Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dog On It, Spencer Quinn: book review

Posted by lea at 6:38 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Meet Chet, the canine partner of the crime-smashing duo of Spencer Quinn's series Chet and BernieDog On It (forgive the terrible pun) is the first of the series and is narrated entirely from the point of view of Chet, whose keen intelligence and olfactory sense is easily matched by his affinity for scarfing down old scraps and sniffing bottoms.

Bernie Little, the principle of the Little Detective Agency, is the human owner of crime-sniffing canine Chet and comes across as a most affable fellow thanks to Chet's interpretation. Like most other detectives you've ever heard of, he's 'hard bitten' and 'steely', but from Chet's point of view we get to also see his vulnerable side. As a character he's not as fleshed out as Chet, but we like him enormously anyway.

The plot of Dog On It revolves around a missing teenage girl and the dirt Chet and Bernie discover when they're hired to find her. Her disappearance somehow seems to involve a Russian crime gang and a lot of money.

During the course of their investigations, Chet manages to get into a number of scrapes coming this close to being put down at a dog pound. It's heart-thrilling stuff. And it's heartwarming too, as we get to see the foibles of human relations through his eyes and his utterly endearing loyalty to Bernie.

Dog On It is a wonderfully funny book which I was so glad to discover is a series, because it's something I'd love to come back to again and again.

How to Catch a Star (Oliver Jeffers) at Kiddie Book Club

Posted by lea at 5:45 PM 1 comments Links to this post
The major benefit of working as a freelance copywriter is having a flexible schedule that allows me to attend events as illustrious as the Kiddie Book Club, where today I had the honour of being a Guest Reader.

Kiddie Book Club is run by my good friend Haej Wolfson, who also happens to have the biggest heart and largest capacity of just about anyone I know. By 'capacity' I mean the sheer number of events, people, jobs and children she can juggle without breaking a sweat.

So with four little members aged from almost-two to four eager to hear a story (the book club is only in its infancy), I opened and read How to Catch a Star, written by one of my favourite artists and children's book author/illustrators Oliver Jeffers.

How to Catch a Star is a beautiful story about a young boy who dreams of having a star as a friend, and schemes ways of catching one from the sky. While reading it today, I learnt a major lesson about reading to children: keep their focus on the story.

Children can be truly enigmatic in their ability to swing from ADD-like shoutiness to autismic focus in a millisecond. I made the mistake very early on of asking, 'how many stars can you count on this page?', which of course caused them to shout out loud the number of stars on every page I turned, completely ignoring the unfolding storyline.

I'd like to think they got something out of it though, as they switched from fighting over a headband to fighting over a little confetti star afterwards.

Thanks for the honour Kiddie Book Club! Call on me anytime.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau: 2 minute movie review

Posted by lea at 11:08 PM 0 comments Links to this post

How could I fail to love a movie with two of my favourite stars: Matt Damon and Emily Blunt? PLUS it's been advertised as a cross between Bourne and Inception, two fantastic movies (well, one is a series). I wouldn't say it quite hits all those highs: it's not as action-driven as Bourne or as clever and complicated as Inception, but it's still damn good.

If you've seen any of the ads you'll know it's a conceptual film about a bureau that 'adjusts' the fate of humans in keeping with an overall Plan with a capital P. Damon and Blunt play two lovers who are proverbially star-crossed, trying to stay together despite the best attempts of the bureau to separate them. It's quite classically Philip K Dick (in that you're pretty sure the idea was drug-induced). On the whole, the film is really quite good, although there are a few clunky obvious bits, but just suspend your cynicism and go for the ride. It's a good one.

My Favourite Wife, Bill Parsons (book review)

Posted by lea at 10:47 PM 1 comments Links to this post
Apparently Tony Parsons (my 'P' author for the Great Library Challenge) has sold a ton of books so I decided to give this one a go. The short verdict: failed to grab me.

The protagonist is Bill Holden, a 'good' man and ambitious lawyer who, in his drive to make partner, moves to Shanghai with his beautiful and intelligent wife Becca and their adorable four year old daughter Holly. If they sound typical, it's because they are. The family is a walking, talking, one-dimensional modern cliche of the Western world.

Becca, who initiated the move, finds the craziness of Shanghai overwhelming (a major factor being the discarded baby she finds in the trash of their luxury highrise apartment, populated largely by the 'second wives' (a.k.a. mistresses) of rich men) and takes Holly back to London for a while. During her absence, Bill takes up with JinJin, a local leggy second wife who is lonely during the long absences of her married partner.

Parsons paints Bill as a man caught between two worlds: troubled by the corruption he finds in the dizzying economic growth of Shanghai and trapped between two loves. Although most of the ingredients are there (Bill is genuinely interested in the plight of second wives and feels more keenly for the Chinese locals than his Western counterparts), his character never quite reaches the complexity required to engage our empathy. Parsons' attempt to keep Bill high-minded backfires quite badly too, as it smacks of Western elitism and hypocrisy, because when you strip away the facade, the basic fact is that he is cheating on his wife with a local, just like many other men before him. The layers of supposed complexity are simply that: contrived to make his affair with JinJin appear more a matter of the heart than the other major male organ.

Normally I quite like hearing the male perspective in modern fiction (Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper for example), but I just couldn't find the connection point with this novel, so it totally failed to engage me. Sorry Mr Parsons.

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