February 27, 2015

Book Review – Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Agnes Magnúsdóttir is scheduled to be executed for murder, the last person to experience such a fate in Iceland. Due to administrative blundering she is housed on Kornsa, the farm of District Officer Jón Jónsson, while awaiting execution, and given spiritual consul by Tóti, a young, inexperienced assistant reverend. Her time with Tóti and the familiar surrounds of Kornsa make her final year one of reflection and sorrow.

Drawing on folklore, the sagas, religion and agrarian life we are simultaneously introduced to the culture as we learn the specifics of the murders. The text blends third person narration with Agnes’ reflections, which, although containing some of the more interesting phrasing in the novel, occasionally overflows. This furthers Agnes’ isolation, as although born and raised in the same District, she is segregated, both in the narrative and in the community.
A murder mystery with tones of historical revision, Burial Rites handles the last days of a murderess with sympathy, both for her and the culture that has condemned her.

February 25, 2015

Film Review - Godzilla by Gareth Edwards

Let them fight!

The second Western attempt at a Godzilla movie, and certainly the best, although after the 1999 debacle that isn’t saying much. With the discovery of pupas that breed two radiation-feeding creatures, dubbed MUTOs, the human population faces being wiped off the planet. But with the rise of another creature, Godzilla, the balance is set to be restored. Let them fight!

Arguably there is not enough Godzilla in the movie, teasing around battle scenes, with the full reveal only in the final scenes.  But the glimpses are special-effects gold, and the technique, akin to traditional monster movies, builds the anticipation of the final full reveal. The cast, with the exception of Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe (who lends the film a strong link with the original franchise), leave something to be desired. Additionally, the pacing is a little off, but Godzilla is entertaining, and the final blow between Godzilla and the MUTOs will leave many a fan boy satisfied.

Let them fight!


February 23, 2015

Book - Review - Change your thinking : positive and practical ways to overcome stress, negative emotions and self- defeating behaviour using CBT by Sarah Edelman PhD

The author of this third edition, Sarah Edelman, is a world renowned clinical psychologist and trainer. She has worked as a researcher, lecturer and runs workshops at the University of Technology Sydney.

The book Change your thinking : positive and practical ways to overcome stress, negative emotions and self-defeating behaviour using CBT has 12 chapters with exercises and is based on the principles of Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). It shows how to use these principles to deal with difficult emotions such as anger, depression, anxiety and frustration. It helps us deal with complicated thoughts and feelings we experience in day to day life. Some of the chapters also deal with maintaining self-esteem, effective communication and mindfulness.
I found this book to be a great reference book on CBT. It has great exercises to work through and everyday life examples which made the content easy to relate to. I especially found the mindfulness chapter very useful.

February 20, 2015

Book Review - To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

With Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, due for release later this year, it seemed a perfect opportunity to revisit her original 1962 Pulitzer Prize winner.

Scout Finch lives in Depression struck Maycomb, Alabama, with her widowed father, Atticus, older brother, Jem, and house keeper, Calpurnia. Their childhood ventures during the summer are accompanied by Dill, a neighbour’s nephew. The talk of the town one year is Atticus defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. But the children have their own dilemma surrounding Boo Radley, the boogieman of the neighbourhood.
Lee creates the intimacy of a small town through a toy box of tales, collecting spook stories, folk tales, tall tales, and neighbourhood gossip.  But these are not simply exaggerated, occasionally humourous, fictions sung by residents about their fellow citizens. Stories in Maycomb have the ability to console or destroy, to commend or condemn.
Many appraisals of the novel focus on the depiction of race relations, with Tom Robinson becoming the titular mockingbird. But he is one of many in the story. Even his accuser, Mayella Ewell, tries desperately to sing, only to be chocked by her father’s brutal bawl. But the central mockingbird of the tale is Boo Radley, the gentle, generous soul, nested in his house, offering occasional whispered melodies.
To Kill a Mockingbird is both an ode to and living proof of the power of stories to change lives.

February 18, 2015

Film Review - The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a vestige of old world decorum and sophistication, epitomized by the legendary concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). But when Gustave is accused of murdering Madame D (Tilda Swinton), one of the many wealthy guests who benefit from his “exceptional service”, he must abandon the scenes of his hotel and rage through a tumultuous interwar Europe. With Zero (Tony Revolori), his faithful lobby boy, he must prove his innocence and reveal that the real fiends are Madame D’s vile family.

Anderson’s films always have a constructed feel, with symmetrical shots, striking colourisation and bizarre characters from an ensemble cast. Never has this been more appropriate than in The Grand Budapest Hotel, the quirky melange creating a theatrical world in contrast to the harsh realities of its period setting; the stage of the hotel withstanding the invasions of the rampaging world. A loving tribute to the value of stories and memory in the face of reality. 

February 15, 2015

Book Review - The Outback Heart by Fiona Palmer

On a completely lighter vein, Fiona Palmer is one of the current crop of popular rural Australian romance writers and she writes a good romantic story. Indi, who gave up her studies to nurse her mother through cancer, is now two years after her death trying to do all her mother did to hold her town and her family together . 

People she'd known her whole life were up and moving to the city, and it saddened her to watch the place shrink and struggle. The decline of the footy club hurt the most. The tourism was great but tourists didn't make a close-knit community. They couldn't bring back the social aspect that the town was once known for – but Indi could. She had grand plans to restore the social events and the fundraisers, to revive a time when the whole town turned out for game day and stayed until late, when young and old shared stories. The world was obsessed with social networking, but it was of the wrong kind. You can't connect with people over electrical devices – working side-by-side and building up a real relationship, a real friendship, that's how it was done.

Her solution is to draft in a new coach to get the footy team firing again, but she doesn't count on losing her heart to the new coach, a handsome hunk with an outsize pile of baggage making him wary of commitment.

February 14, 2015

Book Review - By My Side by Alice Peterson

Cassandra Brooks has a good life, living with her fellow medical student boyfriend, studying hard and playing hard. One morning she goes out to buy breakfast and is hit by a car, becoming a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. This is the story of how she copes and eventually re-fashions a life. One that is very different to the one she had hoped for. Whilst the story is a little sugar coated and 'white bread' , it is not sentimental and it does cover the depression and frustration of young healthy people suddenly stopped by an instant's misfortune and now having to cope not only with a whole new world of medical necessities to get through ordinary daily living tasks but also access difficulties  and discrimination when out in the world. The novel showcases the marvelous work of two UK charities, Canine Partners, which helps disabled people enjoy a better quality of life by providing specially trained assistance dogs and the Back Up Trust, which provides adventure opportunities for disabled people. Cass is lucky to have a supportive family with the means to help her and when she is partnered with Ticket, the golden Labrador, her life with him by her side does get a little easier. Finding love with Ticket and finding a measure of acceptance and courage, Cass gets on with life.  The message in this book is very well integrated into the story and Cass and her surrounding circles of family, pre-accident friends and post-accident rehab buddies, are well drawn.  The author has done her research and married it with empathy and compassion. Many years ago, my brother became a paraplegic as a young man and faced similar trials to Cass. I shed tears over this book, some for Cass and her family and some in memory of my brother and for my family.

February 13, 2015

Film Review – Edge of Tomorrow by Doug Liman

Also known as Live. Die. Repeat. and dubbed by many critics as Groundhog Day mixed with Independence Day. This action flick sees the earth being invaded by Mimics, part organic, part mechanical tentacled aliens with the ability to manipulate time. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a US Army PR man, is unwillingly signed up for front line battle and killed. But instead of dying Cage finds himself reliving the day's events on loop, soon discovering that this ability can lead to the downfall of the Mimics.

It is a Tom Cruise action flick, so you can expect fast talking, loud breathing, grinning laughter, and heavy handed romance. The most immediate comparison is Oblivion, another Cruise Sci-Fi venture, which, although enjoyable, was more Sci-fi pastiche than innovative action. But Edge of Tomorrow, with its well-paced plot, perfectly timed humour, and great balance between action and story, is worth viewing again, and again, and again... 

February 12, 2015

Book Review - Living with the enemy: coping with the stress of chronic illness using CBT, mindfulness and acceptance by Ray Owen

The author is a clinical psychologist working in cancer and palliative care in the UK. He has over 20 years experience in the field and his book is based on sound clinical practice. It is supported by downloadable audioexercises and resources. I was attracted to this book because of the personal circumstances of family members and it did not disappoint. It seems to be a realistic book about what can be achieved to moderate your mood and improve your wellbeing within the restrictions of your own physical condition. Simple exercises to re-train negative thought patterns and other positive resources are presented in an understanding way. Much to try and lots to think about.

February 11, 2015

Book Review - The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis

Auschwitz, 1942. Angelus Thomsen is trying to seduce Hannah Doll, the wife of his Commandant, Paul Doll. Through the events surrounding this affair Thomsen and Doll narrate the Final Solution. Complicit in their chronicle is Szmul, a Jewish Sonderkommando, an inmate who guarantees a slight extension of his life by assisting in the exterminations.

Amis’ virtuosic prose is used most effectively with his three narrators, each telling the tale of their own condemnation. The cocksure if detached Thomsen, whose reflexivity grows as the novel progresses. The self-described ‘romantic’ and ‘everyman’ Doll, whose zeal is revealed in hilarious narcissism. And the esoteric Szmul, mournful of his state of being.

Light reading The Zone of Interest is not, but the tale is compelling, the prose is alluring, and the humanity is shattering.

February 10, 2015

Book Review - An Act of Kindness by Barbara Nadel

Lee Arnold is a white , male ex-police PI. Nothing new there. His partner is Mumtaz Habib, a Muslim female who wears the hijab. Something quite new there. Lee and Mumtaz find many cases that cover both the Asian and the white communities and some cross-overs when their clients run foul of local loan sharks. Their complementary skills are deftly handled in a well plotted many stranded story. Recommended!

February 08, 2015

Magazine Review - Handmade: Craft, Decorating, Sewing. Vol 32 No. 2

This magazine boasts over 30 patterns to make. These include an introduction to Japanese sashiko stitching, a filigree rabbit, a patchwork tote bag, a patchwork rug and a cross-stitch picture depicting the Eleanor Roosevelt quote "A woman is like a teabag. You don't know how strong she is 'til you put her in hot water." Lovely to browse through, or indeed to actually get a project up and running.

February 06, 2015

Book Review - Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

This is a re-release of the acclaimed debut novel first published in 1977. It has been re-published to coincide with the film starring Harrison Ford. It is interesting to discover why he wrote the book and what he was thinking as described in an introduction by the author first published in 1991. The story is of gifted children drafted to BattleSchool for training and assessment in a desperate search for a supreme battle commander . The commander is needed to lead the Earth's forces in an interstellar war against 'the buggers', the insectoid race that came out of the stars in the first interstellar war. This story is deservedly a classic. It focuses on Ender Wiggin, a hugely intelligent 6 year old who is sent to Battle School after his brother Peter, fails as he is too nasty and his sister, Valentine, fails because she is too nice. Because of their genetic potential, their parents were given permission to breed a Third, in a world where 2 children is the maximum allowed. The result is Ender, who combines his siblings' traits. His growing up is a combination of developing knowledge & skills and of understanding the duality of his own personality. When he is first sent into space, "There were 19 other boys in his launch. They filed out of the bus and into the elevator. They talked and joked and bragged and laughed. Ender kept his silence. He noticed how Graff and the other officers were watching them. Analyzing. Everything we do means something, Ender realized. Them laughing. Me not laughing. He toyed with the idea of trying to be like the other boys. But he couldn't think of any jokes, and none of theirs seemed funny. Wherever their laughter came from, Ender couldn't find such a place in himself. He was afraid, and fear made him serious."  The children at BattleSchool face tough challenges to make sure they can do the job but is the price they pay too high? As with the best scifi, the underlying political realities are deftly inserted into the action so that no-one is in any doubt that the black and white areas in life are well and truly greyed out! The space tech is handled well and you can simply read this as a coming-of-age story with fight training. I really enjoyed this book.

February 04, 2015

Book Review - The Highway by C. J. Box

I like C. J. Box and this is a cracker of a rural Montana story. A new sheriff's deputy is involved in finding evidence about a crooked cop, her partner, Cody Hoyt. But the truth is never that simple and she finds herself in a desperate race to find two missing girls with Hoyt her only support. This story had me reading into the early hours to find out how the girls get tangled up with the serial rapist and killer called The Lizard King and, more importantly, did they get away? I am still puzzled by how the different crime fighting jurisdictions in America ever function together with State, city and local forces all with their own hierarchies and political realities, after reading uncounted American crime novels. By now, I just go with the flow and follow the detectives I like!

February 03, 2015

Film Review - Only lovers left alive by Jim Jarmusch

Vampire Adam resides in a derelict part of Detroit, producing music and mourning the state of the world under the “zombies” (humans). In Tangier, his lover, Eve, lives in a certain pleasure, indulging in literature, along with their friend Christopher Marlowe, who faked his death centuries before. They pay doctors for pure, clean blood because the supply directly from humans is too corrupted by disease and toxins to consume.

Adam’s melancholia is offset by Eve’s attempts to enthuse him, feeding his spirit as blood feeds his body. But Jarmusch draws an aesthetic from this frustrated nostalgia. The elegiacally shot locales of post-industrial Detroit and the decaying dust of Tangier accenting the shades of angst: the swirl of vinyl accompanying droning feedback; the murmurs of life echoed through narrow alleys.
This hymn to despair is at the heart of Only lovers left alive, its cloistered harmonies reverberating in the hollow of anguish.

February 02, 2015

Book Review - Knife Edge by Fergus Mc Neill

This is the sequel to a debut novel, which I reviewed favourably. This is creepy and chilling but is not as much as a page-turner as the first one. It continues the story of the serial killer who successfully eluded police in "Eye Contact", Robert Naysmith. He has fallen in love and thinks it is time to share his secrets with his new love. But is she ready to embrace his history? And is it going to remain history? DI Harland is a competently drawn policeman with not quite enough to do in this book.  It is a good book to explore the "what would I do?" scenario – I think I would be different to his girlfriend in this book but then there wouldn't be so much to write about!