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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Death in the English Countryside

Title: Death in the English Countryside, Author: Sara Rosett

 Review of Death in the English Countryside by Sara Rosett

Overview from Location scout and Jane Austen aficionado, Kate Sharp, is thrilled when the company she works for lands the job of finding locations for a new film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but then her boss, Kevin, fails to return from a scouting trip to England. Afraid that Kevin has slipped back into some destructive personal habits he struggles with, Kate travels to England to salvage Kevin's and the company's reputation before word gets out that he is missing.
Things go from bad to worse when Kate arrives in Nether Woodsmoor, a quaint village of golden stone cottages and rolling green hills, only to find no trace of Kevin except his abandoned luggage. Even the rumpled, easygoing local scout they consulted, Alex, doesn't know where Kevin might be. 

My Review:

I can’t be quite certain but I believe that this story falls into the cozy mystery genre and thus that is what I am labelling this as. The story begins with our protagonist, Kate Sharpe who works for a company that finds locations out in the real world where movie companies can shoot their movies. Kate comes into work one day only to discover that her boss Kevin has not yet returned to the office after a scouting trip to the English countryside—and what’s worse, he apparently did not use his return ticket.

Kate’s clandestine mission is to fly to England and find him all the while keeping his past alcohol problems under wraps so that their current client doesn’t bolt. Expecting to find him in a local pub somewhere hung-over, Kate is dismayed to learn that has been days since he has been seen and that his disappearance is looking less and less likely to be alcohol-related.

With the help of the location scout (Alex) that Kevin had been working with, she attempts to discover what really happened to him and convince the police to spend less time focusing on her as a potential suspect. Meanwhile she begins to wonder if her instincts about Alex’s innocence were not to be trusted after all as Inspector Quimby casts doubt on his alibi shortly after an unknown assailant makes an attempt on her own life.

This story was great. I really liked the characters as well as the plot itself. I believe it is the first book in a series and if I am right about that it should make a very interesting one at that. It would be unique to say the least to have a woman working for a film locations company as an amateur sleuth in a cozy mystery. It is different and refreshing though I would love to know where the author will find future situations for Kate to be exposed to other crime investigations.

The English village did not play out in the stereotypical way that I have often seen in the past. The villagers seemed generally kind to our main character but not nauseatingly so. In other words, I found the setting entirely believable.

Also, the story was clean. I don’t remember much in the way of foul language or sex scenes. The violence was minimal. I don’t even recall any blood though I am sure that there was some.

The plot was engaging enough to keep me guessing up to nearly the very end. It did not feel like the author left anything out. In the end, as Kate herself said, it was just a bunch of little things that didn’t add up and made her think twice.

I recommend this book for a good light-hearted read, a good summer read. It won’t take long to get through and it kept my attention throughout. As of this writing, it is not too expensive either. If you like this genre, you’ll probably want to check it out.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Martian: The book vs. the movie

Title: The Martian, Author: Andy Weir 

 The Martian: The book vs. the movie
Sometime back I said I would discuss The Martian book versus the movie version. It took longer than I thought but here it is as promised. I should start by stating where I stand. I am generally of the old school, that is, the idea that the book is always better than the film, well maybe not always in my case. I do have to say that it generally is in most cases. However, there are a few exceptions; I think therefore when viewing, I try to give the movie a fair shot.

The book

If you want to know more about the book and what I thought of it read my review in the last post. I don’t want to reiterate what I have already said about it except as it relates to a direct comparison or contrast of the movie. To sum it up I will say that I generally liked it with a few exceptions.

How the movie stacks up: differences

First off, the movie strips most of the swear words and fbombs out. For people like me who don’t like fbombs in particular, this is a good thing. As part of my school work we had discussions about the perceived efforts of the film industry to make this movie family friendly. Some were against it because they thought it took away something from the character of Mark Watney. I don’t agree with them, I felt it made it a bit easier to like him.


That brings me to my next point, the casting of the movie. Matt Damon was a great choice for the role of Mark Watney. He added a certain charm to it. I wasn’t as thrilled about some of the other members of the cast. I liked Kristen Wiig as the PR rep. but did feel like they drastically shrunk her role from the one that her character plays in the book.

However for me the biggest negative was how they changed the ethnicity of Dr. Kapoor. In recent years we have finally begun to see more roles for Indian Americans or people whose background originates in India. The fact that they took that away really bugged me.  Yes, they had another Indian guy in there but he had a much smaller role. Plus, Dr. Kapoor had one of the best lines in the book, the funniest, that related directly to the Hindu religion of the character. It then obviously had to be taken out when they changed his ethnicity. So sad.


My recommendation for this movie is that you see it. It is certainly worth taking a look at, even if some aspects of it are disappointing. Those who like some of the original characters from the book might find it a little disappointing but I am preparing you for it ahead of time so hopefully it won’t be a big shock. As far as book versus movie, I guess I am going to have to root for the book though it is difficult for me to do so with all the fbombs but overall, it tells the better story.

Watch the trailer here:

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Martian: the book

Title: The Martian, Author: Andy Weir

Review of The Martian by Andy Weir

Overview from Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

 My Review:

Okay peeps. Long time, no hear. I am sorry about that, I really. I only have all the usual excuses about school, which brings me to my next point. I am here to discuss The Martian, not a literal Martian obviously but the book with that same title. In another future post I will probably also give my assessment of book versus movie however this time I focus strictly on the book.
Our main character is a guy named Mark Watney. He’s not just any guy but to answer your unspoken question, he is not a Martian. He is, however, an astronaut. He gets left behind for dead during a mission to Mars. You don’t get far into this book before you realize that Mark is wise-cracking type scientists who likes to make jokes about almost everything, even his mistakes.

So what does a guy like that do on Mars? Well apparently he just keeps making jokes and working out the science to stay. And that brings me to his personal mission or goal which is simply to stay alive until NASA can come and get him.

As per my usual, I will start with the positives on this story. First, it is an interesting concept. When I first heard about the plot it struck me as being a twist on the man stranded on the deserted island plot except that you’ve upped the ante because now he has to worry about being able to breathe as well as grow food “on a planet where nothing grows.” So it has that going for it.

Second, as I said before, Mark Watney is a funny guy. For the most part he is a likeable character although I have to admit it took me a while to figure that out. Some of his remarks came out more of bitter type of funny which I didn’t care for too much but as the story got going I started to really appreciate his sense of humor. I got the point where I could ignore the objectionable parts and enjoy the story.

Third, some of the other characters are also funny and fun to read. I loved Venkat Kapoor, for example. It was nice to read a major Indian character in an American story and I can only say—it’s about time. Lewis and her disco collection were also useful in serving as the butt of Watney’s jokes.
The aforementioned objectionable parts for me, well it was really one objectionable part—the language. There are a ton of fbombs in this one. I might have stopped reading it altogether due to that fact alone except for two things:

  • ·      It was a class assignment (I couldn’t believe it but I finally got to read a novel for a class assignment, how awesome is that!)
  • ·      It was a really interesting plot.

That being said, you might want to consider that if you are going to read this book. Also, I wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers. In fact, I would probably suggest adults only.

The other down side was that I didn’t always understand the science behind it and that made the scientific explanations hard to follow. I guess that’s my fault though for not understanding more about science.  And since I didn’t have time to research it while I was reading it, I got lost in a few places. However, that didn’t mean that I wasn’t able to follow the story. I got all the major plot points and even most of the minor ones; I just didn’t understand how they happened.

So I recommend it only if you can either stomach or ignore the language. Otherwise, you might want to consider the movie version instead.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc 

Review of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe

Overview from It's 1907 Los Angeles. Mischievous socialite Anna Blanc is the kind of young woman who devours purloined crime novels—but must disguise them behind covers of more domestically-appropriate reading. She could match wits with Sherlock Holmes, but in her world women are not allowed to hunt criminals. 
Determined to break free of the era's rigid social roles, Anna buys off the chaperone assigned by her domineering father and, using an alias, takes a job as a police matron with the Los Angeles Police Department. There she discovers a string of brothel murders, which the cops are unwilling to investigate. Seizing her one chance to solve a crime, she takes on the investigation herself. 
If the police find out, she'll get fired; if her father finds out, he'll disown her; and if her fiancé finds out, he'll cancel the wedding and stop pouring money into her father's collapsing bank. Midway into her investigation, the police chief's son, Joe Singer, learns her true identity. And shortly thereafter she learns about blackmail.
Anna must choose—either hunt the villain and risk losing her father, fiancé, and wealth, or abandon her dream and leave the killer on the loose.

My Review:

I am happy to be with you again to share my thoughts about my last piece of fiction. This week I review The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe.

It features a main character who is a well-known Los Angeles socialite at the turn of the century, but that’s not all she is. As the title suggests, Anna Blanc has a secret, a whole secret other life, under the name of Matron Holmes.

Her love of playing detective and the chance for excitement get the best of her. After a failed attempt at marriage, her father literally catches her immediately after marrying someone he does not approve, another man miraculously wants her for himself and his money is something that her father can’t refuse.

After being arrested as a suffragette, Anna becomes obsessed with the idea of having a job as police matron, something that she knows her father and fiancé won’t approve of. When a positon opens up at the LAPD though, she knows that she can’t let that stand in her way. So she bribes her chaperon to look the other way, tells her new boss that she is a married woman, and gets a job as Matron Holmes.

When she visits a brothel one day, she discovers that prostitutes are being murdered on a regular basis and vows to herself to solve the crime. Meanwhile it becomes more difficult by the day to keep her double life a secret from her father, her friend, and her fiancé.

My overall analysis on this was is that it is a great story. It is nice to see a strong and independent female character from this time period. The author handles the tie-in with the suffragettes nicely.

Also the ending was something of surprise for me. Don’t worry, I am not going to give anything away but the mystery itself was interesting though I think the most interesting part of the story for me was Anna story as a girl who was ruined only to be “saved” again by the attentions of Edgar Wright who then decides to risk everything to help solve a crime that the police seem to ignore.

In the end, Anna also proves herself a capable detective in her own right who is able to make decisions for herself. It would really be nice if this story became a series complete with more mysteries to solve.

On the downside, some readers might find the mystery slow going initially but for me, that part of the story was just as interesting as the mystery. I appreciate the way the author tackled a time period that does not seem to appear much in historical fiction. It reminded me of some of the stories that my grandfather used to tell me in some ways.

I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone interested in historical fiction, particularly if he or she also likes a good mystery. The background about Los Angeles during this period as well as the Arrow Collar man is fascinating in and of itself. I am hoping someday to score an interview with author about that but in the meantime pick up a copy and read it for yourself.

Contains: language, some sexual situations