Book and TV Review: Father Brown

I’ve been watching the TV series Father Brown (a BBC series, available on Netflix) for many months now, and it’s quite delightful.  I thought I’d try the original stories, written by G. K. Chesterton, and got The Innocence of Father Brown. the first collection of short stories, from the library.  It was an engaging book with some clever mysteries–though not quite the Father Brown I was looking for.

Father Brown is a Catholic priest in England, with a knack for solving mysteries.  Many of the short stories in this first book feature Hercule Flambeau, first as a criminal and then reformed into a detective.  The setting is mostly London, I think in the late 1800s.  Some of the stories relate to Father Brown’s activities as a priest, though less than you might expect.  The connection is more through the insights Father Brown has gained as a priest than through plot connections.

The TV show, on the other hand, moves the setting to the Cotswolds in the 1950s, where Father Brown is pastor of St. Mary’s Church.  Here his parish work is much more integral to the stories, as usually some aspect of his priest work brings him into contact with the crime–nearly always murder.  The TV show adds in additional supporting characters: Mrs. McCarthy, parish secretary and quite proper; Lady Felicia, local aristocracy and not so proper; Sid, chauffeur to Lady Felicia; and, in later seasons, Bunty, Lady Felicia’s very modern niece.  There’s also an ongoing parade of local police chiefs, none of whom appreciate this priest interfering in the world of crime.

The short stories were interesting and engaging, but the TV show is charming and delightful–so it probably didn’t set me up that well for the short stories!  The tone just feels very different.  The Cotswold setting is a big part of the charm (though one does have to wonder about the number of murders happening in this idyllic rural village!) Continue reading

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Blog Hop: Fictional Home Away From Home

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Is there a fictitious town in a book that you would love to live in? What makes it appealing?

The first one to come to mind is…not exactly a town.  I read the Pern books when I was pretty young, and I loved the Harper Hall in Dragonsinger.  I’m not sure anymore why I like it so much, since I’m not even musical (and I’ve realized a few issues with Pernese culture, another story entirely).  But there’s still something that feels very appealing about a craft hall/school where everyone makes music and records history in songs.  And bubbly pies sound delicious and fire lizards delightful.

The probably more significant fictitious town I’d like to live in is Avonlea–or Glen St. Mary–or whatever town Emily of New Moon is living in (I can’t seem to find a name!)  Because really, they’re all fictitious versions of Cavendish, the village L.M. Montgomery grew up in, on Prince Edward Island.  Like the Harper Hall, there are obvious disadvantages (both to the late 1800s and to the rural setting) but she makes it sound so delightful.  Her (word) pictures of nature are breathtaking, and I love the idea of a little village where everyone knows everyone and is interconnected in a complex web of relations and friendships and shared histories.

What fictitious town would you like to live in?  Are you totally sure, or do you see some reservations to your choice too?

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2018 Goals – First Quarter Update

I’m a little overdue for an update on 2018 goals…because life is busy!  And it’s because life is big and complex that I’ve widened my focus this year beyond only reading challenges.

My first, biggest, and most consuming goal is to get married!  The wedding is just over a month away, and most of the plans are all in place.  My bridal shower was on Saturday, and all the last pieces are coming together.  I kind of get now why people run away to Vegas (it’s so much less time-consuming!) but I’m still glad we haven’t.

Reading challenges still continue.  I’ve been focusing a lot on Newbery Medal winners, and they’ve actually been a big chunk of what I’ve read so far this year.  I’m up to eleven, putting me about halfway through the year’s goal.  I also got through the juggernaut, first-ever winner, The Story of Mankind, which ought to count for three all by itself.  And happily, it was a better read than I expected.

  1. Onion John by Joseph Krumgold (1960)
  2. Amos Fortune: Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (1951)
  3. The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (1974)
  4. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (2017)
  5. Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (1930)
  6. Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (1928)
  7. The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois (1948)
  8. The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon (1922)
  9. Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (1965)
  10. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham (1956)
  11. Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith (1958)

Continue reading

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Blog Hop: Promising Reviews

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Do you overextend yourself with too many reviews because you can’t pass up a book in hopes you will get them all done or do you carefully plan and be sure you can fulfill the deadlines for all the promised reviews?

I’m assuming this question is about promising reviews in exchange for a copy of a book–promising myself I’ll write a review is a whole different situation!  So I’m looking at it from the book/review exchange promise perspective…

I am a planner in all aspects of life, so I was never one to get overextended on promised reviews.  Lately, this is even more true…I haven’t actually accepted a book for review in a very long time.  I have kind of a lot going on right now (and I know I’m due for a goal update!) and I need my fun things to actually be fun and relaxing, not another obligation.  (I might feel differently by December, but right now I’m strongly feeling the ‘maybe a year of super low pressure reading challenges’ vibe for 2019.  We’ll see.)

Another reason I’ve pulled back on accepting review copies is that I didn’t always have much luck with them.  In fact, I had several experiences where I could tell by page two that a book wasn’t really for me, just on a writing-style level, but felt obligated to finish reading.  Because…someone sent me a book for free in exchange for a review, and reviewing that I read two pages and stopped didn’t really feel like holding up my end of the bargain!  Those books didn’t turn out to be terrible and I tried to give balanced reviews, but would I have kept reading if I didn’t feel I had to?  Nope, I don’t think so.

When I eventually get back to accepting review copies of books (because I do intend to eventually, when life settles down), I’ll probably request to see the first few pages before committing to reading and reviewing.  That seems like it would be better for everyone!

Fellow book bloggers, are you accepting books for review?  Do you feel on top of it, or do things pile up sometimes?

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Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

I missed last year’s Murder on the Orient Express in theaters, so when I saw it at Redbox while waiting in a long line at the grocery store, the same day I was having a monthly movie night with friends–well, serendipity!  I’m glad to have seen it and I enjoyed watching it, and I’m glad I watched it with my friends.  Because I had some thoughts to discuss.

Based on the classic Agatha Christie novel, the story centers around a murder on a train, the titular Orient Express.  The train is trapped by an avalanche in the middle of nowhere, so when a body is found in a sleeping compartment in the morning, it appears the murderer must be one of the passengers.  Fortunately for the forces of truth, justice and mystery-writing, among the passengers is the famous Hercule Poirot, who sets out to get to the bottom of the mystery.

So much is true in the book, the recent movie, and the 1974 version (also enjoyable).  This one also brings star power equal to the old one, with Kenneth Branagh playing Poirot with truly remarkable mustaches (always plural with Poirot); Johnny Depp doing a rather sinister turn as the murder victim; and Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff (inevitable casting, as it felt strange in the older movie that the old British dame wasn’t Judi Dench).  Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer and Daisy Ridley also appear.

Branagh played a more nuanced, less theatrical (barring the mustaches) Poirot, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.  This Poirot was exhausted by the horrors of the crime-solving life, had a secret love in his past, and was probably OCD.  Usually I’m in favor of more nuance and depth to characters…but Poirot’s theatricality and delight in his work is part of his charm!  If I can get over the “but that’s not right…” aspect of things, it was a very good character who was interesting to follow through the movie–though I will maintain that the secret past love seemed wildly unnecessary, and an example of the movie industry trying to horn romance in everywhere.  (I’m pro-romance!  I’m just also pro-the occasional character who doesn’t have that motivation.)

Likewise the movie made some different choices in the nuances.  There was some extra drama thrown-in, with an added stabbing and more dramatic confrontations.  Which were exciting–but I rather liked the cerebral quality of the original.  The motivations behind the murder also felt more intense, more emotion-driven than the considered justice of the original.  None of it was bad as it was in the new movie–or as it was in the original.  They’re just different.

I do prefer the way the modern movie opened compared to the earlier one (both add-ons that weren’t in the book).  The old one gives away much of the mystery in the first five minutes with a kind of prologue, while the new one lets us learn connections as Poirot makes them, which I greatly prefer.  The new movie instead opens with a small-scale mystery which Poirot solves within perhaps ten minutes, which provides a bit of early drama and, more importantly, effectively introduces us to the lead character in a vivid way.

So I guess the conclusion was that it was good–but different–but good.  And if you’ve never read the book or seen the previous movie, then it’s just good.  And contains a very clever twist on the murder that (I hope) hasn’t been spoiled for you yet!

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