November 23rd, 2016


Movie Critique 2016 – 07/13/2016: The Jungle Book (1967)

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  5 / 5
Recommendation: A fun animated film that always brings a smile to one's face and yet keeping the spirit in.

When I was posting about the 2016 hit live/animated movie The Jungle Book (Link to my review on that book here), I had mentioned about the 1967 original animated movie. Finally I got around to watch that movie as well and here is my take on it.

The 1967 version is an American animated musical film produced by Walt Disney Productions. This was based on Rudyard Kipling's book of the same name and was the 19th Disney animated film. The primary plot revolves around the jungle-kid Mowgli, his friends Bagheera the panther and Bhaloo the bear who try to persuade him to leave the jungle to avoid the wrath of Shere Khan as he hates humans.

While the 2016 version delved into the dark and sinister side of the story, this original version was made into a more comical plot. The lessons that Rudyard Kipling was trying to teach were also snuffed a lot in here. The melodious songs that come as part of this version also lighten the dark shades behind the actual plot. Also in the 2016 movie Mowgli is raised by the leader of the wolf pack, Akela. However in this version, it is shown as he is raised by Rama, an Indian Wolf in the pack of Akela. Kaa is a male person too in this version as opposed to the female in the 2016 film. This version ends with Mowgli joining the humans.

All of these subtle changes make this version a lighter watch catering more to kids to add fun and humor and shield them from the drama and evil of the world. However, this kind might have worked for the way we lived in 1960s. But for the current world we are in the way the 2016 movie was depicted fits perfectly. I like both the versions.

This animated version was designed to be more fun and happy, create enjoyment to the viewer. And it has been successful immensely in delivering what it was originally destined to. And who can forget the bubbly song Bare Necessities that Bhaloo sings - so well it relates to what we really need in this world.

As much as I had enjoyed the 2016 version, I enjoyed this 1967 version as well. Both take us to two different worlds of animation films delivering the message they need to per the era and age perfectly.

If you haven't watched this movie yet, pop in that DVD, snuggle in your sofa and enjoy it with a silly grin on your face.

Book Critique 2016 – 07/14/2016: Murder, She Wrote #8: The Highland Fling Murders

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here
For review of all books under Murder, She Wrote series: Go here

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: If you want an easy and quick murder mystery pick it up and you will enjoy it.

The Highland Fling Murders is the 8th book in the Murder, She Wrote series by Donald Bain and fictional writer Jessica Fletcher based on the popular TV Show of the same name. The book was published in 1997. The plot is partly set in London and partly in Wick, Scotland.

Jessica Fletcher finds herself with eleven other people from Cabot Cove on a trip to London when her British publisher Archibald Semple persuaded her to come to England to promote her latest novel. When she relates her trip to her friend George Sutherland - a Scotland Detective - he insists on her staying at his castle in Wick, Scotland along with her friends after their visit in London commences. And so the troop heads to U. K. with London as their first stop.

On the very first evening of their trip in London, Jed and Alicia Richardson are held captive in The Tower of London by a demented person. He says he is a descendent of Catherine Hayes who was burned at stake in 1725 and would like to have the Parliament clear their name else he would shoot the hostages. Jessica Fletcher enlists the help of George Sutherland in doing whatever she can to get her friends Jed and Alicia Richardson rescued. Eventually Jed and Alicia are rescued with Jessica playing a huge part in it. Although shaken, the group continues the tour of London and finally land in Wick, Scotland.

Alicia Richardson however is still shaken of her episode with the kidnapper and fears that he has put a curse on them. She starts eyeing every new person with suspicion and fear. And keeps seeing orange eyes in everyone she suspects. While everyone is settling in Sutherland's Castle in Wick, George expresses to Jessica that his castle is haunted too. Per him, it is supposedly haunted by Isobel Gowdie's descendent who was a relative of George Sutherland. Isobel Gowdie however was tried for witchcraft in 1662. (More about here can be found here). This relative is seen wearing all white gown but with cross carved into her throat, sometimes blood flowing through it and has orange eyes. Jessica wonders if there is a connection between the lore and what Alicia was feeling - although Jessica doesn’t believe in ghosts. But that very evening right before dinner, Jessica sees an apparition in white gown with red stain growing along her bodice, with eyes of cooper color and utters "Gie a heize" before disappearing - much to Jessica's startle.

Apart from the 12 folks from Cabot Cove and George Sutherland there were four other guests residing at the Castle - Mr. Brock Peterman and his wife Tammy (a movie producer from Hollywood mainly featuring horror flicks), Dr. Geoffrey Symington and his wife Helen (a doctor who does research on ghosts and apparitions). One of the staff member, a young man named Malcolm, chats up with Jessica the following day about a book he was writing - based on a real murder that occurred 20 years ago in the same village, murder of Evelyn Gowdie, descendent of Isobel Gowdie and relative to George Sutherland who apparently haunted his castle. Later that day Jessica - who was taking a day off from sightseeing as opposed to her fellow travelers - while taking a walk to town's center accidentally finds the body of Daisy Wemyss murdered by a pitchfork to her chest and a cross carved into her throat - the very same fashion how Isobel Gowdie was supposedly sentenced to death and the same fashion Evelyn Gowdie was murdered 20 years earlier. Now Jessica is caught again in the middle of a murder when she all wanted to do was spend quality time with George Sutherland and enjoy the vacation with her friends from Cabot Cove.

Who had killed both Evelyn Gowdie and Daisy Wemyss? Why are they being replicated to reflect the death of Isobel Gowdie? What is this connected with orange eyes that Alice keeps seeing in everyone's eyes whom she suspects? Was the kidnapper of Jed and Alicia Richardson related to these killings and hauntings somehow? What is Dr. Geoffrey Symington researching on? Is the lore from Sutherland's family's past that is still haunting everyone behind all these killings?

Apart from this George has been facing trouble keep his Castle up to shape. Even with it converted to hotel he had been unable to keep good staff because of the sightings of ghost and now add a murder to it. Also a certain section of people in Wick are dead against George keeping the castle. They feel that if he sells then all the curse that was put on Wick will go away. Will George sell it away, his family mansion? Is someone trying to deliberately create apparitions so George will be forced to sell? How is this related to murders of all three women - one 300 hundred years old, one 20 years old and one recent? With all the curses and witches going around, will they have to look into the lores and curses to solve the mystery?

In the book A Little Yuletide Mystery (Book #11) (My review of the book here), one of the character Mary Walther mentions about Jessica saving Jed Richardson and his wife Alicia Richardson from a madman who had kidnapped them while they were are touring London and vacationing at George Sutherland's castle in Wick, Scotland. When I had read it then I assumed it was a plot-additive for the sake of that book. However, on reading this book, it turns out that incident happened in this book which was written three books earlier than A Little Yuletide Mystery. :)

The plot is a mix of fantasy and fiction albeit blended well. Although there were two full chapters about fishing that I almost fell asleep on. Perhaps the author could have cut it short and still keep the significance of the chapters in the book. Towards the end of the book, as always all questions are answered except for the murder of Evelyn Gowdie - that still remained open. I would have loved to see a closure for the same too? That said, again a very good read for the mysteries that come from this series.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Places in London that are real than fiction:
a. The Athenaeum Hotel in London that Jessica and her friends stay while visiting London is really existing.
b. Wilton's on Jermyn St in London
2) Interested English usage in the book such as - nattily (to mean someone is neat and smart), slovenliness (be messy or unkempt), gillie (a Scottish word for a fishing guide),
3) In 1732, Sarah Malcolm was sentenced to be hanged after finding guilty of murdering Lydia Duncomb. (More here) It is said that her spirit still walks roaming in the Highlands.
4) The actual story of Catherine Hayes can be found here. She is in fact a murderer than a witch. Although according to Wiki, she is burned at stake in 1726 as opposed to what this book says.
5) Although it was never recorded how Isobel Gowdie was sentenced to death, but the author did spin an interesting story here.
6) Jessica reads a book titled Black Alley by Mickey Spillane during her stay at Wick. I have never read his books, but something to consider for future blog posts. :)
7) Grammatical errors in the book:
a. On Pg. 52, around para 4, "Isobel" is spelt as "Isabell" and everywhere else her name is referred in the book.
b. On Pg. 191, in second para, there is no space between "on it" making it one word "onit" with no meaning to it.
8) In the end, Jessica alludes to a time when she was spending in San Francisco, promoting a book, spending with George Sutherland and inadvertently got involved in a case that they together solve. That tale is written in the 1995 book "Martinis & Mayhem" (My review here) - book #5, written three books earlier than this current book.
9) George finally expresses his love towards Jessica, but Jessica is unable to express back as she is more content to live with memories of her husband and just be a friend to George.

Book Critique 2016 – 07/15/2016: Remember Me

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: Looking for a thriller with chills, love, history and of course a murder, this is the one to pick.

Remember Me is a 1994 suspense thriller by Mary Higgins Clark. Another of her chilling novels that always send a shiver up your back. The plot this time around is set in Cape Cod, MA.

The book opens with Vivian Carpenter goes missing when she and her husband Scott Covey were hit by a five-foot wave while scuba diving in Chatham, MA. Her body was found two weeks later washed ashore. They were newlyweds and had bought a house from Elaine Atkins - the real estate agent in Chatham - in Chatham, MA. According to the reports even though Vivian was a good swimmer she wasn’t a good diver and Scott was teaching her. They had not heard any weather warnings before they went to scuba diving right before the storm.

Vivian Carpenter comes from a family of achievers - Carpenters from Boston - but had not been successful in her own way, but came into a considerable amount of trust that her grandmother left when she turned 21. Scott Covey was assistant business manager at Cape Playhouse before he got married to Vivian. Elaine's friend Adam Nichols - a high-profile criminal defense attorney - found it very coincidental that a stranger comes from nowhere, marries a rich woman and she dies in an accident within three months of their marriage. Especially Vivian had come into five million dollars as her trust that she had left everything to Scott in her will.

Incidentally Adam and his wife Menley have been looking to rent a vacation home for themselves for a month in Chatham, MA. With help of Elaine they zero their chances on to Remember House - a captain's home that comes with a story. It is famed to be having built by Captain Andrew Freeman in 1703 for his bride but deserted her when he found she got engaged to someone else when he was at sea.

Adam and Menley have gone through a tragedy - they lose their first child Bobby in an accident - which keeps coming back to haunt Menley often leading to her anxiety attacks. They had a brief period of separation but then Hannah - a girl child - comes into their life making their bond stronger. This vacation in Chatham is supposed to give them the much needed respite, keep Menley off her anxiety attacks and finally to have a chance at becoming a family. Menley also is a successful children's book author yet she still visits her psychiatrist - Dr. Kaufman - weekly for her anxiety attacks. This vacation is also part of her prescription from Dr. Kaufman.

As Adam and Menley are settling in their vacation home, Nathaniel Coogan, a detective at the Cape's Police Department, requests to be on the case even though Vivian's death was ruled out accidental. Something about the autopsy pictures bothered him. What is it? On talking to Henry he had a distinct feeling that Henry was hiding something about Scott Covey. What could that be? Then when an inquest is put to investigate further to determine if Vivian Carpenter was murdered, Scott Covey hires Adam to defend his case. But did Scott really kill Vivian? Then Phoebe, Henry's wife, keeps talking about someone being in the Remember House and that Adam's wife Menley is in danger. What is it that Dr. Phoebe remembers at the back of the mind but the Alzheimer's is fogging it all? Whom did she see at Remember Home? Has that have any connection to what Adam and Menley are going through?

As days move by little things start happening at the Remember House for Adam and Menley. For instance, someone covering Hannah with a blanket in the night even though neither Adam nor Menley remember doing it. The cradle rocking by itself, the baby's room having a weird feeling. Not remembering to move the baby from the bed to the cradle. Waking up with weird dreams. Menley wondered if she was driving herself crazy by becoming panicky all the time. But what is happening? Why is this happening? If she is not going crazy, who is doing all these things?

During their stay in Remember House, Adam and Menley meet quite a few people around - Henry Sprague and his wife Dr. Phoebe Cummings Sprague (their neighbors and that Phoebe was being admitted to a home as her Alzheimer's was catching up pretty fast), Elaine Atkins (real estate agency owner as well as friend to Adam Nichols), Carrie Bell (cleaning services that Elaine employed for the Remember House), Nathaniel Coogan (detective in at Cape's Police Department) and his wife Debbie, Amy (Elaine's future step-daughter and baby sitter for the Nicholses), John Nelson (an insurance agency owner and fiancé of Elaine Atkins) and Jan Paley (who had owned Remember House before the Nicholses rented it).

Three parallel stories, four if you count the past story of the original residents of the Remember House way back in early 1700s, run through the book with many little side-plots weaved in. Mid-way through the book I had a distinct feeling of who was behind all that was happening with Menley in the Remember House. It was so exciting to see that my hunch was absolutely right. But my hunch for who killed Vivian Carpenter wasn’t exactly accurate - what a shame! Anyways, I liked Clark's take on that better.

A story filled with history, love, setting the wrong right and of belief and trust. A well panned out plot that did give me shivers now and then. Next time I am in an old house I am sure going to remember this tale. Clark is at her best again with this book and her tapestry of murder mystery is a perfect one.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) In the acknowledgement section, Mary Higgins Clark mentions that the basis for this book was The Narrow Land by Elizabeth Reynard that she had come across 20 years prior to this book was written. Hmm, Something to add to my reading list and future posts.