Friday, September 30, 2011

The Doctor's Lady by Jody Hedlund

If you enjoyed Delia Parr’s Heart’s Awakening (an exceptionally quiet romance blossoming between two people who value mutual respect above physical chemistry and passion) and if you spent your teen years, like me, re-reading Janette Oke’s tales of the Canadian West where headstrong and bookish Elizabeth persuaded us through captivating narrative that we should all follow a red-coated Mountie like Wynn should we be fortunate enough, like she, to fall in his path: then you will love The Doctor’s Lady.

This is a smart Christian romance featuring a woman who acts on her calling.  Given time, circumstance and legalistic views of the 19th Century, she has to somewhat tweak what she feels led to do; but still follows her instinct and God’s command with aplomb.

Beautiful Priscilla White holds a steadfast desire to serve God while simultaneously hiding a secret that could shame her family and mar her future.  She knows in her soul that missions is her driving force; but, due to the regulations of the time, she cannot do Mission’s work without a husband.  Certain no one will marry her and uncertain wedded bliss is part and parcel of her calling, she is surprised when Dr. Eli Ernest proposes a marriage of convenience. She will not get to serve the heathen in India as she so long desired; but she will get to see first hand the fruits of the labour of a passionate doctor who railed and worked against all odds in order to find and carve his own calling to build a mission and hospital for the Nez Perce. In order to reach their destination, a gruelling, months-long ordeal from New York to Oregon Country is in store.

Not unlike scenes in Courting Morrow Little where good-natured Christ-followers are pitted against harsh elemental environs and hostile reception, so Dr.Ernest and his beautiful, resolute wife learn to respect and grow within the confines of their unique union.

As an unabashed romantic, I quite enjoyed the moments that proved both were not completely immune to the other’s physical presence, sparkle, charm…

This is not by any means a conventional romance and it does well at asserting and valuing a higher calling beyond that of the traditional domestic sphere. Thus, the chemistry and tension between the two well-paired individuals in our “marriage of convenience” do not expect any more than fulfilling their duty. More, when they are rewarded, in even the slightest ways, so the reader is: we revel and joy in their conviction, their unwavering stance and their symbolic representation of good and fortitude in the face of uncertainty.

There are many instances where the marriage of convenience plot can turn into a ripe cliché; but due to the unique structure of the story, Hedlund’s well-informed research and the gentle and believable way the characters prove malleable in twining and tweaking their camaraderie with each other all the while fulfilling their passions, this seems fresh.  Hedlund also does well at featuring  Priscilla’s dedication and calling as equal to Eli Ernest’s.  In so many cases, fictionally and otherwise, women are supposed to take the back seat to the male calling: to follow blindly and to shelve their own personal ideals and convictions to greater serve the dominant male.   

We all know that God speaks to both men and women and no calling is either than the other, regardless of sex. Therefore, while Priscilla had to (as mentioned, due to the confines of circumstance and the structure of 19th Century ideals)  somewhat tweak her initial passion for India, she was resolute in her calling as a missionary and God Bless Eli Ernest for recognizing that a female’s calling is as potent as a man’s! Hedlund's message speaks greatly to the power of women to change circumstance and this undercurrent motive reminded me a lot of Lynn Austin's ongoing thesis: and you KNOW how high a statement that is in my books :-)

Hedlund’s author’s note informs us that Priscilla White’s story is informed by the  remarkable adventures of Narcissa Whitman.  The book is so adventurous, moving and beguiling, I can just imagine what a biography of Whitman would read like! For now, I offer great thanks to Jody Hedlund for spreading the limelight on a story of personal discovery, endurance and love: in all forms.

I have heard remarkable things about The Preacher's Bride  and so this author is again on my list for the very near future.

My thanks to Bethany House for the review copy.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Litfuse Blog Tour: The Heiress by Susan May Warren

Today is a bit of a first on the blog as I introduce the first novel I have reviewed here by Susan May Warren.  This is not my first Warren book, however; but my first historical.

A little about Susan May Warren, one of the best-loved writers in the Christian market:

 Susan May Warren is an award-winning, best-selling author of over twenty-five novels, many of which have won the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, the ACFW Book of the Year award, the Rita Award, and have been Christy finalists. After serving as a missionary for eight years in Russia , Susan returned home to a small town on Minnesota ’s beautiful Lake Superior shore where she, her four children, and her husband are active in their local church.

Susan's larger than life characters and layered plots have won her acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. A seasoned women’s events and retreats speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!. She is also the founder, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice.

Susan makes her home in northern Minnesota , where she is busy cheering on her two sons in football, and her daughter in local theater productions (and desperately missing her college-age son!)

The Heiress is the first historical novel I have read by Susan May Warren.  Similar to the award-winning novel, She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell, The Heiress is set in the Gilded Age and features a heroine torn between her high society standing and recognizing the tarnished edges beneath the sheen of society’s gloss.

Retelling the story of Jacob and Esau, the novel (the first in the Daughters of Fortune trilogy) spins the tale of high-spirited Esme: the eldest daughter, the first to lay claim to birthright.  Esme follows closely the news unraveling in the tenements and the slums of the cities and remains captivated by the surge of female journalists way-laying their traditional domestic role and by the photos of social documenter Jacob Riis. Esme is desperate to rip away from her father’s newspaper empire and craft a journalist’s life of her own: leaving parties and corsets behind.

Jinx, the youngest, envies her sister’s birthright: most so when a devastating family secret looms near enough to prove she should have right of succession. Beguiled by parties, social outings and the near-looming presence of the wealthy match intended for her elder sister, Jinx wallows in envy: learns the ways of a social flirt and excels at being the opposite to Esme’s social conscious and moral compass.

No two sisters could be more unlike and yet when their separate plots spin wayward, we begin to realize the similarities in their passions, love and plights. While Esme loves the butler’s son, Oliver: a ruffian who lives in Hell’s Kitchen to better understand and unmask the social depravity therein;  Jinx falls in love with a man forbidden her: an emblem of wealth and prosperity made problematic due to the care and attentiveness Jinx is unused to and its clash with her own sense of worthlessness.

Family secrets, violence, underhanded deeds and the claim on birthright propel the story in a fast-paced waltz symbolic of the lavish gatherings these characters populate.

I couldn’t help but think of Downton Abbey or the Foryste Saga while reading this family soap opera.  There is high melodrama here including a rather poorly set up case of mistaken identity in a nightly tryst : it was questionable moments like this that not only made me feel less and less empathy for the lead characters; but also recalled some of Tracie Peterson’s dime-novel tactics (remember the evil/good twins Chase and Jayce in one of the Alaska series?).

I have read a contemporary chicklit of Warren’s and found it rather diverting and pleasant and plotted out.   I count the aforementioned questionable writing methods as rookie mistakes in the historical vein and have high hopes for the series; for I really think she has enough of the captivating story-teller about her to smooth out any glitches in subsequent novels. Thus, I do recommend this book highly, despite its inaugural hiccups.

As mentioned, I found the characters in the novel very hard to empathize with: made more so by the penchant the author has for intruding with historical detail that does not ingrain itself with verisimilitude or sensibility; rather is mushed into dialogue: choppy and uneven. By mid-novel complaints I had of pages and pages of set-up dialogue (often terse, loquacious and inserted as a method of double, no, triple checking that we followed what period she was writing in and the idiosyncrasies therein) tapered off slightly and Warren found her stride.

So, we are told rather than shown of Esme and Jinx’s conflicting beliefs, of their opposing natures and, near middle, of their similar circumstance.  Warren does well at pitting one against society while showing the other’s weakness at the prospect of losing the comfortable lifestyle she is accustomed to.

I must give an upgrade to the book due to the winsome heroes:  Bennett, Jinx’s eventual suitor, is a kind and flawed man who sees the worth beyond her family fortune and upscale name. Oliver holds a torch for Esme for years and watches in periphery as she is catapulted into a life expected by her family.

This is high melodrama; but I do commend Warren on her spicy and sensual approach to the relationships painted in the novel. There is moral fibre, yes, but not at the expense of humanity.  Not unlike Laura Frantz's portrayal of young and vibrant physical relationships and passion in Courting Morrow Little, as one example.  I enjoy that Warren infuses her work with this vitality and, even though her fiction is set in a Christian sphere, I find this enhances its believability and readability.

I appreciate the rather passionate undertones of the book and Warren’s knack for description. She has a way of alluding to the physical in a few, slight words and the book, at times, and given its spicy tone, is well-handled by her talent: leaving  you with just enough to paint in the imaginative blanks in your mind’s eye. I only wish this, one of her obvious strengths, was the same measure taken when painting her historical canvas.

The first in a series full of danger, mystery, social conditioning, tangled love, secrets and betrayal--- enough to make me want to follow through the end and to lose myself in the escapist world of horseless carriages, crinoline and afternoon tennis matches, yachts and dinner parties once more.

I'll be checking out more of Susan May Warren's books and I hope you do, too!

There is a sneak peek chapter on Susan's website so you can get a feel of the story!
Make sure you check out Susan's blog here
You can order the book on amazon!

Also, AWESOME contest care of LITFUSE:  make sure you visit their website for detailsEnter to win an opulent Gilded Age prize pack fit for an heiress in Susan May Warren’s fun giveaway ($100 to, iPod Shuffle, Pearls, Titanic, Music & More!)!

There, you will also find the listings for the full blog tour so that you can read what others think about The Heiress!

My thanks to Litfuse for allowing me to take part in this exciting tour and for the copy of this exciting new novel!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Live Loved: Experiencing God's Presence in Everyday Life

You know those points in life when Christians wish they had a really, really special gift book? Water Baptisms,  Missions Trips, hardships or illness, a young member of the congregation stepping out of the nest and moving to a new town or city for school...

Live Loved is basically the answer to a myriad of these situations.  Superficially, its presentation: (hardcover, complete with ribboned bookmark and page to denote who the gift is for) supplies it the touches needed to sign, with love and share...

On the inside, the book is rapt with the gentle, scripture-based guidance and wisdom we love from Max Lucado and which I also speak to here.

Relevant and amusing anecdotes precede each kernel of love-empowered wisdom ensuring that the reader has the small challenge, mantra or encouragement needed while wrapped in a snuggly cup of hot chocolate or a warm embrace to urge them on.  Insert Lucado's flashes of downright humour (i.e., on Gomer: "She had the fidelity code of a prairie jackrabbit") and your short, devotional-sized readings are complete with the pick-me-up, or jolt of caffeine needed to see you through bleak days.

I cannot think of a person, Christian or not, coming from a wide spectrum of circumstances  who would evade a chance of a daily reminders of unconditional love.  Lucado has a subtle and grace-filled way of presenting the Gospel that makes it easy, accessible, and medicinally just like a spoon-full-of-sugar.

Whether you decide to look this up to give as a gift (really. it makes a good one) or you selfishly (maybe not so selfishly) decide that this would best suit your bookshelf...  fans of Max Lucado and devotees of Devotionals will not be disappointed.

My sincere thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing this book.

You can find it on amazon ( in hardcover or for your kindle!) or
Make sure to visit Max Lucado's website

Monday, September 26, 2011

Theatre Review: Billy Elliot

Last month, I attended Billy Elliot at the Canon theatre with three amazing girlfriends. We got dolled up, we spent the night at the theatre and then went for a nice dinner.

It was refreshing.

The plot of Billy Elliot will be familiar to many due to the success of the Academy Award nominated film starring Jamie Bell.  Here, the structure is very much the same: during the union miner’s strikes of the mid-1980s, a young lad caught in the midst of turbulent violent riots finds escape when he tumbles into a girls’ dance class.  Billy stays late after boxing one week, is immediately pressed into dance by an outgoing teacher and continues to find a side of himself he never knew he had.

This graceful mode of expression greatly clashes with the hyper masculine world of abuse, pride and tough-as-nails grit that he sees in his role models: his father, brother and the other miners in the impoverished community.  The developing relationship between Billy and his widower father as well as his dad’s willingness to sacrifice his pride and way of life to cross the picket line and secure his son’s future was heart-breaking.

At stake is a way of life that the Thatcher government would shake forever. On a micro-level, so Billy’s somewhat foreign interest will force his father, brother and his community to embrace a form of art and expression previously unknown to them.

This emotionally potent story is told through the rock music of Elton John and through a physical landscape that marries a myriad of dance forms (from tap to break to ballet) against a highly –energized, gritty and sensual backdrop.   The clash of grace and grit, the physical embodiment of a kid’s lashings of anger against a system to which he is unwilling victim and the trip to the prim and proper National Ballet School were rendered realistic, poignant and driven by excellent choreography and an exceptional cast.

It is Billy’s show, as the eponymous lead, and the 12 year old actor who defined his role was required to throw himself wholly into his role.  This he did with aplomb.  It was fascinating and spell-binding to watch a kid so young with such prodigious talent.  Billy was not the only one: the supporting cast of kids, especially, was ripe with burgeoning talent.

Billy exceeded all expectations; but the show itself did not. Throughout the globe, this production has garnered numerous awards: Tonys and Oliviers, to name a few--- in Toronto the build-up to Billy's opening was highly anticipated and the cast and crew and long-running production have gleaned raves. That being said, Billy: the musical did not live quite up to the hype it was given.  The cast, as mentioned, was near flawless; the choreography extremely innovative,  but the music was not memorable and the book seemed to rip what must have been the biggest score moments of its film source.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

RIP CHALLENGE: Case Histories Ep. 1 and 2

Jackson Brodie, the former cop turned PI in the best-selling novels by brilliantly ironic writer Kate Atkinson is played in the BBC series by the also brilliantly ironic Jason Isaacs. This often graphic, dark series which plays with the macabre in gloriously gothic Edinburgh is a perfect addition to Peril on the Screen.

Jackson is an English ex-pat living in Edinburgh and taking the oddest cold cases while grappling with his dark past and trying very hard to stay close to his young daughter: especially due to the friction between Jackson and his ex-wife. Atkinson understands the inner perplexities and passions of her readers and fortunately the series picks up the same eccentric and bubbling minutiae of the colourful cast of characters.

In Case Histories (the title of the first Brodie novel and, here, the name of the tv series) Brodie is involved in three very odd, very cold cases involving a girl missing for 30 years, a murder of a young woman from 10 years before ---still lingeringly unsolved, and the murder of a man by a mother whose young girl, Tanya, watched as an infant from a nearby crib.

All three cases force Jackson to remember snippets of the death of his sister while confronting his anxiety that his ex-wife will spirit is own (adorable) daughter to New Zealand for a new job.

The show is very humane and captures the winding, whirling kaleidoscope of characters and interwoven plots boasted in the critically acclaimed books.

Murder, abuse, missing persons, strange cars that drive down sleek, rain-soaked pavement: This is contemporary crime drama at its best.

In comparing it with other modern British crime dramas, I am led to cast a thought for Rebus (obviously as Edinburgh plays its gritty, smoky and perfectly ambienced back-drop ) and also of Lynley, who, when played by Nathaniel Parker especially, has the same bemused charm Isaacs has in the role of detective. Moreover, he really cares: from helping the somewhat batty Binky with the consistent rescue of her erstwhile cat, to being absolutely smitten with his daughter, to caring so deeply when a case strikes a resonant chord: Jackson's tough, battle-scarred but compassionate.

I always thoroughly enjoy a new crime drama from the BBC: their literary adaptations in a myriad of genres consistently prove extraordinary.  While its hard to shift-mediums from book to screen, the series maintains the spirit of the character-driven and less-procedural stories.  For example, you won't find any Sherlockian clue-finding here; rather, like Columbo, or Lynley or even Richard Jury, it is the stories that are told, the people peppering the scene: in crime and out of  that slowly leak the truth....

I highly recommend the book series by Kate Atkinson. I watched Case Histories on BBC Canada; but Masterpiece Mystery viewers will be happy to note it starts up soon on PBS and you can pre-order the dvds on amazon.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

It'll do in a pinch...

Steampunk Sherlock Vol. 2:  The ridiculous and hard-to-take-seriously Guy Ritchie franchise will have to see us through until the release of the much anticipated ( and far more faithful ) second round of Moffatt's BBC Sherlock.

oh well. I do love Jude Law's Watson and think he rather looks like the Sidney Paget illustrations:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Out of Nowhere Aubrey-Maturin Moment

Also, was delighted to discover this very rare recorded interview with Patrick O'Brian.  You have to lean in to hear him because he speaks quite softly and the sound is not exceptional; but it is worth it to hear him address The Mariner's Museum in VA. He speaks to Audrey-Maturin syndrome ( which I completely suffer from ) and proves he has the same, intelligent, quick and sparkly wit that pervades his narrative and recalls Jane Austen

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Case of the Two Watsons

a little treat for you this fall-ish Wednesday care of Kate Beaton, Canadian comic artist extraordinaire.
Late of Nova Scotia, Beaton is currently living in New York.   She has a brand new book released and will be at IFOA here in Toronto at the end of October. Discover more Hark, A Vagrant at her website where you can purchase prints, like this one, online at the e-store.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Study in Sherlock: Murder by Decree (1979)

For another instalment in A Study in Sherlock and to add to my on-going contribution to the RIP Peril on the Screen Challenge, I give you Murder by Decree.

Holmes: Christopher Plummer
Watson: James Mason

Le Plot: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson meet Jack the Ripper and discover a layered conspiracy wherein people are protecting the Ripper....

Should I start with the positive? There's not a lot positive would you like the best first?  Okay.

I loved the Victorian London setting and, for a 1979 film, I thought they did a greatly luminous job: all cobblestones and gas lanterns and grimy brick, bells, dogs barking, fog.... hansom cabs, hoofs on pavement and a generously portentous feeling of uncertainty.

Jack's eyes are an inhumane black that penetrate the screen and give this (rather abysmal ) adaptation moments of perfect Hallowe'eny goodness.

I like James Mason's voice.
Christopher Plummer is Canadian.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned is about the range of the good.  I detested this movie. In fact, I detested it so much I didn't even finish it.  John Gielgud shows up! Donald Sutherland (knack! Canadian!) also shows up with a few well-played premonitions but the casting is all wrong, the plot reeks and my Sherlockian sensibilities were not bemused ( as they are in, say, the Guy Ritchie enterprise), rather ....bored.

Look, Watson, I have my deductive face on! 
Plummer, god bless his thespian soul, is just not a very good Holmes. He's not caricatured in the Matt Frewer way (more on Frewer and his less- than- stellar offering in another post); but he just doesn't suit---despite earnest trying.  He doesn't have the look ( Roxburgh didn't, also, but he had more of the feel.)
Plummer doesn't have the shrewdly resonant intelligence and irony of Holmes and the Watson/Holmes chemistry....

.....It's like James Mason ( great voice! Really! It's James Bloody Mason!) is in a completely different movie and he plays to the baffled Nigel Bruce-ean type rather than to the Jude Law/ Ian Hart/ Martin Freeman type. Since I am a huge Watson fan, I like my Watson's to be smart men-of-action. In other words, I like the Watson that Doyle created.

So, we've got Whitechapel, we've got gory murders, we've got foggy streets and ciphers and codes and something to do with the "Juwes" and royal uproar and crinolines brushing the damp street .... and even Sherlock playing Bach's cello suites on his overheard violin ----

...and there's Freemasons!
...and it's a co-Anglo/Canadian production ( more on those when we get into the baffling horror that is the Christopher Lee take on Holmes)

Holmes, you may have your deductive face on, but I am wearing exactly the same expression I did in the previous picture.
Shut up, Watson, I am admiring the fake set and trying to remember all of the words to Edelweiss

If you want Jack the Ripper in your Holmes, I have heard that this film is particularly good--it's novelization written by ELLERY QUEEN and all...

...and you can always find Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson,
The Whitechapel Horrors by Edward B. Hanna or The Mycroft Memoranda by Ray Walsh and plenty more. It makes a lot of sense to pit Holmes against the Ripper: especially as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was consulted by the police regarding the unending mystery. (My favourite is that some theorists list him as a suspect! how bizarre)

Long live Sherlockian pastiches! and long live Sherlock on Film.  Unfortunately, not this film.

Previously: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Friday, September 16, 2011

That Ian Rankin Post

Well, kids, here at ye olde blog we have a teensy wee bit of a harmless crush on Ian Rankin. It has a wee bit to do with the fact that he is the master of Tartan Noir, that we devoured (devoured!!!) the Rebus series, that he is our favourite writer to hear read at festivals, or readings, or pubs, or bookstores
[photographic evidence HERE], that he has written one of the most believable and compelling female characters ever penned by a male pen (Siobhan! Dear god, she is le FABULOUS) and, let's face it, it might have something to with the fact that he is, how do you say it?, ummm SCOOOOTTTTISSHHHHHH!!

notes: new book, The Impossible Dead out in October
other notes: I may subscribe to his e-newsletter only so that the name Ian Rankin shows up in my email inbox now and then (I will neither confirm nor deny that)
other notes to add to previous notes: Ian Rankin is a literary rockstar

Ian Rankin once wrote a guest editorial for the Globe and Mail: the IFOA year that everything was splendidly Scottish!

Anyways,  in honour of Ian at IFOA this year (again! C'est wonderful) and noting that we are completely rescinding any respectability on this *ahem* "literary" blog, I give you .....


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Merchant Ivory Thursdays on TCM

One of my favourite channels ( face it, television pretty much sucks nowadays) is Turner Classic Movies and all September they are featuring Merchant Ivory productions on Thursday evenings.

Celebrating 50 years of Merchant Ivory Productions,  they take us through the early years of the company (the 1960s) through the classics we know today...

E.M. Forster
Here at A Fair Substitute for Heaven, we are PASSIONATE about films adapted from works of classic literature: transposing great literary works into another, visually accessible medium which taps into imagination, interpretation and adds to thematic and symbolic refinery.

What is most influential about the Merchant Ivory partnership is its reliance on literature to capture essential, humane and poignant character-driven stories for the screen: Particularly with a fondness for Henry James and E.M. Forster.
Helena Bonham Carter in A Room With a View
I highly recommend seeking out their Edwardian Classics as well as The Remains of the Day, based on the Booker award winning novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.

A full Merchant Ivory filmography can be found here
Check out the rest of the TCM Merchant Ivory schedule here

Tonight, TCM features The Remains of the Day : a quietly passionate adaptation featuring Christopher Reeve, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. The love story is an undercurrent, the rife tension of a changing world. As England prepares for war with Nazi Germany, so the cultured and age-old traditions of house staff such as Darlington (Hopkins) see their world shifting from eras bygone.

If you do not get TCM, you can easily find these productions at your local video store or, most likely, through your public library system.  TPL here in Toronto has tons of them!
Happy Viewing!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Study in Sherlock: the Hound of the Baskervilles, BBC, 2002

Holmes: Richard Roxburgh
Watson: Ian Hart

This is a perfect way to start A STUDY in SHERLOCK: a short series I plan on undertaking as part of the RIP Challenge: Peril on the Screen.

This is not a faithful adaptation in terms of minute plot points; but it is faithful to the horror and gothic elements of the harrowing story.  The film opens in eerie fashion with Doctor Mortimer (here played by INSPECTOR BARNABY from Midsomer Murders) describing the horrible death of the wealthy Baskervilles upon the dreaded moors.  It's a perfectly Hallowe'eny overture to the hauntings to come.

A lot of Sherlockians find major faults with this adaptation: mainly in its straying from being pure to the tale. I would like to defend it.  First, it captures the spirit of The Hound of the Baskervilles: what with its supernatural premonitions that so enticed Doyle's fluid pen. Moreover, this Hound was released after a long drought in respectable Sherlock Holmes adaptations ( the Matt Frewer enterprise does NOT count as a respectable Sherlock Holmes adaptation. I don't care if they're as Canadian as I am).  Secondly, though many cite that Richard E. Grant ( here chilling in his silent, smiling portrayal of Jack Stapleton) has a physiognomy better suited to the aquiline-profiled Holmes... especially when seen next to Richard Roxburgh, our Holmes in the tale, I like Roxburgh.  What I appreciated about Richard Roxburgh was although decidedly of a different flavour than other actors ( sort of like when Daniel Craig emerged as the first blond Bond!), Roxburgh was not emulating any Holmes before him: his take is relatively fresh.   He's alert, his ears stick out slightly as if always ready to preamble him into action and he has a delicious sort of irony about him.

I also adore Ian Hart's Watson. Hart had a chance to revisit the role opposite Rupert Everett in Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking; but I much preferred him in this canonical adaptation.  Watson is very much the antithesis here to the buffoon silly Nigel Bruce made him out to be: as in the novel, Watson is an essential part to the narration of the story ( as per always) because Holmes is off-screen for much of the action while Watson accompanies Sir Henry Baskerville to Baskerville Hall. Watson is a humane observer and he stands up to Sherlock when he needs to.  He also asserts his own medical skills and slightly lesser powers of deduction.  An ongoing spat between the two men about how trust weighs into their close friendship is welcome.  You truly see Holmes' affection for his roommate/biographer and Watson returns the favour with awed respect, yes, but also a modicum of understanding Holmes' limits.
I am an AWESOME Watson.

The style and dialogue do not fail to capture the essence of Doyle's work and his passion for the supernatural.  Sherlockians will appreciate small details, like Holmes' partaking of his infamous Seven Per Cent solution near the beginning of the film.

The villain is heartless and roguish and deceptively welcoming, the Baker Street rooms are comfy, beautiful and seem to completely adapt from our mental image of them and the moors are perfectly fogged and dim-lit as they paint the ground for the crumbling old gothic mansions which provide the action for the many scenes.

This is not the best Sherlock Holmes adaptation out there; but it has many, many memorable moments and is a swell undertaking for the initiated (and uninitiated) this spooky season.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Empire of Ruins: Book three in the Hunchback Assignments Series by Arthur Slade

Guess what, lucky Americans? is your day!...Empire of Ruins is the third installment in the Steampunk-ed Hunchback Assignments by award-winning CANADIAN Arthur Slade  and it is available in your country. Like, right now. 
This is what the book looks like in AMERICAN

Heard of Arthur Slade?  He's the guy whose e-book version of Dust (winner of the Governor General's Award--- a big deal here up in Canada) is currently beating Stephen King in horror sales for Kindle... yah.

As is the case with the first two books chronicling Modo’s adventures as a shape-shifting spy, so the third speaks to darker themes lurking slightly beneath the over-arching fantasy fun.  Here, Modo,at one point, is forced to stand up to his father-figure/mentor Mr. Socrates when it comes to a matter of protecting an Australian tribe and their customs.

Yes, Colonization is a theme that fits well in a book which speaks to British subjects, territory expanse and the looming threat of the Clockwork Guild.  A languid sea voyage, hot air balloons, an archaeologist gone mad, foreboding spikes, eerie caves, a fantastical God Face and odd, mechanical birds populate the intrepid Modo and the delightful Octavia Milkweed's adventures.   You even get a glimpse of explorer David Livingstone’s pompous funeral within the enclaves of glorious Westminster Abbey.

Didactic title, n'est pas?

Octavia gets a pair of trousers (finally), Modo is reunited with one of his closest friends, Tharpa gets his game on, Mr. Socrates has a heart (sort of) and Modo and Octavia reach a point in their bond that could further solidify or break it.

I found Australia a very interesting geographical choice: British enough for the whole colonial motif; wild enough with unknown tribes and vast, unpopulated expanses to set the stage for mayhem and close enough to Canada (in a theoretically comparative sense--I am not that geographically-challenged) to be, sort of, Canadian (FACT: Canadians travel to Australia when they want to "live exotically" in "perpetual summer" while still maintaining all of the stuff they are familiar with. TRUE STORY).   Unfortunately, it has no prairie-like terrain and we all know that I find Slade to be at the height of his powers when writing about the geography he knows best: that of the Saskatchewan prairies.

I have enjoyed the Hunchback Assignments series and highly recommend them for kids --- boy and girl (Really, Octavia! She be of the empowering type); there’s an inkling of romance to keep your heart tripping and enough compassion to have readers of all ages rooting blindly for Modo ( as his new tribal friends do), but I find myself missing the Slade of old…. Of Dust and Tribes and JOLTED!

This is what the book looks like in CANADIAN!

a.) "I'm not dainty! I'm Octavia!"
b.) Octavia:"'Sorry, I meant busybody, not bumblebee. Where are my manners? And, about Mr. Socrates, you know you agree with me in your gut at least, even if your mind hasn't caught up yet.' she paused.' I have missed our reparting.'"
Modo: "I believe the word you want is repartee"
c.) "It was a pair of trousers, perfectly sewn and softer than any material a man would wear---but trousers! She read the note in Mrs. Finchley's tidy handwriting[...] Octavia promised herself she would hug the woman the moment they next met. Trousers!"
d.) On David Livingstone: "She would have been amazed to meet the man while he was living and breathing, but now that he was dead he was rather a bore"
(NOTE: it's worth reading these books for Octavia alone)

 Read Rachel's rambles on Hunchback I
 Read Rachel's rambles on Hunchback II

Perfect addition to my RIP reading ( Steampunk madness and the same Chapter font as the Horatio Lyle books---again!)

Courtney also liked it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Canadian Fromage: Jean Nicollet, Geographically-Challenged Explorer

In this horrible instalment of the well-beloved CBC Heritage Minute series, gross stereotypes (particularly of First Nations' guides) abounds.  The narration makes me LAUGH heartily, as does the horrible over-acting of "Jean Nicollet" and his befuddled portaging friend. [Added bonus: a mock Heritage Minute from This Hour Has 22 Minutes]

Favourite Youtube Comment: ""Jean Nicollet was wrong it was lake Michigan not the pacific, he never found china. In fact he didn't really find anything. Why did we even make this ad? I don't know.... Part of our heritage."

RIP CHALLENGE: A Stranger in Mayfair by Charles Finch

A Stranger in Mayfair is the fourth Charles Lenox mystery and equally as simply and cozily enjoyable as the first three.

It begins while Charles Lenox and his long time friend ( and now wife), Lady Jane Grey are on their Continental honeymoon. We are given our first snapshot of the Parliamentary man/Amateur Detective by two gossiping women in a restaurant who remark on Charles’ physical appearance, his past successes and his lovely wife. Thus, ushers in another quiet adventure about class systems, intelligence and the baser points of human nature.

Charles, his assistant Dallington, his medical friend McConnell and his butler-turned-parliamentary assistant Graham all help in discovering the death of a young servant worker in a prominent Mayfair household.

The Graham/Lenox relationship will remind readers of Bunter and Wimsey; but somehow, although Finch keeps reminding us of the camaraderie and affection which exists between the two men, we never actually see it. I am told by the narrator that they are fond of each other (knowing each other since Lenox’s youthful Oxford days) and yet Graham is not given enough page time to prove this. The same can be said for the other relationships stranded through the series: I am told that Charles and Lady Jane Grey have a long and meaningful friendship; but it is not demonstrative on page. Hopefully as the series continues, Finch will show the same competence for character development as he does for quietly ushering in plot twists, exuding a wealth of London parliamentary, historical and geographical knowledge and painting a life-like 19th Century world.

The writing style is charming as befits cozies set in this time period: with a knack for intelligence as befits Lenox’s upper-end station. However, the chapter endings seem so dense in their portentous foreshadowing that one is reminded of the cliffhangers in those RL Stine Fear Street mysteries. This is another case in which we are TOLD to feel and fear; rather than shown.

Nonetheless, with the exception of my little gripes, I do enjoy this series and the lovely Victorian world it recreates. This is a perfect addition to the RIP challenge due to its murder, mayhem, smoke and hansom cabs.

Readers of Anne Perry and Dorothy L. Sayers, above all, will find themselves at home here.

We are treated to Lenox’s next adventure in November