Monthly Archives: January 2013

Review: ‘Sinema 2: Sympathy for the Devil’ by Rod Glenn.

Sinema 2


In ‘Sinema: The Northumberland Massacre’, Han Whitman went on a rampage around a village called Haydon. Not content with slaughtering 395 innocents, Han is back to carry out “Stage 2” of his twisted plan. However, someone’s on his tail and there’s more than one person with an interest in his whereabouts. Han’s conscience also seems less than willing to accept his transgressions, he’s haunted by a voice he doesn’t recognise.

“Phase 2” sees movie-addict Whitman turn vigilante, turning on the foulest members of society. Rod Glenn writes Hannibal Whitman’s story with such aplomb, his descriptions are scarily vivid and the situations he puts his character in are completely believable.

Han Whitman is the kind of character that, logically, you should despise but there is something so human about him that it’s impossible not to root for him.

This is an ambitious novel with plenty of twists, turns and red herrings. Glenn doesn’t shy away from the gory details of Whitman’s exploits and this only adds to the gritty feel of the novel. There are certain parts of this book that are so stomach-churning that it makes for difficult reading although Han’s cruel exploits always seem realistic.

This may not be a story for the faint-hearted but if you can get over the blood and guts, it is a great read.

Vic x

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Review: ‘Mummydaddy’ by Jeremy Howe



In 1992, Lizzie Howe was waved off at a train station by her husband and two young daughters as she set off to teach at summer school for a week. At the end of that week, Lizzie was due to meet her family at the seaside for a holiday. After arriving at his mother’s house in Suffolk, Lizzie’s husband Jeremy was left irritated by the fact that Lizzie should have called to say goodnight to the girls but that call didn’t come. In the middle of the night, a policeman visited Jeremy at his mother’s house to inform him that Lizzie had been the victim of a brutal, seemingly random attack. Lizzie had been murdered in her office.

Twenty years on, Jeremy Howe reflects on how Lizzie’s murder changed his family’s life. This memoir shares how, moment by moment, day by day, the family regrouped and coped faced with such an unimaginable situation. There is so much packed into this book; how Jeremy decided to be honest with the girls regarding their mother’s death, the thoughts that haunt a widower flung into a life of mummydaddy-dom with no preparation whatsoever.

When I first started reading this book, I thought it was fiction. I thought the author was over-egging the pudding with his melancholic, emotional narrative. However, when I revisited the synopsis and realised that this was a true story, I had nothing but respect for Jeremy Howe. Having read obituaries of Lizzie Howe, if anything, Jeremy played down how successful his wife was. The determination shown by Howe to provide emotionally and financially for his girls is admirable.

Howe’s memories of certain people and events are unflinchingly honest and feature a certain sense of awkwardness. It goes to show how insensitive and thoughtless some people are – and how careless some organisations are – in such a painful situation.

I will never know how Jeremy and his daughters felt regarding the loss of Lizzie but this story goes a long way to help the reader understand the profound grief involved and, thankfully, is testament to the fact that – no matter what horrible situation you find yourself in – goodness prevails.

Vic x

Review: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’.

I have to admit, I always feel partly responsible for Kathryn Bigelow’s success. The Boy Wonder and I decided, on a whim, to see a film called ‘The Hurt Locker’ in August 2009 despite knowing nothing about it. It blew our socks off! Six months later, ‘The Hurt Locker’ won big at the Oscars. This is the silly reason I feel so smug, I was ahead of the curve when it came to the former Mrs James Cameron’s film-making ability.

It was with excitement that we ventured out into the snow last night to see Ms Bigelow’s latest offering ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, based on the events leading to Osama bin Laden’s demise at the hands of American Navy Seals.

The very first ‘scene’ is a blank screen with audio of telephone calls and voicemails from victims of 9/11. It is utterly heartbreaking. By not showing the images we are all so familiar with, Bigelow has focused on the people involved and the human cost of this atrocity which is something she does again later in the film to great effect.

The story focuses on Maya (an amalgamation of two real-life female agents), a CIA operative who is assigned to Pakistan to investigate continuing Al Qaeda operations. The audience see Maya interrogating suspects, watching some gruesome torture and being shot at leaving her compound. This film never lets up on action, even scenes in offices capture the desperation of agents and the audience is always aware of the possibility that while trying to cut through bureaucracy, there could be more attacks.

The cinematography in this film is so intricate, it is used intelligently and really adds a lot to the film. The scene of two helicopters on their way to Abbottabad was incredible. Bigelow’s use of silence is effective, letting the audience take the impressive visuals in as well as giving them time to consider what they’re watching.

This film doesn’t make for the most comfortable viewing at times but why should it? I respect Kathryn Bigelow because she’s honest, she doesn’t sugar-coat things and she doesn’t paint America as an entirely innocent victim who then goes on to conquer the world by kicking ass. Bigelow allows the audience to have sympathy for some people who have been portrayed as 100% evil. She also shows the audience that the people regarded as heroes have their weaknesses. Bigelow understands and demonstrates the fact that nobody is all good or totally bad.

The siege at the Abbottabad compound appears in real-time and included a level of detail regarding the operation that I had never before considered. Despite the fact that several of the people in the building are linked to Bin Laden in some way, it is impossible to celebrate their death; they are shown as husbands and fathers as well as ‘bad guys’.

I have to admit that I thought Jessica Chastain’s performance was good but not as good as I expected. I don’t expect her to win the Best Actress Oscar. There was nothing wrong with her performance but I didn’t find it earth-shatteringly brilliant.

There were some characters I thought were annoying and could have been developed further but all in all, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ was an absolute corker.

Vic x

Review: ‘Face2Faith: A Spiritual Journey Through Paint’ by Jenni Eden.


I met Jenni Eden on my latest trip to Muscat, Oman. She is an incredibly spiritual person who wants to share her positivity with the world. Jenni taught me some meditations that I have been using for almost 3 weeks and the difference I am feeling mentally is really amazing.

Jenni wrote ‘Face2Faith’ in order to share her thoughts and experiences with readers.

She’s very honest about her experiences with low mood and how spirituality and her experiences with people have got her through difficult times in her life.

You may not appreciate Jenni’s story if you approach it with a very closed mind or if you feel very strongly that there is no such things as a god. Jenni herself is a Christian but she herself accepts that organised religion can be hypocritical and judgemental. I’m not really sure what I believe in but I do consider myself quite spiritual.

Jenni is a positive thinker and believes in cosmic ordering (that means visualising what you want in order to get it). Like me, Jenni is a believer in tolerance and treating people as you would like to be treated.

This autobiography is interesting as I feel Jenni hasn’t held anything back unlike many of the celebrity autobiographies you may read now. Her story is an exploration in how positivity and asking “god” for support and guidance can turn your life around.

Even if you didn’t want to read this book for its spiritual aspects, Jenni’s story regarding her desire to be a full-time artist but struggling to pay the bills is something that will resonate with anyone who has been told to do their dream job for fun as it won’t pay.

As an artist, Jenni chose to explore her experiences through her paintings. Jenni shares her paintings on the pages of the book so I do recommend that if you read on a black and white e-reader, you would be better off buying the book instead of downloading it. However, if you’re using a PC, laptop, tablet or Kindle Fire, you will have no problem enjoying the bright, vivid pictures.

Vic x

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Review: ‘The Casual Vacancy’ by J.K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy

OK, I’m sure you’ve read countless reviews of ‘The Casual Vacancy’ but here’s another one.

Barry Fairbrother, a prominent member of the Pagford community, dies in his early 40s and leaves the town in shock. Some members of the local council see Fairbrother’s death as an opportunity to fill the council with like-minded people who will assist in separating The Fields. the problematic council estate, from Pagford. 

There are so many complex relationships in this book between parents and children (no matter how old the offspring are), siblings, spouses and between neighbours. When discussing this book at a book group, I encountered some readers who felt that the amount of conflict in this book was completely unrealistic. Some people that I talked to felt that there simply couldn’t be this amount of pain and misery in so many people’s’ lives in such a small area. I disagreed. When I read ‘The Casual Vacancy’, I was blown away that a woman who wrote about wizards and warlocks could produce such an accurate portrayal of modern-day life.

I truly believe that many people lead these lives of quiet desperation. They may look as though they are gliding through life but beneath the surface lurks fear and deep, dark secrets.

OK, so perhaps she included every kind of sadness and frustration known to man but would anyone read a novel where everyone was happy all the time? Affairs, spineless men, drug addicts, child abuse, bullying, death and the pervasiveness of the internet in people’s’ lives are all in here – as well as out there.

The characters have obviously been well-considered and not one of them is anything less than believable. There are characters that are nothing but despicable but – let’s face it – those people exist. Rowling’s overriding message appears to be that small actions can have massive implications.

Having never read a J.K. Rowling book before, I wasn’t too interested in the hype regarding ‘The Casual Vacancy’ until I saw J.K. talking about it on BBC’s ‘Culture Show’. The plot really interested me and I was surprised that the writer famous for ‘Harry Potter’ had taken such a change in direction. But, despite reviews to the contrary, this change in direction was an absolutely inspired idea. You must read it. 

Vic x

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Review: ‘Settled Blood’ by Mari Hannah

Settled Blood

A young girl is found at the base of Hadrian’s Wall and DCI Kate Daniels is called in to investigate. Shortly after the gruesome discovery, a prominent businessman reports his daughter missing. A pattern begins to form. As the investigation delves into the seedier side of the north-east, a number of suspects emerge and begin to complicate matters further for Daniels.

If you read ‘The Murder Wall’ by Mari Hannah, you will be aware that Kate Daniels is a complex, intelligently written character with plenty of skeletons in her own closet to contend with as well as being head of an investigative team. Her team, too, are believable characters with very human problems. This makes the story all the more realistic.

‘Settled Blood’ is absolutely compelling, I didn’t want to put it down. Almost everyone is a suspect in this fast-paced, intelligent thriller. I love Hannah’s ability to evoke a certain feeling that relates specifically to the north-east of England, her understanding of the locale and her wonderful descriptions add a lot to her clever narratives.

I cannot wait to read the next Kate Daniels novel.

Vic x

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New Talent Being Showcased.

January can be a pretty boring time after the December rush of Christmas parties, friendly catch-ups and family get-togethers. People are skint, they’re on diets and there’s generally not much going on. However, ARC Stockton are looking to change that. On Wednesday, 30th January, they’re holding their first Scratch Night of 2013.

After the success of their first new writing Scratch Night and their Short Sharp Festival, ARC are bringing you an evening of 8 rehearsed readings of exciting new short plays by members of Writers ARCADE: their new writing group for emerging playwrights.  Local actors and directors have been working in collaboration with these new promising writers to stage their ten minute plays for your all important feedback. Here’s a preview of some of the work being showcased.

A Small Donation by Louise Taylor.

Beth is. Alex definitely is. Kerry thinks she is, because she doesn’t really know what ‘it’ is. Are you? How much is it worth to you? And what would you be willing to give it up for?

Radio by Mhairi Ledgerwood.

Mam can never do the right thing, while Stephanie is trying to hold the family together. Andy wants a bedtime story, but it may come at a high price. How much value should we place on art and is it worth fighting for?

Unpaid Leave by Allison Davies.
Higgs is off on sabbatical, but first she needs to find a suitable replacement. Might Tio be up to the job of running the show or will he be shown the door? Only time will tell.

The evening is held at ARC Stockton Arts Centre, Dovecot Street, TS18 1LL Stockton-on-Tees.

Tickets are £3.00 and free for ARCADE members. Book here or email or ring the box office on 01642 525199. Be quick, ARC’s last Scratch Night was a sell-out!

Vic x