Monday, November 29, 2010

Wild Target

I really, really want to see this movie...

Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Everett, Martin Freeman, and Rupert Grint?! Yes, please! No idea when it will appear in theaters (if ever). The IMDB lists the film's release date in the US as November, who knows? If this is playing in your area let me know, I'm curious!

Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Emily of Deep Valley
Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reprint edition (October 12, 2010)
with a foreward by
Mitali Perkins


A word from Mitali: Who In The World Is Mitali Perkins?

That's a good question. I've been trying to figure it out myself, spending most of my life crossing borders.

I was born Mitali Bose in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, and always tried to live up to my name—which means “friendly” in the Bangla language. I had to! Because my family moved so much, it was the only way I could make new friends.

By the time I was 11, I'd lived in Ghana, Cameroon, London, New York and Mexico before settling in California just in time for middle school. Yep, I was the new kid again, in seventh grade, the year everybody barely makes it through.

My biggest lifeline during those early years was story. Books were my rock, my stability, my safe place as I navigated the border between California suburbia and the Bengali culture of my traditional home.

After studying political science at Stanford and public policy at U.C. Berkeley, I taught in middle school, high school and college. When I began to write fiction, my protagonists were often—not surprisingly—strong female characters trying to bridge different cultures.

Mitali Perkins is the author of several books for young people, including SECRET KEEPER (Random House), MONSOON SUMMER (Random House), RICKSHAW GIRL (Charlesbridge), and the FIRST DAUGHTER books (Dutton).


Often cited as Maud Hart Lovelace’s (of Betsy-Tacy fame) best novel, Emily of Deep Valley is now back in print, with a new foreword by acclaimed young adult author Mitali Perkins and new archival material about the characters’ real lives.

Emily Webster, an orphan living with her grandfather, is not like the other girls her age in Deep Valley, Minnesota. The gulf between Emily and her classmates widens even more when they graduate from Deep Valley High School in 1912. Emily longs to go off to college with everyone else, but she can’t leave her grandfather. Emily resigns herself to facing a “lost winter,” but soon decides to stop feeling sorry for herself. And with a new program of study, a growing interest in the Syrian community, and a handsome new teacher at the high school to fill her days, Emily gains more than she ever dreamed...

In addition to her beloved Betsy-Tacy books, Maud Hart Lovelace wrote three more stories set in the fictional town of Deep Valley: Winona’s Pony Cart, Carney’s House Party and Emily of Deep Valley. Longtime fans and new readers alike will be delighted to find the Deep Valley books available again for the first time in many years.

If you would like to browse inside Emily of Deep Valley, go HERE.

Leg dropping elves (Or the real meaning of Christmas)

Absolutely hilarious!

Leg dropping elves (Or the real meaning of Christmas) Stuff Christians Like – Jon Acuff

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope and pray your time spent with families and friends is blessed. I am especially thankful this year for God and His never-ending faithfulness, the love and support of family and friends, and the opportunity to get to know so many of you through this blog. So to all of you who read and comment, thanks for stopping by - you are what makes this little corner of the internet fun. :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tangled marks Disney's 50th animated feature!

Thanks to Charleybrown at Enchanted Serenity of Period Films for posting this very cool video. With the release of Tangled (can't wait to see it!), Walt Disney can now celebrate the production of 50 animated films. Check out this countdown to the latest...

Coming Soon: Review of She Walks in Beauty

Just a little teaser about what you can expect to see on the blog after the INSPY Award winners are announced December 13th - check back that week to read my review of She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell. To whet your appetite, here's a bit about the novel:

During New York City’s Gilded Age…
The game is played amid banquets and balls.
The prize is a lifetime of wealth and privilege.
The rules will test friendships and the desires of a young woman’s heart.
Clara Carter is the social season’s brightest star…
but at what cost?

For a young society woman seeking a favorable marriage, so much depends on her social season debut. Clara Carter has been given one goal: secure the affections of the city's most eligible bachelor. Debuting means plenty of work--there are corsets to be fitted, dances to master, manners to perfect. Her training soon pays off, however, as celebrity's spotlight turns Clara into a society-page darling.

Yet Clara soon wonders if this is the life she really wants. Especially when she learns her best friend has also set her sights on Franklin De Vries. When a man appears who seems to love her simply for who she is and gossip backlash turns ugly, Clara realizes it's not just her marriage at stake--the future of her family depends on how she plays the game.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nightingale Contest and Book Review Preview!

The second novel in author Susan May Warren's Brothers in Arms collection has just released, and to celebrate Susan is holding a fabulous contest!

Nightingale from Susan May Warren is available now! To celebrate Susan's giving away a FLIP HD Camcorder in her Letters from Home Giveaway! Follow this link for all the details about the book and the contest!

About Nightingale: Esther Lange doesn’t love her fiancĂ©—she’s trapped in an engagement after a mistaken night of passion.

Still, she grieves him when he’s lost in battle, the letters sent to her by the medic at his side giving her a strange comfort, so much that she strikes up a correspondence with Peter Hess, an Iowa farmboy. Or is he? Peter Hess is not who he seems. Indeed, he’s hiding a secret, something that could cost them both their lives, especially when the past comes back to life. A bittersweet love song of the home front war between duty and the heart...a battle where only one will survive.

Don’t miss book 1 in this stand-alone collection, Sons of Thunder.

About Susan May Warren: Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of twenty-four novels with Tyndale, Barbour and Steeple Hill. A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Book of the Year.
Susan's larger than life characters and layered plots have won her acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. A seasoned women’s events and retreats speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!. She is also the founder of, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice.

Susan makes her home in northern Minnesota, where she is busy cheering on her two sons in football, and her daughter in local theater productions (and desperately missing her college-age son!) A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at:

Contest info: The Letters From Home Giveaway!

Enter the Contest: Nightingale is about letters, the power of written correspondence to convey thoughts and emotions to those far away. And sometimes near. Letters are forever, they are something we savor and pull out to read again and again. They are often cherished and kept in a special place.

To celebrate the release of Nightingale, Susan would like you to write a letter. One grand prize winner will receive a Flip HD Camcorder. 5 runner's up winners will win a signed copy of Nightingale. There are two ways to enter the contest by writing letters.

1. Write a letter to a soldier. At the end of the contest we’ll print out and mail your letter for you.

2. Write a letter to a friend, loved one, family member, enemy. Tell them something you wished you’d told them before. Tell them you love them, or maybe how they touched your life. Perhaps an apology is in order or a thank you. Or perhaps you'd like to relate a funny tale or just share life. Whatever it is, submit it here along with your email address and we’ll send it for you.
Earlier this year, I had the distinct privilege of reading the first novel in Susan May Warren's Brothers in Arms collection, Sons of Thunder. You can read my review here - it's easily one of my favorite reads of the year.
Unfortunately, due to a little thing called "the holidays" I haven't been able to finish Nightingale yet - but I will say this, Sons of Thunder has some competition. *wink* Warren can write in pretty much any genre and the resulting story prove to be a winner in my opinion - but there's something about the romance, bravery, and uncertainty of the World War II time period married to Warren's trademark heart-tugging plots and sizzling romances is a PERFECT combination. And in the case of Nightingale, is there anything more romantic than a a romance that develops through letters? excuse me while I swoon. *grin*
I'll be posting a full review just as soon as I can. In the meantime, be sure to enter Susan's contest by clicking on the contest button at the top of this post or to the right in the sidebar. Remember, comments on this post do not count as contest entries. Good luck!

Primeval Series 4 Trailer

Well this just makes my day...

Do you have any, ANY idea how happy this makes me? No word on a US air date yet, but BBC America has moved Primeval back into the "Coming Soon" column under their Shows tab. So I'd say that's promising. :)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One


Oh Harry...where oh were do I begin? I'm not really sure how to review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One. I can't recall the last time I've ever looked forward to film with more excitement, balanced with equal amounts of trepidation. It's not that I was concerned about how J.K. Rowling's fantastic series finale would be brought to life on-screen, it's more that I just don't even want to contemplate the end of the journey. When the seventh book came out I wasn't as crushed by "The End" of the series as much as I could have been, because I knew we still had films in the pipeline to look forward to. And now, the nearly decade-long film journey anchored by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint is drawing to a close - and I loved every second of it.

Going into the film, I hadn't re-read the book. I haven't re-read any of the books in ages, actually, now that I stop and think about it. Chronic case of too many books and way too little time. I've never been one who has been bothered by any omissions or changes from book to film. I typically do a pretty good job of "filling in the blanks" when it comes to any changes or omissions the filmmakers made in order to bring the stories to life on-screen. I'm actually quite glad I didn't re-read Deathly Hallows prior to seeing the movie - there was a lot that I'd forgotten, so I feel like I was able to approach the story with somewhat fresh eyes. It was rather like reading the book for the first time - a revelation in every scene instead of on every page.

I've read a couple of reviews that made statements to the effect that this is a complete tonal shift from all previous movies in the series. Yes, there's no Hogwarts in Part One, and yes, with different directors bringing their own vision to Rowling's world, none of the films have ever been cookie cutter copies of the others in the series. But like the novels, Deathly Hallows felt like a natural progression of everything that's come before. The characters we've come to know and love and watch grow up before our very eyes are in more danger than ever - quite frankly at the end of their rope. When all seems hopeless and overwhelming, this is where the rubber meets the road, relationships are tested and fears are faced. This is where everything that's come before has led - all pointing towards a final showdown with overwhelming darkness. You must pardon me if I sound more melodramatic or over-the-top (than usual), but I love these characters and stories so much that I can't help but feel emotionally invested in watching this story play out on the big screen.

I can remember joking when Return of the King came out that the last hour of the movie was rather like Peter Jackson's long, endless goodbye to the characters and their adventures in Middle Earth. That's rather how I feel about Deathly Hallows - and if the "goodbye nods" in Part One have gotten to me, after Part Two you're going to need to scrape me off the floor, I'm sure to be a sobbing puddle. *wink* The filmmakers are doing their level best to be thorough and I so appreciate all the little touches this film contains, bringing the whole series to a glorious close. We get to briefly revisit Harry's Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw), Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths), and cousin Dudley (Harry Melling) as Harry sees them off as they go into hiding - characters we hadn't gotten to see since Order of the Phoenix. (Side note: When Harry took one last look inside the cupboard under the stairs before being picked up by the Order, I nearly started bawling.) It was also great to see Madame Maxime (Frances de la Tour) return for Bill and Fleur's interrupted wedding - watching Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) make eyes at her once again was a fun moment. And speaking of Fleur and Bill, it was great to finally, finally meet Bill Weasley on-screen (played by Domhall Gleeson). And words cannot describe how happy I was to see the role of Rufus Scrimgeour played by Bill Nighy. That was pitch-perfect casting.

Of course it was wonderful to see the rest of the Weasley clan and members of the Order make return appearances. We only get to see Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) briefly at the beginning of the film, but it served to remind one of just how perfectly Gleeson was cast in the role. Lupin (David Thewlis) and Tonks (Natalia Tena) are of course married now, and let me tell you with as much as I adore Lupin there's a part of me that is not looking forward to seeing him again in Part Two. *sigh* I simply adore Molly (Julie Walters) and Arthur (Mark Williams) Weasley, though their on-screen time was all too short. Can't wait for Molly to utter "the line" during her final fight. *wink* And the twins, Fred (James Phelps) and George (Oliver Phelps), they just about broke my heart. I loved seeing their humor and bravery - I know they're gonna break my heart in Part Two. And isn't Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) just too adorable for words?! (Interesting fact: According to the IMDB, Wright is engaged to Jamie Campbell Bower, who plays Gellert Grindelwald - interesting connection, no?) Oh, and I've just got to tell you while I loved catching glimpses of Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), I can't wait to see him again in Part Two! Gambon is one of my favorite bits of casting for the entire film series - he's pretty much exactly as I'd imagine Dumbeldore when reading the novels.

My absolute favorite returning character belongs to Dobby the house elf, voiced by Toby Jones. I love Dobby, and honestly I've quite missed the fact that he hasn't been seen on-screen since Chamber of Secrets. But returning for this film means Dobby returns in style - he gets his finest moment here, sacrificing himself heroically for his friends - and I loved that. It was a wrenching note on which to end this installment, but it was not without hope. For as sad as Dobby's burial scene was, I loved the way the scene was staged - Dobby was a character that, thanks to Harry's actions at the end of Chamber, got to finally live life on his own terms.

Of course plenty of villains (I can't bring myself to include the Dursleys in the out and out villains category) and familiar settings get revisited in this film - it's nothing if not thorough. I was so, so happy to see Jason Isaacs back as Draco's father, Lucius Malfoy. My oh my that man can rock the long blonde hair. Loved seeing the normally smooth and suave Lucius borderline unhinged from the pressure of trying to deal with Voldemort. I also really like Helen McCrory as Narcissa Malfoy. I don't think she had a single line in this movie, but oh goodness does she have the look and attitude I'd imagine for Narcissa. I also love me some crazy Helena Bonham Carter - she was pitch-perfect casting as Bellatrix Lestrange. Her face-off with Hermione at Malfoy Manor was chilling and so well-played! And of course there's my beloved Draco (Tom Felton). I am so, so glad he stuck with the film series - I can't imagine anyone else playing Draco half so well. It's nice, too, that the other "kids" have caught up with Felton - it seems like he hit his growth spurt/maturity a bit before Harry, Hermione, and Ron. It was also great to see Dolores Umbridge again (Imelda Staunton) when Harry, Ron, and Hermione break into the Ministry of Magic to steal the Horcrux locket. She is so over-the-top and prissy it always cracks me up, and I enjoyed experiencing her cat obsession when they all started meowing from the plates in her office - hilarious! Of course we get to see Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) - I'm really, really looking forward to seeing how Rickman plays Snape's pivotal scenes in Part Two.

I've always been a bit iffy on the casting of Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort. I fully acknowledge that's more due to my bias against him as an actor than his actual acting abilities. But this time around I felt like Voldemort was finally unleashed if you will, and Fiennes took the creep factor to a whole new level. From the opening scene at the Death Eaters "convention" (haha) were Voldemort terrifies Lucius by asking for his wand, and then murders Charity Burbage, to the scene at the very end where he breaks into Dumbledore's crypt to steal the wand, I finally felt like I really was satisfied with Fiennes' casting. He was creepy and disturbing and insane, everything Voldemort needs to be.

But of course the heart of the movie is the relationship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They are the heart and soul of the movie, and the chemistry between Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson are one of the main reasons I love the movies so much. The studio hit the casting jackpot when they bestowed the roles of Harry, Ron, and Hermione on these three - it's been a joy to watch them grow up on-screen, hasn't it? This movie was, as is fitting, almost painful to watch at times because of the severe testing Harry, Ron, and Hermione undergo throughout their journey to outwit Voldemort and the Death Eaters and find the remaining Horcruxes. There are so many great moments between these three. From Ron and Hermione's budding relationship (loved Watson's delivery of the line about always being mad at Ron) to Ron's jealousy of Harry nearly costing him his two closest friends (wasn't expecting nearly naked Harry and Hermione though, LOL), to Harry's close, protective relationship towards Hermione - these "kids" have grown into some really great actors. Wasn't the moment where Harry and Hermione dance just to die for? LOVED the expressions on their faces. It was a nice way of acknowledging that there *could've* been something between Hermione and Harry, but they choose not to go there. Didn't expect it but very well played by Watson and Radcliffe. Each successive film has stretched and tested the abilities of the main three, and Deathly Hallows feels like a culmination of that process. I really look forward to seeing what projects come from Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson's post-Harry careers.

I want to touch on two of my favorite scenes in the entire film. The first is where Harry and Hermione visit Godric's Hollow, and Harry sees the destroyed home where he became "The Boy Who Lived." They also visit James and Lily's graves, and oh the look on Radcliffe's face as he stood over their tombstone ripped my heart out. And when I saw the inscription, "The last enemy to be conquered is death" (1 Corinthians 15:26), I nearly lost it right then and there. That hope, that type of worldview, is just one of the many reasons I adore the Potter stories. Rowling crafted characters whose faith and resilience are a ray of hope and light in the face of overwhelming evil and darkness. It's their choices that make these characters so beloved and unforgettable, and examples of the best mankind has to offer. I also loved the way the film brought "The Tale of the Three Brothers" and the fabled Deathly Hallows to life when the three visit Luna's father, Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans). The animation was just fantastic and just seemed to fit so well in the Potter universe. I never expected an animated interlude in a Potter film like that, much less one that worked so well. And seeing things "click" for Harry, Ron, and Hermione as the Hallows are described was a great moment. (Side note: I loved seeing Evanna Lynch's take on Luna Lovegood again, she was just perfectly cast. But I'm not sold on Ifans as her father. Physically he was a good match, just not quite as I imagined.)

Deathly Hallows marks director David Yates third outing at the helm of a Potter film. I've got to say I've been quite pleased with his vision for bringing the stories to life, and I think it's served the series well, as it builds towards its epic finale, that the same director has been overseeing the last few installments of the series. The camerawork and pacing of this movie is superb - never a dull moment, for a film with only a few action sequences and a lot of "down" time for our leads, I was riveted throughout the movies two and a half hour runtime. I loved the look of the movie - often bleak and empty, the settings place our characters in an eerie physical and spiritual, if you will, isolation that intensifies their struggles to cope with the dangers before them. I also thought that Alexandre Desplat's score was terrific. This is the prolific composer's first score for a Potter film, and I thought he did a fantastic job marrying the music to the action. We've come a long way from the childlike wonderment evident in John Williams' score for the first two Potter films, but no matter the composer subsequently, the magic has never been lost and the emotion still remains.

Oh how I can't wait for Part Two in July. The wait seems interminable, but I know all too well that the time will fly by. I'm sure I'll greet the premiere with even stronger mixed emotions, but it is a moment I anticipate even more now that I've seen Part One of Deathly Hallows brought to life.

So, Harry Potter fans, if you've seen Deathly Hallows, please chime in with some comments, I'd love to know what you think! There's so, so much more I could say about this film - in a way I feel rather like I'm still "digesting" it if you will. It will take another few viewings to really take everything in, don't you know. I could go on and on, but I've got to stop this post sometime. :) After all, I've been working on this post for over a day as it is...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lennon on Masterpiece Contemporary

For anyone who is interested, Masterpiece Contemporary kicks off this Sunday with the premiere of the new drama Lennon Naked. I personally have never been a Beatles fan, so even though this production features Doctor Who and Torchwood alums, there is a 99% likelihood that I won't be tuning in. However, if you do watch this production I'd love to hear your thoughts! Here's a bit about the story:
The new MASTERPIECE CONTEMPORARY season debuts Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010 at 9pm on PBS with Lennon Naked (check local listings). Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who) channels John Lennon in this acclaimed recreation of Lennon's turbulent years with the Beatles. Naoko Mori (Torchwood) co-stars as Yoko Ono. (One episode, 90 minutes, TV-14)

Doctor Who Christmas Special trailer

Oh, this is gonna be good.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Doctor Who Christmas special news!

BBC America just announced some HUGE news for fans of Doctor Who - they will be broadcasting the new Christmas special (entitled "A Christmas Carol") on Christmas Day. I believe this may be the first time fans in the US will get the special the same day as the Brits...BBC-A is really stepping up their broadcast game and I for one am so thankful. :) Here's the synopsis info from BBC-A's website:
Matt and Karen return for an all-new Christmas special, along with Arthur Darvill and guest stars Michael Gambon (Harry Potter) and Katherine Jenkins.

More details to come, but Lead Writer and Executive Producer, Steven Moffat, confirmed, 'Oh, we're going for broke with this one. It's all your favorite Christmas movies at once, in an hour, with monsters. And the Doctor. And a honeymoon. And ... oh, you'll see. I've honestly never been so excited about writing anything!'
Can. Not. Wait. :)

Coming soon: Red Riding Hood

When I started scrolling through my Google Reader this morning, both Juju and Charleybrown had posted information about an upcoming film version of Red Riding Hood. Here's the official film synopsis:
In "Red Riding Hood," Seyfried plays Valerie, a beautiful young woman torn between two men. She is in love with a brooding outsider, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but her parents have arranged for her to marry the wealthy Henry (Max Irons). Unwilling to lose each other, Valerie and Peter are planning to run away together when they learn that Valerie's older sister has been killed by the werewolf that prowls the dark forest surrounding their village. For years, the people have maintained an uneasy truce with the beast, offering the creature a monthly animal sacrifice. But under a blood red moon, the wolf has upped the stakes by taking a human life. Hungry for revenge, the people call on famed werewolf hunter, Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), to help them kill the wolf. But Solomon's arrival brings unintended consequences as he warns that the wolf, who takes human form by day, could be any one of them. As the death toll rises with each moon, Valerie begins to suspect that the werewolf could be someone she loves. As panic grips the town, Valerie discovers that she has a unique connection to the beast--one that inexorably draws them together, making her both suspect...and bait.
And here's the trailer:

Now Little Red's story has never been one of my favorites - okay, I'll go ahead and admit it, I pretty much hate the traditional story. But this adaptation has me intrigued. Generally I like Amanda Seyfried, and this movie has the added bonus of featuring Gary Oldman (squee!). So while horror flicks are so not my thing, and Little Red's story has always creeped me out I'm willing to give this film a shot based on the trailer. What do you think?

*I just have to say that I LOVE Seyfried's cloak in the poster and trailer!

The Silent Order by Melanie Dobson

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Silent Order
Summerside Press (November 1, 2010)
Melanie Dobson


Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of The Black Cloister; Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana; and Together for Good.
Prior to launching Dobson Media Group in 1999, Melanie was the corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family where she was responsible for the publicity of events, products, films, and TV specials. Melanie received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Liberty University and her master's degree in communication from Regent University. She has worked in the fields of publicity and journalism for fifteen years including two years as a publicist for The Family Channel.

Melanie and her husband, Jon, met in Colorado Springs in 1997 at Vanguard Church. Jon works in the field of computer animation. Since they've been married, the Dobsons have relocated numerous times including stints in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Colorado, Berlin, and Southern California. These days they are enjoying their new home in the Pacific Northwest.

Jon and Melanie have adopted their two daughters —Karly (6) and Kinzel (5). When Melanie isn't writing or entertaining their girls, she enjoys exploring ghost towns and dusty back roads, traveling, hiking, line dancing, and reading inspirational fiction.


Rural America - 1928. After the murder of his partner, Detective Rollin Wells hides away in an Amish home near Sugarcreek, Ohio, to find out who in the police force is

collaborating with Cleveland’s notorious mob. While Rollin searches for answers to his partner’s death, he befriends an elusive young Amish woman named Katie and her young son. As Rollin learns about Katie’s past, he’s shocked at the secret Katie is hiding - a secret that has haunted Rollin for eight years.

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Silent Order, go HERE.

Monday, November 15, 2010

This week...

This week is just chock-full of movie and music related goodness (if you share my tastes, LOL!). Here's a look at what I'm looking forward to this week:

Josh Groban's new album Illuminations released today. I'm planning on picking up a copy tomorrow. Josh and I nearly broke up over his album Awake (very hit-or-miss with me) and were saved through Noel, I'm very anxious to hear his latest project.

Tomorrow sees the release of Keith Urban's new album, Get Closer. If you're a KU addict like I am, you'll want to pick up the deluxe edition exclusive to Target - it includes 3 new and 4 live bonus tracks. Honestly, if Keith Urban's new CD was the only thing happening this week I'd be a happy camper. Keith Urban album days are happy days. :)

Wednesday sees the long-awaited premiere of Human Target's second season. Here's a preview. I can't wait! SO happy that this show got a second season.

And Friday...well what can I say about Friday? Except that it's sure to be fabulous and emotionally devastating all at once. Harry Potter, I can't wait.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: While We're Far Apart by Lynn Austin

While We're Far Apart
By: Lynn Austin
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0-7642-0497-5

About the book:

In an unassuming apartment building in Brooklyn, New York, three lives intersect as the reality of war invades each aspect of their lives. Young Esther is heartbroken when her father decides to enlist in the army shortly after the death of her mother. Penny Goodrich has been in love with Eddie Shaffer for as long as she can remember; now that Eddie's wife is dead, Penny feels she has been given a second chance and offers to care for his children in the hope that he will finally notice her and marry her after the war. And elderly Mr. Mendel, the landlord, waits for the war to end to hear what has happened to his son trapped in war-torn Hungary.

But during the long, endless wait for victory overseas, life on the home front will go from bad to worse. Yet these characters will find themselves growing and changing in ways they never expected--and ultimately discovering truths about God's love... even when He is silent.


All Penny Goodrich has ever wanted is to be loved by handsome Eddie Schaffer, the boy next door. But the grieving widower has never paid her anything but neighborly attention, so when he enlists in the army in 1943, Penny impulsively volunteers to care for his two children, with no idea of the difficulties she'll face. Eddie's children, especially the oldest, Esther, want nothing to do with their temporary guardian. All the almost-a-teenager Esther dreams of is having her father back and wishing her mother had never died in a tragic accident, forcing her to depend on Penny's awkward but well-meaning care. Jacob Mendel, the Schaffers' Jewish landlord, wants nothing to do with his tenants - ever since his wife perished in the same accident that claimed the Schaffer children's mother, he's consumed with bitterness towards his God and the search for information about his only son, lost in war-torn Europe. In a time of overwhelming uncertainty, when all seems overwhelming, these very different lives converge in a Brooklyn apartment building. Facing their fears, prejudices, and anger, Penny, Jacob, and Esther find their lives bound together in ways neither of them could have ever imagined - their new-found friendships forged in the fires of a war-torn world a gift of hope to them all.

Lynn Austin proves once again why she's one of my all-time favorite historical fiction authors with her latest offering (it's just an added bonus that it happens to be set in my favorite time period, World War II). While We're Far Apart is at once both epic and intimate, dancing the line between the scope of the war's far-reaching conflict while bringing to life the personal struggles of those left to wonder, hope, and survive on the homefront. This is a rich, meaty historical that brings 1940s Brooklyn to vivid life. Having briefly visited Brooklyn during my one trip to New York City, I felt even more like I could really appreciate Austin's world-crafting having walked in that neighborhood. From the street sights and smells to the clothing, living conditions, and mannerisms, Austin fully immerses the reader in Penny, Esther, and Jacob's world with her carefully crafted prose and eye for authenticity. Like a newsreel  unfurling, she spares no detail in bringing their world to life.

One of the things I loved best about this novel is the way Austin explores both the Christian and Jewish faiths. Like the Biblical story of Esther that comes to figure prominently in the story, God often seems silent to the main characters. How can a good God allow such evil and pain to exist in the world? But again, like the Biblical Esther experienced, God may be silent but He's ever present, always working on behalf of His children, sometimes in the most surprising of ways. Having lost his wife, Jacob struggles to cope in a world that seems to demand more and more from him, more than he feels capable of giving. Jacob abandoned his faith after his wife's death, and inundated with reports of atrocities being committed against the Jewish people in Europe, he despairs of ever being reunited with his only son and his family, living in Hungary. His growing friendship with the hurting Schaffer children bring him back to life, and while they strive to understand why their father must be in harm's way, he works with relief agencies, hoping against hope that these efforts to save Jewish lives will not be in vain. Austin intersperses letters from Jacob's son and daughter-in-law throughout the novel, and they bring to life a heart-rending eye witness account of surviving the Nazi horrors and, against all reason, clinging to faith. Whether it's in the lives of her Jewish or Christian characters, when everything is stripped away and all hope seems lost, God remains, and the way Austin reveals His presence in their lives is a beautiful thing to behold.

This novel is a bit of a slow-burn - while I enjoyed the entire experience, I don't feel like I really got into it until about a third of the way through. This is a "dense" book, packed with historical detail and carefully crafted characters. As I read the book, before I knew it I was in love with them and invested in their lives. While We're Far Apart is historical fiction at its finest, transporting the reader to the war-torn 1940s and peopled with real, authentic characters you can't help but care about. The way this story unfolds is a delight - never following an expected path, Austin layers this story with unexpected connections and surprising plot twists, including a dash of romance that is one of the most heart-warming and satisfying that I've ever read. This is a story that will stay with you long after the final pages. With characters that get under your skin, raw, honest emotion, and thought-provoking explorations of faith, While We're Far Apart is a novel to savor.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sherlock videos

I can always depend on my friend Ruth at Bookish Ruth to provide me with links to fantastic videos that cater to our mutual Doctor Who obsession. Now that we're both obsessed with Sherlock as well (no surprise, haha!), she shared a few video links with me over the last few days that I just have to pass on to you. I'm saving the best for last, so be sure to check out the entire post. :)

Sherlock: Bad Influence

Generally I'm not a fan of Pink but this song is pretty perfect for Sherlock and Watson, and the creator did a fantastic job making this video fun & visually appealing. I loved the "pop up" messages that sort of mimicked the use of texts in the show. Nicely done. :)

Read My Mind (Holmes & Watson)

You all know I'm a HUGE fan of Jeremy Brett as Holmes. I've never seen a fan-made video for Brett's Holmes - and this one is so good it brought a tear to my eye. I agree with Ruth 100% - "Read My Mind" is pretty much the perfect song to describe the Holmes & Watson friendship.

read my mind; john & sherlock

"Read My Mind" fits Cumberbatch & Freeman's take on Homes & Watson perfectly as well. LOVE it!

Now, I promised to save the best for last. This, my friends, is one of the best mash-up videos I've ever seen. Sherlock, meet the Doctor...

A Study in Time (Sherlock/Doctor Who)

Please, please, please - Stephen and Mark, BBC, anyone out there who might be listening - MAKE THIS HAPPEN!!! Whether it's an actual crossover episode, or Sherlock meets Doctor Who to support Children in Need...please, I'm BEGGING you, make this dream come true!!!! I practically hyperventilated with joy when I watched this video...trying to imagine an actual crossover...heaven help me. Off to go daydream...

Top Ten Posts

I was messing around the "stats" features on Blogger, which shockingly enough I've never paid attention to until recently. Anyways, I was quite curious to see what the blog's top ten posts to date's a very odd assortment, as you can see.

In honor of holding the #1 spot, Lewis and Hathaway get to decorate the graphic. :)

1. Inspector Lewis, series 2 - 367 page views
2. Inspector Lewis: The Dead of Winter - 351 page views
3. Poirot: Cat Among the Pigeons - 274 page views
4. Downton Abbey trailer - 248 page views
5. Masterpiece Classic DVD update! - 220 page views
6. David Suchet on the Orient Express - 180 page views
7. Return to Cranford, part 2 - 176 page views
8. Inspector Lewis: Falling Darkness - 164 page views
9. Sherlock: A Study in Pink - 161 page views
10. Robin Hood 3.7: Too Hot to Handle - 158 page views

Well, one thing is clear - I'd better never stop blogging about all things British, hmm? :) I find it interesting that Inspector Lewis-related posts take up three slots in the top ten. For a show that I never expected to really get into, that says something doesn't it? I also think it's hilariously random that my review of Robin Hood season 3, episode 7, is such a high-ranking post. Considering the show has been off the air for a year, that's not bad...but why this episode? Ah, things to ponder...

Thanks for indulging me... :)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jane Eyre 2011 trailer!

Thanks to Renee for posting the trailer - looks like it just debuted this week! In addition to providing us with a terrific look at Michael Fassbender as Rochester and Mia Wasikowska as Jane, we also get glimpses of Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax, Jamie Bell as St. John, Imogen Poots as Blanche Ingram, and Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Reed. Enjoy!

March 2011 can't come soon enough. :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sherlock: The Great Game

What do you get when a high-functioning sociopath meets a psychopath? Quite simply the most brilliant, gripping ninety minutes of television I’ve seen all year. Maybe ever. I’m still trying to decide. Masterpiece Mystery ended its 2010 season on an unbelievably high note with The Great Game, the final episode of Sherlock’s first season. You know, everything I’ve said about the first two episodes of Sherlock, about how much I absolutely fell head over heels for the show within the first five minutes of episode one, EVERYTHING pales in comparison with how brilliant The Great Game plays out. I absolutely adored every single second. Here’s the story summary from the PBS website:
Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Last Enemy) is bored. And he's not just staring at the wall, he's shooting at it. London is quiet and peaceful, and for Holmes, that is nothing short of maddening. An explosion rocks Holmes and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman, The Office UK) out of their doldrums and into a series of deadly puzzles conceived by a brilliant bomber. It starts with a pair of shoes left in the center of an empty room — shoes connected to a case that caught Holmes's interest twenty years ago as a boy. Soon a blood-soaked car, a television star and a recovered classic painting figure into an ever-widening cat-and-mouse game. As fast as Holmes can deduce answers, more cryptic clues arrive from his intelligent and violent adversary. After many surreal twists and turns, the outcome of the game may be uncertain, but for once, Sherlock has found a worthy opponent. Sherlock is based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and is co-created by Doctor Who producers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. (One episode; 90 minutes, TV-PG)
Massive spoiler-y discussion from this point on…
In keeping with this show’s tradition, The Great Game drew inspiration for its plot from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Holmes stories. This time the scriptwriter (and the show’s Mycroft) Mark Gatiss incorporated elements of “The Bruce-Partington Plans” and “The Five Orange Pips.” Sherlock has never been about making a straight translation of Doyle’s Victorian-era detective into the modern age, and I love that – rather, they incorporate enough canonical elements and “Easter eggs” for fans of Doyle’s work that makes the show both a tribute and a fantastical reinvention of Holmes. And always, always dancing in the background, just out of view until now is Sherlock’s nemesis, the master criminal Moriarty.

But before I delve into a discussion of the more serious, gripping elements of The Great Game, I want to talk for a moment about the developing Sherlock/Watson dynamic and the show’s wonderful, intelligent, ever-present humor. When this episode opens, Sherlock is bored – and as anyone who’s a fan of the great detective knows, that is the one state of being that he absolutely cannot tolerate. So of course he shoots a smiley face in the living room wall – makes perfect sense, right? *grin* Watson has also begun to chronicle life with Sherlock on his blog – now that he has such an interesting roommate his life positively overflows with blog-worthy happenings. The little discussion Sherlock and Watson have about Watson’s humble efforts to chronicle Sherlock’s cases (the first being “A Study in Pink”) was HILARIOUS. Cumberbatch skates a fine line between letting us think that Sherlock is just the teensiest bit flattered by Watson’s blog (though he’d DIE before admitting it) and annoyed that Watson’s revealing his elementary school knowledge shortcomings to the world (especially to those “lesser minds” at the police department – Lestrade’s reaction is particularly memorable). As Watson and Sherlock spar back-and-forth, Sherlock actually starts sulking. Watching Cumberbatch actually pout, and curl up on the sofa in a fetal position (as if that was going to get to Watson) was priceless. Sherlock and Watson really are like an old married couple, aren’t they? Freeman and Cumberbatch’s on-screen buddy chemistry is priceless. With their casting the filmmakers really caught lightning in a bottle – they are the ideal duo.

Soon Sherlock has two seemingly unrelated cases thrown his way – Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) returns in all his snarky glory to recruit Sherlock to go to bat for queen & country and retrieve the Bruce-Partington missile plans. Sherlock’s not really interested in that case, especially when “something new” appears – a bomber blows up the building across from 221B, leaving a message addressed to Sherlock. It’s a phone, retrofitted to resemble the pink phone that was so critical in the Pink case, that this anonymous bomber uses to contact Sherlock with his sick, twisted “challenges.” Sherlock’s given a cryptic clue, and if he doesn’t solve the case in the prescribed amount of time, the clock will run out for an innocent victim who’s wired to explode. At first Sherlock relishes the challenges. This unknown adversary is the “something new” he’s been craving, an opponent worthy of figuratively crossing blades with the world’s only consulting detective.

And this is where things really get interesting for me. Sherlock is such a prickly character, almost inhuman with his focus on facts, that he can be incredibly off-putting (personally, his anti-social tendencies are just one of things I love about him, but that’s just me). Until Watson appears in his life, he’s really without a human sound-board or moral compass – Watson sees the humanity that Sherlock is too – cerebral, if you will, to deign to recognize. At first Sherlock’s unseen opponent follows a pattern and appears to be playing by a set of rules – so when Sherlock handily solves the first two cases, he gets a little cocky. When the third case, involving an elderly blind woman used as bait, doesn’t follow the script, lives are lost, and though he doesn’t come out and admit it, I felt like Cumberbatch lets this little glimmer, a crack of humanity show through Sherlock’s demeanor. He may be intolerably full of himself, but he isn’t so callous that he doesn’t care when innocents die.

I don’t think I’ve ever anticipated or relished the reveal and first confrontation between a villain and hero as much as I have looked forward to Sherlock and Moriarty meeting face-to-face. Actor Andrew Scott plays Moriarty, the world’s foremost consulting criminal. Scott is not an entirely unfamiliar face – he appeared in an episode of Band of Brothers as well as Foyle’s War, and fans of the Beatles will get to see him play Paul McCartney in Lennon Naked when that airs on Masterpiece Contemporary. Scott is without a doubt in my mind the scariest Moriarty I've ever seen on film. The man isn’t just a criminal mastermind, he’s an outright terrorist. And seriously, all that aside is there anything creepier than a bad guy with a ridiculous sing-song voice?! *shivers* Now, unfortunately I can’t remember where I read this – I think it was an interview with Mark Gatiss – but I seem to recall Gatiss addressing the show’s depiction of Moriarty. They wanted Sherlock’s nemesis to be truly evil, to really give Sherlock the chance to be heroic. I love that.

One might wonder if that implies plans to “humanize” Sherlock, to really change the essence of the character into perhaps a more "traditional" hero. After viewing The Great Game I would say no – that most definitely isn’t necessary and I don't think that will happen. The Sherlock that Cumberbatch brings so brilliantly to life can still be an accurate and faithful reflection of Doyle’s creation while perhaps also being a hero in the more epic sense of the term, in that his adversary is incalculably evil and is capable of extracting great personal loss from Sherlock’s life. As Mycroft comments at the end of A Study in Pink, Watson could be the making of Sherlock. I think we see the beginnings of that in The Great Game. Sherlock’s friendship with Watson has widened the scope of his understanding, tapped into his humanity, reminds him of the personal toll to the cases his mind takes such intellectual delight in (though I’m sure he’d rather DIE of boredom than admit any of this, LOL!). Moriarty is Sherlock’s equal in each and every way, an adversary worthy of the detective’s great powers, but because he’s so good at being evil, it will require Sherlock to up his game.

Freeman and Cumberbatch are fabulous in the confrontation scene at the pool. For a show that’s only been around for three episodes, their unspoken communication during the final scenes is superb. I have to say Sherlock and Watson are truly equal partners in this incarnation of their story – any weakness or lack in one is more than compensated for by a strength or insight found in the other, and vice-versa. I adore their friendship. When Watson first appears at the pool, and Sherlock sees the bomb strapped to his friend, there’s a beat, a flash where you realize that he never saw the confrontation taking this route (possibly he wonders for a split second if Watson is Moriarty?), possibly exacting this cost. But of course, Sherlock being Sherlock, he carries on, his equilibrium barely rattled. And when Watson heroically grabs Moriarty in an ultimately fruitless effort to save Sherlock, I cheered. They may fight and bicker and not understand each other’s point of view most of the time, but when it comes down to what really matters, they’re willing to sacrifice for each other.

Some random notes:

• Loved it when Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) comforts Sherlock by assuring him that a “nice murder” will come along to shake him out of the doldrums – and then a few minutes later is taking him to task for shooting up her wall.

• LOVED that Sarah (Zoe Telford) is playing a bit hard to get with Watson. Making him sleep on the sofa was a nice touch. The two of them are really an adorable couple.

• Rupert Graves is simply brilliant as Lestrade. He’s weary and run ragged, but he recognizes Sherlock’s genius and value and is willing to make allowances for him (and to put up with a great deal of ribbing for doing so). The fact that he devours Watson’s blog posts – priceless! He needs to appear in every episode of series 2!

• So Sherlock’s legendary “Baker Street Irregulars” are a network of homeless informants? Interesting modern-day twist. Enjoyed seeing Jeany Spark appear very briefly as this “face” of this group in The Great Game.

• Regarding the “Golem” hitman who committed the fourth murder – the “Golem” angle rang a very faint bell in my mind, so I googled Golem and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle this morning. Apparently Doyle wrote a short story featuring the Golem legend, which you can read here. You can also read a bit about the Golem/Doyle connection here. Yet again another sign of how well Gatiss and Moffatt know and respect their source material.

• I totally called Jim, the hapless coroner’s boyfriend from IT, as being a Moriarty henchman, or the man himself. There was no WAY that scene was stuck in the script as just a throwaway example of Sherlock’s powers of observation and his tendency towards rudeness.

• The music for this series is spectacular! Composers David Arnold and Michael Price have simply outdone themselves! I desperately want a full soundtrack album, but since I can’t seem to find that one is available, this will have to do. You can download the theme here through Amazon.

• I thought it was absolutely hilarious when, after the case involving the reality TV star, Holmes gets hooked on reality TV. Freeman's delivery of the line "I knew it was a mistake to get you hooked on crap telly" was pitch-perfect and priceless!

The cliffhanger moment of this season was evil, diabolical, and mean, while simultaneously brilliant and ingenious. That, my friends, is a difficult feat to pull off. Normally I do NOT tolerate cliffhangers well, but this one is done so well, so brilliantly, that honestly there is a part of me that doesn’t mind waiting A WHOLE FREAKING YEAR for series two. Though Sherlock only gave us three episodes, they were unforgettable and brilliant and amazing and fulfilling, cliffhangers aside. Truly for me this was the television event of the year, and I’ll be savoring and pouring over these productions many times in the months to come, seeking any small, delightful detail or character insight that I may have missed.

• Check out Vic’s thoughts on The Great Game at Jane Austen’s World.
• Read my review of A Study in Pink.
• Read my review of The Blind Banker.

Now, on to some news about SEASON TWO!!! When I started contemplating season two after recovering somewhat from The Great Game, my first wish was that Irene Adler make an appearance. We just can't have a Sherlock as brilliant as Benedict Cumberbatch portrays him without bringing Irene into the picture. My mother and I also discussed what we thought might be the Reichenbach Falls moment in this series. In messing around on Google looking for photos for this post, I came across this link. Are you ready for three clues dropped by showrunner Steven Moffat for series two?


Okay, if you insist:

1. Adler (YES!!!!)
2. Hound
3. Reichenbach

Yes, yes, YES!!!! Be still my heart...the wait till season two is gonna be even tougher... ;-)

Jane Eyre 2011 poster!

I don't think I've ever mentioned the upcoming Jane Eyre film here on the blog - so, there's no time like the present, right? :) I've been following news about this movie on a couple of period film blogs as well as the film's official Facebook page. Today that page debuted the movie's new onesheet poster, featuring Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Rochester. I absolutely love it! According the IMDB the film opens on March 11, will be a dream come true if it actually opens on that date, and that's not a limited release date...but either way, at the rate time is flying the movie will be here before we know it! Any thoughts?


So, not being familiar with this Michael Fassbender person, I do what any good, obsessed movie fan would do in a case like this...turn to Google image search. Oh. My. WORD. This man is going to play Rochester?! I love this movie already. :)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review: DragonSpell by Donita K. Paul

DragonSpell (The Dragon Keeper Chronicles #1)
By: Donita K. Paul
Publisher: Waterbrook
ISBN: 978-1-57856-823-9

About the book:

One dragon egg holds the key to the future.

Once a slave, Kale is given the unexpected opportunity to become a servant to Paladin. Yet this young girl has much to learn about the difference between slavery and service.

A desperate search begins...

A small band of Paladin's servants rescue Kale from danger but turn her from her destination: The Hall, where she was to be trained. Feeling afraid and unprepared, Kale embarks on a perilous quest to find the meech dragon egg stolen by the foul Wizard Risto. First, she and her comrades must find Wizard Fentworth. But their journey is threatened when a key member of the party is captured, leaving the remaining companions to find Fentworth, attempt an impossible rescue, and recover the egg whose true value they have not begun to suspect.

Weaving together memorable characters, daring adventure, and a coore of eternal truth, DragonSpell is a finely craffted and welcome addition to the corpus of fantasy fiction.


Kale is a young o'rant slave girl, used to taking orders and living a safe, predictable existence, until her world is rocked by the discovery of a unique talent. She possesses the rare and unique gift of discovering valuable dragon eggs. Sent to the city of Vendela to undertake training at The Hall so she can enter the service of Paladin, her carefully laid plans go awry when she's nearly kidnapped and then her rescuers inform her that she must go questing. Kale and her new comrades have been commissioned to discover the location of a rare and valuable meech dragon egg before the evil Wizard Risto can harness the egg's power to cast an evil spell. Feeling utterly unequipped, Kale is thrust into an adventure beyond her wildest dreams as she receives a crash course in managing her new powers (mindspeaking and dragon raising) and discovering the secrets of her destiny. It's a destiny that both terrifies and intrigues Kale as she must decide whom she will serve - if she survives.

I honestly have no idea why I've waited so long to delve into Paul's fantasy fiction. The plus side for me is, of course, that I have the entire Dragon Keeper series ready and waiting for me to devour. I really love speculative fiction, running the gamut from science fiction to fantasy, and it's a thrill to discover an author so adept at crafting a unique fantasy realm like Amara. DragonSpell feels like it was clearly inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's fiction, particularly The Hobbit in both tone and scope. Like Tolkien's Middle Earth, Paul's land of Amara is filled with a wild variety of races, each with their own unique languages and customs. Everything from the fabrics that make up the characters' clothes to the food they consume is unique and inventive, and adds rich detail to Kale's world and her adventures. Like all good fantasy, Paul sets up a classic battle between good and evil - the seven high races in service to Paladin and Wulder, and the seven low races in service to the Pretender and Risto. Paul's Christian worldview is rather obvious in this fantasy's allegorical elements, but it really never feels heavy-handed or preachy. Rather, Paul's superb world-crafting abilities provide the colorful backdrop for characters to live out and learn eternal truths.

It took me a couple of chapters to really get into DragonSpell. It's as if there's so much Paul wanted to accomplish with this first book - establishing the setting, introducing new characters, etc. - that it took a while for the story to find its rhythm and focus. However, once that happens Kale's quest becomes quite the page-turner. Kale is a great heroine-in-training - sure, she's got a lot of growing up to do, but I can't wait to discover more about her hidden history and destiny as Paladin's Dragon Keeper. And Kale's companions are absolutely delightful - from the furry and fastidious doneel Dar and his sly, teasing humor, to the absent-minded hilarity of the Wizard Fentworth, all of Paul's creations are hilarious, unforgettable, and genuine. But the dragons and their unique personalities and gifts are by far my favorite characters. Kale's journey is funny, heart-warming, and suspenseful - I can't wait to lose myself in her world again!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wallander: The Fifth Woman

Wallander concluded its superb second season on Masterpiece Mystery with The Fifth Woman. Now, I read a few reviews here and there on the internet expressing some dissatisfaction with this episode - apparently it deviates somewhat from the original Mankell novel. However, as I mentioned in a previous Wallander review post, I'm not familiar at all with the books, so I really enjoy viewing these films with no foreknowledge of the storylines. If the filmmakers made significant changes in this adaptation, I'm rather glad I didn't know - because I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. I know I say every time that Kenneth Branagh is brilliant, but this episode is the crowning jewel of his acting during this season - it's quite the experience. Here's the story summary for this episode from the PBS website:
A bird-watcher falls to his painful death while being observed by a masked figure. A florist with a violent past has gone missing, stains of blood spotting the floor in his orchid-lined shop. Inspector Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) is torn between two disparate murders while dealing with one harsh and heartbreaking reality — the demise of his father. When another victim is found, it is clear that a serial killer is at work in Ystad. It is one of Wallander's most personal and harrowing cases — one that will even bring him into an unexpected kinship with a killer. The Fifth Woman is based on the novel by international bestseller Henning Mankell. (One episode; 90 minutes, TV-PG)
This episode opens with a heart-breaking preview of what's to come. Wallander is visiting his ailing father, Povel (David Warner), in the nursing home - for the first time in ages Wallander has appeared relatively healthy and functional when in the same room as his dad. Throughout the series their relationship has been highly volatile - tragically the two were more often at odds than not. But Branagh always made sure that as viewers we knew Wallander wanted to get this father/son thing right - he wants to have close relationships, he's just never sure how to make them work, or make the relatively good times last. Povel wants to go home to die, and Kurt obliges, little realizing that his father's death is imminent.

At the same time Wallander is trying to deal with - or suppress, depending on how you look at it - his father's death, a serial killer seems to be at work in Ystad. Two men, seemingly unconnected, are murdered in brutal, public ways. That has to be one of the most awful things in the world to try and fathom - the apparent, vicious randomness of it all. But of course there's a connection - Wallander just has to find it. One of the cases introduces a tantalizing possibility into Wallander's life - he meets a woman. But can it possibly work in our highly dysfunctional detective's life?! Oh the stress! *sigh* Vanja (Saskia Reeves) is the secretary and one-time lover of one of the murdered men. I love watching Branagh's face when the two first meet on-screen - there's this little spark, this little breath that lets you know how interested he is - but it's been so long he's not sure what to do with those feelings.

As Wallander tries to work the murder cases, he ends up interviewing several family members and acquaintances of the victims - it's interesting to see him probe their grief as he attempts to work through his feelings about his father's death. The murdered men were, by all accounts, difficult at the very least - in that respect similar to Kurt's father. He really struggles trying to figure out exactly how he's "supposed" to feel about the whole situation - the key of course being, I think, that sometimes you just need to be, you know, and *try* not to overanalyze everything, or as Kurt often does, repress it all. Povel's final words to his son were an admonishment to "find someone to sit with him," since no one can or should do life on their own. There's an hilarious moment when Kurt decides getting a dog will do for him - silly man. *sigh*

So, on to the crimes. Three unconnected men have been murdered, and all had a penchant for violence and abuse towards the women in their lives. The break comes when Vanja recognizes a photograph of the third victim's latest lover - it turns out all the men were related by their relationship to a group of women, including Vanja, who belonged to the same support group for abused women. It was at this point in the film that all of the pieces fell into place with absurd ease - the perpetrator wasn't just telegraphed, her name was put up in flashing neon lights. But the crimes weren't really the point of this story - it's why they were committed that's really fascinating, and it's the reason this case has the potential to be a major turning point in Wallander's life. I like the way the summary on the PBS website phrases this - "Thinking about the death of his own father, Wallander recognizes that grief can be drenched in guilt" - and this proves to be an unexpected bond with the murderer.

I desperately hope that Wallander is back for a third series next year. I really, really want to see more of the Kurt that Kenneth Branagh gives us in this episode - the Kurt that confronts his rawest, most painful emotions and finds the courage to set the past aside and take tentative steps into the future. The Kurt who decides that maybe, just maybe, he isn't so damaged that he could never be in a relationship again. Kurt and Vanja's scenes are quite simply a delight to watch. Both of them are so damaged by the past, they carry so much baggage between them, but you don't see that when the two of them are on-screen together. Instead, you see hope. Fantastic acting and on-screen chemistry by both Branagh and Reeves. Wallander goes from still wearing his wedding ring and awkwardly dealing with his ex-wife and daughter (Jeany Spark) at Povel's funeral to leaving his ring at Povel's headstone, symbolically laying that part of his life to rest with his father. Oh, and I have to tell you how much I LOVED the fact that Vanja had one of Povel's paintings in her apartment. At that moment you can see Kurt receive his father's blessing; it's as if he could hear Povel say this is all I've wanted for you, a bit of peace. Such a beautiful moment, and it's a fitting capstone to the most emotionally wrenching yet emotionally satisfying episode of the series to date. I look forward to the show's return.

To those blog readers who could care less about Wallander, thank you for sticking with me as I've tried to catch up on my reviews of this show. I'll try to shake things up over the next few posts. :)

*Random aside - Sadly I don't really have anything to say about Magnus (Tom Hiddleston) in this review, but doesn't he look positively de-lish in the photo? Love ya, Tom. :)

Wallander: The Man Who Smiled

Wallander's second series continued with the episode, The Man Who Smiled, earlier this season on Masterpiece Mystery. This was another superb entry in this second season. Following the events in Faceless Killers, Kurt has left the police force indefinitely after killing a man in the line of duty for the first time in his career. Here's the story summary from the PBS website:
Gustaf Torstensson quietly chants "Mea culpa, mea culpa," as he drives to his death. His son Sten Torstensson, a friend of Inspector Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh), begs the detective to investigate the suspicious case — Wallander is his last hope. But hope has all but drained from Wallander's life, as he's now on indefinite leave from his work and has been all but forgotten after enduring an on-the-job trauma. When Sten is found dead, an apparent suicide, Wallander is drawn back to inquire. The clues and suspects are provocative enough — postcards with death threats, a respected and reviled philanthropist working in Africa and a former cop tormented by his own personal demons. But Wallander's reentry is an uneasy one, and even as the case comes together, his fragile stability and increasingly questionable judgment are severely tested. Rupert Graves guest stars in The Man Who Smiled, based on the novel by international bestseller Henning Mankell. (One episode; 90 minutes, TV-PG)
Branagh's acting once again absolutely shines in this episode. When the story opens, Wallander is on indefinite medical leave, staying at a solitary seaside inn. (Personally, if I was the woman who owned that inn, I'd be extraordinarily depressed having a "guest" as "cheery" as Wallander around 24/7. Just sayin'.) He's not sure if he can rejoin the land of the living, or if he's even willing to try, until he gets a visit from an old lawyer friend asking him to look into his father's death - supposedly a tragic car accident, but he doesn't buy it. It's fascinating to watch the push-pull of emotion play across Branagh's face during these scenes. Wallander might want to deny the fact that he was born to be a police officer, but the overwhelming pull to uncover the truth, to help a friend, is such an integral part of him that it cannot be denied. The cost of Kurt's professionalism on his family is not easy to put into words. His father, Povel (David Warner), is in the last stages of Alzheimer's, and his daughter Linda (Jeany Spark) is understandably frustrated that everyone else seems to be a priority for Kurt except his family.

The subsequent scenes where Wallander returns to his house and attempts to re-establish something close to "normal" life is quiet eye-opening - it really drives home how personally empty Kurt's life really is. No one's been paying the utility bills, so he has no electricity, and his refrigerator is a disgusting repository for all sorts of new varieties of mold. And when bird crap falls on the hood of his car right in front of him? Well, it's a funny scene but it's also a pretty sad statement about his life in general. Kurt's also battling an addiction to what I assume are painkillers - Branagh plays those scenes brilliantly. The pull of addiction and the equally painful pull to resist it all openly play over his features and every mannerism in achingly painful detail. Wallander's personal struggles to just function day-to-day are really the crux of this episode and the most fascinating part of the story for me.

As Wallander attempts to re-enter the police force, he has to contend with some professional tension, mainly from Magnus (Tom Hiddleston). Magnus was the lead officer on the car-related death, and he doesn't even try to mask his annoyance when Kurt returns, with no warning, and starts trying to shoot holes in his case. This was an interesting angle for the filmmakers to touch on - I've always sort of viewed Magnus as Kurt's protege, and of course it can be a very touchy situation when someone in his position is trying to branch out and establish themselves, only to have to admit they don't know everything (yet, anyway). For the most part, Magnus handles Kurt's re-entry into his professional life with fairly good grace, though Hiddleston does have some priceless facial expressions that flash whenever he's especially exasperated with Kurt.

The stakes escalate when both of a wealthy philanthropist's legal representatives end up dead (one of them being the friend who'd attempted to get Kurt to investigate his father's death earlier). The philanthropist, Alfred Harderberg, is played by Rupert Graves, who can currently be seen in the first season of Sherlock as Inspector Lestrade. At first blush, Harderberg is as much of a potential victim as his legal counsel - all three of them had received threats. Harderberg is deeply involved in a foundation he established in Africa - if everything he's doing is so good, why the threats? This is a role that really plays to Graves's ability to be creepy on-screen. Harderberg's smooth-talking, philanthropic exterior masks the heart of a cold-blooded, money hungry killer. The name of this episode couldn't be more fitting - "the man who smiled" turns out to be absolutely, chillingly, soulless.

Wallander has a potential "in" for investigating Harderberg - his head of security is a former police officer names Anders, who was kicked off the force after killing an innocent bystander during a car chase. Anders is played by Vincent Regan, who has appeared in a couple of good programs, from Miss Marple to ShakespeaRe-Told. Kurt's relationship with Anders is an interesting one. Both men have killed people while on duty - however, Kurt gets a pass, if you will, because the death he was involved in was self-defense. The film makes clear, though, that the effects of each death were equally devastating on both Anders and Kurt. Both men have been through nearly identical shock and grieving processes, but it's clear that Anders clearly envies Kurt, because Kurt has a way back "in," the chance to continue to do the work he was born to do, but he must choose to accept that opportunity.

As the investigation progresses, Kurt discovers that Harderberg's foundation is merely a front for selling organs "harvested" from those he claims to help in Africa. While most of the paperwork was in the names of Harderberg's lawyers (which is why the were silenced), Anders is able to provide Kurt with hard proof - after all, who's going to view a has-been cop as a threat? This case provides Anders with a shot at redemption, a way "back in," though he pays for it with his life. It's also the impetus that drives Kurt to fully embrace his life as a police officer - he can't run from his job anymore than he can stop breathing. When he answers his office phone in the final scene I can't help but cheer. Branagh is brilliant in these final scenes and as far as I'm concerned deserves any acting accolades he gets for his performance in this series. (I will say I thought the scriptwriters pulled a pretty good bait-and-switch with Anders's character - up until the end I wasn't sure whether or not he'd turn out to be one of the good guys.)

This season of Wallander reminds me of Joseph Campbell and his definition of the hero's journey (separation, initiation, and return). The over-arching theme of this season is whether or not Wallander can accept his destiny to be a policeman. The events at the end of Faceless Killers sent Kurt running from his calling, but the case of The Man Who Smiled brings Kurt face-to-face with his demons, ready to face his future with renewed focus and purpose. It remains to be seen in the third installment whether or not Kurt will win a decisive victory... :)