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Archive for October, 2012

This is the second book in the Murdoch Mysteries series, set in Toronto in the late 1800s, and featuring Detective William Murdoch.  The series spawned three movie length television films, and a five (so far) season television show.  The television show is one of my favourite programmes, and I was eager to read the books.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series, and this one is no disappointment either.

In this installment of the Murdoch Mysteries, a woman named Dolly Merishaw is found murdered in her home.  Murdoch discovers that she was a former midwife, who provided a place for unwed mothers to have their children, as well as providing drugs to aid abortion, but that her mean and greedy nature caused a lot of anger and resentment among the women whom she ‘helped’.  He quickly discovers that she is the victim of murder, and there are no shortage of suspects.  However, when one of her young foster sons is also discovered dead a week later, he has no idea whether he is looking for one murderer or two.  His investigation takes him to some surprising places, and he realises that a lot of people have secrets which they wish to remain hidden.

As with the first book, the story is pacey, and kept me guessing throughout.  (There were clues to point the reader in the right direction, but Maureen Jenning is capable of throwing in some surprises as well!)  I really like the character of Murdoch, although he is quite different from the Murdoch of the tv series.  As portrayed in the book, he comes across as less sensitive and somewhat coarser.  His faithful sidekick Constable Crabtree is as amiable and likeable as viewers of the show know him to be, although in the book, his physical description is very different, and he has a wife, whereas in the tv show, he is a bachelor.  Brackenreid barely appears in the book, and is not a very likeable character when he does(!).  This book gives the first mention of Doctor Julia Ogden – a main character in the tv show.

This particular book takes Murdoch through the upper and lower classes of Toronto, and I thought the portrayal of the city in the late 1800s was particularly evocative and enjoyable.  Clearly, the author has researched her subject extensively.

Overall, I found this to be a very enjoyable read, and would definitely recommend it, especially to fans of crime and/or historical fiction.

(Author’s website can be found here.  For more information about the television show Murdoch Mysteries, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of season 1 of the television series, Murdoch Mysteries.

Click here for my review of the first Murdoch Mysteries novel, Except The Dying.

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Sometimes in life, a book comes along that hits you square between the eyes, and has a real impact.  You know that book, that you can’t stop thinking about once you’ve finished it?  That book that you just didn’t want to put down?  That book which made you immediately want to find out more about the author and the subject?  For me, this was one of those books.

It is Sister Helen Prejean’s true account of her work as a spiritual adviser to death row inmates in Louisiana, in the 1980s.  The book concentrates on her friendship with two very different death row inmates – Elmo Patrick Sonnier and Robert Lee Willie.  Sister Helen is completely against the death penalty, and in this book, as well as talking about Sonnier and Willie, she lays out her reasons for her feelings, such as how the death penalty is an instituionally racist system, which is biased against black offenders AND black victims.  It is also unfairly biased against the poor, who often simply cannot afford a decent defence counsel.  She describes how the death penalty is completely ineffective as a deterrent against crime, and how the cost of carrying out executions takes money away from other areas, such as putting more police on the streets.  However, this is a review, not a recap of this book, and I do not intend to recount every point Sister Helen makes – although I strongly urge everyone to read it, whatever their views on the death penalty.

I found Sister Helen’s relationships with Sonnier and Willie to be very moving.  She acknowledged the heinous crimes they committed – and although the reader knows from the outset that these men are violent and dangerous criminals, in this book, they are also depicted as human beings.  Their crimes are in no way excused, but I found it impossible not to feel sorrow when she describes their executions – at the futility of their deaths, which accomplished nothing and did not bring their victims back.

Sister Helen understands the need for some people to see these prisoners “get what they deserve,” and she does not condemn those who disagree wtih her stance.  She also was instrumental in setting up support groups for victims of violent crime, and that work is also described in the book.  She also fully agrees that the people who commit such vile acts should pay fully for their crimes, but using such an arbitrary and unfair system, is not helping anyone, including the victims.  At no time does she seek to trivialise the pain of the victims, or in any way suggest that there are needs are any less important than the cause which she believes in – and she actually forms an interesting friendship with the parents of a murder victim, who are in support of the death penalty.

I cried a number of times while reading this book.  Despite the heavy subject matter, Sister Helen’s writing is eloquent and honest – sometimes painfully so – and she is not afraid to acknowledge when she herself has made a mistake in judgement.  I found it a very difficult book to put down, and have no doubt that I will read it again in future.

Needless to say, I strongly recommend this book. 

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Click here for my review of the 1995 film adaptation.

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In 1939, one of the most popular films of all time – Gone With The Wind – was made, and of course as we all know now, it was a roaring success.  Although Clark Gable was cast pretty quickly (and somewhat reluctantly) as Rhett Butler, the casting of Scarlett O’Hara was a real problem for the producer David O Selznick.  Almost every star in Hollywood wanted the part, and – possibly to drum up publicity for the film – a nationwide search was launched to find the woman who would play Scarlett.  This film, which is adapted from Garson Kanin’s book, Moviola, is a dramatisation of the search for Scarlett, and features actors playing many famous stars of the time.

It’s a very entertaining film.  I cannot be certain how much of it is fictionalised (did Joan Crawford, who was already a star by the time of Gone With The Wind, really need to sleep with David Selznick in an attempt to secure a role?!  If so, she must have been REALLY angry when she didn’t even get the role.)

Apart from Tony Curtis, who headed the cast as Selznick, and Harold Gould, who was suitably sleazy and manipulative as Louis B Mayer, head of MGM and father-in-law of Selznick, the stand-put member of the cast was Edward Winter as Clark Gable.  Winter looked the part, and also captured Gable’s speech patterns perfectly.  There were a few amusing nods to other films being made at the time – Mayer mentions that he is making The Wizard of Oz, but doesn’t like one of the songs in it (Somewhere Over The Rainbow), beccause it’s basically not happy enough!  It is also mentioned that Charlie Chaplin is making a film about Hitler, which of course became The Great Dictator.

(I actually find it quite amusing that in the end, despite all the searching and all the huge stars in Hollywood wanting the role of Scarlett, it eventually went to a young British actress, who played the part to perfection!)

Being completely unable to find a trailer or a clip from this film online, I chose instead to use this picture of Sharon Gless and Edward Winter as Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.   It seems that The Scarlett O’Hara War is a little known film, which is a shame. I would definitely recommend it, both as a nod to the 1930s, when the film was being made, and especially to fans of Gone With The Wind.  There is lots of drama, plenty of laughs, and a peek inside the sordidness that could inhabit the movie industry.  Very enjoyable.

Year of release: 1980

Director: John Erman

Producers: David L. Wolper, Stan Margulies

Writers: Garson Kanin (book), William Hanley

Main cast: Tony Curtis, Bill Macy, Harold Gould, George Furth, Edward Winter, Sharon Gless, Barrie Youngfellow, Carrie Nye

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Click here for my review of Gone With The Wind (film)

Click here for my review of Gone With The Wind (novel)

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No…not the vampire love story with Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson. This film boasts an impressive cast – Paul Newman is the lead (and still looking great at 73), with Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon, James Garner, Liev Schreiber, Reese Witherspoon and Stockard Channing. Newman plays Harry Ross, a slightly down-at-heel retired private detective, who lives with his friends Jack and Catherine Ames (Hackman and Sarandon). When Jack, who is dying of cancer, asks Harry to do him a favour, Harry finds himself entering a murky world of betrayal and deceit, and uncovering some unsavory aspects of his friends’ past.

This film reminded me very much of the film noirs which were so popular during the 1940s and 1950s – in fact, I could almost imagine it in smoky black and white, with Humphrey Bogart starring! That is no criticism on my part; I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It has a mature (and I do mean mature, not old) cast, and a mature storyline. The acting is, as you would expect from such a stellar cast, impressive throughout, and Newman is perfect as the narrator and hero – of sorts – of the picture. He combines his natural charm, with world-weary emotion. You get the feeling that Ross is just plain tired of the world he inhabits, and he is just one of many characters in this film who are unsatisfied wtih their lives. Susan Sarandon has a timeless beauty, and looks stunning here, and Hackman….well, he’s just always terrific.

The plot has twists and turns, but it doesn’t get too complicated, which is a good thing. I like films that encourage the audience to think, but not films that are just too convoluted and end up being just plain confusing.

I would say that this is not the best film that any of the stars ever made, but if you are a fan of any of the cast, it is certainly worth a watch.

Year of release: 1998

Director: Robert Benton

Producers: Michael Hausman, Arlene Donovan, Scott Rudin, Scott Ferguson, David McGiffert

Writers: Robert Benton, Richard Russo

Main cast: Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon, Stockard Channing, Reese Witherspoon, James Garner

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Louisa Clark is 26 years old, in a vaguely unsatisfying relationship with fitness fanatic Patrick, lives with her parents, sister, nephew and Grandad in a house that really isn’t big enough for them all, and works in a cafe, doing a job she likes but which has no prospects.  Her world could not be more different than that of Will Traynor, who is handsome, intelligent, rich, funny, adventurous and well-travelled.  But Will’s life has changed unimaginably since he was in a road accident that left him quadraplegic, and Lou’s life changes when she loses her job at the cafe, and becomes a carer for Will.  Initially antagonistic towards each other, the two end up becoming good friends – and each becomes something of a lifeline to the other.  Louisa desperately wants to help Will cope with his disability, but Will already has his own plans for the rest of his life.

I had heard many many good things about this book – SO many in fact, that I felt certain I was going to be let down when I actually read it.  However, I was not let down; in fact I found that this novel was one of those rare books that I genuinely did not want to put down.  I lost myself in it for hours at a time, and found that I was totally engaged with these two characters.  I really don’t want to give too much away about what happens, so I have limited my description of the story to more or less what is on the back cover of the book.  I must say though, that this story had me crying on several occasions, and laughing on other – yes, even when discussing such an emotionally charged subject, Jojo Moyes still managed to convey the hilarity of some situations.

The book is mainly told from Lou’s point of view, and I grew to really like her; like Will, I felt frustrated at her inability to see her own potential, and her apparent willingness to settle for less than she deserved.  As for Will – I really don’t believe I can even begin to imagine how it must be to live his life – but this book did make me think about how it must be for a young man in his prime to lose practically all of his physical capabilities. 

If I had just one criticism, it would be that I thought the upper classes were portrayed almost as caricatures – rich women are apparently all stunning beautiful but selfish, and the men are all boorish and brash.  This really is just a tiny niggle though, and certainly would not stop me recommending this book to everybody. 

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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I saw this production at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, on 13th October 2012. It was performed by South Staffordshire Musical Theatre Company, an amateur company – but this certainly felt like a professional production.

The story is a well known one – a young Nun named Maria is struggling to cope with life inside the convent, where she lives in Austria.  She is sent away to become a governess to the seven children of the widowed Captain Von Trapp.  The Captain is initially formidable and doesn’t approve of Maria’s methods (basically, she lets the children have fun and teaches them to sing), but he softens towards her and the two fall in love.  However, their happiness is threatened by the arrival of the Nazis into Germany…

Okay, here’s a small confession….I have NEVER seen the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.  I know the story of course, so I knew more or less what to expect in that respect.  What I didn’t know was that by the end of the show, my mouth would be aching from smiling so much, or that I would have had to wipe a few tears from my eyes.

It’s hard to pick out any specific members of the cast, only because they were all so good, but I cannot review this production without commenting on Claudia Gilmour, who had the unenviable task of taking on the part made so famous by Julie Andrews.  Claudia simply has the most beautiful singing voice, and her acting was also wonderful – I really liked her portrayal.  Tim Brown was also terrific is Captain Von Trapp, and his change from formidable and unapproachable, to gentle and loving was lovely to see.

Most of the songs are very familiar to even those like me, who have not seen the film. Do Re Me and A Few Of My Favourite Things were my particular favourites (it was hard not to sing along at the top of my voice, but I couldn’t subject those sitting near to me, to that!), but actually all of the songs were really lovely.

This was a fabulous production, with clearly a lot of hard work from all involved.  Their work paid off – the show is a triumph!

(For more information about The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, please click here.  South Staffordshire Musical Theatre Company’s website can be found here.)

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Also known as ‘Hero’, this film from 1992 did not do very well at the box office, despite the cast being headed up by Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis and Andy Garcia.  Still, it’s a lovely movie and if you get a chance to see it, I would definitely suggest that you do so.

Dustin Hoffman is Bernie LaPlante, a small-time crook, who saves the passengers of plane which has crashed.  However, when a monetary reward is offered for the ‘Angel of Flight 104’, homeless drifter Andy Garcia steps up to take the credit…

This is a thoroughly enjoyable film from start to finish.  It’s funny, yet very touching in places.  Dustin Hoffman once again proves his immeasurable talent as LaPlante, a character who in the hands of a lesser actor, could be completely unlikeable.  Hoffman however, manages to make the audience like LaPlante, despite his selfishness and despite his criminal tendencies.  Andy Garcia also shines as John Bubber, who it’s impossible not to feel warmth towards, even when he is taking credit that he knows he does not deserve.  Geena Davis rounds out the main cast, as a newsreader who is searching for story with meaning, that doesn’t revolve around gossip, and when she survives Flight 104, she thinks she might have found that story.

All in all then, this is a great comedy drama, with a real message at the heart of it’s story.  Thoroughly enjoyable.

Year of release: 1992

Director: Stephen Frears

Producers: Joseph M. Caracciolo, Laura Ziskin, Sandy Isaac

Writers: Laura Ziskin, Alvin Sargent, David Webb Peoples

Main cast: Dustin Hoffman, Andy Garcia, Geena Davis, Chevy Chase, Joan Cusack

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