P.D. James

On Thanksgiving Day in America, one of England’s great modern writers died. P.D. James was probably best known for her mysteries featuring Adam Dalgliesh, a police commander and poet.

What set James apart from the many other English mystery authors? Perhaps it was her characters, or the way she wrote her mysteries. The ones I’ve read seem to be a bit more psychological, at least in the sense that time is spent trying to figure out why someone was murdered, and not just how and by whom. James also did an excellent job of showing what it would be like for the police to investigate, having to weed through the lies they’re told in order to find the one or two lies that really mattered, the ones covering up murder.

James apparently didn’t have a full formal education, since her father didn’t believe in that for girls. She had to start work at an early age. Later in life, she was named a life peer as Baroness James.

Her name might not be familiar to many Americans, but I would recommend her books to anyone interested in a good novel. She didn’t just write “typical” mysteries, either. She also had some thriller and dystopian books. For example, her book The Children of Men was adapted into a movie, which became quite popular. She also recently wrote Death Come to Pemberley, a mystery featuring Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, six years after Pride & Prejudice. It is an entertaining and engaging novel, one that can satisfy an avid Janeite or a mystery buff (or both).

Here is a link to an article about her, one that has some interesting comments and perspectives.

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/culturehousedaily/2014/11/p-d-james-1920-2014-on-jane-austen-and-the-joys-of-great-grandparenting/

I hope you read one of P.D. James’s books some day. They are worth it.

Movie review

I recently came across a notebook in which I had written a number of movie reviews. I thought some of them were interesting, and decided to share. The first one I want to share is a review I wrote of Little Miss Sunshine in 2007.

Here it is:

Little Miss Sunshine

Starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collete, Steve Carell

A strange, yet touching, story of a disturbed and dysfunctional family. It is also an ironic depiction of beauty pageants. Although all of the family members have issues, a trip brings them together and helps them grow in strange and unexpected ways. This movie is both comedy and drama, and illustrates how one can love family members and not be able to stand them, all at the same time.

Four stars

The Judge–Movie review

To use Robert Downey, Jr.’s own description, The Judge is a “movie about people.”

It may seem a relative typical set-up: big-city hot-shot must return to small home town and deal with estranged family. What makes The Judge different is that the characters all seem more realistic than the run-of-the-mill movie and the acting and writing is excellent.

The Judge is also about family. Downey plays Hank, a big-city lawyer, who returns to his hometown where his father is a judge. Hank has to deal with his father and the rest of his family, and it’s not always pretty or comfortable. However, the characters grow and gain an understanding of one another. Again, it’s not always easy or pretty, but it is real.

The Judge is an entertaining and refreshing movie, one that I would highly recommend. It is a realistic, yet hopeful and encouraging movie. I think those who are fans of Downey’s action movies wouldn’t be disappointed, either.

The Maze Runner–Book/Movie Review

James Dashner did what seems to be increasingly popular in Young Adult fiction–he wrote a dystopian trilogy. I have only read The Maze Runner so far, since I wanted to read it before seeing the movie.

The Maze Runner, as many books do, seems to draw on previous stories and change things about them. I specifically felt there were similarities to Lord of the Flies. That’s not a bad thing, since Lord of the Flies is one of the classics.

Where The Maze Runner differs is in the setting, the time period, and the conflict. The kids in The Maze Runner are stuck in a glade that’s inside a giant maze, and the main conflict results from them trying to find a way out and avoid the monsters in the maze. In the movie, a lot of this action–the time spent studying the maze–is either fast-forwarded or not even discussed. I understand movies have to be condensed, but it didn’t seem to be handled well. I walked away with the feeling that the director was banking on people having read the book.

The movie is still entertaining, even if the fighting action sequences were too blurry to follow well. It does stick to the book in most essentials. Of course, it has a cliff-hanger ending since it’s based on the first book of a trilogy. This was still a novel (no pun intended) thing way back when Peter Jackson directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Is it going old? Well, it’s making money, so I don’t see the practice changing anytime soon, but it gets tiring sometimes.

The book has interesting ideas and presents them in an entertaining format. I wish the movie had followed it a little better, but it was still entertaining as well. It remains to be seen how strong the whole trilogy will be.

 

 

Divergent–Book Review

Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy has been compared to Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy. So far, I’ve only read Divergent, but I can see why people would make that comparison. However, I don’t think the two are similar much beyond the fact that they are both young adult dystopian trilogies.

In Divergent, there is a world that is both more familiar and more unique. What makes it familiar are the location–Chicago in the future–and what is different is the idea of all people being divided into five factions, and each faction having a specific set of jobs.

The main character, Beatrice or Tris, changes factions, but finds she still doesn’t fit in. This is something that most people can relate to, at least in some point in their lives. Roth may play the concept up a lot, but it’s important to the story line. What is interesting is that the “outsiders,” those who don’t fit in, are also those who can’t be controlled like everyone else.

Maybe being the odd one in the crowd is better than you think.

The Giver–Movie review

The Giver, directed by Phillip Noyce, is based on the book of the same title, written by Lois Lowry. The book is an early young adult dystopian novel, but it seems much different from the typical dystopian YA novels written today. For one thing, it is more similar to something like Brave New World than it is to The Hunger Games. Why do I say that? Because in The Giver, everyone thinks they are living in a utopia, even though the reality behind the facade is quite chilling. No one, except perhaps some of those in The Capitol, would ever think that in The Hunger Games.

The movie version of The Giver follows the book well in the important areas. As usual, there are a number of changes, but most of them are understandable due to the issues of compressing a book into a movie length.

The actors were well-suited to their parts, especially Jeff Bridges as the Giver. It seems that he has gotten much better over time. Even if he isn’t as old as I imagined the Giver, his performance is thoroughly convincing. The movie also contains some good cinematography and photography.

If you are looking for a movie that combines action with thought-provoking ideas, you should check out The Giver. After all, you might be curious to see a portrayal of what happens when everything is decided for you. Would you be in the majority living in the utopia, or would you be on the fringe, be different?

Odd Thomas

A while back, a friend recommended Dean Koontz to me. I added him to my mental list of writers to read, and eventually I picked up a couple of his books from the library. I wasn’t impressed by one of his books–Velocity, I believe–but I went on to read Odd Hours anyway. I enjoyed the main character, Odd Thomas, so much that I went back and started reading the series at the beginning, with the book Odd Thomas.

I’m still not entirely sure why I enjoy the series so much, especially since I still don’t care for Dean Koontz’s other books. It’s probably due to the character Odd. The books are strange, bizarre even, with a lot of paranormal themes, but Odd’s narration and wit carry the story through any difficulties. He is a believable character, sometimes stuck in unbelievable situations. And yet I continue to read the stories.

There is now a movie out, also called Odd Thomas, and based on the first book. Anton Yelchin plays Odd, and does a good job of portraying the character without making the story silly.

I would recommend both the books and the movie to anyone who wants to enjoy a humorous, engaging story told by a likable chap. Even if you’re not a fan of paranormal stories, you should give Odd a chance!

Importance of reading

It often happens that I have discussions about books and writers with friends and family. I have had two such conversations recently. One has to do with the idea that a reader can learn much about other areas and cultures by reading, even if they are unable to travel. Neither Emily Dickinson nor Jane Austen traveled much in their lifetimes, and yet many readers have appreciated their work for years.

If one has the ability to read, it can open up the world in ways that most other activities cannot. The more you read, the more free you become, and the more you learn about yourself and others. Malcolm X was semi-literate, so he started copying out the dictionary when he was in prison. Once he started learning words, he was able to read and understand books. He read all the time, and even said that up until that time of his life he had never been so free.

Books are powerful. Words are powerful. The more we read, the more we can understand and grow. And, really, it’s fun!

A Man for all Seasons–Movie review

There haven’t seemed to be many new interesting movies recently, so I’ve been watching some classics that have been recommended. One that I watched last week was the 1966 version of A Man for all Seasons, starring Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More.

A Man for all Seasons is the story of More and King Henry VIII, who were friends. However, the story ends with More’s execution because he wouldn’t go against his conscience and agree with the King’s divorce, remarriage, and creation of a new church.

Scofield does a good job of showing the influence that More had in his day, and why it was so important to King Henry that he had More’s “blessing.” More’s silence spoke louder than the words of agreement or disagreement from many others.

It is refreshing, in our age of political pay-offs, to see an official who was truly honest. In fact, More was so honest he couldn’t go against his conscience, and it cost him his life.

A Man for all Seasons may not be as action-packed as most modern movies, but it is a good story. It has the benefit of being a true story, and it is one that we can learn from today.

Rose Under Fire–Book Review

Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein, is a sequel of sorts to Wein’s Code Name Verity, although one does not have to read one to understand the other. The style is similar, since both are told predominately through the eyes of a girl (or girls) writing a journal. The form might sound tedious, but it is well done and engaging.

I enjoyed Code Name Verity, but I think Rose Under Fire is better. It is more believable, yet more horrible in subject matter. It is the story of Rose Justice, an American civilian pilot, who is captured by the Germans and sent to Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp.

Rose Under Fire is Rose’s story of her time in Ravensbrück, who she met there, and how she survived. It is similar to many other stories, but it is geared toward a younger audience. As such, it is not as graphic as some books in descriptions of what happened, but still doesn’t shy away from depicting what went on.

I would recommend that young people, especially, read this book, so that they never forget what happened during World War II.