Thursday, July 31, 2014

First Impressions: Jane Austen's First Love

^ See what I did there? *wink*


Today I am THRILLED to participate in the blog tour celebrating the release of Syrie James's latest novel, Jane Austen's First Love! (I am less thrilled, however, that due to life and a lack of time management I have not yet finished the novel, so I am unable to give you my full review as scheduled today...hence, the "First Impressions" title.)

Syrie James's novels have been on my radar for quite some time thanks to glowing reviews -- a recommendation from Laurel Ann of Austenprose carries great weight! --  and intriguing subject matter (Charlotte Bronte's secret diaries? I am so there!), but until I was approached for this blog tour her novels had not yet made it to the top of my to-be-read stack.

Let me start by sharing a bit about Jane Austen's First Love:


About the book:

INSPIRED BY ACTUAL EVENTS
 
Fifteen-year-old Jane Austen dreams of three things: doing something useful, writing something worthy, and falling madly in love. When she visits her brother in Kent to celebrate his engagement, she meets wealthy, devilishly handsome Edward Taylor—a fascinating young man who is truly worthy of her affections. Jane knows a match between her and Edward is unlikely, but every moment she spends with him makes her heart race—and he seems to return her interest. Much to her displeasure, however, there is another seeking his attention
 
Unsure of her budding relationship, Jane seeks distraction by attempting to correct the pairings of three other prospective couples. But when her matchmaking aspirations do not all turn out as anticipated, Jane discovers the danger of relying on first impressions. The human heart cannot be easily deciphered, nor can it be directed or managed. And if others must be left to their own devices in matters of love and matrimony, can Jane even hope to satisfy her own heart?

I've long admired Austen's prose, her warmth, humor, and razor-sharp wit! And I am an avid fan of several of the numerous film and miniseries adaptations of her work. However, it wasn't until Becoming Jane was released that Austen began to come alive for me as more than an author's name on the cover of a beloved novel. That film details the author's possible relationship with one Tom Lefroy as the impetus behind the timeless romances in her writing. Around the time of Becoming Jane's release, the BBC released the tele-film Miss Austen Regrets, which tells the story of Jane's last years, a poignant retrospective that sees an older Austen revisiting her life choices and past romantic possibilities.

Both films are gorgeous glimpses into this intensely private and beloved author's life, but it wasn't until I started Jane Austen's First Love that she came alive for me with the energy and life I always found within the pages of her novels. If this is an example of Ms. James's writing, I can only regret the time it has taken me to explore her work!!

This is an exquisite portrait of a youthful, vibrant Jane, who at fifteen is eager to explore the possibility of romance while honing her writing craft. James knows Austen's world like few others, her prose saturated with the period's rhythm of speech and colorful descriptors that bring everyday existence in the early nineteenth century to vibrant, technicolor life on the page.

James's teenage Jane has the energy of a Lydia and the romantic imagination of a Marianne, wrapped up with an Elizabeth's penchant for sly humor or cutting social commentary. As Jane's relationships with family and friends are sketched on the page, it is easy to see little hints of the classic characters that will spill from her pen plant seeds of imaginative possibilities in her keenly-observant conscious.

I am SO intrigued by the possibility that a youthful Jane's first brush with romance may have been with this Edward Taylor, heretofore completely unknown to me, and yet such a fascinating potential hero template -- educated, well-traveled, and a future Member of Parliament! Like much of Jane's life, the true extent of any possible relationship between them may never be known, but it is a fascinating premise for this articulate, beautifully-rendered sketch of a young Jane's life. I cannot WAIT to finish this novel and share my full review with you!*

You can check out the full list of tour stops as well as the launch contest on Austenprose.

*My apologies to the author and publicity team for being late with my review post! My goal is to have it finished on or shortly after the book's official release on August 5th!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander


And Only to Deceive (Lady Emily #1)
By: Tasha Alexander
Publisher: HarperCollins
ASIN: B000OI0E0Y

Review:

Lady Emily Bromley married Philip, the Viscount Ashton, not for his good looks or fortune, but to escape her overbearing mother's attempts to control every facet of her life. Love, least of all, played no part in her marriage equation. For while she had more interest in her books, a well-bred woman in Victorian England was expected to marry, and to marry well -- and so when Philip offered, she accepted. Six months later, Emily found herself a widow, thrown into the elaborate and socially expected mourning rituals of the day for a man she barely knew, let alone really, truly, grieved. It's only as she finally enters half-mourning, when at long last gray could begin to replace her black mourning crepe that Emily begins to understand that the man she married was wholly different from the one she thought she knew. Philip loved his hunting, yes, but it is his best friend, the handsome Colin Hargreaves, who first opens Emily's eyes to her husband's academic passions and even more shocking, the idea that he may have really, truly, loved her.

As a wealthy widow, Emily now as the resources and freedom to pursue her own interests, and using her husband's journals and antiquities collection as a starting point, she begins her own socially unorthodox -- but oh so personally gratifying -- academic pursuits. But as she delves into the world of Homer, Greek antiquities, and academia, the unthinkable occurs -- Emily begins to fall in love with her husband. The more she gets to know Philip through his writings and friends' reminiscences, the deeper her regret cuts at not having put more effort into her marriage when she had the chance. As she becomes an amateur expert in Philip's field of antiquities, she makes a terrifying discovery -- someone has been replacing priceless artifacts in the British museum with fakes, and several of the items in her husband's collection prove genuine. With their provenance in question, Emily fears the man she learned to love too late will prove a thief, and if not, a victim of men willing to go to any length to achieve their unscrupulous aims...

Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily series has been on my radar for several years now, and when the first installment was keenly-priced on Amazon I couldn't resist finally meeting her aristocratic lady sleuth. I am always eager to meet new, smart, and intelligent heroines, and the Victorian-setting within the pages of Alexander's debut is one rife with possibilities -- a period characterized by great scientific and intellectual advancements as well as a strict moral and social code. By positioning Emily as a wealthy widow, Alexander has gifted her heroine with an extraordinary amount of relative freedom, an ideal situation for an amateur sleuth. There is an authenticity to the almost leisurely manner at which Emily's intellectual awakening unfolds; however, the flip side is the glacial pace of the novel, stalling any forward plot momentum and character development. A full two-thirds of the story is devoted to Emily's educational pursuits, which, while admirable, are meted out with a pedantic tone that turns the story into an intellectual exercise rather than a compelling character study.

The pacing picks up when Emily makes the shocking discovery that her husband's antiquities collection contains genuine, priceless artifacts, the knowledge threatening to topple Philip from the pedestal on which she'd installed him in memoriam. While Emily's intellectual pursuits to this point are gratifying and empowering, it isn't until she starts to research the questionable provenance of her inheritance, exercising her intellect and free will, finally hinting at a character with the moxie and smarts to actively challenge convention. Prior to this juncture, she's toyed with the concept, attending lectures and (horrors!) professing a preference for brandy rather than sherry, but there was a naivete to her approach to freedom that quickly grew stale. Yes, the social expectations and restrictions she encountered were real, but her response to resistance too often reads as childish rather than focused -- there is a lack of balance in her swings from one extreme to the next that came off as initially more immature than compelling.

The promise of a widow coming to know and love her husband through his writings intrigued me, and the one-sided love affair is one of the more intriguing aspects of Emily's introduction that sets her apart from other sleuths of her ilk (i.e., Raybourn's Lady Julia). However, in the end I think Alexander took the conceit too far, as Emily's headlong obsession with building a one-sided, post-death "relationship" of sorts with Philip reaches its inevitable conclusion of going exactly nowhere. Yes, he is a critical catalyst for Emily's intellectual and personal "awakening," but the scant journal excerpts aren't lengthy or compelling enough to warrant siding with Emily's rose-colored view of Philip. The contrast is especially stark when her two new, would-be suitors are introduced -- Colin and Andrew. Both men have their secrets, but Colin's pursuit of Emily possesses such a maturity that it is frankly maddening every time she spurns him for Andrew.

But, personal preferences aside, Emily's relationship with the men in her life charts a clear trajectory of her emerging maturation. As a first novel and an introduction to Emily's world, Alexander has delivered a serviceable storyline that hints at the possibility of greater, more compelling characterization to come -- a possibility that I hope bears out in subsequent volumes of this long-running series. While the glacially-slow plotting and characterization issues didn't leave me eager to read the sequels, Colin's promise to Emily -- wherein he tells her he only wants to "complement a life you already find perfectly satisfying" -- gives me hope that subsequent installments take this budding relationship of true intellectual like minds on deeper and more satisfying adventures. The intellectual slant of Lady Emily's character sets her apart, and I have high hopes that further volumes have seen the formula polished and the character's potential hitting the right balance between intellectual and historical authenticity and compelling storytelling.

About the book:

For Emily, accepting the proposal of Philip, the Viscount Ashton, was an easy way to escape her overbearing mother, who was set on a grand society match. So when Emily's dashing husband died on safari soon after their wedding, she felt little grief. After all, she barely knew him. Now, nearly two years later, she discovers that Philip was a far different man from the one she had married so cavalierly. His journals reveal him to have been a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who, to her surprise, was deeply in love with his wife. Emily becomes fascinated with this new image of her dead husband and she immerses herself in all things ancient and begins to study Greek.

Emily's intellectual pursuits and her desire to learn more about Philip take her to the quiet corridors of the British Museum, one of her husband's favorite places. There, amid priceless ancient statues, she uncovers a dark, dangerous secret involving stolen artifacts from the Greco-Roman galleries. And to complicate matters, she's juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond the marrying kind. As she sets out to solve the crime, her search leads to more surprises about Philip and causes her to question the role in Victorian society to which she, as a woman, is relegated.

Monrosalee's Wedding!

Oh Grimm, I miss you and your quirky randomness.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Hobbit - new trailer!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies teaser trailer was released today. WHAT IS WITH THAT TITLE?! Not a fan of the whole three movie thing for this book-to-screen adaptation, but The Hobbit: There and Back Again gave me all of the book nostalgia feels I could want. Oh well, c'est la vie. This marathon is almost finished...

In the Field of Grace by Tessa Afshar

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
In The Field of Grace
River North; New Edition edition (July 1, 2014)
by
Tessa Afshar


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


TESSA AFSHAR was voted "New Author of the Year" by the Family Fiction sponsored Reader's Choice Award 2011 for her novel Pearl in the Sand. She was born in Iran, and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life. She moved to England where she survived boarding school for girls and fell in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, before moving to the United States permanently. Her conversion to Christianity in her twenties changed the course of her life forever. Tessa holds an MDiv from Yale University where she served as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School. She has spent the last thirteen years in full-time Christian work.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Destitute, grief-stricken, and unwanted by the people of God, Ruth arrives in Israel with nothing to recommend her but Naomi's, love. Her loftiest hope is to provide enough food to save Naomi and herself from starvation.

But God has other plans for her life. While everyone considers Ruth an outcast, she is astounded to find one of the most honored men of Judah showing her favor.  Long since a widower and determined to stay that way, Boaz is irresistibly drawn to the foreign woman with the haunted eyes. He tells himself he is only being kind to his Cousin Naomi's chosen daughter when he goes out of his way to protect her from harm, but his heart knows better.

Based on the biblical account of Ruth, In the Field of Grace is the story of a love that ultimately changes the course of Israel's destiny and the future of the whole world.

If you would like to read the first chapter of In The Field of Grace, go HERE.

Mockingjay gets a proper trailer!

FINALLY.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Once S4 trailer!

Okay, so there's no new footage, but there's a DRAMATIC VOICEOVER! You can check the trailer out HERE.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Poirot's final bow

This Sunday, David Suchet returns in the first of his final run of mysteries as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot in "The Big Four." This is SO bittersweet for me, as Poirot was one of my first introductions to British film...and now to see Suchet in the final episodes? When they broadcast Curtain (which isn't yet scheduled on Masterpiece's website), I will BAWL MY EYES out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Game and the Governess Release Day!


Happy Release Day to the fabulous Kate Noble and her latest book, The Game and the Governess!! I am SO excited to read this one!!

Trading Places meets Pride and Prejudice in this sexy, saucy romance—first in a new series from the author of YouTube sensation The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
Three friends. One Wager. Winner takes all.
The Earl—‘Lucky Ned’ Ashby. Pompous, preening, certain that he is beloved by everyone.
The Miller—John Turner. Proud, forced to work as the Earl’s secretary, their relationship growing ever more strained. 
The Doctor—Rhys Gray. Practical, peace-loving, but caught in the middle of two warring friends.

Their wager is simple: By trading places with John Turner and convincing someone to fall in love with him, Ned plans to prove it’s him the world adores, not his money. Turner plans to prove him wrong.
But no one planned on Phoebe Baker, the unassuming governess who would fall into their trap, and turn everything on its head…
Three best friends make a life-changing bet in the first book in a witty, sexy new Regency trilogy from acclaimed author Kate Noble, writer of the wildly popular Emmy award–winning web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Firewall by DiAnn Mills

This week, the
is introducing
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (July 1, 2014)
by


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



DiAnn Mills believes her readers should “Expect an Adventure.” She is a fiction writer who combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed novels. Her books have won many awards through American Christian Fiction Writers, and she is the recipient of the Inspirational Reader’s Choice award for 2005, 2007, and 2010. She was a Christy Award finalist in 2008 and a Christy winner in 2010.

DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and is the Craftsman Mentor for the Christian Writer’s Guild. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops.

DiAnn and her husband live in Houston, Texas. Visit her website or find her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/diannmills

ABOUT THE BOOK


After a whirlwind romance, Taryn Young is preparing to board a plane at Houston International Airport, bound for a dream honeymoon, when a bomb decimates the terminal. Injured but still alive, she awakens to discover her husband is missing and they’re both considered prime suspects in the attack. Further, the FBI is convinced her husband isn’t who he appears to be.


Agent Grayson Hall’s number-one priority is to catch those responsible for the day’s act of terror. All evidence is pointing to Taryn and her new husband. But his instinct tells him her pleas of innocence are genuine. Is her naiveté just for show, or could she truly be another victim of a master scheme, possibly linked to the software she recently developed for her company?


With both their lives and reputations on the line, and the media outcry for justice increasing with each passing minute, Taryn and Grayson have no choice but to trust one another . . . and pray they can uncover the truth before they become two more casualties.


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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Lego Tribute

This is amazing!!



Seriously though, why are there not official Doctor Who Lego sets?! This should totally be a thing!!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Friday, July 11, 2014

upcoming reads!

For the last two days Rachel has been featuring upcoming book releases on her blog. Yesterday she shared her picks for the most anticipated reads of 2014's second half, and today I share mine. Feel free to add to our TBR piles with your own suggestions. :)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings trailer

I have been waiting for a trailer to the upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings for AGES and it finally debuted today -- and it is GLORIOUS:



This is easily my most anticipated film of the rest of the year!! CAN'T WAIT!! :)

"Unity"

There's a new Mockingjay teaser, and it is AWESOME:

Fifty Years of AMERICAN Doctor Who...

I love this take on what fifty years of an American Doctor Who might have looked like! I especially think that Dick Van Dyke as the Second and Christopher Walken as the Sixth would have been pretty genius choices!

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Women


I'm over at BreakPoint talking about The Women for the July installment of their year-long series on The Films of 1939 -- you can check out my take on the film HERE.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Featuring: LowcountryEclectic (and a coupon!)

Confession time: I am an Etsy addict. I love the thrill of discovering new and unique jewelry items and "meeting" the artists behind the creations. In May I stumbled upon a newly-opened shop -- LowcountryEclectic, specializing in Essential Oil Diffuser Necklaces. But what first caught my eye were the fun and funky fairy tale themed charm necklaces. 

We all know I LOVE fairy tales, and I'll admit now to having a charm bracelet addiction -- and charm necklaces are only a natural extension of that, am I right? *wink* Since discovering LowcountryEclectic, I've purchased two charm necklaces:

Cinderella (I ADORE how this necklace references the traditional story, with the beautiful pearl disc featuring the tree that houses the spirit of Cinderella's mother):


Snow White (the working hourglass charm is a favorite!):


While these charm necklaces are not currently featured in the shop, Amanda is FABULOUS about answering questions and keeping one posted on the possibility of a similar, new listing -- making each charm necklace created wonderfully unique!

I would be remiss when highlighting this shop if I didn't discuss their specialty -- diffuser necklaces. I was a bit nervous about these, if I'm honest, since I have suffered from allergies for most of my life and can be VERY sensitive to various scents and perfumes. When I mentioned wanting to spotlight LowcountryEclectic on my blog, Amanda offered to send a Diffuser Necklace for review:



This shop offers a veritable wealth of designs, so there is sure to be one to suit your personal style preference. Coming off the recent conclusion of Once Upon a Time's third season, I was still on a bit of a Robin Hood kick, so I was thrilled to receive this arrow-themed design. 

These necklaces offer a striking and functional design. The locally-harvested wooden disks are wonderfully absorbent, and hold fragrance well without ever being overpowering. The shop offers three essential oil blends:
  • Headache Relief Blend: Peppermint, Eucalyptus, and Lavender (I was concerned about the lavender scent, but found it to be very subtle)
  • Tidal Fusion Blend: Lavender, Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Spearmint, and Clove
  • Four Thieves Blend: Clove, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Lemon, and Rosemary
The shop's prices are so reasonable and orders ship fast, free, and well-packaged. If you're interested in any of their available items, Amanda kindly created a coupon code good through July 15, 2014: RUTHROCKS25, good for 25% off your purchase. I can't recommend this shop highly enough -- they are committed to customer satisfaction, eager to answer any questions one may have, and their "functional" jewelry are gorgeous, individualistic miniature works of art. Enjoy!

Review: The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt


The Chapel Wars
By: Lindsey Leavitt
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
ASIN: B00JEWY49S

Review:

One doesn't typically associate tradition and permanence with Las Vegas. But just off the famous strip renowned for neon lights, gambling, and Elvis impersonators, Holly found a haven of just that in her grandfather's long-running wedding chapel. The Rose of Sharon chapel proudly eschewed the kitsch that fueled Vegas's 24/7, year-round wedding industry, determined to focus on what matters most when it comes to weddings -- the age-old tradition of joining two lives in marriage and the joy of playing a part in a couple's real-life (and hopefully lasting) romance. The chapel becomes an even more critical anchor in her life with her parents' divorce -- a split with no apparent reason, but one that shakes Holly's faith in truths she always thought she knew. When the unthinkable happens and her grandfather dies, everyone -- Holly most of all -- is shocked to discover that he left the family business in the hands of his teenage granddaughter -- a business, barring a near-miraculous infusion of cash, on the verge of bankruptcy. With her grandfather's bequest comes an unexpected request -- Holly must deliver a letter to Dax, the grandson of her grandfather's arch-nemesis and primary competitor, the owner of the wedding chapel next door, Cupid's Dream.

Cupid's Dream represents everything Holly's beloved chapel has long stood against -- the cheap, commercialization of marriage and Vegas's reputation for tackiness. But Dax is a surprise. The Alabama-transplant is everything his grandfather isn't, has a smile that steals her breath, and a loyalty to his family's chapel that only Holly can begin to understand. But if Holly was going to save the chapel for her grandfather, her family, and herself, she couldn't possibly lose her heart to one of the enemy. In the Chapel Wars her would-be Romeo proves surprisingly persistent, and as Holly really, truly, opens herself to the possibility of love, she discovers the only thing more dangerous than losing her heart to the boy next door is the realization that the future she thought she's always wanted may be the last thing she really needs.

After falling in love with Lindsey Leavitt's breezy love letter to vintage aficionados, Going Vintage, last summer, her newest was high on my list of summer must-reads. While "old-fashioned charm" is perhaps the last phrase one would readily associate with the gambling mecca that is Las Vegas, Leavitt spins a sparkling love letter to the strip and what matters most with all of the warmth and winning flair that characterized its predecessor. But more than a love story set against the memory of the Vegas of Sinatra and the Rat Pack, The Chapel Wars is an unexpected treatise on grief and the lessons that can be gleaned from life's most painful and challenging chapters -- loss and (unsought) change.

While at first glance Holly finds it impossible to believe that she could have anything in common with Dax, both are scarred by losses and struggling to find their way in a world whose very foundation has crumbled beneath their feet. Dax is still reeling from the accident that robbed him of both his father and his chance to play college baseball. He blames himself for the tragedy, at his lowest drinking his pain into oblivion. The death of Holly's grandfather and the pressure of his bequest bring the divorce of her parents into sharp relief, a loss of normalcy that she doesn't understand and fears accepting. For if she loses the chapel and her parents remain split, what glue would be left to hold her fractured family together? Loss is often a trigger for sould-searching, and when the rock upon which one's identity rests is shaken, it forces an individual to question not only who they are, but who they want to be. And within the pages of The Chapel Wars, Leavitt explores how both Holly and Dax do just that individually and collectively with compassion and a dash of humor.

Leavitt's characterizations and relationships -- familial, friendship, and romantic -- shine here. Holly, Dax, and the friends and family members within their orbit, the relationships fostered and challenged, are a study in finding beauty in the ashes of life's most painful, messed up moments. In life and in fiction, especially when the former leaves one reeling, it is human nature, I think, to look for resolution for neatly-wrapped fictional endings that satisfy the emotional and intellectual need for closure. But what Leavitt reminds us with Holly's story is of the beauty in the brokenness, the questions, and the journey itself. As Holly comes to realize, "We're all messed up...life is just about finding the right people to be messed up with" -- or, perhaps to put it even more simply, to remember to treasure the gift of grace.

The Chapel Wars contain everything I've quickly come to love about Leavitt's writing -- warmth, humor, and a sweetly-told, swoon-worthy romance. But she surprised me in the best possible way with Holly and Dax's story, for this is a breezy summer read with depth and heart, and exploration of grief and loss, and a celebration of the oft-times poignant, bittersweet nature of new beginnings. This story is an absolute GEM, and I cannot wait to see where Leavitt takes readers next!

About the book:

Seventeen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she’d rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance?

And then there's Grandpa's letter. Not only is Holly running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money—fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family's mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and... Dax. No wait, not Dax.

Holly’s chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there's a wedding chapel to save.