Gone Girl

Twentieth Century Fox, 2014. Dir. David Fincher.

Twentieth Century Fox, 2014. Dir. David Fincher.

I finally managed to watch Gone Girl last night; David Fincher’s dark, unnerving thriller, and I highly recommend it. Based on the brilliant 2012 novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn (she also wrote the screenplay for the film) it tells the story of Nick Dunne, who’s wife, Amy, appears to have gone missing on their 5th wedding anniversary. After a morning coffee in town Nick returns home to find the door wide open, the lounge smashed up and no sign of Amy. She has been made famous by her parents’ children’s books featuring ‘Amazing Amy’ and soon there is nationwide interest in her disappearance.

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Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne

The film then starts shifting from the present to Amy writing diary entries back from when her and Nick first met. They start off as the seemingly perfect couple then both are made redundant from their writing jobs, Nick’s mother becomes ill, and they consequently move from New York City to Carthage, Missouri (Nick’s hometown). Amy uses the last of her trust fund to buy Nick a bar, which he runs with his twin sister, Margot, whilst she becomes more and more alienated. Through these diary entries we also learn of a darker side to Nick, with her final entry stating that “this man may kill me”. The two narratives then converge as the tension builds and the plot twists and turns.

Rosamind Pike as Amy Dunne

Rosamind Pike as Amy Dunne

It is a gripping neo noir thriller with an atmosphere of simmering malice that both unnerves and provokes. Ben Affleck and Rosamind Pike are, to my mind, perfectly cast; embodying the twisted, soulless, narcissistic sociopaths that we come to learn both Nick and Amy are. I read the novel a year ago and, I have to say, I think the film does the book perfect justice and the leads in the film are just how I imagined the characters to be when I was reading. I’m sure much of this is helped by the fact that (very wisely) the author of the novel also wrote the screenplay.

It is a story largely about image and perception; about the fickleness of the public and the masks we wear. The disparity between our true selves and the person we present to the world. How well do we really know another person, even those closest to us? I’m sure a lot of us can identify with that.

Both the film and the book are gripping, sharp and darkly compelling. I urge you to take a look.

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Mark Edwards – The Magpies, Because She Loves Me

Thomas and Mercer, 2013.

Thomas and Mercer, 2013.

I’ve just finished two great books in quick succession by British author, Mark Edwards, ‘The Magpies’ and ‘Because She Loves Me’. Both are well written, fast paced psychological thrillers examining the horror in the everyday, which keep you guessing throughout.

The Magpies tells the tale of a young couple, Jamie and Kirsty, who move into their perfect flat in North London, ready to start a life together. Their little bubble is soon burst as they meet various suspicious neighbours and then odd things start to happen; hoax pizza deliveries, hoax calls to the fire brigade, targetted junk mail. Soon things get much more sinister and they’re living in a paranoid state of fear over their ‘neigbours from hell’, as the book reaches a dramatic conclusion.

Thomas and Mercer, 2014.

Thomas and Mercer, 2014.

Because She Loves Me is the second book by Mark Thomas and, in his words, was written as a ‘companion book’ to The Magpies. Indeed it refers to characters from the first story several times.

In this book we meet Andrew Sumner, who is undergoing hospital treatment for a detached retina (ouch). As he’s leaving he meets Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Summers; a beautiful, intelligent redhead. They begin a relationship that soon becomes intense and then, when ‘bad luck’ seems to befall his close friends and family and Charlie’s obsessive and jealous behaviour rears its ugly head, Andrew (and we) begin to wonder if the two are connected.

Both books have a section at the end in which the author talks about the inspiration for the stories and his focus for both books is very much the horror in the everyday. The notion that the threat comes not from something monstrous like a vampire or demon but from your neighbours or the person you love.

A lot of the events are ambiguous, where there can be more than one explanation for something, so just as you think you know where the stories are going you realise you’ve been wrong footed and have to start working things out again. They are both great page turners with well written characters and plots that keep you guessing. I highly recommend them and will be looking out for future books from this author.

Easy Vegetable Soup

Well, with this freezing winter weather upon us I decided today was a good time to make a big vat of wholesome vegetable soup. It’s not really a recipe as such, more a throwing together of whatever veg I have to hand, either fresh or frozen, add stock, herbs if you like, soaked lentils/barley/split peas if you want to bulk it up, and hey presto!

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I started off with chopped leeks (chopped onions, or a mixture of the two is also great) which I fry in a little oil (olive, vegetable, sunflower, groundnut, any will do) and a knob of butter for flavour. Add salt and pepper and fry gently until softened. Then I added peeled and chopped carrot, swede, potato and chicken stock to cover (other times I use vegetable stock). Bring it up to the boil and simmer until the veg is tender (about 15 minutes as I chopped the veg into bite size chunks). Today I then added brocolli, peas, sweetcorn and chopped savoy cabbage (all frozen) and simmered for 5 minutes. I used a hand blender to break the soup up a little but I like to keep it quite chunky so you can see what vegetables are in it.

I also had a pack of ‘Soup and Broth Mix’ from Tesco, which contains barley, dried marrowfat peas, dried green and yellow split peas and dried red lentils. 250g of this had been soaked in a pan of cold water overnight and then simmered for 40 minutes before draining. I then added this to the soup at the end (after blending). I find this makes the soup more wholesome and filling but you certainly don’t need it. And that’s pretty much all there is to it!

Of course I vary the vegetables I use according to what I have lurking in the fridge or freezer at the time. I always try to use some potato though as this helps to thicken the soup. I know some people are a bit sniffy about frozen vegetables but I find them a godsend, and they are often a lot better than using something that’s been hanging around in the fridge for a while looking a bit dubious!

This is the kind of cooking I like, where I can adjust ingredients to suit my mood and feel very accomplished stirring a huge pot of wholesomeness. Just the ticket on a freezing, bleak January day!

Last Tango in Halifax

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This BAFTA Award winning tv drama is now onto its third series, however I (bizarrely) have only just happened upon it. I have to say though, what an absolute treat it is!

First shown in 2012, it tells the story of Celia and Alan, both in their 70s and widowed, whose grandsons put them onto Facebook and who consequently reconnect after 60 years, having known each other as teenagers until Celia’s family moved away. There still remains a spark between them after all this time and, after an eventful afternoon together, they decide to get married, much to the astonishment (then subsequent delight) of their families. Whilst the story is theirs, we become involved in the lives of both their families as they deal with loss, separation, infidelity, class differences and the inevitable friction and readjustment caused by the merging of two families.

I have only watched the first series so far so am only able to comment on what I’ve seen (some of you will be way ahead of me!), but I couldn’t help but write about it here as it’s such a wonderful discovery.

The series was created, and is written by, Sally Wainwright, and is actually based on the true story of her own mother, Dorothy, who lost contact with a childhood friend at age 15 but was reconnected with him 60 years later through Friends Reunited (anyone remember that?!). They were subsequently married 6 months later.

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(left to right) Sarah Lancashire, Anne Reid, Derek Jacobi and Nicola Walker.

It is by no means groundbreaking drama (although the focus on an elderly couple is quite unique) but it is beautifully written, heartwarming stuff, with a host of wonderful characters brought to life by a fantastic cast and a central theme of ‘it’s never too late’ which is incredibly uplifting.

Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi shine as Celia and Alan and are supported by the brilliant Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker who play their respective daughters (born on the same day we come to learn; a nice little touch).  Joining them are talented folk such as Tony Gardner, Dean Andrews, Nina Sosanya and Ronni Ancona to name a few. There is something extremely satisfying and reassuring about watching a truly talented cast working seemlessly together. You certainly feel like you’re in safe hands.

So, if you’ve yet to see this gem of a series, then I urge you to give it a go. I am fervently trying to get my hands on Series 2 to continue my viewing (Netflix currently only have series 1 and BBCiplayer is only showing the current series after its airing on BBC1 each week). I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

One Day – David Nicholls

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Hodder Paperbacks. 2010.

Well I thought I’d kick off with a review of the book I’ve just finished reading, the critically acclaimed and bestselling novel ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls, first published in 2009 (so I’m a little late to the party).

I’d heard a lot about this book, and seen the many five star reviews and complimentary quotes about it, so thought I’d be in for a treat. However, I finished it (finally!) a couple of days ago feeling rather disappointed and bewildered as to the multitude of brilliant reviews it has received.

The story begins at the graduation of the book’s protagonists, Dex and Em, from Edinburgh University on 15th July 1988 (St Swithin’s Day as we are soon to find out). Em (Emma Morley) is from Yorkshire; a wannabe writer, fiercely intelligent, sharp tongued, opinionated and a little dull. Dex (Dexter Mayhew) grew up in a large family home in the Cotwolds; privately schooled, charismatic, good looking and always the life and soul of the party. They spend the night together as friends and then go their separate ways. We then catch up with them on this same date every year for the next 20 years as the book charts the course of their lives and their friendship.

Whilst I enjoyed the premise and structure of the book, following these characters by seeing just a snippet of their lives each year, I have to say that I found it all rather predictable. There was little to surprise the reader (apart from one stand alone moment towards the end of the book) and it panned out pretty much how I expected. In some instances I don’t mind predictability if the writing grabs me and the characters are engaging but I found Dex and Em pretty…..dull. They were both fairly uninspiring and irritating and I just wasn’t really connected to them or their story and consequently didn’t particularly care about them.

I kept trying to like it, really I did. Felt like I should like it when it has had such praise heaped upon it, but sadly I just couldn’t. It’s hard to like a story about characters that you feel fairly indifferent towards. It was rather a slog to get to the end which can never be a good sign.

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Focus Features, 2011. Directed by Lone Scherfig.

I am interested, though, to see the 2011 film adaptation, in which Nicholls himself wrote the screenplay, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as Em and Dex. I love Anne Hathaway, so am hoping I might be more invested in the story with her portraying one of the protagonists. I’m also going to give David Nicholls another go. I have his latest offering ‘Us’ ready to read and will see if that appeals to me more.

Even though this wasn’t for me, so many people love this book so give it a try and make up your own mind. The world would be a boring old place if we all felt the same way about everything!

Welcome!

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Well here it is, my very first post on my very first blog!

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while but not had the time and, quite honestly, the self confidence to do it. It’s always seemed like something that ‘other’ people do. But why not me? So I’ve stopped making excuses and taken the plunge!

As the title suggests, I’m a mum of 3 girls and have been lucky enough to stay at home taking care of them for the past few years. Whilst becoming a mother has been a truly wonderful, life-changing experience, I feel like I’ve forgotten about myself and what makes me tick along the way. I’m hoping this blog will help to reawaken my passion for the things I have always loved (writing, books, film and TV, food and cooking) before there were mountains of washing, sticky fingermarks everywhere and snotty noses to contend with daily!

Obviously my mum self will make an appearance too but don’t let that put you off!

I’m sure my blog will evolve in its own way as time goes by. For now I’m just looking for an outlet to express myself and write about the things I enjoy. I hope you’ll join me.

Louise