Saturday, February 27, 2010
Michal (The Wives of King David #1)
By: Jill Eileen Smith
About the book:
The daughter of King Saul, Michal lives a life of privilege – but one that is haunted by her father’s unpredictable moods and competition from her beautiful older sister. As a girl, Michael quickly falls for the handsome young harpist, David. But soon after their romance begins, David must flee for his life, leaving Michal at her father’s mercy in the prison that is King Saul’s palace.
Will Michal ever be reunited with David? Or is she doomed to remain separated from him forever?
Against the backdrop of opulent palace life, raging war, and daring desert escapes, Jill Eileen Smith takes you on an emotional journey as Michal deals with love, loss, and personal transformation as the first wife of King David.
With her debut novel, Jill Eileen Smith explores the tumultuous life of Michal, daughter of King Saul and the first wife of David. Honestly, Michal is a character that I never really gave much thought to before. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of thinking of the people that populate the pages of scripture as flat characters, rather than as the wonderful, flawed, fully-rounded human beings they actually were, filled with fears and hopes. Though Michal’s life has been reduced to mention in only a handful of verses, she witnessed an incredible amount of history and heartbreak. The way Smith brings Michal to life, from her early years as a young princess in Saul’s court, in love with David the simple shepherd, to the unfathomable tragedy she witnessed as Saul’s family fell from power, absolutely captivated me from the first page.
Smith’s narrative closely follows the Biblical account of David’s life and rise to power found in 1 and 2 Samuel. In many cases, she incorporates some of the actual dialogue from the scriptures which adds further authenticity to the novel. Her research and passion for the time period clearly shines through in her vivid descriptions of palace life. It was easy to imagine myself in that world, walking alongside Michal and David, drinking in the sights, sounds, and smells of ancient Israel. The book covers decades in Michal’s life, often with jumps of one to six years between chapters. Those transitions can be a little abrupt, but overall they did not detract from my enjoyment of the story or my complete immersion into Michal’s world. And although the focus of this novel is Michal, David also emerges as a fascinating and complex man. Smith gives readers a window into the personal, family side of David, while not neglecting David the king and worshipper so well known in the pages of the Bible. I wanted to smack him when he started accumulating multiple wives. Through Michal’s role as first – and childless – wife, Smith gives a very human face to the toll such a lifestyle must have taken on women during that time.
I really appreciate how Smith depicted the many cultural and social standards a woman in Michal’s position dealt with seem so foreign today. Seeing Saul’s descent into madness from the perspective of a daughter was absolutely terrifying, especially since as a woman she was wholly subject to his dictates as her father and king. I cannot imagine the courage it took to help David escape Saul’s wrath in the early days of their marriage, and then to endure being given to another man when Saul declared her marriage to David void. It’s easy to understand Michal’s struggles with anger and bitterness, and how she clung to her dream of being declared David’s queen as her salvation. In a culture that placed a premium on a woman’s ability to provide her husband with children, Michal’s struggles with anger, fear, and bitterness over the uncertainty of her position at court are heartbreaking. Her journey towards redemption, and a personal relationship with David’s beloved God after enduring so much heartbreak and horror was beautiful to witness. Michal does not get your typical happy ending, but it’s the right ending for her story, offering the hope and restoration that only a relationship with God can supply to a life torn asunder by circumstance. Very well done – I look forward to the sequels!
Tomorrow Masterpiece will be airing a new adaptation of John Buchan's novel, The 39 Steps. This story was previously brought to life by master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock in 1935. This version stars one of my favorites, Rupert Penry-Jones (*swoon*). :) Here's a bit about the story:
Richard Hannay's pre World War I listless life in London is spiraling out of control. Armed with a secret notebook, Hannay is on the run to save himself and his country. Along with feisty suffragette Victoria Sinclair, the two face betrayal and near death. Starring Rupert Penry-Jones and Lydia Leonard, this bracing and romantic thriller is based on the novel by John Buchan.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Miss Match (Allie Fortune Mysteries #2)
By: Sara Mills
About the book:
Jack…I’m in trouble, big trouble. Once, many years ago, we trusted each other completely. I’m asking you to trust me like that again. I need you. If you can, come to Berlin. I’ll find you.
FBI agent Jack O’Connor receives this cryptic letter from Maggie, a woman he used to love. The FBI refuses to get involved, so Jack asks another woman to help him investigate. Wasting no time, Allie Fortune, the best private eye in New York City, comes up with a plan to get them both into Germany.
Maggie was a Red Cross nurse in the war, and she has stayed in the divided city of Berlin to look after an orphaned child. Trapped and in hiding, she has nowhere to turn…except to Jack.
And little does Allie Fortune know that this case might just lead right to her own mysterious past…
In many ways, not much has changed in Allie Fortune’s life since she met FBI agent Jack O’Connor and they partnered together to successfully close a major case. She’s still the only female private investigator in New York City, still has tense dinners with her parents every Wednesday night, and she’s till searching for her lost love David Rubeneski, missing in action since the end of the war. When Jack calls asking for her help, she knows the situation is serious – Maggie, the woman who turned him down years before, has written from divided Berlin needing help. Armed with only a cryptic letter and no idea of the danger Maggie is in, Allie and Jack travel to Berlin determined to save her life. But Allie has a side mission to complete – her mother has charged her with finding a priest in the war-ravaged city and delivering a mysterious gift. Between her mother’s request and the threats closing in around Maggie and her secrets, Allie is shocked when the current investigation rips open old wounds from her own past. With more than her life and the lives of her friends at stake, Allie must navigate the dangerous world of international espionage if she’s to have a chance to lay the past to rest and move on with her life.
The best way I can describe Sara Mills’ writing is that it’s like film noir on the page. I’ve been on a film noir viewing kick lately, and watching classics like Laura, I Wake Up Screaming, and The Dark Corner proved to be perfect viewing complements to Sara’s rich, atmospheric storytelling. The way past and present collide in Miss Match is one of the novel’s greatest strengths. I love how Mills takes each character’s secrets and forces them to confront their fears in the light of present danger. Allie is as smart and engaging as she was in her debut, but since meeting Jack, a guy who genuinely values her friendship and her rather unorthodox job skill set, she’s begun to open up. Kudos to Mills for creating such a fantastic investigative team in Allie and Jack – theirs is a genuine, rewarding friendship based on mutual respect and understanding. But emotional risk and self-reflective moments are not always welcome or easy to endure, as proven when Allie discovers a shocking secret about her mother’s past that forces her to re-evaluate her own character and prejudices.
Miss Match is the perfect blend of post-war intrigue and mystery, the ideal read for anyone who appreciates the tone and storytelling style of classic film noir. A page-turning tale mystery, faith, and second chances, I only hope that one day not too far in the future we’ll get a third Allie Fortune mystery to continue Miss Match’s KILLER cliffhanger. :)
Click to read my review of the first Allie Fortune mystery, Miss Fortune.
I know this just opened in London, but oh my I hope it makes its way to the States soon!
Miss Fortune (Allie Fortune Mystery #1)
By: Sara Mills
Back cover summary:
It's 1947 and Allie Fortune is the only female (and perhaps the best) private investigator in New York City.
But she's kept awake at nigh by a mystery of her own - her fiance disappeared in the war and Allie is haunted more by the unknown than by finding out the worst.
Her work is a welcome distraction, and she's just been hired by a client who isn't telling the whole truth. Mary Gordon's claims of innocence don't fit with her ransacked apartment, being shot at, and the two Soviet agents hot on her trail.
Meanwhile the FBI is working the case because a legendary and mysterious treasure has gone missing...again. The only catch for Allie is her new "partner" Jack, an attractive, single agent who knows how to make her smile.
As Allie and Jack chase after the gold, they must contend with the Soviets who also want the priceless treasure back - after all, they stole it fair and square.
Allie Fortune's life is hanging in limbo. David, the only man she ever loved, disappeared in the war. Two years later, still haunted by regrets, Allie is unable to move forward with her life until the mystery of David's disappearance is laid to rest. She's spent years honing her skills as an investigator, building a solid reputation, acquiring contacts, and calling in every favor imaginable in ultimately fruitless attempts to discover David's fate. When Mary Gordon walks through her office door, claiming she's being stalked, little does Allie realize that Mary's duplicity will draw her into a web of deceit and danger that may just give her the opportunity to make peace with her past - but only if she can survive the threats coalescing around her client's dangerous secret.
Miss Fortune is the perfect "marriage" of two of my obsessions - World War II era history and classic film. Allie's adventures pay particular homage to film noir classics like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. She's a female version of the "hard-boiled" detective type made famous by Humphrey Bogart in the aforementioned films as well as other detectives who populated 1940s film classics like Laura (and Dana Andrews's unforgettable detective). It's a rare thing to encounter a novel that makes me feel like I'm watching an absorbing film unfold, but Mills has achieved that feat with her debut here. The pages of Miss Fortune drip with atmosphere, and Allie's voice - a combination of smarts, sarcasm, and a touch of world-weariness - is utterly captivating. I appreciated the lack of "preachiness" to the story. The spiritual thread is subtly introduced as Allie gradually comes to realize self-reliance is hindering her life at the expense of protecting her heart. Mills includes tantalizing glimpses of Allie's history with David - just enough to tease the reader into wanting more (prequel, anyone? ). My one quibble with this book is that we don't get to know Jack well enough (however, my fingers are crossed that this will be remedied with the sequel, Miss Match, due to release March 2009 - the story blurb looks promising!). The characterizations, pacing, and dialogue all seamlessly work together to transport the reader into Allie's world of danger and intrigue. Personally I can't wait to make another trip with the sequel.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Since Northanger Abbey was rebroadcast last week on Masterpiece Classic, I thought it might be time to pull out my DVD and revisit the film and my initial impressions of it. I originally reviewed the film in January 2008, when it aired as part of the Jane Austen season on Masterpiece. So without further ado, here's my original post on the movie:
"Perhaps after all it is possible to read too many novels."— Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey
Time to rehash Northanger Abbey, and no surprise here, but I LOVED it. It's got everything going for it - a smart script (courtesy of the inimitable Andrew Davies), excellent direction and pacing, and a spot-on, practically perfect cast all giving sparkling performances. This is the first film adaptation of this story that I've seen - and while I have nothing to compare it to movie-wise, I have a feeling that it is leaps and bounds better than the previous BBC version.
At the moment I'm feeling too lazy to write a decent summary of the story, so thanks to Kaye for letting me borrow her version.
The daughter of a country clergyman, Catherine Morland has a passion for gothic romance novels and a vivid imagination. She gets the opportunity to go to Bath for the season with family friends. While in Bath, she makes the acquaintance of the Thorpe family, specifically Isabella, who is engaged to Catherine’s brother, and John. Isabella teaches Catherine the fine art of flirtation, and soon John is showing romantic interest in Catherine.
Catherine, however, isn’t interested in the wild John, but in the quiet Henry Tilney. Henry’s father, General Tilney, under the misinformation that Catherine is wealthy, invites Catherine to come spend some time at their ancestral home, Northanger Abbey. The Abbey answers all of Catherine’s gothic imaginings; and as soon as she arrives, the fun begins.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Just a reminder, if you've never seen the latest film adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion (also known as "Rupert Penry-Jones will make you swoon," LOL), PBS is airing an encore presentation of this film tonight. For me the highlight of this film is definitely the casting of Captain Wentworth. :) Here's the summary from the Masterpiece website:
Unhappily unmarried at age 27, and dealing with family financial peril, hope is fading from Anne Elliot's (Sally Hawkins, Little Britain) life. Circumstances bring Captain Frederick Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones, Casanova), a dashing naval officer she once deeply loved, back into her life eight years after Anne was persuaded by her family to reject his marriage proposal. Having returned from sea with a new fortune, Wentworth is surrounded by swooning women while Anne broods at the periphery, longing to be in Wentworth's favor. Now Anne comes face-to-face with the deep regret of her old decision, and her abiding love for Wentworth, as she wonders if a long ago love can be rekindled.
Bet you thought this write-up was never coming, right? :) Goodness knows I am completely incapable of leaving a series on British film unfinished, never mind the blogs are weeks off schedule. Oh well. *wink*
I'm actually glad I left off writing about the final episode of Emma until I could watch it on DVD. To start with, here's the episode summary from the Masterpiece website:
What was intended as a day of fun turns into a day of agony for everyone on the Box Hill excursion. Things come to a head when, egged on by Frank, Emma behaves very badly, insulting Miss Bates. Emma is berated by Knightley and realizes that her behavior was shameful. She tries to repair things with Jane and Miss Bates, but Jane will not see her. Miss Bates tells her that Jane has cried all night and decided to accept a job as a governess. Meanwhile, Knightley goes to stay with his brother in London — he will be away for a while. When Frank's aunt dies, the Westons expect him to propose to Emma — but his actions set in motion a chain of events that both shock Emma and make her realize something that has been in plain sight all along.
This is the "payoff" episode of the Emma story, when Emma begins to realize that her machinations may have cost her the love of her life. Don't you love it? :) The episode opens with the strawberry picking expedition at Donwell Abbey. Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller) has pulled out all of the stops to ensure Mr. Woodhouse's (Michael Gambon) comfort, since he is always so loathe to leave his own home. It was a sweet moment, as you can see that Knightley's practically begging Emma to see that he's doing this all for her, and Emma, while appreciative, is happily oblivious to that fact. This portion of the program also has a very funny scene with Mr. Elton (Blake Ritson) leading his new bride (Christina Cole) to Donwell on the back of a donkey. The look on Ritson's face is comic gold. :)
I think this production of Emma does the best job, that I've seen anyway, of showing real growth and transformation in Emma's character. Romola Garai has completely exceeded my expectations with her performance. She starts off so sure of herself, so superficial in so many, many ways, and by the conclusion of this film version we see her become kinder, more understanding, more considerate. The scenes between Garai and Gambon and father and daughter do an excellent job of highlighting the kind, patient side of Emma's character. Garai's Emma expresses such a love and patience for her father that's wonderful to see. And I love Gambon's take on Mr. Woodhouse - the way he plays the character really seems to indicate that he really struggles with - well, I'm not sure - senility? social anxiety disorder? Sandy Welch's screenplay and Gambon's acting make Mr. Woodhouse much more than a high-maintenence presence on the pages of Austen's novel.
This episode covers the Box Hill excursion, which has to be one of the most painful episodes to read or see enacted on-screen, thanks to Emma's thoughtless set-down of Miss Bates (Tamsin Greig). I really appreciated the way this scene played out, showing Emma as she realizes she's gone too far, and how she graduall becomes fed up with Frank Churchill (Rupert Evans). Garai plays the scene by having Emma realize that she doesn't like the woman she's become when she's with Frank - but, since he's the type of gentleman she's always dreamed of, it's a hard realization to come to terms with. Speaking of Churchill, this adaptation left me feeling more than ever that poor Jane Fairfax, played with an almost elfin-like quality by Laura Pyper, is DOOMED. I always marvel at Jane's ability to put up with Frank's little games, but Pyper's take on Jane makes the character seem more vulnerable, somehow, than what's been shown in previous Emma films.
After the Box Hill debacle, Emma clearly has endured, perhaps for the first time, a painful dose of cold, hard reality. The following day her costumes even undergo a transformation, as she wears black and gray to visit Miss Bates in an attempt to make amends. She handles the revelation of Frank and Jane's secret engagement with a lot of maturity - balanced, of course, by a humorous moment when she berates Frank for daring to lead her on. Emma's changed a lot over the course of this series, but it's moments like that which remind you that some things never change. :)
The BEST part of this installment is, of course, getting to see Emma and Mr. Knightley finally, finally declare their love for each other. This moment is made even sweeter by all of the emotional turmoil Emma must endure first; one, by worrying that her propensity for thoughtlessness has cost her Knightley's esteem and two, that he may actually prefer her friend Harriet (Louise Dylan). By this point Emma actually considers Harriet a friend, so the possibility that she could lose Knightley to her is even more painful. I loved the way Miller played Knightley during these scenes. The combination of uncertainty, hope, and nerves is really quite adorable. :) And I loved the way Garai expressed Emma's joy and relief at realizing her love for Mr. Knightley will not go unrequited. This brings me to an important point - if you only watched the broadcast version of Emma, for goodness' sake track down the DVD. PBS inexplicably made the call to cut a short but wonderful scene between Emma and Mr. Knightley, where they discuss when each first realized they were in love with the other. The moment when Emma confesses that when she looked into her heart, she found Mr. Knightley - well, it's a sweet little moment to savor. :) I also absolutely LOVED Emma's freak-out scene when reality has set in and she fears that she can't marry because that would require her to leave her father. Seeing a rattled Emma juxtaposed with a very calm Knightley is quite funny (and I loved the shot of them going in to tell Mr. Woodhouse their plans, and Knightley reaches behind Emma to grasp her hand - so sweet!).
This adaptation of Emma has proven to be a superb addition to the long list of Jane Austen-related films. The pacing and acting are superb across the board, as are the costumes and sets. Welch's script hits all of the necessary story beats (to my mind, anyway) while providing a fresh perspective and look at the story that's so familiar to fans of Gwyneth Paltrow or Kate Beckinsale versions. Of course a major highlight of this production for me was getting to see Jonny Lee Miller play another Austen hero, and he did not disappoint. :) I also have a greater appreciation for Romola Garai as an actress. She balances Emma's self-centeredness with her growing compassion and, dare I say it, a touch of humility as well. I also must comment on Samuel Sim's gorgeous score, it was absolutely beautiful. Very, very well done all around BBC. :)
*Oh, I almost forgot - I LOVED the mention of Mr. Woodhouse's chickens at the end of this show - too funny!
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Swinging on a Star (Weddings by Bella #2)
By: Janice Thompson
About the book:
Bella Rossi’s life is nearing perfection. Not only does she have the perfect guy, but she’s also running a successful wedding-planning business and is about to plan its most ambitious wedding yet – a Renaissance-themed fairy tale come true, complete with period costumes and foods, horse-drawn carriages, and even a castle. There’s only one hitch. The best man just happens to be Hollywood’s hottest and most eligible bachelor, and he’s showing an interest in Bella. Oh, and did we mention he’s staying at her house to avoid the paparazzi?
With all the pressure surrounding this wedding, Bella’s not sure she’s going to make it through. Add her starstruck sister and her feuding aunt and uncle, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster – and a lot of laughs.
With the success of her first themed wedding – a country-western extravaganza – Bella Rossi has taken on an even bigger challenge. She must plan an elaborate, authentic, Renaissance style wedding, complete with a castle and moat. As if installing a temporary castle wasn’t enough, the wedding party happens to feature one of Hollywood’s hottest stars, Brock Benson, as the best man. In an attempt to remain anonymous so the paparazzi can’t crash the ceremony, Brock takes up residence with Bella’s family, and she struggles to keep that secret while reassuring her adorable, cowboy-boyfriend D.J. that the presence of a Hollywood star in her home won’t threaten their developing romance. If she can pull off the Renaissance fairy tale, it could be Bella’s highest profile, most successful event yet. But when wedding and Hollywood drama collide with family drama – in particular, her Aunt Rosa’s debut on the Food Network – the distractions test Bella’s faith and confidence. With the legendary Rossi family antics under the glare of a national spotlight, and a tropical storm en route, Bella must pull out all the stops to stay on track and prevent her biggest wedding yet from turning into a paparazzi photo-op.
Swinging on a Star picks up shortly after the conclusion of Fools Rush In, and I highly recommend reading that volume first in order to be properly introduced to Bella’s whacky and lovable family. Though the series bears Bella’s name, Thompson has created a true ensemble cast and one grows to care about the misadventures of each member of Bella’s circle of family and friends. Star serves up a second helping of all the elements that I loved in the first book, starting with Thompson’s clear appreciation of classic pop standards. Each chapter bears a song title, and since I’m a big fan of the Great American Songbook and Rossi family-favorite vocalists Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, I loved seeing how the title and lyrics of the songs relate to the events of each chapter. I also appreciated the Rossi family’s love of good cuisine, and how it’s poised to go national with Aunt Rosa’s pending appearance on the Food Network. Thankfully, Thompson chose to incorporate real hosts and shows into the novel, which adds a dash of pop culture realism to storyline.
I have to admit, it took me a bit longer to get into Stars than it did with Fools Rush In. Bella’s tendency to worry and overanalyze came off a bit overdone, but as the story delves more deeply into the wedding preparations and the family drama that turns around. Bella is taken to the edge, culminating with an overnight stint in jail, and back again as she learns about relinquishing control and placing her trust and faith in a never-changing God. Thompson also tackles the misleading nature of appearances, with Brock being a prime example, his Hollywood polish hiding a broken life in need of purpose. Bella’s mostly innocent tendency to “prejudge” people and circumstances is beautifully turned around when the people she wouldn’t necessarily expect are the ones who rally ‘round to spring her from jail. Star also satisfies my desire from its predecessor to get more of an insider glimpse into what it takes to create a themed wedding. I loved seeing Bella pull off the Renaissance fairy tale for her clients – the descriptions were so vivid I felt like I was part of the party. And the way D.J. and Bella’s relationship develops over the course of this wedding adventure is a treat – D.J. is the perfect embodiment of “everyday” heroism, and by the end of the book he manages to pull out all the stops in wooing Bella in a truly swoon-worthy fashion.
Filled with humor, heart, and very flawed people just trying their best to live out their faith, Swinging On a Star is a sweet, frothy confection of a read sure to leave you craving some of Rosa’s legendary Italian cooking. Book three, It Had to Be You, releases in May.
You can read my review of Fools Rush In here.
Monday, February 15, 2010
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
In February of 2009, Love Finds You in Last Chance, California was published by Summerside Press
And Finding Jeena will release in April 2010 from Kregel Publications.
Miralee Ferrell lives in Washington with Allen, her husband of more than 37 years, ans has two grown children. She serves on staff at her local church ans is actively involved in ministry to women.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Sixteen-year-old Margaret Garvey had given her heart to Nathaniel Cooper the night he disappeared from town. Four years later, just as she's giving love a second chance with Andrew, a handsome logger, Nathaniel suddenly returns. He steams back into Bridal Veil on a riverboat to work at the nearby sawmill to town with a devastating secret.
While grappling with the betrayal of those she trusted most, Margaret risks her reputation and position by harboring two troubled runaways who might be involved in the murder of a local man.
When disaster strikes the town and threatens the welfare of its citizens, Margaret will be faced with the most important choice of her life.
If you would like to read the first chapter of Love Finds You in Bridal Veil, Oregon, go HERE
Sunday, February 14, 2010
I went to see When In Rome yesterday with Leah, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't think I've laughed out loud so much during a romantic comedy since maybe The Proposal. I don't know that I'd say it's as good as The Proposal, but I was just as entertained, know what I mean? I liked the idea that the movie takes the old tradition of wishing for love by tossing a coin in a fountain (such as in the old classic, Three Coins in the Fountain), and flips it around by asking what happens to those wishes if you take someone's coin out? So the whole thing worked for me as a fun diversion on a nasty, overcast Saturday afternoon. :)
Kristen Bell was cute, funny, and neurotic - I think she's got potential in rom-coms reminscent of maybe Meg Ryan and Sandra Bullock, just a bit. Now, when I saw Josh Duhamel in the previews there's no denying his gorgeous, but I wasn't sure if he could pull off a comedy like this. I thought he worked out really well in the role, though, and had good on-screen chemistry with Bell. Frankly, he was adorable. :) The supporting cast was also great, especially Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Danny DeVito, and Dax Shepard as the four guys who "fall in love" with Bell when she takes their coins from the fountain in Rome. Heder and DeVito had some especially hilarious moments. I also LOVED seeing Anjelica Huston as Kristen Bell's witchy boss. She reminded me a bit of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. And her moment at the end of the movie with DeVito was hilarious!
So yeah, When In Rome is a lot of fun, definitely worth renting if you don't feel like shelling out to see it in the theater. It's fast-paced, really funny, and you can stare at Josh Duhamel being adorable for two hours. Plus you'll be left with this overwhelming desire to visit Rome. It's a winning combination, just sayin'. ;-)
Saturday, February 13, 2010
So I went to see Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief last night, and I've got to say you're probably much better off seeing this movie if you haven't read the books. Just for starters, in the first movie Percy is like 12, and in this movie he's what, 16 or maybe even 17? Totally changes the character's story arc. I really don't think the script writers read much more than the back cover copy of the novel - the movie is a very, very loose adaptation of Rick Riordan's story. The book's not what I would call classic literature by any stretch, but the movie really rather dumbs down the storyline thanks to generous rewrites and omissions or rearranging of characters and/or events.
However, that said, I didn't hate this movie - you just have to take it for what it is, just escapist entertainment. Sean Bean absolutely cracked me up as Zeus - he enjoyed over dramatizing every line a little too much, LOL! :) Kevin McKidd was an extremely odd choice to play Percy's dad, Poseidon, but he worked well opposite Logan Lerman as Percy. I wasn't sure about Lerman when the movie started, but by the end he'd won me over. I could definitely see him as the older Percy, if the movies were going to bother to follow the timeline of the books, so he works. Alexandra Daddario worked as Annabeth - much better than she works as Kate in my new favorite show, White Collar. Seriously, Kate needs to GO...but that's a whole other blog post. ;-) Brandon T. Jackson was a pretty perfect Grover - of the three leads, he probably ended up being my favorite. Jackson had some great comic scenes.
Pierce Brosnan was absolutely (and, I'm convinced, completely unintentionally) hilarious as the centaur Chiron. I kept thinking must have taken this role, viewing it as his chance to play the wise wizard - and since Gandalf and Dumbledore are already taken care of, he's stuck with playing a hairy horse-man. Poor Pierce. :-P Uma Thurman as Medusa was another bit of random celebrity stunt-casting. Definitely not Thurman's strongest role (haha). And I have no idea why Rosario Dawson was in this movie playing Persephone. My memory of the Persephone story is rather hazy, but I don't remember her being so, um...slutty?? Not to mention that she's a non-entity in the book, but whatever. My least favorite actor in the movie has to be Jake Abel as Luke - lame, lame, lame. If you're going to rewrite the book and amp-up his role in the story, for goodness' sake please get an actor that can play threatening instead of petulant and whiny. *rolls eyes*
Enough about the actors, since the acting is rather hit-or-miss and the script can be pretty lame, it leaves A LOT to be desired. This movie's strongest point is the special effects, some of them are quite awesome. The Fury, though under-represented, was fantastically creepy, and the Minotaur looked terrific. Chris Columbus definitely had some great new and improved special effects technology to play with since his Harry Potter days. The scenes where Percy controls the water were also handled really well IMO. I also liked the way the gods transitioned from their godlike form & size to their human disguises...those transitions were pretty seamless. Seeing this movie for the special effects alone made the whole thing worthwhile, some of the scenes were that cool and fun to see.
Speaking of watching something fun, seeing the Parthenon wrecked was a pretty random surprise, considering that a visit to Nashville is not even mentioned in the book. I don't need to go to the movies for a nice shot of I-24, I know that stretch of road like the back of my hand. Not to mention that I have never, ever seen Centennial Park so full of happy smiling families and kids. The moment was a little Twilight Zone-ish, just sayin'. ;-) If the theater we were in last night was any indication, the representation of Nashville was a tad fantasy-landish. LOL!
So yeah, that's about all I've got to say about this movie. It's fun, but having really liked the books I have to acknowledge that there are a TON of missed opportunities. Boo Chris Columbus! :-P But if you're looking for some escapist fun, this might just fit the bill. The pacing is great, the three leads are fun to watch play off each other, and the special effects can be pretty spectacular. If you're a real fan of the books I'd be curious to hear your thoughts...
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Good news for fans of Merlin (the first season of which aired on NBC last summer) - SyFy has acquired the rights to air the first TWO seasons of the show, starting in April. All I've got to say is, FINALLY. Merlin will be a MUCH better fit at SyFy than at it was at NBC. Incidentally, the first season of Merlin releases on DVD April 20th.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Well, in case ya'll couldn't tell last week, I was a little busy with reading and book reviewing, so the final two Emma reviews never happened. I mean to rectify that situation directly. :) Here is the episode two summary from the PBS website:
Emma teases Mr. Knightley about Jane, but he remains tight-lipped. Meanwhile, Frank and Emma plan a ball, and Emma wonders whether she might be in love with him. With her matchmaking officially abandoned, Emma feels cooped up and bored. Mr. Knightley suggests a day trip to Box Hill for a change of scene. He also tells Emma that he suspects Frank and Jane are secretly in love. Emma rebuffs the suggestion — she can personally vouch for Frank's indifference to Jane.
I have to say, I'm not a fan of how PBS divided this program so it would cover three weeks' worth of Masterpiece Classic time. To get two hours the first week, and then only a hour the next (really, only 45-50 minutes) just left me feeling a little ripped off. The show is too good to watch in such "tiny" segments, LOL! Needless to say, this program will be enjoyed many times over when my DVDs arrive from Amazon (currently it's only $21.99!).
This segment of Emma explores our heroine's misconception that she's in love with Frank Churchill (played by Rupert Evans). How this plays out on-screen is a great example, I think, of how well Sandy Welch's script and Romola Garai's performance work well to give this incarnation of Emma a little more depth, spending a little more time exploring why she acts the way she does, and how she perceives the circumstances playing out in her sphere of influence. I love how Garai dances between Emma's propensity for self-centeredness and her slowly awakening care and compassion for those around her, such as Harriet (Louise Dylan). Speaking of Harriet, I've been pretty pleased with Dylan's performance. She's a relative newcomer (see her IMDB page), but with appearances in Merlin and Lewis, and now this, she could be well on her way to building a solid resume.
My favorite introduction in this episode is the infamous Mrs. Elton - I actually think I screamed when she walked on-screen. Mrs. Elton is played by Christina Cole. Not only is she a fantastic actress in my opinion, but she has the market cornered in playing classic shrews. In addition to the role of Mrs. Elton, she's played Caroline Bingley in Lost in Austen and Blanche Ingram in Jane Eyre (not to mention noticable guest spots in shows like Doctor Who and Poirot). Cole is a perfect match to Blake Ritson's icy and pretentious Mr. Elton, and her take on Mrs. Elton provides an excellent foil to Emma, who is left positively stuttering with rage and frustration at her impudence. When Mrs. Elton first appears in church, Mr. E.'s introduction of her was hilarious - I loved how Ritson deadpanned his delivery of expounding on one of his favorite scriptures, "let deceitful lips be made dumb." That was just so unexpected, but so appropriate, I loved it!
I mentioned earlier the whole Emma/Frank Churchill dynamic - I think it plays out really, really well in this adaptation. I loved Emma's rather dewy-eyed infatuation with Frank. Garai plays it in a way that strikes me as very honest, and I think underscores the fact that while Emma thinks she can run everyone else's lives, she is completely clueless when it comes to knowing her own heart. Churchill completely takes her for a ride, but I have just the tiniest bit of sympathy for her because Garai lets one see that Emma's affections could be in peril. She's a control freak, yes, but I like her. :)
Of course the highlight of this program is the way the Knightley/Emma relationship develops. There's more time to see events unfold here, versus in the 90 minute or so feature films that have been Austen-film staples for the last ten-plus years. Jonny Lee Miller's take on Mr. Knightley has been absolutely FANTASTIC. My favorite moment in this episode comes at the Highbury ball. Not only does Emma get to witness Knightley's chivalry (when he rescues Harriet from being snubbed by Elton), but she acknowledges that where Mr. Elton was concerned, Knightley was 100% correct. That's major progress, right people?! :) And then there's the dance. Excuse me while a swoon for a second. ;) To my knowledge, this is the first Emma adaptation that doesn't preface the dance with the exchange that Emma and Knightley aren't "so like brother and sister that dancing would be improper" (or something like that, just quoting from memory here). THANK YOU, Sandy Welch, for skipping that quote. It serves to "freshen" the moment, since all the story beats are so well-known, plus it doesn't throw up in one's face that Knightley is like twice Emma's age (or close to it). I have no problem with age differences in romantic pairings, don't get me wrong - I'm just tired of having it mentioned in Emma films because it always seems to come off rather awkwardly to my ears.
All that to say - the look Knightley gives Emma when she says she'll dance with him, if only he'll ask - that pause, that look, is to die for. Well played, Jonny Lee Miller, well played. In that moment, Miller lets you see just how much Knightley cares for Emma. There's no frustration with immaturity, there's only love, affection, and a belief in their possible future that's lovely to see. This Knightley is intense and determined, and I love it!! I just have to point out, though, the hilarity to be found in one of his solo scenes (after the ball, when he visualizes dancing with Emma). That moment is such a rip-off of the Darcy-watching-Elizabeth-play-the-piano-scene-and-then-daydreaming-about-it moment from Pride and Prejudice that it's not even funny. Well, it is funny, especially when you consider that he's imagining watching Emma dance when he was dancing with her...the total disregard to perspective cracked me up. ;)
I could go on and on, and mention Knightley's smack-down of Mrs. Elton regarding the as-yet-undetermined Mrs. Knightley being the only woman who would manage his social affairs, or Knightley's thinly veiled jealousy and concern about Frank's relationship with Emma, but I suppose I'll stop now. :) So tell me, at what point did Jonnny Lee Miller win you over? Because I refuse to entertain the possibility that he didn't. ;)
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Songs of Deliverance
By: Marilynn Griffith
About the book:
They say time heals all wounds – but sometimes that’s just not enough.
Fifteen years ago, Zeely Wikins and Ron Jenkins were students most people had stopped believing in. Lucky for them, their teacher recognized they were the cream of the crop and just needed the right soil.
Thought they went their separate ways, the past has called them back to the school and the teacher who wouldn’t give up on them. Now they’ll have to decide what love really means – and whether they’re willing to dance to a new tune to get it. But can they rediscover the songs of deliverance that once brought them together? Or will their secrets keep them apart?
In this soul-searching and suspenseful story, Marilynn Griffith invites you to believe in the power of truth, love, and redemption.
I started reading Songs of Deliverance with a major disadvantage. Though I’d been under the impression that this was a standalone novel, the events that fill the pages of Songs are closely tied to Griffith’s preceding book, Rhythms of Grace. That said, having stuck with this book, once I caught on to the rhythm of the story I couldn’t stop turning the pages. This story covers so much more territory than the back cover copy would lead you to believe. Songs is the story of Zeely and Ron, childhood sweethearts torn apart by choices and a past history marked with breathtaking pain and suffering, defined by regrets. Brought back to the school where their story began, by a dying teacher who’d loved them and believed in them in spite of the road of heartache their lives had taken, there’s a chance for a new beginning. But before that is possible, ugly truths must be confronted, and light must illuminate the dark scars that have given voice to the lie that one’s mistakes are irredeemable. Songs is also the story of Grace and Brian, also called back to face their pasts by the same teacher. As a teenager, Grace’s life changed forever the night she was raped, and now, years later, she’s hungry to know the child she gave up for adoption. Brian also has mysteries in his past that need uncovering, But as secrets come to light and truths are revealed, this each of these individuals must choose whether or not God’s grace can make beauty from the ashes of their pasts.
This book opens with a bang, literally – an attack on Grace, a shooting, and then the aftershocks settle in as the trauma of that night shakes the lives of Zeely, Ron, Grace, and Brian to the core. It’s a shocking moment that works as a trigger, bringing each person to a fork in the road where they have to start choosing life or death, and choosing life is a hard choice that comes with its own perils, because in order to fully embrace life and redemption, scars have to be ripped open from decades-old wounds. As I mentioned earlier, not having read the preceding book I started Songs at a disadvantage. This wasn’t helped by the story’s point of view changing constantly. Chapters are devoted to each of the four principle characters, and even a few secondary players get their own spotlight chapter. The constant back-and-forth, with no regular order to the changes, is enough to give a person whiplash. But the story here is so compelling that sticking with it for the payoff is worthwhile.
I can’t think of the last time I read a novel where the brokenness of the characters, the heartache they experience, their journey towards wholeness left me broken open as well. There’s a raw, aching, refreshing authenticity to the faith found within the pages of this book. I could see where the spiritual thread of this story could be too heavy for some readers, but there’s no other way in my view for Griffith to resolve the issues facing her characters without honest, desperate faith she gives voice to in these pages. This isn’t a comfortable read – Griffith tackles the results of rape, abuse, and abortion, to name a few, and the result of lies made and kept for years, and secrets buried for generations to preserve an image or hold on to a prejudice. A valid argument could be made, I suppose, that the storyline teeters on the edge of soap-opera. But while that may have kept me engrossed in the novel, what I’ll take away from this book is the inspiring, raw and honest authenticity of each character’s faith. Songs of Deliverance is a beautifully-rendered story of the beauty that can come from brokenness, and of God’s never-failing redemptive power.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Double Trouble (PJ Sugar #2)
By: Susan May Warren
About the book:
“I’m on the case, Jeremy. A great PI follows her instincts.”
PJ Sugar has finally found something she’s good at. Now she’s trying not to mess it up. Her first official case as a private investigator – well, technically a PI’s assistant – is house-sitting for a witness in protective custody. No danger involved, assures her boss Jeremy Kane, much to PJ’s disappointment.
“Marry me, PJ.”
At least PJ can take the next ten days to figure out the rest of her life…especially whether or not she should accept Detective Boone Buckam’s marriage proposal. But one break-in by a late-night prowler is enough to put Boone’s request on hold and send PJ’s sleuthing skills into overdrive. Clearly this witness is hiding something…and it may cost PJ her life.
After returning to her hometown after ten years on the run, and solving a major crime to boot, PJ Sugar is at long last ready to settle down and build a life for herself. She’s working as an assistant to Jeremy Kane, private investigator. It’s a dream job that feeds her soul-deep desire to make a difference in the lives of others, an opportunity to prove that she’s moved beyond her past. Settling into the new job is complicated by her old sweetheart Boone, who’s ready to settle down and pressing for a permanent commitment. PJ’s first solo assignment is house-sitting for the key witness in a major criminal trial. What should be a quiet gig becomes complicated when it becomes clear that their witness in protective custody is being targeted – and with PJ standing in for her, suddenly her life is on the line. Throw into the mix an elderly neighbor in need of help, and PJ’s nose for trouble has once again gotten her in way too deep. PJ must put her overactive imagination and all her sleuthing skills to work to uncover the bad guys – then, if she survives, she can figure out the kind of future she wants, a choice symbolized by the affections of two very different men.
I’m really glad I read the first two PJ Sugar books back-to-back. PJ’s story isn’t limited to standalone adventures – having the momentum that comes from reading her first two adventures back-to-back, it’s easy to see Warren’s superb characterization. In book one, PJ had to face her fear of overcoming her past, of living out a faith that would enable her to overcome the label “nothing but trouble” that earned her such notoriety. Double Trouble takes PJ a step further, diving headfirst into her new life, battling frustration and despair when getting it right seems like an unattainable goal. The idea God can work through our imperfections - in spite of them - and that accepting grace and trusting that His providence is sufficient is powerfully portrayed. The spiritual truths resonate because Warren’s characters are so wonderfully, achingly well-drawn and relatable.
I also loved how Warren explores the idea of choosing between good and better throughout the book. Both of PJ’s romantic choices are classic Warren heroes, each swoon-worthy in his own right. PJ’s romantic dilemma is so hard because both options are genuinely good guys, but in this volume Warren starts to develop critical differences between Boone and Jeremy and the futures they represent. While Boone’s affection for PJ is genuine, he represents PJ’s past, and his view of her is filtered through their shared experiences. Jeremy’s another story – he represents a future uninhibited by memories of PJ’s past exploits. He loves her, trouble-making tendencies and all, but most importantly believes in her now and in her potential. Through PJ’s character, Warren forces readers to confront the issue of trusting God – not settling for the good, but daring to dream and reach for an as-yet unknown future that He’ll walk one through each step of the way, if only we’ll invite Him on the journey. Double Trouble contains all of the elements that made PJ’s first adventure a success – snappy dialogue, well-drawn characters, and a page-turning plot. It ups the ante with more intense action, a better mystery, and a compelling spiritual thread that, if you let it, will encourage and inspire you to embrace God’s grace and provision. I can’t wait for book three!
Click to read my review of Nothing but Trouble.
Click to get info on the Double Trouble contest!
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
About the contest! Be sure to enter the Double Trouble Prize Package Giveaway by clicking on the ‘Double the Sass” button! Susan’s giving away an iPod prize package that is anything but troubling! Check it out!
Double Trouble, the brand new PJ Sugar novel by Susan May Warren, is in stores now! To celebrate the release, we’re running a HUMDINGER of a contest!!
One Grand Prize winner will receive a $150 SUPER SLEUTH prize package that includes:
* A brand new iPod Shuffle (perfect for those all-night stakeouts)
* A $10 iTunes gift card (we recommend the ALIAS soundtrack)
* A $10 Amazon gift card (why yes, they do sell spy pens)
* A $10 Starbucks gift card (for fuel, obviously)
* A pair of designer sunglasses (be stealthy AND super chic)
* A gorgeous scarf from World Market (can also be used as a blindfold, and/or for tying up bad guys)
* AND signed copies of both Nothing But Trouble & Double Trouble. (romance! danger! intrigue! sooo much better than Surveillance for Dummies!)
We’ll announce our super sleuth winner on March 1st.
* * * * * *
My review of Double Trouble is coming - if not tonight, than tomorrow. Till then, you can click here to read my review of PJ Sugar's first adventure, Nothing but Trouble.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Nothing but Trouble (PJ Sugar #1)
By: Susan May Warren
About the book:
PJ Sugar knows three things for sure:
* After traveling the country for ten years and hoping to shake free from the trail of disaster that’s become her life, she needs a fresh start.
* The last person she wants to see when she heads home for her sister’s wedding is Boone – her former flame and the reason she left town.
* Her best friend’s husband absolutely did not commit the first murder Kellogg, Minnesota, has seen in more than a decade.
What PJ doesn’t know is that when she starts digging for evidence, she’ll uncover much more than she bargained for – a deadly conspiracy, a knack for investigation, and maybe, just maybe, that fresh start she’s been longing for.
Ten years ago PJ Sugar left her small hometown of Kellogg, Minnesota, in disgrace, and has been running from her past ever since. After an unexpected call from her sister for help, PJ does the one thing she thought was impossible – returns to the scene of her “crimes,” the town she fled after earning the nickname “nothing but trouble” and being accused of setting fire to the country club. From the moment she sets foot in Kellogg for her sister’s wedding, everywhere PJ turns it seems that her failures and shortcomings are dredged up, crushing her hopes for a fresh start. She was always the wild child, frustrating her mother and leaving her best friend to cope with becoming a single parent. But perhaps the most painful – and dangerous – memories are wrapped up in the form of handsome, blue-eyed bad boy-turned-cop Boone, her former flame. Boone’s betrayal is the main reason she kept running, and his magnetic pull even ten years later is the primary test of PJ’s resolve to prove she’s genuinely changed.
PJ Sugar is a great heroine – fun, feisty, and daring, she’s no shy wallflower. A relatively new believer, she’s desperate to prove she’s finally making some good choices and will no longer disappoint people. Her drive to prove her worthiness to others and to God is extremely well-drawn and relatable. The harder she tries to fit in, the more she fails, but when she starts to realize that maybe, just maybe, God can use her redeemed, messy, unorthodox self in spit e of her best efforts does PJ start to loosen her grip on the past and walk into a future full of promise. Warren always does an excellent job incorporating a subtle spiritual thread into her stories, and PJ’s is no exception – it works because Warren doesn’t hammer you over the head with a message, she presents faith as lived out by her very real characters.
Susan May Warren has long been one of my favorite authors, but it’s been a while since I’ve picked up one of her novels (my TBR stack is out of control!). From the first, Nothing but Trouble was a great reminder of why I love Warren’s writing. The dialogue hums with life, and the plot grabs you from the first page and never lets go. The characters, from PJ to her mother to Boone, are multi-faceted and wonderfully real. Warren’s characters aren’t cookie cutter, flat creations – they’re messy and real and fun. Speaking of Boone, Warren excels at writing swoon-worthy heroes, and in this novel she gives us not one, but two charismatic leads to vie for PJ’s affections. I can’t wait to see how that one plays out (I’m pulling for Jeremy, the mysterious private investigator). I loved how Warren gives a nod to her time in Russia as a missionary. The unexpected culture shock PJ encounters with her sister’s in-laws provides fodder for some of the book’s most comical scenes. Part chick lit, part cozy mystery, Nothing but Trouble is an expertly plotted tale of romance, redemption, and grace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
ABOUT THE BOOK
Reporter Logan Woods is covering the break-ins with the hope of publishing them as a true-crime book. The more he digs, the more he realizes this beguiling dogwalker seems to be at the center of everything. As danger draws ever closer, Logan must choose: Chase the girl, the story, or plunge into the shadows after the villain who threatens everything?
If you'd like to read the first chapter of Beguiled, go HERE
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