Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review: Love Amid the Ashes by Mesu Andrews


Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-3407-7

About the book:

An epic story of love and forgiveness, suffering and restoration...

When her beloved grandfather Isaac dies, Dinah must follow his final command: travel to Job's household to marry his son. After Job's world comes crashing down, Dinah finds herself drawn to this great man brought low. What will she risk to fight for his survival?

Mesu Andrews weaves an emotional and stirring account of Job and Dinah. Love Amid the Ashes breathes life, romance, and passion into the classic biblical story of suffering and steadfast faith.

Review:

Since the horror of her experience at Shechem, when her brothers bathed a city in blood in the name of honor, Jacob’s only daughter Dinah has lived under an oppressive cloud of shame. A virtual outcast in her own family, Dinah’s knowledge of healing and herb lore earns her a place as her grandfather Isaac’s nurse. But from his deathbed, Isaac sends Dinah’s future down a path she never expected by ordering her to marry into Esau’s clan. Though regarded as a fallen woman, Dinah is covered by the covenant promise bestowed on her father’s line – a promise that through marriage she could bless her uncle’s family. Only one man from Esau’s clan steps forward to honor Isaac’s wish – Job, the wisest man in the East, offers his oldest son in marriage. On the journey to Job’s home, Dinah is awed by this righteous man’s ability to look beyond the rumors and accept her as she is, in spite of her past. Job’s desire to see Dinah restored, if only she’ll have the faith to accept Yahweh’s forgiveness, plants the first seeds of hope in Dinah that she might have a future free of condemnation.

But shortly after their arrival, Dinah’s hard-won hope and fragile faith are tested as her newfound friend and benefactor loses everything. Overnight, Job is stripped of family, wealth, and servants, and when his household and riches are reduced to rubble, the man himself falls prey to a crippling illness. Covered in painful sores, with his very flesh decaying before his eyes, Job is reduced to living in piles of filth and waste, sustained by Dinah’s healing knowledge of herbs. Through the horrifying reality of being brought so low, Job clings to his faith in Yahweh’s greater plan, and Dinah finds fresh purpose as his friend and healer. But when those closest to Job array against him in judgment, Job and Dinah’s tenacious faith is brought to the breaking point. In the face of shattering loss and crippling pain, when all hope seems lost and heaven is silent, can faith and love overcome the weight of unspeakable tragedy?

Love Amid the Ashes fascinated me from the moment I discovered the novel’s premise, and it’s been one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I never considered the possibility that Job lived during the time of the patriarchs, that the man famous for his suffering could be a contemporary of Jacob and Dinah. Mesu Andrews weaves together two lives, shattered by horror, into a breathtaking portrait of God’s never-failing, sustaining grace. Dinah receives all too brief mention in the scriptures, raising more questions than answers when one stops to consider her perspective of Shechem’s destruction. How does one cope with being branded a wanton temptress when as a young girl a mistaken night of passion leaves her hands covered in blood, bereft of any hope of an honorable future? As for Job, Andrews’ portrait of the man’s faith in the midst of crushing sorrow takes one’s breath away. Because of the construction of the Book of Job, it’s been all too easy for me to fall into the trap of forgetting that Job was a living, breathing, fallible human being. Despite the text’s many passionate declarations of faith in the midst of suffering, it’s too easy to forget Job the man and the human suffering that birthed the book’s chronicle of faith in trials. Andrews brilliantly fleshes out Job’s life and character, giving context and emotional resonance to the man that makes his suffering even more compelling and his faith even more inspiring.

Andrews’ debut embodies everything I love about biblical fiction. When an author has a passion and heart for the story, they can take the “dry bones” of well-known and loved biblical characters and imbue the individuals immortalized in the scriptures with the vibrancy of the life they once lived on earth. And that life, that previously unimagined yet now fully realized world they inhabit within the pages of a novel like Love Amid the Ashes makes lives such as Dinah’s and Job’s relatable in a fresh new way. The reality of suffering and trust in a believer’s life is such an individual, very personal thing with which to grapple, and this side of heaven one’s understanding cannot help but be limited by our humanity. As someone who’s struggled with “whys,” I freely admit my own tendency to focus on circumstances, or the emotion of the moment, forgetting the sovereignty of the God who holds my future in His hands. Andrews’ beautifully realized, heartfelt portrait of Job and Dinah is a powerful, inspiring reminder of the fact that my God transcends the whys, and when it seems that no answers are forthcoming, that doesn’t mean that He holds me any less securely in the palm of His hand.

Love Amid the Ashes shines with Mesu Andrews’ passion for scripture, and her lovingly crafted portrait of Job’s life cannot fail to inspire a deeper appreciation and study of the biblical text. This is a humbling, challenging novel, and I pray that no matter what your situation, you’ll be reminded of God’s ability to bring beauty from ashes. Hope endures, God’s love never fails, and my Redeemer lives – let the story of Love Amid the Ashes take root in your soul, and take heart. Circumstances may devastate, people may fail you, but God never changes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Doctor Who Series 6 trailer!

The BBC released a new trailer for the upcoming 6th series of Doctor Who...and oh my word, people, it's brilliant. Absolutely BRILLIANT. April 23rd can't come soon enough to suit me.

Wolves Among Us by Ginger Garrett



This week, the
 
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
 
is introducing
 
Wolves Among Us
 
David C. Cook; New edition (April 1, 2011)
 
by
 
Ginger Garrett


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ginger Garrett is the author of the Chronicles of the Scribes series (In the Shadow of Lions, In the Arms of Immortals, In the Eyes of Eternity), Dark Hour, and Beauty Secrets of the Bible. Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther was recognized as one of the top five novels of 2006 by the ECPA.

Focusing on ancient women's history, Ginger creates novels and nonfiction resources that explore the lives of historical women. A frequent media guest and television host, Ginger has been interviewed by Fox News, Billy Graham's The Hour of Decision, The Harvest Show, 104.7 The Fish Atlanta, and many other outlets.

A graduate of Southern Methodist University with a degree in Theater, she is passionate about creating art from history. Ginger resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

ABOUT THE BOOK

This richly imagined tale takes readers to a tiny German town in the time of “the burnings,” when pious and heretic alike became victims of witch-hunting zealots. When a double murder stirs up festering fears, the village priest sends for help. But the charismatic Inquisitor who answers the call brings a deadly mix of spiritual fervor and self-deceptive evil. Under his influence, village fear, guilt, and suspicion of women take a deadly turn. In the midst of this nightmare, a doubting priest and an unloved wife—a secret friend of the recently martyred William Tyndale—somehow manage to hear another Voice…and discover the power of love over fear.

Dinfoil, Germany, 1538. In a little town on the edge of the Black Forest, a double murder stirs up festering fears. A lonely woman despairs of pleasing her husband and wonders why other women shun her. An overworked sheriff struggles to hold the town—and himself—together. A priest begins to doubt the power of the words he shares daily with his flock. And the charismatic Inquisitor who arrives to help—with a filthy witch in a cage as an object lesson—brings his own mix of lofty ideals and treacherous evil. Under his influence, ordinary village fears and resentments take a deadly turn. Terror mounts. Dark deeds come to light. And men and women alike discover not only what they are capable of, but who they are…and what it means to grapple for grace.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Wolves Among Us, go HERE.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I have a new obsession...

Thanks to my friend Jen, I have a new obsession (like I needed one, right?!?!) - the USA Network show In Plain Sight, which conveniently is scheduled to start its fourth season May 1st. I've pretty much done nothing but watch episodes of this show since Saturday morning (with a little time off for things like work - thanks Jen *wink*), revelling in U.S. Marshal Mary Shannon's (Mary McCormack) snarkiness and her glorious, wonderful, walking encyclopedia of a partner Marshall Mann (Frederick Weller), who is absolutely freaking adorable. Exhibit A:


Knowing me, I would expect Frederick W. (isn't Frederick a wonderful name?!) to make more appearances on this blog in the future. Be ye warned... :)

So, any other In Plain Sight fans out there?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jane Austen Old Spice Parody

Calling all fans of Jane Austen and Northanger Abbey - this video is hilarious! Thanks to Tasha from Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Books for posting the link to this video on Facebook.

Comic Relief Favorites: The Vicar of Dibley

In the final installment sharing my favorite Comic Relief skits, I bring you Richard Armitage doing comedy. If you've never seen The Vicar of Dibley, well what are you waiting for? That show is freaking hilarious. The first time (to my knowledge, anyway) that Dawn French's Vicar filmed a Comic Relief special was the "wife-swap" themed episode featuring Sting and RICHARD ARMITAGE. :) Happy times...



In poking around YouTube, I also found another Dibley special featuring JOHNNY DEPP! Never saw this one before, so that was a great surprise. I think it must pre-date the R.A. special though...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Captain America trailer

Captain America is another movie I'm really looking forward to - this is the only "superhero" movie coming out this summer that looks like it has potential - and I'm not at all biased because RICHARD ARMITAGE appears in this movie. *cough, cough* No, I'm not biased at all... :) Here's the trailer:



The special effects they used to make Chris Evans all whimpy looking pre-transformation kind of freak me out. But that is completely outweighed by post-transformation Chris. Yummy. :) And it's going to be great to see Hayley Atwell on the big screen again - she's definitely has that "1940s" look. Oh, and I just looked at the IMDB page and discovered that Dominic Cooper is in this movie as HOWARD STARK (yay for Iron Man references!). Good grief, everyone is in this movie...you can check out the cast list here.

The Three Musketeers - coming in October!

Apparently the first trailer for the new Three Musketeers film broke today. I am SO ridiculously excited about this. Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham, Matthew Macfadyen as Athos, MADS MIKKELSON as Rochefort?! Yes, please. Also...it will be very interesting to see how Logan Lerman does in the role of D'Artagnan, since his last film appearance was as Percy Jackson.



Web Exclusive Prequel - Season 6 Episode 1 - Season 6 - Doctor Who - Video - BBC America

Web Exclusive Prequel - Season 6 Episode 1 - Season 6 - Doctor Who - Video - BBC America

Click the above link to watch a short prequel video to the first episode of Season 6 of Doctor Who (I can't find that the BBC made this "officially" available on YouTube, and rather than embed a copy that could disappear in a day or so, I'm just directing you to this link). In a word, this video is FABULOUS. The new season can't start soon enough to suit me!

The 39 Steps returns!


So, who besides yours truly is ridiculously excited that Masterpiece is returning this weekend with something worth watching?! Masterpiece Classic returns this Sunday with an encore presentation of last year's The 39 Steps. Wildly entertaining and sheer fun from start to finish, this version of The 39 Steps is definitely worth checking out if you've never seen it - I know I'm looking forward to the excuse for a re-watch. Here's a bit about the story:
Watch an encore presentation of The 39 Steps on Sunday, March 27, 2011 on MASTERPIECE CLASSIC. Richard Hannay's listless life in London is spiraling out of control. Armed with a secret notebook, Hannay and feisty suffragist Victoria Sinclair are on the run to save themselves and their country. The 39 Steps stars Rupert Penry-Jones and Lydia Leonard, and is based on the novel by John Buchan. (One episode; 90 minutes)
And here's a link to my original review of this film. If anyone watches The 39 Steps for the first time this weekend, or revisits the delish Rupert Penry-Jones, feel free to come back and share your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Comic Relief Favorites: David Tennant the English Teacher

David Tennant, Catherine Tate, William Shakespeare, and Doctor Who references? Yes, please. Besides the fact that David Tennant as my English teacher would be a DREAM COME TRUE, this skit (also from 2007) is absolutely hilarious! David Tennant and Catherine Tate worked so well together on Doctor Who, and their screen chemistry is glaringly apparent in this laugh-out-loud special.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Remembering Elizabeth Taylor


I was saddened to hear of Elizabeth Taylor's passing this morning. As a classic film addict I've enjoyed many of her films throughout the years. She was talented, gorgeous, classy, and relished living life to the fullest, through heartache, tragedy, and (many) marriages. I thought I'd take this opportunity to highlight a few of my favorite Liz Taylor films, in the hope that perhaps you'll be inspired to revisit a classic or discover a new favorite.


Ivanhoe (1952):
Stand and pledge loyalty - or prepare to lie cold beneath your shields. Chivalrous knight Wilfrid of Ivanhoe is determined to restore Richard the Lionhearted to England's throne.
Gallantry and costumed pageantry combine in this crowd-pleasing nominee for 3 Academy Awards including Best Picture. Robert Taylor plays the title role and Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Fontaine also star in a rousing adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's novel. The film's jousting tournament is a galloping display of steed and stout-hearted men. Most spectacular of all is the siege of Torquilstone Castle, a wave-after-wave combat of arrows, fire, boulders, battering ram, and blade. To the battlements! (From the DVD, click to purchase.)
Growing up I went through a phase where I was absolutely obsessed with tales of knights and chivalry. This 1952 film was my first introduction to the tale of Ivanhoe, and one of the main reasons I developed a crush on Robert Taylor. The film holds up today as a wonderful example of technicolor spectacle from Hollywood's Golden Age, and Taylor gives a luminous, compelling performance as Rebecca. An absolute classic! Here's the film's trailer:




Elephant Walk (1954):
Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Finch, and Dana Andrews star in this action-packed drama set in Ceylon. Taylor plays a newlywed who accompanies Finch to his sprawling tea plantation called Elephant Walk...and falls for overseer Andrews. But this love triangle is soon dwarfed by other events. A cholera epidemic breaks out, drought blights the land and herds of thirst-maddened elephants devastate the plantation in a thundering stampede.

This famed sequence is a triumph of moviemaking. The palatial "bungalow" is reduced to rubble as onrushing elephants pound across polished floors, rip walls from their foundations and knock over kerosene drums to ignite a terrifying inferno. You have to see it to believe it! (From the DVD, click to purchase.)
This is one of the first films I can remember watching on AMC after my parents got cable when I was nine or ten years old. The feeling I got when I first saw the elephant stampede is still, to this day, seared in my memory. It blew me away then, and I still love it now. This is a fantastic, passionate story of romance and survival against the most overwhelming force of all - nature unleashed. L-O-V-E it in all of its over-the-top, cheesy glory. :)


Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958):
"I'm not living with you," Maggie snaps at Brick. "We occupy the same cage, that's all." The raw emotions and crackling dialogue of Tennessee Williams' 1955 Pulitzer Prize play rumble like a thunderstorm in this film version, whose fiery performances and grown-up themes made it one of 1958's top box-office hits.

Paul Newman earned his first Oscar nomination as troubled ex-sports hero Brick. In a performance that marked a transition to richer adult roles, Elizabeth Taylor snagged her second. Her Maggie the Cat is a vivid portrait of passionate loyalty. Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and also starring Burl Ives (repeating his Broadway triumph as mendacity-loathing Big Daddy), Judith Anderson and Jack Carson, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof sizzles. (From the DVD, click to purchase.)
I ADORE this movie. If you're looking for a scandal-ridden, juicy family drama (I confess I have a weakness for such!), look no further than Cat. The performances are electrifying, and Newman and Taylor's on-screen chemistry sizzles. Wildly entertaining! (And isn't that Italian version of the poster fab?!) Here's the movie trailer:




Cleopatra (1963):

Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison star in this sweeping tale of power and betrayal - the legendary story of the Queen of the Nile and her conquest of Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony. Here is the truly unforgettable portrayal of the beguiling beauty who seduced two of Rome's greatest soldiers and changed the course of history. Breathtaking in scope and grandeur, the picture won Oscars for cinematography, art direction, costumes, sets and special effects. In the tradition of epic romantic adventures like Braveheart and Titanic comes the greatest spectacle of all...CLEOPATRA. (From the DVD, click to purchase.)
Cleopatra is a film that has always fascinated me. I love the actual history and the sheer spectacle of the movie, and the film's story off-screen is as fascinating as the history that plays out over a sprawling run-time that exceeds four hours. And for as long as that is, this movie never drags and is as riveting an experience as the first time I can remember watching it years ago. Elizabeth Taylor OWNS the screen in this movie. Sure, it's over-the-top, but I love it. You can read an article about the film's tumultuous history here - they sure don't make 'em like this anymore. Here's a crazy-long film trailer:




The Taming of the Shrew (1967):

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton sparkle and amuse as Katharina and Petruchio in William Shakespeare's comic look at male chauvinism and women's lib in the 16th century. Petruchio, a poverty-stricken gentleman from Verona, journeys to Padua in search of a wealthy wife. There he encounters the fiery Katharina, a self-willed shrew who leads Petruchio on a merry chase before he successfully circumvents her attempts to avoid marriage. Their honeymoon becomes a humorous battle of wit and insult with Kate as determined to maintain her independence as Petruchio is to "tame" her. When the embattled couple returns to Padua, Kate helps Petruchio win a wager that his is the most obedient of wives. But in reality, the shrewish Kate has found a more effective way to dominate her mate. (From the DVD, click to purchase.)
I mentioned this movie a couple of weeks ago when I blogged about the Shakespeare Retold version of Shrew. This movie is, in my estimation, one of the best film versions of a Shakespeare play ever made (yes, I'm equating it with my beloved Kenneth Branagh films! *wink*). It's wildly entertaining from start to finish, and Taylor and Burton's chemistry just can't be equaled - I think they were a perfect pair to play Shakespeare's feuding lovers. Here's the trailer:



Rest in peace, Dame Elizabeth, and thank you for the fabulous films.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: The Eagle by Rosemary Sutcliff


The Eagle (formerly published as The Eagle of the Ninth)
By: Rosemary Sutcliff
Publisher: Square Fish
ISBN: 978-0-312-56434-6

About the book:

The Ninth Legion marched into the mists of northern Britain - and they were never seen again. Thousands of men disappeared and their eagle standard was lost. It's a mystery that's never been solved, until now...

Marcus has to find out what happened to his father, who led the legion. So he sets out into the unknown, on a quest so dangerous that nobody expects him to return.

Review:

*Disclaimer: I realize this is a crazy-long review, but I love this book, and I can't seem to contain my enthusiasm for it. So if you'll indulge me, let the book love commence... :)

Marcus Flavius Aquila is a young Centurion with a bright and limitless future in the Roman Army before him, sent to the frontier of Britain to command his first Cohort. Service to Rome and pride in the army is in Marcus's blood, for his father had proudly served with the Ninth Legion. However, a shadow hangs over that legion's reputation, and the honor of every man who served in her ranks - for ten years prior, they marched north and disappeared. When an uprising threatens Marcus's command, he wins glory for his Cohort at the expense of his career - critically wounded in the battle, he's honorably discharged and sent to convalesce at his uncle's estate. Bereft of purpose and with no hope of reclaiming the family honor hrough active military service, Marcus flounders until he witnesses the fear-tinged bravery of a slave forced to fight in the local arena. Marcus purchases the slave, called Esca, for his manservant, and the moment of shared understanding in the arena becomes the basis of a most unorthodox friendship.

When rumors of the Ninth's lost Eagle standard begin to circulate, Marcus determines that as the ill-fated commander's son, the Eagle is his to retrieve. Accompanied by Esca, the two venture into the wilds north of Hadrian's Wall, an untamed land haunted by rumors swirling around the ghostly disappearance of the Ninth's four thousand-plus men. With only each other to rely on, Marcus and Esca find the rigors of their quest will test and refine the bonds of their friendship until their trust and reliance on each other transcends their beginnings as master and slave. When Marcus learns the truth of the Ninth's disappearance, will comradeship and honor be enough to withstand the blow to Marcus's hopes to be the instrument of the Ninth's restoration? Or will Marcus choose to relinquish his old dreams for a new future, formed on the foundation of friendships with unlikely allies and a bond of honor and loyalty that surpasses the dictates of Roman life?

Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 novel is an extraordinary tale of bravery, loyalty, friendship, and honor in Roman Britain. Marcus, the privileged son of Rome, was never meant to be friends with Esca, the enslaved son of a clan chieftain. This is an old-fashioned adventure story in the best sense of that term, a jewel in the genre the likes of which I've not come across in years. Sutcliff's inspiration for The Eagle is based on the legend that the Ninth was essentially wiped out in 117 A.D. (this theory has been disputed), and the discovery of a wingless Eagle Standard in a excavation some 1800 years later. While there is no definitive proof connecting one with the other, they formed the genesis of the idea for Marcus and Esca's adventure, and the resulting novel is a well-researched, fascinating thesis rolled in an adventure yarn that posits a plausible solution to one of history's great mysteries.

Sutcliff's realization of life in Roman Britain is superbly realized. She possesses a masterful grasp of ancient history, skillfully elucidating the customs, mannerisms, and traditions of the time long since lost to memory. The land itself is perhaps her greatest triumph, as in The Eagle Britain is as much a character as the people who inhabit the settlements and wilderness. When Marcus first arrives, thoughts of assimilating in the frontier are as foreign to him as the people he encounters. But through his friendships with Esca and Cottia, his uncle's neighbor, he soon discovers that this wild land produces people whose love of freedom and honor equal his own passion for Rome. Sutcliff's richly descriptive prose intoxicate the reader with the pull of the land, even as the heavy mists and wild forests prove as much of a factor in Marcus and Esca's quest for the Eagle as the tribes they encounter.

The Eagle is a compelling saga, saturated with the noble qualitites of honor, loyalty, and sacrifice. But perhaps, more than anything, the appeal of this novel can be summed up in the word "choices." Ultimately, life for Marcus and Esca is not determined by what happens to them, by victories won or wounds endured, but by how they respond. As Marcus admonishes Esca at the conclusion, they each carry pain, and whether physical or psychological, "the only thing we can do about it...is to learn to carry the scars lightly." While The Eagle may not be the type of story modern readers are used to, thanks to Sutcliff's liesurely pacing and minutely descriptive narrative, I cannot recommend it highly enough as a worthwhile journey. Sutcliff's ability to recreate and immerse readers in 2nd century Britain is an unparalleled success. This is one of the finest examples of historical fiction that I've ever read, replete with action, first-class world-crafting, and fascinating, true-to-life characters that leap living and breathing from the page, so fully formed you cannot help but become wholly invested in their lives.

***

For those of you who may be wondering, I did see the recent film version of The Eagle, and I can't recommend it highly enough! It's a remarkably faithful adaptation of the novel. Sadly I let my film review languish so long in my drafts folder that I decided I'd better wait for the DVD release (which I've  heard rumored is planned for June).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Comic Relief Favorites - 007 meets Donna

Since the newest Comic Relief skits (Doctor Who, Uptown Downstairs Abbey) broke on the internet last week, I've been inspired to look up some old favorites. First up is the skit from 2007 where James Bond, a.k.a. Daniel Craig, falls in love with Doctor Who's Donna, a.k.a. the hilarious Catherine Tate. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Review: Bathsheba by Jill Eileen Smith


Bathsheba (The Wives of King David #3)
By: Jill Eileen Smith
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-3322-3

About the book:

Can love triumph over treachery?

Bathsheba is a woman who longs for love. With her husband away fighting the king's wars, she battles encroaching loneliness - which makes it all too easy to succumb to the advances of King David. Will one night of unbridled passion destroy everything she holds dear? Can she find forgiveness at the feet of the Almighty? Or has her sin separated her from God forever?

With a historian's sharp eye for detail and a novelist's creative spirit, Jill Eileen Smith brings to life the passionate and emotional story of David's most famous - and infamous - wife. You will never read the story of David and Bathsheba the same way again.

Review:

For the concluding volume in The Wives of King David trilogy, author Jill Eileen Smith breathes life into the story of David’s most infamous wife, Bathsheba – a woman who came into his life through adultery, who in spite of her scandal-ridden past would come to have the honor of being named in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Like the previous two wives Smith brought to life (Michal and Abigail), Bathsheba’s past is again strikingly different from theirs, and her life intersects with a David who is the established, beloved – and prideful? – King of Israel. The Bible gives perhaps even less insight into Bathsheba’s character and personality than it does Michal and Abigail, leaving Smith a veritable blank canvas with which to recreate the events leading up to, and the consequences of, one of history’s most famous affairs. Using the Biblical text as her framework, Smith weaves an engrossing tale of the events and struggles that would lead David, a man after God’s own heart, mighty and favored beyond imagination, to claim another man’s wife as his own. And she brings to colorful life Bathsheba, the woman whose beauty would threaten the security of a kingdom, and who’s one night of forbidden passion with a king would bring about devastating repercussions, redeemable only by the grace of a merciful God.

For the first third of this novel, Smith introduces readers to Bathsheba’s life prior to her fateful night with David. A daughter of privilege, born into a family with close ties to David’s royal house, she was given in marriage to Uriah, a Hittite who adopted the faith of Israel and gained honor and position as one of the Thirty, David’s select group of warriors. At times I really struggled to connect with Bathsheba and Uriah – she never seemed satisfied, always questioning and doubting her husband’s love since wars kept him away from her months at a time, while he was so pragmatic and dedicated to the letter of the law that he had no sympathy for or inkling of how to handle Bathsheba’s emotional volatility. However Uriah, perhaps one of the most tragically wronged individuals in the Bible, is fully realized as an honorable, loyal innocent caught up in events not of his own making or desire. Though it is never specified in the Bible that Bathsheba and David met prior to the night he sent for her in 2 Samuel 11, Smith conjectures – reasonably, I think – that due to Bathsheba’s family heritage and her husband’s position in David’s royal guard, that it’s possible they met earlier. Such a meeting plants the seeds of curiosity and desire in each of them, sparks that flame into a full-blown obsession when David witnesses Bathsheba’s ritual purification bath from the palace rooftop. Smith does a superb job of creating emotional tension between David and Bathsheba, and the fallout from their passion and attempts to hide their sin is positively wrenching to witness.

One of the aspects I’ve really appreciated about this trilogy is Smith’s ability to bring to life David’s most famous wives, and make them living and breathing, relatable, fallible humans. The scripture seems to imply that Bathsheba was a willing partner in adultery by the omission of any words to the contrary – and while Smith’s retelling doesn’t shy away from Bathsheba’s possible complicity, she also explores her fall with a perspective I’d not imagined before. The social and cultural structure that Bathsheba operated within – that made her wholly subject to the dictates of the men in her life – make it easier to understand how her society would have conditioned her to obey men, whether father, husband, or king, without question. The consequences of David’s callous selfishness in claiming Bathsheba when he had no right is heartbreaking to watch unfold. David and Bathsheba’s shared guilt provides Smith with the springboard for crafting a powerful illustration of God’s redemptive grace in the face of unfathomable sorrow. Bathsheba is a story of second chances, and God’s ability to bring beauty from the ashes of seemingly irredeemable mistakes, when a broken soul seeks and accepts forgiveness. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Doctor Who Comic Relief 2011


And here are the Doctor Who Comic Relief specials. Oh, I can't wait for Series 6 to begin! :)

Part One:



Part Two:

Uptown Downstairs Abbey

I've always enjoyed many of the BBC's Comic Relief sketches, and this year was no exception. With the wild success of Downton Abbey and the relaunch of Upstairs Downstairs, this Uptown Downstairs Abbey spoof is priceless.


Part One:



Part Two:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Doctor Who - "When You're Alone"

I've been listening to the soundtrack to Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (LOVE the Who soundtracks!) this evening, which I purchased from Who NA since it isn't even available in the UK until 3/21/11, and US release dates are usually a couple of months after that.

Anyways, I was struck once again by the gorgeous song composer Murray Gold wrote for guest star Katherine Jenkins, and I had to share it here:



Absolutely gorgeous, no?

Review: Austenland by Shannon Hale


Austenland
By: Shannon Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781596912854

About the book:

For the woman with everything except a Mr. Darcy of her own,
An invitation to
AUSTENLAND

Pembrook Park, Kent, England. Enter our doors as a house guest come to stay three weeks, enjoying the country manners and hospitality – a tea visit, a dance or two, a turn in the park, an unexpected meeting with a certain gentleman, all culminating with a ball and perhaps something more…

Here, the Prince Regent still rules a carefree England. No scripts. No written endings. A holiday no one else can offer you.

Review:

Jane Hayes is just your average, thirty-something, single New Yorker except for one little thing...her obsession with Pride and Prejudice, particularly with Mr. Darcy (as portrayed by Colin Firth, of course!), is ruining her life. No living, breathing, real man can compare to Darcy, the epitome of Regency-era male perfection. And so a succession of relationships crashes and burns, and Jane secretly watches her P&P DVDs, and then hides them like contraband from others when they visit her apartment, just in case they should see them and guess at her grand obsession (and correspondingly pathetic lack of a love life).

Then Jane's Aunt Carolyn dies and leaves her an unexpected and intriguing bequest in her will -- a three week stay at a role-playing resort in England called Austenland, a complete immersion into Austen's world for obsessed fanatics such as Jane. Seizing the opportunity to lay her Darcy fantasies to rest forever so she can live for something real, Jane accepts the trip and and heads to Austenland to live as Miss Jane Erstwhile, circa 1816, for three weeks. Jane's resolve to put her Darcy-esque fantasies behind her forever is sorely tested when confronted with the reality of the handsome, cravat-wearing gentlemen who populate Austenland and pay court to female guests. In the ultimate Austen-lover's fantasy world, can Jane find something real?

I so enjoyed this book. Hale's novel is a witty, clever send-up of the rabid Austen / Darcy-mania that just about every woman I know can relate to in some degree. I would have liked to have seen the novel written in first-person from Jane's point-of-view -- the concept just screams "chick lit" and a change from third- to first-person would have enabled Hale to give greater insight and depth to Jane's character and smoothed out the narrative a bit. The supporting cast of characters that people Austenland is fabulous, though slightly underdeveloped. At a mere 194 pages, Austenland is an extremely short, fast read that begs to be about 100 pages longer (at least). I loved the world Hale created, and I loved Jane (I can SO relate to her Darcy-mania!) and a certain someone that she meets at Austenland -- I won't spoil the surprise for those of you reading the review by naming names, even though when you read the novel Jane's real-life "Darcy" is telegraphed VERY early on. However, this lack of suspense doesn't detract from the sheer enjoyability of the read. I just wish there was more of it. Primarily known as a young adult fantasy author (The Goose Girl, Enna Burning) Hale is a promising voice in funny, clever, chick-lit style novels and I look forward to reading more from her. Austenland is a perfect summer read -- what it may lack in substance it more than compensates for in wit and invention.

***

Another review from the archives, this time from 2007. I really ought to re-read this book - it's the perfect escapist read - fun, frothy, and can we say wish-fulfillment?! :) If you haven't read this, now's the perfect time to check it out, since Shannon Hale's next book is a sequel of sorts - Midnight in Austenland is due to release most likely in 2012.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: Gods & Kings by Lynn Austin


Gods & Kings (Chronicles of the Kings #1)
By: Lynn Austin
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 0764229893

About the book:

He was born to rule the people of God…but Yahweh is only a vague, powerless memory in the minds of His people.

Though born the second son of King Ahaz, Hezekiah is not protected from his father’s perverted attempts to gain the favor of the idol Molech. Terrified and powerless at the foot of Molech’s altar, Hezekiah encounters for the first time the one true God of his royal ancestry, Yahweh.

But his journey to the Holy One is riddled by influence from an assortment of men: Zechariah, a grandfather of noble standing who has fallen into drunkenness; Uriah, the High Priest whose lust for power forces him to gamble the faith he proclaims; and Shebna, the Egyptian intellectual who guides Hezekiah’s instruction.

For the two women who love Hezekiah, the meaning of love – and it’s sacrificial essence – will direct the course of their lives and help shape the young prince’s future.

Review:

Hezekiah, prince of Judah, lives in a kingdom under siege from hostile forces within and without. His father, King Ahaz, has abandoned the worship of Yahweh and led his nation into idolatry. Gods & Kings chronicles Hezekiah's coming of age, detailing his turbulent childhood when he saw his father sacrifice his older brother Eliab to the pagan god Molech. Overwhelmed by fear, Hezekiah first encounters the life-changing touch of God through the love and teaching of his grandfather, Zechariah, a Levitical priest. These seeds of faith are all that Hezekiah has to guide him in a kingdom threatened by invasion and corrupted by idolatry. But surrounded by threats to his very existance, can he hope to survive and be given the chance to change the future of his country?

This is one of the best biblical fiction series out there, easily on par with Angela Hunt's Legacies of the Ancient River series. I don't feel that Austin's writing is as strong or her characters quite as well-developed as is evident in her later books (such as the Christy award-winning novels Candle in the Darkness and Fire By Night), but that's a very minor issue. Austin does an excellent job bringing the world of ancient Judah to life in all of its color, pageantry, danger, and intrigue. She breathes fresh life into the character of Hezekiah, creating a flesh-and-blood man whose struggles and weaknesses make his triumphs as one of Judah's greatest kings all the more inspiring. And the book lives up to perhaps the best measure of whether or not biblical fiction succeeds or fails - it inspires study of the actual biblical text.

When reading this book (incidentally this was my second time), I was struck by how timely the story felt. Hezekiah was one small drop in an overwhelming sea of danger and false gods, but God used his life to literally change the course of an entire nation and people. So read, study, and be inspired as Austin helps to bring to life the truth of 2 Chronicles 7:14 -- "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Scripture references: 2 Kings 16; 2 Kings 18:1-3; 2 Chronicles 28: 1-8, 16-27; 2 Chronicles 29: 1-14; also 2 Chronicles 26: 3-5, 16-23; Jeremiah 26: 18-19; and the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah

***

I am doing a ton of reading this week, which is taking temporary precendence over blogging...so that means it's time to pull another review from the ol' archives! :) I wrote this review of Gods & Kings back in 2006, and since then it's proven to be one of my most "helpful" reviews on Amazon, interestingly enough.

In re-reading this review, I'm struck by the fact that I've gotten a heck of a lot wordier in the last six years. So tell me, people, is that necessarily a bad thing? LOL...maybe I don't want to know! *wink*

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shakespeare Retold: The Taming of the Shrew


Last week in a discussion on Facebook I was trying to convince Liz to watch the Shakespeare Retold version of The Taming of the Shrew, since Rufus Sewell is TO DIE FOR in it. And I realized, to my everlasting horror, that I hadn't watched this movie in years (an absolute TRAVESTY!). Since then, I'm on my second viewing in a week, and all is once more right in the Rufus Sewell-loving portion of my world.


Shakespeare Retold was a series of four made-for-television films that the BBC aired in 2005 (I can't BELIEVE it's been that long!). The series was made up of brilliantly realized modern takes on Shakespeare's plays (Shrew, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing). Shrew and Much Ado are my favorites, in most part thanks to the aforementioned Sewell in the former and Damian Lewis in the latter (but that, my friends, is another blog post).

Shirley Henderson plays Kate Minola, a hilariously psychotic MP who's the bane of her harrassed secretary's existence and an exasperating curiosity to her fashion-obsessed mother and sister. Her career is her life, and she's trying to organize a leadership campagin in her party with an eye to eventually becoming Prime Minister. She's advised that she has a better chance of winning her leadership campaign if she gets married - the question is, who'd possibly marry her? 


Henderson, perhaps best known as Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films, is pitch perfect as a modern incarnation of Shakespeare's shrew of a heroine. She may only be a tick over 5'0", but she is an absolute terror and I LOVE it. NO ONE does wonderfully pyschotic and intense like Henderson. She's first introduced while some Jaws-like theme music plays as she stomps through the halls of Parliament...and everyone she passes positively cowers in the face of her fury. In contrast, her sister Bianca (Jaime Murray, recently seen as H.G. Wells in the latest season of Warehouse 13), a model, is universally liked and receives multiple proposals a week. I've just got to say, I think Kate handles the having a stuck-on-herself model for a sister and Twiggy for a mother much better than I ever could. *wink*

Bianca's manager - instead of a tutor - Harry (Stephen Tompkinson), is in love with Bianca and toys with the idea of fixing up Kate with someone, anyone, so Bianca will be more marraige-minded. He introduces Kate to Petruchio (Rufus Sewell), an eccentric aristocrat looking for a rich wife to bail him out of his financial woes. They meet in an elevator -and, well...I can't really say anything to do justice to the brilliance of the moment except that the elevator scenes are hysterically funny. And freaking hot. I am convinced that Rufus Sewell has never been more swoon-worthy than as the appealing bad boy in the elevator. It's an absolutely classic moment as Kate and Petruchio exchange lightening fast zingers. The entire script, in fact, is full of fabulous, quotable moments (the insults are particularly noteworthy, LOL).


Everything comes together brilliantly in this adaptation, which remains remarkably - and surprisingly, perhaps - true to the source material, right down to Petruchio showing up to his wedding dressed in women's clothes (instead of an outlandish clown costume), and the ways in which he subsequently seeks to "tame" his furious bride, to the sun-is-the-moon discussion. It's interesting to compare this incarnation of the story to the other famous film version of the play - the 1967 Franco Zeffirelli film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the title roles. In particular, I think Sewell's Petruchio owes a great deal to Burton's gregarious, over-the top turn in the role. It's brilliant, Rufus is brilliant, and I just love, love, LOVE seeing him play a "good guy" like this.

Henderson and Sewell have unbelievably amazing on-screen chemistry. Whether they're fighting or making nice the sparks positively explode off the screen. The barbs and zingers fly fast and furious and non-stop in all of their scenes, but underneath the sparring they both manage to convey their respective character's insecurities and fears, really humanizing Kate and Petruchio, letting you see the motivations, pain, and fear behind their gloriously, wonderful, hilariously over-the-top personalities. I think Henderson does a fantastic job transforming Kate and making her emotionally vulnerable. She's a woman who has spent so long presenting a tough shell to the world, constructing impenetrable walls around her heart that have made her a raging and feared political success, that opening her heart to another requires more bravery than she's ever had to muster before.

Sewell's Petruchio is wonderful. WONDERFUL. I love how when we're introduced to him he's at such loose ends, not sure what to do with his life, only that he really needs to come into some money to get the tax man off his back. When he first meets Kate, you can see this instant transformation on his countenance - rather than being put off by her abominable rudeness, he's intrigued. This woman's something different, a glorious challenge, someone who isn't afraid to give as good or better than she takes. As Harry describes him to Kate during the critical, do-or-die moment, Petruchio is really just an "unstable, unbalanced exhibitionist who needs someone to think the world of him." Say it with me: awwww. :) I just adore Kate and Petruchio in this film, and the "wives obey your husbands" scene at the end is SO well played. I think the scriptwriter did a really great job translating Shakespeare's play to the present day.

Ratings-wise, this is probably a PG-13. There's some language and innuendo, bawdier than most regular Masterpiece fare, but so was Shakespeare when it comes down to it. :) Bawdy and hilarious in the best Shakespearean tradition, and  pro-marriage? Love it.


Rufus, m'dear, I promise I won't ever again let us spend so much time apart.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Doctor Who Series 6 Premiere Date!

Out of this world exciting news broke for fans of Doctor Who yesterday when it was announced that Series 6 will premiere on BBC America April 23rd, the same day the series starts in the UK! Here's some additional info about this two-part season opener:
Doctor Who is coming to America in a spectacular two-part season premiere on BBC AMERICA. Part One premieres Saturday, April 23 at 9/8c. The mysterious time traveler, the Doctor (Matt Smith), and his companions Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), find themselves on a secret summons that takes them on an adventure from the desert in Utah - right to the Oval Office in1969. More details will be revealed in the coming weeks about this two-parter penned by ‘Who supremo’ Steven Moffat (Sherlock) and featuring guest star Mark Sheppard (Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica). Also set to return this season, Alex Kingston (ER, Flash Forward), as the irrepressible River Song.
Since the season opens in the US (squee!), I'm even more excited about the same-day premiere! Check out the awesome key art for the series below:


And here's a look ahead at what's sure to be a brilliant season (if for no other reason than the Stetson line):

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review: Lady in the Mist by Laurie Alice Eakes


Lady in the Mist (The Midwives #1)
By: Laurie Alice Eakes
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-3452-7

About the book:

By virtue of her profession as a midwife, Tabitha Eckles is the keeper of many secrets. Dominick Cherrett is a man with his own secret to keep: namely, why he, a British aristocrat, is on American soil working as an indentured servant.

In a time when relations between America and England rest on the edge of a knife, Tabitha and Dominick cross paths, leading them on a journey of intrigue, threats, public disgrace, and...love. But can Tabitha trust Dominick? Finding true love seems impossible in a world set against them.

With stirring writing that draws you directly into the story, Lady in the Mist takes you on the thrilling ride of love's discovery.

Review:

At twenty-five and considered a spinster, Tabitha serves her seaside Virginia town as midwife and healer – the only source of medical care for miles, and the keeper of many a secret that would set gossipy tongues afire. Her medical knowledge makes her an indispensible member of the community, but as an unwed woman, and privy to her neighbors most intimate secrets, she’s set apart – not a quite a lady, not quite a servant. Wounded by the pain of loss and loneliness, Tabitha determines to protect her fragile heart at all costs. But a chance encounter with Dominick, a charismatic English bondservant, leads to a friendship that will test her resolve and unwittingly involve her in a plot to foment war with England through that country’s practice of impressing American men into naval service. Dominick’s warm brown eyes and carefree manner tug at her heartstrings, and soon Tabitha finds herself falling for the one man whose suspect heritage calls into question her reputation and endangers her life. With America and England dancing on the precipice of war, Tabitha and Dominick are thrust into a tangled web of treachery that demands they trust each other – but can those who have lost so much find the faith to risk loving again?

I was immediately intrigued with the idea of a midwife heroine, but Eakes offers much more than that, lacing Tabitha’s life with spies and dangerous secrets. I had no real grasp of the role a midwife played in her community as revered healthcare provider and feared secret keeper – a delicate balance required to maintain one’s reputation, even moreso for a single woman such as Tabitha. But the actual work of midwifery is surprisingly secondary to the position that work places Tabitha in relative to the town’s affairs. Thanks to the nature of her work, Tabitha is granted the freedom to move about without question – unparalleled access for a woman, and rife with possibilities for discovering highly charged secrets involving the missing townsmen. I recall studying press gangs in history classes, but Lady in the Mist is the first fictionalized account I’ve read where the impact and horror of the practice is a central plot point, a storyline that proved fascinating to me.

Tabitha and Dominick’s story is a fast-paced, romantic read, and with a little polish to certain stylistic elements further novels in the series hold the potential to be even more engaging. The structure and flow of the story suffers from the tendency to end chapters on tremendously exciting cliffhangers, only to abandon the plot thread for a chapter or two and resume it later, sometimes often after the conflict in question has been resolved. This dramatically decreases the suspense of the reading experience and results in a choppy narrative flow. And while I personally appreciated the inclusion of so much early 19th-century history, vis-√†-vis British and American relations, I feel like Tabitha’s profession – fascinating in itself – received the short shrift. Further midwife-centric tales would benefit from a greater focus on the heroine’s profession and the inclusion of more detailed information about her work.

The spiritual thread of the novel is wrapped up in each character’s search for redemption in some form. Personally I would’ve liked more exploration of Dominick’s past and the events that brought him to America and less of wayward  fianc√© Raleigh’s obsession with “fixing” Tabitha’s spiritual well-being. And while Tabitha and Dominick’s romance develops a bit quickly, there’s a sweetness to their relationship and the appeal of Dominick’s chivalry that cannot be denied (his propensity for over-the-top, flowery language notwithstanding). Though it could benefit from a tighter narrative, Lady in the Mist is an enjoyable slice of escapist fiction, owing its success in equal parts to a unique historical angle and its heroine’s unusual profession. I look forward to seeing how the author’s storytelling craft develops in further novels following this promising series debut.

A Heart Most Worthy by Siri Mitchell



This week, the
 
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
 
is introducing
 
A Heart Most Worthy
 
Bethany House (March 1, 2011)
 
by
 
Siri Mitchell

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Siri Mitchell graduated from the University of Washington with a business degree and worked in various levels of government. As a military spouse, she has lived all over the world, including in Paris and Tokyo. Siri enjoys observing and learning from different cultures. She is fluent in French and loves sushi.

But she is also a member of a strange breed of people called novelists. When they’re listening to a sermon and taking notes, chances are, they’ve just had a great idea for a plot or a dialogue. If they nod in response to a really profound statement, they’re probably thinking, “Yes. Right. That’s exactly what my character needs to hear.” When they edit their manuscripts, they laugh at the funny parts. And cry at the sad parts. Sometimes they even talk to their characters.

Siri wrote 4 books and accumulated 153 rejections before signing with a publisher. In the process, she saw the bottoms of more pints of Ben & Jerry’s than she cares to admit. At various times she has vowed never to write another word again. Ever. She has gone on writing strikes and even stooped to threatening her manuscripts with the shredder.

Her ninth novel, A Heart Most Worthy, follows prior Bethany House releases: A Constant Heart (October 2008), Love's Pursuit (June 2009), and She Walks in Beauty (Apr 2010). She Walks in Beauty won the inaugural INSPY Award for Historical Fiction in Dec 2010. Two of her novels, Chateau of Echoes and The Cubicle Next Door were Christy Award finalists. Love's Pursuit was a finalist for the ACFW Carol Award.

Publishers Weekly proclaimed, "Mitchell delivers the historical goods."

ABOUT THE BOOK

The elegance of Madame Forza's gown shop is a far cry from the downtrodden North End of Boston. Yet each day Julietta, Annamaria, and Luciana enter the world of the upper class, working on finery for the elite in society. The three beauties each long to break free of their obligations and embrace the American dream--and their chance for love. But the ways of the heart are difficult to discern at times.
Julietta is drawn to the swarthy, mysterious Angelo. Annamaria has a star-crossed encounter with the grocer's son, a man from the entirely wrong family. And through no intent of her own, Luciana catches the eye of Billy Quinn, the son of Madame Forza's most important client.

Their destinies intertwined, each harboring a secret from their families and each other, will they be found worthy of the love they seek?

If you would like to read the first chapter of A Heart Most Worthy, go HERE.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

More warbling in the kitchen!!!

I tell you, Alfie Boe and Matt Lucas are MAKING MY WEEK with their singing in the kitchen videos. Here is the latest installment, where we find Alfie and Matt singing "The Impossible Dream."

Singing in the kitchen, episode 3:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Alfie Boe warbles a bit.

Last night I watched Les Miserables: The 25th Anniversary Concert on PBS, which I thoroughly enjoyed (except for the gosh-awful, horribly miscast Nick Jonas as Marius...but I'm not going to talk about that, going to think happy thoughts this morning instead). Jean Valjean was played by Alfie Boe, who I had never heard of prior to this concert. Now, I realize there are a lot of very strong opinions out there about the "definitive" Valjean, so let me be clear I am not trying to compare Boe to Colm Wilkinson. :) However, I thought Alfie Boe did a fantastic job as Valjean, and it's just an added bonus that he seemed so humble and soft-spoken and freaking adorable in the interviews.

After finding these YouTube videos this morning of Alfie singing in Matt Lucas' (Thenardier) kitchen, it is now official - I am completely in love with Alfie Boe. Enjoy. :)

Alfie Boe warbles a bit:



Alfie Boe warbles again:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Beastly


It's terribly rainy and overcast here, but I had some fun this afternoon meeting Kaye and Liz for lunch at Baja Burrito and then a showing of Beastly, based of course on the Alex Flinn novel. The movie is very, very loosely based on the book - but I'm not so attached to the novel that I really minded the changes.

Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) is still a spoiled, selfish teenager attending an exclusive New York City high school where anyone who doesn't meet his idea of attractive is a candidate for ridicule. Of course, Kyle's not entirely to blame for his worldview, he comes by it naturally since his father (Rob Krause), a successful news anchor, did a heckuva good job 1) instilling the idea in his son that only beautiful people get anywhere in life and 2) mostly ignoring him. When Kyle decides to make an example of Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), an eccentric goth dresser with a reputation as a witch, by asking her on a date and then publicly humiliating her, he didn't expect his life to be forever changed by his thoughtless cruelty. Kendra transforms him into the type of person he'd always mocked - a tatooed freak, with one year to find someone to love him and reverse the spell.

If you've read the book, you can recognize a major change from the novel to the film just by looking at the poster - in the book, Kyle is a literal beast, covered in hair with fangs and claws. From the glimpses of the tatooed Kyle in the preview, I thought there was no way even I could suspend disbelief for a tatooed "beast," since obviously the filmmakers went this route rather than covering Pettyfer's good looks with elaborate costumes. Having seen the movie, I've got to say I was actually really impressed with the "beastly" make-up job - Kyle's not "just" bizarrely inked, he's covered with raw, jagged scars and raised welts. So the tatooing curse worked out better than I'd initially imagined. :)

In the novel, Kyle and Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) meet when he gives her the rose corsage his girlfriend rejects because it is too cheap. I really liked how the film expanded on their "meet cute" moment. But first of all I've got to comment on another change - it's a bit disappointing that Hudgens looks nothing whatsoever like Lindy is described in the book. When I did a Google image search for the movie poster, I discovered several fanmade posters featuring actress Emma Stone as Lindy - looks-wise she would've been a much better choice. However, I feel like Hudgens did an excellent job capturing Lindy's personality, a combination of sweetness and spunk, and she just comes across a genuinely nice person, which I liked.


Back to the meet-cute - after giving Lindy the corsage, she asks if they can have their picture taken together. She obviously likes him (hello...girlfriend, I get it, Pettyfer is adorable) on some level in spite of his predisposition toward rudeness, and is thrilled to get a picture. What I loved about the moment was that instead of macking for the camera, Kyle's looking at Lindy, curious and intrigued by a girl who doesn't immediately fall all over herself just because he's deigning to speak with her. I just thought it was really sweet and well-played (and yes, in case you didn't realize it, I'm a hopeless romantic, I know).

When Pettyfer is playing Kyle in jerk-mode, I thought his acting was a little wooden (even for a teenage fantasy film). But he really loosened up once he's in "beast" mode and revealed a comic side that resulted in some really funny scenes. I loved his stress over trying to impress Lindy with expensive gifts, and his glee when success comes and they start to make progress in their relationship. And I seriously loved that the script had Kyle write Lindy pages and pages of letters confessing his feelings - something about writing a letter to share one's feelings is so romantic. While this movie is definitely less based on Flinn's book and more loosely inspired by, I like many of these changes, including the fact that the film raises Kyle and Lindy's ages, and still keeps their budding romance really sweet which is often not the norm in movies.


Now a few words about the supporting cast. Surprisingly, Mary-Kate Olsen made an awesome Kendra. She was pitch-perfect - a bit other-worldly and over-the-top. It's a far, far cry from her days as a TV child star, LOL. And her costumes - they reminded me of something from a goth-tinged Alice in Wonderland. I was also glad that the film doesn't have Kendra playing the double role of witch and housekeeper - instead housekeeper role of Magda in the book is changed to Zola (Lisa Gay Hamilton). Zola's patience with Kyle is even more impressive since she didn't have the whole double-magic life thing to fall back on. :) It was also a nice touch that that the script has Kendra's next project as reforming Kyle's father - that would be something to see. Neil Patrick Harris was perfectly cast as Kyle's blind tutor, Will. I loved his snarkiness - the only thing that the movie lacked was more of his scenes.

One thing I will give the book, and that is that Flinn really incorporated many of the story beats found in the traditional fairy tale, like the Beast having a rose garden prior to meeting his Beauty, or actually being in danger of dying (instead of simply remaining in beast form for all time). But other elements, like keeping Beauty a prisoner, has something of a creep factor when translated to modern times (though all things considered, I think the book manages that aspect fairly well if you suspend disbelief). The conclusion of this movie's version of the Beauty and the Beast story removes the peril factor, but in thinking it over I think that was a smart choice and focuses the attention squarely on Kyle's inner transformation.

When Lindy gets the news that her junkie father OD'd, and in her hurry to leave drops the "you're a great friend" kiss of death on Kyle, he loses all hope that she could view him as anything more than a friend. She stays away not because she's forced to, as she is in the book, but because she's hurt that he won't return her calls and talk about his declaration in the letter. When Kyle finally comes to his senses, he goes searching for Lindy at his old school. I thought that step - actually revealing his scarred self to all his former classmates - was a really great way of showing how far he'd come. No, there's no threat of imminent death, but out of love for Lindy, Kyle is willing to reveal his scarred form to the people who once lorded over, all to keep her friendship. And in the world of the movie, having Kyle no longer care how he appears to the world speaks volumes.

Beastly in book and movie form are two different, but equally enjoyable animals (no pun intended, LOL). Pettyfer is very easy on the eyes, and being a Brit I shall follow his career with interest. :) This is a pretty clean film, that save for some swearing could've easily been PG, I think. I'm a sucker for retold fairy tales in all forms, and Beastly didn't disappoint - it's a sweet, modern-day take on one of my favorite stories. To anyone else who's read the book and/or seen the film, I'd love to hear your thoughts!