Thursday, March 31, 2011

Book 19 of the 50 Book Challenge

Shades of Grey  by Jasper Fforde, 432 pages

Started March 21st, finished March 26th

This is the 3rd of my Book Swap tomes.  It is not an author I'd heard of before.  Though since I've had this book he's been popping up everywhere.

At first I couldn't decide what to make of this book.  I think maybe I was looking too hard for metaphors and meanings.  If you read this book I'd suggest you just let it flow.  My style didn't help me enjoy the book.

It seemed to be a similar book to 1984 at first.  Just a little weirder.  The book seems to be set in the future after some catastrophic event.  An event that has ended civilisation as we know it.  Civilisation has begun again but very differently to the one we know now.  The most important factor in everything is colour.  Every person within the civilised world belongs to a colour group.  With each group having a level, similar to the caste system.

It's fun to pick up the references that refer to life as we are living it now.    The book is a good mix of intriguing hints and a love story.  I did think the two main characters were well written.  The extra characters I didn't really think were fleshed out as well.  They were a bit caricature like.  I'm not sure if this is meant to be so or as a result of so much work going into building the world the book is set in.

I am interested enough in the world and the main characters to say that I will definitely be reading the planned sequel.  Unless that's a drop in quality also the planned third book in the trilogy.

I like a book I'm thinking about once I've put it down.  This is definitely one outside my comfort zone.  I have to thank My friend Karode for this as she's the one who lent it to me.

3.5 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far - Books 19, Pages - 5,756

Next - Doctor Who and the Cybermen by Gerry Davis

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

BritFilm - Submarine

I'd kept myself in the dark as much as possible about this film.  I'd heard it was directed by The IT Crowd's Moss and that it was about a self-obsessed teen, set in 1980's small town Wales.

I try my best to get to the cinema to see British films as much as I can.  Not always easy as they don't often have a long run.  But that's an old. often hashed gripe.

The first thing I noticed about this film was how beautifully some of the scenes were shot.  It looks absolutely lovely most of the time.  The use of the light is lovely.

The two leads are excellent.  They play their dry roles brilliantly. Both are slightly separate from the norm without becoming unbelievable.  The depiction of school life seems pretty apt.  No pretence when it comes to how self-interested and cruel teens can be.  The 3 main adult roles are played very well too.  Considine is great as a bit of an arsehole.  I'd say the whole film is slightly off from real life but maybe I've just had a sheltered life.  It's quirky without it being annoying.

The film is told in chapters.  Between each the screen fades to red or blue.  If there's a relevance to the colours I wish I could figure it out.  I;m glad I saw this at the cinema as it needed my attention.  It's one of those 'slow' films it's so easy not to give the attention they deserve at home.

For such a deadpan film it is very amusing in parts.  Although some of the times I was amused I shouldn't really have been finding those things funny :-S

The film flips pretty easily over the emotional happenings that occur.  Still giving the audience a chance to sympathise though.  I have to say if I had a son like Oliver I think I'd be rather spooked out by him.  He, his reactions and actions creeped me out somewhat.

My only complaint about the film was that it seemed to drag a little during the last third.  I can't pick any bits I would have removed but I was beginning to wonder how long it would be until the end.  I did enjoy this film but I can't see me buying the DVD when it's available.  I will be watching Richard Ayoade's next feature though.

3.5 out of 5 pawprints

The Lincoln Lawyer - Film Review

I was very nervous going into this film.  Connelly is one of my favourite authors.  I was thrilled to see Blood Work had been adapted for screen.  Until I saw it.  I was appalled.  Eastwood had taken the story and ripped it's guts out.

The watching began well.  The retro credit sequence had me interested straight away.  Funnily enough it was reminiscent of Zen's opening credits .  It was also the start of a great soundtrack.

I haven't seen McConaughey in anything for years.  Romantic comedies aren't really my bag.  I was dubious about what he would put on the screen before I went in.  My fears were unfounded.  He wasn't doing his 'poor man's Harrelson' he had the role spot on.  He portrayed the charm and the guile necessary.  

The entire cast was very 'typecast'.  They were all playing their typical roles.  In this instance though it worked perfectly.  I wouldn't have re-cast anyone.

Having just re-read the book I was on the lookout for alterations.  Yeah I know, I'm supposed to enjoy a film not disect it!  There were the odd changes here and there but they were minimal.  It was more a case of dropping the parts that weren't necessary to tell the tale.  The story stayed the same.

As I said I thought it was a great soundtrack.  It fitted the film perfectly.  Upbeat and keeping the flow more than a meaningful score.  This is the first time I've purchased a full soundtrack in a very long time.

I get the impression this wasn't a big budget picture.  What they did with the budget I really enjoyed though.  No flashy courtroom sets but wonderful shots here and there of LA.  The story rolls on at a good pace with no 'cinematic self-indulgences'.  The finale scenes aren't dragged out. Just finishing the story off well.  

I really enjoyed this film.  It adapted a book well and kept my interest totally.

4.5 stars out of 5   but that's a biased opinion ;-)  Not everyone will enjoy this as much as I.

The trailer

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book 18 of the 50 Book Challenge

The Lincoln Lawyer  by Michael Connelly, 446 pages

Started March 19th, finished March 20th

I had decided to try and finish this challenge with no more re-reads and no more book buying.  I wanted to read those that had been festering for yonks on my shelves.  I was failing at the no-buying bit and then I found out that the film adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer was out very soon.  That trumped my earlier decision as I didn't want to miss it in cinemas and to see it I had to refresh my memory of the book first.

I had forgotten nearly all the plot.  I think when it comes to books and films I have severe memory problems.  I enjoyed the read.  Nice to see Connelly explore LA's underbelly from a different angle.  There did seem to be a lot of cliches in there. Not sure whether the cliches are in such abundance in reality that they must be included.  I can't really judge there.

I have to give full disclosure here.  I'm probably very biased.  Connelly is one of my favourite authors.  I find his books incredibly easy to read and I like the characters he invents.  I was lucky enough to see him give a talk at Waterstone's once and he comes across as a thoroughly likable man.

Maybe a few parts of the plot in this are predictable.  Some a little far-fetched but I really enjoyed reading it.  I can see why Hollywood have got their dirty paws on it.  It could make a good film.  I just hope and pray that they don't do to it what they did to Blood Work.  That film made me so angry!

So fingers crossed for McConaghey's efforts....

4 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far, Books - 18, Pages - 5,324 

Next - Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Great Northern Warehouse Tunnel Tour, Manchester

This is the second Tunnel Tour I've taken.  Details of the first can be found here. 

We met outside The Bridgewater Hall and were told a brief history of where we were going.  Then we trotted over to the Great Northern Warehouse.  This was originally built as a road/rail/canal transport and goods interchange.  From a little room I've never noticed before we went down into the depths.  This is the first 'chamber' we arrived in...

Note the Eye of Sauron on the roof.  Below the barrier is where the canal was before it was drained.  The barrier marks the end of the towpath.  In 1939 the tunnels were adapted for use as air-raid shelters. Hence the flat floor of the 'canal' and the walled off areas.

Barely readable, there are still patches of posters on the walls telling people how they should behave in these shelters.  However well behaved people were it's not somewhere I would have wanted to spend much time.  The tunnels are very damp.

This is a, now walled off, street entrance into the shelters...

The next chamber contained a little mystery.  Two towers, now collapsing, that were probably either used to pump water to and from the canals or to help build the bed that Manchester Central railway station was built on.  I wonder if we'll ever know for sure.  This is a picture of the roof of the chamber showing the arches...

I was quite hasty in exiting that chamber as I feared a Balrog may approach at any time!  Here's a picture looking back into the 2nd chamber, showing the walled off areas built for the shelters...

There isn't much more tell about the tunnels really.  If you're interested I really do suggest you book a tour.  The guides are really knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their subject.  I hope they open more of Manchester's 'below decks' areas to the public.  As a world city we're poorly done for in things like this.

This is a sign directing to a particular shelter bay...

Obviously Eddie had access long before I did...

And finally, a mooring post with a lovely growth on it...

If you fancy a tour you can book here. 

Don't forget your torch :-) 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book 17 of the 50 Book Challenge

Where's My F*cking Latte?  by Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff, 127 pages

Started March 17th, finished March 17th

This is the second of my swaps with Karode .  The tales of Hollywood assistants.  Who seem to work for the most bad mannered, selfish and generally deplorable bosses on the planet

Most of the stories are amusing but some are just too awful to laugh at.  The big downside is that anonymity is kept throughout.  You want these bastards named.  I even started to wish I believed in Karma.  I could never put up with the disrespect and humiliation these assistants dealt with daily.  I wouldn't want to enter an industry where such bullying is the norm.  Do the 'put upon' assistants become like the people they're describing if they make it in the industry?

I think people should be judged on how they treat the people who work for them rather than their boss.  None described in this book came out above vile.  Are there any nice people in the industry?  If so, how the hell do they survive?

This is a good quick read.  It made me snort, snarl and drop my jaw.  All the space of an hour or two.

3.5 out of 5 pawprints.

Total so far, Books - 17, Pages - 4,878

Next - The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Zen - The TV Serial

I have finally got to watch this after finishing the first three books.  I had enjoyed the books at first but lost that as they went along.  The first thing I was wondering was how Rufus Sewell was going to fit as Zen.  To put it bluntly he's too much of a looker to play the man in the books.

As soon as I started to watch the first episode the opening credits grabbed me.  They're just wonderful.  See for yourself 

They had altered the timeline of the books so I knew things weren't going to stick entirely in concrete.  I'm glad they gave each episode 90 minutes.  Any more condensing of the stories would not have worked.  I really enjoyed the first two episodes but found the third to be weaker.  It stretched the characters into nudging panto territory.  Strange, as this was my favourite of the books.  I'd say the books had been condensed, certain characters given more to do and some less.  But all in a way as to make the stories fit into their 90 minutes.  Pretty well adapted if you ask me.  

The strangest part of watching was the accents.  Nearly all British and from all over Britain.  It just didn't seem to fit somehow.  I didn't desire them all to be speaking in cod Italian accents but this was weird.

The cast did a great job, especially Sewell.  He gave his character a lightness that made him fun to watch.  No brooding, alcoholic, miserable detective here.  He may be too good looking to be the Zen of the books but he made Zen on screen his own.

I sincerely hope another company does pick up the rights.  As the BBC can't seem to gain the viewers needed to shoot on location, in HD, across Rome :-(

4 out of 5 pawprints

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book 16 of the 50 Book Challenge

A Florentine Death  by Michele Giuttari, 355 pages

Started March 14th, finished March 17th

This is a new author for me.  He is an ex Chief Superintendent with the Italian police.  He's worked in various places but was born Sicilian and ended his career in Florence.  He has worked on both the anti-mafia and flying squads.

Obviously his inner, recent knowledge of the workings of what he writes about is a big bonus.  What I can't figure out is how much is him and how much is his main character, Michele Ferrera.  He states that Ferrera is the man he'd like to be.  I get the impression, from his writings, that neither Giuttari or Ferrera suffer from a lack of ego.

I enjoyed this book.  I literally flew through the pages.  I have the next two in the series and I'm looking forward to them.  I'm unsure of his attitude to women.  One female character was introduced with only one adjective, attractive.  Another was described as beautiful but I still have no idea what she actually looked like.  The men's descriptions gave a much better picture of the characters.

This is the tale of a serial killer with some nice descriptions of Florence.  A little look at the Catholic church and a mafia flirtation.  Pretty much what I imagine when I think of Italy.

4 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far, Books - 16, Pages - 4,751

Next - Where's My F*cking Latte? by Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Resident - Film Review (Spoilers Covered)

This was going to have be seen on the big screen.  It was Hammer, it had Sir Christopher Lee and it wasn't an unnecessary English Language remake.

Then there were the doubts.  Looming large, Hilary Swank.  I just don't like watching the woman on screen.  She does nothing to drag me into a story.  It wasn't set in England.  Is this new Hammer really Hammer or have they bought the name?

I can't say The Resident has sold me on Hammer as a company.  It had some good points. Big, creepy, part derelict old house apartment building.  The damsel wasn't really to my taste as a distress victim.  Hell, it's ridiculous but I wanted it to be English!

Has anyone ever seen Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Javier Bardem in the same room together?  The cast were quite competent but I don't think they had much script-wise to get their teeth into.  I would liked to have seen more of the Security Man.  He seems to have a good screen presence.

The rest I'll cover as spoilers.  In case you want to see this yourself.  Rollover the space below to view.

First of all there's nowhere near enough Christopher Lee.  What there is is good but I wanted more.  Secondly things happen and are brushed aside with no explanations.  Christopher Lee's character is killed and never mentioned again.  You'd think if you were one third of the population of an apartment building you'd notice if another third disappeared.

The plot is one of the most predictable I've seen on screen.  I was actually waiting for things to happen.  they always did.  Especially in the final, boring, act.

This wasn't a horror film but a thriller.  It lacked anything that would 'Hammerise' it.  

All in all, I was disappointed.  The best thing I can say it that at only 90 minutes I didn't have to grow to hate it.  I really, really hope The Woman in Black is done much better and more in the style I want and expect from a film company named Hammer. 

2.5 pawprints out of 5

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book 15 of the 50 Book Challenge

The Little Stranger  by Sarah Waters, 499 pages

Started March 6th, finished March 13th

This is a book recommended by a friend.  We have swapped a few book suggestions.  Her blog can be found here -

This is a pretty famous author that has previously passed me by.  I had heard of the TV serial Tipping the Velvet but didn't even realise there was a book behind it.

The tale is set not long after WWII in a rural village in the Midlands.  It is narrated by the main character, a local doctor who is worried about the effect the coming NHS will have on his livelihood.  The story starts after he called to the local stately home to a 'sick' housemaid.  After this visit, as time goes by he becomes closer to the family who live in the house.  The tale looks at various aspects of life for people in this time of change.  How the fortunes of the classes are changing.

It's a highly atmospheric book.  The cat wasn't very popular when he pounced on the bed as I was in a particularly spooky bit!  It is a long book but I enjoyed the time I spent in it's pages.  The progress of the characters was very well done and kept me engrossed.

Spoilers below rollover to view

I particularly liked the ambiguous ending to the book.  Coupled with no happy endings for anyone.  This tale defies expectations in that way.  I like a few ends to be left loose.  It gives me something to chew over once I've closed the cover for the last time.

4.5 out of 5 pawprints.

Total so far, Books - 15, Pages - 4.396

Next - A Florentine Death by Michele Giuttari

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stepping Out at Oldham Coliseum

The first show this season is a tale of a tap dancing class.  It didn't stand out as one for me really.  I have no interest or knowledge of tap dancing at all.

I was very pleasantly surprised.  I had one of most enjoyable nights at the theatre.  This was one of the funniest plays I've seen.  Not the 'laugh here' type play where everyone else is guffawing and I'm not impressed with the predictable line.  But genuine laughs.  

The major coup here seems to be the cast.  Everyone inhabited their character perfectly.  I believed in each one, even though a lot was played for laughs.  There was a definite lack of 'theatricality' about them.  Each one was someone you knew.  Each character was kept even whilst the focus was on others.  All those personal movements stayed there all the time they were on stage.  

The second half had some moments of feeling in.  Though it never strayed into pulling at the heartstrings, you felt for these characters you hadn't had long to get to know.  This could on;y have worked with a cast this good.

The final act was just splendid.  I won't say any more though, go and see it for yourself.  Box Office info here -

The cocktail of the play was a 'Dancing Mojito' and a damn good mojito it was too :-)

My only complaint was that the 'rough' character had exactly the same gym bag as me!

5 out of 5 pawprints.  This is as good as The Road to Nab End was though very different.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Park Run

Last year I started running.  Maybe the hardest physical thing I've ever done.  I'm a lazy devil and have many trips to the gym under my belt but have never really pushed myself too hard.  As I'm also a greedy devil something had to give.

I trained last year for a 5k which I completed.  Then as most would predict my running tailed off, especially as Royton got wetter and colder.

This year I signed up for a 10k, earlier in the year.

I have upped my training considerably and I'm pleased that my fitness hasn't dropped all the way back.

One way of measuring your fitness is to enter races.  The problem is races are not always nearby and not always on a day you're free.  As well as costing at least £5, probably more to enter.

This is why I think Parkrun  is such an amazing idea.  They run a FREE 5k run in local parks EVERY Saturday morning.  I'm lucky in that I have 2 within a reasonable distance.  Hopefully you'll be able to see your times getting better as you spend more time in training.  I'm lucky enough to be at the wrong end and have plenty of scope.  If you can't make one run you know there'll be another next week.  No hassle, just turn up and run.

All races are properly measured out, properly timed.  You get an email later in the day telling you your placing and time.  All you have to take with you is your own personal barcode you print off form their site.  The stat's available on their website is fantastic. With times, PBs, number of races ran and also a grading percentage.  This tells you how well you're doing for your age and how much scope for improvement there is.

If you fancy giving it a go, and what is there to lose?  have a look on their events page - and find your closest Parkrun.  On each course homepage you can see a map of the course and directions on how to get there.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jog On Kitties :-)

Some readers may know that I'm a bit of a Mad Cat Lady.

Most things to do with cats gain my interest.  Apart from cats in clothes and those deliberately 'cute' pictures you find on some greeting cards.

Last year I was entranced by Bobo a free-running cat.  No matter how many times I saw the ad I was still never tired of it.  (Though I can't say Mr Meks is as pleased when I rewind the ad if I find it on a ff through the ad break.)

I rarely catch ad's unless in the cinema where I can't escape. I have to thank Murdoch for my Sky+ box, I can FF through all the ones at home.  My sister in law has however brought a new one to my attention.  It's the best ad for milk I've seen.  Better even than the Accrington Stanley one!

I hope it makes you smile too.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Book 14 of the 50 Book Challenge

Cabal  by Michael Dibdin, 248 pages

Started February 28th, finished March 

This is the third and final book in the Dibdin omnibus I borrowed.  It starts off with a 'jumper' who falls from the dome of St Peter's onto the floor of the Nave during a mass.  Now here is why I resent Dan Brown.  This book, being a mystery, set in the Vatican City, centering around St Peter's, with a church conspiracy, well it reeked of Angels and Demons.  Even though this came many years before and isn't anywhere as silly.  That's what you get for enjoying a silly, fun beach read.

My main problem as I began this book was that I took a dislike to Zen.  Not good when he's the main character.  I wasn't taken with his girlfriend either.  This didn't get any better as the book went along.  The relationship issues were so predictable as to be painful.

The book got sillier as it went along with a seemingly unnecessary strain added in.  It wasn't silly enough to be put in quite the same box as Angels and Demons but it was definitely heading that way.  If it had been that ridiculous I probably would have been more enjoyable.  It was daft enough to make it unbelievable to me.  Without being ludicrous enough for me to throw care to the wind and enjoy the ride.

Now I can watch the BBC adaptations.  Which I'm hoping I will enjoy more.  From the clips I've seen it looks like a gorgeous production.  As I've decided to give Dibdin a wide berth from now on I won't be too bothered about discrepancies from the original text.  And, well, it's Rufus Sewell ;-)

2 out of 5 pawprints

Total so far, Books - 14, Pages - 3,807

Next - The Little Stranger by Sarah Walters