Archive | November, 2010

Agatha Christie book reviews

30 Nov

I’ve seen bits of a TV version of Murder on the Orient Express in the past but for some reason have never picked up an Agatha Christie book. I guess it’s all thanks to Georgette Heyer that I did. I went from Heyer’s mysteries to Dorothy L. Sayers, and after enjoying those so much, I finally decided to read Agatha Christie. I chose a variety of novels since there are so many. And boy, these books did not disappoint!

The Man in the Brown Suit-

This was the first I read because it featured a young female doing the sleuthing. I’m familiar with Poirot and Miss Marple, who are both pretty old so I thought this would be interesting. And it certainly was. Anne Bedingfield is desperate for adventure and romance and is happy to find it in the form of a mystery. She goes all the way to South Africa to solve the murder. I liked the book because of Anne but it wasn’t my favorite of the bunch. 8/10

And Then There Were None-

This one really left me in awe! There was really no character you could trust in this book. Some were more sympathetic than others but they all have committed terrible acts. It kept me on the edge of my seat, reading through the night desperate to find out who the killer was. I was afraid near the end that I would never find out! This is the ultimate mystery- you must read!! 10/10

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd-

Only one thing spoiled this book for me- I was inadvertently spoiled about the murderer’s identity beforehand. True, I never found out the name directly but after reading all the praise for the “shocking twist ending” and all that I was able to guess. Accordingly, I picked out all the clues as I read so there was no shock whatsoever. Still, Agatha Christie’s genius was clear and the book was brilliant. If only I hadn’t read anything about it! 9/10

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Dorothy L. Sayers Reviews

30 Nov

I’ve been a Georgette Heyer fan for a while now and while I have enjoyed her detective novels, they left me wanting a bit more. I decided to expand my horizons and give some other authors a try. Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers are both hugely popular, yet I haven’t read anything of theirs until very recently. Now I’m kicking myself for waiting so long!

I picked up the only two Sayers books they had at my closest Borders- Whose Body and Strong Poison. I didn’t know they were both part of a series featuring PI Lord Peter Wimsey! I actually read Strong Poison first, even though Whose Body is the first in the series. Oopsies! It didn’t ruin anything for me though.

Whose Body-

The case was interesting enough but the characters really made me love this book. This book introduces Lord Peter Wimsey, younger brother of a duke and a sort of eccentric genius- he’s rich and only solves cases for fun. I also love Inspector Charles Parker, Lord Peter’s best friend and connection to Scotland Yard- he jokes he’s Watson to Lord Peter’s Sherlock. And his butler, Bunter, is also quite capable in helping solve the mysteries. 8/10

Strong Poison-

Another delightful read. Unfortunately, my dear Lord Peter didn’t have as much page time in this one, arranging for others to carry out most of the investigative work. But that didn’t hamper my enjoyment one bit! I found the case itself just a bit more interesting in this one and I loved Harriet Vane and her reaction to Lord Peter’s proposal. I can’t wait to read more books featuring her. I found it quite interesting when I googled Dorothy L. Sayers and noticed all the similarities between her and Harriet- Oxford-educated, mystery writer, persuaded to live with a lover against their wishes to test their devotion. Even though Harriet couldn’t do much in this book (being in jail and all), I have a feeling she’ll be quite useful at solving mysteries herself. Can’t wait to read more!! 9/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 Mini Review

24 Nov

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it on this blog, but I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I started reading the books when I was 12 (just over 11 years ago) and was immediately addicted. I’m so sad that the series is ending and torn about having to wait until July to see Part 2. The end of Part 1 left me wanting more but I’m glad that it won’t be over for a while now!

I’ve already seen the film four times and will most likely see it a few more times! (My record is 6 for Half-Blood Prince.) It was so unlike all the other Potter movies but I guess that’s not a surprise since the book was the same. Hogwarts is nowhere in sight and about 3/4 of the film is just the trio on their own. Even my younger sister, who never bothered with the other movies, loved this one because “it didn’t feel like Harry Potter.” Admittedly I have a cousin who wasn’t fond of it for the same reason, but to each her own.

Let’s start with the good stuff!

The acting was outstanding. I’ve always felt Rupert Grint as Ron was the most natural of the trio but up until now he hasn’t had much to work with, usually stuck as comic relief. Finally he got to show off more of his skill in some real dramatic moments. Emma Watson’s Hermione was the weakest to me in the first five films, overacting and constantly wiggling her eyebrows. Thankfully she improved in HBP and got even better this time! I thought the two of them outshone Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, who was good, don’t get me wrong. He just slightly paled in comparison to the other two. The supporting cast was equally good. Peter Mullan was very intimidating as Yaxley and even better than I imagined him in the book. Nick Moran’s Scabior played a bigger role than in the book and was almost alluring in a really creepy way. Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix was a touch toned down from the previous films, which I was grateful for. I was also so glad we finally got to meet Bill Weasley and Mundungus Fletcher.

The soundtrack was really good. I particularly loved Obliviated in the beginning because it caught my attention right away and Farewell to Dobby because it was so beautiful and moving. The cinematography was also excellent. I wasn’t fond of the camping scenes in the book but I didn’t mind them in the movie because of the gorgeous location shots!

Nearly all of the individual scenes were well-done, with a perfect balance of drama, action, and comedy. My favorites were Hermione erasing her parents’ memories and the silver doe. I was confused about the Harry/Hermione dance scene because I felt it was a bit out of character for Harry, but it was actually pretty cute.

The film wasn’t perfect. My two biggest complaints were the lack of explanation for the mirror shard and no use of the invisibility cloak. Since the cloak is one of the Hallows, wouldn’t it have made sense to remind the non-hardcore audience about it? Similarly, those who haven’t read the books will be scratching their heads trying to figure out where Harry got the mirror shard.I also felt Ginny was really a nonentity. Hers and Harry’s romance was poorly treated in HBP as well and I was disappointed that it was more of the same this time.

My other complaints are really minor quibbles in comparison. I missed seeing Dudley and Harry’s handshake, even though the movie works perfectly fine without it. I would have liked to see Harry and Ron hug after the destruction of the locket and have Harry assure Ron that he only sees Hermione as a sister (especially since some viewers thought he was trying to come on to Hermione in the dance scene!). I also felt Malfoy Manor, while a nice scene in itself, paled in comparison to the book. It was slightly rushed and watered down- namely Ron’s reaction and Wormtail’s fate. I suppose this was done for a reason, and it does work in the movie- but the book scene was so much better.

The end only made me want Part II right now! I guess I’ll have to reread the book to satisfy myself until July.

My Rating: 9/10

The Kite Runner Book Review

16 Nov

Khaled Housseini’s The Kite Runner is the story of Amir, a wealthy and privileged boy growing up in 1970s Afghanistan. His closest friend is the son of his father’s servant, Hassan. The two love flying kites and reading stories (really, Amir reads them to Hassan as the latter is illiterate). Hassan practically worships Amir but Amir is always conscious of their class differences and is also jealous of his father, Baba’s seeming preference for Hassan and longs to form a closer connection with Baba. The two are torn apart after Amir fails to help Hassan at a critical moment. Amir and Baba flee Afghanistan for America after the Soviet invasion and Amir tries to move on with his life and forget the past and all the guilt that comes with it. Everything changes, however, when he gets a call from his father’s old friend, telling him to come back, that “there is a way to be good again.”

My grandmother gave me this book five years ago after winning it in some sort of raffle. Her English isn’t the best and she knows I love reading so she probably figured I would eat it up right away. Well, I didn’t. I waited five years. I’m not sure why exactly, because I was well aware of the book’s critical acclaim. Maybe I thought it would be too depressing. I do tend to cry easily. Anyway, five years go by and I finally read the book and I didn’t let myself down. I cried, quite a few times actually. Yet I would most certainly not call The Kite Runner depressing. It is deeply moving and full of heart-breaking moments, yet its message is in the end uplifting. While you can never take back the past, you can still make a difference in the present.

The first section of the book, Amir and Hassan’s childhood in Afghanistan, is the most realistic to me. It reads almost like a real memoir, everything is so true to life. The second part, in America, is much in the same vein. It gets a bit melodramatic in the last third, however, after Amir’s return to Afghanistan. Some of the symbolism may seem a bit too obvious and one major twist feels almost out of a soap opera. I hate soap operas. Yet I was okay with this reveal, because it made everything fall into place. Finally, Baba’s past behavior and in turn, Amir’s made so much sense. It should have been obvious to me and I’m sure many readers guessed the secret. But I won’t reveal anything!

Many times I found myself wanting to smack young Amir for his selfish actions and yet at the same time I understood them and knew he was redeemable. He was never able to run from his sins and his guilt until he atoned for it. I enjoyed learning about Afghan culture and most of all, I loved reading about kite running! Forget the boring old kite flying I tried (and failed at!) as a kid, these kids attack each others’ kites and cut them away from their owners’ grasp in mid-flight. Then they chase after the kites and win them as their own (the “running” part). I had never heard of such a game before and found it really interesting.

The book is not perfect, I must admit. Aside from the borderline melodrama near the end, I thought Housseini portrayed the Hazaras (the underprivileged race Hassan and his father, Ali, belong to) as too perfect. The upper-class Pashtuns like Amir and Baba are flawed and the “bad” character, Assef, is fully evil, but the servants Ali and Hassan are pure nearing the point of sainthood. Admittedly, there are not many Hazara characters in the novel, and Assef is half German, so I suppose this isn’t quite a fair judgment to make.

I recommend everyone read The Kite Runner! Even if you don’t love it like I did, it’s still a very easy read and I think everyone should at least give it a chance. Don’t wait five years like I did!

My Rating: 8/10

Mansfield Park 1999 Review

8 Nov

There a lot of bad literary adaptations out there. But, honestly, I don’t think anything comes close to the horror that is Patricia Rozema’s version of Mansfield Park. Rozema, despite hating the book and the character of Fanny Price, decided to make a movie out of it. One may ask why someone who hates a certain book  would choose to write and direct a movie version of that book. Rozema apparently felt she could improve on Austen’s story and characters, choosing to base the screenplay not only on the novel but on Austen’s life. She also probably  hoped to cash in on the Austen mania of the 90s, but failed big time. This killed the Austen adaptations until 2005’s P&P.

This adaptation of Mansfield Park is BEYOND TERRIBLE. It went beyond Andrew Davies levels of sexing up. Many of the characters were unrecognizable from their book counterparts. Slavery was made a main focus (????). Rozema’s direction was bizarre. The cinematography was full of nauseating, blurry, slow motion shots that made me dizzy.

I will say that the majority of actors were good with the material they were given. The problem is, that material was beyond crap!

Note- Sorry if the pictures look weird. No matter how many times I resize them, they end up bigger in the final product. It was seriously annoying to keep trying to fix it with no success so I gave up!

Note again- I went back and changed the format of the pictures so they’re all centered. And of course, now they stay the size I wanted. WHAT GIVES?

Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price

Wrong, wrong, wrong!!!! Her character was changed to be a combination of a feisty, lively, athletic (!) Elizabeth Bennet, and Jane Austen herself. She writes stories to her sister Susan (William is omitted entirely). She does not want to have a coming out ball because she likens it to being sold off as another of Sir Thomas’ slaves. As if all of this were not mind-boggling enough, she actually ACCEPTS HENRY CRAWFORD’S PROPOSAL!!!! WTF??? Rozema did this to parallel Austen accepting Harris Bigg-Wither’s proposal only to change her mind the next day. But, seriously, it was just beyond wrong.

Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram

He wasn’t bad, actually. Unfortunately both Fanny and Mary were played by actresses at least ten years too old so he really looked like a baby next to them. And why was he wearing lipstick?

Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford

Well, she could have been okay if she had been a little younger. Rozema sexes her up a little too much, even going so far as to include lesbian undertones between her and Fanny in one scene! Also, Edmund’s wake-up call at the end as to her true character, is done in front of the whole family. She actually hushes Sir Thomas and implies she hopes Tom will die so Edmund will inherit the baronetcy to everyone, instead of in a letter to Fanny. That was just going too far, even for her.

Alessandro Nivola as Henry Crawford

He was okay, but actually seemed more of a victim to me than in the book. He and Fanny were getting on pretty well together and she really seemed happy and sure of herself when she accepted his proposal. I even felt bad for him when she changed her mind the next day. Another stupid move on Rozema’s part is having his and Maria’s “folly” take place at Mansfield Park, with the door unlocked, no less!

It’s making me angry even as I write this. I had planned to take screencaptures of more of the characters and scenes but I got so frustrated I ended up skipping through many parts. Sir Thomas Bertram is portrayed even worse than in the book, where he is a very strict, bordering on autocratic father figure who learns his lesson in the end. Here he is also a lecherous old man who rapes his slaves. Due to this, his son Tom is merely troubled and his reckless behavior is his way of coping with this depression. Lady Bertram is a laudanum addict. Mrs. Norris is okay but not menacing enough. Mr. Rushworth is decent. The Grants are mentioned only in passing. The Trip to Sotherton is omitted. Julia is much prettier than Maria, who resembled a mouse (sorry to Victoria Hamilton, but it’s true, especially next to Justine Waddell). That’s one of the minor gripes, however.


Fanny and Henry Kissing

Lady Bertram and Her Opium

I could go on and on for days but in an effort to restore my sanity, I’ll have to stop here. One thing I did like was having the same actress play Lady Bertram and Mrs. Price. And the scene where Mr. Norris dies and Mrs. Norris rings for the butler as if it’s only a mild annoyance was funny. But that was hardly enough to save this travesty. I’m not going to say you shouldn’t watch the movie at all. Just consider yourself warned. If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, the novel, or the character of Fanny Price, you will most likely be appalled. Are there any fans of the book out there who actually like this movie????

My Rating: 2/10

Georgette Heyer Update!

8 Nov

I can never go too long without reading another Georgette Heyer book. I still have a lot to go, but unfortunately they will run out eventually. I know I can always reread, but even so, I’ve been trying to space them out a bit.

Venetia- I’ll have to be honest and say it took me a long time to get into this book. I had read about the first two chapters before I got stuck. Admittedly, this was partly because of personal reasons and I also lost the book at one point. Yet it was true that I was not hooked from the start. But a few weeks ago, after finding it again I gave it another go. I was not disappointed! I’m usually not a fan of the “reformed rake” cliche yet this book didn’t quite follow that pattern. I found Venetia and Damarel’s love story to be very natural (and a bit sensual at parts!) and after all, Venetia did not even try to reform Damarel. She fell in love with him, knew he loved her as well, and thought she would have a much more exciting life as his wife. I like to think that Damarel was faithful to her all the same, as his past reckless behavior really all stemmed from a broken heart. 9/10

Why Shoot a Butler- Found this her dullest mystery of the few I’ve read. It was one of her earliest, so I guess she just hadn’t hit her stride yet. 6/10

A Blunt Instrument- I was able to guess the murderer from the start and I spent the rest of the book hoping I was wrong. Should I be proud of myself or disappointed because it was too obvious? I still enjoyed the book, but the mystery wasn’t really a mystery to me. The characters of Neville Fletcher and Sally Drew were amusing but I actually enjoyed Sergeant Hemingway and his slight bitterness the most. I’ve read enough of Heyer’s detective novels now to where I know there is a romance in each of them so it doesn’t surprise me anymore. This one did feel a bit tacked on, but still cute nonetheless. 7/10

Update

8 Nov

I’ve decided to expand this blog to feature different genres of books and film. I am still a huge fan of classic novels and period films, but I think it would be more interesting if I reviewed other works that I’ve been watching or reading as well. After all, I don’t want there to be any more huge hiatuses because I’m not reading or watching anything period at the time again!

Also expect my review of Mansfield Park 1999 very soon! I was going to just post a text review without watching and capping the movie again, but I decided it was more fun with pictures so I’ll go all out like I did with the other Jane Austen adaptations.