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Posts Tagged ‘massachusetts’

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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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