There’s a book for that (TV edition): The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

If you’re following along, this is the fifth installment of book-turned-TV reviews. You can find all the posts in this series, and my previous series about books-turned-movies, here.

Oh, Alice Hoffman, how little I know you. Years ago I watched the movie “Practical Magic” but had no clue it was attached to a book, but when I read the description for CBS’ mini-series “The Dovekeepers” earlier this year, I wondered why on earth I’d never read anything by Hoffman.

Spoiler alert: I am hooked. dovekeepers

Hoffman’s storytelling is riveting, haunting and as magical as the spells her characters create. This story of four Jewish women in the desert stronghold Masada after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. is historically informative and narratively imaginative. My favorite kind of historical fiction weaves these two things together in a beautiful pattern, and The Dovekeepers is now counted among this class of story.

Their struggles and choices, made in the moment for the sake of survival, are painful and heartbreaking and raw at times, but I left this book with a greater appreciation of first-century Jewish women. Though Hoffman writes with a spiritual, but not necessarily Judeo-Christian, emphasis, there is beauty in the ancient practices she describes.

After reading the book, which was not an easy or light read, I was eager to watch the mini-series.

Unfortunately, it fell way short for me in comparison to the book. This is not a new feeling for books-to-movies or books-to-TV. Books, in general, are usually richer and have more depth than their on-screen counterparts. Writing a story for the screen requires different elements, I know, and a two-episode mini-series can’t capture everything in the book.

Still. I think I expected more. If you read last week’s post about “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” you’ll know that I was impressed with that Roma Downey/Mark Burnett production. “The Dovekeepers” is also one of theirs, but it is more violent and contains more sensuality–which are both in the book–than the Bible series. Let that be a warning.

Some aspects of the plot were changed for the sake of time, I think, but even the ending was different. That kind of annoys me. The book follows four women on their Masada journey; the mini-series focused on three. The most surprising characteristic of the mini-series was Sam Neill as Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian for the Romans, who in this story recorded the events of Masada through interviews with two of the women. Sam Neill is a cowboy or lawman in my mind. To see him in this role was interesting.

If you’ve seen the mini-series, I’d recommend you read the book to get the real story. If you haven’t seen the mini-series but have read the book, don’t bother. It didn’t add much to the book for me.

If you’ve got books-to-TV or books-to-movie recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them! Let me know what you think of this series and whether you’ve tried any of the books/TV shows mentioned this month.


There’s a book for that (TV edition): The Bible

This is the fourth post in this series about books-turned-TV-shows. You can find the current series, as well as a series of posts I wrote a few years ago about books-turned-movies, here.

Okay, technically this isn’t a review of the ENTIRE Bible because that would be a massive undertaking. The Bible is a collection of more than 60 “books” and because of a TV series that aired recently, this is a look at part of one of those books: the book of Acts. wpid-20150710_085847.jpg

A.D.: The Bible Continues aired on network TV this spring, and I was skeptical at the start. A lot of movies or TV shows I’ve seen that attempt to dramatize the stories in the Bible turn out cheesy or present themselves as unprofessional.

I can say exactly the opposite about this series, produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. The episodes were so well done that I wanted to read my Bible along with them just to watch the events come alive. The series encapsulated the first 10 chapters of the book of Acts, the time after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, when the new church was growing and being persecuted. I loved the emotions and personalities from the characters who are usually just names: Peter, Mary, Joanna, Caiaphas, Pilate, Paul. Seeing them portrayed as flesh-and-blood people–because they were–with human reactions and behaviors renewed my interest in stories I sometimes skim over because I’ve read them before. (I’m not proud of that attitude about the Bible, but it’s true.)

There were no spoilers, per se, in the series, but the drama was still intense. Throughout the series, we see hints of the internal journey of the Roman centurion Cornelius. We see Saul bent on destroying the Christians followed by his miraculous encounter with Christ and the complete 180 turn his life takes as he becomes the apostle Paul. When I read these passages in the Bible now, or when I read Paul’s letters, I visualize these actors and their voices, which make the words more than ink on a page. They feel more like a letter or a story when I can picture the person who penned the words.

I can enthusiastically recommend this series for watching. Even if you care nothing for the Bible, this series is a good historical drama set in first-century Judea. When an artistic interpretation of a historical event or time period makes me want to know more about that event or time period, I consider it a success.

Sadly, NBC canceled this show after its 12-episode run, but I’ve read that some of the next planned episodes are already being written. I hope there are more series like this in the works from Burnett and Downey.

Next week, the final post in this series, The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman.

A book about 3 of my favorite things: Review of Jesus, Bread and Chocolate by John J. Thompson

I have my husband to thank for this book. He heard John J. Thompson speak on a podcast he listens to and the topic of  his book intrigued both of us. (Thanks to the publisher and the BookLook Blogger Program, we got a free copy in exchange for a review.)

jesus bread & chocolateJesus, Bread and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World is like taking a deep breath. We live in a world that “values” cheap, quick, substandard and replaceable. Thompson’s book discusses various artisanal movements–small-batch coffee roasters, homemade bread, craft breweries, gardening, Americana music–and applies its principles to our faith, which in a lot of ways has become industrialized for a consumer mindset.

Thompson offers a lot of observations from these various areas of handmade, small batch goods and how they could apply to faith.

It’s a book that has come at the perfect time for our family. We started our first garden this year, and we are increasingly in search of products that oppose the cheaply made, convenient label. After I read the coffee chapter, my morning coffee tasted different, almost bitter. The observations he makes about cultivating a taste for the “real” stuff are life-changing beyond coffee, chocolate, bread and beer.

“I wonder what would happen to the value of our faith if we could rescue it from the process of commodification. If a life spent in pursuit of Christ could be recognized as a radical and selfless, counterintuitive adventure instead of a carefully packaged and lifeless script, would seekers find something worth following?” (p. 131)

See what I mean? There’s a lot to chew on here. (Figuratively and literally.)

If you crave something more meaningful in your faith, in your food, in your life, then get a copy of this book and let it stir something in your soul.


There’s a book for that (TV edition): Wolf Hall

This is the third post in my series reviewing books that have been adapted for television. Last week’s post is here. You can find all the posts in this series, and my previous series about books adapted for movies, under the category “there’s a book for that.”

I was only a tiny bit *sarcasm* excited about the premiere of Wolf Hall on PBS this spring. Damian Lewis has long been a favorite of ours, and we couldn’t wait to see him as England’s Henry VIII. Mark Rylance, who played Thomas Cromwell, I’d never heard of but I love British period drama and had high expectations for the show. And because it was based on a book, I took to the task of reading it during and after the series aired.

With both the show and the book, I have a lot of mixed feelings.

I felt like I needed a prerequisite British history class before watching the television version, and when I discovered the book had a list of characters in it, I was able to follow along better as I watched. Overall, I enjoyed the PBS series. The actors were inspiring, the drama was engaging, and I felt smarter having watched it.

wolf hallThe book took me about six weeks to read, and at one point, I had to return it to the library because I had gone over the limit of times I could renew it. It was confusing, at times, because the author, Hilary Mantel, uses a sort of omniscient point of view that is rare in literature these days. She almost always refers to Cromwell as “he” even if she has introduced another male character, so I had to train myself to remember that “he” meant Cromwell and not the other named character. Once I adjusted to that, my comprehension increased.

And though I’m not opposed to a lengthy book, this one is more than 500 pages and at times I felt it was dragging. And just about the time I was going to give up on it, there would be an insightful line or piece of dialogue, like a buried gem, and all that work of reading up to that point would feel worth it so I’d keep going. I don’t usually consider reading hard work but reading Wolf Hall wore me out sometimes.

Because the TV series covered the second book, Bring Up the Bodies, I’m interested in reading that, as well, but after finishing Wolf Hall, I just needed a break.

I am not sorry I read and watched this series. It was different from other books and television on my list right now, and both have made me more interested in Tudor England, which is a  successful outcome for any book or television series based on historical or current events.

It’s not a breeze by any means, but Wolf Hall is worth the work.

Next in the series: A.D. The Bible Continues (NBC); the book of Acts.

There’s a book for that (TV edition): Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

This is the second post in my series reviewing books that have been adapted for television. Last week’s post is here. You can find all the posts in this series, and my previous series about books adapted for movies, under the category “there’s a book for that.”

During the annual Downton Abbey airing on PBS at the beginning of the year, my husband and I latched on to a new series, Grantchester. It’s about an English vicar in the 1950s who becomes involved in solving crimes with the local inspector, George Keating. I’ve described the TV version as “hot vicar solves mysteries.”

sidney chambersThe book is like Father Brown (G.K. Chesterton) meets Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle) with the theology of C.S. Lewis thrown in. I loved it. The TV show gripped me from the start, and the book upon which some of the series was based, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, was equally entertaining. It’s a collection of six stories but not all from this book were adapted for the show. Nor were the events exactly the way Runcie wrote them.

Still, I gleaned a greater understanding of Sidney’s character and appreciated more references to how his faith as a clergyman affected his life and involvement in these mysteries. I will seek out the next two books in this series to keep me company while waiting for the next series of Grantchester to arrive on screen.

If you like mysteries, crime drama and hard questions about morality and theology, give this collection a try.

Next up: Another PBS offering, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Uncovering family secrets: Review of Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor by Melanie Dobson

One of my favorite types of fiction is a story that blends past and present storylines, and though I’d never read anything by Melanie Dobson before, the premise of her new book, Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor, was one I couldn’t pass up. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.) ladenbrooke

In the book, Heather Toulson, an art restorer living in Portland, returns to her family cottage in the Cotswolds of England to pack up her family’s belongings after the death of her father. Heather’s life is full of strained and tense relationships, past and present, and her goal is to clean out the cottage and sell it as fast as possible and move on with her life. Her newly married daughter Ella joins her and as they sift through the contents, Heather uncovers questions about the older sister she never knew and the boy next door who died long ago.

The historical storyline, set in the 1950s and later, follows Maggie Doyle, Heather’s mum, through an unexpected circumstance and consequent marriage to Walter Doyle. Maggie’s daughter, Libby, is the sister Heather never knew, and though she loves butterflies, she does not interact with the rest of the world in the same way as others, except the boy next door, Oliver Croft, son of the Lord and Lady Croft of Ladenbrooke Manor.

There is a lot to sort out as the book starts out, but once it gets rolling, the plot unravels like a ball of string leading from one place to the next. For me, this book was a study in how to write about family secrets revealed across generations because the novel I’m working on contains similar themes. I enjoyed it as a story, as well. Dobson doesn’t reveal too much too soon, but partway through, readers gets a sense of what’s happening. I especially appreciated the themes of restoring what is broken in relationships.

And Dobson gives Libby a unique personality–something along the lines of the autism spectrum, which would have been undiagnosed in the 1950s. It was fascinating to consider how people would have viewed her and interacted with her.

If you’ve never read a dual timeline story, this is a good one to start with. And if you like family mysteries, you’ll enjoy the way secrets are uncovered.

More about the author

dobsonMelanie Dobson is the award-winning author of thirteen historical romance, suspense, and contemporary novels. Two of her novels won Carol Awards in 2011, and Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana won Best Novel of Indiana in 2010. Melanie lives with her husband Jon and two daughters near Portland, Oregon.Find Melanie online: website, Twitter, Facebook

There’s a book for that (TV edition): About a Boy

A few summers ago, I found out some of my favorite classic movies were based on books. (It’s not unusual for books to become movies these days, but for some reason it surprised me about some older works.) That year, I blogged a short series reviewing the books I’d read. You can search for those under the category “there’s a book for that.” Or you can click on the individual reviews at the end of this post.

This year, my discovery has been that a bunch of TV shows I like are based on books. So, I set out to read the books that some of those shows are based on.

about a boyThe first, About a Boy by  Nick Hornby, was a movie, yes, but my husband and I have been enjoying the TV version (NBC) of this story as well. (I love Minnie Driver, and I’m super sad that the network apparently canceled the show abruptly in the spring. Boo!) I don’t remember much about the movie except for Hugh Grant (who forgets Hugh Grant?), which is why I’m opting to include this in my TV-from-books series. (And yes, the cover of this book is from the movie, but this is the one the library had for me to read.)

If you’re unfamiliar, the story is about Will Freeman, a pretty self-centered 30-something guy who lives off the royalties of a hit song. In the book, his father wrote the song. In the TV show, he wrote it. Either way, he’s used to a life of luxury and leisure that revolves around him. He can hardly stand to be around his friends who have children and he’s a womanizer who likes to party. Will’s life is about one thing: Will.

And then he invents a child to meet women at a single parents’ group, and then he meets Marcus, the eclectic 12-year-old son of the even more eclectic Fiona, and they reluctantly start to bond. Will’s relationship with Marcus begins to draw him out of his bubble and forces him to awkwardly and uncomfortably care about other people.

On the TV show, we see this develop bit by bit, and even when I think the show has gone too far in illustrating Will’s lifestyle, there’s usually a redeeming moment when his relationship with Marcus brings him back.

I enjoyed the book because it adds depth to the characters. And even though I think Will is incredibly selfish and lazy, I appreciate the theme that authentic relationships can change us.

Each week this month, I’ll be posting another review of a book that has become a TV show. Next week: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (Grantchester, PBS).

Interested in the books-to-movies I reviewed? Here’s the list and links:

Mary Poppins.

The Princess Bride.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Memoirs of an English Governess at the Siamese Court.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.