Friday, December 31, 2010

The Tourist

Ya'll know me, I simply cannot resist a good spy/caper flick. And 2010 has certainly delivered more than the normal share of caper-themed films (Knight and Day and Red were winners, while Killers fell far short of the mark). Happily, The Tourist falls into the winner category. I came *thisclose* to passing on seeing this one in theaters, but I just couldn't resist 1) Johnny Depp and 2) the gorgeous European settings, which reminded me of Charade and To Catch a Thief. In fact, The Tourist feels like it is very deliberately constructed with a "throwback" feel to it, reminding me of the days in classic Hollywood when gorgeous guys like Cary Grant would cross paths with femme fatales like Eva Marie Saint on cross-country trips (The Tourist will really make you want to rewatch North by Northwest, if you're at all wired like me *wink*). Seriously, is there anything more romantic than trains in movies?!

Anyways, if you've seen the film's trailer you have a pretty good idea of the storyline. Angelina Jolie plays Elise, the former lover of a mysterious man named Alexander who is wanted by just about every law enforcement agency you can imagine for some major tax evasion charges. Alexander sends Elise a message with very specific instructions - to board a train and choose a random man who resembles him in height, build, and coloring, and make the men who are following her belive they've reunited. Because you see, no one knows what Alexander looks like - since absconding with billions of dollars from a mobster that used him as a private banker, Alexander used some of that money to acquire a completely new face. Jolie's target of choice is mild-mannered Frank Tupelo, a math teacher from Wisconsin played by Depp. Things get unexpectedly dangerous for Frank when the mobsters on Alexander's trail take up the chase, determined to get their money back.

I love and adore Johnny Depp, but seriously, even the role of a math teacher from middle America seems to require more than the usual suspension of disbelief. *wink* Depp is NO "everyman" if you get my drift. But if you don't mind a minor SPOILER - all is not as it seems with the mild-mannered Frank. As far as Jolie goes, I have seen very few of her films - nothing against her, really, it's just that she doesn't typically make the type of movie I'm interested in in seeing, I guess. Here she's definitely channeling Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn. In every scene she's all elegance, classier than I think I've ever seen her on-screen. This is my favorite of her costumes, worn to a ball - I just adore this dress!

Now, I'm really torn as to how much detail to to go into about Frank and Elise's relationship. I don't know if the movie's really obvious and I was just going into the theater playing really dumb or what (*wink*), but there are two major twists that occur towards the end of The Tourist that I quite frankly didn't see coming AT ALL. And while some would argue that they're too contrived, honestly it all worked for me. The whole feel of The Tourist is pure escapism from beginning to end, coated with a glamour that evokes Old Hollywood - and people I just love that.

On to some of the other cast members - Paul Bettany plays Inspector John Acheson, a man who is completely obsessed with Elise's connection to Alexander, and driven to bring the fugitive to justice at all costs. Bettany adds class to any film he appears in, and I really enjoyed watching his obsessive inspector become increasingly more driven and borderline unhinged as the chase reaches its climax. Acheson's boss was played by Timothy Dalton of all people - loved seeing him on-screen, especially after his memorable guest spots on Chuck this past fall. But the best surprise of all was the moment Rufus Sewell appeared on the screen as "The Englishman." People, I just adore that man, and he needs to be in more movies or TV shows asap. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the Zen mystery series he's been filming appears on the 2011 Masterpiece Mystery schedule.

The settings throughout the film are absolutely breath-taking. Filmed in Paris and Venice, the filmmakers take full advantage of the atmosphere and architecture to completely sweep one into the story. If you're like me you'll forgive any plot contrivances for another view of the gorgeous Venice cityscape. And because I'm such a film score junkie, I have to give a nod to James Newton Howard's lovely score. It was always the perfect complement to the scene or action, and with the occasional "caper theme" flourish that reminded me just a bit of old school James Bond, it was a lot of fun to listen to.

Okay, I can't resist discussing the twists I referred to earlier, so from this point on...


So, Elise turns out to be an undercover agent who "went dark" when she was sent to Russia to infiltrate Alexander's life. The problem? She fell in love with him. When she marks Frank and starts to get to know him, she decides that it's time to turn Alexander in - she still loves him, but she's started falling for Frank and doesn't want to see the hapless math teacher get hurt. Well, it turns out that instead of conning the police, Elise was the one getting played, because Frank was Alexander all along (still following me? *g*).

I found myself unexpectedly fascinated by the way the movie played with the idea of love - would it be possible for a woman to be so in love with, so tied to a man that she could fall in love with him twice and not realize it? Am I making sense here - are we supposed to believe, I guess, that Elise is drawn to Frank because subconsciously she "knows" him even though he has a new face? One can debate whether or not Jolie and Depp have sufficient on-screen chemistry - it's rather a slow burn between the two characters, and in the context of this story it worked for me. I guess it's the hopeless romantic in me that really appreciated how the final twist played out. Elise's delight at realizing she'd fallen for the same man twice, Frank/Alexander facing down the mobster, and the fact that Bettany's Inspector was right all along, and knew his quarry better than anyone ever gave him credit for - but he still couldn't capture the elusive Alexander in the act.

Escapism at its best, I found The Tourist to be a highly entertaining two hour diversion. The story's twists and turns and its gorgeous settings will be a world I'll enjoy revisiting in the future. And it's really quite a clean film, some action violence but other than that a welcome modern-day throwback to the great escapist "caper" films of the 1950s and 1960s. Here's hoping The Tourist inspires some people to check out the great films that so clearly inspired it. Click to read my review of North by Northwest, if you're interested. :)

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, friends! Kristin over at Miss Vintage Girl had the brilliant idea of posting the New Year's scene from the movie Holiday Inn, an old favorite of mine. As she so aptly points out, one of the great things about Holiday Inn is that you can "celebrate" with it all year. :) And embedding is disable for this video, but if you haven't seen Turner Classic Movie's annual "TCM Remembers" video, you can view it here.

Happy New Year!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The King's Speech

I finally got to see The King's Speech since it at long last opened in a local theater. And oh, let me tell you, it was worth the wait. The King's Speech is every bit as extraordinary, moving, and gripping as all of the rave reviews have claimed. It's an intimate, personal story set against the most epic of backdrops - the onset of World War II. For a reluctant leader the stakes couldn't be higher - yet the most ordinary thing imaginable, speaking, eludes him at every turn. In an increasingly media-centered world, a sovereign's image is no longer formed by simple photographs, now his words carry weight and have the capability of rallying people to his side or leaving them cowering in fear. For a man with a crippling stammer, the problem seems overwhelming. Yet with the help of Lionel Logue, a highly unconventional speech therapist, George VI found his voice.

My knowledge of Elizabeth II's father, George VI, was pretty sparse all things considered - limited to history books or the character's occasional appearance in a war-era film. Several years ago I remember enjoying the Masterpiece production Bertie and Elizabeth, where Bertie a.k.a. George VI was played by James Wilby. I have no recollection of that film addressing George's speech impediment, so The King's Speech was quite eye-opening as it raises George's story to a whole new level of inspiring. For a man who was born as the "spare heir" to older brother Edward, dealing with a crippling stammer would have been bad enough, but at least he didn't have the added pressure being the heir would bring. But all of that changed when Edward decided if he couldn't have the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson he wanted nothing to do with the throne, and suddenly Bertie and his stammer were thrust into a most unwelcome spotlight.

I so hope The King's Speech receives the Oscar nominations I think it so richly deserves when awards season arrives. Performances aside, on a purely artistic level it's an exquisitely, beautifully made film. The attention to period detail, from every stitch of the costumes to each prop in Logue's office is a delight to the eyes. The script is just brilliant, by turns hilarious and heart-wrenching. And the structure of the film is superb, each scene carefully placed, raising the stakes for the characters and leaving you on the edge of your seat, breathless with anticipation to see how George will rise above his stammer and his fear to embrace the role of leader.

As Bertie/George VI, Colin Firth's performance is an absolute revelation. For my money this is the performance of his career. I left the theater absolutely exhausted from the emotional investment I felt when watching Bertie. The painful effort with which Firth shows how hard it was for Bertie to articulate his thoughts and feelings left me completely wrung out as a viewer. Prior to seeing this film, I never, ever would have imagined that watching a film where a central plot device, if you will, is a speech impediment could be so gripping or get me as emotionally involved as it did. But when you have a sympathetic, engaging character - all the more compelling because he was real - and a tour-de-force performance from a great actor pouring his heart and soul into the role, you can't help but be moved. It might be easy going into The King's Speech to think of it as "simply" a historic biopic, but it's so much more than that - it's about overcoming physical impediments and even more than that, I'd say it's about overcoming fear - and who hasn't been attacked by that monster?

Geoffrey Rush's turn as Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue is equally brilliant. He and Firth play off each other brilliantly, bringing Bertie and Lionel's unorthodox friendship to vibrant life. Logue must've been a fascinating guy. He apparently loved Shakespeare (a fact I really appreciated *g*), and dreamed of finding success on the amateur stage, which sadly for him never happened. He also apparently had no formal training as a speech therapist - all of his therapies and expertise were based on his hands-on experience with shell-shocked World War I veterans in Australia - clearly the guy was a brilliant maverick, if you will. The social constraints Logue had to push through in order to gain Bertie's trust, and get to the root of his stammer, made for fascinating viewing. Not only did Logue have his unorthodox methods and "commoner" status working against him, but he was Australian, and that class distinction created problems and prejudices I never could've imagined. Lionel and Bertie form a friendship that grows to transcend class, but in order to get to that point the two of them go through an unbelievable refining fire that tests each man's resolve to the near breaking point.

I was incredibly impressed with Helena Bonham Carter's regal, gracious turn as Bertie's wife Elizabeth. I can remember how "The Queen Mother" seemed to be pretty universally beloved right up to her death at the age of 101 in 2002. But again, I didn't really know much about her earlier life as an unexpected Queen, and I never suspected the pivotal role she played in supporting her husband and seeking treatment options for his debilitating stutter. One has this rather vague idea that Elizabeth II's mother must've been a force to be reckoned with to stand up to the London Blitz and then serve as family matriarch through the turbulent personal years the royals have seen just in my lifetime. But I have so much more respect for her now, after having seen this movie. If Elizabeth and Bertie's marriage was half as supportive as this film portrays it, I'd still be blown away by their relationship. It's been ages since I've seen Carter play such a restrained (i.e. not crazy) role, and does it here beautifully. Keeping my fingers crossed for a supporting actress Oscar nod.

There are several other notable cast members that I'd like to quickly point out. The first and perhaps most notable to me as a Jane Austen fan is Jennifer Ehle, playing Myrtle Logue, Lionel's wife. Ehle, of course, appeared opposite Colin Firth as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. In the film, Lionel keeps his consulations with Bertie a secret from his wife - when the accidental "reveal" occurs, Rush is absolutely hilarious playing the flustered spouse. And when Myrtle looks in shock at the king-to-be and asks where she's seen him before, well the P&P fan in me really enjoyed that moment. A third P&P alum makes a brief appearance as well. David Bamber, who so memorably portrayed Mr. Collins, appears briefly as a Theatre Director who squashes Lionel's hopeful Shakespeare audition. Derek Jacobi, who has appeared in everything from Doctor Who to Masterpiece productions, makes an annoying, ingratiating Archbishop of Cantebury. And I absolutely loved seeing Anthony Andrews on-screen again, even if he did only play P.M. Stanley Baldwin. The Andrews/Seymour Scarlet Pimpernel is definitely worth checking out if you've never seen it. Timothy Spall makes a fairly good Winston Churchill - he had the voice and mannerisms down pretty well, but looks-wise there have been better film Churchills IMO.

Bertie's parents are played by a regal Claire Bloom and Michael Gambon (goodness the man seems like he's in everything nowadays!). The parent/child dynamic in this film is fascinating and heart-breaking to see here. Not only do you have the whole traditional British "stiff upper lip" thing going on, but lack of understanding of what caused Bertie's stammer and how best to deal with it also fostered tension in the royal father/son relationship. During one heart-breaking scene, the first time Bertie really opens up to Lionel, occurs immediately after his father's death. He shares details of physical abuse at the hands of a nanny who preferred his brother to what would be termed emotional abuse/neglect today from his parents. Or perhaps I should clarify - I think the film was trying to drive home the idea that because of his disability, the people who most could've helped him instead made the situation worse due to lack of understanding and the position they were expected to uphold. When you see Colin Firth on-screen as a man only a breath away from the throne, who only wanted his father's approval - which was only given on his deathbed, and then not to him personally - I defy you to not want to bawl. In fact, you might when you witness Bloom's silent approval of her second son's first wartime speech. :)

The brothers dynamic is also incredibly complex and fascinating. Edward is played by Guy Pearce, and can I just tell you while Pearce certainly looked the part it was bizarre to see him in the role. In the film, because of his status as the heir or his devil-may-care personality - or perhaps a combination of the two - Edward is the golden favored one. Favored, that is, until his affairs with married women like Wallis Simpson start to cause PR problems for the royal family. Compared to Bertie, Edward comes across as a spoiled, petulant child - no pun intended, but all that glitters clearly isn't gold. And good grief, I don't care what "skills" Wallis Simpson may have learned from "an establishment" in Shanghai (when Carter makes this assertion in the movie it's a priceless put-down!), but seriously?! In this film portrayal, anyway, she was so not worth it.

I know this is really long, but just a few more thoughts I really want to try and verbalize. I think this movie's appeal is quite universal, and that's due to too things. This is most definitely not a "stuttering" movie, though it will make you think about the difficulties of coping with that in a whole new, and more informed, light. But more than that it's a story of how do you cope when your life changes in a flash, and how do you face your worst fears. The thought that the heir would abdicate was not even a blip on anyone's radar during Bertie's growing-up years. Sure, he was second in line to the throne until Edward had a child, but he was only the "spare heir," emphasis on spare. Not only did Bertie have to radically change his plans and view of his life, but so did his wife. One of my favorite scenes occurs shortly before Bertie's coronation as George VI, when he breaks down sobbing about never wanting, not being worthy to be king. Elizabeth reminds him that he had to propose to her three times before she'd accept, because she wasn't sure she wanted life in the public eye - but she thought he "stammered so beautifully" she couldn't say no. Not only is that an incredible illustration of love, but think about it - being a wartime queen was certainly more than she bargained for when she married the younger prince.

Very early in The King's Speech, Bertie's daughters Elizabeth and Margaret request a bedtime story from their father. The herculean effort and bravery it took to complete such a "simple" everyday task just broke my heart. But he did it. And the love for his children that allowed him to tell that story is a foreshadowing of the love and extraordinary friendship that equips Bertie, the man who never wanted to be king, to be the leader and voice of a nation in its darkest hour. The speech - the king's first during the war - that caps this film is a nail-biter. The filmmakers and actors really given you a feel for what it must have been like to live during that time, literally hanging on every word spilling from your radio. That reminds me - Alexandre Desplat's score for this movie is gorgeous. But during that final speech, Beethoven Symphony No. 7 - II plays, and it's an absolute genius musical selection. The look Logue and the king exchange after the speech, saying so much without words is a fantastic moment, so well-played by Firth and Rush - they are quite the on-screen pairing in this movie.

This is one of those movies that I'll be thinking about for a long time to come. It's a powerful portrait of the life-changing gift of friendship, and a moving reminder, for me anyway, of faith in the face of fear. The next time you think about how far God's brought you through whatever your valley may be, I challenge you to take an extra moment to thank him for the people He may have placed in your life to help you through your valley. That's just one of the gifts The King's Speech left me. For as long as this post is, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of the beauty and brilliance in this film. I highly recommend making the time to see it if and when it finally appears in a theater near you.* This movie definitely ranks as a highlight of the year.

*Just a note on the R rating - that's for two scenes of swearing. The swearing is part of Bertie's therapy. For all the swearing in those two scenes - a good chunk of which is a bit hard to understand - I still don't get how that warranted a R rating. Just so you know. :)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 Retrospective & Looking Ahead

I'm not really much of one for doing "best of year" posts, because as shocking as this may seem, I don't review everything on this blog. *wink* I didn't even do a year-end retrospective last December! My goal is, of course, to get around to reviewing it all eventually. But since that's not good enough for the completist in me to put together specific best of 2010 posts for books, movies, etc., this is going to be more of a brief retrospective, looking back on the year as I experienced it in book and film here on the blog. Anything is eligible here, not just books or films released in 2010 - they were just reviewed by me in 2010. Without further ado, and in no particular order of preference, here are a few favorites from the past year that you may have missed, forgotten about, or might want to add to your own "to do" lists for 2011.

Ten Books
Click the cover to be taken to the review.






Six Movies
Click the poster to be taken to the review.




Four Masterpiece Productions
Click the image to be taken to a review.



A few notes:

Books: In the coming weeks you'll see (I hope!) reviews of the other books that were shortlisted for the 2010 INSPY Award in Historical Fiction. What with the holidays, getting sick, and general December craziness, at this point I'm probably going to be re-reading the review-less books and sharing those reviews with you in 2011.

Movies: There are several movies I've seen that have yet to be reviewed on the blog, including Letters to Juliet and Tangled that would have most definitely made this post, if I'd had my act together. *wink* So bear with me. :)

Masterpiece: Sadly, I really flopped with my goal of reviewing ALL Masterpiece productions as they aired this year. This year was a great one for the Mystery season in particular, with a stellar Marple and Poirot episodes that have yet to be reviewed here. I'll catch up someday...right?! *sigh* FYI, for Emma, Small Island, and Sherlock, I linked to only my review of the first episode in each series. Check out my Masterpiece Classic page for links to the rest of my reviews.

Music & TV: My music reviews were so sporadic this year I decided not to include any in this post. If the category picks up review-wise in 2011, expect to see some in my next year-end retrospective. TV-wise, I watch way more than "just" Masterpiece - White Collar, Psych, Doctor Who, and Castle are a some favorites, just to name a few. This is a review category I'd like to "resurrect" in 2011, particularly since I reviewed the entire 3rd season of Primeval on this blog back in 2009, and the brand-new season starts this Saturday (yippee!). So we'll see how that goes...

So, how about you? Did any favorites from my list make yours? Any glaring omissions? :)

Looking ahead: Reading-wise, I really want to read more and complete as many of the challenges as possible that I went all crazy signing up for earlier in the week. I also really, really want to keep up with my Masterpiece reviews (and catch up on everything I skipped reviewing in 2010!). So we'll see how that goes.

I'd also really like to host some fun giveaways as a little way of saying "thanks" to all of you who read and comment on this blog and make it fun. These giveaways would most likely consist of books, because seriously, who doesn't like free books? :) I haven't decided yet if entering these giveaways (probably one per month) will be for followers/subscribers only or not...I really want to make the giveaways as much about regular readers as possible, though, as a way to say thanks. Thoughts? Please share. :) Either way, feel free to follow and let me know you're out there if you're so inclined. *wink*

I thought about saving this post till Friday, but since I'm seeing so many year-end posts around the blogosphere, I figured why not go ahead and get it out there? If something blows me away in the next two days I'll let you know. :)

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011

I know, I know, I promised no more challenges just last night, didn't I? *sigh* Well, when I read Laurel Ann's post about the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, I simply couldn't resist participating (isn't the graphic snazzy?). Hosted by the Historical Tapestry blog, here are the challenge details:

The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011

Each month, a new post dedicated to the HF Challenge will be created. To participate, you only have to follow the rules:
  • everyone can participate, even those who don't have a blog (you can add your book title and thoughts in the comment section if you wish)  
  • add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky we’ll be adding to our monthly post (please, do not add your blog link, but the correct address that will guide us directly to your review)  
  • any kind of historical fiction is accepted (HF fantasy, HF young adult,...)  
  • you can overlap this challenge with others kind of challenges 
During these following 12 months you can choose one of the different reading levels:
  • Severe Bookaholism: 20 books
  • Undoubtedly Obsessed: 15 books
  • Struggling the Addiction: 10 books
  • Daring & Curious: 5 books
  • Out of My Comfort Zone: 2 books
The challenge will run from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2011.


Did you notice the aspect of this challenge that I'm most excited about? It can overlap with other challenges! Total & complete justification!!! Woo-hoo! :) That said, here's my list:
  1. Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
  2. Jane and the Man of the Cloth
  3. Jane and the Wandering Eye
  4. Jane and the Genius of the Place
  5. Jane and the Stillroom Maid
  6. Jane and the Prisoner of the Wool House
  7. Jane and the Ghosts of Netley
  8. Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy
  9. Jane and the Barque of Frailty
  10. Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron
  11. Jane and the Canterbury Tale
  12. The Reluctant Widow
  13. Lady of Quality
  14. Faro's Daughter
  15. Cotillion
  16. False Colours
  17. Black Sheep
  18. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
  19. The Masque of the Black Tulip
  20. The Deception of the Emerald Ring
As you can see, I'm committing to the Severe Bookaholism level (20 books) and I'm overlapping this challenge with the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Challenge (titles 1-11 written by Stephanie Barron) and the Georgette Heyer Reading Challenge (titles 12-17 by Heyer) and adding the first three books in the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig (titles 18-20). I'd like to review the entire Pink Carnation series here on the blog in 2011, but I'm not going to go completely nuts and commit to that now. *wink* Wish me luck...I am going to need it! :)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Vintage Mystery 2011 Reading Challenge

One final reading challenge for 2011, and I promise that's it!! I'm either going to succeed at all these beyond my wildest expectations or fall flat on my face - either way it's sure to be an interesting year. :)

I ADORE vintage mysteries (Christie, Heyer, Sayers, etc.), so this challenge is perfectly suited to my tastes. It's hosted by My Reader's Block. Here are the challenge details:

Introducing: The 2011 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge.

A challenge for all you mystery lovers out there who already love mysteries from the years prior to 1960 and also anyone who's ever thought, "I should give Agatha Christie (Dorothy L Sayers...Sir Arthur Conan Doyle...etc) a try."

Here are the rules:

*All books must have been written before 1960 and be from the mystery category.

*Some suggested authors include: Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers, Earl Derr Biggers, Georgette Heyer, Edmund Crispin, Cyril Hare, Ellery Queen, Elizabeth Daly, Cyril Hare, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ngaio Marsh, S. S. Van Dine, Philip MacDonald, Rex Stout, Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Josephine Bell, Josephine Tey, Frances & Richard Lockridge, Michael Innes and Stuart Palmer. (Please remember that some of these authors published after 1960 as well--so keep an eye on the original copyright date.)
*You are welcome to count these books towards any other challenges as well.

*Challenge runs from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011. Sign up any time between now and November 30, 2011.

*I would love to see reviews of your challenge books, but it is not necessary to participate. If you do not have a blog, post to the comments what your challenge level will be and then post again when you have completed your challenge (include a list of books read).

*No matter what level you choose, please try at least two different vintage authors.

*The best part? A prize for everyone who completes their challenge. Once you declare your challenge are locked in for that number of books. But you may change your list of books at any time. Let me know when you have met your challenge goal and I will send you a list of prizes (books) to choose from. Of course, the earlier you finish, the longer the list of books will be.

Challenge Levels:
  • In a Murderous Mood: 4-6 Books
  • Get a Clue: 7-9 Books
  • Hot on the Trail: 10-12 Books
  • Capture the Criminal: 13-15 Books
  • Take 'Em to Trial: 16+ Books  

The Golden Age Girls: Read 5-7 books from female authors from the vintage years
Cherchez Le Homme: Read 5-7 books from male authors from the vintage years


Sounds like fun, no? I'm committing to this challenge at the "Get a Clue" level, with the goal of reading nine books. Here's my list:

Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries
  • Fer-de-Lance
  • Some Buried Caesar
  • Over My Dead Body
Dorothy L. Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries
  • Clouds of Witness
  • The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
  • Unnatural Death
Agatha Christie
  • The Mirror Crack'd
  • The Secret of Chimneys
  • The Thirteen Problems
Since mysteries of this type are usually pretty fast reads, I'd love to exceed this goal, but we'll just have to see. Any other vintage mystery fans out there - please join in, I'd love the company! :)

Georgette Heyer 2011 Reading Challenge

Here's yet another challenge I couldn't resist (attempting) to participate in! All Things Historical Fiction is hosting the Georgette Heyer 2011 Reading Challenge.

The rules are simple. The challenge books must be by Heyer, and they must be historical fiction (none of her mysteries are eligible!). You're supposed to read at least three novels, and they aren't supposed to be re-reads.

So, that being said, here's my Heyer list:
  • The Reluctant Widow
  • Lady of Quality
  • Faro's Daughter
  • Cotillion
  • False Colours
  • Black Sheep
If you've never read Heyer but you adore Regencies, I urge you to think about giving this challenge a try. You'll be in for a treat!

Contentment Reading Challenge 2011, since one of my "reading resolutions" going forward is to read more and finish challenges, I might as well go crazy and join several before 2011 hits, no? :)

The Contentment Reading Challenge is being hosted by a new blogging friend of mine - Amber at Seasons of Humility. Here's the challenge details, copied from Amber's main challenge post:

Contentment Reading Challenge 2011
Hosted by "Seasons of Humility"

The "Contentment Reading Challenge" is based on the idea that we, as avid readers, have many books scattered around our homes (on shelves, in the closet, under the bed, etc.) that we have hoped to read again but have not made the time to do so. It is also based on my own struggles with greed and selfishness--continuing to buy more and more books, while forgetting the wonderful library I already own.*

If you perhaps are going through similar struggles or have had similar ideas, I would love to have you join my reading challenge. This is more of a personal challenge, so don't feel like you have to strictly follow all of the rules in order to be involved. What really counts is our heart attitudes, and while this isn't an overnight change, it's something we can be working on together.

Here are the guidelines:

I will be posting off and on throughout the year about the challenge, and I would love to hear your feedback at those times on how you are doing and what you might be learning along the way. I'd love to have this become a community event, where we can encourage and pray for one another, as well as share in each other's joys as we re-visit some of our favorite books!

In order for this to be a "challenge," it's good to set some goals. Since the ocean is the theme for the devotional posts on this blog ("Sundays by the Sea") here are some of the themed levels you can aim for:
  • Floating: Re-reading 5 books you already own. Skimming the surface.
  • Wading: Re-reading 10 books you already own. Getting your feet wet in your ocean of books.
  • Swimming: Re-reading 15 books you already own. Immersing yourself again.
  • Diving: Re-reading 20 or more books you already own. Going deep into the stories you love.  
The challenge officially starts on January 1, 2011 and officially ends on December 31, 2011. I'm sure there will be some fun activities along the way for those involved, and maybe even a celebration at the end, so I hope you can join me!

For us to remember: "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." (Hebrews 13:5)


*True confessions time - contentment is something that I can really struggle with, so Amber's statement about "forgetting the wonderful library I already own" really struck a chord within me. The maxim "so many books, so little time" is so true - but I've let many years pass "meaning" to revisit old favorites and never getting around to it thanks to all of the  new "must reads" I insist on acquiring. *wink* So this year, I'd like to turn that wishlist of old favorites that I've longed to re-read for years into a reality.

For this challenge I'm going to start by committing to the "wading" level - 10 books.

EDIT 3/5/11: I've decided to simply count any books I've read before and re-read this year as eligible for this challenge, rather than setting a specific list. *whew* I already feel less stressed. :)

Wish me luck, and let me know if you decide to join in Amber's challenge! And help keep me accountable!!! :)

Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011

I have a very bad track record with things like reading challenges, but that's something I'd like to change. I have this wild theory that reading challenges *might* help me become more disciplined about whittling down my gigantic TBR pile. So when the post announcing the "Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge" appeared in my Google Reader this morning, I knew that this was a challenge I couldn't miss! Here's the all the info you need to get up-to-speed on the challenge from Laurel Ann at the Austenprose website:

Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011

We are very pleased to announce the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. If you have not discovered one of her wonderful mysteries, this is a great opportunity to join the challenge along with other Janeites, historical fiction and mystery lovers.

Novels in the Series
Challenge Details

Time-line: The Being a Jane Austen Mystery Challenge runs January 1, through December 31, 2011.

Levels of participation: Neophyte: 1 – 4 novels, Disciple 5 – 8 novels, Aficionada 9 – 11 novels.

Enrollment: Sign up’s are open until July 01, 2011. First, select your level of participation. Second, copy the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge graphic and include it in your blog post detailing the mysteries that you will read in 2011. Third, leave a comment linking back to your blog post in the comments of this announcement post. If you do not have a blog you can still participate. Just leave your commitment to the challenge in the comments below.

Check Back Monthly: The Being a Jane Austen Mystery Challenge 2011 officially begins on Wednesday, January 12, 2010 with my review of the first mystery in the series, Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor. Check back on the 2nd Wednesday of each month for my next review in the challenge.

Your Participation: Once the challenge starts you will see a tab included at the top of Austenprose called Reading Challenges. Click on the tab and select Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. Leave a comment including the mystery that you finished and a link to your blog review. If you do not have a blog, just leave a comment about which book you finished with a brief reaction or remark. It’s that easy.

The Prizes

Oh, of course there are prizes! Author Stephanie Barron has very generously offered one signed hardcover or paperback copy of each of the novels that we will be reviewing each month here on Austenprose to be drawn from comments left with each post, and one signed paperback copy of each of the eleven novels in the series to one lucky Grand Prize Winner to be drawn from comments left at any and all of the reviews left on this blog or yours. Yes, that means that your readers who comment on your challenge reviews have a chance to win too. Winners will be announced monthly two weeks after the blog post, and Grand Prize winner will be announced on January 01, 2012. Shipment to US or Canadian address only.

Bonus Stuff: Yes, of course there is more to get happy about. Availability of each of the novels in the series is great. The books can be purchased or eBooks download at most online etailers and brick and mortar stores. Since the series is so popular, your local library should be a great resource too.

One of the delights of the series is the incredible historical detail that parallel Jane Austen’s life. To expand upon our reading journey in 2011, author Stephanie Barron will be blogging about researching and writing each of the novels as we progress through the series at her Stephanie Barron blog. What an incredible resource and motivation for your reading challenge!

So, make haste and join the challenge today. I am so looking forward to revisiting all the novels in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series in 2011 and hope you can join in too.


Okay, Ruth here again. :) I'm signing up for this challenge at the Aficionada level, reading 9-11 novels. Because people, I have determined that 2011 will be the year I finally review ALL of the Jane Austen mysteries on my blog!! I'll be adding a Reading Challenges page to the right sidebar to help me keep track of my review posts and progress on this challenge - keep me accountable, people! :) Oh, and be sure to let me know if you decide to participate in this challenge as well - I promise you won't regret it! Barron's books are fabulous!

Announcing the Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest!

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed the addition of a Jane Austen-related button to the right sidebar of this blog a few weeks ago. Well since the new year is almost upon us, it's time to share the contest behind the graphic. :) Announcing...

The Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Short Story Contest Begins January 01, 2011

In conjunction with the publication of the new anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Ballantine Books,, and The Republic of Pemberley are pleased to announce an online short story contest. Enter for a chance to win the Grand Prize: publication of your entry in the anthology – a collection of original short stories inspired by the life and works of popular English novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817). Hosted by the Jane Austen web site The Republic of Pemberley, the contest begins on January 1, 2011. Publication of Jane Austen Made Me Do It is tentatively scheduled for publication by Ballantine in Fall 2011.

Contest Highlights

• Eligibility: Previously unpublished U.S. residents over the age of 18
• Entries must be approximately 5,000 words in length
• Manuscript submission January 1 – February 13, 2011
• Voting for the Top Ten finalists February 14 - 28, 2011
• Top Ten finalists announced on March 1, 2011
• One Grand Prize winner receives $500.00 and a contract for publication in the anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It
• Grand Prize winner announced Fall 2011 in conjunction with the official release by Ballantine Books (Random House, Inc.) of Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Jane Austen Made Me Do It contains more than twenty best-selling and popular authors who have contributed short stories inspired by Jane Austen, her novels and her philosophies of life and love. From historical continuations of her plots and characters to contemporary spinoffs and comedies, the stories encapsulate what we love about our favorite author: romance, social satire and witty humor. Contributing to the line-up are best-selling authors Karen Joy Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club), Adriana Trigiani (Brava, Valentine), Lauren Willig (The Pink Carnation series), Laurie Viera Rigler (The Jane Austen Addict series), Syrie James (The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen), Stephanie Barron (Being A Jane Austen Mystery series), and the husband and wife writing team of Frank Delaney (Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show) and Diane Meier (The Season of Second Chances). Many Austenesque authors and others from related genres have also contributed stories to the project. One spot in the anthology remains open for the lucky Grand Prize winner.

The anthology’s editor, Laurel Ann Nattress of, is very excited at the prospect of discovering the next star in the burgeoning sub-genre of Jane Austen sequels and inspired books. “Jane Austen has been inspiring writers for close to two hundred years. It seems quite fitting that she should be the witty muse of our anthology and short story contest. Encouraging writing and discovering new talent is in spirit with her true legacy. I am ‘all anticipation’ of what will develop, and am honored to be part of the selection team.”

Visit the official Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest web page for official contest rules and eligibility requirements. Best of luck to all entrants. You can also read about the contest at Austenprose.

“[S]uppose as much as you chuse; give a loose to your fancy, indulge your imagination in every possible flight which the subject will afford.” Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 60

I don't know about the rest of you, but with a stellar line-up of authors like that, I for one can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this anthology! Best of luck to all entrants, and if you're a regular here at Booktalk please let me know if you decide to enter!

Masterpiece Classic 2011 Schedule

Can you believe it? The start to the brand-new season of Masterpiece Classic is just around the corner! This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Masterpiece being on the air, and if this schedule is any indication we're in for a stellar 2011.

My Boy Jack (Encore Presentation) - January 2, 2011
In 1914 England, patriotism is high in the early days of WWI, and writer Rudyard Kipling (David Haig, Four Weddings and a Funeral) is one of its most eloquent and passionate voices. John "Jack," (Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter films), Kipling's only son, is underage, hopelessly myopic, and eager to join the war effort. Kipling's outspoken American wife Carrie (Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City) remains more sanguine on the course of the war, and the fate of her family. My Boy Jack, based on a true story, tells of a nation at war, and offers an intimate portrait of one family's complex and divided experience in it.
Downton Abbey - January 9, 16, 23, & 30, 2011
A stately country house, a noble family, and a succession crisis are the backdrop for Downton Abbey, an Edwardian spellbinder by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park). The series that took the UK by storm, Downton Abbey stars Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, and a house full of revered actors in a production that brings a glittering bygone era to life.
The Unseen Alistair Cooke (Encore Presentation) - February 6, 2011

Alistair Cooke filmed his early travels across the United States with an 8mm camera. The footage, discovered only after his death, offers a record of the unseen life behind Cooke's polished words, against a backdrop of an America sparkling with possibilities. The Unseen Alistair Cooke: A Masterpiece Special chronicles Cooke's decades in America, friendships with Hollywood icons, celebrated journalism career and years as host of Masterpiece Theatre. Marking the November 2008 centennial of his birth, The Unseen Alistair Cooke: A Masterpiece Special turns an admiring eye on the master observer.
 Any Human Heart - February 13, 20, & 27, 2011
William Boyd adapts his acclaimed 2002 novel about a man — at various times a writer, lover, prisoner of war, and spy — making his often precarious way through the 20th century. Matthew MacFadyen, Gillian Anderson, Hayley Atwell, Kim Cattrall and Jim Broadbent star.
The 39 Steps (Encore Presentation) - March 27, 2011
Newly returned to England on the eve of World War I, Richard Hannay's (Rupert Penry-Jones, Persuasion) listless London life is about to spiral out of control. When a neighbor bursts in with a top-secret notebook full of cryptic codes and a frantic story of an impending assassination, unlikely patriot Hannay is soon on the run to save himself and his country. He bumps into feisty suffragette Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard), and while their fates may be intertwined, their personalities aren't. But like it or not, they'll together navigate murder, betrayal and near death in order to untangle a plot of national importance, and understand the charms and challenges of human nature. A bracing and romantic thriller, The 39 Steps is based on the novel by John Buchan.
Upstairs Downstairs - April 10, 17, & 24, 2011
Upstairs Downstairs is an updated version of one of the most-loved and most-honored series in television history. The series has a new cast of characters and Jean Marsh reprising her Emmy-winning role as Rose. The cast also includes the original series co-creator Eileen Atkins (Cranford), Keeley Hawes (MI-5), Ed Stoppard, and Art Malik (The Jewel in the Crown) with a script by Emmy-nominee Heidi Thomas (Cranford).
South Riding* - May 1, 8, & 15, 2011
Based on Winifred Holtby’s 1936 novel, South Riding has been adapted to the screen by the venerable Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice 1995, Northanger Abbey 2007, and Sense and Sensibility 2008). Directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (Emma 1996), this 20th-century classic is a rich portrait of a Yorkshire community in the 1930’s. In the devastating wake of WWI, unmarried Sarah Burton (Anna Maxwell Martin, Cassandra Austen in Becoming Jane 2007) leaves London and returns home to take up a position as headmistress at a struggling Yorkshire girls school. Robert Carne (David Morrissey, Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility 2008) is also struggling as a gentlemen farmer who is destined to clash with Miss Burton. Among the others in the community are Councilor Mrs. Beddows (Penelope Wilton), school girls Lydia Holly (Charlie Clark) and Midge Carne (Katherine McGolpin), school mistress Miss Sigglesthwaite (Brid Brennan), and Councilor Huggins (John Henshaw). “South Riding is a rich, compassionate and humane story of politics in small places and, in the end, the indestructibility of the human spirit.”
Doesn't this sound like an absolutely AMAZING season?! Which program(s) intrigue you the most? Feel free to sound off in the comments section!

*Thanks to Laurel Ann at Austenprose for the information about South Riding's broadcast.


Sunday night Masterpiece ended an extraordinary 2010 run with Framed, a charming, heart-warming little comedy that was an unexpected delight. Based on the novel of the same name by Frank Cottrell Boyce (which I am really going to have to read now), Framed was inspired by real-life events from World War II. During the war, Churchill vowed to protect England’s art treasures from potential Nazi looters. During the blitz, the National Gallery was emptied and the paintings were stored in an abandoned slate mine in remote North Wales. One painting per month was sent back to London, and thousands would line up to view it. Framed asks the question what would happen if the National Gallery had to be evacuated again? Here’s the story summary from the PBS website:

When flooding in London's National Gallery precipitates the transfer of its treasured paintings to safety in an abandoned slate mine in the Welsh countryside, curator Quentin Lester (Trevor Eve, David Copperfield), a worshipper of art to the exclusion of people, squires his beloved masterpieces to safety, secretly pleased to have them all to himself. There, he encounters a lineup of quirky inhabitants including the spirited and lovely, if slightly nosey, local schoolteacher, Angharad (Eve Myles, Little Dorrit), and a 10-year-old boy, Dylan Hughes. In a chain of misunderstandings triggered by a wayward chicken, Quentin mistakes Dylan, whose father has just left the family in the face of financial woes, for an art connoisseur and kindred spirit. But when Dylan, in desperation, plans the art heist of the century with his criminal-mastermind-in-training sister Minnie, the results reveal how these paintings on the move have tremendous power to move people. Framed is based on the bestselling book by Frank Cottrell Boyce.
First of all, I just have to say I loved the fact that Framed contains a love story between two mature, older adults. You just don’t get enough of that in films, at least in my experience. I’m not super-familiar with Trevor Eve’s work, especially since it’s been ages since I’ve watched the Masterpiece production of David Copperfield that he appeared in (playing the character of Murdstone). Here Trevor Eve is wholly believable as the shy, retiring type, completely consumed by his work, and has his passions awakened only when he thinks he’s found a kindred spirit or he encounters someone who doesn’t revere art as he thinks they should. Eve’s character, Quentin, is thrown completely out of his element when he follows his beloved paintings to the isolated town of Manod in North Wales. He thinks he’ll get to tend the masterpieces in glorious solitude, but the interest and reaction of the locals throws an unexpected wrench in his plans. Quentin’s awakening throughout the movie, the way the townspeople draw him out of his shell (and vice-versa), is completely believable and a delight to watch unfold. Before he realizes it, Quentin is learning to care about people and their unique and varied responses to the art in his care more than the paintings themselves.

Torchwood’s Eve Myles plays Angharad, the local schoolteacher, one of the townspeople largely responsible of piquing Quentin’s interest in the “outside” world. She’s spirited, a bit nosey, and not at all afraid to push back and challenge Quentin’s – how shall I phrase this – social awkwardness. *wink* I really like Myles’s work – not only is she a fantastic actress, but it’s so refreshing to see a leading lady who is not your typical “cookie cutter” Hollywood beauty. Since Myles’s is probably best-known for her role as alien-fighter extraordinaire Gwen Cooper in the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, it was a real treat to see her play a character who is equally spirited but quite a bit “dialed-down” from her most famous role to date. I really adored the way the film develops the love story between Quentin and Angharad. At first blush, you could argue that the two characters couldn’t be more polar opposites of each other – but there is an element of loneliness and solitude to each of their lives that I think plays a role in drawing each to the other. And I just have to say two scenes absolutely made me melt – the first, when Quentin recreates the dinner painted in one of his priceless masterpieces for their first “date,” and the second when he draws Angharad’s silhouette on the wall and makes the comment that art began as someone wanting to tell another person “not to go,” to capture a moment in time forever. Loved it.

But Framed is much more than a love story. The town of Monad is populated with a wonderful assortment of quirky characters that play a role in bringing Quentin out of his shell, and each has a varied and powerful reaction to the power of art. Perhaps my favorite example of this is the character of Mr. Davis, the eccentric, Elvis-loving local butcher, played by Robert Pugh. Pugh should be a familiar face to fans of British film, having appeared in everything from the most recent series of Doctor Who to Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. Quentin is reluctant to tolerate Davis’s eccentricities, until Angharad reminds him that the “heart knows the reasons why,” and he learns the tragic story of Davis lost his young son to a drowning accident, leading to a complete mental breakdown. Davis’s heart-rending response to one of Monet’s paintings (if I’m remembering this incorrectly, someone please correct me!) is brilliantly played by Pugh, and is a powerful example of the ability of art to transform one’s perspective and, if one allows it, to be a catalyst for emotional healing.

The kids who live in Monad are another highlight of this production. The Hughes family runs Monad’s only petrol station, and most days are lucky to put food on the table. When the father leaves, thinking his family would be better off without him, the children kick into high gear with creative plans to earn money and save their home. The two masterminds are Dylan, played by Sam Davies, and Minnie, played by Mari Ann Bull. Based on their appearances here, I’d venture to say that Davies and Bull both have bright acting futures ahead of them! Dylan’s interaction with Quentin is absolutely hysterical. When the two first meet over a runaway chicken, Dylan thinks their having a conversation about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, while Quentin thinks Dylan is some sort brilliant art connoisseur who appreciates Italian masters like Raphael. This extended misunderstanding had me laughing so hard at one point tears were threatening to come! When the family situation becomes desperate, Dylan and his criminal mastermind in the making sister, Minnie, hatch a brilliant plan to steal one of the National Gallery’s paintings. Their plot goes off shockingly without a hitch, and the hijinks and confusion that ensues are a lot of fun to watch play out.

Framed turned out to be an absolute treasure of a film, and I’m so happy it was included on the Masterpiece Contemporary schedule. It was the perfect ending to my Christmas weekend, managing to hit all the right notes story and character-wise. The love story between Quentin and Angharad is a gem, and the final scene may just bring a tear to your eye it is so wonderfully, beautifully perfect. I also defy you not to look at art a little differently, perhaps a little more personally, after viewing Framed. Art’s ability to transform the individual and then, on a wider scale, a community, is really well portrayed in my opinion. It’s this aspect of the storyline that elevates Framed above the status of a “cutesy” little comedy. One minute the film will have you laughing out loud, the next moment you could be wiping a tear from your eye as a character stops cold and learns to experience life in a different way or on a more intense, personal level.

I hope this post encourages you to make time to watch Framed if you missed the broadcast on Sunday. You can watch the entire film for a limited time on the PBS Masterpiece website, and the DVD will release January 11th.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Star Wars Christmas Special

Sooo...I know I just said my last post would probably the last post for a day or two, but then I logged into my Google Reader and found this. Star Wars geek that I am, this, my friends, had to be shared:

Merry Christmas (again)!! :)

Merry Christmas!

Since my time online is probably going to be pretty limited over the next day or so, I wanted to go ahead and put up a little Christmas greeting on the blog. Merry Christmas to each and every one of you! Thank you so much for all of the friendship, comments, and encouragement this last year - you are the ones who make blogging so much fun. :) At the risk of sounding sappy, I really mean it when I say I thank God for each one of you (yes, even you "quiet" subscribers, it means a lot to know this lil' ol' blog is read *wink*). I pray that wherever you are, whatever you're doing this Christmas, you are healthy, happy, and blessed.

*FYI on the photo: The woman in the picture is actress Paulette Goddard - I thought a little vintage Hollywood was a most appropriate "card" from me, don't you? :)

Christmas Food Court Flash Mob

I love this.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Framed coming Sunday 12/26

Just in time to help you through any post-Christmas "blahs" (*wink*), on Sunday 12/26 Masterpiece Contemporary is premiering Framed, which promises to be a delightfully quirky little film. This is the broadcast I've been looking forward to since the Contemporary schedule was announced. Here's a bit about the story:
Framed premieres Sunday, December 26, 2010, on MASTERPIECE CONTEMPORARY. Art curator Quentin Lester (Trevor Eve) worships art to the exclusion of people. When a flood at London's National Gallery threatens his masterpieces, he squires them away to the Welsh countryside. There he meets a lineup of quirky inhabitants, including the spirited teacher Angharad (Eve Myles), and learns that these paintings on the move have the power to move people.

Digital Nativity!

This is so cute.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Primeval S4 "Prequel" Videos

Well Primeval-wise this day just gets better and better. Here are 5 Series 4 "prequel" videos to help get you ready for the new episodes January 1st! You can also watch the videos here, at the BBC America Primeval site.