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Book Review: “Tangled Ashes,” by Michele Phoenix

Genre: Christian fiction; historical fiction; mystery; contemporary fiction

Plot Summary: The Chateau de Lamorlaye holds secrets.  That is what historical contractor Marshall Becker finds when he reluctantly agrees to take on the Renaissance-era castle renovation project in Northern France.  But he also finds that some of the people surrounding the castle harbor mysteries of their own, including himself.  Who is disturbing the property at night, obviously looking for something?  Who is the old man who lives on the historical site?  What is it about his employer’s family governess that holds his attention?  And what is the WWII story behind this mysterious old castle, involving a girl named Maria, her friend, and the classified program started by the Nazi occupation?

My Book Review: Anytime a plot summary gives me goosebumps, I’m in.  That’s the way it was with this book and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  I was hooked right from the prologue, which begins with a flashback to WWII.  That’s the way the story was often told—back and forth from present day to the 1940’s. Who wouldn’t want a good read featuring a mystery that takes place in an ancient chateau?

I’ve got to say that this story gripped me right through. The characters are well fleshed-out and one can tell the author Michele Phoenix writes from the heart.  When I was finished with the book I was intrigued to find that much of the historical setting for the fiction was factual and that the author spent much of her youth at the Chateau in Lamorlaye, France.  That adds a whole, richer dimension to things!  You can see more pictures and videos about it on the author’s website here.  I was pretty excited to see that it was very much like how I pictured it in my mind.  I guess that means Phoenix did an excellent job at descriptive writing!

I knew somewhat about the Nazis’ secret Lebensborn program (I won’t give any more spoilers away; avoid video below if wanting to avoid spoilers), but I was interested to know a little more while reading Tangled Ashes.  That’s always one thing I like when reading a fictional (esp. historical) book—learning about something new.  The story was well crafted in that it was hard to tell where the fiction began.

I’ve read this described as ‘chick lit’, but I disagree here. This isn’t your fluffy romance novel (you’ll be pleased to know if you abhor that genre).  Romance really doesn’t factor much into the story; I would say it’s more about flawed characters who struggle and grow during the course of the book.

I will be keeping an eye out for more books by Michele Phoenix, and have at least one other of her books on my TBR. I burned the midnight oil finishing this one, and I’m sure it’ll be the same for you!

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “The Big Four”

Based on the book by Agatha Christie. [see my book review here]

Version: 2013; starring David Suchet.

Genre: mystery

Plot Summary: [from IMDb] As the threat of world war looms large, Poirot seeks the help of friends both old and new when he is pitted against a dangerous group of dissidents responsible for a series of violent murders.

My Review: When I read Agatha Christie’s The Big Four, it wasn’t the best mystery I’d read by her; but it wasn’t the worst either.  I guess I’d rate it around midling.  I think the thing that turned me off from rating it higher was probably the ending which did not seem very believable to me.  I didn’t really see how this story would be filmable.

When I watched the movie version starring David Suchet I could see where they took liberties with the story, and I didn’t really blame them.  It needed to be within the realms of the believable and not feel like a dated story line.  Many of the same characters were kept, but the motives and ending were changed.  I still can’t say it’s one of my favorites, though.

I don’t remember alarming content material here, however since it deals with murder and the regular mayhem I would say there is some moderate worries for children.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Father Brown stories – BBC Audio Drama

In the mood for some cozy mysteries?  I discovered Father Brown is playing on BBC Radio 4 and wanted to post a notice.  I haven’t listened to them yet, but I am hoping they are much more intellectually stimulating and truer to the books than the recent BBC tv series (I was disappointed with those).  These only play for a limited time, so make sure you act on it soon!  Ta-ta!

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2019 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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Book Review: “Strong Poison,” by Dorothy L. Sayers

Genre: classic; mystery; 1930’s

Playlist…

Plot Summary: Lord Peter Wimsey is thoroughly engrossed in the case of accused murderess Harriet Vane.  He knows she didn’t do it– now he has to find the proof!  With a few well-placed friends at his disposal, he sets about proving the young woman’s innocence.  But time is ticking, and perhaps the murdered man committed suicide in order to take revenge out on his ex?  This makes the mystery even harder to solve.

My Book Review:  The Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries have been around for a great while.  I remember trying to read them on the recommendation of my Aunt E when I was teenager, but never could get a hang for the characters and their dialogue.  It does take a little bit of getting used to.  I think this was one of those rare cases where watching the movie first helped to read the book later.  I never knew I wanted to try any more Wimsey until I watched Dorothy L. Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey: Strong Poison [this BBC series was made into a trilogy, all featuring Harriet Vane].  Although the Wimsey mysteries are available in short stories and novels, and Strong Poison is the 6th novel in the series, it really can be read standalone as the beginning of a miniseries within the series—the trilogy surrounding Wimsey and Vane’s romance.  These are the only books I am currently interested in reading by Sayers.

As I remarked earlier, Sayer’s writing style is hard for me get used to, being that it is very old-fashioned British and upper class conversations with very little description and action.  It’s also why I prefer to watch Jeeves and Wooster over reading the books.  But once you get the swing of the spirit of the thing, it can be accessible.  It has its own flavor: dry and witty.

I think because this book is #6, I am not as well acquainted with the main character (Lord Wimsey) than I might be if having started at the beginning.  That was a drawback and hard to get to like him.  It felt unbelievable that he would so quickly fall head over heels for a woman practically on death row without any proof, and on top of that there is no explanation provided for his attraction to her.

I enjoyed the suspense and the treasure hunt-aspect of the plot.  It’s been a long time since I felt excited over such a mystery—probably since Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys!  And there are lots of different characters to make each chapter interesting.  It makes one feel that any normal person (with observational skills and a little guts) could be a sleuth!

If you’re looking for a bit of English fun and excitement, I think you’ll enjoy trying this one.  …And then go ahead and watch the BBC movies, starring Harriet Walters and Edward Petherbridge.  They are highly recommended and some of my favorites!

….

I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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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: “Jamaica Inn”

Based on the book by Daphne du Maurier

Version: 2014; starring Jessica Brown-Findlay

Genre: classic; suspense; costume drama

Plot Summary: [from imdB.com:]  A young woman moves in with her aunt and uncle and soon discovers unsavory happenings in her new home.”

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. “Jamaica Inn” has been made into a movie at least three times (Alfred Hitchock- 1934; 1983, starring Jane Seymour; current review) and I have seen all three.  This is not because I especially love the story, but because I was usually bored with nothing else particularly appealing to watch.  The 2014 caught my attention because of Jessica Brown-Findlay playing the lead character.  I have to say that out of all three, this most recent version is my preferred version.

For those who may not be aware, the story is very dark and tense.  What I liked about this movie was the way it kept it tight and the viewer guessing; there is also a lot of texture, wind, and weather.  Watch it for the moody atmosphere if nothing else.  But the acting is pretty well done, and there is interesting cinematography, too.

Unfortunately, there is a pretty racy scene between Mary and love interest Jem.  There is some amount of foul language as well (lots of rough and rowdy fellows and drunken tavern scenes).  An attempted assault is made on Mary, but her uncle defends her.  There are several scenes of murder and some gore.  Obviously, this film is not for sensitive folks.

SPOILER: I often get weary of the church as being painted as the villains in movies.    However, if this storyline has started to lose its shock-and-awe value it is because we live in an age where #metoo has reared its ugly head within the church and the reality is that one mustn’t take even religious leaders for granted.  Even so, we have a pervading sense that this is not the way it is supposed to be—injust, mercy-less and hypocritical so-called “Christians.”  It is not supposed to be this way because Jesus Christ was not this way and deep down the world recognizes the contradiction.  The Bible says that the man who says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.  (1 John 1:4-6)  Rev. Davy appeared to be living God’s commands, yet his life was full of darkness, control, and death.  Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness.  But whoever is truly a Christ-follower lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.  END OF SPOILER. 

Is Jamaica Inn worth the watch?  I think it can be thoughtfully viewed and learned from.  Some themes to talk over include addiction, codependency, fear and control.   How does each character’s choices come back to haunt them in the end?  It makes for interesting dialogue.  But it’s certainly not a family movie.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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Book Review: “John Jago’s Ghost,” by Wilkie Collins

Genre: classic; mystery

*Playlist…

Plot Summary: In need of a vacation, a young English attorney (the narrator of the story) decides to visit extended relations in America.  But upon arriving at the little farm in the countryside, he discovers that all is not right in this tense environment.  There is an all-out war between the elder farmer, his hired hand, and the younger generation of sons.  And a pretty American girl caught in the middle of the drama…

My Book Review: I immensely enjoyed The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins.  So, as often is the result of something I love, I went in search of more books by same author.  This is my next foray into the Collins canon.  A novella really, this took no time at all for me to finish; it was a pretty easy read.

I found it moderately interesting, could predict some of what would happen, but novellas and short stories are not really my thing.  I did not realize it was so short when I ordered it through my library system.  But, I read it and was glad to add another title to last year’s list of books read.

Collins paints a good descriptive atmosphere that one could feel.  I like that in a book.  I might forget the details of what happened, but I carry the feel of a story around with me.  I also thought the content gave some fodder for the brain.  SPOILER: Even though the brothers did not commit murder as the town believed, their actions of hatred leading up to the dramatic episode in question reaped hard consequences.  Jago was not physically dead, yet they had ‘murdered him in their hearts’ and were paying the price.  One man lost his fiancé in the whole matter… to another man much more deserving.  END OF SPOILER.

If you want to stretch yourself to read something a little deeper but are not used to thick tomes or heavy vocabulary, I would recommend this book to you.  As an added bonus, the story is loosely based on a true story.  There is benefit to be gained by it, and will not require much time.  Another score in my book for Collins!

*This story also goes by the title, “The Dead Alive.”

I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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