Wednesday, October 31, 2012

HAPPY HALLOWE'EN: an ode to 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'

Sidney Paget

First Off: a little review and then Hound rambles forevermore......

Our Holmes: Peter Cushing
Our Watson: Andre Morrell
Our Henry Baskerville: Lord Sauron
Our Hound: Marmaduke

This is not the worst Hound of the Baskervilles out there (Hello Matt Frewer and Kenneth Walsh); but it’s certainly not great either.  While it is atmospheric (in a technicolour-same-sets-and-costumes-as-Bonanza kind of way), it fails to emote any sheer terror. I am all for campy and I think that is where this best fits in.  Hammer productions was renowned for providing cinema adaptations of some of the greatest horror and thriller stories of all time ( often starring Cushing and Christopher Lee) and I think this is just one more case where they tried to evoke an atmosphere and slightly failed.  This Hound is not scary. Now, let’s face it, with the exception of the psychological terror we experience thanks to fog machines and good lighting and a modern premise in the BBC adaptation, few have actually seen a scary version of Hound.  The Richard Roxburgh “Hound” won’t keep you up at night.  The Jeremy Brett? Well, egads. Enough about that. The Basil Rathbone? Okay, dude, the Rathbone enterprise drives me bonkers. WHY? Because the Watson is useless. Nigel Bruce, you suck.

It is not particularly creepy; but it tries. It’s also not bad on the faithfulness front.

I don’t fault this version for its lack of provoked eeriness.  It does throw an “Elementary, My dear Watson” in and mentions Holmes’ “two pipe” (instead of notorious “three pipe” ) problem. There is little to no chemistry between  Watson and Holmes but that is part and parcel of extracting one view from the Canon. Those, indeed, are faults that a purist notes. They also played a lot with Miss Stapleton’s role and strayed far from canon.  The idea of spousal abuse might not have been as easy to film in the 1950s, perhaps.  The best part of this adaptation ( and why it is heralded as a pivotal adaptation) is in its conceptualization of Watson. No longer is he seen as the bumbling Watson of yore ( think Nigel Bruce, think Howard Marion Crawford in the 1954 TV series starring Ronald Howard); but rather as a deductive and intelligent individual in his own right. In short, as Watson is in the book.  

Prior to this, Hollywood and Television belief was that in order to draw in an audience, you needed to provide as many ingredients of a fascinating and entertaining tale as possible. Sherlock could provide the smarts and the wits and the super-brain, the tales themselves could provide the thrills and the Watson could provide the comic buffoonery.  This is before, I believe, they realized that the quiet balance between the two minds was indeed enough to draw in a thinking audience.  One need not sacrifice Watson for the ill-founded belief that a guy with his figurative foot-in-the-bucket is what is needed to generate appeal.  If this was so, why did thousands of people flock to the newsstands to buy the Strand upon its publication?

I think part of the beauty of  The Hound of the Baskervilles and the testament to its long-lasting appeal is that it is shaped around an oral narration.  The curse of the Baskervilles and the legend of the Hound has been passed down from generation to generation in the kind of story that flickers candles on a stormy eve and makes things go “bump” in the night.  You, of course, are deliciously scared when this occultish tale is spun by Dr. Mortimer at the beginning of the novella and  yet, on screen?  It’s hard to get to that deliciously creepy feeling as it tickles up your arms and causes you to look  behind your shoulder.
Sir Benedict as Sherlock on the moors in BBC "Hounds"

The brilliance of Hound is that it separates Holmes and Watson.  Watson, now more than ever, is our intrepid and trusty guide. It is Watson who , with service revolver ready, follows Sir Henry to Baskerville Hall and hellish Dartmoor.  It is Watson who encounters and theorizes the extent of the villainy of Stapleton and the outlaw-on –the-moors Selden.  Holmes works behind the scenes waiting, instead, for a self-proclaimed unneeded and grand entrance.  Often, film-makers find this a bit of a Catch-22.  While they are eager to adapt and visualize the most famous tale of the Canon; they are confronted with the very real fact that condensing this piece means sacrificing what little time the hero of the tale actually has in the story.  People want to see Sherlock Holmes deduce things and yet the story is very much an exploration of Watson’s endeavours to utilize Holmes’ methods when left on his own.

The novel is also brilliant in its mesmerizing marriage of detective thriller and horror story.  Those with a devoted interest to Conan Doyle know that he was absolutely obsessed with the Occult and the Supernatural.  He researched and practiced the New Age, believed in fairies (!!) and sĂ©ances and was quite into all of this dreaded and spiritual stuff. As such, he is able to infuse his story with elements quite unexplainable to the untrained and naked eye.  To further this, he is able to clash his own beliefs in the extraordinary with his creation’s absolute certainty that nothing beyond the possible can exist.  Everything must have data, be circumscriptive to logistics and rationality.  Coupling his passion for the occult with his sleuth’s obvious disdain for anything that cannot be reasoned away provides added delight for the reader.

Perhaps the most pervading delight for the 1902 reader was the return of Sherlock Holmes.  The last they had seen him he had been thrown off the Reichenbach Falls by his nemesis Moriarty and eulogized in a postscript by Watson.  Modern Holmesians recognize that these intermittent years just make up the Great Hiatus; but readers of the long-awaited return believed this to be yet another memoir of a time set before Holmes’ death.  For many, who had worn black arm bands (across continents) and wrote threatening letters to Doyle, this was a much-needed glimpse back into a world they were starving for.

Sidney Paget
To show amends perhaps, and fair justice to his North American fans ( who were quite vocal and passionate), Doyle did well in including a North American in his tale: the Canadian Henry Baskerville who is much the same level of hero in the tale as Watson or Holmes.  Doyle is (perhaps) showing an olive branch for murdering the dear literary love of many; but also recognizing his success rested largely on other continents than his own.

 This Hallowe’en ---in the midst of the Frankenstorm that is shaking our tree limbs to tap on window panes, the lights to flicker and the rain to fall on the pavement illuminated by sleek streetlamps, it is the ideal time to light a few candles and curl up with this amazing story.  You can search to the ends of the earth to find a televised or film version  of it that will evoke the same giddy delights awaiting those who turn its creepy pages for the first time: you will come up with naught.  This is the story of the Canon because it is a marriage of all that is wonderful about the Holmes stories ,yes, but also contains the elements of the genres that keep us craving more narrative similarities: thriller, mystery, psychological horror. 
From "The Hound of the Baskervilles" graphic novel

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

At Home in Drayton Valley by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Hello fair readers,

The end of October crept up on me quite quickly ( and in quite the blustery fashion) and I realized I had not had a chance to finish the new Kim Vogel Sawyer before the end of the month. 
For shame! 

But, you can't all wait for me to finish in order to learn about it....that's not fair.... not to you! 

From the Publisher:
Fed up with the poor quality of life in 1880 New York, Tarsie Raines encourages her friends Joss and Mary Brubacher to move with their two children to Drayton Valley, Kansas, a booming town hailed in the guidebook as the land of opportunity. She offers to help with expenses and to care for Mary and the children as they travel west by wagon train. But when tragedy strikes on the trip across the prairie, Tarsie is thrown into an arrangement with Joss that leaves both of them questioning God and their dreams for the future.

Readers of Christian Fiction are quite  familiar with Kim Vogel Sawyer's excessively readable narrative style and keen eye for the places and personages in a myriad of historical settings. 
I am sure a lot of readers are experiencing the same gusty, windy, rainy, wet, horrible weather that we are in Toronto at the moment.  Power-permitting, take a moment to plant this puppy on your kindle. Then, go and put the kettle on.

I received this book for review from Graf-Martin Communications on behalf of Bethany House. There is NO reason I have not completed it other than the fact that I have been reading up a superstorm (too soon?) of other books and the end of the month came very quickly.

Visit Kim Vogel Sawyer on the web

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Giveaway: "Sacred Treason" by James Forrester

From the Publisher: The romance and intrigue of Tudor England didn’t end with Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth I was constantly wary of plots against her reign, especially from Catholic followers of her sister, Mary. But how far would she go to secure her place on the throne?

 Inspired by real documents discovered in the British National Archives, the book was published in the U.K. to wide acclaim. Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl, said, “I like this novel intensely. … James Forrester captures the sights, smells and dangers of Tudor England and tells a gripping story.” Sourcebooks is excited to be releasing Sacred Treason for the first time in the U.S. and Canada.

It’s 1563, and rumors against the young Queen Elizabeth have plunged the country in a state of fear and suspicion. Despite being descended from treasonous Catholic lineage, William Harley has managed to earn the high-ranking position in the queen’s court, until a late-night knock on the door changes his life.

A friend visits William, begging him to hide a puzzling manuscript. It seems harmless, but as William begins to unravel the clues inside, he realizes that he’s been entrusted with a dangerous secret about the queen’s mother, Anne Boleyn – one that could tear his family, and the country, apart.

James Forrester (pen name of prominent British historian Ian Mortimer) evokes all of the passion and intrigue of a consistently spell-binding era pairing fiction with deft historical aptitude. While I haven't quite finished this novel (I'm a tad behind on my reading), what I have read has been exceptionally compelling.  I very much enjoy fiction set in this time period and anyone who is a fan of Philippa Gregory and Hilary Mantel will not be disappointed.  I am pleased to offer a COPY of SACRED TREASON to one reader in Canada or the US.  Simply tell me why you love Tudor History in the comments section below and I will randomly draw a name.

Please visit the other tour stops:
10/11: Turning the Pages
10/12: Laura’s Reviews
10/14: The Girdle of Melian
10/15: Maiden’s Court
10/16: Book Journey
10/22: Broken Teepee
10/24: Radiant Light

visit James Forrester on the web

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes" by David Stuart Davies

You guys. This book.

 You think it is about the making of the Granada SherlockHolmes. More still, the making of Jeremy Brett as the definitive Sherlock Holmes (many Holmesians believe this, including myself, though he is now closely rivaled by Benedict Cumberbatch). What it truly is, at its center, is an exposition of Jeremy’s strong battle with manic depression and his bravery and courage in trying to eradicate the stigma involved as a sort of involuntary advocate. Because the book is largely couched in incidents involving the Granada series: its conception and its development and subsequent airing, it is not a biography of Jeremy Brett the actor; rather an exploration of how Jeremy Brett the manic-depressive actor was able to use the slight eccentricities synonymous with his illness to craft a brilliant Sherlock Holmes.

For those fans of the Granada series, like myself, who have sat with the Canon open on your lap while you compare it to the action on the screen, the “behind the scenes” information given here is delightful.  One of my favourite parts of this facet of the book was the exploration of the relationship between Jeremy Brett and his first “Watson”, David Burke, then, secondly his second “Watson”, Edward Hardwicke.  The latter became more Watson-like than ever in his support of his ill friend who, often under the influence of drugs (lithium to quell the manic-depression) was in ill-health and high and low spirits.  

The author, whose own work was optioned for presentation by Granada when the Conan Doyle stories were wearing thin and they were exploring the realm of pastiche, has a remarkable passion for the material ( both the source material and its adaptation) and a wealth of conversational transcripts from all involved in the making of the series: including Jeremy Brett, David Burke and Edward Hardwicke.   I especially enjoyed the moments surrounding a play mounted starring Brett and Hardwicke which strained their relationship and Brett’s health while he tried to dig deeper still into the canyons of his fictional obsession.

You cannot really call this book a biography because it does not give a thorough account of Jeremy’s life and, though it is centered on his years as Holmes, speaks more to his portrayal and how is illness influenced this portrayal for better or worse.  It’s more an homage to a great idea excavated and enacted by a  brilliant man who was at times tortured by the creation he assimilated to and at other times soared on the wings of the narcissistic and manic creativity of Conan Doyle’s icon. 

Sherlockians will love the information provided on the careful re-tellings of the works by Granada and its producers.  For example, Brett and his colleagues worked painstakingly to create a sort of “bible” of canonical references: everything that Sherlock and Watson were referenced to be eating, wearing, thinking and doing within the 56 short stories and 4 novels.  This, and other careful attentions to historical detail, are largely why the series is so highly regarded by Sherlockians and academics alike. 

What struck me most about this story, however, was ( as mentioned) the true nature of manic depression and the absolutely horrific symptoms torturing its sufferers.  Many are well aware of how Jeremy Brett experienced hefty weight gain during the filming of some of the Sherlock installments.  This was a result of the lithium side-effect of water retention and often he (this is sounding crass) had to be drained of the excess fluid while still not getting down to his normal size.  For a vain actor playing a sinewy and lanky icon, this was more than disparaging. At points in the series, Brett’s heart had swelled to twice its size, again a ramification of the medication he was on. He was so unwell that he had to sit in a wheelchair between scenes.  But, more severe than the physical symptoms was the mental repression and depression.  Davies recounts numerous conversations where Jeremy was obviously experiencing an episode of illness and how is acute mental faculties (not unlike those of the character he famously played) were plagued and distilled and frenzied by his mental incapacities.   Further still, that it so wholly tortured a man who was but 61 upon his death.

 Mental illness is a trying and horrible and isolating thing.  It is made more so here as it ravages the talent of someone so well-suited to play an iconic literary hero. It saddens me that someone who, to my knowledge, understood Sherlock Holmes in a way few of us do was so wrought with tragedy during his portrayal of him.   To say Jeremy Brett is a brilliant actor is an understatement when you, like me, grew up seeing him absolutely embody the role and encompass all that made Holmes so unique.  What is interesting further and what Davies explores in a winning and intellectual (and often funny and touching way) is how Jeremy Brett’s illness provided an almost ironic edge to his ability to play Sherlock Holmes.  Holmes, to many, is one who suffers from some kind of illness: Cumberbatch’s Holmes is mentioned as being a “high-functioning sociopath” where other critics have mentioned Asperger’s when studying him, to say nothing of the universal belief that he was plagued with some sort of social compulsion or disorder. Having a mentally-tortured soul whose illness caused him to see-saw from great moods of high-energy and mental exultation to low, lethargic moments of depression and drug-abuse ( in Brett’s case, the abuse was prescribed by medical professionals and caused numerous allergic reactions) play a character who exemplifies the same mental traits is a good, if sorrowful match.  Those who have immersed themselves in the canon for lengths of time know how difficult it is to be engulfed by Holmes and his remarkable mood swings.  He will be high and happy and floating on air, his brain capacity filled with deductive reasoning and logic; only to be brought down, inflated, to the ground: surrounded by pillows, drawing long breaths on his pipe, the cocaine syringe not far from his reach: ostracizing Watson and the world around him.

There is a true marriage of geniuses here plagued by mental instability. 

As a sufferer of mental illness ( I speak to my anxiety disorder and OCD on the blog here sometimes), I am always moved and challenged by the plights of fellow sufferers who, though not perhaps diagnosed with same illness, are plagued by some of the over-arching and over-lapping symptoms and consequences.   I was loaned a book called A First-Rate Madness which delves into the links between mental illness, leadership and art.  Indeed, artists and leaders and gloriously eccentric personages are more likely to be sufferers (diagnosed or not) of some facet of mental illness.  I think we can safely assume that Holmes was one of these sufferers, if fictional, whereas Jeremy Brett certainly was.

Later, when I can handle revisiting this book, which moved me far more than expected and cast a bit of a shadow over the past few days: so distressed was I at reading of such suffering on a fellow human (egads! Jeremy Brett or not, this is to try the water works, friends!), I will have a post just involving my favourite quotes of the book.  There are great conversations and quotes herein and wonderful anecdotes.  I found myself highlighting something every few pages!  While the general populous will be bored out of their tree, my fellow Sherlockians will clap and gasp and “ooo!” and “ahhh!”

For a long while, Bending the Willow was incredibly hard to find and the Amazon used marketplace sellers listed it at over 1000.00.  Now, it is available on kindle. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"The Giant Mechanical Man"

Dear Rachel,

You have to stop watching the film The Giant Mechanical Man which you rented from itunes on Ruth’s suggestion.  You saw it once.  It was great and quirky and whimsical and it redeemed Chris Messina (much as the Mindy Project is doing) from being nothing other than the Guy Who Never Closes His Mouth When He Chews in Julie and Julia (that time when your Mom turned to you ---when you were at home on Christmas holidays and had rented it with the folks---to describe as “cute; but what a pig!”) and Jenna Fischer is as per the norm adorable and it is refreshingly romantic in a thoughtful and real way; but you must stop watching it. 

Like, seriously.  You aren’t just going back to scan over your favourite scenes; you’re going back to the beginning and watching all 1 hour and 39 minutes of it. Again. You’ve watched it four times since Sunday.  Now, you DO live on your own so having the television for company while eating dinner is usual for you; but this has to stop.  You need to go and explore other films of the same ilk.

What? You say you want to keep living in its world: a world of polar bears at the zoo while Jenna F. eats baby carrots out of a Ziploc and Chris Messina (being  approaches her ever so gently and falls deeper into crush-dom?  You say you want to live in that moment where the two of them share an ENTIRE pie at 12:20 at a diner ( you checked the diner clock ) after a party where they fell a little more in love while trying on a random pair of sunglasses?  What, you want a guy who will sit and WATCH A SILENT FILM FESTIVAL with you? 

Okay, so maybe it’s the quiet romance between the quirky, geeky and eccentric artist-man and the shy and soft-spoken woman who no longer WANTS TO SELL GORILLA GRAPE JUICE NEAR THE MONKEY CAGE AT THE ZOO that sets your heart racing.

But you have to stop watching it.  Like, now.  Despite its sarcastic and sardonic take on the world as a mechanical motion wherein we are clogs and toggles and widgets forced to meander along ---only saved by the hope of someone completing our vacant thoughts—Despite its co-starring of Topher Grace as an idiotically wonderful author of vapid Conversation books who propels his ego forward with knit cable turtleneck sweaters and a bad haircut--- Despite its resurgence of a heroine who is finally able to stand up for herself.

Desist, damn you, desist and go and read or write something and STOP counting the hours at work so you can make a quick duck to the gym before making dinner to watch it again.

You can’t keep renting it on itunes. Your VISA card is not forgiving.

Just buy the stupid thing and get it over with, perhaps.  Then, if you really need to, you can watch it every night.

dammit! the cuteness is killing me

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Poll: The Most Boring Sherlock Holmes Adventure

When I was in high school, I read the Sherlock Holmes stories to friggin' bare threads ( as most of you readers know).  At this point, I didn't own them, so I would sign out every edition from my school and public library (props, little Orillia, props!) and then return them and sign out ANOTHER edition. Because I was a badass at that.

Anyway, I would start at the beginning ( and by the beginning I mean A Scandal in Bohemia, because, face it, after Watson and Holmes move in together, the rest of A Study in Scarlet is rather boring and Sign of Four just means Watson moves away---albeit to marry Mary Morstan -- -but still kinda sad) and read through. I didn't every really separate one of the collections (such as The Adventures from another such as The Return. They all bled into each other and I knew, I always knew, I had 56 short stories and four novels to play with. One night I remember sitting at my parent's kitchen table with carnation hot chocolate, eating english muffins with jam and just indulging. A little Sherlock feast.  I had had a long day of rehearsals (I did a lot of performance and community theatre then) and just needed some time at Baker Street.   I remember then thinking, This is AWESOME! and I made a list of some of my favourites:

1.) A Scandal in Bohemia [obvy!]
2.) The Three Garridebs [because Holmes has to tell Watson he loves him]
3.) Speckled Band  [holla!]
4.) Hound of the Baskervilles
5.) Dying Detective [because Watson almost touches that little box with the sharp syringe and ALMOST DIESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS and because I learned what belladonna is --- I had to look it up --- and because they get to go to dinner at the end]
6.) Charles Augustus Milverton [because after a cold supper: which, in my mind, was always bread and cheese and lamb and sherry ---- I was a kid, remember, I thought sherry was just THE drink, y'all], they cut out silk masks and go a-burglaring
7.) Resident Patient
8.) Solitary Cyclist
9.)Priory School  [he MADE you drop the oranges in that carafe, Watson, that was TOTES not your fault]
10.) The Veiled Lodger [Sherlock has a heart!  Her life is not her own to take! It almost sounds Christian!]
11.) The Blue Carbuncle [goose]
12.) the Empty House [ oh Holmes! you and your books about druids! also, you're a jerk face for leaving Watson out to dry after Reichenbach]
13.) Six Napoleons [guys! YOU GUYS!!! awesome Gregson and Lestrade stuff!!]

and so on and so forth .... lots of awesome and lovely stories.

Then there were the ones I liked to skip....

In his introduction to the Bantam double-set complete paperback edition, Loren D. Estleman ( the intro is called 'On the Significance of Boswells', or something of the sort, FYI, which proves he is awesome because anything Watson-esque is fine by me), he mentions that the Sherlock-centric ones --- the reminiscences and the ones devoid of Watson-ness--- are rather dull because Sherlock is just too big and broad and vain NOT to be countered by an every-man such as Watson.  One of the reasons I don't like some of the following is just that.  I need my balance. I love my Holmes; but I NEED my Watson:

1.)Musgrave Ritual [this is worth it for the Paget illustrations; but little else indeed]
2.) The Final Problem [my heart can't handle it.  Your fault, ACD, I know that you tried to kill him. Worse still, you let Watson believe he was dead.  Worse still, Sherlock went to Mycroft instead of Watson and we all know this is gonna happen in the BBC version and I will not be HAPPY! ]
3.)Bruce-Partington Plans
4.)Black Peter
5.) The Mazarin Stone [which incidentally is the worst of the Granada lot, too]
6.) Valley of Fear [this is personal opinion, kids, I know people love it]
7.) Blanched Soldier
8.) Lion's Mane

The latter two are listed ( as is the first) for precisely the reason Estleman mentions:  the Sherlock-driven stories with lack of Watson ---or, indeed, narrated by Sherlock --- are just not up to snuff when it comes to the fare I want to accompany my carnation-hot-chocolate-drinking-muffin-eating-post-high-school-community-theatre-reclusiveness-with-an-edition-or-12-from-the-library.

Anyhow, this all started because I am currently reading Bending the Willow which recounts Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Holmes in the awesome Granada series and the writer recounts how no one knew how to film The Engineer's Thumb so they never did.  While they were thinking of the mechanics of bringing this creepy story to life, I was thinking: meh!

You guys?  Weigh in, my dears.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Theatre Review: "La Cage aux Folles"

Last night I went to see “La Cage aux Folles” at the Royal Alexandra Theatre here in Toronto: arguably one of our city’s most important historical spaces.

I love the experience of being in this theatre as much as I love the shows when they begin.  You wind the red-carpeted stairs of the beguiling, century-old place and are greeted by headshots of all of the glittering and dazzling stars who have played there throughout the years.

It is, in this sense, the perfect vaudevillian and cabaret-like joint in which to set ‘La Cage’: a raunchy, raucous and surprisingly timely piece about untraditional family, owning your own person, your own space, and love in its myriad of forms.

Georges ( played here by George Hamilton ) owns a club called “ La Cage aux Folles” in St. Tropez where glittered and spangled transvestites (La Cagelles) perform nightly. Georges’ life-partner and likewise his head-liner, Albin (the awesome Christopher Sieber), is the more effeminate of the two and his glitzy lifestyle and stage presence and pizzazz of the show.

A heterosexual union resulted in Georges’ son, Jean-Michel, whose mother, showgirl Sybil, has been out of the picture for years. Thus, Georges and Albin have raised Jean-Michel lovingly (if unconventionally) and have provided him with everything he has ever wanted--- until now.  Jean-Michel has become engaged to a charming girl named Anne whose father is the head of the Morality, Family and Tradition Party (or some such): an ultra-conservative, right-wing who believes that St. Tropez should be rid of all of the transvestite houses ( La Cage notwithstanding). Jean-Michel begs his father to hide Albin for a night, repress his lifestyle to impress his fiancĂ©, and pretend for 24 hours to be a straight man in love with his wife of 20 some years.

Georges, out of love for his son, agrees. Albin, upon learning that he must be out of the picture despite the time and effort and heart he has invested in his adopted son’s raising, is rightfully crushed.

The play, then, switches between glitz and humour and laugh-out-loud antics to downright heart-wrenching.  The price of admission is worth it for Sieber singing the show’s show-stopping number “I Am What I Am” : which is an anthem of sorts for individuality and self- love. Here, also, for self-preservation.  Here, a member of a family is being forced on the outskirts to uphold societal tradition. Here, years of love and devotion are being traded for what is “seen” as appropriate behavior in a nuclear unit.  You can take this part of the show’s experience out of context--- gay, straight, regardless of race or preference, and imagine those moments when you, too, have felt that you must stand up for your originality, your uniqueness, your viewpoint, your world.

I find this piece remarkably moving and Christopher Sieber brought the house down with it.

The second act becomes a bit of a farce with an almost Neil Simon realization of vibrant people with complicated circumstances in a forced and cajoled environment.  The musical numbers are slightly more rare and the dancing antics of the Cagelles are fenced while the deeper emotional center of the story is explored.   Jean-Michel realizes his mistake in trading deep and real love for superfluous superficiality and all’s well that ends well.

Christopher Sieber, man! Christopher Sieber! He is a multiple Tony-award nominee (Spamalot, Shrek, etc.,) and he is a tour-de-force. 

Here's the Mooney on Theatre review: it's better than mine

Friday, October 12, 2012

Author Spotlight: Ali McNamara, author of "From Notting Hill with Love...Actually"

When Sourcebooks approached me about featuring Ali McNamara on my blog, I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to ask her. Her charming story From Notting Hill with Love...Actually is a perky and excessively readable homage to Romantic Comedies.  It became quite obvious that I should ask Ali McNamara what she, as an expert, felt that the three essential facets of a good romantic comedy were.

And now, I turn it over to Ali:


Humour and romance (obviously!)

Good characters

The Feel-good factor

Humour & Romance:
Obviously it’s got to be funny! If it doesn’t make you laugh it’s not rom-com its just rom, and then I’m already bored if it’s all hearts, flowers and mush. But the laughs have to come from believable situations, not clowns throwing custard pies!
Romance: Same as before, if there not any rom then it’s a dull film. Even the top action movies these days always have a little romance in them to soften the main characters and add interest to the storylines.

Good characters:
Characters you care about, but something a bit different too with the odd quirk! And it must have a bit of ‘will they/won’t they’ also, to keep you guessing for a while!

Feel-good factor: That lovely warm snuggly feeling you get at the end of a movie, or a book when everything has worked out well for the characters and you can return to your own life happy that they will be!

A great example of this is Pretty Woman with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.
Unusual quirky characters - a businessman and a prostitute. Lots of rom - the dresses, the jewellery, and Richard serenading her at the end of the movie. Much com – who could forget the ‘slippery little sucker’ as her snail went flying across the restaurant. And the feel good factor as Vivienne made good, became a lady and the couple were reunited at the end of the movie on the balcony of her apartment.

Have I managed to get all these facets into From Notting Hill with Love…Actually? I’ll let you be the judge of that… ;-)


A friend of mine loaned me a copy of the book when it was first released in its UK publication and I guarantee it is the PERFECT chicklit to turn to with a cozy blanket and a glass of chianti! Happy Reading.

My thanks to Sourcebooks for the opportunity to feature Ali McNamara on the blog

Find Ali on the web:

Ali McNamara
Twitter @AliMcNamara

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Orphan King by Sigmund Brouwer [Book One in the Merlin's Immortals Series]

From the Publisher: The future of the Immortals is in the hands of an orphan
My greatest fear was that they would find us and make of us a sacrifice beneath a full moon. Now you, Thomas, must help us destroy the circle of evil.
The last words of a dying woman would change the life of young Thomas. Raised behind monastery walls, he knows nothing of his mysterious past or imminent destiny. But now, in the heart of medieval England, a darkness threatens to strangle truth. An ancient order tightens their ghostly grip on power, creating fear and exiling those who would oppose them. Thomas is determined fulfill his calling and bring light into the mysterious world of the Druids and leaves the monastery on an important quest.
Thomas quickly finds himself in unfamiliar territory, as he must put his faith in unusual companions—a cryptic knight, a child thief, and the beautiful, silent woman whom may not be all she seems.  From the solitary life of an orphan, Thomas now finds himself tangled in the roots of both comradery and suspicion.
Can he trust those who would join his battle…or will his fears force him to go on alone?

"This told William that too much of their plan, like all battle plans, would be determined by chance.  All that was ever possible was to prepare to the fullest."
 Crusades! Knights! MERLIN! a castle called Magnus protected by flesh-eating witches! This is ultimate fantasy which just happens to be Christian. I am not altogether sure it can work as a straight allegory; because the details and figures ( shadowy and literal ) are rather convoluted at times; but I have great hopes that everything will iron out as the story continues.

Young Thomas is orphaned and alone, raised harshly by a constituent of abusive monks who abuse Thomas, the money from the poor inhabitants of the land ,greed and power.  Thomas finally escapes to fulfill his destiny; but bears the scares ----more emotional than physical--- of a religion gone wrong. What happens next is straight out of the best Quest Fantasy novels: nooses hang stretched high above the ground; the perilous plight of those bound for their capture stand fearfully by and Thomas and an unseen figure change the course of events in a speedy and resolute way.

Now, into our story, we are given moments of compellingly fantastical history: a Knight returned from Crusades, a stolen chalice, an idolized Kingdom destined to reveal secrets it harbours and a plan and plot which will allow honour, courage and bravery to abound.

The style here is mesmerizing in its galloping simplicity.  Each character is carefully and cheerfully drawn with few descriptions so that the reader can happily colour in the lines.  The banter and developing camaraderie between an unlikely band with put readers in mind of the great fantasies of yore: from Tolkien to T.H. White to the legend of Robin Hood.   The medieval world is also well-painted in periphery; without setting too much task on careful historical detail.  We learn that there is enough thread to set this in a world not unlike the past we are familiar with; while still maintaining a sort of ethereal sense of magic and sorcery.

Thomas is a likeable and believable hero and is developing attraction for the girl Isabelle is welcome; but it is William the Knight who has my heart: especially in his interactions with Thomas ---who becomes somewhat of a younger brother to him.

Readers will not be bombarded by Christian symbolism as the rewarding themes in the book tend to place overarching morals on a higher pedestal than distinctive reference.  This works well, broadens its readership and makes it a perfect addition to any young adult's library ( or adult who loves young adult books--- like me! )

I received this book for review as part of the WaterBrook "Bloggings for Books" program 

Friday, October 05, 2012

I am Thankful for BOOKS: A Happy Thanksgiving post

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for books and how they pair so well with warm quilts and a glass of red wine or a mug of tea

I am thankful for new authors and pretty covers

I am thankful for friends who share my relentless and frenzied passion for books, sentences, characters: the written word

I am thankful for the excitement of release dates, the pre-order button at Amazon, the smell of a bookstore in the Autumn twilight

I am thankful for Public Libraries and their reminder that while not more than a Century and a half ago a large amount of the global population was illiterate and now, for free, we can share realms and worlds and stratospheres of ideas and imaginings and life-changing ideals

I am thankful for Toronto: one of the literary hotspots of the world

I am thankful for Facebook and the Social Media world in general: for allowing me to connect and dialogue with authors

I am thankful for publishers who give said authors a chance

I am thankful for travel: which allows me---near and far--- to traipse in the footsteps of my favourite characters

I am thankful for paper

I am thankful for the opportunity I had to visit Trinity College this summer and its to-die-for Library

I am thankful for Eliot’s in Toronto: a massive used bookstore stuffed full with the scent of old magic.

I am thankful for the day that Jess and I went to the Strand in NYC and lost ourselves amongst the shelves

I am thankful for that moment in London when I spotted an early edition of Jane Eyre

I am thankful for Great Expectations  and Les Miserables  and how they force me to rethink my sense of moral fibre every day, hour, minute

I am thankful for a brain that lets me distill and regurgitate quotes and ideas and universal truths from print to practice

I am thankful for The Blue Castle, Horatio Lyle, Christy, Martha Grimes and Lynn Austin and Patrick O’Brian --- all of my favs and the people who help me infuse my passion in way, shape, form

I am thankful for the visionary adapters who bring my favourite stories timelessly compelling to life.

I am thankful for books. Past, present, future.