Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Calamity Jane

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Calamity Jane was the next film on my list, and I watched it back in February.

I've seen it several times already; usually I'll just come across it whilst flicking channels on tv, so I might have missed the start, although I have seen it in it's entirety before.

What can I say? It's just a pleasant, fun film with a great soundtrack, starring the very watchable Doris Day. One of the things that often strikes me is just how fit she must have been in some of those dance routines, jumping on tables and leaping over the bar, and all whilst singing and acting too (I know, she's a professional, so she should be able to do all that, but still... ). I Just Blew In From The Windy City is probably the best example of this, especially:

"Press a bell and a moment later,
Up you go in an elevator..."

Amazing choreography!

Review: Raven Black

Raven Black Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't know about the Shetland series of novels until I started watching the BBC series starring Douglas Henshall, and I've been trying to get my hands on a copy ever since.

It's hard not to compare the two; as is often the case, there is (of course) a lot more detail in the book that has either been left out, or completely changed for the tv, but thankfully neither seems to have suffered for this. I love watching the series, even if certain things are different from the novel, but I also really loved this book, and the changes for tv didn't affect my enjoyment of it.

Possibly the biggest star of the book is Shetland itself. Ann's descriptions of the scenery, the weather, the way of life are so evocative that you really feel like you're there. As this is the first in the series, we're introduced to Detective Jimmy Perez, and we learn a little about his background. As well as investigating the murder of a 17-year old girl, he is also struggling with a personal dilemma of which direction his life is going to take - should he stay on Shetland, or go back home to Fair Isle?

Some of the characters from the book have been portrayed quite differently in the tv series. Perez doesn't seem to think much of Sandy in the book, whereas tv Sandy comes across as much more capable and professional, and I actually prefer this 'version' of him. Tosh isn't in the novel at all, unless she's meant to be 'Morag'. And Jimmy meets Fran for the first time (Duncan's ex-wife, mother of Cassie) in Raven Black, whereas in the tv series she's already passed away.

So quite a few differences, but like I said, I still really enjoyed the novel. Jimmy Perez is a very interesting character, and I'm looking forwards to finding out more about him in the later books, and seeing how his blossoming friendship with Fran develops.

It's probably a bit lazy to call it a 'page-turner' - all books are page-turners, I guess, unless you give up on them. But that's what it was - the plot really raced along and I just wanted to keep reading to find out what happened next. (I could vaguely remember the tv two-parter, which is actually about to be repeated, so it was kind of a race to finish the book before it's shown again, as I'll definitely be watching).

I've got the next book in the series, and I can't wait to read the rest (apparently Ann Cleeves is up to number six now!)

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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Review: The Small Hand

The Small Hand The Small Hand by Susan Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love a good old-fashioned ghost story, and so, it seems, does Susan Hill, as I believe this is the fourth one that she's written.

I think I've read the other three, but it was some time ago - they might all be due a re-read in the not too distant future.

Anyway, this book tells the story of Adam Snow, an antiquarian book dealer, who takes a wrong turn one evening and stumbles across a derelict Edwardian house. Unable to resist, he wanders into the overgrown garden, and as he stands there, he feels the unmistakable sensation of a small hand creeping into his own. However, he is completely alone....

The language and writing style made me think that this story was perhaps set in the late 19th/early 20th century, certainly 'in the past', so I was surprised at the first mention of email! Other reviewers have said that this kind of ghost story doesn't quite work in the modern age, and I can kind of understand that.

However, I still really enjoyed it, and I finished it the day after I'd started it (although it is only a short book). I like my ghost stories to leave a lot to my imagination, to have a kind of "less is more" approach - "the fear of fear itself". The sensation of a child's hand creeping into your own when you are completely alone is far more chilling than looking down and actually seeing a ghost there.

So yes, maybe not the best ghost story I've ever read*, but certainly not the worst.

*I still think the best one so far is Dark Matter by Michelle Paver.

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Monday, 21 March 2016

Review: The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first read this book when I was young, probably around 10 years old, and I can't remember if I finished it or not. I suspect not, because I think a lot of the clever word play was a bit lost on me at the time.

I acquired this copy a few months back, and was actually really eager to read it again, to see if it made more sense to me now that I'm older and wiser. As you can see though, it took me a couple of months to read it. That is, I started it, got a bit bored, didn't pick it up for ages, then eventually decided I really needed to continue with it, picked it up again, actually started to enjoy it, and finally finished it.

There's no doubt that it's a well written book - the wordplay and the deeper messages about learning are very clever, and often brought to life by the illustrations of Jules Feiffer. Did I love it? Has it become an instant classic (to me)? No not really. However, I think I'm going to hang on to this copy (as it's a very nice 50th anniversary edition) and hopefully one day I'll read it with my son as I think there are a lot of good lessons in this story for children.

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