My Cousin Rachel – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

The title, My Cousin Rachel, sounds like the latest rom-com where a mysterious long-lost cousin shows up to the perfect wedding and nearly ruins everything as riotous laughs ensue. Actually, that’s not too far from the actual premise, except without the humor. This film, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier (The Birds) with a screenplay adaptation by Roger Michell, is a remake of the 1952 film, a creepy suspense thriller set in 19th Century England.

Sam Claflin as “Philip” and Rachel Weisz as “Rachel Ashley” in My Cousin Rachel. Photo by Nicola Dove. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Cousin Rachel

The story focuses on a naive 24-year-old Englishman named Philip (Sam Claflin), whose cherished guardian leaves for a warmer climate to improve his health. While away, he falls in love with his mysterious cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz), and they soon wed. Philip then receives increasingly disturbing letters from his guardian suggesting that Rachel is controlling him and poisoning his tea.

In a rage, Philip journeys to the newlyweds’ home and discovers from an attorney that his guardian recently died of a brain tumor – a condition that may have affected his perception. Intent on vengeance, Philip invites the so-called grieving widow to visit his soon-to-be-inherited estate so he can confront her.

Hinted Sexuality

Once there, however, virginal Philip becomes mesmerized by Rachel’s charm (despite his close relationship with the ever-loyal Louise (Holliday Grainger), who clearly hopes to marry him someday. Even dressed in her black widow’s garb, Rachel’s sophistication and hinted sexuality entice Philip enough to protect her from gossip, pain, and poverty. The latter issue is especially problematic because Philip is weeks away from turning age 24 and inheriting a full fortune in jewels and real estate.

His plan to rescue Rachel turn into a desperate attempt to save himself and his wealth as Philip suddenly becomes ill with an unexplained sickness. Is she poisoning him, too? Did she actually murder his guardian? Does she have another husband in Italy to whom she sends money? Sometimes it seems that way and sometimes it doesn’t.

No Concrete Answers

This is not a film that provides concrete answers. Much like its movie poster that features Rachel’s face shrouded by a black widow’s veil, the film’s mysteries are never fully revealed, which leaves the viewer to form his or her own conclusions based on the facts presented, patterns of behavior, and subtle innuendos.

Claflin convincing plays the innocent young man who is easily manipulated by the slightest touch of a feminine hand. Weisz’s fragile beauty seems less suited to her role as the enigmatic cousin, alluring enough to make nearly any man fall in love with her. Even so, production values in this period piece come together nicely. The costumes, landscapes, and candle-lit interiors provide a rich backdrop to the story that intrigues, but never truly thrills.

My Cousin Rachel

  • An Englishman on the brink of inheriting a fortune falls in love with a mysterious woman who may have murdered his guardian.
  • Stars: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger, Poppy Lee Friar, Andrew Knott, Andrew Havill
  • Director: Roger Michell
  • Genre: Mystery Drama
  • Run Time: 146 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sexuality and brief strong language)

The Lost City of Z – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Amazon Studios took advantage of a great tie-in opportunity with this Bleeker Street film project – the story of one man’s obsession with the Amazon. He’s not fascinated by competitively priced books, bulk foods, or kitchen gadgets, however. This early 20th  century explorer was intrigued by artifacts of what he believed to be an undiscovered advanced civilization that once lived in the jungles near the Amazon River.

The Lost City of Z. Copyright 2017 Aidan Monaghan / Amazon Studios & Bleeker Street.

The True Story of Percival Fawcett

Based on David Grann’s best-selling nonfiction book The Lost City of Z, this film depicts the true story of former British Army officer Percival (Percy) Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who followed his dream of exploration into the Amazon and risked everything to prove the validity of his findings.

The story begins by establishing Fawcett as a loyal soldier and outstanding marksman. Even so, he’s never given proper respect from society because of his family’s humble background. These early scenes – while getting the movie off to a slow start – help to establish one reason why Fawcett might have been so single-mindedly determined to prove his worth to others. Having gained the backing of the Royal Geographical Society, Fawcett leaves his lovely young wife (Sienna Miller) and enlists the aid of his friend (Robert Pattinson) to explore uncharted territory in eastern Bolivia.

A Long, Long Journey in the Amazon

Encountering reptiles, insects, and arrows from unfriendly natives, Fawcett has no intention of giving up the mission, even though it means missing the birth of his son. A second and third expedition follow prompted by his excitement over finding some ancient pottery. It’s this third mission in 1925 – accompanied by his son (Tom Holland) – from which he mysteriously never returns.

Beautiful cinematography helps keep viewer interest as the story oh-so-slowly progresses. At 140 minutes, it’s a mighty long trip through the jungle, but worth the journey.

The Lost City of Z

  • In this true story, an obsessive British explorer repeatedly leaves his family to visit the Amazon, believing he has discovered a previously unknown civilization.
  • Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland,
  • Director: James Gray
  • Genre: Action Adventure Biopic
  • Run Time: 140 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity)


Red Hot Ideas for Valentine’s Day

By Leslie C. Halpern

Use red cinnamon candies for eating, decorating, and gift-giving at Valentine’s Day or anytime throughout the year when you need a hint of spice. These cinnamon candies (hard or chewy) are produced from a variety of companies, and creative cooks and party hosts can find many uses for these sweet treats.

A few of the most popular brands:

Sold in bulk for stores, large bags and boxes for families, and in smaller individual single-serving packets, these candies come on strong with an unsubtle sweetness and bold red color. Shades of red often are associated with excitement, stimulation, desire, activity, and all matters relating to the heart and blood, making these candies especially festive for parties celebrating Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, weddings, and Christmas.

Red Hots for Eating and Drinking

Hard cinnamon candies mix well with other foods – especially melted with marshmallows or Marshmallow Fluff, added to applesauce, and baked with apples or pears. Sprinkle several small cinnamon candies or one large candy (such as a chewy cinnamon ball rather than a hard disc) on top of iced cupcakes. Sugar cookies – either round or in the shape of hearts, flowers, or stars – look great with a large red candy center or small red dots around the edges.

You might also want to add hard cinnamon disc candy or small Red Hots into hot tea and stir until melted. This spicy addition offers more sugar and an extra kick of flavor unlike traditional cinnamon sticks, which don’t sweeten the tea. Try adding the same candies when making hot apple cider in a slow cooker, stirring occasionally to make sure the candies dissolve without sticking to the bottom of the crockery.

Red Hots for Decorating and Gift-Giving

Red cinnamon candies make pretty party decorations for tables at Valentine’s Day events, wedding receptions, bridal showers, anniversary parties, or Christmas festivities. Hosts can fill small decorative mesh bags, boxes, jars, tins, and heart shaped dishes as party favors.

The candies also can be placed in larger jars or bowls and used as table centerpieces. When using flowers, candles, or other items as centerpieces, small cinnamon candies sprinkled around the center of the table make lovely accents. Use wrapped discs or balls, or unwrapped imperials as accents, but not unwrapped balls, which can roll off the table and ruin the event for everyone by causing accidents and other red hot messes.

For gift-giving at parties or holidays, red cinnamon candies look beautiful placed in large decorative jars, cloth bags, or see-through boxes tied with red, pink, or gold bows. For more expensive gift ideas, try filling a crystal candy dish with gourmet cinnamon candies adorned with a fancy bow on top.

Red Hot cinnamon candies even have a place in the business world. Small pre-packaged bags of Red Hots make nice prospective-client giveaways for “Red Hot Ideas” about anything your company needs to promote.

Looking for more gift ideas for Valentine’s Day? Leslie C. Halpern wrote the books 200 Love Lessons from the Movies (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2016) and Reel Romance: The Lovers’ Guide to the 100 Best Date Movies (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004).


Live by Night – Book Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

This newly published paperback edition of best-selling author Dennis Lehane’s gangster novel Live by Night coincides with the January 13, 2017 nationwide release of the movie adaptation starring Ben Affleck.

Lehane delivers another satisfying crime thriller in Live by Night, an examination of one man’s gradual transition from common outlaw to monstrous mobster. As with his thriller, The Drop (which became a major motion picture in 2014 starring Tom Hardy), this book has a cinematic adaptation.

Groomed for a Life of Crime

In this new novel, Joe Coughlin comes of age during the Prohibition era in Boston, Massachusetts during the 1920s. Beginning with his impending death by rival gangsters, the story says his problems all started because of his involvement with a woman and flashes back in time to tell his tale. The youngest son of a crooked policeman, Joe begins his life of crime early by stealing from local newspaper stands with his friends. His transgressions escalate over the years and before he’s even 21, he’s been charged and convicted with a robbery that led to the deaths of three police officers, and has lost the big love of his life – a gangster’s moll who set him up to be captured.

The book devotes considerable time to his criminal grooming in prison, where he slowly transforms from a survivor among murderers and thieves to someone who thrives among them. After his release from prison, Joe heads for Tampa, Florida, and Ybor City to head a group of mobsters who want to control the local crime syndicate that runs the area’s gun and liquor trade. Despite his aversion to heat, Joe relishes this assignment as it gives him the opportunity to strike back at an old rival.

Joe’s Ever-Changing Morality

A new romance comes into his life, but something in his soul dies. Proud of his status as an outlaw for so many years, he slowly comes to accept he’s now a gangster – someone who kills without remorse to get what he wants, whether it’s money or revenge.

Told in three chronological parts with crisp, clear writing, the story contains lots of graphic violence, but also examines Joe’s ever-changing morality. He’s not an inherently mean or vicious person; he’s merely someone who could never stand a day job and a traditional lifestyle. Joe lives by night. Self-educated through the prison library, he uses his knowledge and intellect to rise to the top of the crime syndicate. He craves the excitement of planning and executing dangerous assignments with increasingly high stakes, and naturally the women he desires fall into the risky category as well.

While this book succeeds as a thrilling crime novel, it also excels as a character study with well-developed, multi-faceted people who are heroes, villains, and something in between, depending upon the circumstances.

Purchase this book from Amazon

Live by Night

  • Dennis Lehane
  • William Morrow Paperbacks
  • 978-0062662422
  • Adult Fiction / Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers/Adventure



Helping Children Find Their Passion

In 4 Simple Steps

By Guest Blogger: Wanda Luthman

We all want our children to grow up to be happy, healthy adults, but how can we help them to become that? By helping them find their passion, of course! But, how do we help them find their passion, you ask?

I believe, like Mary Poppins, that the beginning is a very good place to start.

In the beginning, since we don’t know what our children are going to wind up enjoying, we should expose them to all different sorts of things and activities.


One really easy way to do that is through reading. Read all kinds of books to your children. There are books about different professions like firemen (or fire persons), doctors, veterinarians, etc. and there are rhyming picture books where the child can clap along to the rhythm and “feel” the beat. Just in these two examples, your child has been exposed to a job and to music along with the all-important literacy of reading.


The second thing is to allow them to play. I know our kids don’t get as much play as in the “olden” days when we played outside, but even indoor play is a good way to expose them to different things. Such as dolls (both male and female) or stuffed animals that children can use to role play people interactions. There are moving toys such as cars and trucks. There are creative toys like Play doh and paint. There are building toys like Lego and Lincoln logs. Provide some fun clothes for dress up and some musical instruments. What a big world you’ve just created for your child to “try” different things. See what your child is drawn to. Of course, we know not to limit toys to a specific gender.


Third on the list is to go out and explore. Take your child outside and feel the dirt, talk to him or her about the plants, animals, and bugs that you see. Kick and/or throw a ball to each other. Look up and talk about the airplanes flying through the air and at night talk about the moon and the stars and planets. Visit a playground and let them climb, slide, and swing. They may find that they like nature or they like athletics. Go to ball games, go to plays (age-appropriate ones), and chorus concerts. They might discover that they like acting or singing or both!


The fourth thing is to do. Ask your children what they would like to try—maybe they want to join a ball team, or a choir, or to plant a garden, or visit a planetarium, an airport, or a fire station. If possible, have the people at these places talk to them about their jobs.

Continue this process of exploring throughout their early years. You just never know what is going to spark excitement and passion in your child. It’s so fun to see that spark and then fan it into a blaze so they can grow up to be happy, healthy people living their passion!

Wanda Luthman is a children’s author who loves helping kids be the best they can be! Follow her on her Blog, Facebook, or Twitter for more parenting and teaching tips and techniques so you can help the children in your life be the best they can be too!

Children’s books by Wanda Luthman.

Her books include two chapter books for ages 7-11 (3rd and 4th graders) The Lilac Princess and A Turtle’s Magical Adventure and a picture book for ages 0-5 called Little Birdie Grows Up. They are all available in paperback, ebook and audiobook on Amazon at