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BBC AudioDrama: “The Club of Queer Trades”

There isn’t much time left to listen to these; I only just discovered them on BBC Radio 4.  The drama is G.K. Chesterton’s “The Club of Queer Trades” and stars Martin Freeman.  I’ve found the two episodes I’ve listened to so far to be entertaining and very much like the book.  My favorite story out of the bunch is the first one, “The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown.”  If you have some time, give them a try.  I’ve been listening while working on making valentines.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2019 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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Movie Review: “Murder on the Orient Express”

Based on the book by Agatha Christie.

Version: 2017; starring Kenneth Branaugh; Johnny Depp; Derek Jacobi; Michelle Pfeiffer; Judi Dench

Genre: classic; suspense; costume drama; mystery

Plot Summary: [from imdB.com:]  When a murder occurs on the train he’s travelling on, celebrated detective Hercule Poirot is recruited to solve the case.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book. 

When I first saw the promo trailer for this, my first instinct was: “No.  That’s not Poirot, and nobody can tell me it is.” How can anybody possibly play that character better than David Suchet?  But there have been so many times when I have tried something (usually movies) that I thought I would hate, and it turned out I liked it much, much better than I thought I would, or benefited by it in some way.  So I did break down and give this a try.

Did it surpass the previous Orient Express I love starring Suchet, Barbara Hershey, and Toby Jones?  No.  Did Branaugh embody Chritie’s Poirot?  No.  Was it a terribly rotten movie?  Surprisingly, no.  Here’s why.

Try to get it out of your head that this is a remake.  Try to get it out of your head that this was a book first with a detective that appeared in a whole series of books previously.  Forget what Poirot looks like, and that Suchet perfectly imitated his mincing steps and egg shaped head.  Now, sit down and take this film as it is.  Take Branaugh’s Poirot completely as Branaugh presents him.  And you get a good, suspense-filled movie with a  “closed room mystery” and a cast full of colorful characters that make you think about life and justice, while giving you chills in the middle of an avalanche and a cold blooded murder scene.  This is what …Orient Express actually is.  And the film does an excellent job of that.

I still like BBC’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot version, for all of the above reasons, and because it feels more realistic.  It has it’s own sense of atmosphere and it doesn’t come off feeling so exaggerated.  But.  Branaugh’s film is to be recognized as being a good drama, too.  It really does not fail.  In fact, I was better able to follow the plot in this one, the motives behind the murder, and the big reveal at the end was far more dramatic than a huddled group in a narrow dining car.  The newer version works to create different change of scenes on a limited stage.  Overall, it took on an artistic, creative flair that was very interesting.

I’ll warn you: if there’s going to be a murder, you might as well expect blood, and there is lots of it.  So, cover your eyes Sally and Johnny and Grandma, too.  In fact, this may not be for you.  In a nutshell: if you crave realism and darkness, choose BBC’s Murder…  If you wish something with a bit more flair and composition, go for Branaugh’s.  Both are recommended.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Sands of Time,” by Susan May Warren

Genre: Christian fiction; suspense; intrigue; romance; contemporary fiction

Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com]An inexplicable ailment was striking down the children of Russia; in less than forty-eight hours, American medical missionary Sarai Curtiss had watched two young patients slip away, and she feared she might have an epidemic on her hands. Yet how could she help anyone in the middle of a violent coup? The new leadership had demanded all foreigners leave the state–on pain of death. Unwilling to leave her clinic, but unable to combat her enemies alone, Sarai had to join forces with an unlikely ally–Roman Novik, the rebel Cobra Captain who broke her heart. Faced with a corrupt government, a brutal military and the truth of their own deepest feelings, it would be a race against time to save the lives on the line–and an entire country at risk.”

My Book Review: No, this review has nothing to do with a Jake Gyllenhaal action flick.  Gotcha.

I became interested in this three-book series (Mission: Russia) by Susan May Warren a couple of years ago because of the intrigue+romance aspect of it.  I read the first book, “In Sheep’s Clothing” (which you can read review of here) last year but to be honest, I was left wanting.  However, I decided to go ahead and read the second installment since A) it’s more of a standalone novel; B) it looked more interesting.

I’m glad I tried it as I liked it much better than the first. The sequel details the story of Viktor’s (Viktor is Book #1’s hero) friend Roman as he seeks to rescue an old acquaintance (okay, a romantic flame from 10+ years’ past) from a dangerous coup who has it in for her because of her knowledge of secrets they don’t want to get out.  The story was fun, fast, and kept me guessing to the end.  I thought Roman– love that name!– made a better hero than Viktor, but I had to struggle to see what he saw in Sarai.  She was really quite annoying and made me want to slap her sometimes.  I don’t say that often.

It was fun to read something set in another part of the world, and I’ve always had an interest in Russia. Descriptions were great, dialogue was humorous, and the book had the benefit of the author’s experience for having been a missionary there at one point.

Yet at the same time, it also suffered from some of my complaints about the first novel. Even though it is an action story, it just has way too much cheesy mushiness throughout that feels forced and sort of gets in the way of another wise interesting book.  If I had realized sooner that it was a Steeple Hill romance novel, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to put it on my TBR to begin with.  But as far as that genre goes, it was probably better than most because of the international intrigue side of things.  I appreciated that it wasn’t a steamy romance, and the characters acted with propriety.  And I don’t know how things go with romance publishers, but it may be that they require authors to have so many romance-checklist additives per page.  ?  Which could explain why it felt cheesy and forced.

The third installment of this series focuses on the other pair I was hoping would come together in the end: Yanna and David.  The plot looks interesting, but I’m outta gas for this genre.  I’ve decided I’m still interested in trying other books by this author, but no more Steeple Hill for me!

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Movie Review: True Grit

Based on the book by Charles Portis.

Version: 2010; starring Jeff Bridges; Matt Damon; Domhnall Gleeson

Genre: adventure; classic

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:]  Mattie Ross, 14, from Dardanelle, Arkansas, narrates half a century later, her trip in the winter of 1870s, to avenge the murder of her father. She convinces one-eyed “Rooster” Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshall, to tag along, while she outdickers and outmaneuvers the hard-bitten types in her path.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

I’ve been wanting to watch this film for a while, but you should know by now I’ve never been up to speed on pop culture.  I have never seen the John Wayne movie made in 1969, so I cannot compare it to that or the book which (as stated) I have not read.

I could immediately see why this story is such a classic.  The plot sounds like one that could easily be written today.  One could also appreciate the detail and attention taken in the production of this movie.  Much of the story’s tone is cold and austere, the characters are often grungy and hardened.  This gave it a believable feel, taking place in a tough atmosphere and time period.

I was struck by such a quick-witted heroine only aged 14 years.  She is forced to grow up far too early and therefore she is mature and capable.  She doesn’t let any scoundrel monkey with her and isn’t shy in standing her ground.  She makes for a very admirable character!  The question isn’t whether she has true grit, but whether others are up to the task of staying faithful to their word even when the trail grows cold.

I wanted to give thought to the choice of background music.  Orchestrated by Carter Burwell, much of the theme delineates from the hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”  At first I wondered why this choice was made.  The sound fits well in the background, but what about that song connects it to the story?  After thinking about it, I realized that although the film is not overtly religious and many of the characters do not recognize God (except through swearing), our young heroine Mattie Ross does come from a God-fearing family.  Mattie is not after personal revenge per se, something the Lord commands us not to seek.  But she is after justice which is a major attribute of God.  After local officials refuse to take correct measures, Maddie pursues her case with a local bounty hunter.  She wisely chooses a man she believes will not be soft on the matter of holding a wrongdoer accountable… Rooster Cogburn.  He isn’t an easy character to deal with, but Mattie is not faint of heart.

It’s a good thing she isn’t timid because there are plenty of gorey scenes that aren’t so pretty.   This isn’t exactly a family-friendly flick, and also contains some amount of swearing.

But overall, I was glad to be able to watch this movie at last and counted it as a positive experience.  I would encourage fans of both the book and the previous film version to give this a try.  No, Bridges isn’t John Wayne, but I believe he made the character all his own.  I especially got a kick out of Matt Damon’s egotistical Mr. LaBoeuf.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “Alistair Maclean’s Air Force One is Down”

Based on the book by John Denis.

Version: 2013; starring Emilie de Ravin

Genre: adventure; intrigue

Plot Summary: When Air Force One, carrying the President and many cabinet members, is hijacked and destroyed, it is up to a team of three independently working agents to rescue innocent lives.

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

This movie caught my eye because a) I enjoy stories of intrigue, and b) the name of Alistair Maclean.  It was a fairly recently made movie and I was surprised that Maclean had any stories so recent.  Wasn’t he a writer from the 1960’s or something?

It turns out that the book this movie is based upon was not written by Alistair Maclean, but by an author pen named John Denis.  It has the name of Maclean attached to it because it is a continuation of a series he started.  I believe it was originally set in the ’80’s, the decade it was written.

The story does not have good reviews as a novel, and the film (updated to a contemporary era) was obviously not big budget.  However, I found the plot interesting and exciting, even if the acting was a little cheesy at times.  There were a lot of twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat.  I also enjoyed seeing actress Emilie de Ravin in another role besides playing sweet characters for a change (Australian accent not present).  As an undercover Russian agent, her edge and innovativeness in tight situations were fun to watch.

Unfortunately, this movie does contain a lot of foul language and innuendos.  Early on, a man and woman have a sexual fling.  Francesca and Steven are left to drown in their underwear.  Another scene contains a lesbian kiss, but it is shortly revealed to be only a hoax.  There were some pretty gory sights, as well.

Would I recommend this?  I wouldn’t place it high on my to-watch list but it did have an unique plot, and if you have nothing better to do or watch this may be of interest.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Seven Conundrums,” by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Genre: mystery; intrigue; classic vintage

*Playlist…

Plot Summary: A trio of entertainers are down on their luck when a mysterious man emerges out of the night to make them an offer of a lifetime.  Desperate, they agree to do anything he asks of them in exchange for a guarantee of work lineup.  Soon, they are rolling in it and living the highlife while touring England and abroad.  But exactly who’s side are they on—the side of the just or the side of evil?

My Book Review: Although Oppenheim’s most famous novel (The Great Impersonation) had me an instant fan as a kid, I’ve sort of become less enthused about some of his other works since then.  I was hoping this novel would draw me back in, or else I was seriously going to rethink whether I wanted to continue with his canon.

I was pleased to find myself enjoying this very much, especially for the book’s atmosphere.  The seven mysteries, the intrigue, wild characters, and the some of the exotic European locales had my interest.  Although it still did not have TGI beat, I’ve decided to continue on with more Oppenheim novels next year!

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Big Four,” by Agatha Christie

Genre: classic; mystery; suspense; intrigue

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] “Framed in the doorway of Poirot’s bedroom stood an uninvited guest, coated from head to foot in dust. The man’s gaunt face stared for a moment, then he swayed and fell. Who was he? Was he suffering from shock or just exhaustion? Above all, what was the significance of the figure 4, scribbled over and over again on a sheet of paper? Poirot finds himself plunged into a world of international intrigue, risking his life to uncover the truth about ‘Number Four’.”

My Book Review: This Poirot mystery was a lot different from any previous one I’ve read so far.  For one, murder isn’t so much the focal crime point as it is an international gang of power wranglers and terrorists.  This had my attention!  The way it read reminded me in a way of old Nancy Drew or other novels of mysterious intrigue that I used to read as a preteen.  I think I might have enjoyed it more back then.

It also reminded me a lot of one of Christie’s other mystery novels, The Secret Adversary.  But I was much more hooked on the bumbling Tommy and Tuppence-duo battling elusive criminals than I was on Poirot being duped over and over.

This is a short, easy read but with my then-schedule I dragged it out much longer than need be and had a hard time remembering details. It just felt like Poirot was bested one too many times, and too many lives were lost before Poirot won the day.  The last few chapters were exciting, but a little too unbelievable and made me glad I was finished with the book and on to something different.

I will enjoy watching the film, but I haven’t come across it yet. Loyal Poirot fans will want to complete the reading of the canon, I’m sure.

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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