Wednesday, January 31, 2024


 [The 2024 Oscars will take place on March 10, 2024. Until then, I’ll review as many Best Picture films as possible.]

In my film reviews, I start with the benchmark of five stars and then deduct half or one point if the film falls short in any of the following categories:
· Storyline
· Screenplay
· Acting
· Direction
· Character Arcs

The reviews are my opinions alone.

An Ominous Dawn The Manhattan Project and J. Robert Oppenheimer (Image:DALL-E)

Plot Overview 

With "Best Picture" and twelve other nominations, 'Oppenheimer’ leads the 2024 pack of nominees. It’s a biopic exploration of the paradox of progress, delving into the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his pivotal role in the Manhattan Project. This Oscar-nominated film captures the tension and drama behind the creation of the atomic bomb.

Cast Highlights 

Cillian Murphy delivers an understated yet on-target performance as J. Robert Oppenheimer, encapsulating the profound conflict of a man who built the unthinkable. The supporting cast is a powerhouse of A-List actors, including Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., and Kenneth Branagh, whose riveting portrayals elevate the film further. In some cases, the characters’ makeup is so effective as to render some actors almost unrecognizable in their roles, with Robert Downey Jr. as an example. Matt Damon as General Leslie Groves is spellbinding.

Behind The Scenes 

Directed by the acclaimed Chris Nolan, 'Oppenheimer' is a testament to the dedication to bringing historical accuracy to the silver screen. Nolan's commitment to the authenticity of technical facts about the Manhattan Project is strongly evident. Did Einstein really encourage the US to pursue the development of a nuclear weapon? An Oppenheimer fact-check reveals that German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein signed a letter dubbed the Einstein-Szilard letter on August 2, 1939. Authored by physicist Leo Szilard, the letter was sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt recommending funding for research into the potential for using nuclear fission as a weapon.


The movie is an intricate tapestry of ambition, ethics, and human frailty. It goes beyond the historical events to question the cost of genius and the price of ambition, leaving audiences to ponder long after the lights come up. It may not precisely move you with a strong emotion in one direction or the other. I can’t say I liked any of the characters, and none tugged at my heartstrings, but perhaps that was the intention. The subject matter of the Manhattan Project is so overpowering that the film may leave you cold, shivery, and a little empty. Although engrossing, the film might have been trimmed a little. Even so, I was surprised at the conclusion of “Oppenheimer” that more than three hours of watching time had passed so quickly.

Wrap-up and Rating

Storyline: Exceptional, threading through the complexities of J. Robert Oppenheimer's life.

Screenplay: Skillful and engaging, brimming with sharp dialogue and intense moments. However, the film could have benefited from some trimming to maintain a tighter pace.

Acting: Seamless, with Cillian Murphy leading with an understated but on-target performance. 

Directing: Nolan's direction is technically masterful, even though the frequent color-to-black-and-white transitions can be disorienting, momentarily pulling the viewer out of the immersive experience he so carefully constructs.

Character Arcs: Satisfying, each central figure receiving a well-crafted journey that resonates emotionally and intellectually with the audience.

Overall rating a solid 4 Stars 

Bottom Line

Oppenheimer is a compelling cinematic experience rich in detail and depth, cementing its place as a standout historical drama of our time.

#OppenheimerReview #Oscar2024 #ManhattanProject #HistoricalEpic #MattDamon #ChrisNolan #CinematicMasterpiece #CillianMurphy

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Writing and Other Progress

 Ovidia--every other Tuesday

First, let me show off a little. This was supposed to be my December project, but I've only just finished it--handing it over tonight to family visiting from the UK where hopefully the weather will remain chilly for a little while longer so they get to wear it!

And I've started on the next non-writing project--something in cotton I hope to wear to Crimefest this year then leave as a warm wear donation...

Yes, I'm still writing. At the moment I'm trying to wrap up/ wrestle one project (due April) into shape while starting on notes for the next (contract says due August but they'll probably let me get away with Sept though I'm hoping to finish by July) while batting off seductive ideas that are coming at me full force from all directions, all incredibly seductive and tantalising...

It's a difficult yet wonderful state to be in, when everything you see/ hear/ read sparks off new ideas. Like I passed an accident on the road yesterday morning. Luckily there didn't seem to be anyone on the ground, just three women standing together and talking--not looking very happy. 

But what if there had been a dead body on the road and--

A: It's an act of God. We must all make the most of our time because we never know when someone's going to die. Let me just text my daughters to remind them I won't be around forever and they better come home for dinner.

B: Who's to blame for this? It must be somebody's fault! If there had been more/fewer traffic signs or a better road surface this wouldn't have happened. The government is useless! I'm going to call my MP now!

C: Okay the plan worked. Now I just need to get rid of these two idiots before they mess things up.

And yes, my protagonist is probably going to be C. Except I won't have time to write it for a long time yet!

We're still in the festival season here. The Christmas tree (green and 'snowy') at One Holland Village has transformed into a Chinese New Year tree (not quite there yet. The red and gold lights still have to go up)

Complete with cherry blossoms. Though the management seem to have left out Thaipusam, which was last week.

Thaispusam is marked by the ceremonial act of carrying a physical weight representing their spiritual burden. 

I remember going to watch the kavadi carriers when I was still in school (which was near the route). 

Traffic would be blocked off as the devotees walked from Serangoon Road to Tank Road, carrying the kavadis to offer thanks or atone for misdeeds. Often their bodies are pierced with sharp skewers in self-mortification--and in their devotion they don't feel the pain.

I didn't want to invade anyone's privacy by posting photos of the devotees, but it's a joyous procession, with chanting and drums, lots of flowers and peacock feathers and there is free food for the poor at the temples over the three days of the festival.

These are some images from the temples---

The spear they're holding is 'Vel', the invincible spear that Lord Murugan used to overcome demons overrunning the earth.

And yes, there's a story I want to write around that too--a YA where the sword Vel of Hindu mythology is confused with the Green Dragon Crescent Sword of Chinese mythology and the kids trying to restore them come to realise the two mythic weapons are one and the same.

It sounds fun, right? Someday, I will write this!

But life is good. And I Will finish the current project and not start anything else until I do!

I hope you're all well and full of joy in your reading and writing and in your lives too!

Monday, January 29, 2024

Return to Mombasa

 Annamaria on Monday

My new publisher is, much to my delight, issuing new editions of the first three books in my Africa series as a lead up to the fourth series story, which has been written and ready for publication, but unfortunately waiting in wings for nearly six years.  Next out of the rereleases will be Vera and Tolliver #2: Idol of Mombasa, due out in March.  Here today, as a diversion from taking you along on my adventures in Italy, I offer a repeat of my eight-year-old blog post about the setting of V&T2, the exotic and every fascinating Mombasa.


The setting for my upcoming book—The Idol of Mombasa—has a fabulous, exotic history: connected to the Sultanates of Oman and of Zanzibar, trade with ancient China, Portuguese global exploration, the Raj, and the search for the source of the Nile.  The romance of this list gives me gooseflesh.  What a place!  My series character—Vera Tolliver—describes it as a locale where you “expect to see Aladdin walking along, carrying his lamp.”

There has been a trading post on this island at least since the early Middle Ages.  Local oral tradition says it was founded, sometime around 900 AD by a woman—Mwana Mkisi and became the birthplace of the Swahili culture.  The first people to settle there permanently were traders and skilled craftsman.  Links were established with the Indian sub-continent and east as far as China.  Trade was in gold, spices, and ivory.  Once plantations, which relied on slave labor, were in place, trade expanded to include millet, sesame, and cocoanuts.

Modern picture of the historic souk

Mombasa’s harbor and its position on the Indian Ocean made it a natural as an international city, the most important port on the East African coast.  Persian and Arab traders were there early on.  One Arab geographer mentioned it in his documentation of 1151.  The first written account comes from a Moroccan traveler, writing in 1331.  He stopped in overnight and wrote in his journal, “a religious people, trustworthy and righteous.  Their mosques are made of wood and expertly built.”

 As with many other faraway places, Vasco Da Gama was the first European to show up in Mombasa—in 1498.  He must have lusted after what he saw, because he returned two years later and sacked the place.  At the time that Vasco—that villain—arrived, the city was ruled by the Sultan of Mombasa.  At which point there began a series of turnarounds for the citizenry.  Over the next four hundred, years hegemony over Mombasa went like this:

1528—Portuguese attack again and take over
1587—Zimba cannibals (!) put in a brief appearance
1589—Portuguese return and this time build Fort Jesus, which still stands
1698—Sultan of Oman tosses out the Portuguese
1728—Portuguese make another cameo appearance
1729—Sultanate of Oman is back and endures for a century
1824—Britain makes its first sally

Fort Jesus, as it looks today

Tunnel within the fort

Ancient Portuguese grafitti

Then, through a series of deaths, deals, and inheritances within the Sultanate of Oman, by 1886, a ten-mile wide swath of the coast had become the property of the Sultan of Zanzibar.   The Brits had been active in that part of the world for a number of years, trying to get a permanent foothold.  It was from Mombasa that they launched many of their forays in search of the source of the Nile.  British missionaries had moved into the hinterlands with dual and interlinked purposes—to convert the pagans to Christianity and as an important part of their effort to wipe out slavery worldwide.   In 1886, the King’s empire builders made a deal with the Sultan of Zanzibar, who gave them a concession in his territory along the coast.

At that point Mombasa became the capital of the Protectorate of British East Africa, into which they also included all the land going west to Lake Victoria and north to the southern border of Uganda. 

Just then, the Brits started to build a railroad from Mombasa to Lake Victoria, a bold, fascinating project that I have described in two posts before—here and here.  Once the railroad was completed, laborers imported from India for its construction often stayed on and settled in Mombasa, giving the city yet another facet of its fascination.

In 1906, since most of the European settlers were ensconced up country, the Brits moved their administration to Nairobi, where the capital of Kenya remains to this day.

Modern-day Mombasa stands as a pinnacle of historical exoticism. 

My characters walk around in the place as it was a hundred years ago.  Fortunately for me, photographic evidence of what it looked like still exists.  Here are just a handful of the photos I have collected:


Lucky, lucky me, I also have eleven volumes of eye-witness accounts—on my shelf in the New York Public Library.


  1. I always found Mombasa fascinating when I lived in Kenya, quite different from the inland of the country.
    I'm greatly looking forward to the book! When does it come out?

    1. It will launch at Bouchercon, Michael. Will you be there? I HOPE!

      I am a little trepidatious about your reading it. You'll know if I got details wrong. Promise you'll tell me first if I did.

    2. Given the depth of your research, if anything in the book is not as I remember it, then it's just another example of my poor memory!
      Unfortunately I won't make Bouchercon this year. Our book has been delayed till next year. Sigh.

    3. Sigh is right! I will have to come to Africa then. Hooray for that idea.

  2. Be careful throwing around those F-words, AmA. After Jeff's fascinating comments yesterday, starting the blog right off with 'fabulous' is likely to set Jeff right off again.

    (Fabulous story, by the way! Can't wait for the second volume of your fabulous Tolliver series.)

  3. Thank you, EvKa, for your kind words about the series.

    Regarding Jeff: I am not sure he is talking to me after our debate on Saturday. :)

    Our designating one another as Bro and Sis has turned out to TOO apt. We can argue about things we agree on. Let's see if he shows up here today and if he uses an f-word

  4. e only f-word I have for you and your parevka is "flight" as B and I have been on planes since 11PM last night EDT and now it's 6:30pm. Which means I missed all the f-ing back and

    1. Oh my Bro, flying to where? Was it worth it. I HOPE!!!!!

    2. From the way my typing came out on my comment, not sure the answer is yes. :) However, we just landed in NY on the way to Montana for a wedding, and then it's back on planes to Mykonos. Argggghh.

  5. Doing the right thing. What a seductive and annoying concept. I hope this trip offers great pleasures. Montana is gorgeous, so there is hope in that regard. Safe travels.

  6. I am so in awe of your research and courage! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

    1. Thank you so much, Thelma. You are a model of courage, if you ask me--striking out to an international professional life as you did. Huzzah for us women who refused to be kept in our place!

  7. I'm a little late to the show, but here goes. I loved your post as with so many of your posts, I was right there. It was also fun to read about Mombasa since I never explored anything about it. "Out of Africa" opened this door for me, so now I just have to check out your books.

    1. Lil, My interest in Africa began with when I first read Out of Africa as a teenager. When I decided to set my series there, I picked the place where Karen Dinesen went to become the Baroness van Blixen in 1914. But I started the series in 1911. We will get to Karen, but for the first three books, we do meet Denys Finch Hatton, Berkeley Cole, Lord and Lady Delamere, as well as her baron--Blix. I had read that book quite a few times before I ever dreamed about setting a book there and then. The more I learn, the happier I am with my choice.

  8. Fascinating history, learned quite a bit. Oh, what we don't know is monumental.
    Am fascinated about the journals, what they were written on, how they were kept. Where were they stored?
    Am dismayed by the colonialism and the slave labor, but it was reality.

    1. Kathy, a lot of my research materials are memoirs of people who were there at the time I write about. They often published in London at the time or shortly afterwards. I imagine that books about what it was like in those exotic places were popular with people on "home" ground in those days. And the GREAT NYPL has them all.