Friday, August 31, 2012

Review: The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

The Shoemaker's Wife
By: Adriana Trigiani
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0-06-125710-0

About the book:

The fateful first meeting of Enza and Ciro takes place amid the haunting majesty of the Italian Alps at the turn of the last century. Still teenagers, they are separated when Ciro is banished from his village and sent to hide in New York's Little Italy, apprenticed to a shoemaker, leaving a bereft Enza behind. But when her own family faces disaster, she, too, is forced to emigrate to America. Though destiny will reunite the star-crossed lovers, it will, just as abruptly, separate them once again -- sending Ciro off to serve in World War I, while Enza is drawn into the glamorous world of the opera...and into the life of the international singing sensation Enrico Caruso. Still, Enza and Ciro have been touched by fate -- and, ultimately, the power of their love will change their lives forever.

A riveting historical epic of love and family, war and loss, risk and destiny, inspired by the author's own family history, The Shoemaker's Wife is the novel Adriana Trigiani was born to write.


At the turn of the century, in a small village high in the Italian Alps, ten-year-old Ciro Lazzari and his older brother Eduardo are left by their mother at the local convent following their father's death in America, who promises to return for them the following summer. When their mother fails to return, the brothers reluctantly embrace their status as essentially orphans, given over to a most unconventional upbringing by a group of nuns who adopt them as their own. While Eduardo embraces the culture of the Catholic Church, Ciro is far too carefree and in love with life to embrace a life faith. A chance meeting with Enza Ravanelli at her sister's funeral, a beautiful seamstress-in-training from a neighboring village, awakens both teenagers the possibility of love and an unexpected, soul-deep connection. But when, through no fault of his own, Ciro runs afoul of the local priest, he is uprooted from his beloved mountain home and sent to America at the age of sixteen to seek his fortune as a shoemaker's apprentice. When tragedy threatens the security of Enza's family, she seeks her fortune in America as well, carrying with her the memory of the boy who brought the light of hope to her darkest hour. Set adrift in the bustle of New York City, facing the challenges of language and working conditions, sustained by the immigrant's universal dream of a better life, can Enza and Ciro ever hope to find their way back to each other, and realize the fledgling promise of love's possibility born in their faraway homeland?

The Shoemaker's Wife marks my first time to read an Adriana Trigiani novel, and it most certainly will not be my last. This novel is epic in every sense of the word, spanning four decades and two world wars, chronicling the immigrant experience in America that defined so much of this country in the early twentieth century. This is a love letter to the hardworking men and women who risked everything on the hope of a better life in America, the chance to script their own version of the American dream of opportunity and prosperity. Inspired by her own grandparents' love story -- born in nearby Italian villages, never meeting until they immigrated to America -- Trigiani's novel is not only a gorgeous tribute to her own family's storied, rich history, but a love story to the immigrant experience as a whole, to the men and women whose sacrifices and labor, whose hopes and fears have been woven into the rich fabric of America since the nation's birth. While Ciro and Enza's stories are uniquely Italian, enriched with details from Trigiani's own family history -- the beauty of an ancestral home in the Italian Alps, the mouth-watering cuisine (gnocci and homemade mozzarella, oh my!), and the inescapable influence of Rome and the Catholic Church -- I couldn't help but reflect on my own family's Danish and Czech history, and how their experiences, much of them lost to the ravages of time, could possibly reflect and mirror the sacrifice, heartbreak, and hope Trigiani sketches throughout the pages of The Shoemaker's Wife.

I loved Trigiani's emphasis on familial bonds, the ones we're born with, as Enza's sacrifices for her family illustrate, and the ones we make ourselves, as Ciro, who is left bereft of parental guidance as a child, comes to appreciate. I particularly enjoyed the passages exploring Enza's experiences in New York, from her arrival where she worked at a clothing factory and toiled as little more than a servant for room and board, to the lifelong friendship she forms with the Irish Laura and their quest to become noted seamstresses, leading them to the Met and the unforgettable tenure of the Great Caruso. This is a richly textured novel, immersing the reader in the sights, sounds, and tastes of Ciro and Enza's lives. If I have one complaint, it's that this novel covers *too* much ground -- there's easily enough material here for two volumes, and so in an attempt to compressCiro and Enza's lives into one book the narrative is occasionally slowed by summary, narrative-heavy passages versus continuous action and plot momentum.

That stylistic note aside, I found myself thoroughly engrossed by this novel, and unexpectedly, deeply emotionally involved in Ciro and Enza's story. The charm of these characters lies in their homespun relatability -- The Shoemaker's Wife is a powerful exploration of themeaning and lasting impact of faith, family, and love. This is a story of lives well-lived -- yes, there's heartbreak and disappointments to be dealt with, but as Ciro reflects "so much of life was about not holding on, but letting go and in so doing, the beauty of the past and the happiness...then came full circle like a band of gold." This novel, a beautiful, heartfelt tribute to Trigiani's family, is a testament to the love and sacrifice of one's ancestors and the delicate ties of family and friendship that stitch together the fabric of a life fully lived.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the review opportunity!

Doctor Who: Pond Life, Part 5

The suspense is killing me! Here's the conclusion to the "Pond Life" webisode series (if you need to watch the first four installments, you can find them here):

Doctor Who returns to BBC America TOMORROW!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Doctor Who: Pond Life Prequels

I'm a little behind the times this week, but I just caught up on the first four installments of "Pond Life," the webisode prequel series to the new season of Doctor Who which starts THIS SATURDAY (and the world rejoiced). Oh, how I've missed this show:

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

The final installment will be released tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Disney Designer Villains

Last week I shared with you my discovery of Disney's Designer Princess collection from last year. This year their limited-time collection features some of their most famous villains, reimagined in a gorgeous collection of  prints, mugs, clothing items, and dolls. Here is the concept art (and yes, I was lucky enough to discover this in time to purchase a notecard set!):


Mother Gothel

Cruella de Vil

Queen of Hearts

Evil Queen


Do you have a favorite? I think I'm torn between Maleficent (of course!) and Gothel at the moment...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Grimm 2.2: "The Kiss"

Grimm concluded its three-part take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale last week with an episode oh-so-appropriately entitled "The Kiss." And it was AWESOME. Very nearly unbearably so, as I couldn't stop grinning or squealing at the television for the entire hour. The episode opens with the quote "If a man of pure heart were to fall in love with her, that would bring her back to life" -- referring, of course, to the comatose Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch). The only question has been who would wake her, what condition would she be in following Adalind's spell, and how would it impact the show to have someone other than Nick break the spell? Based on this hour's activities I have ridiculously high hopes for this season -- this show is setting up what promises to be some fascinating tension between the major players. And I cannot WAIT to see the action unfold!

This episode picks up right where last week's left off, with Nick (David Giuntoli) and his mom, Kelly (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) entering the warehouse where the Mauvais Dente killed two FBI agents. I have to be honest here, while the sabre-toothed, catlike creature is pretty terrifying, I was a little underwhelmed with how he was incorporated into this storyline. I think the Wesen work best when they tie into the storyline in a meaningful way -- at this point my best guess is that the Mauvais Dente "works" for the royals? I'd love to hear any theories. :) (Side note: It was really odd last week watching Warehouse 13, where the actor playing this Wesen played a hockey star, and then transitioning straight to the Grimm world.) make a long story short, Nick and his mom dispatch the creature and leave a really horrific mess for the police and FBI to clean up -- along with Nick's gun, which he discharged during the fight. More on Nick's potential unraveling in a moment...

Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) and Rosalee (Bree Turner) have been busy whipping up a potion that they hope will stop Juliette's hexenbiest-induced memory loss -- but the clock is ticking, with the window of opportunity for successfully administering the potion closing fast. I loved how Monroe, Rosalee, Nick, and Kelly descended on Juliette's hospital room, defying the staff's orders to leave her alone, with Monroe, Rosalee, and Kelly putting aside their differences to present a united front in support of Nick. I'm so glad that through these two Kelly is being forced to acknowledge that not all Wesen are out to get Grimms. Despite the fact that I'm positive Kelly has some ulterior motive in returning to Portland (something to do with those pesky coins? or something even bigger?), I loved seeing her "protective" instincts kick in during this episode -- it's as if she wanted to make up for lost time by helping Nick no matter what. Also, I love how freaked out she makes Monroe -- his expressions, his wariness when around her are absolutely priceless! When he and Rosalee agree to drive Kelly back to Nick's house, that was a bit of comedy gold as far as this show goes. :)

Speaking of Monroe and Rosalee, were those two not the most adorable pair ever in this episode? I am SO happy the script finally allowed Bree Turner to "loosen" up just a bit during some of her scenes this hour. Granted she's had ever reason to be somber and serious during her tenure thus far on the show (given her past addiction issues and her brother's murder) -- but it is SO nice to finally see her relaxing a bit around Monroe, and yes even flirting! I love it. :) Speaking of comedy gold, the scene where she hugs Kelly and then tries to convince herself that Mama Burkhardt was smiling was priceless (as was Monroe's less-than-optimistic take on Kelly's rather pained facial expression). *wink* And when Monroe gets all protective after Catherine (Jessica Tuck) visits the shop for her own potion ingredients and threatens Rosalee, I could not stop smiling. When are these two going to become an official couple? The tension is killing me!!! (Did I mention that they are ADORABLE??)

So, back to Nick...after he administers the potion Rosalee made to Juliette, with no visible, immediate impact, he heads back to the carnage at the warehouse where he has to pretend to Hank (Russell Hornsby) and Renard (Sasha Roiz) that he has NO IDEA what is going on. Prior to this episode, Nick's always done a passable job of managing both his "Grimm" life and his "cop" life, but this latest episode has blurred the lines like never before as he is actually put in the position of hiding evidence (his pistol) that he was at the scene of the crime. The FBI agents assigned to investigate the deaths of their own people are understandably eager to bring the killer(s) to justice, and when a phone call from one of the dead agent's phones links Nick to the scene he is placed under immediate suspicion.

I felt SO badly for Nick throughout this entire episode -- and if he's operating under this level of tension all season, I don't know how I'll stand it! :P He understandably feels he must conceal what he knows of the crime, since not only is his story fairly fantastic but it would also implicate his mother. It just killed me when Hank realizes that Nick is hiding something from the FBI, but he trusts his partner enough to back him up -- and having that trust verbalized, knowing what he's keeping from Hank? That just eviscerates Nick. Giuntoli is really stepping things up in the emoting department thus far this season. Thoughts on Nick reading Hank into his situation, especially given the latter's glimpse of Monroe in his Blutbad state last year? If Hank actually buys into it, and that is a big if at this point, it could bring an interesting dynamic to the show -- I don't think they can go forever with Nick's only allies being Grimms and a few friendly Wesen creatures.

Now, I'm sure it will come as no surprise that my very favorite aspects of this episode involved anything and everything to do with Renard. My goodness was he on fire (very nearly literally at one point)! :) I love how the show has teased out this character's reveal -- I'm dying to know what his ultimate plans are, how he really feels about Nick, but I love the suspense of watching the story unfold. This hour paid off my long-time devotion to the enigmatic chief by making some major revelations about his character, and goodness were they worth the wait! At various points throughout this show's run, including during this episode, comments are made about Renard's background, referencing royal antecedents and most tellingly during a conversation with Catherine, where she calls him a "bastard, literally." IF Renard is in fact an outcast in his own family, that raises the tantalizing possibility of some amazing tension between him and his newly-revealed brother Eric (James Frain). They are playing quite the dangerous chess game as during their phone call both of them are trying to ascertain how much the other knows or was involved with the Mauvais Dente's appearance in Portland.

Let me just get this out of the way: I WAS RIGHT ABOUT RENARD KISSING JULIETTTE!!! (I really enjoyed having my hunch from the premiere play out on-screen!) :) Before giving him her potion, Catherine warns him that the cost will be high -- not only will he have to DRINK that glop (the look of disgust on Renard's face was hilarious!), but the result -- giving him a pure heart, so he can awaken Juliette -- will be painful. And it IS, revealing for the first time Renard's true nature, his Wesen identity as half hexenbiest! The post-potion scene was intense, and I'll just go ahead and get this out of the way   -- Renard, shirtless? Made my week. :)

If you haven't read this interview with Roiz, which was posted shortly after this episode aired, it is a must-read. The revelation that Renard isn't a pure-blooded royal promises some interesting tension for this character as far as family dynamics and his place in the royal families' plans goes, doesn't it? And are his personal plans in service to his family, or is he hoping to make a play against them? I'm leaning towards the latter, given how time and again he has protected Nick -- not because he actually likes him necessarily, but because he wants a Grimm on "his" side. And I'm DYING to learn more about how Renard feels about his "mixed" race status, since Roiz hints in the interview that one reason we haven't seen Renard "morph" until now is because he doesn't like that aspect of himself. But most exciting for me is the promise that the purification potion wasn't a one-off deal, and that there will be residual effects Renard must confront in the weeks to come. THAT, my friends, could be very, VERY interesting. :)

So, wrapping things up -- Mama B. offers to "discuss" the Juliette situation moether-to-mother with Catherine, but she clearly has no idea of how to finesse an interrogation as she ends up killing Adalind's mother. (If Adalind ever comes back she is NEVER forgiving Nick, is she?!) The only information Kelly gleans from the fight is that a prince is living in Portland, and only he has the power to awaken Juliette -- but Catherine dies before she can drop further clues about the prince's identity. So Kelly is able to share this bit of intel with her son before announcing that she's leaving Portland to destroy the coins. I don't trust Kelly, not fully, not yet, but I loved her heart-to-heart with her son and her obviously hard-won final advice to never leave and fight for the ones you love. It's clear the woman has regrets -- even if she must lie about her travel plans. Wonder when we'll see her again? And where she's taking the coins in that STOLEN CAR???

Can I say this one more time? RENARD'S KISS WORKED, I WAS RIGHT!!! *wink* It worked and worked quickly -- I've gotta give Catherine credit for delivering the correct potion before her untimely demise. Juliette wakens immediately and has no idea why she's in the hospital -- and most painfully has no idea who Nick is. The look on his face just KILLED me. The question remains -- was Rosalee's potion administered too late, or did something in Catherine's counteract it? Irregardless, watching Nick go from the joy of learning Juliette had awakened to the despair of being unrecognized -- GAH!! It just killed me! More than leading a double life as a police officer and a Grimm, losing Juliette, I think, could really and truly send Nick off the rails -- especially if he blames himself for putting her in harm's way by association. This season of Grimm has gotten off to an amazingly strong start, and I cannot wait to see where this show takes us next! Please hit the comments with anything you'd like to discuss, or anything I may have forgotten -- this episode was SO packed, and I was SO distracted by Renard, I just don't trust myself. HA! :)

*Images copyright Scott Green/NBC

Friday, August 24, 2012

Disney Designer Style

Despite my love of fairy tales and Disney classics and Sleeping Beauty in particular, somehow I missed it when Disney released their "Designer Princess" collection last year. The collection consisted of dolls, prints, notes, and make-up, taking its inspiration from fashion design from the 1950s and 1960s.

This notecard image features my favorite princess, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty...isn't it gorgeous?

I am SO annoyed I missed out on this collection last year and the chance to order at least the notecard set in order to collect a set in miniature prints. Oh well, thank goodness for the internet! *wink*

Here are the rest of the princesses featured in the collection:

Do you have a favorite? I pretty much love them all. :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Doctor Who returns Sept. 1st!

Oh happy day! It was announced that Doctor Who is returning to BBC America on September 1st! Check out the latest trailer below:

Doesn't it look awesome?! I can't wait! It's been way too long... :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep (Philip Marlowe #1)
By: Raymond Chandler
Publisher: Vintage Crime
ISBN: 978-0-394-75828-2

About the book:

When a dying millionaire hires Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.


The Big Sleep, first published in 1939, introduced the world to Philip Marlowe, private detective, a character who would go on to become synonymous with the concept of "hard-boiled" crime fiction. I've long been a fan of film noir, notable for its fast-talking, world-weary detectives, glamorous femme fatales, and striking use of shadow and light to illustrate the seamier side of life on-screen. Considering how much I love classic examples of the film noir genre such as The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon, it is all the more shocking that it has taken me this long to read the literary equivalent of those films. Chandler turned to writing in his mid-forties after losing his job with an oil company due to the Depression, and his writing reflects a hard-won maturity and cynicism. He began writing short stories for pulp magazines, and The Big Sleep was based on two of them -- "Killer in the Rain" (1935) and "The Curtain" (1936).

When Philip Marlowe is called to the home of the wealthy Sternwood family, he's hired by the elderly patriarch to make bookseller Arthur Geiger's attempt to blackmail his wild youngest daughter Carmen disappear. The General has a second daughter, Vivian, married to an ex-bootlegger named Rusty Regan who recently disappeared and may or may not be involved in the younger daughter's current trouble. At first blush what appears to be a fairly straightforward commission -- remove the thorn in the elderly General's side -- is anything but, as Marlowe quickly discovers that the Sternwood daughters have secrets to keep -- secrets that some may be willing to kill  in order to keep quiet. Over the course of his investigation, Marlowe finds himself swept up in a seedy world of illegal pornographers and secret gambling establishments -- and the deeper Marlowe digs, the more bodies start to accumulate. And the answer to one question -- where is Rusty Regan? -- threatens to destroy the Sternwood reputation and silence Marlowe forever.

Like the classic 1946 film adaptation that featured Bogart as Marlowe, the movie's source material twists and turns through the seamy side of  a Los Angeles on the brink of exploding into the metropolis it would become in the 1940s during Hollywood's Golden Age. But Chandler is less concerned with Tinseltown's sheen and more with letting us accompany Marlowe as he navigates through the moral and ethical corruptions fostered by the excesses of L.A.'s position as an entertainment capital of the world. One criticism of the film and novel is the twisty, confusing nature of the plot. While this isn't a perfectly plotted novel, it isn't the mechanics of the investigation that captivated me -- it was witnessing Marlowe's responses to the characters and situations he encounters. Chandler's dialogue and prose are razor-sharp ("I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter nights."), an absolute joy to read -- this is a book I savored.

Rich in atmosphere and character, The Big Sleep is an unforgettable introduction to Chandler's work. Marlowe is something like a shopworn knight -- world-weary, sarcastic and cynical, but clinging to a deeply rooted sense of honor and set of principles, he is a uniquely American literary hero. I'll definitely be reading his further adventures.


I love the poetry of this passage so I had to share it:

"What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn't have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet, waiting. His heart was a brief, uncertain murmur. His thoughts were as gray as ashes. And in a little while he too...would be sleeping the big sleep." (Philip Marlowe in Chandler's The Big Sleep)

The Once Upon a Time bracelet!

Remember a few weeks ago when I shared my latest Etsy purchase -- the "Rumbelle" Once Upon a Time -inspired necklace from TwulyLovelyDesigns? I've only had the necklace a few weeks and I've already worn it at least four times -- I just love it.

Today I want to share with you my second purchase from Lucinda's shop -- the Once Upon a Time Ultimate Storybrooke Main Characters Bracelet:

Isn't it gorgeous? Here's a breakdown of the charms and characters it features:
  • a clock face: to symbolize the stopped town clock, stuck at 8.15 until Emma arrives 
  • an axe: for the dwarves 
  • a cuckoo clock: Gepetto/Marco 
  • an umbrella: Archie Hopper/Jiminy Cricket 
  • a sword: David Nolan/Prince Charming 
  • a bird: Mary Margaret Blanchard/Snow White 
  • a spinning wheel: Mr Gold/Rumplestiltskin 
  • an apple: Regina Mills/Evil Queen 
  • BOOK LOCKET - Henry's fairytale book 
  • a swan: Emma Swan/the Saviour 
  • a heart: Sheriff Graham/The Huntsman 
  • a wolf: Ruby/Red Riding Hood 
  • a mirror: Sidney Glass/Magic Mirror 
  • a motorbike: The Stranger, August W. Booth 
  • a pair of scissors: Jefferson/The Mad Hatter 
  • a tree: the magic tree that saved Pinocchio/August and Emma 
  • a star: the Blue Fairy's magic 
  • a castle: for the fairytale world left behind 
  • a 'believe' tag... because all you have to do... is believe.
  • a rose-toggle clasp: a nod to Belle
This bracelet is absolutely GORGEOUS in person, such a fun piece of jewellery to wear! Lucinda is a fabulous person to do business with, whether placing a shop stock order or answering questions about a custom order. If you're interested in a wholly unique piece of jewellery, I highly encourage you to visit Lucinda's shop -- not only is she a fantastic seller but I've been thoroughly impressed with the craftsmanship of her work and the speed and careful attention each of my two orders have received.

The Avengers gag reel

Like I needed more reasons to love Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, and everyone else in that film?! This gag reel is absolutely HILARIOUS:

Just in case the embedded video disappears from YouTube, you can also watch the gag reel here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

100 years of John Carter...

Because apparently I will never get tired of talking about John Carter, here's a video produced for the Edgar Rice Burroughs Centennial Celebration this year that details John Carter's 100-year journey to the silver screen:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

A Brief History of Montmaray (The Montmaray Journals #1)
By: Michelle Cooper
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

About the book:

“There’s a fine line between gossip and history, when one is talking about kings.”

Sophie Fitzosborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray with her eccentric and impoverished royal family. When she receives a journal for her sixteenth birthday, Sophie decides to chronicle day-to-day life on the island. But this is 1936, and the news that trickles in from the mainland reveals a world on the brink of war. The politics of Europe seem far away from their remote island—until two German officers land a boat on Montmaray. And then suddenly politics become very personal indeed.

A Brief History of Montmaray is a heart-stopping tale of loyalty, love, and loss, and of fighting to hold on to home when the world is exploding all around you.


On a small island in the Bay of Biscay, between France and Spain, lies the Kingdom of Montmaray, home of Sophia FitzOsborne, her tomboy sister Henry, and older cousin Veronica. They, along with Veronica's mad father the king and Sophia's brother Toby, are the last members of a once-illustrious and colorful royal family  dating back to the 11th century. But despite their titles and and wealth of familial history, the FitzOsbornes are nearly bankrupt, clinging to the crumbling family home with the aid of only a handful of loyal subjects. In many respects they are an isolated time capsule, a proud relic of happier and more plentiful times. In the fall of 1936 Sophia receives a journal for her sixteenth birthday and resolves to document her life -- the hopes, dreams, and everyday occurrences that make up her day to day life. She has no ambition of crafting an authoritative family history of the type Veronica works endlessly to compile -- but Sophia's scribblings are poised to become a critical record of a world on the brink of implosion. Montmaray may be small, but world events are destined to intrude on its shores, realigning Sophia's priorities and changing the course of her life forever. With the Spanish Civil War on one side and the heavy march of German Fascism on the other, Sophia is set to become the unlikely chronicler of a world on the cusp of war.

Sophia is an utterly beguiling narrator, her chronicle of life in her crumbling family home full of wry humor and razor-sharp, disarmingly honest observations. The first half of her journal has an almost fairy tale-like quality to it -- the closest literary equivalent that comes to mind is E. Nesbit's Five Children and It. Similar to Nesbit's classic, there's a quality almost akin to magical realism saturating the FitzOsbornes' lives -- two teenage girls, raising a ten-year-old, eking out a living on their wave-battered island because of the precedent of their royal lineage. But Sophia isn't content with tradition and dreams of life off Montmaray, of experiencing the "season" in London and falling in love. But as world events begin to intrude on the simple rhythms of their lives, Sophia begins to see herself as a chronicler of something more, her writing infused with fresh purpose as she records conflict first landing on Montmaray's shores.

Cooper's world-building is superb -- for a fictional kingdom and family, she's given the FitzOsbornes a gloriously realized, thorough history. Coupled with her deft characterizations and sure plotting, readers may find themselves forgetting that Sophia's journal is a work of fiction rather than autobiography. *wink* Cooper pairs her rich, descriptive world-building with a wealth of real-life history that sets this novel apart. A Brief History of Montmaray is an unexpectedly rich, meaty historical -- from the fictional FitzOsborne family history that bore witness to the Battle of Hastings, Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada, and the horrors of trench warfare in the Great War, to the inflammatory political ideals alternately capturing and horrifying the imaginations of the world in the 1930s. Similarly to the recent re-boot of Upstairs Downstairs, through the eyes of Sophia and her family Cooper allows readers a window into the past as Toby meets Ambassador von Ribbentrop, Veronica debates fascism and socialism with the housekeeper's son, Simon, and the FitzOsbornes are shocked when Edward VIII abdicated to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson.

Sophia's first journal is a lovely, absorbing read that deftly navigates the pivot from coming-of-age novel to high suspense with uncanny aplomb. This is a rare treat for readers of all persuasions, but an absolute gift for those passionate about this interwar time period and its affect on those living in such tumultuous times. A Brief History of Montmaray is an utterly captivating reading experience, a unique and memorable, thought-provoking blend of fact and fiction that entertains even as it inspires further reading and research. A marvelous introduction to Sophia and her world!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Grimm 2.1: "Bad Teeth"

Grimm returned earlier this week with its second-season opener, and I may be biased but WASN'T IT AWESOME?! I'm so, so ridiculously happy this show is back with new episodes. And we were even treated to a snazzy new credits sequence! WIN.

Interestingly enough, this episode doesn't open with a quote from a fairy tale -- it instead opens with a few lines from "The Second Coming," a poem by William Butler Yeats. "The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned..." -- ominous words to be sure, and from a poem written in the aftermath of World War I it certainly seems as though the show is hinting at a conflict of global proportions, with its epicenter in Portland. The episode opens to a scene on a cargo ship, just a few short days before Nick's fateful encounter with Kimura (Brian Tee), one of the four men responsible for his parents' murders. Something incredibly violent is locked in one of the cargo containers, something that has ripped stowaways to shreds and painted the walls and crates with bloody graffitti -- including a sycthe, the symbol of the Reapers. When the ship arrives in Portland, a pair of security guards have the misfortune to stumble upon the bloody container and become the creature's next victims -- and we get our first glimpse of a cat-like creature with huge, saber-like fangs.

The action of the episode then shifts to the final moments of the season one finale, when the mysterious "woman in black" (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) arrives at Nick's (David Giuntoli) home to knock Kimura out and drop the little bomb that she's his long-lost mother. At this point I couldn't help but reflect back on how Giuntoli consistently improved as Nick over the course of season one, bringing more feeling, emotion, and depth to the character -- and if this episode is any indication, we're in for a stellar season. I loved how Giuntoli played Nick's reaction to the revelation that his mother let him think she was dead for eighteen years -- he doesn't even try to hide the raw pain. As it is, it's probably best Nick welcomes his mother back into his life with reservations -- because she's been hunting the men responsible for killing her husband, and she wants those pesky, powerful Coins of she can destroy them. Supposedly. Because I'm 99% sure she's holding something back, and I have to wonder if perhaps she wants the coins so she has the power to wreak havoc on her enemies. I have to think that living in hiding for eighteen years would take a terrible toll on one's psyche...

Nick's mother/son reunion is cut short when a host of police descend on his wrecked home, led by Sgt. Wu (Reggie Lee) and Captain Renard (Sasha Roiz). At this point can I just tell you how terrible distracted I am from this point on by Renard's practically unbearable hotness?? YEESH. :P I mean I know the man has an agenda, I know he wants to leverage Nick's status as a Grimm for his own purposes -- but I just cannot bring myself to think that he's completely nefarious. He's so incredibly, freakishly PERFECT. At this point Nick is finally able to fill in his boss on the fact that Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch) has been hospitalized in a coma -- in a COMPLETELY UNRELATED INCIDENT, of course, to everything else that has been wreaking havoc in Portland for the last day or so. Renard's response to this news is very interesting -- more on that in a second.

Cut to Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) and Rosalee (Bree Turner), still at the spice shop with Adalind's cat, trying to figure out what spell she used to poison Juliette. I LOVE YOU MONROE, SO VERY VERY MUCH...summer was a veritable wasteland without your presence on my television. I love the fact that a Blutbad is freaked out by a cat, and I love how smart Rosalee is about all things Wesen and potions-related -- so very happy she was promoted to a series regular! The couple's cuteness factor aside, the discover the worst-possible news about Adalind's curse -- she infected Juliette with an extremely virulent, powerful memory loss potion, and the clock is ticking in the race to find a cure before the effects become irreversible.

This discovery leads to one of the best scenes in this episode -- Monroe and Rosalee arrive at Nick's home, eager to explain their discovery, and they meet Nick's mother, Kelly -- a Grimm who takes a VERY different view than her son of Grimm/Wesen friendships. Between Monroe calling Nick's mom a b*tch, quickly back-pedalling, and then refusing to SHUT UP because of his nervousness, I was cracking up. I loved the line about brutal family reunions, and the one where Monroe lost two cousins and a sheepdog...and no one misses the cousins. *wink* And I loved how Monroe and Rosalee played their exit -- she kind of pats him on the arm, going "okay," when you just know she's thinking shut your trap already, honey. :P (Side note: When Rosalee tells Nick that the potion to save Juliette's memories takes something like sixteen hours to brew, the first thing I thought of was the Polyjuice Potion from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.)

So back to Kelly Burkhardt for a moment...supposedly she's been absent from Nick's life in order to protect him. I'm thinking that the longer she was gone, the easier it was to stay away, you know (also, my heart just broke for Nick when his mom confessed that Marie kept the truth from him all these years -- like the poor guy doesn't have enough to deal with?!)? I'm really looking forward to seeing how the show develops the history of the Grimms and the idea of a world-wide Wesen/Grimm conflict this season. Kelly hints that she's been involved in the fight against the royal families and their bid to regain the control they once enjoyed -- does this mean she was involved in the Wesen Resistance or more of a free agent? And given that the Grimms are descendants of the knights that once served the royal families, how long will it be before the show starts to introduce some distant relatives of the Burkhardts? One would think this is inevitable given the revelation that Aunt Marie's mysterious key is just one of seven parts that make up a map (how cool is that?!). I LOVE THE HISTORY THIS SHOW IS DEVELOPING! A bit later in the episode Nick takes his mom to Aunt Marie's trailer which gives her the opportunity to relate some of her own history, particularly what it was like to "awaken" to her Grimm abilities. Given that her father apparently took both her and Marie "Wesen hunting" for lack of a better term from relatively young ages, I have to think Nick wouldn't have stood a chance at becoming a more "compassionate" Grimm if he'd been raised in the lifestyle -- make sense?

The "fairy tale" influence on this episode is still the "Sleeping Beauty" story, given Juliette's current condition -- a carryover from the season finale. When Renard learns that Juliette has been hospitalized, he immediately recognizes Adalind's touch and heads to her mother's home to find her, since the one-time Hexenbiest is no where to be found. I love how Catherine (Jessica Tuck) has completely written off her daughter (though I do rather hope Adalind makes a return appearance at some point), and tires to tell off Renard but he's having NONE of it. (I LOVE HIM. I know that is probably all kinds of twisted but I just cannot help myself!) Renard knows that Juliette keeps Nick in Portland, so Catherine agrees to work towards a cure -- and to that end she visits the spice shop with a list of ingredients that Rosalee recognizes. When Nick finds out, he visits Catherine's home and goes all Grimm on the situation, and Giuntoli, you are getting increasingly good at that, just sayin'!

When Catherine calls to let Renard know about Nick's visit, she also tells him that she thinks she has a cure -- but there could be a price. So here are my initial thoughts about the next episode, and a possible story arc this season. Given that the fairy tale influence on this episode is the Sleeping Beauty story, we know there has to be a kiss -- the only question is, in this incarnation of the story whose kiss will awaken Juliette? Nick is of course a very dashing prince stand-in, but given this show's tendency to turn fairy tale conventions inside-out, I suspect that Catherine will finish her cure first, and that cure will be administered by a kiss -- and that kiss will tie Juliette to Renard, bringing some much-needed overt tension to the Nick/Renard relationship. Thoughts? I love Nick and Juliette together, but the whole idea of Renard as some sort of dark prince? That sends me over the moon. (Like the man needs help being hotter...)

In an attempt to wrap things up here (I've forgotten how once I start talking about this show I CAN'T STOP), I need to touch on a few things relating to Kimura and the saber-tooth murders. Mama Grimm is foiled in her desire to knock-off Kimura herself when Nick discovers that someone beat them to it, poisoning his lunch with what looks like the same toxin Nick encountered in the bee-themed episode. During the initial investigation into the bloody cargo container, we get a brief glimpse of Hank (Russell Hornsby), who is putting on a brave front but is still very much haunted by visions of the glimpse he caught of Monroe in his Blutbad-form. Any guesses on how long it will be before Nick has to have a very specific talk with Hank about the strangeness in Portland? *wink*

Now, I'm not going to go into the mechanics of the investigation into the cargo killings, except to say I think it is fascinating that if Kelly is to be believed, someone sent the creature to Portland for the sole intention of smoking out Nick -- and anyone unfortunate enough to get in his way is just collateral damage. The saber-toothed creatures are Mauvais Dentes, smart, canny, killing machines who like to toy with their potential victims before tearing them to shreds. Are we thinking that the as yet unintroduced castle dweller -- played by James Frain, already announced as playing Renard's brother -- is behind the creature's appearance in Portland? Given our introduction to Renard's brother is via a torture scene, early impressions have Renard looking like a saint by comparison! I cannot WAIT until the Renard brothers are on-screen together!

Between the cliffhanger with the Mauvais Dentes creature and Renard being incredibly attractive and Nick being all angsty and DRIVEN, this episode was a fantastic season opener. Hit the comments with theories and observations, I'd love to discuss! :)

*Images copyright Scott Green/NBC

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises: The Official Novelization by Greg Cox

The Dark Knight Rises: The Official Novelization
By: Greg Cox
Publisher: Titan Books

About the book:

Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman return in the thrilling and hotly anticipated conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy.

The blockbuster movie will introduce new faces to the franchise as well, including Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Bane (Tom Hardy), John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

From the team that brought you Inception, The Dark Knight Rises is guaranteed to be the blockbuster hit of 2012. This enthralling official novelization will transport fans into a Gotham City once again under threat.

BATMAN and all related characters and elements are TM and © DC Comics. (s12)


This seems to be the year I turn to movie novelizations for reading material, as Greg Cox's adaptation of The Dark Knight Rises marks the third novel of this ilk that I've read this year. The best novelizations in my view deliver the action of the film in printed form, while taking any opportunities to expand the storyline or deepen characterizations in a meaningful way. As such, this book falls somewhere in between -- better than most, but not as good as it could've been.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Inspired by Harvey Dent's alleged heroism, the Dent Act gave Gotham's police force the teeth they needed to clean up their city -- and for all intents and purposes, Gotham is a city reformed. But Police Commissioner Gordon and billionaire Bruce Wayne, the erstwhile Batman, bought that peace with a lie -- and a world built on lies cannot help but one day crumble. On one front, there are rumors of an army assembling beneath the city, led by the notorious mercenary bane -- and on another, more personal front, the reclusive Bruce has so withdrawn from life that he's left his resources and power vulnerable to assault. Gotham needs her Dark Knight -- but having been absent for so long, can Wayne survive another war with unspeakable evil without losing his humanity?

Cox has the richest material possible to work with, as in my opinion director Christopher Nolan and his co-writers are masterful storytellers. In several interviews Nolan references Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities as inspiration for the final Batman film, and that classic tale's influence is all over this film, particularly the final third, lending a timeless quality to the chilling scenes of the show trials and Bane's efforts to get the Gotham populace to tear down its wealthy, and the scenes of the resistance led by Gordon and Blake. The source material is extremely solid and dense, so the novelization has an excellent foundation from which to draw its material. Cox does a solid job of translating the film's rich storyline to the page (the paperback version is listed at 415 pages!). But that unfortunately doesn't leave much room for expanding on the storyline.

Selina Kyle perhaps fares best -- Cox gives readers a few additional nuggets of insight into her backstory and character, and fleshes out her relationship with her protege Jen. There are also some additional flashbacks that flesh out Miranda and Bane's backstory. But what I was hoping for, such as more development of the Selina/Bruce relationship, more insight into Blake's psyche, etc., is where this novelization falls short. However, that stands as a testament to the strength and density of the film's visual storytelling. Cox is a better than expected writer, so prose-wise this adaptation is a cut above others I've read. It's a fairly straightforward, no frills, written version of the film -- I just wish there'd been more insight into the characters' backstories and off-screen actions than this rather lengthy, risk-free adaptation delivered.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review: Flame of Resistance by Tracy Groot

Flame of Resistance
By: Tracy Groot
Publisher: Tyndale
ISBN: 978-1-4143-5947-2

About the book:

On the brink of D-Day in Normandy, France...

Nazi occupation has stolen much from Brigitte Durand. Family. Freedom. Hope for a future. Forced to turn her home into a Germans-only brothel to survive, Brigitte clings to patriotism by sneaking food to the French Resistance and the downed airmen they're hiding nearby.

When American fighter pilot Thom Jaeger is shot down and picked up by the Resistance, he becomes the linchpin in their plan to leverage Brigitte's sympathy. By posing as a German officer, Tom can smuggle out critical intel she acquires from other soldiers about the nearby bridges, whose capture and defense will be crucial to Allied forces.

D-Day looms, and everyone knows invasion is imminent. But so is treachery. When loyalties are betrayed, the life of one American pilot jeopardizes everything. He becomes more important than the mission to a man who cannot bear to lose another agent...and to a woman who is more than just a prostitute, who finally realizes her courage could change history.


When Germany crushed the Maginot Line in 1940, Brigitte Durand lost not only the man she loved but any hope of a future unsullied by the horrific realities of war and occupation. Penniless and alone, with no recourse but to sell her body for scraps of food and coin, Brigitte finds herself doing the unthinkable -- returning to her family home and transforming it into a Germans-only brothel. Shunned by her countrymen for fraternizing with the enemy, Brigitte refuses to let the Germans own her completely. Known only as the "Grateful Patriot," she smuggles badly-needed supplies to the nearby chateau, a secret refuge for downed Allied airmen. Her spark of independence does not go unnoticed, bringing her to the attention of Flame, a Resistance cell seeking to gain intel on the local bridges in advance of the pending invasion. When American Tom Jaeger was shot out of the sky he found refuge with Flame operatives. But rather than smuggle the pilot out of France, an agent hatches a daring plan. Leveraging Tom's Aryan looks, he'll pose as a Nazi in order to gather intel the sympathetic Brigitte acquires from her other clients. The plan seems foolproof -- but when Tom is betrayed and Flame is brought to the brink of ruin, this ragtag band of unlikely compatriots will risk everything to save one of their own. And Brigitte is faced with a choice -- to accept the lies the occupation forced her to believe of herself, or to risk everything on grace and the chance to reclaim her soul.

The World War II era is a period rich in history in drama, my favorite time period to study and read about. Tracy Groot's novel is an extraordinary addition to the ever-swelling lists of wartime fiction, one of the best to come my way in recent memory. She crafts her tale around real historical events -- the critical importance of the "Pegasus" bridge would play in the D-Day invasion, located in Benouville, a town with a Germans-only brothel. And that fact sparked the seed of the idea that would become Brigitte and Tom's story. Groot takes the factual existence of the brothel and asks what if -- what if that brothel contained an Allied sympathizer? And thus this "impressionistic" retelling of the biblical story of Rahab was born. As a prostitute, Rahab is perhaps the last woman one would think would appear in the genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1:5), and in a similar fashion when Brigitte is first introduced she is sure her choices have locked her into a prison from which there is no turning back. But like the biblical counterpart who loosely inspired her character, Brigitte discovers the grace that covers her past and the strength to face the future -- all because she took an extraordinary leap of faith.

A novel such as this rises or falls on its attention to detail and authenticity, and here Groot delivers in spades. Flame of Resistance is a tale both sweeping in its historical scope and extraordinarily intimate as a character study of grace and survival under pressure. More than "just" Brigitte and Tom's story, this is a powerful exploration of a community under oppression and how a small group of individuals choose to respond when faced with overwhelming darkness. Brigitte is perhaps the most boldly-painted symbol of the subjugated French -- hopeless, abused, brutalized. But when Tom falls from the sky with his blue eyes, down-to-earth manner, and American bravado, he is the first tangible symbol of hope that Brigitte has encountered since the war began. Living in the hope-sucking vacuum of the occupation, Brigitte was blinded to the possibility of change until she takes a step of faith (joins the Resistance), believes in the impossible (meets Tom), and realizes that she is more than the sum total of her mistakes, that every day brings with it a new chance to defy the darkness and  choose life.

This novel is a slow burn, taking its time setting the stage and establishing the cast of characters that will band together in an extraordinary act of community and courage. If I have one complaint, it is that Groot's use of Flame members' real names and aliases are loosely interchangeable and not initially clearly established. But as the novel progresses, the story hits its stride, building towards a tense, tautly-plotted climax. Groot pulls no punches, from the stark effects of Brigitte's occupation to the raw horror of an SS interrogation. Her meticulous research and crisp prose, combined with richly-drawn characterizations results in an absorbing, challenging read. Flame of Resistance is a gritty, powerful story of hope lost and reclaimed, where the light of the subtly woven strand of faith shines all the brighter for the darkness. While this may have been my first Tracy Groot novel, it certainly won't be my last.

Downton Abbey Series 3 Preview

Thanks to Charity for making me aware of this video. The Downton footage is about nine minutes in --

Is it January yet? *wink*

Happy Birthday Georgette!

It is no secret that I adore the works of Georgette Heyer, in particular her regency novels (though she also wrote mysteries and historicals!). She is without a doubt in my mind the next best thing to Jane Austen -- and that, as all Austen aficianadoes know is no small thing. :) Her sparkling prose, attention to detail, and deft plotting are a sheer joy to read. In perusing my book review archives I've been shockingly remiss in extolling Heyer's virtues here on the blog -- that is something I must remedy at the earliest opportunity.

If you've never read Heyer, or have been waiting for the perfect excuse to expand your Heyer collection, this is your week! Thursday, August 16th would have been Heyer's 110th birthday -- and to celebrate the authoress, Sourcebooks -- home of the gorgeous Heyer reissues currently available in bookstores and online -- is celebrating by holding a special sale on ALL of Heyer's e-books.

From August 14-20, 2012, every single Heyer e-book Sourcebooks publishes will be on sale for $2.99!!

THREE DOLLARS A BOOK?! Can you believe it?! People do not miss this sale! You can peruse the full list of available titles here. At last check I have collected mass market or trade paperback copies of Heyer's regencies, so I plan on purchasing mystery and historical titles (I have some vintage copies of her mysteries that I've found in secondhand shops, but no where near a full collection).

The e-book sale will be available through Sourcebooks and online retailers such as Amazon -- remember to verify the sale price before you click download! And enjoy! Because seriously this woman's writing is priceless, and holds a special place in my heart -- her books are treasures!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I saw Salmon Fishing in the Yemen during its theatrical run, shortly after I finished reading the novel on which it is based by Paul Torday. I never got around to writing about the film after my theatrical experience, but now that this gem of a film is on DVD I intend to rectify that oversight. 

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a charmer of a film, one that takes the best aspects of the novel (to my mind, at any rate) -- the characters of Alfred and Harriet, and builds the film around how one man's radical dream leaves their lives irrevocably changed. As I mentioned in my review of the book, the Paul Torday novel is less of a traditional novel (which is what I expected when I first saw this movie's previews) and more of a biting social commentary, with some really wickedly funny, sarcastic passages lampooning government and bureaucratic red tape. The movie wisely refocuses on the character of Alfred Jones, fisheries specialist, a man who lives his life like a well-oiled clock, not a jot or dash out of place, and looks at what happens when a well-ordered scientific mind such as Alfred's encounters a man who dares to dream the impossible , one who somehow has the faith that Alfred can make his dream a reality. Ewan McGregor OWNS this movie. I cannot think of another actor more ideally suited to play the somewhat shy, mild-mannered Alfred whose passions only seem to be roused when someone dares to suggest an impossible task that flies in the face of scientific logic.

It is a rare book adaptation that improves upon its source material, but I would argue that director Lasse Hallstrom and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (the latter responsible for scripting the intimate, character-driven Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and the eagerly anticipated big-screen adaptation of Catching Fire) have done just that. While retaining much of Torday's biting humor and sarcasm, they've managed to craft an intimate, character-driven piece that examines what happens when one man challenges the world to believe the impossible -- and what happens when a straight-laced, logic-driven man such as Alfred finds his worldview challenged, left wanting, and is left with the choice of how to respond. 

The role of Dr. Alfred Jones, fisheries specialist, is tailor-made for Ewan McGregor's acting strengths, and for my money it's one of the best performances of his career. In the wrong hands Alfred could become a caricature, a cardboard cut-out of a straight-laced academic whose lack of vision and social skills are played for nothing more than laughs. And while the script it saturated with warmth and genuine humor, it is McGregor's performance that imbues Alfred with life and vibrancy, heartache and hope. When Alfred first receives -- and quickly dismisses -- Harriet Chetwold-Talbot's e-mail detailing her client's vision of bringing salmon fishing to the friggin' Yemen (he'd rather work on his oh-so-exciting Caddis fly paper), he little realizes that Sheikh Muhammed's dream will turn his life on its ear. Alfred is stuck...he has his work, his straight-laced, buttoned-up work clothes (the vests!), and the routine of a marriage that has long since lost anything resembling a spark. 

Alfred and his wife Mary (Rachael Stirling) may share a name and a home but live very separate lives. I typically like Stirling as an actress so seeing her in the pretty much completely unsympathetic role of Mary is something of a jolt. But she carries off the ice queen quality the role requires with aplomb. Stirling should be a familiar face to Masterpiece Mystery fans -- she's appeared in Poirot, Miss Marple, and Inspector Lewis episodes, and earlier this summer she had a memorable supporting role in Snow White and the Huntsman. Now here's the thing about Alfred and Mary's marriage...I take the idea of marriage and that commitment very seriously in real life and how it is portrayed in entertainment. But going into this film I was predisposed to despising the character of Mary, because I could not STAND her in the novel. And Alfred, especially as portrayed by Ewan McGregor, NEEDS to move on with his life. Desperately. Trust me on this. :P

Harriet (Emily Blunt), the financial consultant who enlists Alfred's expertise for the fishing scheme, is everything Alfred is not. Effervescent, energetic, full of life, she's a woman unlike anyone Alfred has ever encountered. As the film opens, she is in the heady early days of a new relationship with Captain Robert Mayers (Tom Mison). Mison has appeared in both Lewis and Poirot, as well as a wholly memorable turn in the delightful skewering of Pride and Prejudice that is Lost in Austen, where he played Mr. Bingley. He's adorable. Scant weeks into their relationship, Robert receives orders sending him to Afghanistan. The deployment alone is stressful enough for the whirlwind "in love" couple, but when Robert is reported missing in action Harriet's fear over the potential loss and guilt over not knowing him well enough threaten to consume her -- a threaten to set her on a path of settling for the less risky, more conventional, safer option -- something with which Alfred is all too familiar. 

Blunt is one of my favorite up-and-coming British actresses. In everything from The Young Victoria to the off-beat and quirky Wild Target, she brings a poise and sensitivity to her performances that just light up the screen. As Harriet she's positively luminous. Like a moth to a flame, as their acquaintance develops Alfred cannot help but be drawn to her -- and to the character's credit that is as far it goes. His marriage may be on the brink of imploding, but Alfred is a very deliberate individual here, one who doesn't undertake any action or change lightly -- and that ultimately is one of his best attributes. McGregor and Blunt have a wonderful on-screen chemistry -- from their characters' early meetings where he gripes and she teases, to the later moments where they've both learned to listen and value and appreciate one another, they bring a subtle, nuanced maturity to the story unfolding on-screen. One of my favorite moments is when Alfred shows up at Harriet's apartment shortly after she's received the news about Robert's disappearance. She's sure he's come to "bully her" back to work, when in reality he's brought her a sandwich because he's worried she's not eating well. Adorable? I DIE, IT'S SO ADORABLE. Unlike her physical relationship with Robert, Harriet's relationship with Alfred is built on getting to know each other at a much deeper level, a friendship that holds the possibility of something more, a slow burn all to rarely seen in films today -- and I loved that. 

Much hinges on the role of Sheikh Muhammed, the man whose dream is responsible for upending Alfred's life. The sheikh is brought to life by Amr Waked, an Egyptian actor I'm more than a little in love with following his turn in this film. I loved Waked's portrayal of the sheikh's passionate belief in his dream and vision, and his calm manner and extraordinary sensitivity. But best of all, the way in which this film develops the friendship between Alfred and the sheikh is just superb. On the surface the two men couldn't be more dissimilar -- but with the entree of a shared passion for fishing, an understanding of that world, the shiekh slowly earns Alfred's trust, respect, and admiration. Needless to say I couldn't be happier that the film substantially revises the ending of the novel since I love Waked's performance so much. :)

While this film is first and foremost a hearfelt character study, the script doesn't neglect Torday's wickedly funny political jibes. The novel's male Press Office of the Prime Minister agent is re-written for a female -- and as such Kristin Scott Thomas delivers a scene-stealing performance. She is hilarious as the cutthroat politico. She's larger-than-life, oft-times ridiculous, and perfect character vehicle for conveying Torday's biting send-up of government ridiculousness. *wink* Conleth Hill also delivers another scene-stealing performance as Alfred's much-loathed boss Bernard Sugden. Hill is perfectly cast as Sugden and spot-on in his portrayal of the character's sheer laziness. Absolutely hilarious!

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a beautifully-constructed film. The color palette, the cinematography, the gorgeous shots of Morocco as a stand-in for the Yemen -- this film is a visual feast. Dario Marianelli delivers a beautifully-rendered, emotive score -- a must-have in my opinion for any fan of this composer's work. While some might find the film a bit slow-paced, I loved it, and to my mind it doesn't miss a beat -- every scene, each line of dialogue, every nuance of the performances are woven together to create a beautiful, wholly absorbing, heartrending and poignant film.

This film took my best takeaway from the novel -- the power and importance of belief and dreams to one's life -- and ran with it. On his most unusual journey to see the sheikh's dream realized, Alfred must confront the question of his very identity and who he wants to be. Can he change, can he risk trying? Or is his future programmed into his very DNA? Expectations versus dreams, belief, and how the very idea of hope can be a powerful, transformative force in one's life -- if we let it in. Without a doubt one of my favorite films of the year.