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Book Review: “1984,” by George Orwell

Genre: classic; dystopian; futuristic

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Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality.”

My Book Review:  Who hasn’t heard of this classic novel by now?  Of course it’s a must-read, and I had to find out for myself why it is.  I quickly learned that this doesn’t have much to do with how George Orwell predicted the world would be by 1984.  It’s not really futuristic in that sense.  It’s just the year (or, approximate year for no one really knows for certain) that the story takes place in.

This review isn’t going to do the book justice.  Let’s just say it got my inner cogs going page after page!  I wish I had kept a journal of things I came across as interesting, along with my commentary and thoughts but I didn’t have a notebook at the time.  I fairly flew through this.  I will probably want to go back and dissect it even more later.  I recommend an annotated version, commentary, curriculum, or cliff’s notes to go along with reading it.  There’s just so much food for thought!

There were not a few unsettling parts.  I wasn’t prepared for the sex scenes.  There are several, so parents will want to be really cautious if letting highschoolers read this.  The main characters don’t always make moral choices or follow a moral code.  That’s not to say our main character doesn’t try, but at some point any of us may reach a weak spot somewhere.  I disliked the character of Julia.  I found her shallow, worldly, and rather a tramp.  I didn’t really trust her emotionally with Winston.

I felt frustrated with the interruption of Winston’s reading of The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, a mini-book within the book which was more interesting than it sounds.  Just when it got to the really good part–!  (No spoilers here.)

Naturally after reading the book, I wanted to know more about the author.  Some readers may be surprised to find that George Orwell himself (pen name for Eric Blair) was a socialist.  He distinguished himself from it in the ordinary sense of the word by calling himself a democratic socialist, but all socialist roads lead to socialism in my book.  There are no checks to keep man in balance once you start playing around with it.  I think he began to move more and more toward this conclusion near the end of his life, though he may not have completely turned about.

I could make this a super long review, but I’d recommend reading the book for yourself.  If you’re looking for a feel-good story, this is not it.  The whole tone is tense, gritty, and black and blue.  I came away from it with two thoughts: A) relief that man is too human to be able to hold up a perfectly rigid system such as Big Brother’s; and B) anxiety knowing that man is too human not to try.

The world goes batty:

I would also recommend:

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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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: “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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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 Man from Sing Sing,” by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Genre: vintage classic

Plot Summary: Reuben Argels is a man with a past behind him and a future ahead of him.  Having been a part of Moran Chamber’s syndicate in America, he turned traitor and was largely responsible for putting that man in prison.  But there is no living the straight and narrow for Argel.  He promptly benefits from his treason and moves on to greener grass, this time to the financial fields of England.  But maybe his old enemy isn’t behind bars like Argels thinks.  And Chambers has many friends who are willing to exact revenge for the man who did him wrong.  What will become of Reuben Argels?  And is Violet– the sweet, sensible woman so ready to help him– really who she says she is?

My Book Review: Continuing making my way through the works of Oppenheim

To be honest, I prefer other EPO novels to this novel of crime syndicate members. The plot sounds intriguing enough, but I got lost among all the stock exchange jargon (dated, and foreign to me).  It did, as EPO stories go, keep me guessing as to the motives behind certain characters.  But it was hard to find sympathy for the main character, Reuben, since he was neither a goodie or a baddie.  He professes a love for Chamber’s lover Ambouyna (a name I still have no idea how to pronounce), but yet pursues Miss Violet Withers on the side.  In fact, while admitting to her that he doesn’t love her, he asks if she would fill in for him since he can’t have whom he really wants?  Sure, that’s the way to win any girl’s heart!

Actually, Violet Withers was my favorite character from the book. She easily balances a personality of modesty and mystery.  I loved a couple of quotes surrounding her sensibility:

“Lots of girls do things they don’t want to because they have to. I’m not one of them…. If I get to like you well enough, I shall certainly allow you to call me by my Christian name, and possibly to kiss me occasionally. If I don’t, I shan’t. Believe me,… I am much more worth kissing because I have such queer ideas.”

SPOILER ALERT: It’s painful to watch Argels slowly being dragged to the bottom all the way to the end of the book.  He’s sent over the edge, but at the last minute is saved by his enemy of all people– on purpose.  And then they shake hands and a check is written and all is honkey dorey.  I don’t know.  It just didn’t fit together right at the end.  There’s all this build up of suspense because of the hatred of these two enemies, neither of which you particularly want to side with, but then suddenly it all disappears and Chambers has a change of heart for no reason.  It just didn’t make sense and the story fell flat on its face for me. END OF SPOILER.

So if you like the idea of characters existing in a glamorous world of the 1930’s, full of crime and blackmail, you might have your next favorite novel (which you can read for free here). But if you’re more plot-oriented (like me), you might want to skip past this one.

If you liked this book, I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2018 in Book 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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