Moviewatch: In Bruges- It’s effing hilarious!

This film was absolutely fantastic from start to finish. Wildly original, quirky, very violent yet wickedly funny with some brilliant sick jokes. Oh, by the way, it happens to show off Bruges quite beautifully.

Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes I knew, but couldn’t quite place Brendan Gleeson at first – then it dawned on me – he was Mad-Eye Moody from Harry Potter IV, and then Fleur from the same film turns up as ‘the girl’! The casting was quite brilliant; Gleason and Farrell turn in great performances as the ageing hitman and his apprentice, and Fiennes was obviously relishing playing a mockney bad guy as their boss. The plot was fantastic – full of twists with the most superb ending. I can’t tell you any more – you need to see it.

I would recommend this film to all grown-ups except perhaps my mother, who will find there’s just too much swearing for her sensibilities to cope with.

Talking of cursing, you must watch the last of the extras – they’ve cut every swear-word + each time they say Bruges into one effing hilarious short!

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
In Bruges [DVD] [2008]

What did you do in the war Mum?

War Crimes For The Home by Liz Jensen

The things normal people got up to in the war. Good girl Gloria falls for a GI and learns to be bad with disastrous consequences.

Told in flashback, Gloria is now an old lady and installed in an old folks nursing home, as her son Hank thinks she has dementia or even mad cow disease.  Gloria however is not senile at all, just suppressing all the bad stuff and is preparing to die and join her friend Doris.  Her son Hank, who has grown up without a father is desperate to find out where he comes from and she is forced to confront her past.

The author serves this sad story up with large helpings of really black humour, some sick jokes, and loads of sex!  Gloria, once relieved of her virginity, was a bit of a one-woman shagging machine.  It won’t be a surprise to you to find out she gets pregnant and abandoned by her man, but I won’t say any more.

This is an extremely intelligent novel that shows, to use the words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want, you get what you need.”  With the young men all away fighting, rationing, bombs and death all around, wartime brought different values to the fore – you might die tomorrow.  Contrasting against that in the contemporary strand of the story is a bit of a dig about how we treat our elderly folk.  You’re taken with Gloria all the way through all the ups and downs of life’s rollercoaster – quirky, funny, sad – a fantastic read.

I’ve previously read one of Liz Jensen’s other novels The ninth life of Louis Drax which was a super psychological thriller, again quirky and black humoured. I’ve since acquired a couple more of her books – hoping for more of the same.

* * * * *
Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
War Crimes for the Homeby Liz Jensen, Bloomsbury paperback


100 Books … and counting

It’s Halloween and I got back this afternoon from a few days in Paris when I realise I’ve done it! I set myself a target to read 100 books this year, having managed to read 99 in total last year and I’ve done it with two months to spare, having read over 27,000 pages. I’ll admit to quite a few short novels, and I did go through a period earlier in the year where I quickly read quite a few children’s books, (I was applying for a job as a prep school librarian).

Of course, sheer volume is no measure of quality – however I gave an amazing quarter of the 100 ten out of ten. I have had a lot of fantastic recommendations and finds this year though which are reflected in that high number – I’ve highlighted them in green in the list (or blue if children’s). There was only one book I didn’t finish … See No 45 highlighted in red down below! I’ve read less memoirs/biography in this lot – only 5 so far this year, but have for the first time read 3 poetry books (if you include at No 80 a novel written in prose poetry). There is a sprinkling of Science Fiction and historical novels, and apart from straight-forward novels, crime novels predominate including 3 Agatha Raisin ones (… I got a set of 3 cheap, and they’re extremely light and quick to read).

Enough of the stats – here’s the list of 100 in full. Thanks for looking.

1. Hurting Distance by Hannah, Sophie 8/10
2. Out stealing horses by Per Petterson 8/10
3. Beowulf by Seamus Heaney 7/10
4. The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland 7/10
5. This is for you by Rob Ryan 8/10
6. Love in the time of cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 7/10
7. Then we came to the end by Joshua Ferris 7/10
8. Not buying it – my year without shopping by Judith Levine
9. My friend Walter by Michael Morpurgo 8/10 (Children’s)
10. The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart 10/10
11. Ottoline and the yellow cat by Chris Riddell 8/10 (Children’s)
12. Tom’s midnight garden by Philippa Pearce 10/10 (Children’s)
13. Clockwork by Philip Pullman 10/10 (Children’s)
14. Ottoline goes to school by Chris Riddell 8/10 (Children’s)
15. Jane Blonde – sensational spylet by Jill Marshall 6/10 (Children’s)
16. Holes by Louis Sachar 10/10 (Children’s)
17. Lucy Willow by Sally Gardner 8/10 (Children’s)
18. Skellig by David Almond 9/10 (Children’s)
19. The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding 10/10 (Children’s)
20. Grendel by John Gardner 8/10
21. The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence 7/10 (Children’s)
22. The Ruby in her Navel by Barry Unsworth 7/10
23. Gold by Dan Rhodes 9/10
24. The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham 8/10
25. The rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon 7/10
26. The Inflatable Volunteer by Steve Aylett 6/10
27. The island of lost souls by Martyn Bedford 8/10
28. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips 9/10
29. The Last Station by Jay Parini 8/10
30. Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M C Beaton 7/10
31. Saving Caravaggio by Neil Griffiths 10/10
32. The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe 9/10
33. Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon 8/10
34. The British Museum is Falling Down by David Lodge 7/10
35. Arthur and George by Julian Barnes 8/10
36. Cupid’s Dart by David Nobbs 10/10
37. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield 6/10
38. Boy A by Johnathan Trigell 9/10
39. Jasmine’s Tortoise by Corinne Souza 7/10
40. Hazel’s Phantasmagoria by Leander Deeney 9/10 (Children’s)
41. The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski 10/10
42. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell 7/10
43. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguru 10/10
44. The Rough Guide to Classic Novels by Simon Mason 8/10
45. Special topics in calamity physics by Marisha Pessl 2/10 (Unfinished)
46. Clear by Nicola Barker 10/10
47. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman 10/10
48.The House of Lost Souls by F G Cottam 7/10
49. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff 8/10
50. Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan 5/10
51. The Food Taster by Peter Elbling 9/10
52. The Dig by John Preston 10/10
53. The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas 8/10
54. Mothernight by Sarah Stovell 9/10
55. Breaking the Code by Gyles Brandreth 10/10
56. Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks 8/10
57. The Suicide Shop by Jean Teule 7/10
58. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard 6/10
59. Electricity by Ray Robinson 10/10
60. Thirteen by Sebastian Beaumont 10/10
61. Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet by M C Beaton 6/10
62. The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato 8/10
63. Ali and Nino by Kurban Said 7/10
64. Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener by M C Beaton 6/10
65. Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay 8/10
66. The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell 6/10
67. The story of a shipwrecked sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 7/10
68. Man in the Dark by Paul Auster 8/10
69. Home Truths by David Lodge 8/10
70. The Ghost by Robert Harris 10/10
71. Always Outnumbered Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley 10/10
72. A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews 9/10
73. The Officer’s Prey by Armand Cabasson 6/10
74. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson 10/10
75. The Last Family in England by Matt Haig 8/10
76. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer 8/10
77. High Windows by Philip Larkin 10/10
78. Camberwell Beauty by Jenny Eclair 8/10
79. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson 10/10
80. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid 7/10
81. Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow 9/10
82. The Scheme for Full Employment by Magnus Mills 10/10
83. The Game by Diana Wynne-Jones 7/10 (Children’s)
84. Dead Run by P J Tracy 7/10
85. Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro 7/10
86. Firmin by Sam Savage 8/10
87. From A to X by John Berger 7/10
88. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem 10/10
89. The suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale 8/10
90. Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin 7/10
91. Inside Out: A personal history of Pink Floyd by Nick Mason 8/10
92. 1984 by George Orwell 8/10
93. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery 9/10
94. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole 7/10
95. The Man Without by Ray Robinson 10/10
96. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas< by John Boyne 8/10
97. Lost Light by Michael Connelly 10/10
98. Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews 8/10
99. War Crimes For The Home by Liz Jensen 10/10
100. The Ballad of Peckham Rye byMuriel Spark 9/10
… What’s next? I hear you ask – well I also polished off a Maigret en France, I’m currently reading a really provocative novel by Ron Currie called ‘God is Dead’ and after that I promised to read some Thomas Hardy.

Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews

This was a lovely showbiz memoir to read – Julie has the ability to see the good in everybody and make friends wherever she goes. This first volume of memoirs stops at the point Walt Disney was poised to make her an Oscar-winning megastar, but is no less interesting for that. I hope there will be volume two before long as I’d love her take on the first two films I saw at the cinema which were a soundtrack to my childhood – Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. But enough of that, back to her early years…

Julie had an interesting childhood in Surrey, as her vaudeville entertainer mother split with her father quite early to take up with her Canadian stage partner. Once they realised that Julie had a voice, her path was set and she entered the world of showbiz. Soon she was supporting her mother’s side of the family as her stepdad fell into alcoholism and her mother not being able to cope.

Meanwhile, her loving Dad was a refuge of calmness for her – and remained so even after she found out he wasn’t actually her biological father. This was something her mother threw into conversation one day – Julie was very level-headed about it and after meeting him wrote saying she didn’t want to develop a relationship.

Her squeaky clean image as the virginal teenager with a glorious voice served her well on stage, managing complex arias with ease. Eventually she was spotted for a TV variety show, leading to recruitment for her first starring role on the London stage as the original Eliza Doolittle, opposite Rex Harrison, in My Fair Lady. Despite having no real acting experience she made the role her own, repeating it on Broadway, but famously lost out in the film to Audrey Hepburn as the studios wanted a film star, not a film unknown.

She eventually married her childhood sweetheart Tony Walton, with whom she had corresponded throughout the war and her first stints in the USA. He was a skilled theatre designer and his career fitted nicely with hers. So next she went on to play opposite Richard Burton on Broadway in Camelotand the rest, as they say, is history.

Her image is no accident. From reading these memoirs, I think she grew up that way having seen and rejected some of the downsides early on. As she blossomed it stayed with her – and of course made her fortune. She has barely a bad word to say about anyone really except her stepdad – but even then explains it away as an effect of his alcoholism. She obviously does have a fun-loving side (there is a lovely photo of her posing with Nureyev), but realising that her voice was her career – chose not to abuse it and moderated her activities accordingly. This book was a lovely read with some great photos – and so much better than any misery memoir!

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews, Phoenix paperback.

I’ve been tagged – sort of …

I have been invited to be ‘tagged if in the mood’ by the blog phenomenon that is having left a comment asking him to comment on my blog. He graciously did so – twice – Thank you very muchly indeed Scott.

The rules for this are:
1. Link to your tagger (see above).
2. Share 7 facts about yourself – some weird and some random (see below).
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post.
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by commenting on their blog.

I’m sorry – I’m new to the blog world, and have yet to make enough blog friends that I would be happy tagging – I’m only doing bits 1 and 2, so this one stops here, unless you’d like to comment and take on the challenge …

So here are my 7 facts:
1. About 20 years ago I got Phil Collins to sign his autograph in the address section of my filofax – he declined to fill in the other bits. This was in Edinburgh, he was starting a fun run, we were being touristy walking past.
2. I applied to go on Brain of Britain on Radio 4, but only got half marks in the test.
3. I did manage to get on a short-lived TV quiz show in the 1980s. The host was a young Richard Madeley – a bit up himself I thought then. What was embarrassing was the number of acquaintances and colleagues who actually saw the thing – I lost but only just – it was all on the last question – honest guv!
4. I only passed my car driving test in 2000 at 7 months pregnant.
5. My favourite vegetables are runner beans – when they’re picked fresh from the garden.
6. As a teenager in the 1970s, it was David Cassidy on my walls – much better than the Osmonds or heaven forbid Bay City Rollers!
7. The last time I played the violin properly was in the 2nd violins in a scratch invitation orchestra (The Salomen) in about 1980. The concert was at St John’s, Smith Square and we played Mahler. I wore a bright green floral maxi dress from Laura Ashley – the conductor was a young Simon Rattle.

That’s all for now folks.

A sense of place

The Glassblower of Muranoby Marina Fiorato

Novels with a strong sense of place are always attractive to me, and the most attractive of all are those set in Italy. I can’t get enough of them – the romance, the passion, the art and architecture, the food. But absolutely top of the list are those set in Venice at the trading heart of the renaissance world, so The Glassblower of Murano, the alluringly titled debut novel by Marina Fiorato wasn’t going to languish at the bottom of my to be read pile. Was it worth promoting?

Yes … Like many novels these days it seems, there are parallel strands – weaving a modern day story with a historical one. Usually one strand is more interesting than the other, and this is no exception; but unlike Labyrinth by Kate Mosse say, where the contemporary strand was superfluous and detracted from the historical one, this novel nearly pulls it off.

Newly single Nora runs off to Venice to find herself and her family history in the glassblowing trade, where she meets and falls for Alessandro, a policeman. So far, so resonant of a younger version of Miss Garnet’s Angel by Sally Vickers. But Leonora, to give her full name, is herself a skilled craftswoman and artist and does have Venetian heritage. She persuades a ‘fornace’ to take her on as a glass-blowing apprentice – causing age-old rivalries to resurface between her and Roberto, from the line of her ancestor’s greatest rival.

Back in the 17th century, her ancestor, Corradino, the glassblower of the title, is Murano’s greatest exponent of making Venetian mirrors much coveted the world over. The Murano glassblowers are the best in the world, with rivalry between themselves also, and their techniques and trade secrets are so prized and guarded by the Venetians, they are rarely allowed off the island. Thus Corradino rarely gets to see his secret daughter from a liaison with a noblewoman who died in childbirth.

However when he is offered the lure of being reunited fully with his daughter and to escape to France to furnish what will become the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, he can’t resist. He is constantly watched by members of ‘The Ten’ – the Venetian guild of assasins, so the only way they can get him away is to fake his death – like Juliet – with a potion … The two stories converge as Leonora tries to clear his name of the betrayal and heal the rift at the fornace.

We learn just the right amount about glassblowing and the potentially deadly process of silvering the mirrors with mercury. The author, a Shakespearean scholar, pays her debt to him, but I would have liked to find out more about ‘The Ten’ who stalked Corradino and ultimately collect their debt when he returns to Venice one last time. I enjoyed the historical stand more than the contemporary, yet they did entwine nicely by the end. This was an entertaining and romantic read. ****

P.S. My Dad has just told me that Daphne Du Maurier wrote a novel set during the French Revolution called The Glass Blowers. It sounds good – I may have to check that out!

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Glassblower of Muranoby Marina Fiorato, Beautiful Books, paperback.
The Glass-Blowers (VMC) by Daphne DuMaurier, VMC paperback.

Lost Light by Michael Connelly

Published in 2003, Lost Light by Michael Connelly is the 9th Harry Bosch novel in an outstanding series set in Los Angeles that shows no signs of diminishing returns at all. In fact they’re getting better…

What’s new about Lost Light is that Harry retired from the LAPD at the end of City of Bones, disillusioned with the hypocrisy in the department. Harry is a driven man and was a good but maverick cop always bucking against the pen-pushing system. He’s single again but still shines a light for his ex who’s now in Vegas, and at 52 retirement doesn’t suit him.

But as you might expect, once a cop, always a cop, or rather detective in Harry’s case, and he took a file with him when he left. A film production assistant was murdered four years earlier days before a daring $2 million robbery on set – Harry was there investigating her murder when the robbery happens, but neither case was solved. Now the LAPD thinks the money is financing terrorists based in Mexico. – Yep, you’ve guessed it, this is Connelly’s post 9/11 novel. Harry walks into this tangled web involving the LAPD, FBI, and counter-terrorist units, but despite being warned off he can’t rest until he finds the killer.

Connelly’s novels are immaculately plotted and paced, contrasting the grim underbelly of the LA suburbs against the City of Angels’ more glamorous façade. You get good cops, bad cops, and every shade of grey in between and the twists and turns keep on coming. These books are grippingly written and brilliant page-turners with fantastic characters. Michael Connelly is my absolute favourite crime writer, and what’s more, I’ve got another five of his on the shelf to look forward to, but I’ve been limiting myself to just 1 or 2 per year.

The first Michael Connelly book I read was The Poet in about 1996. This wasn’t a Harry Bosch novel, but was then a standalone serial killer thriller of dazzling virtuosity involving police suicides and links to Edgar Allan Poe. I soon after discovered his back catalogue and met Harry Bosch, who by then had already appeared in four volumes. Since then I’ve looked forward to each new novel collecting them in hardback – although I now have that tempting backlog to read… I think Connelly-rationing is off!

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Lost Light by Michael Connelly, Orion paperback.

Bookended by great lines…

People and quizzes often tend to concentrate on opening lines of books all the time.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .

… from Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier being, of course, an absolute classic.

But who knows the last line, which just so happens to be beautifully elegaic …

And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.


My favourites are not an obvious choice though – I’d like to introduce you to a pairing of opening and closing lines that tell you a lot about the novel in between them. It opens:

The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.

It is the first line of possibly the most fun series of novels ever written – Casino Royale by Ian Fleming; the 1953 novel that introduced us to James Bond. (Note the emphasis is on fun, not the greatest writing – although they are full of top notch quotes, and I am a huge fan.)

It features a rather different Bond to later incarnations. Here we see the moulding of him into the suave, chauvinistic, killer spy we grow to expect. He already has his licence to kill before this novel starts, but he was just a hitman from a distance. In Casino Royale it gets personal – partly with the infamous torture scene that threatens his potency, but the real catalyst is love.  Aah! He falls for Vesper Lynd big-time – he names a cocktail after her (Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.) Then she betrays him and dies and it is this that hardens his soul. The last line says it all…

Yes, dammit, I said “was”. The bitch is dead now.

Totally chauvinist and as un-PC as you can get – but a damn good read all the same. Can you suggest any more great bookending quotes? I’d love to hear them.

Boy in the striped pyjamas by John Boyne.

A lot has been written about this book, especially since it was filmed, so I came to it having realised the ending, but I hadn’t worked out how it happens.

Told from the point of view of nine year old Bruno, the son of a high ranking soldier who gets promoted to become the Commandant of Auschwitz, Bruno and his family are shipped off (in some comfort of course) to live there. He soon sees the people behind the fence but doesn’t have his fateful encounter with Schmuel until halfway through the book when his loneliness drives him out of the house to investigate.
Bruno has led a privileged and sheltered upbringing in Berlin and loves nothing more than exploring with his friends, but I found it hard to believe that he had no idea at all about the fate of Jews in Nazi Germany. Throughout, he thinks he’s living in ‘Out-With’ and calls the Hitler the Fury – the former started to annoy me, the latter is grimly appropriate.
Marketed as a crossover novel for adults and older children, I found it a powerful parable about innocence and the loss of it, and very sad indeed.
* * * * *

Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, Vintage Children’s Classic paperback

The Man Without by Ray Robinson


Ray Robinson’s debut novel Electricity was one of the best things I read this year … until I read his second novel The Man Without.

Electricity has a superb heroine in Lily – a severe epileptic who was abused and in care as a child. The novel follows her quest to find her lost brother Mikey. The text buzzes and hums around her as we find out what it’s like to suffer a fit and how the condition rules her life. The language is direct and doesn’t pull any punches, but we’re with Lily all the way on her as she searches for the family she’s never had.

The-Man-Without-188x300 The Man Without has many similarities and the language is equally direct. Right at the start of the novel, we see that the hero Antony is trying to sort himself out after a near suicide attempt. Antony also has a childhood of abuse, a father he never knew and a mother who doesn’t appear to have had a maternal bone in her body.

Now in his twenties, this has left him with some challenging rather Oedipal emotions and dangerous sexual fantasies, we get the slightest hint of what’s to come at the start of the second chapter:

Wrapped in a silk kimono and twisting helix of smoke, he flicked through the new copy of Harper’s until he found one: a model with a similar pair.

Veils are gradually lifted until the full effects of Antony’s problems are revealed. Prepare to be shocked, but this merely compels you to read on, and hope that he pulls through.

Contrasted against his own problems are those experienced in his job – as a Mental Health Carer. This is particularly expressed in his relationship with one patient, Kenneth – a former vicar suffering from total amnesia and personality change, and suffering from deteriorating relationships with his family that he can’t remember. The exchanges between Antony and Kenneth are funny and touching, but reinforce the loss of family that is the central theme of the novel. What Antony the professional carer really needs is a family to care for him …

This novel was stunning – read it (and Electricity too).

* * * * *
The Man Without, Electricity by Ray Robinson, Picador paperbacks.