginable situation. Another key issue is the setting of the novel - in an America characterised by 'extreme weather' - something the back-jacket blurb and early chapters make much of, but which is never really explained, and which is promptly forgotten about for the majority of the novel before it is suddenly required again for a plot development.

Anyone looking for a happy ending here isn't going to find one, but this is not the problem with 'The Unnamed'. The problem is that the journey is ultimately as frustrating for the reader as it is for Tim. Who knows - perhaps this was the point the author was trying to make. If so, he in a sense succeeds. However, a more basic measure of success for any writer surely has to be the deliverance of some enjoyment for the reader - and, despite an intriguing concept and some top quality prose, enjoyment is eventually in short supply here.


Schleich Baby Smurf
Schleich Baby Smurf
Offered by docsmagic
Price: £3.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Ridiculously cute, 25 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Schleich Baby Smurf (Toy)
I bought this to attach to a gift bag for a present for my new baby niece - however, he's so cute I kept him for myself and had to buy a second one for the gift! (You can probably guess from my username that I'm a collector...)


The Woman who Went to Bed for a Year
The Woman who Went to Bed for a Year
by Sue Townsend
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars A good idea that loses its way, 4 April 2013
Sue Townsend's recent novels have been somewhat hit-and-miss (compare 'Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years' to earlier volumes and 'Queen Camilla' to 'The Queen and I'), but her writing style still had enough appeal for me to give this a try. The concept - a woman who goes to bed one day and realises she doesn't want to, or even can't, get out and decides to retreat from the world - is intriguing, and the early chapters set the scene very well. There are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and apart from Townsend's usual over-reliance on silly names (Eva Brown-Bird marrying Brian Beaver? Really?) things look promising. However, as the novel continues the different threads somehow never come together. Too many characters who contribute nothing to the story are introduced in the later stages, with their sub-plots (such as they are) going nowhere. Also, the blurb on the back of the book describes how Eva becomes a cultural phenomenon, but this seems to happen ridiculously quickly in terms of the narrative. Yes, the speed at which Eva's fame spreads is a commentary on the power of social networking, but when this takes place halfway through the novel it's almost like a dial clicking over; suddenly the direction has completely changed, but every so often elements of the first half creep back in, as if Townsend has suddenly remembered that said characters or plot elements existed.

Two of the main things that let this novel down are, unfortunately, consistently weak points for Townsend - continuity and the ending. There are many continuity errors in the Mole and Queen series, but usually not within the individual books. However, in 'The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year' the character of Eva goes from wearing only black or grey (her mother-in-law describes her as a beatnik) to having a wardrobe full of cream evening dresses and lacy red cardigans a few chapters later. Eva is also portrayed as disinterested in traditional motherly/housewife pursuits, yet a recurring theme is that her husband is helpless around the house without her, and Eva delivers a long monologue on the work she puts into a family Christmas. Elements of Eva's backstory also fail to ring true - she describes regretting her marriage within half an hour of the ceremony, yet remains with her husband for 25 years, despite having no childen for the first eight - why would you stay in an unhappy marriage for eight years and THEN bring children into it?

Then there's the ending - of lack of one. Part of why the Adrian Mole diary format worked so well for Townsend is that the books don't require a definitive ending; her other novels tend to end somewhat abruptly (e.g. 'Queen Camilla'). However, this is taken to an extreme in this novel. The book features the now-ubiquitous author Q&A at the end, which fooled me into thinking I had at least a couple more chapters to go when I reached what I eventually realised was the end. I honestly thought there were pages missing at first. Nothing is resolved; there is no real pay-off for the reader or the characters. After a strong start, it just left me disappointed.

Despite my criticisms, there is much to enjoy in 'The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year'; hence three rather than two stars. It's just a great shame that a good editor (which is what it cries out for) didn't help Townsend shape it into the genuinely good comic novel it could have been.


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
by Aimee Bender
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Like the cake itself - looks appealing, but ultimately empty, 21 Mar. 2013
'The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake' centres on a very intriguing concept - lead character Rose discovers, aged nine, that she can actually taste the emotions of the cook (plus certain factual details) in any food she eats. When her mother bakes her a beautiful looking lemon cake for her ninth birthday, Rose tastes an 'emptiness' in it which she realises reflects her mother's life. From that point on food becomes a source of trauma for Rose, as every mouthful has the potential to tell her something she would prefer not to know.

So far, so interesting. Unfortunately, the cake that reveals Rose's gift/curse becomes something of a metaphor for the novel itself. The prose and premise are both appealing and, despite the pointless and outdated lack of quotation marks for speech, it's generally a smooth read. However, the pay-off the reader is waiting for never really comes. Rose generally wishes she didn't have her particular 'talent', but only once does it lead to a potentially earth-shattering issue, and even this is never properly dealt with. A subplot dealing with Rose's brother Joseph's apparently uncontrollable and unexplained disappearances also, somewhat ironically, doesn't go anywhere. Another obvious problem with the novel is that no one questions Rose's abilities; they're surprised, impressed, even scared, but not one person seriously questions whether she is telling the truth.

I can see why some have praised this novel - it's a unique idea, Rose is quite an engaging character and the writing itself (if not the plot and structure) is strong. Ultimately though, most readers will be left, like Rose, feeling empty after finishing this particular lemon cake.


The Royle Family: Barbara's Old Ring [DVD]
The Royle Family: Barbara's Old Ring [DVD]
Dvd ~ Caroline Aherne
Price: £7.46

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A shadow of its former self, 31 Dec. 2012
I was hugely looking forward to another helping of 'The Royle Family', easily one of the best sitcoms of the last twenty years. True, the infamous 'The New Sofa' episode a few years back suggested the show was past its best, but subsequent editions proved something of a return to form. However, 'Barbara's Old Ring' is a disappointment. Whilst it's nowhere near as bad as some reviewers have suggested - there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud lines in there - it just hasn't got the old magic of the early episodes. What worked really well about the show was the real-time aspect, which has been absent from the Christmas specials, and whilst this worked well in Nana's farewell episode in 2006, it completely goes to pieces in this edition. One minute it's Christmas Eve, the next the Royles are helping Joe to find love - yet after a series of different dates, the next scene is set on Christmas Day. When did these dates happen? Another major issue is Dave and Denise's children, or to be more accurate, their non-presence. A joke is made about the couple forgetting to pick them up from school (again), but the fact that they're nowhere to be seen on Christmas Day is ignored, suggesting either sloppy writing or a struggle to create comic value from their presence. The whole thing feels cobbled together around a few good jokes, without what made the show special in the first place - the well-observed comedy of everyday life.

I love 'The Royle Family', and in many ways below-par RF is a damn sight funnier than dross like 'Mrs Brown's Boys' on top form. However, this special smacks of a shortage of ideas, and suggests ending things now before the rot really sets in would be the kindest thing.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 15, 2013 9:13 AM GMT


A Week in Winter
A Week in Winter
by Maeve Binchy
Edition: Hardcover

60 of 67 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Her last, but sadly not her best, 30 Nov. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Week in Winter (Hardcover)
Let me start by saying that Maeve Binchy is without question my favourite author. I was devastated when she died and the one consolation was that a new book was waiting. Maybe because I wanted it to be the most fitting swansong possible my expectations were too high, but I regret to say I was a little disappointed by 'A Week in Winter'. I'd love nothing more than to give it a glowing review - I genuinely want to love it - but there was just something missing compared to her other books. Others reviews have criticised the format (several strands interlinked rather than one cohesive 'story'), but I don't think that's the problem; Maeve Binchy has used that technique several times before and often to great effect. It's more that, while there are several likeable characters in the book, there isn't really one I could say I loved. Chicky Starr comes the closest, but she doesn't have the indefinable quality of a Benny Hogan, Cathy Scarlet or Clare O'Brien; that something that draws you in entirely and makes you genuinely sad when her story ends. It's also shorter than it could have been, with the ending feeling a little rushed and a key plot point never resolved.

I should emphasise that 'A Week in Winter' is far from bad - below par Binchy is better than most authors on top form. I might have given it four stars had anyone else written it. But it's hard not to judge an author on their track record, and I simply can't see myself re-reading this time and time again in the way I have 'Circle of Friends' and 'Light a Penny Candle'. Binchy fans should definitely still read this, but if you're new to her work, I'd recommend trying one of the other titles I mention first.


The Evil Seed
The Evil Seed
by Joanne Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shows little sign of the great things to come, 7 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Evil Seed (Paperback)
Contrary to popular belief, the wildly successful 'Chocolat' was not Joanne Harris' debut novel. That came nine years earlier with 'The Evil Seed', an ambitious attempt at a split viewpoint Gothic horror epic. (A second novel in a similar vein, 'Sleep Pale Sister', followed a couple of years later, but both eventually drifted out of print and remained largely forgotten until Harris became a mainstream success.) Harris provides an introduction to the novel in which she is surprisingly and admirably honest about its shortcomings, and the fact that it is down to demand from readers that it has been reissued; indeed, it's difficult not to sense that she was pressured by her publishers (who must have sensed a rare easy win) into the decision.

As Harris herself states, 'The Evil Seed' is somewhat over-ambitious. In its defence, the dual viewpoint and split timeline narration is ahead of its time (it would be some years before multiple narrators became so common as to almost be the norm); however, the mix of first- and third-person doesn't really come off. There is often too long between excerpts of the two separate but intertwined stories, making things somewhat disjointed, and when they are eventually tied together it is through a somewhat spurious coincidence. The novel also suffers from a lack of realism in key areas, notably that a doctor from a mental health institution shares confidential information with Alice (the present day protagonist) purely because she says it's important. It might be a supernatural novel, but that doesn't mean the 'natural' side of the world it is set in has to be unrealistic. However, the main problem with 'The Evil Seed' is that it is simply too long and becomes plodding for large periods. It cries out for an experienced editor; one who knows how to handle an inexperienced writer.

If you have never read a Joanne Harris novel, start with 'Chocolat' or 'The Five Quarters of the Orange'. Harris admits that she had yet to find her voice as an author when she wrote 'The Evil Seed', and while it is interesting to see how her writing style has developed (Harris actually suggests creative writing students should measure it against her later work as an example of such development) this novel really isn't strong enough to make it worth reading on its own terms, and is best left to diehard Harris fans keen to complete their collection.


The Best Of
The Best Of

7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Screams 'end of contract', 28 Oct. 2009
This review is from: The Best Of (Audio CD)
Ah, the fickle world of pop music. One minute you're being heralded as the future of music by the industry and press alike, the next you're an occasional 'whatever happened to whatsername?' question down the pub. Take Sandi Thom, whose famous podcasts from her living room brought her huge media attention, a contract with Sony and a number one hit with 'I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker'. Four years on, she's peddling a hastily cobbled together greatest hits compilation (wisely titled 'Best of', considering there are so few actual hits on it). A greatest hits album after three or four albums suggests a safe bet for an artist whose star is fading. After two albums, it writes in huge neon letters that the artist was given a three-album contract, and that album two tanked very, very badly, leaving a greatest hits as the cheapest way to finish off the contract. And by god is this compilation cheap.

I got my copy of this CD as a freebie, and I'm still not sure it was that much of a bargain. I thought I'd give it a listen as I quite liked Thom's second single, 'What If I'm Right', and found 'I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker' catchy if slightly too 'worthy'. But after those first two tracks, it's all downhill, with several very samey acoustic tracks that all merge into one dirge following. To try and make this look like a proper album, Sony have stuck a few uninspiring cover versions on the end (the kind of thing that would get left off a Radio 1 Live Lounge album), plus a pointless remix of her signature (only?) hit. They really shouldn't have bothered. Actually, if you look at the sleeve, you can see they didn't. I've seen pub giveaways with more professional looking covers. It's like someone went to the printers with 17p and came back with change.

Whoever wrote the blurb on the back of this CD was obviously either trying to save face or had taken pity on Thom - it's the only explanation for the laughably optimistic statement 'This collection is Sandi's first best of'. Okay, so strictly speaking it's true, but is it really relevant when it's painfully obvious to anyone that it will also be the last?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 15, 2010 2:42 PM BST


Spilt Milk, Black Coffee
Spilt Milk, Black Coffee
by Helen Cross
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wickedly funny with a warm but unsentimental edge, 19 Oct. 2009
Strong characterisation, clever writing, funny and believable dialogue - 'Spilt Milk, Black Coffee' has it all. In Jackie Jackson - a twice-divorced, self-confessed bad mother pushing forty but still acting like a teenager - Helen Cross has created a character who, despite (or perhaps because of) her flaws, will enthrall rather than appall. Anyone reading this novel is sure to become just as fascinated by Jackie as the other characters in the novel end unwillingly find themselves.

As is the fashion these days, the novel is written from multiple viewpoints, but in this case it's more than just a gimmick. Jackie herself never takes on narration duties, meaning the reader always sees her through the eyes of others; an important technique, as the various perceptions of Jackie are a key theme of the text. It's impossible not to warm to our two main narrators - Jackie's tomboy daughter Elle, who adores her mum while desperate to avoid turning into her, and Amir, obsessed by Jackie despite significant age and cultural differences between the two. Both characters are brilliantly written, but Cross's portrayal of Elle - an adult before her time, yet heartbreakingly childlike underneath - is particularly poignant. Although Elle and Amir's paths only really cross once until the end of the novel, it's a pivotal moment, and their differing perceptions of the incident sets up much of the action.

If you're looking for a novel with fast-paced action and a big finale, 'Spilt Milk, Black Coffee' probably isn't for you; the plot on its own is fairly slow, although the strength of the characterisation and scene-setting makes this almost irrelevant. However, if you enjoy getting to know well-written characters, are a fan of realistic, down to earth humour, and enjoy relationships that are warm without being schmaltzy, 'Spilt Milk, Black Coffee' is sure to satisfy. Helen Cross may not be a big-name author yet, but if she continues to produce novels of this quality, that's certain to change.


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