Monthly Archives:: June 2017

Contemporary romance review: ‘Just This Once’ by Rosalind James

June 8, 2017 Review 0

I’m not much of a contemporary romance reader, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever read one before, but I’ve seen the author online and love her down-to-earth approach, so I thought I’d see what it is that makes her so successful. And yes, I enjoyed it very much – a nice, easy read that I finished in a couple of days.

The plot’s a simple one: responsible, work-a-holic American, Hannah, takes a holiday to New Zealand to get some much needed relaxation from work. While there, she goes for a dip in the sea and is caught by a rip-tide, only to be rescued by local rugby player, Drew. And not just any rugby player; Drew is captain of the famous All-Blacks, New Zealand’s national team. I wondered for a long time whether Drew was in fact Maori, as many of the All-Blacks are, and the book was maybe half gone before it emerged that he wasn’t. It surprised me that this wasn’t mentioned upfront, to avoid any confusion, but maybe we were just supposed to assume it.

After such a romantic hero-rescues-heroine beginning, it’s not surprising that our lead characters are drawn together by something perilously close to instalust. Drew’s thoughts are quite clear right from the start – he skips from admiring Hannah’s cute behind in shorts to wanting to rip those shorts right off her, and I was a little disappointed at the rapid transition from attraction to sex. I’d have liked at least some indication of deeper feelings, but it felt at first as if all he wanted from her was sex.

From there the romance develops in easy stages. It wouldn’t be quite true to say that nothing happens, because Hannah quits her job and moves to New Zealand, which is quite a big step for an independent lady, but really there are no bumps in the road for this couple. He develops an unswerving devotion to her, for no obvious reason (but then love can be irrational sometimes), and she agonises about every step but then does it anyway, while confidently predicting that it won’t last, he’ll get tired of her, she isn’t worthy, etc. But it does and he doesn’t and… well, that’s about it, really. I’ll leave the question of whether she’s worthy as an exercise for the reader.

I enjoyed this one more than I expected to, and my only real complaint is that Drew is just too perfect. A top sportsman with a perfect physique, a gentleman in bed and everywhere else, strong but caring and so on and so on. I’d have liked a flaw or two to make him more human. But otherwise, a pleasant easy read. Four stars.

Review of the next book in the series: Just Good Friends

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Book review: ‘A Moment of Silence’ by Anna Dean

June 5, 2017 Review 0

I loved everything about this book. It combines two of my favourite genres, Jane Austen and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, in one glorious package, and how can anyone resist that? Dido Kent is a spinster, past the age of any likelihood of marriage, although not past the age of interest in gentlemen. But she’s no romantic heroine, that role being taken here by her niece. When the niece’s fiance disappears, she sends for her aunt to comfort her. But then there’s a murder…

Thereafter, this follows the usual pattern of all country house murder mysteries. Dido doesn’t so much interview suspects as engage in conversation with them. She also rather ingeniously befriends the servants and gains some valuable clues in that way. And she isn’t above a little bit of pretence to inveigle secrets from anyone she thinks may have information. However, even when she’s sleuthing away, she’s never less than a lady and never has to resort to the slightest impropriety of behaviour.

All this is quite delightful, and both the Regency and murder mystery elements work perfectly. The solution to the mystery is ingenious but convincing (the very best kind), and there’s even a perfectly judged happy ever after, although I did wonder just how the final arrangement was going to work out in the long term. But that’s a very minor quibble. An excellent five stars.

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Film review: Mansfield Park (1999)

June 2, 2017 Review 0

Now, this is what happens when people allow modern sensibilities to infuse a story that worked perfectly well when set in its own time: you get a muddled arrangement that makes no sense whatsoever.

The story is an interesting one: of three well-brought-up sisters, one married a wealthy baronet, one married a clergyman and one married a poor man, for love. The eldest daughter of the married-for-love sister is taken to live with her cousins at the baronet’s house. The contrast between the impoverished Price family and the wealthy Bertram family at Mansfield Park is very striking. I wondered a little how Mrs Price ever managed to meet and fall in love with quite such a poor man, who would surely not have been within her orbit in the regular way, but maybe this is explained in the book (which I haven’t read in a long time). Suffice it to say that the Price family live in squalor.

The Bertram family at Mansfield Park live a very different life, the usual idleness of the wealthy in those days, with every need met. Fanny, however, as the poor relation, is treated at an unpaid servant. Her two aunts have no affection for her. Lady Bertram is indolent, and Mrs Norris, the clergyman’s wife, lives off the largesse of her richer neighbours, and is concerned only to keep Fanny in her place and make sure she doesn’t get ideas above her station. Sir Thomas barely notices her, and of the four cousins, only Edmund is kind to Fanny. This part of the story is heart-wrenching but it must have been commonplace in that era.

The adult Fanny is the target of the worldly Henry Crawford, who sets out to flirt with her but ends up falling thoroughly in love with her. But Fanny is armoured against his advances by her love for Edmund – unrequited, since he is in love with Henry’s equally worldly sister, Mary. And here is where the original wobbles slightly. Having set up, right from the start, the ghastly consequences of marrying for love without consideration of wealth in Fanny’s own dire family circumstances, yet the moral of the story seems to be – screw that, hold out for a love match anyway. For Fanny rejects the eligible Henry, a marriage which would undoubtedly have lifted her own family out of poverty, and is so determined not to marry without love that she goes back to live with her own family again, sharing their insect-riddled home and actually adding to their burdens. It doesn’t seem to fit with her unselfish nature (but maybe the book explains it better). So, mixed messages, there.

Now, I don’t remember the book well, but I know that Fanny’s sweetness, innocence and good-nature are contrasted strongly with the dissolute and selfish natures of the rest of the family, Edmund excepted. She is shy and retiring in company, never putting herself forward. This is not the sort of heroine to appeal to modern audiences, however, so the scriptwriter has turned her into a feisty, spirited 21st century lass, boisterous and hoydenish, writing quirky novels in private, with Edmund as her audience. She manages (somehow) to also be retiring in company, but even this is jettisoned later in the film when she starts getting snippy with people. It’s very difficult to make a coherent story when you throw out the central tenet, and the entire character of the lead, and this, for me, is why the film fails.

The secondary change from the book is perhaps less problematic. Sir Thomas Bertram’s wealth derives from his plantation in Antigua, worked by slaves, and Fanny is imbued with all the modern antipathy towards the slave trade. This isn’t quite so out of line with the era, for there was a well-established and increasingly vocal anti-slavery movement dating from well before Jane Austen’s time, but whether a quietly-brought-up girl like Fanny would have known anything about it or taken much interest in the subject is moot. More likely she would simply have accepted it as a background part of the world she lived in, and had nothing to do with the politics of the day. Still, it was (probably) a topic for discussion in many households, and Edmund’s comment that they all lived on the wealth of the slave-managed plantation is a good summary of the situation. The book of drawings that Fanny later finds is a completely unnecessary addition to this aspect of the film.

Of the film itself, it’s hard to fault the settings, costumes or casting. The acting was as you’d expect. Perhaps only Harold Pinter, as Sir Thomas Bertram, rose above the general level of competence to put in an outstanding performance.

Overall, it’s possibly a worthy attempt to re-imagine a classic work in a way that appeals to modern audiences, but I can’t say I enjoyed it very much. I feel that more subtlety makes a far stronger point; it’s often only when one sees the accepted attitudes of earlier eras portrayed with unflinching accuracy that one appreciates just how far we’ve come. There’s a lot to be said for playing it straight, when portraying the classics on film or for TV. After all, there’s a good reason why they’re classics, so maybe it’s better not to try to ‘improve’ upon them.

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