Love Story

Erich Segal’s novel/screenplay Love Story has recently been adapted to a musical, and is the first show next season at the theater I go to. Just as with The Thirty-Nine Steps, I feel obligated to read it first. [Did I ever mention what I thought of that? It’s different from the book, but hands down the funniest play I’ve ever seen.] The only thing I knew going in was the theme song, which is one of the few I could play on the organ at my grandparents’ house.

Oliver Barrett IV and Jennifer Cavilleri are two college students in Cambridge who come from very different backgrounds. Oliver is a wealthy legacy student at Harvard, a hockey star and shoe-in for Law School next year. Jenny is a poor music major at Radcliffe, the only daughter of an Italian immigrant. Oliver feels he is never good enough for his father, while Jenny and her dad are extremely close. Against all odds, the two meet and fall in love. Both have a somewhat sarcastic sense of humor , but beneath it they come to mean the world to each other. As they attempt to carve out a life together, they will have to make more sacrifices than they’ve ever dreamed of. [That’s a really bad summary. Basically if you like somewhat sappy love stories you will like this book, and if not you should skip it. It’s kind of The Notebook of the 1970s.]

This is far from the typical romance novel, and yet Oliver and Jenny come across as memorably as any great leading man and leading lady in classic literature. Their matter-of-fact approach to love reminded me a little of Holden Caufield, probably because this was written in 1970. The are no Austenesque declarations of passion, no angst-ridden longings, just two people who need each other and make each other better. Perhaps that everyday quality is what makes their romance more appealing.

The big tagline for both the book and the movie is a quote from Jenny after an argument they have, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Problem is, I don’t really agree with that. (Of course, I’m one of those people who chronically apologizes for everything). My personal feeling is that love (any kind) means you’ll forgive the person for whatever has happened and move on, no matter what, but it’s not healthy if there’s no apology or at least admittance that something wasn’t right.

I like to think that I’m past the days of bawling like a baby over Where the Red Fern Grows and Anne of Green Gables. Every time I read a sad book or see a sad movie I will myself to be strong and cynical and not have my emotions toyed with. I honestly thought I was going to make it through this without crying. When I reached the last few chapters, though, I was sobbing my heart out; whenever a character breaks down I lose it. The relationship struggles between Oliver and his father touched me just as much as the romance. I think I will need to take tissues with me to the theater.

To be honest, I’d rather be romantic and emotional rather than cynical and jaded. My friends always knew me as the girl who cried at movies. (They named a system after me for rating how sad and how violent movies were.) Somewhere along the way I got it into my head that I needed to grow out of this trait, perhaps the same part of me that rebelled at reading happily-ever-after stories. Lately, though, I’m coming to realize that I liked that person I was more that the person I sometimes am now. Being openly emotional was always sort of cathartic, and it’s okay to keep that.

Love Story is on the Guardian List (Love).

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Published in: on March 25, 2012 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gunpowder Green

“Just like her marvelous tea,” said Timothy, “you discover what she’s really made of when you put her in hot water.”

I decided to continue with Laura Child’s Tea Shop Mysteries right away, just like I read them all back-to-back the first time around. Gunpowder Green begins with Theo waiting anxiously at the finish line of Charleston’s annual yacht race, both to see the winner and serve refreshments. When Oliver Dixon shoots the antique pistol to signal the end of the race, however, it explodes and kills him.. Most are inclined to write it off as a horrible accident, but Theodosia is not so sure, and the fact that Inspector Burt Tidwell is assigned to the case confirms her suspicions.

A lot of people had potential motive for the death of the the wealthy investor, however. What he lacked in outright enemies he more than made up for in money. His brand new wife is a beauty pageant queen forty years his junior. His family has a long-standing feud with the Cantrells, and he was seen arguing with Ford Cantrell shortly before his death. His recent focus, a tech company called Grapevine about to release a new Blackberry-like PDA, has been receiving a lot of media attention lately.

I’m less of a tea drinker than I wish I was, but I do enjoy herbal teas and white teas. I find all the little tidbits sprinkled throughout the books fascinating, and the recipes are of course mouthwatering. I’d like to try to make some of Haley’s scones.

I love these books so much that it’s easy to read them all right in a row. The downside is trying to write about them all in a row! I can’t think of anything else to say here that’s not already in one of the drafts for the other books, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less good.

Published in: on March 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Crime at Black Dudley

Just about the only things I knew about Albert Campion were the title of some of his books (my parents have almost all of them), and that in the ten minutes I saw of one of the TV episodes he was very owlish looking. Margery Allingham is considered one of the classic mystery writers, however, so I knew I would read one sooner or later. And why not start at the beginning? To sweeten the deal even more, this copy of The Crime at Black Dudley is one of the green Penguin mysteries, and fit perfectly in my purse to read at the robotics competition this past weekend.

George Abbershaw is mild-mannered physician with few vices and few adventures. His only downfall is the beautiful Margaret Oliphant, so when Wyatt Petrie invites him his uncle Gordon Coombe’s country estate Black Dudley for the weekend, he begs him to make Meggie one of the party as well. [I’m sorry, doesn’t Black Dudley sound more like the name of a bar than a manor house?] The other guests are outgoing Anne, fellow doctor Michael and his timid fiance Jeanne,rugby star Chris, and a fatuous young man no one seems to know named Albert Campion. Wheelchair-bound Colonel Coombe also has two men with him for the weekend, foreigners that seem to give George the chills.

On the wall in the parlor is a jeweled dagger, a family heirloom that Wyatt tells a story about. Based on an old legend, a Ritual has been developed where people roam through the house in the dark trying to pass the dagger off to other people. Of course everyone except George wants to play this morbid version of hot potato. This is the kind of game where participants say “jolly good fun,” and the reader says “probably not such a good idea.”

During the game the Colonel has a heart attack, and his two attendants whisk him upstairs to his room. They pressure George to sign the death certificate, but the doctor is not so sure. A white-faced Meggie has already found him and told him she believes the dagger had blood on it when it was last passed to her. Now the dagger has disappeared. Has a murder taken place, and if so, why is it being covered up?

The incident seems hard to believe, until the next morning one of the German men announces that something has been taken from him, and that no one is to leave alive until it is recovered. It may have started out as a misunderstanding, but the friends have no idea of the criminal mastermind they are currently facing, and will need to pool all of their wits to escape.

I was surprised when reading this that Campion really didn’t come across as a main character; the story is told entirely from George’s perspective, and there are long stretches when Campion isn’t even present (kind of like the Fleming Stone mysteries). I wonder if Allingham decided after the fact to turn it into a series? As innocuous as Campion was, I find that I’m not entirely sure I trust or even like him, but I am interested to learn more. He comes across as both a mercenary and a hero, and yet still mostly an enigma.

I do wish people still had house parties nowadays. They sound like such fun little vacations (the ones where dead bodies don’t crop up, that is). I really think I was meant to live in a different decade. This feels like a mystery written in 1929, which I’m glad of. Not many from then are still around in print, save Agatha Christie.

Published in: on March 10, 2012 at 1:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Death by Darjeeling

Ten years ago I was just getting into buying my own adult books. I had read some before, of course, mostly classics and gothics, but the territory of books with primarily grown-up characters was still relatively new. With my Borders gift card burning in my pocket, I began browsing the shelves of mysteries and found two series that appealed to me: Lillian Jackson Braun’s extensive Cat Who series, and a couple paperback books by Laura Childs billed as the Tea Shop Mysteries. I started reading Death by Darjeeling and was hooked; I have a vague memory of staying in the car after school one day while my mom was running errands just so I could keep reading. Everything about these books is utterly charming, from the delicate matte covers to the recipes included in the back.

The series is centered around Theodosia Browning, or Theo, who six months before the first book left a lucrative but stressful career in advertising to open the Indigo Tea Shop in the Historic District of Charleston. She is assisted by professional tea blender Drayton Connelly, and Haley Parker, a part-time business student who mans the register and works wonders in the kitchen. Drayton is also on the board of the Historical Society, so it often functions as a feature throughout the series.

In this first volume, Theodosia, Drayton, Haley, and Haley’s friend Bethany are catering at one of the houses for the annual Garden Tour. When Bethany goes to collect the teacup from the final guest, she notices with a scream that he is dead. Theodosia soon realizes that she has more than just a bad reputation for her tea to worry about; the deceased, Hughes Barron, was poisoned. Barron was a building contractor unpopular among the locals, not only because of the ugly condos he built on the nearby nature preserve but also for his recent plans to acquire property in the historic district. The police, including homicide detective and former FBI agent Burt Tidwell, seem fixated on Bethany as the prime suspect because of words she and others had with Barron at a Historical Society meeting. Theodosia is convinced of the girl’s innocence, however, and decides to do a little investigating of her own.

This series was my first introduction to themed “cozy” mysteries and really set the gold standard for me; I’ve found very few since that can measure up. It stays clear of madcap territory, and all the characters stay rational and grounded. Flighty heroines who do stupid things and get themselves into trouble are one of my pet peeves, and fortunately Theo couldn’t be further from that. The plot has suspense without drama. It is squeaky clean in a good way; Theo even does hospice work with her gentle rescue dog Earl Grey. Overall, the books leave me with a happy, peaceful feeling. I’m glad I decided to start rereading them!

Published in: on March 4, 2012 at 8:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Clue

I’ve been going strong with my downloads from Google Books! They are perfect for when I’m on my laptop while being an “adult presence” at the club I help out with. Next up was The Clue, my first of Carolyn Wells’ adult mysteries.

Apparently all of her mysteries feature Fleming Stone, but in this one he doesn’t show up until nearly the end of the book. I first learned about these on Redeeming Qualities.

(Did you know you can capture and embed text or images from Google Books? This is an awesome feature!)

Lovely but haughty Madeleine Van Norman is having a party on the eve of her wedding to Schuyler Carleton, a match that means she will inherit her uncle’s vast fortune instead of her charming cousin Tom. After the party, however, she is found dead in the study, stabbed with a letter opener, in what is either suicide or close to a locked room mystery.

I very much liked the book, both characterizations and the plot. My one complaint was that the beginning of the book actually starts more from Maddie’s perspective, and over the next few chapters jumps around to who it focuses on. I really had no idea who was supposed to be the hero or heroine for the reader to identify with. Was it Maddie or Tom? Maddie’s maid Cecily? Doctor Hill, the “alert-looking young man” who is called when the body is found? (My money was very much on the last when he first made his appearance. Are there any mysteries that feature a doctor or coroner in a main role, besides someone like Dr. Watson?) The viewpoint finally settles on bridesmaid Kitty French and best man Rob Fessendon.

The pair make pleasant investigators, and are well-suited to the task because of their respective friendships with the deceased and the main suspect. Kitty is especially endearing. I identified with her in that she believes a murder occurred, and enjoys the mental puzzle of trying to figure it out, but loathes the idea of discovering that one of their circle is a murderer. The romance that blossoms between Kitty and Rob is also sweet.

Another consequence of the inconclusive “narrator” in the beginning is that the reader has a chance to identify and sympathize with Maddie, who is troubled as of late and is flirting with Tom to make Carleton jealous, though Tom loves her madly and has already proposed twice. I was convinced that Carleton would be the murder victim, and that the investigation would bring Tom and Maddie back together. It does make Maddie’s death more meaningful, however.

I definitely plan on reading more of these. I had looked for physical copies on eBay a while ago, but none were at the condition/price intersection I was looking for; I may need to check again.

Fun tidbit: The majestic Van Norman mansion in New Jersey is said to be more than half a century old. That doesn’t necessarily boggle the imagination, for the houses my parents grew up in would easily fit that description, though it’s less common nowadays. Since this book was written in 1909, however, the mansion featured in this book actually predates the Civil War!

Published in: on March 3, 2012 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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