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Posts Tagged ‘massachusetts’

About 30 (!) years ago, my mum and I went to the cinema to see Dying Young, a film starring Julia Roberts, still a major star riding high on the success of Pretty Woman: and Campbell Scott, a beautiful young man on whom I developed an instant huge crush which endures to this day. Roberts played Hilary, a streetwise, tough-but-vulnerable city girl from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, who takes a job as a nurse for Victor, a well-educated young man from a wealthy family, who has terminal leukaemia. Ordinarily their paths would never cross, but they inevitably fall in love and discover that they have plenty to teach each other. Yes, it’s Pretty Woman with the prostitution removed and a timebomb of an illness added. I rewatched the film a few years ago, and despite its obvious flaws, I still enjoyed it.

Anyway…this book by Marti Leimbach is the story which the film was based on, and this was my first time reading it. For anyone else who has seen the film, be aware that I am playing fast and loose with the words “based on.” The story was transplanted from rural Massachusetts in the book to San Francisco, and in the book Hilary is a persistent shoplifter, while Victor is cruel and unkind most of the time – in the film there is no sign of either of these traits.

In the book, which is told entirely from Hilary’s point of view, Hilary and Victor have already moved away to Hull, a small town where everyone knows each other, to get away from Victor’s father, who wants Victor to continue his treatment for leukaemia. Victor meanwhile has decided to give up all treatment and just enjoy what time he has left. He and Hilary fight a lot, and she has an affair with a local man named Gordon. As if this isn’t complicated enough, Gordon and Victor become friends. Hilary is torn between her love for these two very different men as well as being wracked with guilt, and all three of them have some big decisions to make about their respective futures.

Honestly I am not sure what to think about this book. It’s certainly an interesting situation, and it was an easy undemanding read, despite the subject matter. However, the main problem is that I didn’t feel that any of the characters were particularly well fleshed out so it was hard to get a read on them. I did feel more for Victor; he could be unkind, but it seemed fairly clear that it was an angry reaction to the hand that life had dealt him, although he lashed out (verbally) at Hilary – she being his only available target – which was unfair.

The story was fairly slow moving, which was fine, and almost felt like a series of vignettes strung together, rather than a continuous narrative. I don’t mind this style of writing, but it might not appeal to some readers.

I won’t give away the ending, suffice to say that I found it downbeat and somewhat unlikely. Overall I have mixed feelings and I’m unsure whether or not I would read anything else by this author. However, I applaud her for not taking the easy route with this situation and for writing characters, who ordinarily readers would want to side with, but who in this case are not always easy to like.

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This book is the second one in the Cape Bay murder mystery series. I listened to the audiobook while out running, just as I did with the first one. Here, Francesca is still running Alexandra’s coffee shop, still dancing around the edges of romance with her old friend Matty, and still getting involved in mysteries that don’t concern her! In this book, while Franny is preoccupied with learning how to make a good cup of tea – after some English visitors to her coffee shop weren’t impressed with her efforts – she learns of a murder in town. It’s the second in as many months and is very unsettling to the residents of the sleepy little town.

The victim, Joe Davis, was murdered in the parking lot of Todd’s Gym, which is run by Franny’s school crush Todd Caruthers. The police think Todd is guilty, and Franny is determined to prove his innocence. However, Matt is not so sure that Todd didn’t do it. The two of them work together to solve the mystery, all while trying to navigate their own relationship…

I did enjoy this book. Marguerite Gavin does a good job of narrating the story, told in the first person by Franny, and I really like both Franny and Matt. I do think the editing could be a bit tighter – several times the same phrasing is used twice in a sentence, which is slightly grating, but nonetheless it’s undemanding fluff. A lot of time is given over to the running of the cafe, which I quite enjoyed, but if it’s a solid murder mystery that you’re looking for, then this might not be the book for you, as the murder is just one facet of the story rather than necessarily the main part. The only thing that annoyed me a bit is that – for reasons I can’t explain because it would mean providing spoilers – the reader/listener doesn’t really get a fair chance to solve the mystery. I believe it was Agatha Christie who said that she always wanted to give readers the fair chance to solve the mystery themselves if they just put the clues together; in this case, some very pertinent information was withheld. But as stated before, the murder is one of the focusses of this book, rather than the only focus, so that did not really detract too much.

If you like cozy murder mysteries, you might want to give this series a try.

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Set in 1953/54, this film stars Julia Roberts as Katherine Watson, a graduate student from California, who takes a position teaching Art History at Wellesley College, Massachusetts.  The females under her tutorage are surprised by her subversive attitude (by their standards), and her progressive beliefs, as they all think that they are destined to be wives, mothers and nothing more.  The faculty are unhappy about her teaching methods, with the exception of Italian tutor Bill Dunbar (Dominic West), a charismatic but irresponsible man who has a reputation for sleeping with his students, especially Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is clearly still stuck on him.  The main characters apart from Katherine and Bill are four students, namely Giselle; Joan (Julia Stiles), an intelligent young woman with a yearning to study Law, but who believes that a woman cannot have a career and marriage; Betty (Kirsten Dunst), a particularly spiteful young lady, who is a product of her overbearing mother; and Connie (Ginnifer Goodwin), a sweet-natured girl, who despairs of ever finding a man who loves her.

This film caught my eye purely because Dominic West is in it; as one of my favourite actors, he never disappoints, and as expected, was great here – as indeed was the whole cast.  All four of the main student characters were perfectly played, and I particularly liked Goodwin’s Connie.  Dunst was also outstanding as Betty, even if I could not stand her character for most of the film (nonetheless, her actions are understandable, if not excusable).  I’ve seen some reviews which suggested that Julia Roberts was not well-cast as Katherine Watson, but I beg to differ.  I enjoyed her in this more rounded and human role than some that she played earlier in her career, and enjoyed her chemistry with Dominic West.  Marcia Gay Harden and Juliet Stevenson were wonderful in supporting roles, as Katherine’s housemates, respectively another tutor, and the school nurse (who is fired for providing the students with contraception).

The film was inspiring too – there were some funny moments, and a surprising amount of tear-inducing scenes (I had to watch the last few scenes through my tears).  It was thought-provoking and emotionally satisfying, and I thoroughly enjoyed it from the first scene to the last.  Very highly recommended.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Mike Newell

Producers: Joe Roth, Richard Baratta, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Paul Schiff, Deborah Schindler

Writers: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal

Main cast: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Dominic West, Juliet Stevenson, Marcia Gay Harden

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This book is aimed at young adults, but can definitely be enjoyed by older readers too.  Weaving fiction with fact, it tells the story of Mary Chase, a young girl living in Salem, Massachusetts, in the late 17th century, at the time of the infamous witch trials.  Mary and her mother and brother are horrified as a group of young girls accuse various members of the community of committing heinous supernatural deeds, and call them witches.  After being given only the flimsiest of trials, the women, and some men, are punished by hanging.  Despite their upset and anger, Mary does not initially know just how close to home the terror will strike, and when it does, she has to act fast to save those she loves.

I liked this book, partly because the subject itself is so fascinating, and also because there was actually a great story in there too.  The characterisation is not as strong as it maybe could have been, and the story did not always move quickly, but in a way that was a good thing – there was this creeping sense of terror, as it slowly dawned on people that they might be the next accused.  Also, some people found to their cost that to speak out against the accusers and the way the accused were being treated was also dangerous.

Although Mary and her family, and some of the other characters are fictional, there are many characters including the accusers and most of the victims of the persecution who were real people, and whose fates did transpire as they do in the book.  It would be an interesting introduction to the subject of the Salem Witch Trials, for anybody who wants to learn more the subject, although it is worth bearing in mind that some place names and dates have been changed (there is an author’s note at the back where she explains such changes).

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