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.

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.

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.

There’s a book for that: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

I give full credit to PBS and Robert Downey Jr. for sparking my interest in the classic tales of a British private investigator with a keen eye for detail.

Does that description even do Sherlock Holmes justice?

My husband and I have watched both of PBS’ Sherlock series (brilliant, I say, and I have a mild crush on Martin Freeman as Watson) and saw both of RDJ’s Sherlock movies in the theater. (That’s a big deal. We don’t get to the theater more than 3 or 4 times a year, if that.) And I’m looking forward to a CBS series this fall called “Elementary” starring another favorite, Jonny Lee Miller (I loved his show “Eli Stone,” which of course, means it was canceled.)

Somewhere, in the midst of all that Sherlock on-screen love, I read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Once again, I was amazed at the storytelling. Throughout this series looking at classic books that have become movies, I have been disappointed in myself for not having read these books earlier. It was the same for Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I have yet to read the other Sherlock compilations by Doyle, but I am eager to read them, and re-read this one. Each story, or “case,” is a quick yet thrilling read, and like the screen versions, are full of twists and turns you don’t expect.

So, it’s on this note that I end my first ever “There’s a Book For That” series. I could write endless posts on books that have become movies, and I’ll consider another series later in the year. For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed these looks at classic works. My own reading history has been enriched by these stories. I’m open to further suggestions, if you have them.

Happy reading!

There’s a book for that: Memoirs of an English Governess at the Siamese Court

Watching the film version of The King and I is one of my best childhood memories. I don’t know if it was the first musical I ever watched, but it certainly added to my love for the genre. The song “Getting to Know You” runs through my head when I meet new people. Fortunately for them, I don’t sing it out loud.

Years later, when Jodie Foster took the lead role in the non-musical Anna and the King, I gained new appreciation for the story of the widowed British woman who takes on the role of teacher and governess to the children of the King of Siam.

The two movies share some similarities in theme, and while they are based on a true story, I was never sure how much was fact and how much was fiction.

As part of this series, I decided to read Anna Leonowens’ book Memories of an English Governess at the Siamese Court. I was pleased to discover that the king’s quirks, portrayed so brilliantly by Yul Brynner, were accurate. Who can forget his repetition of “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera” or his “Who? Who? Who?” when Anna first arrives on the scene. These are documented in the book.

In fact, Leonowens’ work is incredibly detailed so that if you’ve never traveled to the Orient, you feel as though you are there. As with most things I read, I want to read more about this area of the world. On the downside, I did get a little bogged down in the details about midway through the book and almost didn’t finish it because it wasn’t holding my attention.

What I didn’t find in her account was any trace of love story, which appears in both film versions. I like both movies as stories, independent of the truth, and I’m glad to have read the story straight from the source. It reminds me that historical fiction is both based in history and fictionalized for dramatic effect.

One more week to go in this series. If you missed my other posts, check out my thoughts on the book versions of Mary Poppins, The Princess Bride, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Next week: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.