Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Perfumer's Secret by Adria J. Cimino (♦♦♦♦)

Amidst the competition to win a prestigious position as in-house perfumer for a renowned designer’s house, NYC-based Zoe Flore learns that she has inherited—from an unknown great aunt in Grasse, France—the formula to her mother's unforgettable signature scent.

Winning the contract with her mother's perfume soon takes a backseat when the formula is stolen and Zoe is forced to recreate it from memory. But a family she didn't know existed isn't the only thing that Zoe will find on her trip; she will unwillingly join forces with a competitor, and learn of a thwarted love affair that broke her mother's heart and which she never forgot.

If you marvel at the color of sunrise or the smell of jasmine in a summer afternoon, then you should read A Perfumer's Secret. I liked it a great deal and read it faster than I have been reading for months. Gorgeously described, this novel details the quest of a woman to find her sense of self and belonging in the world. Interlaced with the beautiful descriptions of abstract fragrances and what not, were some expletives that felt out of place, but I guess people in idyllic places use bad words as well.

Somehow the novel felt like an American story transplanted to a small French town, (e.g., using the phrase "downtown Grasse", teenagers eating pizza, fries with ketchup, and drinking soda like there was no tomorrow...) I have no way to know if those things I picked up were or not out of place, but they seemed more at home in America than in France.

Despite some minor flaws that may very well be a matter of taste, A Perfumer's Secret is a novel that deserves to be read on the basis of its luscious images.

DISCLAIMER: I received from the author a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Latest Updates (2)

It has been a while since I have posted regularly. That is not to say that I haven’t been indulging in my two favorite hobbies: watching movies/TV shows and reading. Au contraire, I have been very busy in both activities, but I haven’t found much to say about the movies I have watched. Today I’m going to give you brief glimpses into the impressions those movies I have seen lately have made.

Jurassic World (♦♦♦♦): I had to watch this movie twice to really like it. First I saw it and found just OK; not much chemistry between the protagonists, hard to get humor, weak plot…Then I saw Legends of the Guardians co-starring Chris Pratt, with his wry sense of humor, and then I watched Jurassic World again. What a difference that made! The second time around I had a blast. I found it entertaining, funny, and with lots of chemistry between Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. A little family drama and lots of cool and mean-looking dinosaurs went a long way!

Fantastic Four (♦♦♦): As you know, I am a superhero kind of girl, but I do like good plots, humor, and very good performances. In my opinion this movie remake lacked all these elements, so I found it very mediocre.

Joy (♦♦♦): Yet another collaboration between Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper that just didn’t pan out—this is their fourth, two very good, two mediocre ones. In my opinion it was due to the ambivalence of its genre; the director and screenwriters didn’t settle on just comedy or drama, they went for both and the movie suffered in consequence. Jennifer Lawrence is funny as a crazy lady, a-la Silver Linings Playbook, but not so much as a broke housewife looking for someone to finance her invention.

The Lady in the Van (♦♦♦): A great performance by Maggie Smith, who managed to fill the screen with her charisma every second she got, should have earned her an Oscar nomination. Lots of heart, a cantankerous old lady with unintended sense of humor, an underlying mystery, and great music make this movie a must-see. Why I didn’t like it better? Gosh, I don’t know.

San Andreas (♦♦♦): Sometimes I crave disasters movies, if only as mindless entertainment, and that’s exactly what I got…A devastated state of California due to the mother of all earthquakes, and some family drama thrown into the mix. Don’t expect more than what it is and you might just like it.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Latest Updates (1)

It has been a while since I have posted regularly. That is not to say that I haven’t been indulging in my two favorite hobbies: watching movies/TV shows and reading. Au contraire, I have been very busy in both activities, but I haven’t found much to say about the movies I have watched. Today I’m going to give you brief glimpses into the impressions those movies I have seen lately have made.

First the TV shows…

I’m glad that the new season of Games of Thrones is back and that the characters whose stories were left untold in season 5 are back. Some of those characters are the Stark siblings who have undergone terrible tragedies during the show. I am excited about how Jon Snow’s character has been handled, but it makes me think that there is something true about those conspiracy theories circling online about Jon Snow being part Stark, part Targaeryen.

Also, I have been busy watching the first and only season of the Starz show The White Queen, which encompasses the first three books of the series by Philippa Gregory on the War of the Roses. Great performances and deadly serious power struggles make this show the real life Games of Thrones. I think it’s a darn shame that there weren’t more seasons to watch.

And now the movies…

Effie Gray (♦♦♦): with a solid screenplay written by Emma Thompson, the Pre-Raphaelite movement as background, the undeniable growing attraction between Effie and Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais, and Effie Gray being among the first (if not the first) woman to seek a divorce in England from her famous spouse—art critic John Ruskin—, Effie Gray had many things working for it, but it didn’t deliver on its promise.

The Hateful Eight (♦♦♦½): I like Quentin Tarantino movies, but sometimes they can go overboard with the language and the gore. In this one there is not too much use of the N word, but it is as bloody as any horror movie can get. There are positive things working for it though, the plot and execution are very interesting. It is also good fun as well. And the ensemble cast just makes it worthwhile.
In a year full of lackluster productions, The Hateful Eight deserves an honorable mention.

Shelter (♦♦♦): In the streets of New York City, two homeless persons fall in love and look for redemption, one by cleaning up from her drug addiction, the other, by helping her regain her footing. Directed by Paul Bettany, this film is well acted by both Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Mackie. The redemption process is at times depleting and painful to watch, but it is worth it. Too bad the good performances weren’t enough to lift this movie to a must-see category.

Mad Max: Fury Road (♦♦♦): If you watched this year’s Oscars, then you couldn’t have missed the deluge of awards this movie earned in the technical categories. I agree with those awards. Fury Road was an over-the-top extravaganza that didn’t score too many points by virtue of its performances (though they were very good), but by stressing the technical achievements of its very creative crew.

Pitch Perfect 2 (♦♦♦♦): I’m not sure what the target audience is for this movie…High schoolers? College students? I don’t know, but despite me being not its intended audience I enjoyed it a great deal, not so much for its semi-crude humor but for the very creative a capella musical arrangements. I always enjoy music in movies.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Kilo Two Bravo (♦♦♦♦½)

In September 2006, a British platoon in the Kajaki region of Afghanistan is making a routine patrol and encounters a minefield in a wadi. With several casualties and no prospect of an immediate evacuation, they make do with the personnel and medical supplies they have at their disposal.

It's been a while since I have said Wow at the end of a movie. Kilo Two Bravo is a war movie, and among the most realistic I have ever seen. I don't have artsy standards when it comes to war movies; I don't think, unlike most people, that Saving Private Ryan is among the best war movies ever.

I have never been able to watch war movies with the same eyes after seeing Black Hawk Down, Special Forces, or Zero Dark Thirty. Kilo Two Bravo, being based on a true story, certainly belongs in my Wow category.

A movie about a platoon that encounters enemy fire is nothing new, but when a movie reflects the scary moments of war that follow absolute boredom, then that's worth watching because you know is the real deal. Kilo Two Bravo puts in perspective a book I read relatively recently, The Shadow Patrol written by Alex Berenson, who spent time in Afghanistan to gain insight about soldiers' day to day life in a war zone.

Interlaced with desperate humor, Kilo Two Bravo ably depicts the horror of war, and the sacrifices made by men and women in the military to defend the freedoms we take for granted in the Western world.

The ladies who typically read this blog will probably shy away from this movie, but I urge the men in their lives to give this movie a try; if it doesn't make them cry at least it will make them think.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Thor: The Dark World (♦♦♦♦)

After the events related in Thor (Thor, revisited), and Marvel's The Avengers, we find Thor back in Asgard with Loki as his prisoner. The destruction of Bifrost (in the first installment) has left the Nine Realms in a state of unrest. Thor and his Asgardian warriors have restored peace.

Meanwhile, a great threat has resurfaced to threaten the stability of the Nine Realms. Jane Foster has found a site of great energy disturbance. In there, she comes in contact with an anomalous substance that predates the birth of the universe, an energy so powerful that threatens to immerse in darkness all that exists.

The luscious feel and out of this world special effects, together with the solid screenplay, and excellent ensemble cast that made the first Thor (Thor, revisited) so successful have been kept in place. Darkness has crept in, however, and make no mistake, Thor: The Dark World is true to its title, but there is new ingredient in this installment that hasn't been as apparent before: Loki's sense of humor. Somewhat cynical, Loki's humor peppers scenes that may have been boring otherwise, and in none of the movies that came before, namely Thor (Thor, revisited) and Marvel's The Avengers, has Loki's personality threatened to steal the show. Never has he been as duplicitous or as charming.

As in Thor (Thor, revisited), the ensemble cast has fun working together and it shows, as the chemistry is palpable.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Idris Elba as Heimdall, Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Renee Russo as Frigga, Stellan Skarsgård as Erick Selvig, Kat Dennings as Darcy, Jaimie Alexander as Lady Sif, Zachary Levy as Fandral, Ray Stevenson as Volstagg, and Tadanobu Asano as Hogun all reprise their roles.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith (♦♦♦♦)

Marty de Groot comes from old money, his ancestors having made their fortunes in the Netherlands around 1600s. He lives with his wife Rachel in a penthouse apartment in Upper East Side, New York City in 1957. Marty is a lawyer and works at a law firm but suspects he'll never make partner. But he does. In fact, a lot of good things, both big and small, start happening after he discovers that a painting he owned has been stolen and replaced by a copy.

Ellie Shipley is an Australian twenty-something who lives in a cheap apartment in Brooklyn. Ellie is writing a dissertation towards her doctorate in history of art with an emphasis on female Dutch painters of the seventeenth century. When a partner brings her the privately-owned, only painting attributed to Dutch painter Sara de Vos for her to copy, Ellie is more than intrigued, she is hooked.

Forty three years later in present day Sydney, Australia, Ellie is about to come face to face with the folly of her youth, because she is curating an exhibit of female Dutch painters of the 1600s and both paintings by Sara de Vos, the original and the copy, are heading her way and threatening with unraveling her carefully constructed professional life.

I took forever (a month in fact) to read this book due to all sorts of things happening in my life in the last month, but I managed to finish and like very much this rather small tome.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith is a multilayered story on several fronts. The de Vos’ paintings being carefully built (when painted) or deconstructed (when forged) from the ground layers up made me visualize the processes as if they had been unfolding in front of my eyes. This level of painstaking detail reminded me of Waking Raphael by Leslie Forbes and The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos moves back and forth between the years 1957-1958 in Marty’s and Ellie’s lives and 1636-1637 in Sara’s life, then fast forwards to present day (year 2000) and the year 1649. I’ve found books in which the shifting focus complicates the plot but it isn’t an issue in this novel thanks, in part, to the well defined periods when the story takes place, and to the deftness of Smith to steer the reader through the story.

DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free galley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Iron Man (♦♦♦♦♦)

Millionaire and heir of Stark Enterprise—weapons manufacturer with army contracts—Tony Stark is taken hostage in Afghanistan after the Humvee convoy in which he is traveling takes heavy enemy fire. Tony is imprisoned in a cave and given little time but all resources to reproduce his latest masterpiece: the Jericho missile…Only Tony has other plans. He builds an iron suit propelled by the very battery that is saving his heart from being shredded by the remaining shrapnel in his chest.

Directed and produced in part by Jon Favreau, the original Iron Man is the crème-de-la-crème of Marvel's universe. With a witty and stylish screenplay that makes science super cool, and top of the art special effects, there is no other alternative than to shine. But if those elements aren't attractive enough, the ensemble cast is just the superglue that holds this marvel together.

Robert Downey Jr., in the leading role as Tony Stark, has gravitas as a serious actor, yet he is hip enough as to embody an engineering prodigy that is at the same time suave with women. I don't think those abound. ( ;-) )

Cool as well are Gwyneth Paltrow as the polished and very capable Pepper Potts, Tony's personal assistant, who happens to be his everything including his crush as well; Terrence Howard in both a playful yet serious role as Colonel Rhodey, gives a positive spin from government perspective to Tony's escapades; and Jeff Bridges as Obediah, is Tony's mentor and manages the day to day operations of Stark Enterprise. Also in the first reference to a branch up franchise (Avengers) is the appearance of Clark Gregg, as Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Thor (revisited) (♦♦♦♦)

The realm of Asgard has an uneasy peace with the neighboring realm of the Frost Giants, but when some of its inhabitants intrude in Asgard palace’s weapons hall, impetuous Thor interprets it as an act of war. Odin, king of Asgard, banishes Thor from his realm to suffer penance for his rash actions and learn humility among humans.

Directed by classical thespian and director Kenneth Brannagh, Thor benefits from a solid screenplay that combines elements of superhero fare and Norse mythology, and the classical training of the movie's director. The result is a very polished production that is, at once, visually lush, smart in concept and development, and with a great cast ensemble.

There is newcomer Chris Hemsworth, in the leading role, who by the way looks like Thor himself, and seasoned actors of the caliber of Anthony Hopkins as Allfather Odin, Renee Russo as Odin's wife, Natalie Portman as Jane, Thor's love interest, Stellan Skarsgård as Erik, Tom Hiddleston as trickster Loki, Idris Elba as Heimdall, Asgard's Gatekeeper, Clark Gregg in a small role as Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Jeremy Renner in a cameo appearance as Hawkeye

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Concussion (♦♦♦♦)

Nigerian-born immigrant, Neuropathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu found something—in the brain of former Pittsburgh’s Steelers Mike Webster, a.k.a., Iron Mike—that he couldn’t ignore. Despite the appearance of a healthy brain in CAT scans, Webster’s brain under the microscope showed great concentrations of toxic proteins as result of repeated blows to the head over a lifetime of playing football, which most definitely triggered his deteriorating mental state after his retirement as a professional football player.

Over the course of the next five to six years, Dr. Omalu detected the same phenomenon in four other dead professional football players and reported his findings in the medical literature. Meanwhile, the NFL fervently denied that concussions contributed to mental health deterioration. Until…they couldn’t ignore the buzz any longer.

As a reader of this blog, it may come as no surprise to you that I have watched a lot of movie adaptations but have read very few of the books on which those movies are based. Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas, the non-fiction book chronicling the discovery of CTE and the fallout between the NFL and Neuropathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu as a consequence of that discovery, is one of a few exceptions, as I read the book last year.

Having read so few sources on which movies are based, makes me, in my opinion, to appreciate the movies better as I have no preconceived notions of how the material should be presented. Watching Concussion, I found myself questioning certain creative licenses such as presenting the movie in a thriller package, as opposed to a life journey.

I had issues with several scenes that distorted the timeline in the book or amplified the message in misleading ways. For example,

1) the detention and subsequent trial of world renowned pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht. In the movie, it seems that the FBI had an issue with Dr. Omalu putting the NFL in the spotlight—for keeping football players in the dark as to the negative impact of repeated blows to the head—and forced his hand by citing his immigration status to make him testify against his mentor as a means of silencing both. That wasn't the case at all. Dr. Wecht's case, though flimsy at best, was rooted in professional rivalries rather than on the long reach of the professional football association.

2) there was a scene in which Prema, Dr. Omalu's wife, was followed by a stranger's car to submit Dr. Omalu into silence; as a result of that chase, Prema had a miscarriage. If that ever happened, it wasn't in the book at all.

The reason I had issues with those scenes is that, though they appear in the movie for shock value, they diminish the veracity of the account overall, and that's too bad because the book Concussion was flawless. In spite of the NFL trying to strip Dr. Omalu of his scientific standing, and many threatening phone calls, their lives were never in physical danger (at least I didn't get that message from the book).

Having mentioned what I thought were the bad aspects of the movie, I’m going to redirect towards the good ones. The movie was successful illustrating scientific concepts, resorting to comparisons between animals’ anatomies and that of a human head to convey why blows to the head may damage the brain.

I thought this was among the best movies of the year, and I must say this because 2015 was a year full of very mediocre movies, some of which made it to the Oscars on the basis of acting alone. Was it Oscar worthy? Absolutely! In fact, watching Concussion, I was surprised that the movie didn’t do as well as I expected because its topic is incendiary and relevant. Maybe years of talking about the negative impact of concussions in sports, have diluted the severity of the message.

Was Will Smith’s performance worthy of an Oscar nomination? Most definitely! I thought Smith’s performance in Concussion was on par with the one in Seven Pounds, which most people don’t like but I think it’s one of his strongest performances, and The Pursuit of Happyness. I don’t cite Ali because I have never watched it.

And there it is…. Travesty! Of the movies showcasing black talent among last year’s crop, I think this one was the most accomplished both artistically and acting-wise.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Creed (♦♦♦♦)

Adonis Johnson is the son that late heavyweight champion Apollo Creed never knew. After having been brought up as a son by Apollo's wife, Adonis has gotten an education and a promotion working in finance, but he leaves his current life behind to move to Philadelphia, home of Rocky Balboa. Adonis thinks he can be as great a boxer as his father if he can get Rocky to train him… After all, they are practically family, aren't they?

Nothing gets my adrenaline pumping like a well made sport movie. I typically prefer football, but boxing underdog stories are close second. Last year two boxing movies came out: Southpaw and Creed. I thought that Southpaw was just OK, but Creed was certainty gutsy and inspiring.

If you keep up with Oscar news, you probably know about the controversy for lack of black talent at this year's Oscars. While I don't think that newcomer Michael B. Jordan's performance was on par with Bryan Cranston's in Trumbo, Michael Fassbender's in Steve Jobs, or Eddie Redmayne's in The Danish Girl, for example--I don't mention DiCaprio's because I have yet to see The Revenant--I do think his performance is one to watch. Creed belongs in the same league as any of the Rocky movies and, between Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan may have managed to breathe new life into a franchise long dead due to the main star's aging.

If Creed is not an artsy gem, it certainly is a very good sport movie with great performances and, as B. Jordan may discover, there are a bunch of actors who have astronomical money-making franchises who may never make it to the Oscars, or win one.

I certainly wouldn't object seeing B. Jordan reprising the role of Adonis Creed if he manages to shine with the same intensity that earned him Oscar buzz.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Brooklyn (♦♦♦♦)

Young Eilis Lacey has no future in her small town in Ireland, thus her older sister pays for Eilis' passage to America where a job is waiting for her. After the initial homesickness every time she receives a letter from her sister, Eilis settles into her new life in Brooklyn, taking classes at night to become a book keeper and finding true love in the arms of an Italian young man. Little does Eilis know that the past is about to rear its head; and when things seem to be taking a lucky turn in her hometown, she will be forced to decide the future she wants and the man she wants to share it with.

Brooklyn can boast of being a classy love story with great direction, and a solid yet meaty screenplay that allowed the ensemble cast in general, and the three leading actors in particular, to make the most of it. I would have felt more comfortable had the movie been slightly shorter; I didn't find much sense in scenes at the dinner table when Eilis was living at the boarding house.

Saoirse Ronan, who got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination as a child for Atonement, is the leading lady in Brooklyn, for which she received a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Gone are the days of mixed experiments like the teenage assassin Hanna or the young vampire in Byzantium, this leading lady is all grown up and hopefully we'll be seeing more of her in the near future.

As Eilis, Ronan nails the confusion and uncertainty of the immigrant experience, and the waves of homesickness. She also ably conveys the bubbling feeling of first love, or at least finding the right man. I didn't feel too invested during the scenes of homesickness, but definitely bought the sweet on-screen chemistry she shared with both young men, Domhnall Gleeson (About Time, Ex-Machina) as Jim, and Emory Cohen as Tony.

Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters co-star.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (♦♦♦)

After the 75th Hunger Games went up in flames, the leader of the rebellion, President Coin, has kept Katniss as the unifying element of the revolution. Peeta and the victors who were kept hostage by President Snow in The Capitol, have been liberated but at what price?! They have been tormented and brainwashed.

The rebels are planning a final offensive against the Capitol, but Katniss decides to go rogue and makes it her mission to kill President Snow in his mansion. Little does she know that the stakes are higher than she has anticipated, and that President Coin's will to win at all cost will prove devastating for Katniss in particular, and for Panem in general.

Mockingjay, Part 2, the final installment in The Hunger Games franchise, is darker and grittier than any of its predecessors combined. It manages to keep the audience alert, something that wasn't achieved in Mockingjay, Part 1, but not to the point of excitement as was the case in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.

There was grit in the Games, but also the allure of the unknown kept the audience guessing. In Mockingjay, Part 2, reality has intruded, and mind you, it is the reality of war and the devastating effects of it. Just to show how intricate their lives have become, the lighting all through the film is kept dark, changing to colorful only during the final scenes.

My favorite two movies in the franchise were one and two, but without Mockingjay, Part 1 and 2 the story is incomplete.

Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta), Liam Hemsworth (Gale), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch), Elizabeth Banks (Effie), Caesar (Stanley Tucci), Prim and Katniss' mother, reprise their roles, as well as Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee), and Julianne Moore (President Coin).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Big Short (♦♦♦♦)

Years before the housing market collapse, a minuscule group of people saw what everyone refused to accept: that the subprime mortgages had infested the financial world and major companies were capitalizing on issuing loans to people who were likely to default. Some of these wise men even made millions of dollars by betting against the US economy, and they were right, but as everyone knows, what ensued was the catastrophic collapse of the US economy and a worldwide recession.

I don't presume to be financially savvy, and probably, like most people, understood just the basics of the housing market collapse, but even though I wasn't a fan of the narration format of The Big Short, I think it helped me navigate the murky waters of the financial world.

I'm not even sure I understood everything they threw at me in this movie, and kudos to the production team as well as the screenwriters for even trying, but with the little I think I got, my blood boiled. It made me feel as when I saw Margin Call, another great movie on the financial crisis.

The final message I got from The Big Short is that despite the bailout, financial institutions may be repeating the same formula, and I hate to imagine the consequences if history repeats itself. Could the government impose another bailout on the American people?

A great ensemble cast helps propel the story, which is after all, the focus of the movie. Christian Bale (in an Oscar nominated role), Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and Marisa Tomei co-star.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Danish Girl (♦♦♦)

Painters Einar and Gerda Wegener have a loving marriage in 1926, Denmark. Einar is very successful as a landscape painter, while Gerda, who paints portraits, hasn't yet made her mark. When a friend bails out as a dancer model for a painting that Gerda needs to put finishing touches to, she asks Einar to wear the female dancer attire and pose for her. Only Einar rediscovers a dormant passion, triggering a chain of events that will make him become a transgender pioneer with the support of his wife.

I have been noticing Eddie Redmayne on the big screen for years, and almost always I kept wondering when would be his opportunity to shine. He was the son of Angelina and Matt Damon, an inadvertent mole, in The Good Shepherd; he was Jack in the miniseries The Pillars of the Earth, the willing boy toy in My Week with Marilyn and his breakout role was in the musical Les Misérables as Marius, Cossette's love interest. Although he won an Oscar for Best Actor for his interpretation of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, I wasn't overly impressed. I have seen that same performance given by more seasoned and better actors in less prominent movies (e.g., Denzel Washington in The Bone Collector, and John Hawkes in The Sessions). And now I get to see him in yet another award nominated performance in The Danish Girl opposite Alicia Vikander (Ex-Machina).

If I thought his performance was just about average in The Theory of Everything, in The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne is nothing short of brilliant, and I must say that he becomes a beautiful woman as well. The mannerisms, the sensuality in the everyday things that make us women and we take for granted, he imitates and effectively adopts in his role as Lily. I wholeheartedly agree with his Oscar nomination. As Einar Wegener/ Lily Elbe, Redmayne gives by far the best performance of his career.

Alicia Vikander ably keeps up with Redmayne, giving a performance that is vibrant and determined as Gerda, Redmayne's fictional wife. If in Ex-Machina, she was deceptively innocent and scheming as Ava, as Gerda, she has proved that she can perform well a variety of roles.

Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch, and Matthias Schoenaerts co-star.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦)

IT specialist and amateur code breaker Sara Thomas, has always been protected by her first cousin Jacqueline who is in the publishing business. When historian Alistair Scott needs a code breaker to decipher a journal written in 1732 by second generation Jacobite exile Mary Dundas, Jacqueline presents Sara with the opportunity, and Sara, who is between jobs, accepts the partnership.

Twenty-one year-old Mary Dundas has had a protected and rather dull life making up fairy tales inspired by the ones written by a famous female author of the age. Little does she know that when her older brother Nicolas comes to claim her, he has in mind to offer her as company for a Jacobite exile who is running from the law due to a financial scandal in Scotland, and that Mary, over the course of five months in 1732, will travel through France and end up meeting aspiring king James Stuart VIII during his stay in Rome. During her voyage, Mary will face persecution and danger from the very people intent on apprehending the man she is accompanying, but she will also find love in the arms of a man from the Scottish Highlands set on protecting her.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably know that Susanna Kearsley is one of my favorite authors. Counting A Desperate Fortune, her latest effort, I have read six of her novels, namely The Rose Garden, The Winter Sea, The Firebird, Mariana, and Named of the Dragon.

Kearsley never disappoints me; her writing style is effortless, flowy, and as familiar and comforting as apple pie, or a warm summer afternoon. I can't pinpoint where her style secret resides, I just surrender to the experience. As is always the case, her research is impeccable, despite taking creative licenses that she admits to both with characters and situations.

When I started reading A Desperate Fortune I told myself: "the Jacobites again?", but Kearsley took the story in a surprising and entertaining direction. A Desperate Fortune follows in the steps of The Winter Sea and The Firebird, retaking the subject of the Jacobites living in exile due to the failed insurrections to bring aspiring king James Stuart (VIII of Scotland, II of England), to his rightful place as monarch of England. In A Desperate Fortune, James Stuart VIII is living with his court in Rome after the death of his mother, and after his cousin, the French king, has cast him aside. The Jacobites still left in Scotland are looking for new sources to finance the expenses of keeping a court in exile without the benefit of taxes.

I still have a few novels to read by Kearsley before I finish with her entire body of work, and hopefully I can discover new favorite authors after that.

DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free Galley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.