Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Book Review: Orphans of War

Orphans of WarOrphans of War by Leah Fleming
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not usually a big fan of sagas and I was attracted to this one more for the Yorkshire setting (and author) than anything else. Leah Fleming did a great job of drawing me in with the story of an evacuee facing a new life with relatives far from home. Family is a pervasive theme of the book, with Maddy losing her mother and father but gaining grandparents and a caring aunt, while Gloria is abandoned by her mother and Greg is a true orphan of the war.
The bond that forms between the three youngsters during wartime is threatened by Maddy’s budding post-war romance with a German visitor, and the events that follow have repercussions for the three of them which will change their whole lives. Many of the events centre around the ‘Victory Tree’, the headquarters of their childhood games and later the home of a dark secret.
At times it was a little too easy to guess some of the turns the story would take, but generally this was an enjoyable and thought-provoking story which made the most of its huge canvas.

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Saturday, 18 January 2014

7 Reasons Frozen Melts Hearts

I wasn’t enthralled by the trailers for Frozen, which mostly seemed to feature an infuriatingly stupid snowman with an irritating voice (if you’re one of the rare people who has missed both film and trailers, think the hyper-enthusiastic donkey in Shrek, minus the accent, and you’ll be on the right track). I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the film if it hadn’t been for two things: a free cinema ticket and a glowing recommendation from a colleague. So I dragged myself off to the cinema, not expecting too much of yet another Disney princess film. And… I loved it!

So what is it about the story that so enthralls? There are probably dozens of things, but here are the ones that spring to mind.
1. A familiar story 
I don’t remember all the details of Hans Christian Anderson’s children’s classic, ‘The Snow Queen’, but I know the essential elements are here: a world turned to winter and ruled over by an icy beauty, a spell which freezes hearts, and two people saved by the redeeming power of love.
2. A new twist 
If you do remember the details of ‘The Snow Queen’, you still won’t be bored by this loose adaptation, which spins off in a different direction from the original by giving the snow queen a younger sister, whose task it is to free her from the bizarre enchantment so that summer can return to the kingdom.
3. Great characters
The two sisters are brilliantly believable, separated by destiny and enchantment despite living in the same castle. It’s totally understandable why Elsa pushes her younger sister away. We feel Anna’s pain and see how her rejection makes her susceptible to the first smooth-talking younger-son prince to come her way. There’s an honest ice-salesman, a very wise reindeer, a smattering of trolls, and yes, even the infuriating snowman works as a light-hearted counterpoint to the high drama of the main story.
4. Emotion
I laughed. I cried. Disney have the balance of emotion spot on. I fell in love along with Anna at the ball, experienced her sense of betrayal, and rooted for her second, more cautious, attempts at trust.
5. Songs 
From the light, funny first love song, ‘Love is an Open Door’ to the power ballad, ‘Let it Go’, and the deliciously witty snowman song, ‘In Summer’, Frozen has it all. One of my first thoughts on leaving the cinema was that I’d have to go and buy the soundtrack.
6. Style
Frozen is a truly beautiful creation, and there’s something there for everyone. From dazzling dresses and shining ice architecture for the little girl in all of us, to the cheeky snowman and smelly reindeer for the boys, every piece is meticulously crafted. This video shows just how much effort goes into even the smallest detail.
7. A Message
I hesitate to say that this is a tale with a moral because it certainly doesn’t ram a single neat motto down your throat, but nevertheless, it’s a film with a lot to communicate. Frozen is a story about finding your uniqueness and strength, about learning when to trust and when not to, and most of all about the power of ‘an act of true love.’
No wonder my romantic heart was well and truly melted!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Book Review: The Affair

The Affair (Jack Reacher, #16)The Affair by Lee Child
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I fell into the Reacher series part way through as a result of a recommendation, and having read a few recent stories, was confused to find myself picking up a brand new book and slipping far back into Reacher's past. However, I soon found myself loving the way The Affair steps back in time to illuminate Reacher's love-hate relationship with the military, while still delivering all the twists and turns that I expected from a new Jack Reacher novel.

Like Jeffery Deaver (whose books I also love), Lee Child keeps the reader guessing throughout.  What appears a simple enough case soon spirals out to include not one, but three, murders, one of which clearly has a lot more complexity than initially met the eye. Once the story gets going, it's no longer easy to tell who the good guys are. But there are always enough of them to sustain hope, even while Child, through Reacher, demonstrates a deep cynicism about the military system. Like every other institution, the military has its good apples and its bad ones, and Reacher is all about stopping the bad ones before they rot the barrel. (Sorry for the cliche but it felt appropriate in Child's good-vs-evil world full of coffee and apple pies!)

I can understand those reviewers who feel Lee Child has sold out with this book. There's perhaps a little too much sex and violence, but at the end of the day The Affair is another very entertaining, thought-provoking story, and hey, it never pretended to be great literature, just a great way to spend an evening or two.

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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Book Review: Never Judge a Book by Its Cover

Never Judge A Book By Its Cover : The AutobiographyNever Judge A Book By Its Cover : The Autobiography by Lisa Riley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since I'm a fairly obsessive Strictly fan, this book was an obvious choice for my Christmas wish list. I picked it up on Boxing Day and finished it the next day, partly because it's a really easy read and partly because Lisa's story is just so engrossing. Never having been a soap fan, I knew nothing about Lisa Riley before Strictly, but I loved watching her in the series and again on tour and in Strictly Confidential.
I'm often bored by the 'early lives of celebrities' but Lisa's passion for the stage comes through from page one and kept me hooked as I read about how performing in her Gran's living room gave way to stage school and then the small screen. Lisa is honest about the highs and lows of being an unlikely celebrity. From her Mum's battle with cancer to the glory days of Strictly's sequined madness, her story is both touching and hilarious, and it was a toss up whether I shed more tears of laughter or sadness.
She's also not shy about drawing lessons from her experience: talent isn't enough without hard work; be proud of who you really are; always count your blessings. If you want a dose of the inspiration that kept viewers voting Lisa through the rounds of Strictly, this book is well worth a read.

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