Having just finished the latest Nikki Heat novel: Frozen Heat, I thought I might revisit the multi-format publishing phenomenon that has become ABC’s Castle. In my opinion, it truly is following in the footsteps of its unofficial predecessor Star Trek in terms of its reach outside of television and into the world of publishing: graphic, electronic and conventional.

Frozen Heat is the 4th book from the series and snaps into action much faster than two of its predecessors Naked Heat and Heat Rises. Humour and Easter eggs remain abundant as we delve deeper, as did season 4, into the murder of Kate Beckett’s mother (or in this case, her alter-ego Nikki Heat) in this police procedural with a European twist.

Way back in season 1, fictional author Richard Castle (whose Amazon author page you can view here) read the last lines to final book of the Derrick Storm series Storm Fall. Rather than waste this opportunity, and a perfectly good book cover, ABC decided to collaborate with Marvel comics to release the Derrick Storm run as a series graphic novels. Storm Season is the second of this series springing from characters set-up in Deadly Storm. Two established authors at Marvel Brian Michael Bendis and Kelley Sue Deconnick seem to be the only ones responsible to the actual storytelling so far, with changing illustrators from novel to novel.

In addition to hearing the last lines of the last Derrick Storm novels, regular watchers of Castle are also privy, thanks to incredible foresight from the creative team, to dozens of unique novel covers for Richard Castle creative works. That should be a big enough creative pool to draw from, right? Well ABC has decided to throw Castle fans into another loop, by releasing a trilogy of electronic Derrick Storm shorts: A brewing storm, A raging storm and A bloody storm. If we compare these titles to the ones listed as other Derrick Storm novels, which we can look forward to in the graphic format, these three novels are not a match! Indeed, if we go by the date of publication May 2012 for A brewing storm we can conclude that these are sequels (!) to the Derrick Storm novels

All in all, I am extremely impressed by the way the creative forces behind Castle and ABC are using all elements of 21st century publishing to form these strong (and lucrative) links between the fans and the show.

Oh, and by the way you can follow Richard Castle has his own twitter account! I’m really curious about how that job interview went: “Your responsibilities will be creative publicity for the fictional writer Richard Castle… oh and by the way, this job is confidential!!”

What a world we live in!

The last stop of my Celtic tour was the heart of Scottish culture: Edinburgh. Tourist activity can clearly be divided into two areas: the Old Town around the famous Edinburgh castle and the New Town, built several hundred years later. Here we also had the chance to fall across a very entertaining tour guide who regaled us with tales of the city, such as the fact that small courtyards still exist in Edinburgh because it was mercifully spared of bombing during World War II.

Stone of DestinyThe tour guide then proceeded to completely shock me by declaring that the Stone of Destiny actually existed! … The theft of this famous symbol of Scottish culture has recently been immortalized on film in Stone of Destiny (2008). I had seen the trailer while watching the Brothers Bloom, or some such indie movie and had ruled out the unlikeliness of the story, yet I learned, in Scotland, that the story was true! This delightful Canadian-UK production uses several Scottish actors (e.g. Billy Boyd from Lord of the Rings and Robert Carlyle recently in Once upon a time) as well as several iconic Scottish locations to bring this unbelievable true story to life.

The Stone of Destiny is currently located in the Edinburgh Castle, which hosts several tourist attractions such as the fortress itself and many museums on Scottish and British history. It is also the location for the famous, and well worth the time, Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  And for those of us who have been wondering exactly who and what was playing during the wedding scene for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, I finally have an answer: the Leicestershire Seaforth Highlanders play The Green Hills of Tyrol (http://forums.bobdunsire.com/forums/showthread.php?t=14265). My time in Scotland has definitively given me an increased appreciation for good bagpipe playing!

My last day in Edinburgh was spent in the New Town searching for trendy and chic shops listed in The civilized guide to shopping in Edinburgh and Glasgow (2008) before my friend took the train down to London. After her departure I finally stepped into the Edinburgh International Book Festival which was taking place minutes from the hostel. Amazingly this rather “intellectual” event was scheduled to go on until 21h30 or later. On one hand I was shocked. A place that wasn’t a bar or pub or comedy club closing after 20h00? On the other hand, I thought to myself ‘at what time does Chapters or Barnes & Nobles close?’ ‘That’s right usually long past when the clothing stores close!’ So, not shocking at all actually! I wandered into the festival, subconsciously looking for a book featuring tasteful Scottish landscapes (which I found by the way) when I saw this book:

Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero

Superheroes? I love superheroes! Tell me more! I even listen to all the special features on the DC animated features that talk about the history of the characters. Who wrote this awesome piece of literature? And by the way why does your name sound so familiar…? That’s right, Grant Morrison, famous for his critically-acclaimed Batman stories, is a Scotsman…possibly the descendant of a kilt-wearing, bag-pipe totting, Celtic man! If I didn’t love Scotland before, I did at that very moment. The book goes into a lot more depth than my current knowledge of comic book history allows me to perfectly comprehend. Some names are known to me, whereas other references pass right over my head. However I’m okay with that because when I finish this book I’ll be able to appreciate the comic book world even more than I do now!

Thus ended my trip to Celtic Europe with a meeting of the familiar and the new, definitively urging me to return someday for more in-depth exploring and great fashion shopping! I hope you enjoyed the ride along!

After docking in Scotland, a two-hour bus trip through the countryside brings us to Glasgow.

The landscape as we drove by is as scenic and vast as I had imagined it would be, with mountains along the sea, sparsely populated with cattle and hydro lines!

The first day of our stay in Glasgow had a rather rocky start: although we were assured that a ” free” guided tour would begin from George Square at 11h00, 11h00 came and went and no such guide ever made an appearance! Fortunately most travel guides offer their own do-it-yourself walking tours, which might not have the same charming fun facts that a guide can provide, but at least give you an idea of the range and history of the main tourist attractions. The advantage of course of doing our own tour is that we could stay as long as we liked in locations that interested us.

The Civilized Shopper's Guide to Edinburgh and Glasgow

This was also the first location where I was able to use this really cool shopping guide: The civilized shopper’s guide to Edinburgh and Glasgow(2008) by June Skinner Sawyers. This guide offers names and descriptions of unique boutiques and some restaurants that offer an “authentic” Scottish feel, including wool shops, tartan shops, shopping districts, cheese mongers, chocolate and fudge factories, etc. Although most of the locations ended up being a little beyond our price range, it did take us to locations that weren’t necessarily mentioned or properly indicated in the Lonely Planet.

Over the course of the days that we were there, we toured quite a few cultural, historical,  shopping and geological locations. Glasgow really offers it all! The highlights for me were definitely the Necropolis that overshadows the city; Byrnes road, a diverse shopping area where I found outstanding cheese, a sweet vintage cashmere sweater for super-cheap and a comic book store (What were the odds!); a prehistoric fossil grove, right within the boundaries of the city (although signage could be better); and finally the museum of the Royal Highland Fusiliers.  I’m really tickled by the fact that on some of the promotional pamphlets for the British army there is a small but very clear picture of Prince Harry (in uniform) among all the others… I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence!

Also, Glasgow has the smallest subways I have ever seen! Barely taller than I am and I’m 5’7″1

When looking for a piece to read for this post I came across this book.

The cutting room (2002) takes place in modern Glasgow, in the world of antiques and historical novelties which can onlyCutting Room really be experienced in the Old World (Europe and Asia). This sexually explicit, and highly descriptive mystery follows Rilke, a promiscuous auctioneer who tries to unearth the truth of some disturbing photographs found among an enigmatic deceased belongings. Familiar locations such as Kelvin Way, Argyle Street, Byrnes Road, and the Necropolis steep the story narrative with an unsettling sense of reality.

Readalikes to The cutting room  include books from Elizabeth Lowell’s Donovan Family series: Jade Island, Pearl Cove and Amber Beach. Books from this series deal with the unique world of jewellery making  and jewellery history within very specific locales.

Even young, spry women such as ourselves get tired from all the walking associated with backpacking, so in Glasgow we decided to take an evening off and stepped into a movie theatre to watch Brave. I swear that I understood more the second time around than the first because my ear was subconsciously becoming accustomed to the Irish and Scottish accents during my stay!

Like Dublin, Glasgow is really a location worth revisiting.

Next and final stop Edinburgh!

 

The bus trip to Belfast from Dublin was quite pleasant and scenic, much more so than the trip east from Galway to Dublin. The further north we go, the greener and mountainous the landscape gets. Since we are officially moving to another country (Northern Ireland being a part of the UK), I was a little curious about how the border transition would occur. Here in Canada, any travellers heading to the USA from Toronto are reminded (several times) to have their passports at hand, and no such warning occurred at the Dublin bus station. In the end, I got my answer from The Rough Guide to Ireland: “border crossings [in Ireland] are now open and unstaffed. Permanent checkpoints have been removed and ramps levelled”. Thus, the only overt indication that you have that you’ve crossed from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland is the changing of the street signs.

To my tourist eyes, Belfast is a “light” version of Dublin. Although it is the capital of Northern Ireland, tourism as a strong economic force is still in its developing stages, and with reason. I would imagine that most lightweights of Irish history, like me, would attach two prominent tourist attractions to Belfast: political instability and the tragedy of the Titanic, where there is in fact at least a little bit more. We didn’t stay very long, only hitting 3 main areas of town: downtown, the Ulster Museum and Botanical Gardens and finally the docks. Also, the weather got really ugly when we were there!

It is only in the recent years that Belfast has started to really use the tragedy of the Titanic, and its continued historical interest, as a way to developing tourism. What impressed me the most about the museum of the Titanic Quarter (Titanic Belfast), is that it takes care to stay away from sensationalism. The 5-storey walk-through museum talks about the history of the docklands, economic and social details of the time period, shipbuilding starting from the early 19th century and offers a virtual tour of the Titanic. It mostly leaves the melodrama of the actual sinking to the numerous movies and books that have been written on the topic. In other words it remains faithful to the objectives of a museum: “stick to the facts, and let them speak for themselves”. Titanic Belfast is definitely worth the detour, although it is recommended to buy entrance tickets beforehand.

Although fictional (and often dramatized) stories give us an idea of what travelling at the turn of the 19th and 20th century could be like, non-fictional, sometimes testimonial, books are often the ones that give you the best details.

SS Atlantic: The White Star Line&#146s First Disaster at SeaThe arguments behind my choice in reading SS Atlantic: The White Star Line’s First Disaster at Sea (2009) by Greg Cochkanoff and Bob Chaulk, are two-fold. Firstly, the book is Canadian; Canadiana is something I try to stay in touch with as much as possible, at least in terms of history. Secondly, it deals with what I like to call the “forgotten history”. Yes, the Titanic sank in 1912, yes Céline Dion sang the theme for the movie, and yes the story has been told over and over, but look (!) others ships from the famous White Star Line have sunk, with passengers on board, trying to reach the promise land! Let’s hear a little about them.

The author assumes quite a bit about the naval technical and geographical knowledge of the reader, maps for example being quite sparse. However the precise and ample descriptions of a wide variety of ship conditions draw a very clear picture of 19th century cross-Atlantic travel, the grisly deaths that could await an unlucky emigrant and the challenges that might be involved with rescue operations. This modern illustrated account of this 1873 disaster provides the perfect mix of technical and personal details, focusing on following the paths of specific key actors in the event, to give a human feel.

Enjoy-alikes to this book are The Perfect Storm (2000) visually illustrating, perhaps a bit dramatically, how hazardous the EasternThe Perfect Storm North Atlantic really can be and The Reef (1998) by Nora Roberts. Although The Reef takes place in the Caribbean, the discovery of priceless treasures and personal effects with a thousand possible stories, is the main reason behind modern marine archaeology, a goal which compelled the author Greg Cochkanoff to explore The SS Atlantic for as long and as consistently as he did. This passion for discovery is one of the main storylines developed in The Reef.

The ReefOn our last day in Belfast, we (appropriately) ferried across the Irish Sea to Scotland aboard Stena Line’s Stena Superfast (VII or VIII, I don’t remember). This 10+ deck, luxurious, superferry had more than any person would need for a 2-hour journey, including wi-fi, cabins (if you REALLY want your privacy), snack-bars, a Nordic Spa (!), free movies and a really cool children’s area including 3 Xboxes which can be played without remotes! All in all, it’s nice to see that Belfast retains its reputation to creating luxurious naval vessels, even into the 21st century. And it’s certainly a step up, in terms of security, from sea travellers from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although I do remember an incident recently about a cruise ship out of Italy, running aground in the Mediterranean…

Next stop Glasgow!

I’m a big fan of animation. It’s true! Despite the passage of the years, I remain as eager to see the next Disney movie as I was when I was a child. Recently however this love for animation has taken me to the sophisticated and very interesting world of Japanese animation. This is not to say that I wasn’t aware of Japanese animation, in fact my first taste came from a translated version of Sailor Moon seen on Colombian television in 1997. Also on at the time were the first seasons of Dragonball (the old-school one, before Son Goku actually grew up…). However when I came back to Canada, these animation series were nowhere to be found on non-cable television, so I had to redirect my attention to their source material: manga. This appreciation of the combination of manga-anime remains strong to this day.

Several of the more well-known anime movies in North America come from the collaboration between Disney and Studio Ghibli, producing several movies that can be watched in their original Japanese or as a translation. However, unlike that which was usually the case historically with most Disney movies, these translation have been known to use famous actors. Although I tend to listen to the Japanese version – I quite like subtitles and I enjoy hearing the dialogue in its original language- sometimes the casting is quite fascinating.

Howl's Moving CastleFor example in  Howl’s Moving Castle, Christian Bale is cast as the main male lead! Those of you familiar with Mr. Bale’s work know that he is not known for doing very fluffy, feel-good roles. However he does have that superb voice (which probably influenced his casting as the Dark Knight)! Furthermore the majority of the voices cast alongside him in this feature are much more mature actors: Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner and Billy Crystal. Beyond offering an interesting story, the use of this cast tells its own story!

I would expect that the reason behind these very different casting choices is the range and depth of the stories told with the anime format!

The complex natures of the stories involved in Japanese animated movies and the manga from which they are derived, crossing Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comicsdozens of genres and aimed at a broad spectrum of audiences, is the subject of Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics (2004) by Paul Gravett. This heavily illustrated, easy to read, chronology of the history of the manga genre in Japan not only gives wonderful ties-ins between the evolution of manga and Japanese culture, it also provides several samples from the different genres covered. These samples give the reader a taste of the subjects, illustrative styles and diversity of Japanese manga, ranging from manga for boys, girls, men, women, older adults with topics such as sports, romance, Japanese history, alternate history and more. If you’re unsure that there is a manga genre for you or you want to read more about its general impact, this book is for you.

Among several translated Japanese anime that offer quite interesting English-language casting are:

In the more historical genre, Castle in the sky (1986) (James Van der Beek, Anna Paquin, Mark Hamill) and Steamboy (2004) (Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart, Afred Molina). Steamboy is unique and satisfying example of steam-punk, creating an entire technology on screen based on steam technology. The Victorian-age location, with a special guest appearance of the London Great Exhibition of 1851, has a younger cast of characters. Castle in the sky is a mix between the subject of mythical and lost cities and almost steam-punk technology. Both these movies take place in a more European-type setting, easily recognizable to the Western viewer.

Steamboy (Director's Cut)Castle in the Sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spirited Away (2001) and Akira (1988), although belonging to significantly different genres, the first firmly based in Japanese folklore, with humans interacting with mythical creatures; the second based in a dystopian future, both are noticeably and visually Japanese. Furthermore, both these movies must be seen in their original Japanese, as there are no translations. These two classics of Japanese anime are not to be missed. Spirited Away, which received the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, is certainly on the less graphic or gory side than Akira. Then again, when compared to other live-action dystopian movies such as Terminator or Mad Max, it really is a matter of degree!

Spirited AwayAkira (Widescreen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An important element I’d also like you to take away from this post however is the fact that this multi-audience phenomenon exists more and more in mainstream Western animated features as well. The one I am the most familiar with is one I’ve mentioned in this blog before: the DC animated universe. Some might argue that these stories are simply aimed at comic book fans and that, as they say, is that. However modern comics amateurs are not all male pre-teens and teens. A large proportion of comic book readers are in fact adults (just check out the line up at the next Free Comic Book day or the next Comic Conference in your area if you have any doubts) as well as female, and storylines in these comic books reflect the nature of their audience. Yet the movies derived from these stories often are classified and located along with kids or teen movies.

There are several movies from the DC universe repertoire that I would not show my younger nieces or nephews such as Batman: Under the Red Hood (with Bruce Greenwood, an excellent choice for the voice of Batman and a role he has taken on again for Young Justice), the first season of Justice League: Unlimited, Batman: Gotham Knight (incidentally a project entirely animated using Japanese anime) and Batman: Year One.

I realize as I write this that a trend is emerging from the previous list: Batman movies are indeed grittier than other DC animated movies, but they seem to more easily and successfully translated to the screen.

There are others of course, such as the most famous Shrek and the superhero movie the Incredibles.

And so I close this post by asking movie and story lovers to try some Japanese and Western animated features. You might be surprised and impressed by what an imagination unfettered by the limitations of the green-screen and live-action world can create!

Being the capital of Ireland, Dublin feels very Irish (for us tourist at least). It is also a very culturally- and shopping-friendly city. On the day after our arrival to the hostel we partook in a guided tour offered by the hostels of the area which took us to several historical locations including Christ Church Cathedral, Trinity College, Dublin Castle, St. Stephen’s Green and the very happening area of Temple Bar. The tour guide himself was a very friendly and funny guy named Paul who had us in stiches with stories about how George Lucas supposedly used Trinity College’s Old Library without permission for Attack of the Clones, about how Barack Obama is the coolest black-Irish in the world, about the stuffed mouse and cat wonderfully (if a bit morbidly) preserved at Christ Church Cathedral and how Irish use insults to make friends or try to sleep with you!

After our break, which included a pint of Guinness of course, I looked up in surprise to see a facade inscribed with George Friedrich Handel's Messiah: A CelebrationHandel’s name. Indeed Handel’s famous Messiah was not first played London, but rather in Dublin, a fact explored in Handel’s Messiah: A Celebration by Richard Luckett (1992), published for the 250th anniversary of its first performance.

It is not until chapter 2 that we finally are introduced to Ireland, and Dublin specifically, and its role in the first performance of the Messiah, the Introduction and Chapter 1 being dedicated to expressing the musical and cultural climate of England, where Handel was residing and where he composed it, before moving to Ireland. This book is very dense, relying heavily of contemporary language and quotations to make its point and on the reader’s knowledge of classical music vocabulary.

Other locations visited were the Chester Beatty library at Trinity College, which owns the largest collection of Qurans in the world, as well as the outside of the Guinness factory. Admittance to the Guinness factory was too expensive and we weren’t really that interested in going in. One can only assume that most breweries are quite similar, and there are several that I can visit closer to home. Besides, Guinness paraphernalia can be found throughout Dublin.

I also took the time to buy a record of “traditional” Irish music. I use quotation marks here because I am aware that Irish music cannot really be pigeonholed (U2 for example is one of the most recognized Irish bands in the world and I think it’s fair to say that they sing rock music, and not what one would qualify as “Irish music”). Canada, for example, doesn’t really have a very national beat, although there are some very regional beats (Quebec, Acadian). The Irish however have a continued production of music that can be easily assigned an geographic origin.

Clannad 2 & DulamanAs I already own some music from the Irish tenors, singing about several Dublin locations (St. Stephen’s green and Dublin itself), I decided to diversify a little and purchased a 2-disc album by Clannad (2010), whose lead singer Máire Ni Bhraonáin is sister to the famous Enya. Clannad 2 and Dúlamán were released in 1974 and 1976, but as with all excellent music, especially music for which I don’t understand the words, the tunes are ageless. Indeed most of the songs on this double record are sung in Gaelic. The packaging includes a rather complete booklet with liner notes (and y’all know how much I like those!). The overall tone of the albums is easy listening, best enjoyed at the end of a stressful day or during a rainy afternoon with a good cup of tea (much like the stereotypical weather of Ireland), alongside such singers as Billie Holliday and Eva Cassidy.

All in all, Dublin has something for anyone: shoppers, beer drinkers, culture fans and music fans!

The first stop of my Celtic trip was Galway city. This is a rather unassuming town with nice shopping, a pleasant atmosphere and easy access to several picturesque locations at very affordable prices. Galway is the capital of the Gaelic West and is therefore one of the only cities in Ireland where Irish is actually spoken on the streets (you can also find it on the street signs and on the cultural explanation documents) and the birthplace of the now famous Claddagh ring. My friend and I stayed there for a few days and used it as our base to visit one of the Aran Islands (Inishmore) and do a half-day bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher.

The Aran islands, accessible by plane and ferry, were until recently quite isolated from the mainland and maintain much use of Irish over English. In addition, there are several stone forts and a continued web of stone walls that separate all the properties. This tradition of using stone walls (or mud walls where no stone is available) is maintained to this day, using easily accessible limestone rocks which are a natural part of the landscape. The Aran Islands also possess sheer cliffs facing the Atlantic, comparable to the famous cliffs of Moher, which have been used as arresting cinematographic landscapes for years (you may see them in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). It’s a good thing that we were able to see these amazing cliffs, as the day we went to visit the cliffs of Moher, we saw nothing but fog!

On our way back from the cliffs of Moher we stopped next to a quaint historical castle, one of the hundreds that litter the Irish countryside. This one however had a very interesting story. In the year 1755 an earthquake of which the magnitude is now estimated at 9.0 hit the city of Lisbon, right on the coast of Portugal. In addition to the several thousand fatalities in Portugal, the resulting tsunami raced across the Atlantic, touching several American and European countries, including Ireland, and pushing in the sea several meters inland at Galway Bay and destroying half the castle!

(You can find more about historical earthquakes at the USGS website: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/events/1755_11_01.php)

Since we were girls on a budget we were not able to fully enjoy the culinary offerings of Southwestern Ireland, however the first evening I did enjoy a particularly delicious platter of Fish & Chips. Although some might think of Irish food as a bland mixture of potatoes and boiled meat, I have found through my limited experience (the fish & chips and of course the beer) and through recipe books that this is not the case.

Country Cooking Of IrelandThe Country Cooking of Ireland is a great recipe book. Firstly, it’s illustrated! Secondly it also uses and discusses certain culinary elements that can only be found in Ireland, thus adding to the argument of going over there and experiencing the food first hand. Thirdly, this book offers historical explanations to certain aspects and ingredients of Irish cuisine. Fourthly, this book explicitly tries to veer away from the bland stereotype that has followed Irish cooking for years. And finally, the recipes in here are quite good.

I’ve personally tried this version of the Irish Stew and was extremely satisfied (although I did trade the lamb for pork, as I didn’t have any on hand) and I am eager to try the recipe for Watercress and Almond Soup.

If I were to go back to Ireland (and I think that is a distinct possibility) Southwestern Ireland would definitely be a possible destination for a return. Next up: Dublin City!

One of the hugely anticipated movies for December 2012 is the screen adaptation of the musical Les Misérables. The brain-child of Les Misérables PosterClaude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil. Les Misérables is based on the novel by the same name by Victor Hugo. The story has been sung in English, in French, in Japanese and several other languages and has appeared on the big screen in action, non-musical versions, one of which I have seen with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush (1998), but never before has it been adapted directly from the musical as it will be this year.

The occurrence of this project (from The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper) is hardly surprising with the ever growing number of musical numbers making their way towards the big screen: Moulin Rouge (2001),  Rock of the Ages (2012), Down with Love (2003), Nine (2009), Chicago (2002), Mamma Mia (2008), however few of these are sung-through as is the case of Les Misérables and my personal favourite, and strongly criticized, Evita (1996).

At first glance I too was skeptical. The cast seemed too good to be true, the story had never really stuck with me (I had to read the original novel in high school) and quite frankly I had never heard the musical! I quickly rectified the situation after hearing the teaser for the movie with Anne Hathaway’s excellent voice. I decided to do a little research: I borrowed the soundtrack for the original London musical and a book on the creation of the play. That, in combination with the information that I knew, and was confirmed in the excellent article on the topic in Entertainment Weekly (August 17/24, 2012), has made me an eager anticipator of the movie come December.

Firstly, most of the cast for this movie has music experience. Hugh Jackman is the man about town landing action movies and musical awards wherever he goes! Amanda Seyfried did, in my opinion, quite well in Mamma Mia, even if the movie was harpooned by critics. Russell Crowe has his own band! A rock group called 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. The only wild card seems to be Anne Hathaway who dispelled any of my doubts in her interpretation of I dreamed a Dream which features in the trailer. Furthermore the casting of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as a twisted Parisian couple is too titillating for words…

Secondly, the concept of this musical is also quite intriguing to me because this extremely popular English-language piece was actually translated, or rather adapted, from the original French. This is not the same as translating a movie, a book, or a single piece of music. We’re talking here of 3 hours of emotionally captivating song and dance which much preserve the same kind of emotional impact no matter what the language. As someone who grew up speaking English in Quebec, I am aware of the many intricacies of language that can be a challenge on many different levels. I was pleasantly surprised to learn, while reading The musical world of Boublil & Schönberg : the creators of Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre, and The pirate queen(2006), that Alain Boublil, the librettist, is involved in all adaptations of his work in each language that it’s adapted to.

Furthermore, upon reading that both Schönberg and Boublil were on hand during the production I was reassured that the song which is said to have been composed specifically for Jackman would not be a disappointment!

The book goes on to describe the making of two other musicals as well, however the fact that the other contributors to Boublil and Schönberg’s creations are also asked to provide insight into the creative process, mainly lyricists from languages other than French, gives the book a more complete overall tone.

Finally, I borrowed the soundtrack to the original English-version musical, recorded in 1985, London, England. The first listening was only satisfactory. I truly fell in love with I dreamed a dream and the duet between Valjean and Jalbert but the synthesized sound (it was the 80s after all) and Gavroche’s little number left me quite cold. However I found myself playing it several times because some of the tunes just kept playing in my head! I now understand the appeal of this musical and I am even more eager to hear this new version recorded with a 70-piece orchestra.

Will you be going to see les Misérables?

Sorry for the hiatus readers. I have just come back from a quick immersion into the Celtic world. I was very fortunate to be able to meet up with a friend of mine during this part of her trip to several parts of the world (including Spain, UK and Australia). I have therefore just spent the last two weeks in Ireland and Scotland.

Although I could simply share with you the pictures and experiences from my trip, I thought I’d try and take this occasion to try and once again expand my reading, watching and listening habits, and share those with you as well. This Celtic  theme will take a few weeks, but I hope that at the end of it you will have your curiosity peaked or will have learned something of interest.

Scotland and Ireland share more than an interesting and violent history: they’ve both been pillaged by Vikings, invaded by Brits and have a common ancestry. In the early 500s a Celtic tribe, known as the Scots, crossed the Irish sea from northern Ireland and established a kingdom in south-western Scotland. Thus these two people share a language, a history, as well as an intense pride and enthusiasm for life!

Ireland and Scotland are very popular settings and themes in the romance genre, both within and without the British Isles. Stories ranging from the more outlandish to the more serious can be found in bookstores and libraries around the world. I will start by sharing some of my favourite Celtic stories within this genre at this introductory stage.

Nora Roberts’ gift for imagery makes her a prime candidate to capture and share the interesting and varied landscapes that can be found throughout Ireland. From the lowerlands of Dublin, to the cliffs of the west Atlantic shores to the mountains of the north, she’s the person to go to if you want to travel from the comfort of your chair, or plan an imaginary trip for when you have enough money to travel where you want! My personal favourites are The three fates and Tears of the moon (from the Gallaghers of Ardmore, Irish trilogy also including Jewels of the sun and Heart of the sea).

The three fates deals more with the role of Irish people and Irish culture within the world history. The Irish diaspora, starting Three Fatesmainly with the Great Famine (1845-1850) has made the Irish population a significant representative of the world population, as members of our families and communities around the English-speaking world. This tale draws on historical plots from the great migration boats of the late 19th and early 20th century to tell a three-part romance story which spans from Ireland to Iceland to New York city.

Tears of the Moon: The Gallaghers Of Ardmore Trilogy #2Her Irish trilogy takes mostly place in south-east of Ireland, the county of Waterford. Focusing on the more memorable aspects of Irish society: pubs, music and myths, these three stories are simply a fun read. Just like the cottage belonging to Kate Winslet’s character in The Holiday(2006), these three stories are cozy, intimate and picturesque with just the right touch of love at first sight, rediscovering old loves and love grown over time.

So far, the only books I’ve read from Teresa Medeiros have been historical romance (I’m still waiting for the library to get a copy of Goodnight tweetheart). However these romances are filled with humour and action and just the right amount of cheesiness.  I would like to recommend Some like it wild and  Some like it wicked.

Some Like It WickedSome Like It Wild

These two books play on the natural and historical tensions between the Scots and their southern neighbours during the early 19th century, integrating tartans, clans and highland castles for to create joyful and touching stories.

If despite liking the thoroughly modern take on medieval families portrayed in Brave (2012) you still want a taste of romance, please try these two books and tune back to this blog as I continue to share my Celtic experience with you.

Pleasures Of A Notorious Gentleman

Lorraine Heath is one of a select number of historical romance authors that I will pick up without having to read the extract. When I started to read Pleasures of a notorious gentleman, I was pleased to discover that although the famed rich ballrooms that made the Regency period so famous and which then spilled over all the way to the Victorian period did feature, the story also heavily involved the famous Crimean War of 1853-1856. This war joining British, French and Turkish forces against Russians took place place in the exotic locale of mid-Turkey on the shores of the Black Sea, the port of Sevastopol being at the center of the much of the fighting.

The romance takes place, of course, between two attractive people from the somewhat upper class of English aristocracy, however the hero was a captain in the British army, whereas the heroine is cast as a nurse working for the famous Florence Nightingale. Finally, as a military history fan, I was pleased to observe the inclusion of the Victoria Cross into the storyline, which was created as a result of, and to reward, acts of bravery during this conflict.

Our bravest and our best: The stories of Canada's Victoria Cross winners

Starting from Pleasures of a notorious gentleman we can jump to Our bravest and our best: the stories of Canada’s Victoria Cross winners by Arthur Bishop, as this medal is in fact the highest level of honour in the Commonwealth, even to this day.

Death or Glory: The Legacy of the Crimean WarFor those who want more insight about the actions and locations mentioned in Lorraine Heath’s novel they might want to turn their attention to Death or Glory: the legacy of the Crimean War by Robert B. Edgerton. The secondary purpose of this book is to serve as a comparison between this conflict and the American civil war.  Edgerton takes the time to present the points of view, as much as is possible, of all the armies, of which there were many, who were involved in the Crimean War. All in all a very informative read.

Finally, although The Lion’s Daughter by Loretta Chase is set a good 40 years before the beginning of the Crimean War, I recommend this boLions Daughterok to pursue the reading experience because of its setting. Just as the British armies were composed of Irish, Scottish and other soldiers from the British isles, the Turkish army was composed of several members of the very diverse Ottoman Empire, of which Albania, the one of the main locations of The Lion’s Daughter, used to belong . As such, it offers a wonderful opportunity to explore this little used location in the context of a historical romance. Loretta Chase, whose blog you can find here http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.ca/, creates a very vivid picture of the country and its culture, at a time still firmly Muslim and under Turkish rule.

If there is one thing  I like when I read or watch a novel or movie is to be entertained or to learn something. If a piece can do both, then I’m in heaven!  I hope that you’ll enjoy the following reading and learning experiences as much as I did.

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