Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: The Strength of His Hand by Lynn Austin

The Strength of His Hand (Chronicles of the Kings #3)
By: Lynn Austin
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 0-7642-2991-5

About the book:

He has achieved enormous wealth and power -- yet there is no heir.

The legacy Hezekiah has established as one of Judah's great leaders is threatened: his beloved wife, Hephzibah, remains barren. Desperate to provide a successor to her husband's throne, Hephzibah makes a forbidden pact with the fertility goddess Asherah.

Feeling repulsed and betrayed by her act of idolatry, Hezekiah destroys the pagan shrine. But in his rage, he himself is critically injured. As Hezekiah struggles to redeem his wife and save his nation, the aged prophet Isaiah arrives with divine instructions for the king to put his house in order and choose a successor.

With his life -- and the future of his kingdom -- hanging in the balance, Hezekiah once more cries out to the Lord...


After surviving the threat of Assyrian invasion, Hezekiah has seen the kingdom of Judah blessed with extraordinary peace and prosperity. Life seems almost perfect, except Hezekiah lacks an heir. Desperate to retain her husband's affections and secure his succession, Hephzibah vows to sacrifice her firstborn to the pagan goddess Asherah. When Hezekiah discovers her idolatry, he flies into a rage and is critically injured in the resulting fire. Deeply and bitterly wounded by his beloved wife's betrayal, Hezekiah wavers between life and death with nothing less than the future of the kingdom and his people at stake. When God grants Hezekiah a reprieve, the broken king sets about attempting to solidify his legacy, risking everything for a chance at personal glory by signing alliances with neighboring -- pagan -- nations, alliances that bring Assyria once again to Jerusalem's gates. Will Hezekiah find the strength to return to the faith of his youth and once again trust in the never-changing God of Israel to redeem the results of his sinful pride and save his people from annihilation?

The Strength of His Hand is the third volume in Austin's Chronicles of the Kings series to cover a portion of Hezekiah's reign. Taking 2 Kings 18-20, 2 Chronicles 32, and Isaiah 36-39 as her basis, Austin explores Hezekiah's reign at its critical midpoint -- facing death and the systematic dismantling of all the religious and political reforms he'd overseen since his coronation, the Hezekiah we meet at this point is a more vulnerable, almost desperate, man than the assured, faith-filled ruler we were introduced to in the first two volumes of this series. One of the main reasons I love biblical fiction is how it can flesh-out and humanize the individuals forever immortalized in the pages of scripture, reclaiming them from character status and reminding us that they were once living and breathing human beings, ever bit as fallible as we are today. The first two novels in this series sketched a fascinating, compelling portrait of Hezekiah -- but Hezekiah at this point in history, at least as brought to life by Austin -- is frankly unlikable. There is so much time spent on Hezekiah's illness, his regrets, his penchant for making decisions that go against every belief he's professed to hold dear up to this point. But the portion of Hezekiah's life covered in this novel is presented in too repetitive and redundant a manner to make for a truly compelling read. Hezekiah faces some truly appalling prophecies as a result of his decisions -- i.e., when Isaiah prophesies the Babylonian exile (2 Kings 20: 16-19), and the best reaction Hezekiah can muster is relief that this won't happen in his lifetime. One never really gets a clear sense of Hezekiah's remorse until the novel is nearly over, and given the far-flung repercussions of his actions, it is to my view a missed dramatic opportunity.

The strongest characters in this novel are members of the supporting cast -- Eliakim, the man responsible for overseeing the construction of Hezekiah's tunnel in Song of Redemption (and now the Secretary of State), his wife Jerusha, the former Assyrian captive, and Hephzibah, the disgraced queen. In many respects Eliakim as a hero figure foreshadows the leading men of Austin's later works -- atypical, sincere, intelligent, bookish types. I loved Austin's exploration of how the pressure of Eliakim's new government position forced a new set of societal expectations on him -- expectations that clash with the grace-filled tenets of his faith. It is his wife Jerusha, the once-broken and bitter Assyrian slave who reminds Eliakim of the need for grace and forgiveness when she is compelled to reach out to the shunned queen. I love how Austin has developed Jerusha's story, particularly in how she doesn't shy away from the ever-present traumatic impact of Jerusha's years in captivity. I found Hephzibah's battle with guilt and unforgiveness extremely well-drawn and realistically presented, and Jerusha's unexpected friendship with Hephzibah is a lovely portrait of grace and redemption at work in the lives of believers.

Lacking some of the spark that made the first two volumes in this series so fascinating, The Strength of His Hand is nevertheless a competently presented final chapter in Austin's exploration of Hezekiah's life and reign. I look forward to the fourth book in the series, covering the reign of Hezekiah's son -- I think perhaps a new generation's challenges will interject a much-needed infusion of life into the series.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

By: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: Plume
ISBN: 978-0452297548

About the book:

"Hi, I'm the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you . . . "

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It's company policy.) But they can't quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O'Neill can't believe this is his job now- reading other people's e-mail. When he applied to be "internet security officer," he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth's and Jennifer's messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can't help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say . . . ?


Remember when the internet was rather shiny and new, before it took over our phones and seemingly every aspect of our lives? Attachments is set in that brave new world of 1999, when the looming specter of Y2K had many worried that should the computers stop, so would life as we know it. Lincoln is a late twenty-something computer expert, hired to be the swing-shift internet security officer at The Courier, where instead of building firewalls he's tasked with reading every e-mail that gets flagged as "work inappropriate." When an e-mail is flagged, the sender is (supposed) to get a warning -- multiple violations leading to employment termination. But when e-mails from Beth (the film critic) and Jennifer (a copy editor) come across Lincoln's desk, he can't bring himself to turn them in for violating the newspaper's internet policy. To the lonely and lost Lincoln, their friendly, irreverent banter is a lifeline, and before he knows it he's become invested in the lives of two women he's never met, much less ever seen. The more time passes, the more Lincoln finds himself becoming invested in his unseen co-workers' lives, and falling in love with the romantically-challenged Beth. But can a relationship where two individuals have never met -- where Lincoln's work allowed him to "eavesdrop" on private conversations -- have any hope of a real-world future?

I cannot believe it's taken me so long to read this book. I feel as though I can barely articulate how much I adore Rowell's sparking, sunny, warm-hearted debut. Attachments made my heart positively sing. This frothy confection of a novel is the very definition of sheer, unmitigated reading joy -- Rowell stitches together late '90s nostalgia, wonderfully real, flawed and authentic characters, and creates perhaps the most refreshing, delightful boy-meets-girl story that I've ever read. I'm not even exaggerating -- this slim little volume hits all the right notes in my view, an absolute treasure and joy to read. Rowell alternates between Beth and Jennifer's e-mails and chapters in third-person from Lincoln's point-of-view. With roughly half the novel in epistolary format, as such it is an extremely fast-paced read. I think it was a stroke of brilliance to tell Beth and Lincoln's perspectives in two different formats, though we're somewhat more limited in Beth's perspective since it is more limited by the parameters of any particular e-mail. The prose chapters weave together the gradually-forming picture Lincoln begins to make of Beth, and how he responds to the humor and raw honesty in her missives sheds as much light on his character as the carefully meted-out backstory Rowell reveals through Lincoln's home life and reminscences. 

Given the fact that Lincoln gets to know Beth by essentially spying on her (nevermind that his job demands the intrusion), it's all the more amazing that Rowell has succeeded in crafting one of the sweetest, most winning romances I've ever read on the page. It's so refreshing to read a contemporary romance about genuinely nice individuals, characters who became almost friends. One can argue that Attachments is predictable, but I would counter by saying that its the best kind of predictable you could hope to meet. We *know* the happy ending is coming -- it's required by the tenets of the genre -- but the charm and appeal is in how Rowell takes the reader on Lincoln and Beth's journey. The fact that these characters are so nice, so authentic, so genuine, is what kept me turning pages, cheering for their triumphs, aching for their heartbreaks. Rowell's compelling, well-drawn characters, coupled with a razor-sharp sense of humor and snappy prose transforms what could have been just another run-of-the-mill, standard boy-meets-girl story into something sparkling and memorable, a standout for its warmth and heart.

I finished this book a few days ago and unlike my norm, I couldn't bring myself to review it right away. This was a story that wended its way deep into my heart, a treasure to savor. And frankly, in re-reading this review I feel like I've barely touched on the magic and charm of Attachments. I adored this book. From the opening e-mail to its swoon-worthy conclusion, this novel captivated my imagination as I lost myself in Rowell's winningly retro debut. Her charming novel is a treasure sure to speak to any romantic's heart, running the emotional gamut from heart-wrenching to laugh-out-loud funny (I literally couldn't stop smiling the entire time I read this book). Attachments is a love letter to dreamers, a joy-filled world I loved losing myself in and can guarantee I'll revisit at the earliest opportunity. This one's a keeper. :)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

13 Little Blue Envelopes
By: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: HarperTeen
ISBN: 978-0060541439

About the book:

Inside little blue envelope 1 are $1,000 and instructions to buy a plane ticket.

In envelope 2 are directions to a specific London flat.

The note in envelope 3 tells Ginny: Find a starving artist.

Because of envelope 4, Ginny and a playwright/thief/ bloke–about–town called Keith go to Scotland together, with somewhat disastrous–though utterly romantic–results. But will she ever see him again?

Everything about Ginny will change this summer, and it's all because of the 13 little blue envelopes.


Ginny always viewed her eccentric, artistic Aunt Peg as the most daring, interesting member of her family -- a fearless and bold risk-taker, the woman who made the safer Ginny more interesting by association. When Peg's free-spirited ways led her to abandon her home in New York to travel throughout Europe, no one in Ginny's family was really surprised -- Peg always returned, sooner or later, bearing tales and souvenirs of her adventures. But one day, instead of Peg a package arrives for seventeen-year-old Ginny -- thirteen blue envelopes, the first containing $1,000 and instructions for Ginny to buy a plane ticket to London. The instructions are very specific -- bring minimal baggage and only open the next envelope when the task in the current letter has been completed. Accepting Peg's terms, Ginny gamely books her flight and heads for London, the first of many leaps of faith she'll be required to experience in order to follow her aunt's most unusual directive. Each letter, each requirement thrusts Ginny into the most exhilarating and scary journey of her young life, a pilgrimage to follow her aunt's footsteps throughout Europe. Along the way the letters test Ginny's resilience and force her to decide who she is and wants to be, the type of woman she stands on the cusp of becoming. All it takes is leap after leap of faith...

I've had this book on my radar for several years now -- the cover is adorable, the premise intriguing, and since I seem to be on a YA kick here lately I figured now is as good a time as any to read my first Johnson novel. The impetus behind Ginny's journey through Europe is a fascinating one, and given the apparent (and stark) differences in personality between Ginny and her colorful aunt, Johnson sets the stage for a rollicking travelogue adventure grounded in the unexpected and deep bond between two seemingly wildly different personality types. However (and I realize I'm probably showing my age here), I would've liked a touch more plausibility in the journey's set-up -- given the clear (and often valid) issues Ginny's mother had with her sister's lifestyle, I find it hard to believe that she would have sanctioned the trip given Ginny's age and the restrictions place on her travel by the letters. But fiction is all about escapism, and my issue with the set-up was quickly overshadowed by the promise of Ginny's adventures to come in the great European unknown.

Each letter serves as figurative key that unlocks a new chapter in Peg's life for Ginny to explore. Johnson keeps the action moving at a refreshing, brisk pace, introducing new characters and scenery every few days -- in that respect this novel is an armchair traveler's dream. The individuals that pepper Ginny's travels are incredibly engaging, colorful characters -- from the rather traditional, somewhat staid Richard who seems the complete opposite of Peg, to Keith, the charming university student/ex-thief (and creator of "Starbucks: The Musical") who finds himself the benefactor of Ginny's efforts to "fund a struggling artist." I loved Keith -- he was an absolute charmer, and his deadpan responses to Ginny and the eccentric nature of her trip provided some of the novel's funniest moments. Unfortunately, for a novel with such rich scenic potential and delightfully individual and quirky supporting characters, Ginny comes across as woefully flat for the first two-thirds of the book. She's just...there and it's hard to fathom how she seems so one-dimensional when compared to everyone she encounters. Thankfully, Johnson's brisk pacing keeps the plot moving forward, and the more Ginny learns about her aunt's life, Peg's hopes and fears, the more Ginny opens up and becomes a character I finally began to really connect with.

Despite some implausibilities and characterization issues, I enjoyed this introduction to Johnson's work. I loved the way in which the mystery of Aunt Peg unfolded further with each letter, a poignant testimony to one woman's reflections on her life and relationships, guiding Ginny to finally come into her own, balancing her aunt's hopes for her with the dawning realization of who she is and wants to be. I'm looking forward to Ginny's further adventures in the sequel!

The Sound of Red Returning by Sue Duffy

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Sound of Red Returning
Kregel Publications (December 9, 2011)
Sue Duffy


Sue Duffy is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Moody magazine, The Presbyterian Journal, Sunday Digest, and The Christian Reader. She is the author of Mortal Wounds (Barbour, 2001), Fatal Loyalty (Kregel, 2010), and The Sound of Red Returning (Kregel, 2011). Sue has also contributed to Stories for a Woman’s Heart (Multnomah). She and her husband, Mike, have three grown children.


After losing everyone she loves, concert pianist Liesl Bower has nowhere to go but to escape into her music. Searching for the peace she usually finds in her concertos and sonatas, Liesl can't shake the feeling that she is being haunted by her past . . . and by someone following her. When she spots a familiar and eerie face in the audience of a concert she's giving for the president in Washington, DC, the scariest day of her life comes back to her with a flash.

It has been fifteen years since Liesl watched her beloved Harvard music mentor assaulted on a dark night in Moscow and just as long since the CIA disclosed to her that he'd been spying for Russia. She had seen that man-that eerie face-the night Professor Devoe was attacked. And now he's back-and coming for her.

“Sue Duffy has mixed the mayhem of political intrigue with the melody of romance.” —Dick Bohrer, author, editor, and former journalism professor
“Intrigue and suspense come together in an incredible story of love and betrayal, commitment and courage, power and danger . . . and a God who controls it all. Sue Duffy is a wonderfully gifted writer and this book is a must-read.” —Steve Brown, founder and president of Key Life and host of Steve Brown Etc.
If you would like to read the first chapter of The Sound of Red Returning, go HERE.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Review: Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade

Queen of the Dead (Ghost and the Goth #2)
By: Stacey Kade
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
ISBN: 1423134672

About the book:

After being sent back from the light, Alona Dare - former homecoming queen, current Queen of the Dead - finds herself doing something she never expected: working. Instead of spending days perfecting her tan by the pool (her typical summer routine when she was, you know, alive), Alona must now cater to the needs of other lost spirits. By her side for all of this - ugh - “helping of others” is Will Killian: social outcast, seer of the dead, and someone Alona cares about more than she’d like.

Before Alona can make a final ruling on Will’s “friend” or “more” status, though, she discovers trouble at home. Her mom is tossing out Alona’s most valuable possessions, and her dad is expecting a new daughter with his wicked wife. Is it possible her family is already moving on? Hello! She’s only been dead for two months! Thankfully, Alona knows just the guy who can put a stop to this mess.

Unfortunately for Alona, Will has other stuff on his mind, and Mina, a young (and beautiful) seer, is at the top of the list. She’s the first ghost-talker Will’s ever met—aside from his father—and she may hold answers to Will’s troubled past. But can she be trusted? Alona immediately puts a check mark in the “clearly not” column. But Will is - ahem - willing to find out, even if it means leaving a hurt and angry Alona to her own devices, which is never a good idea.

Packed with romance, lovable characters, and a killer cliffhanger, Queen of the Dead is the out-of-this-world sequel to The Ghost and the Goth.


Two months have passed since former high school "It Girl" -- now "Queen of the Dead" -- Alona Dare was hit by a bus and ended up not quite dead -- well, dead certainly but not gone, left with only other annoying "in-betweener" ghosts for company and Will Killian, social misfit extraordinaire with a gift for speaking to the dead. Bound to Will as his self-proclaimed "spirit guide," the mismatched (but adorable) pair have been working to help the ghosts they encounter settle their final issues with those they've left behind. This constantly stretches Alona's patience for lesser mortals -- *ahem* I mean beings -- but she finds surprising fulfillment in her mission with Will. For his part Will is alternately frustrated and impressed with Alona's work and her character -- clearly he underestimated the girl when she was alive. With the tentative promise of the unlikeliest of cross-dimensional romantic relationships developing between them, the mismatched but oh-so-couple is discovering the relationship life and class denied them in life. But while on a routine job for a new spirit acquaintance, Alona and Will meet a girl who shares Will's ghost-talking ability, and their fragile relationship comes under unexpected fire. The new girl, Mina, causes Will to question everything he thought he knew about his ability, casting doubts on the future of his work and relationship with Alona. Hurt and ticked, Alona risks everything to regain Will's attention and soon discovers that her rash temper and the new ghost talkers threaten not only her relationship with Will but her very existence... 

The debut novel in Kade's Ghost and the Goth series was an unexpected and frankly delightful surprise. Generally speaking paranormals are not my thing, but interject a healthy dose of angst, a heaping tablespoon of snarky humor, and a simmering romance against the odds? I'm so there. I completely feel in love with the characters of Alona and Will and their sarcastic banter, and was thrilled to learn that Kade was continuing their adventures (the third volume, Body and Soul, releases next month) this sophomore effort lacked a bit of the spark that I was hoping for given my thorough enjoyment of its predecessor. In retrospect I should've seen it coming, but what can I say, I was blinded by my book-crush on Will. *wink* Two months into the Will and Alona relationship, Kade uses this opportunity to develop the mythos of their world, delving into Will's family history and expanding on the idea of ghost talkers and their varied belief systems and modus operandi. While this definitely raises the stakes for Will and Alona, I have to be frank -- the creation of some sort of larger mythology just didn't interest me all that much, mainly because it requires that for a full two-thirds of the novel Will and Alona share no - ZERO - page time. I was reminded of my experience with the TV show Being Human (BBC version) -- I adored the first half of season one as it explored the interaction between the three mismatched roommates and their struggles to be "normal." But when the show took its mythology to a larger and darker scale I lost interest. However, someone with a greater interest in paranormals would probably appreciate Kade's world-building more than I, given my admittedly limited experience in this genre.

The lack of Will and Alona page time is, without a doubt, this book's greatest deficit. Their snarky banter, the do-they-or-don't-they like each other, will-they-or-won't-they kiss tension is what makes these stories sing. The opening and concluding chapters to this second outing are noticeably stronger than the middle because that's when we see the two of them together, trading quips, commenting on the action, and -- best of all -- revealing their attraction and need for each other. My personal preference issues with the plot's format aside, Queen of the Dead is every bit the quick read as its predecessor -- at times shaded a bit darker than I would've liked, but every bit the snappily plotted and well-executed page-turner. Her characterizations are superb -- Kade has a real knack for conveying teenage angst and snarkiness on the page. But all is not witty sarcasm -- Alona in particular, the character you'd least expect to feel sympathy towards, grows a lot over the course of this story. And while I feel Will and Alona spent far too much time apart, I will say I was pleasantly surprised by the twist at the novel's climax, leading Alona to sacrifice herself for the sake of another, and just maybe opening the door to a real relationship with Will. With a novel full of shared Will/Alona banter virtually assured by Queen's end, I can't wait for the third book to release. Thanks to its sarcasm-heavy banter and sizzling romantic tension, this series is a memorable and addictive YA offering. Here's hoping the third book does a better job fulfilling the promise of the first.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade

The Ghost and the Goth (Ghost and the Goth #1)
By: Stacey Kade
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
ISBN: 142312197X

About the book:

After a close encounter with a bus, Alona Dare goes from homecoming queen to Queen of the Dead. She’s stuck as a ghost in the land of the living with no sign of the big, bright light to take her to a better place. To make matters worse, the only person who might be able to help her is Will Killian, a total loser outcast.

More than anything, Will wishes he didn’t have the rare ability to communicate with the dead, especially the former mean girl of Groundsboro High. He’s not filling out any volunteer forms to help her cross to the other side, though it would bring him some welcome peace and quiet.

Can they get over their mutual distrust -- and quasi-attraction -- to work together? Readers of this spirited paranormal comedy won't want this odd couple to ever part.


Alona Dare is the undisputed queen of her school, possessing the perfect body, the perfect friends, the perfect boyfriend. Her life is the envy of her lesser peers, a carefully crafted image she jealously guards and cultivates with the aplomb of a savvy press agent. But there are cracks in the foundation of Alona's perfect life -- a less-than-perfect home life that reaches a boiling point, leading Alona to an unguarded, fateful moment when she steps in front of a bus and is instantly killed. But death is nothing like Alona expected, as she shortly wakes up still in the land of the living -- not living, exactly, but stuck "in-between," forced to watch life go on sans her sparkling presence. To her everlasting chagrin the only one who can still see her and hear her is Will Killian, a loser -- the type of guy she'd have never associated with when she was alive. But she needs Will and his "knack" for communicating with the dead if she has any hope of moving on from land of in-between. For his part Will would like nothing better than to see Alona disappear for good -- his "gift" has brought him nothing but heartache and stress, and one less unseen voice clamoring for his attention can only be seen as a win. But the more Will and Alona get to know each other the more they begin to realize a spark of what might have been if either had dared to look beyond the superficial. When a particularly malevolent ghost sets its sights on Will's destruction, the Alona and Will are forced to become allies, and in the process discover the sparks of a relationship neither saw coming which proves a force that cannot be denied.

Paranormals of any sort are pretty much completely outside the realm of my reading experience, but after a friend's review I knew I had to check this book out. Fabulously cheesy title and candy-colored cover aside, it sounded like just plain fun. And oh, I'm so glad I stepped outside my norm and tried this, as The Ghost and the Goth is ridiculously entertaining from start to finish. With Alona and Will, Kade has created two of the most memorable characters to populate YA lit that I've ever had the pleasure of meeting on the page. Just when you think you have Alona all figured out -- spoiled, bratty, and privileged -- sure you could never, ever pull for her as a heroine, Kade gradually lays out the truth of Alona's backstory, revealing her heartache and struggles and just how easy it is to judge her, even as we as readers formed our own preconceived notions about Alona because of how she perceived others. And Will -- oh my WORD, where was a Will when I was in high school (never mind, where is the equivalent now? LOL)? He is quite simply one of the most swoon-worthy heroes ever, the struggling social outcast, burdened by a gift (curse?) he never wanted, absolutely sure he has Alona's character nailed until she begins to prove him wrong.

Kade gives us these characters, their hopes, dreams, and fears beautifully realized on the page, and she nails the teenage point-of-view. All of the uncertainty and angst are there, but that never bogs down the narrative because sparks positively fly from the page whenever Will and Alona meet. The novel alternates between chapters in each principle's point-of-view, allowing us to see their transformation and slow-burning romance gain traction, as the most unlikely romantic pair you'd ever hope to meet starts to discover just how much they've come to matter to each other. And if sarcasm and witty banter are your thing, Kade delivers it in spades. The snarky one-liners fly between Alona and Will non-stop, so much so that they began to remind me a bit of my favorite bickering Shakespearean couple, Beatrice and Benedick of Much Ado About Nothing. Yes, I just pulled the Shakespeare card -- I loved this pair that much. :)

This is a breezy, fast read, the perfect candy-coated brand of escapism I found myself craving this week. Kade keeps the action moving at a snappy pace, never losing sight of her story's greatest asset -- the wonderfully snarky back-and-forth between Alona and Will. And I loved how she gradually metes out the secrets of each character's backstory, constantly dropping tantalizing clues, just enough information to keep you flipping pages at a breathless pace. And while the climax is a bit (ahem) over-the-top, the earnestness it provokes in  Will and Alona, their heartfelt desire to help each other more than makes up for it. While I could've done without some of the swearing, this is a surprisingly clean novel with an equally surprising romantic sizzle that guarantees I'll be reading its sequels. The Ghost and the Goth is a ridiculously fun, engaging, addictive read -- very, very well done.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Once Upon a Time Soundtrack!

I discovered some very exciting news today -- on May 1st, the soundtrack album for Once Upon a Time's first season releases! I've been a huge fan of composer Mark Isham's lush, orchestral score for this show, and I cannot WAIT to get my hands on a full album of music (currently there is an EP available). Here's a link to preorder the CD from Amazon (digital download links not available yet). The physical CD releases with five cover options:

So which is your favorite? I'm torn between Snow and Rumple myself. :) Here's the tracklist:

1. Once Upon A Time Orchestral Suite 4:13
2. Henry's Proposal 1:17
3. The Queen's Curse 2:46
4. Jiminy Cricket 3:11
5. Dealing With Rumplestiltskin 3:26
6. Belle's Story 2:37
7. Dwarves 2:45
8. The Huntsman 4:31
9. Things Are Changing In Storybrooke 1:47
10. Cinderella 1:44
11. Wedding Dance 1:21
12. Advising Ashley 2:26
13. If The Shoe Fits 1:35
14. Unhappy Endings 3:46
15. Emma And Henry 1:43
16. The Siren 5:07
17. The Man With The Wooden Box 1:11
18. Hope Will Return 1:48
19. Rumplestiltskin In Love 2:19
20. The Genie's Wishes 1:58
21. The Road To True Love 2:50
22. The Family Compass 2:00
23. Burn The Witch 2:34
24. What The Queen Loves Most 2:30
25. The Clock Moves 1:12

Prophet by R.J. Larson

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Bethany House Publishers (April 1, 2012)
R.J. Larson


R. J. Larson is the author of numerous devotionals featured in publications such as Women's Devotional Bible and Seasons of a Woman's Heart. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with her husband and their two sons. Prophet marks her debut in the fantasy genre.


Close your eyes, Ela of Parne. Close your eyes and you will see.

Ela Roeh of Parne doesn't understand why her beloved Creator, the Infinite, wants her to become His prophet. She's undignified, bad tempered, and only seventeen--not to mention that no prophet of Parne has ever been a girl. Worst of all, as the elders often warn, if she agrees to become the Infinite's prophet, Ela knows she will die young.

Istgard has turned their back on me. See the evil they do.

Yet after experiencing His presence, she can't imagine living without Him. Determined to follow the Infinite's voice, Ela accepts the sacred vinewood branch and is sent to bring the Infinite's word to a nation torn apart by war. Here she meets Kien, a young Traceland ambassador determined to bring his own justice for his oppressed people. As they form an unlikely partnership, Ela must surrender to her destiny . . . and determine how to balance the leading of her heart with the leading of the Infinite.

Will you accept the branch and speak my will? Will you be my prophet?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Prophet, go HERE.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: John Carter: The Movie Novelization by Stuart Moore

John Carter: The Movie Novelization (Also includes A Princess of Mars)
By: Stuart Moore, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Publisher: Disney Editions
ISBN: 978-1423165583

About the book:

This adaptation will not only give readers an amazing novelization of the upcoming John Carter film, but also the original text of A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. A Princess of Mars was the first book to feature John Carter, led to an eleven-book series featuring his adventures, and was also the basis for the 2012 movie!

The movie John Carter tells the story of a war-weary former military captain during the Civil War, who is inexplicably transported to Mars. He quickly (and reluctantly) becomes embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet. The adaptation, written by Stuart Moore, wonderfully brings the movie's otherworldly action and adventure to the page, while keeping the themes of family, planetary survival, and loyalty at heart.


Although unfamiliar with Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter adventures, I thoroughly enjoyed the recent film -- so much so that I wanted to seek out the source material on which it was based. Many, if not all, of Burroughs' Carter novels are in the public domain (and as such are available as free or bargain-priced e-books), but I opted to purchase this novelization of the film for two reasons. One, I am a sucker for a decent script novelization, particularly if it expands on the movie's action to some degree (the novelizations of the original Star Wars films are extremely effective in this respect), and two, this novelization is packaged with A Princess of Mars, the original and first novel to feature John Carter's adventures on Mars, and the story on which the film is principally based.

The movie novelization is written by Stuart Moore, and as written realization of the film it falls a bit short. Let me put it this way -- if I'd read the novelization first there's a good chance I would've opted not to see John Carter on the big screen, and that would've been a crying shame. Moore's novelization is a decent adaptation of the script, but it fails to flesh out the fascinating world the film introduced me to. I wanted more of Carter's backstory, more insight into the development of his romance with Dejah Thoris, more insight into his efforts to adapt to the brave new and dangerous world he finds himself unexpectedly thrust into when he encounters the Thern being in the Arizona cave. Moore's prose is relatively flat, and given the imaginative canvas Burroughs created that's a shame. But having seen the film first, the novelization does a decent job translating the storyline from screen to the page -- I would simply encourage anyone who picks it up to not stop there when investigating the written origins of Carter's Mars adventures.

Reading A Princess of Mars was a first for me -- I have no experience reading early 20th-century classic pulp fiction, so stylistically I had no idea what to expect. I was of course familiar with Burroughs as the creator of Tarzan, and that character principally through its silver screen adaptations from the 1930s and 40s. First published in 1912 in serial form, Princess is told wholly from John Carter's point-of-view. This means there is a lot -- and I mean A LOT -- of information "dumping," exacerbated by the fact that all of the action is related as Carter's reminiscences, and for a good part of his time on Mars he's observing and learning, concealing the fact that he's learning the Martian language. This narrative style made the first third or so of Princess a bit of a slow go --  but with the images from the film firmly ingrained in my imagination, I was nonetheless eager to learn Carter's origin story as originally envisioned by his creator.

Roughly halfway through Burroughs' first Barsoom (Mars) novel, the action begins to pick up the pace, and what the movie novelization lacked in developing the Carter/Dejah relationship, Burroughs made up for in this novel. While the original Dejah isn't quite the warrior (at least not yet) that we see in the movie, her nobility and sacrificing spirit translated from Burroughs' text to the screen relatively intact. And I'm a complete sucker for an old-fashioned romance, and Carter's character has an inherent nobility that I just adored. Princess is an old-fashioned adventure novel that becomes an increasing page-turner the more Burroughs lets us see Carter adapt to his new environment, gradually opening himself up to friendships and relationships with people whose appearance and customs are so different from his own at first blush. Surprisingly, since it seems so out of my reading norm, I'm more interested than I ever expected in investigating Burroughs' subsequent John Carter novels. Happily the film (though not the novelization exactly) is a decent and fairly faithful adaptation of its ground-breaking source material -- I'm happy to have finally discovered this classic from the pen of a pulp fiction master.

Well this should make Monroe very happy...

Grimm Bree Turner

Grimm Promotes Bree Turner to Regular!

It seems that NBC likes its Grimm foxy: Bree Turner, who plays spice shop proprietress and Fuchsbau Rosalee, has been bumped from recurring guest star to series regular, TVLine has learned exclusively.

Read more by clicking the above link.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Moonblood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Bethany House Publishers (April 1, 2012)
Anne Elisabeth Stengl


Anne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she enjoys her profession as an art teacher, giving private lessons from her personal studio, and teaching group classes at the Apex Learning Center. She is married to the handsome man she met at fencing class and lives with him and a gaggle of cats. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. Heartless is her debut novel.

Anne Elisabeth is also the author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood, a series of fantasy adventure novels told in the classic Fairy Tale style.


Moonblood Draws Near, and Soon the Dragons Will Wake

Desperate to regain the trust of his kingdom, Prince Lionheart reluctantly banishes his faithful servant and only friend, Rose Red. Now she is lost in the hidden realm of Arpiar, held captive by her evil goblin father, King Vahe.

Vowing to redeem himself, Lionheart plunges into the mysterious Goldstone Wood, seeking Rose Red. In strange other worlds, Lionheart must face a lyrical yet lethal tiger, a fallen unicorn, and a goblin horde on his quest to rescue the girl he betrayed.

With the Night of Moonblood fast approaching when King Vahe seeks to wake the Dragon's sleeping children, Lionheart must discover whether or not his heart contains courage before it's too late for Rose Red . . . and all those he loves.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Moonblood, go HERE.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Grimm 1.16: "The Thing With Feathers"

Two things: I love this show, and how how HOW does it keep getting better and better week after week? AMAZING. Last week's episode of Grimm saw Nick (David Giuntoli) attempt to enjoy a romantic weekend getaway with Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch). Sadly for Nick, now that he's a Grimm the job goes everywhere with him...there is no turning that part of his brain off. Also, no offense to any perfectly nice places called something along the lines of "Whispering Pines," but seriously in films and TV shows going some place with a name like that is never, EVER going to end well. ANYWAYS, remember that engagement ring that's popped up a couple of times? Well apparently Nick's finally decided to pop the question to Juliette, sure that an idyllic weekend away will be the perfect antidote to the Grimm-related stresses that have been plaguing them lately. En route to the rented cabin, the pair stops to ask directions at the home of Tim (Josh Randall) and Robin (Azura Skye), the latter his clearly terrorized wife. Nick barely hides his consternation when he sees the caustic Tim transform into a catlike Wesen -- newsflash to Nick, just leaving Portland doesn't make you any less of a Grimm, okay? :P

Juliette is extraordinarily disturbed by a glimpse she catches of Robin through a window, an unsettling impression she can't shake and is later reinforced when she witnesses Tim manhandling Robin and then forcibly dragging her inside their home. She gets Nick to call the local police department, but when the sheriff arrives nothing is done -- seriously did anyone not get a bad vibe from the sheriff's appearance? Ick. Anyways, Juliette's response to Robin's plight makes me wonder if perhaps the show has something planned for her in relation to Nick's work as a Grimm. She's proven time and again over the course of this season that she can keep a cool head in a crisis, and I think there's a lot of potential for her as some sort of partner in the Grimm-related work. Thoughts?

When Nick gets a Juliette-free moment he calls Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) to try and identify Tim. Monroe's reaction to Nick's call is priceless -- I just love how he whines about getting called, but as he proves later he really wouldn't have it any other way. :) It turns out that Tim is a Klaustreich, which is basically an EVIL alley cat. Klaustreichs are users, love 'em and leave 'em types -- and Monroe knows all of this because he ran afoul of one in his high school years (Monroe may have lost his girlfriend at the time, but the Klaustreich lost the battle with Monroe -- my cello playing, vegan Blutbad is a secret badass -- love it!). Tim's treatment of Robin is absolutely horrific -- preparing disgusting, worm-filled "protein shakes" that he actually force-feeds multiple times. This ranks as one of the most disgusting, chilling crimes in the show to date. The worm shakes are a revealing clue to Robin's Wesen identity -- she's revealed to be a Seltenvogel, a birdlike Wesen that produces a gold stone egg once in their lifetime. Between Robin's less than original name and the force-feeding thing, clearly Tim is controlling her with an eye to acquiring the stone. Robin's casting is one of the best as far as guest spots go this season -- Skye nails the mannerisms of a frightened, flighty bird, and her transformation scenes are among the most natural and likely in the show's history.

Back in Portland, poor Hank (Russell Hornsby) is becoming increasingly obsessed with the Hexenbiest Adalind (Claire Coffee) -- apparently her magic chocolate chip cookies turn people into stalkers. Poor Hank. *sigh* At least he's not eating like a goat like the recently recovered Sgt. Wu (Reggie Lee). (When is someone going to notice THAT mess??) Curiously enough, Adalind doesn't seem all that interested in manipulating Hank -- everything she does is at Renard's (Sasha Roiz) direction. Is she just a puppet, or is she involved with Renard? I cannot WAIT to find out what Renard's end game is, and what exactly his relationship is with Adalind -- who he is in the Wesen world that gives him the apparent position of power that he seems to possess. The writers have done a brilliant job building interest in Renard's character...and given how this show has improved week-over-week since its premiere, I have a great deal of confidence and excitement in seeing how everything plays out. (Side note: was Renard not the HOTTEST THING EVER in the above scene? I mean seriously?! *swoon*)

In other Portland-set news, Monroe is hanging out with Rosalie (Bree Turner), and while I don't think they are officially dating (yet), Monroe's crush makes me SO HAPPY. Seriously, just when I think he couldn't get more adorable HE DOES! When Nick calls Rosalie to ask her questions about Robin's Wesen identity, I LOVED Monroe's fake outrage (all to cover, I'm sure, that he's hanging out with I said, ADORABLE!). Monroe's budding relationship with Rosalie is setting up -- I hope -- both a personal and professional partnership that this show will carry into its upcoming second season. Nick is in desperate need of another sensible, smart, broad-minded (in that they don't mind he's a Grimm) ally in the Wesen community. And so far, Rosalie seems to fit the bill perfectly. :) Side note: who has some theories on Rosalie's brother's stash of fake passports? Her brother had a history of some shady dealings as far as his business went, but nothing that to my mind required multiple passports. Is he some sort of spy, or in league with Renard somehow? 

So, back to the action in Whispering Pines -- Robin sees an opportunity to run from Tim and takes it, but doesn't take Juliette up on her earlier offer of help. Nick follows her to make sure she's okay, and at this point I'm hoping he realizes how awesome Juliette is because she is game -- I love how she's willing to put herself out there, doesn't let fear determine her reaction to the current situation. In the woods, Nick misses Robin by mere moments -- after killing the one man who had agreed to try and help Robin escape from Tim, he drags her back to their home. Nick discovers the body and calls the local sheriff again -- and this is where everything starts to get all Deliverance-ish. When Nick beats the sheriff to Tim's farmhouse and rescues Robin from yet another forced wormshake feeding, she reveals that the sheriff is Tim's cousin and they're both in on the plot to control her until the "egg" in her neck is ready to hatch.

The whole "bird in captivity" aspect of this episode takes its cue from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale -- "The Nightingale." In this story, the Chinese emperor keeps a nightingale captive in order to enjoy the bird's song whenever he likes. The story resolves a bit more happily for the nightingale and the emperor -- interestingly enough for this episode, it isn't the nightingale's song but it's egg that is what's valued. And that alteration to the Andersen fairy tale seems a bit reminscent of "Jack and the Beanstalk" and the giant's goose that layed golden eggs, no?

On the run in the woods, Robin starts to pass out because the "egg" is blocking her windpipe, ready to "hatch." In yet another example of Rosalie's awesomeness, she talks Nick through "delivering" the egg by cutting it out of Robin's neck. (I suppose this is the Grimm version of an emergency baby delivery -- ha!) Tim and the sheriff show up after the delivery, leading to an interesting moment -- Nick talks about how he cut the stone out of Robin's neck and two seconds later Juliette shows up with her gun -- don't you think she overheard that? Case-wise all's well that ends well -- the delicate gold egg shatters but Tim and his worthless and corrupt cousin are hauled off to jail. Personally Nick is in for another blow, though, as Juliette turns down his proposal. That moment KILLED me. I know why Nick feels like he must protect and shield her from his Grimm life, but secrets like that do not a sustainable relationship make, hmm? I mean how hard must that moment of raw honesty have been for Juliette? I respect her so much MORE now, you know? I really love Nick and Juliette together, and I hate the thought of trouble in their relationship -- but to the show's credit I think Nick/Juliette relationship stress is being handled extraordinarily well.

Titanic miniseries

Well, I was really looking forward to watching the first part of the new Julian Fellowes' Titanic miniseries this evening, and then my mom calls to clue me in to the sad reality that in my market the miniseries has been pre-empted by a fundraiser telecast. GRRR. The likelihood of me staying up until 1:00am to watch this and make it to church tomorrow is very, very slim, so I'll just wait for my pre-ordered DVD to arrive.

So for anyone who doesn't have the broadcast pre-empted by a fundraiser, please letme know how you enjoy it!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Henri the Existential French Cat

I bring you yet another post where the internet continues makes my day --

Henri, Part One:

Henri, Part Two:

this makes me SO HAPPY...

Some weeks you think "a little Daniel Craig would really make this week better" and BOOM...the internet obliges with new images of Craig as James Bond in the upcoming Skyfall film. Thank you, internet...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Masterpiece Classic - the rest of the 2012 season

I thought I'd update the blog with the remainder of this season's Masterpiece Classic schedule, as it seems increasingly likely I will not be keeping up with this season on the blog (it is what it is, hmm? so many books and movies and TV shows!).
April 15, 2012 at 9pm

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

One 120-minute episode

An adaptation and completion of Charles Dickens' last novel left unfinished at his death, The Mystery Of Edwin Drood is a psychological thriller about a provincial choirmaster's obsession with 17-year-old Rosa Bud. Cast includes Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters) and Julia MacKenzie (Miss Marple).

April 22 & 29, 2012 at 9pm


Two 90-minute episodes

Based on Sebastian Faulk's novel about lovers torn apart by World War I. Eddie Redmayne (The Pillars of the Earth) plays Stephen Wrayford, whose pre-war affair with Isabelle Azaire (Clemence Poesy, Harry Potter) has an enduring effect on him as he fights in the trenches.
As always I'd love to hear your thoughts on either of these productions if or when you've seen them. And rest assured, I'm very much looking forward to the new Masterpiece Mystery season, starting this May with Series 2 of Sherlock!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
By: Paul Torday
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 0151012768

About the book:

"Every so often a novel comes along that is quite original; think of Yann Martel's enchanting "Life of Pi"... [A] commentary on the value of belief to mankind. [T]hought-provoking and memorable." –The Economist

What does it take to make us believe in the impossible?

For Dr. Alfred Jones, life is a quiet mixture of civil service at the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence and marriage to Mary—an ambitious, no-nonsense financier. But a strange turn of fate from an unexpected direction forces Jones to upend his existence and pursue another man's ludicrous dream. Is salmon fishing in the Yemen impossible? Maybe nothing is.


Middle-aged fisheries scientist Alfred Jones lives a rather ordinary, quiet, unremarkable life until one day he receives a positively ludicrous, laughable request -- a Yemeni sheikh wants to introduce the sport of salmon fishing to his home country. Salmon in the desert? Impossible -- or so Alfred thinks, resigning the unorthodox request to the dustbin of extreme eccentricity. But Sheikh Muhammad is a visionary man who refuses to let the fact that something has never been done determine whether or not it is possible. And so the dream of salmon fishing in the Yemen takes on a life of its own as everyone from Alfred's supervisor to the Prime Minister's office seeks to leverage the story and its opportunities for their own personal and professional gain. Unwittingly drawn into this massive project that should be impossible, Alfred finds his eyes opened and his worldview challenged by the visionary sheikh's dream and the power of believing in belief, even when all hope seems lost.

This slim novel is far out side the norm of my usual reading picks -- but when the film trailers were released I couldn't resist checking out the book on which the movie was based. I think Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is quite simply one of the most intriguing, evocative book titles ever. Based on the film trailers I expected a sweet romantic comedy. And while the novel is infused with a healthy dose of humor, I wasn't expecting the biting social sarcasm, the bracing send-up of government bureaucracy and modern marriage, to name just a few of the subjects Torday tackles in his debut. Salmon Fishing rather defies categorization, and that's saying something in a world were Pride and Prejudice and Zombies exists. *wink* Torday's humor is subtler, his wit and insights regarding Western politics and the news media sharp and insightful.

The novel consists of e-mails, diary entries, transcripts and news articles. My favorite entries are those from Alfred and Harriet's (the latter being the estate agent that enlists Alfred's expertise for the project) perspectives. While I appreciated Torday's pointed jabs at government processes and the exigencies of the volatile political climate in the Middle East, where this story works best is in its examination of the struggles and heartbreak Alfred and Harriet experience while striving to bring the sheik's dream to fruition. Alfred's gradual, slow-burning awakening to the beauty and power of belief in belief, in the power of dreaming, is beautifully realized, and its a testament to Torday's ability to craft heart-breakingly realistic characters that I wanted more of them and less social commentary. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was an unexpectedly poignant, at times melancholy (but sweetly so), a delightful, ultimately highly readable venture outside my reading norm that proved to be a powerful reminder of the power and importance of belief and faith to the human experience.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror is the first of two big-screen adaptations of the Snow White fairy tale to grace movie screens this year -- and with Snow White a central character to the TV show Once Upon a Time's mythology, it's undeniable that Snow White's star is on the rise. Mirror Mirror is a glossy, colorful confection of a film where the visuals are the undeniable star, leaving the story a bit...hmm...lacking. I have to think this is due in large part to director Tarsem Singh's background as a director of music videos and commercials, and his previous films like The Immortals. Visuals are of course a critical part of any film, but as a personal preference I generally like to see them complemented by a decent script, and that is where Mirror Mirror falls short. That said, this movie has a good heart, and the child in me that's loved fairy tales since -- well, ever since I can remember, loved Mirror Mirror's lush, romantic, over-the-top style.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this film's promotion was the introduction of Julia Roberts, America's one-time silver screen "sweetheart," as the "Evil Queen" of legend. Her on-screen reputation coupled with her larger-than-life costumes make Roberts the most self-absorbed, and frankly silly Queen that I think I've ever seen on film. She's selfish and petulant and whiny, and while to some extent it's a fun change to see Roberts play this very anti-heroine type of character, the script doesn't give her Queen any real sort of menace. She has magic, or rather utilizes it, but there's never any whys or hows, or real rhyme or reason -- instead it is just accepted as a matter of course. Without much in the way of context, this queen is just petty and mean, you know? But she has some pretty amazing clothes. And I'm not gonna try and deny it, the red peacock dress kinda rocked my world (red being my favorite color and all). :) Also, I did think it was interesting how this film handled the whole "magic mirror" thing -- so the mirror was in fact an extension of the Queen's psyche? Thoughts?

Lily Collins as Snow White is perhaps one of this movie's strongest assests character-wise. The Mirror Mirror princess is never meant, I think, to be a completely post-modern radical, so as a princess cut from a more traditional fairy tale mold Collins fits the bill nicely. She has the youth and delicate beauty that makes her an ideal film princess, very much cut from the cloth of the traditional legend. However, this Snow is no complete wilting wallflower -- she grows up a lot in this film as expected by modern standards. But she's not as perhaps quite revisionist as as other modern princesses of her ilk (think Rapunzel in Tangled or Snow White in Once Upon a Time) -- more of a stepping-stone, a midway point between traditional fairy tales and more recent, radical retellings. This Snow is kind and sweet, socially conscious and spunky, and very, very game, especially considering some of the costumes she has to wear in this film (particularly the swan ballgown with its ridiculous headpiece, ha!).

I was rather concerned with Armie Hammer's casting as the heroic Prince Alcott. The more I saw of Hammer in the promotional materials, the more he just didn't appeal to me as a princely type -- and that is a big drawback when it comes to the romantic escapist factor of fairy tales. But you know, Hammer really grew on me as the film progressed. Anyone who can sell adoration towards the princess in question while giant rabbit ears sprout out of his top hat deserves some credit, hmm? *wink* Hammer carries much of the film's silliness on his shoulders and to his credit he seems game. Also, I liked the fact that he could be patently ridiculous but still well-meaning and likable, if that makes sense. The "puppy love" sequence which got a lot of play in the movie trailers unfortunately becomes one of the movie's longest-running gags. But I liked the "twist" that sees Snow awakening her Prince with a kiss, instead of vice-versa, and I'm enough of a romantic sap that the Prince's declaration following the kiss made me met a little inside. :) Oh! -- I cannot forget to give the movie props for accentuating Hammer's 6'5" height with the Best. Coat. EVER. I don't think I've ever seen a coat swish to more dramatic effect.

The script tries really hard to be slyly modern and self-aware, and most of the time it felt a bit awkward. I really think that overall the film would've worked better if they'd played thing straighter with the source material and not concerned themselves with jokes about the ridiculousness of Snow's name, or the penchant for townspeople in fairy tales to dance and sing, etc. :P The script doesn't really do anything new for the dwarves as supporting characters except make them bandits instead of miners, which does, admittedly shake up the legend -- but unfortunately doesn't result in any more well-drawn supporting players. Though I have to admit, I did find the dwarf Half-Pint's (Mark Povinelli) crush on Snow kind of sweet. :)

The end of this movie was interesting. In a surprise twist the fearsome beast the Queen had been using to hold her people hostage through fear turns out to be Snow's father. I don't know what the heck he was supposed to be, exactly -- part snake, dragon, dog, wolf?? Go figure. Anyways, I can only think that the film has Bean show up at the end in an attempt to lend the resolution of the storyline some sort of gravitas -- but for me, anyway, the Sean Bean ship sailed a long time ago. We're a long, long way from Boromir and Sharpe, I'm just sayin'. That said, I appreciate any fairy tale where the parents don't all end up dead, you know? Though it would've been nice to again have some sort of explanation for how the Queen's magic worked, or why she turned the King into a beast instead of just killing him outright.

I realize many are probably going to think I'm being way too hard on this movie, or that I didn't enjoy it all -- that's not the case. I just love fairy tales, and I love inventive, well-done retellings, and on the latter score Mirror Mirror falls a bit flat. It's well-intentioned and good-natured, but it suffers from a lack of focus in the script department. The visuals and costumes are a veritable feast for the eyes, but they don't completely atone for the storyline's deficiencies. And personally I think we really, really could've done without the Bollywood-style musical extravaganza over the credits as well (it should be noted that music-wise I really did like Alan Menken's vibrant score). That came completely out of left field. There's a lot to like here, and the world of the movie is undeniably, gorgeously-rendered on-screen -- this is eye candy I can't help but love, even when it is crazily over-the-top. :) But tone-wise Mirror Mirror can't seem to decide if its a straight fairy tale, a post-modern update, or some sort of mash-up of the two. (The Ella Enchanted film does a better job, I think, of balacing slapstick and camp humor within the trappings of an updated fairy tale.) Mirror Mirror is a colorful, candy-coated slice of cinema that will hopefully serve as an introduction to the glorious, imaginative world of fairy tales and the remakes in both books and films that prove how these classic stories have such staying power.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review: Wolves Among Us by Ginger Garrett

Wolves Among Us
By: Ginger Garrett
Publisher: David C. Cook
ISBN: 978-0-7814-4885-7

About the book:

Sometimes a savior can bring destruction.
Sometimes a doubter can save a town.

Dinfoil, Germany, 1538. 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, fear, guilt, and suspicion of women take a deadly turn. Pious and heretic alike become victims of witch-hunting zealots. 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.


Wolves Among Us is a powerful examination of a deeply troubling and unsettling chapter in church history -- the medieval witch hunts, which saw thousands of women burned alive, many of them believers, all of them targeted by virtue of their womanhood. Feared, denied, reviled, and judged by the very institution that should have offered them succor and refuge, Wolves is a searing examination of the danger and tragedy that can come when uninformed fears, prejudices, and half-truths are proclaimed as as gospel, and conversely, the freedom that comes when one dares to seek a personal relationship with the God who longs to whisper His truths into our hearts, if only we let Him in. Garrett introduces readers to a world perhaps not so different from our own, where lies are proclaimed as truths and ignorance allows them to flourish. Two vastly different characters provide the entrée to this world, where a horrific double murder brings a small German community to the crossroads of faith and fear. The first, Father Stephen, is a well-meaning but frustratingly blind priest who unwittingly unleashes a wolf among his flock. With more confidence in the human dictates of the church than in his own relationship with the God he proclaims from the pulpit, Stephan is faced with the opportunity to become a true shepherd through the fire of unfathomable persecution. Mia, the wife of the town sheriff, is lonely and unloved, a pariah among the town's women, allows her fears to define her life and her faith. When prejudice and bloodlust masquerade as justice, can two doubters find the courage to stand for life-changing truth?

Wolves was originally intended to be the third entry in Garrett's Chronicles of the Scribe series (following In the Shadow of Lions and In the Arms of Immortals). Somewhere between the publication of Immortals and Wolves, the decision was made to retain the basic plotline (16th-century witch hunts) and eliminate the modern-day framing device utilized in the Scribe novels. While the framing story was a unique and innovative way in which to show modern women experiencing the awakening of previously unknown history at pivotal moments in the Middle Ages, Wolves is just as strong -- if not stronger -- than its predecessors in the case it makes for knowing the heart-breaking, empowering sacrifices our ancestral sisters in the faith made so that we can enjoy the freedoms we do today.

Garrett has a gift for illuminating the dark periods of history, for bringing times that seem, on the surface, so foreign to modern sensibilities to life with her vibrant prose. Wolves is a rare novel, one that is simultaneously engrossing, uncomfortable, enraging, and heart-breaking. This is challenging fiction that holds a mirror to its readers demanding honesty and self-examination, brutally honest in its exploration of the role of women vis-a-vis faith, both personal and corporate, and in the church. On a superficial level, it would be easy to dismiss Mia's story as a fiction, and that is both the danger and genius of a novel such as this. Garrett's carefully crafted characters are authentic and true to the time in which they lived, and Mia's repressed nature seems particularly untenable by modern standards. But at the same time their faith struggles, the questions they grapple with are timeless and still oh-so-relevant today.

William Tyndale and his "forbidden book," a translation of the scriptures from the Latin so they could be read by the average man and woman, is the thread that ties Lions and Wolves together. Taken together these novels are powerful, humbling reminders that the gift of reading the scriptures, of seeking God without the "aid" of a sanctioned intermediary -- these were gifts paid for in blood, treasures that are too often taken for granted. When darkness seems overwhelming, at its most powerful, Wolves is a call to stand for truth, a reminder of who we are in Christ and more importantly of who God is, truths found in the pages of scripture -- truths men and women died for so that you and I would have the "right" to let the book gather dust on beside tables. May it never be so taken for granted -- for there is much truth in the maxim that those who do not remember, do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Wolves is a jewel among Garrett's slim list of published works, a richly textured novel that immerses the reader in the world of 16th-century Germany. Terrifying, heart-wrenching, and challenging in its examination of lies sold as truth, this is a book that cannot help but change you -- if you let it. I particularly liked the touch Garrett weaves throughout the story of an actual wolf preying on livestock, a grim, appropriate foreshadowing of the evil challenge to come that masquerades as an angel of light. This is a powerful, challenging, extraordinarily relevant examination of how a few brave souls dared to stand on the infallible truth of God's word during one of the darkest chapters in history. Enter these pages with care, because the story within demands self-examination and change.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Grimm 1.15: "Island of Dreams"

Last week's episode of Grimm is one of the best things ever! Seriously! Heading into the home stretch of season one, this episode revisits Renard's (Sasha Roiz) connection to the hexenbiest Adalind (Claire Coffee), who hasn't been seen since "Danse Macabre" (episode five). The episode opens with a fascinating scene between Adalind and Renard discussing the merits of a classic painting -- Renard lets drop the tantalizing clue that he, or his family, used to own the piece, leaving his statement just vague enough that it's unclear if he's referring to himself or his family in the general, historical sense. Between this conversation and the exchange between Renard and the parole officer in "Last Grimm Standing," it's clear, I think, that the Captain hails from some group that is considered royalty in the Wesen community -- perhaps they still are. I'm dying for some specifics, though -- I need the who, what, when, where and why of everything involving Renard, but at the same time gah!! -- the mystery is part of his appeal. Thoughts on Renard? Is he some sort of immortal, just long-lived, and what kind of royalty? Because this guy's got class, even if he is morally ambiguous... :)

So anyways, Adalind's back and she's still supposed to make Hank (Russell Hornsby) fall in love with her, because according to Renard, HANK is the key to neutralizing Nick, who is the THREAT. Go figure. (I thought the way to a man's heart was through his stomach? Apparently in Grimm it's through his friends... *wink*) So she goes off with a vial of Hank's blood, and cut to the crime of the week -- two junkies (who turn out to be Skalengeck, which are freaky lizard people) are inhaling their current drug of choice which sends them into an absolute frenzy. High on whatever it is lizard people get high on, they head to the Wesen spice shop to raid the owner's supplies. The smash and grab robbery does not go well as the owner, Freddy (Randy Schulman) fights back, morphing into a fox and taking a piece out of one thief's leg before getting shot. When Hank and Nick (David Giuntoli) show up to investigate (because at this point I think they are the only detectives in Portland), the violence of the robbery and murder suggest more than just a theft gone awry -- perhaps the owner was dealing in black market goods (of course I think Hank would be pretty horrified to discover the shop owner used to deal in human gallbladder, etc.!).

The shop owner's next of kin turns out to be a woman named Rosalee (Bree Turner). She claims to know nothing about any illegal substances her brother may have been selling on the side, but agrees to examine the inventory and let Nick know if she finds anything suspicious. When Nick escorts her back to the shop he discovers she's a Fuchsbau (fox) like her brother, and she realizes that he's a Grimm, and is completely taken aback by the idea that he'd want to help a Wesen get justice. I love how overall she's so unfazed by the reveal of Nick's identity -- cautious, to be sure, but more curious than freaked out. It's about time Nick started building some useful bridges in the Wesen community (don't get me wrong, having the refrigerator guy & his ilk falling all over themselves to stay on Nick's good side is a humorous development, but I seriously doubt the skittish, rodent-type Wesens would be useful allies in a fight). *wink* 

Apparently the Adalind/Hank portion of this episode is loosely based on the fairy tale "Donkey Cabbages" (yes, really). This is the riveting tale of some guy who falls in love with a young witch who emotionally manipulates him in order to steal his fortune (and then he ends up getting turned into a donkey). In this incarnation of the story, Adalind bakes Hank some very special cookies, cookies that only HE can eat. Hank is of course flattered by Adalind's apparent interest, and gigantic cookies are always a win, right? The more he eats them, the more he becomes obsessed with Adalind, seeing her everywhere, to the point that it impacts his work. It seems that in short order she'll be able to get him to do anything she wants -- the only question being, what exactly is Renard's end game here in wanting to control Hank?

So the Hank plot is all well and good but frankly, the least interesting aspect of this episode -- I'm all about Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) meeting Rosalee. :) Nick recruits Monroe to help identify any substances in the spice shop that a Wesen would consider worth killing for -- this of course necessitates meeting the dead shop owner's sister, and Monroe is positively GOOGLY-EYED over Rosalee because he thinks she's so pretty. Excuse me while I SWOON. She of course is a little more reticent seeing as she's not used to the idea of Wesens pal-ing around with Grimms. But forget about the meet cute for a second -- there IS a drug in the shop, something Wesens like to smoke called "J" (???) that's highly addictive. So Nick and Monroe leave, the latter all "nice to meet you" and she's all "whatevs I'm GRIEVING and STRESSED," but she's about to get more stressed because the lizardy robbers return to the shop and she barely escapes with her life!! This results in a call to Nick requesting police protection -- he offers to send an officer to her house, she REQUESTS Monroe (since he gets the whole Wesen-hidden-identities thing). Monroe is ADORABLY eager to help and she's all about his nose (since Blutbads have renowned super-smellers) -- AND I LOVE THAT SHE ISN'T FALLING ALL OVER HIM. I gotta give the girl props for self-control.

At this point the Adalind's EVIL PLOT to ruin Hank collides with the spice shop murder, as Sergeant Wu (Reggie Lee) has stolen one of the magic cookies! I don't talk about Wu a lot because, let's face it, I'm distracted by MONROE, but he's always been a reliable supporting player. Anyways, since the cookies are magical HANK food, when Wu eats one he falls deathly ill with something disgusting that looks like the PLAGUE! Thankfully he was already headed to the spice shop where he meets Rosalee and Monroe, and she KNOWS AN HERBAL REMEDY. WIN!! She is one smart fox lady. :) So once Wu recovers enough to be left at his apartment, Nick and Monroe get some of Rosalee's backstory -- apparently she used to be addicted to "J," but has since resolved to stay clean (considering how wild Monroe used to be he should empathize, hmm?). She offers to help with the investigation because she wants justice for her brother (and, I think, because she's generally a good egg like Monroe!!), and leads Monroe and Nick to the Wesen equivalent of a crack house, called the Island of Dreams.

Now I completely didn't expect to be thinking of Sherlock Holmes while watching Grimm, but sometimes that's just how my mind works. The "den" is a collection of red tents -- private chambers where Wesens are all strung out on their favorite recreational drug. The atmosphere, the set-up, it all reminded me of opium dens in the Holmes stories and their film adaptations. Now Nick is no Sherlock (sorry Nick!), but I don't think it's out of line to liken Monroe to the very best kind of Watson, hmm? *wink* Anyways, Nick and Monroe find the crazy lizard people and there's all sorts of insanity and gunfire and MONROE GETS A GUN IN HIS FACE...but this is the best part, Rosalee saves him by clocking the EVIL PERP on the back of the head with a brick! And the look on Monroe's face is just PRICELESS, seriously I wouldn't put it past him to be all "marry me NOW you are AWESOME" -- but I'll take his look of shocked adoration. :)

So all's well that ends well, or is it -- Wu has apparently recovered, but after Nick leaves he starts eating sofa stuffing. I'm thinking that little twist is a nod to the whole "Donkey Cabbages" thing. But who the heck cares about magic cookies and poor Hank getting poisoned by that shrew Adalind, when you have awesome things happening like Monroe BRINGING ROSALEE FLOWERS TO THANK HER FOR SAVING HIS LIFE. And he's all adorable and slightly dorky and sweet AND DID I MENTION ADORABLE?! *happy sigh* She's decided to stay in Portland for a bit and give running her brother's shop a go -- which of course makes Monroe very happy. All I've got to say is, Grimm writers, play this one RIGHT. If she breaks Monroe's heart I don't know if I'll be able to take it. That said, I love the possibility of Monroe in love :) and of Nick gaining a second sensible ally in the Wesen world. Here's hoping this is a storyline/idea that gets more play in Season 2! :)