Thursday, June 28, 2012

cover candy

Bethany House and Revell, two of my favorite publishing houses, recently released information on their January-April 2013 fiction list. I couldn't resist the chance to share with you this sneak peek of some of the books I'm most looking forward to! I'd love to hear your thoughts (this is by no means the full list, just a sample of what has caught my eye!).

Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father regain his spirits when his academy fails, agrees to travel with him to the distant Cornwall coast, to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But after they arrive and begin teaching the younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen and danger mounts. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte, only to find the music room empty? Who sneaks into her room at night? Who rips a page from her journal, only to return it with a chilling illustration?

The baronet's older sons, Phillip and Henry, wrestle with problems--and secrets--of their own. They both remember Emma Smallwood from their days at her father's academy. She had been an awkward, studious girl. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her.

When the suspicious acts escalate, can the clever tutor's daughter figure out which brother to blame... and which brother to trust with her heart?

Lucy Kendall always assumed she'd help her father in his candy-making business, creating recipes and aiding him in their shared passion. But after a year traveling in Europe, Lucy returns to 1910 St. Louis to find her father unwell and her mother planning to sell the struggling candy company. Determined to help, Lucy vows to create a candy that will reverse their fortunes.

St. Louis newcomer Charlie Clarke is determined to help his father dominate the nation's candy industry. Compromise is not an option when the prize is a father's approval, and falling in love with a business rival is a recipe for disaster when only one company can win. Will these two star-crossed lovers let a competition that turns less than friendly sour their dreams?

Hosea has been charged by God with a difficult task--marry a prostitute in order to show God's people the nature and depth of his love for Israel. When Hosea goes to Israel to proclaim God's message, the prostitute God tells him to marry turns out to be his childhood friend Gomer. He finds her broken and abused, unwilling to trust Hosea or his God. But when marrying Hosea becomes her only choice, Gomer does what she's good at--she survives. Can Hosea's love for God and God's love for Israel heal Gomer's broken spirit?

With her potent combination of in-depth research and masterful storytelling, Mesu Andrews brings to life a complex and fascinating biblical story of the power of love and forgiveness in the face of utter betrayal.

Recently widowed Analisa Weiss has the feeling her husband was murdered but can't prove it. Alone with her young daughter in 1881 Michigan, she has six months left to finish raising the money needed to pay back the land contract her husband purchased, and the land is difficult to toil by herself. She needs a husband. With unmarried men scarce, her father sends a letter to his brother in the Old Country, asking him to find Analisa a groom.

For nobleman Karl von Reichert, the noose of the hangman's rope is his fate. He's been accused and convicted of a serious crime he didn't commit, and his only escape is to flee to a small German community in Michigan where he'll be safe. He secures a job on Analisa's farm but bumbles through learning about farming and manual labor.

Analisa senses that Karl is harboring a secret about his past, yet she finds herself drawn to him anyway. He's gentle, kind, and romantic--unlike any of the men she's ever known. He begins to restore her faith in the ability to love--but her true groom is still on his way. And time is running out on them all.


Aren't these covers amazing?! Here are pre-order links and release dates:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Artist releases today!

Happy happy happy day people! The Artist finally releases on DVD and Blu-ray today!

The Artist is easily one of my favorite films of the year -- honestly, quite possibly a top ten favorite of all time. :) I am so ridiculous excited about the opportunity to see this gem of a movie again and to share it with anyone and everyone who may have missed its run in theaters.

If anyone reading this has no idea how wonderfully magnificent this film is, here's the trailer:

And here's a link to my original review of the movie. If today marks your first chance to discover The Artist, I'd love to hear your thoughts! And if you've already seen the film, I'm totally up for swooning over Jean Dujardin. :)

Monday, June 25, 2012


Brave is the latest release from Pixar/Disney, a stunningly-rendered fairy tale of a film. Set in 10th-century Scotland, Brave is the story of Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a princess in the kingdom of DunBroch, the only child of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Merida is as beloved as she is feisty and independent-minded (the latter much to her mother's chagrin), the latter quality given a life-changing outlet when, on one birthday during a hunting party, her father gives her the gift of her own bow and arrows. The celebratory mood is interrupted when their camp is attacked by Mor'du, a fearsome and legendary bear. The royal family escapes, but during the battle Mor'du robs Fergus of one leg, giving rise to family legend and a promise to one day kill Mor'du and avenge the loss of limb.

Years pass, and Merida is now a graceful young woman of (to her mother's mind) marriageable age, older sister to three incorrigible and hilarious brothers -- Harris, Hamish, and Hubert. Merida barely tolerates her mother's lessons in royal decorum, living for the moments when she can escape the castle on the back of her beloved horse Angus and ride and shoot to her heart's content. Elinor doesn't understand why her daughter is so reluctant to accept her fate and the behavioral rules and expectations that brought Elinor to where she is today. For her part, Merida cannot understand why her mother is so hide-bound by tradition, why she cannot see that she isn't her mother and, if she has anything to say about it, never will be. Thus, it's the ages-old conflict between a parent and child that lies at the heart of Brave -- and that being said, it could be argued that this is both Pixar's safest film (in how it steps into traditional Disney "princess" territory) and perhaps most relatable film (in how it addresses parent/child relationships).

Merida has barely tolerated her mother's tutelage, and is so absorbed in bucking tradition that she is shocked when her parents break the news that at the upcoming clan gathering, the lord of each clan will present his son to compete for the honor of Merida's hand in marriage. But Merida sees a loophole in her parents' plan -- the eldest of each clan will compete to determine Merida's fate, and so she choose her strength -- archery -- as the method of competition. When Merida steps onto the archery green, breaking years of tradition to seize her own fate, she sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to rupture her family and destroy the kingdom. Events that will test the headstrong Merida's mettle and force her to look deep within to find the courage and bravery to make her own destiny.

I saw Brave in 2D, and once again -- as per the norm with Pixar films -- I was completely blown away by the film's artistry, gorgeously rendered on-screen. The rich greens of the Scottish highlands, the blues of the sky, each tendril of Merida's untamed mass of red hair, all is fully realized on-screen, so richly and completely rendered that it seems as though you could step into the world of the film. From the shimmering fabric of Merida and Elinor's gowns to each character's expressive eyes -- I hope, oh how I hope that I never lose my wonder over this type of filmic artistry. And when it is coupled with strong characters and compelling storytelling, so much the better.

Merida's "unseemly" display at the archery competition brings the simmering conflict between mother and daughter from a spark to a full-blown flame. And this is part of the genius of Pixar's storytelling -- no matter what characters are used as vehicles (human or toy), these filmmakers are able to distill human relationships to their essence, bringing the raw emotional truth of human experience to life on-screen. What person cannot point to some instance of conflict between themselves and one or both parents? The rupture of Merida and Elinor's mother-daughter bond is extraordinarily painful to watch because it feels so real, bringing to life the terrible truth that we oft-times have the greatest power to hurt those closest to us.

Enraged at the fate her parents -- particularly her mother -- are trying to force upon her, Merida determines to become mistress of her own fate. Wandering into the woods she follows the blue will-o-the-wisps to a witch's cottage -- only the witch in question (voiced by Julie Walters), is reluctant to own her identity as a sorceress, preferring to masquerade as a prolific woodcarver. It was easy to see the erstwhile Molly Weasley in the character of the witch, and Walters' vocal performance married to the visuals is a comic joy to watch. When Merida convinces the witch she can pay for her services, she requests a spell to change her mother so she can be free. It's a telling moment, brilliantly executed that reveals the teenage Merida's selfish certainty that there is absolutely nothing she can learn from her mother's experience.

Merida's impulsive, selfish request unleashes a spell that threatens to not only rupture her family permanently, but threatens the future of the entire kingdom. With the future of her world hanging in the balance, Merida and her mother embark on a quest to undo the thoughtlessly conjured spell and repair a fractured and precious familial bond before the curse becomes irreversible. I loved the scenes that follow, where Merida and Elinor come to an uneasy truce of sorts, and then re-learn to appreciate and enjoy each other's company, and -- most critically of all to this storyline -- learn from each other's experiences, and recognize the value within. The script gives equal weight to Elinor learning to hear her daughter and see her perspective, while Merida learns to appreciate her mother's wisdom and experiences. Like all parent-child bonds, the delicate dance of learning balance -- of what to take forward, and what to release, coupled with one's own experiences and preferences -- is critical, and Brave is a very honest exploration of the oft-times tumultuous, but universal, life experience.

This is a beautiful film with lots of heart, following in the Pixar tradition of appreciating and holding sacred the bonds of family and friendship. I loved the humor in the film, especially the scenes involving Merida's rambunctious younger brothers -- they were hilarious! And the scenes where Fergus and his fellow clan leaders jockey for power and position are action-packed but underscored with a strong vein of good humor, particularly when Elinor and Merida in turn manage to "calm the storm" with little more than a simple regal look.

As I've mused on the film for the past few days, it's power as a beautiful story of family has been reinforced in my mind. Merida and Elinor's relationship is perhaps one of the most genuine and honest, accessible explorations of the ups-and-downs of mother-daughter relationships I've ever seen on-screen. The tumult of their relationship is punctuated by moments of, for lack of a better term, violence on-screen when frustrations reach a boiling point. The emotional impact of those scenes is as powerful as honest as the gradual detente mother and daughter reach through near tragedy and danger, renewing an appreciation and resolve in each other to listen, learn, and share their hearts.

Supported by a beautiful score from Patrick Doyle (one of my favorite composers) -- seriously, it's gorgeous -- highlighted by tin whistles, fiddle, and harp -- Brave is another Pixar winner. At first blush, while I thoroughly enjoyed the fast-paced, humor and action-filled storyline, I felt the movie to be wanting ever-so-slightly -- and I think that is because the "princess-avoiding-arranged-marriage" plot felt very familiar in a Disney fairy tale-ish kind of way. But though it utilizes the familiar princess storytelling trope, Brave is a finely crafted tale of the complex, complicated bond that exists between mothers and daughters.

If you've seen the movie I'd love to hear your thoughts! I've attempted to leave this post somewhat spoiler-free, which is highly unusual for me, LOL!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Glamorous Illusions - tour stop delay

My deepest apologies to Litfuse and Lisa Bergren -- today was my scheduled stop for the Glamorous Illusions blog tour, and thanks to some appallingly poor time management skills on my part, I'm not yet through with the novel and thus unprepared to give it a full review. This is NO reflection on the novel (which I'm thoroughly enjoying), just poor planning on my part. My goal is to have a review up before the tour ends on 6/27/12 (this coming Wednesday) -- please bear with me and thank you for your patience!

As a reminder to whet your appetite, here's the novel's summary:
When Cora Kensington learns she is the illegitimate daughter of a copper king, her life changes forever. Even as she explores Europe with her new family, she discovers that the most valuable journey is within. The first book in the Grand Tour series takes you from the farms of Montana through England and France on an adventure of forgiveness, spiritual awakening, and self-discovery.
And here's the superb book trailer:

And finally, click here to read about Lisa's Glamorous Illusions Giveaway and find out how to enter!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones

Save the Date
By: Jenny B. Jones
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 978-1-59554-539-8

About the book:

You are cordially invited to the wedding of the year with the most unlikely bride and groom.

Save the date...and say your prayers.

When the funding for Lucy's non-profit job is pulled, she is determined to find out why. Enter Alex Sinclair, former professional football star and heir to Sinclair Enterprises -- the primary donor to Lucy's non-profit organization.

Both Lucy and Alex have something the other desperately wants.

Alex has it all...except for the votes he needs to win his bid for Congress. Despite their mutual dislike, Alex makes Lucy a proposition: pose as his fiancee in return for the money she desperately needs. Bound to a man who isn't quite what he seems, Lucy finds her heart -- and her future -- on the line.

Save the Date is a spunky romance that will have readers laughing out loud as this dubious pair try to save their careers, their dreams...and maybe even a date.


Lucy Whiltshire returned to Charleston determined to make a difference, founding Saving Grace, a home for girls who've graduated from the foster care system but are not yet equipped or unable to make the transition to adulthood and caring for themselves. She's determined to prove to the society blue-bloods that rejected and marginalized her during her own teenage years that she and the girls she's desperate to save are more than the sum of their antecedents. But when funding for her non-profit is unceremoniously pulled, Lucy stands in danger of failing her girls and joining them on the streets. Desperation drives her into the arms of Alex Sinclair, heir to the very firm that pulled her financial support and one of the Charleston blue-bloods that excelled at making Lucy feel so very inferior as a teen. Locked in a heated Congressional race, Alex desperately needs to shake his former playboy image if he hopes to win over voters -- and a relationship with Lucy might just do the trick. He makes a shocking proposal -- in exchange for posing as his girlfriend and eventual fiancee, he'll provide Lucy with the money she needs to save her girls home. Despite his movie star-looks, Alex couldn't be farther from Lucy's romantic ideal -- but with the future of her girls on the line, she agrees to play the doting girlfriend. With both their futures riding on a romantic con, under the glare of a media spotlight two individuals who can't stand each other confront the truth that there's more to each other than first meets the eye -- and the irresistible sparks that fly when opposites attract.

Save the Date is without a doubt one of the best romance novels I've read in ages -- it marries all of the comfortable trappings of a romantic comedy with unexpectedly, well-meted powerful moments of spiritual truth. I've long been a fan of the author's blog, where one can appreciate her well-drawn sense of humor and wit, but I've yet to dive into her novels -- an error I hope to soon rectify. Save the Date is replete with Jones's trademark humor and pop culture references. Despite their disparate backgrounds, Alex and Lucy prove worthy sparring partners -- Lucy, sure in her certainty that Alex is nothing more than a pretty face who could never forsake his playboy-ways, while for his part Alex quickly learns to love baiting his fake fiancee, enjoying her easily-riled temper. But beneath their surface differences and wildly disparate upbringings, Lucy and Alex discover in each other a fellow wounded soul in desperate need of grace. While the arrangement Alex proposes is at first blush extreme, and worthy of the lightest-weight Hollywood blockbuster, the manner in which Jones uses the tropes of an arranged marriage (in this case, fake engagement) to force her two protagonists together masks the real heart of the novel -- accepting God's freely-given grace.

I love it when God brings a book across my path that reinforces current experiences and/or study -- and in this case I was powerfully struck by Lucy and Alex's respective spiritual arcs and how they related to my pastor's recent sermon on "living declared," secure in the knowledge that as believers God looks at us and sees beloved children, instead of constantly focusing on where we fail. Though the life experiences that formed Alex and Lucy couldn't be more different -- Alex, the son of privilege and money, Lucy, the daughter of a struggling single mom -- both have bought into what I would posit is one of the most insidious lies -- that no matter who you are, what you do, where you've come from, it's never enough. In what is probably one of the best examples of incorporating a faith message into a novel that I've come across, Lucy's out-going youth pastor friend Chuck lays bare the lie that salvation, God's grace, must be earned over and over. In a society that idolizes perfection, Jones strips the lie that we must live burdened by pasts filled with fear and regret, when all that is required is accepting God's grace, freely offered, and resting in the knowledge that in Him alone are we made perfect.

Lucy and Alex's unexpected love story is just part of this novel's considerable charm. I adored watching Alex and Lucy fall for each other -- Jones pens some lovely, sizzling moments of romantic tension! But she also peoples her storyline with a host of unforgettable, amusing, well-drawn supporting players. I loved that Lucy was a sci-fi geek who had regular meetings with like-minded friends (a.k.a. "The Hobbits") who shared her love of all things Star Trek and Doctor Who-related. Lucy's prickly, recently discovered grandmother Claire is a gem, and Claire's fledgling faith coupled with her secretary Julian's sarcastic commentary provide some of the novel's best moments.

Save the Date is a laugh-out-loud, frothy, warm-hearted confection of a novel that packs an unexpected emotional punch. Filled with unforgettable, wonderfully flawed characters, Jones proves she's a master at spinning a thoroughly enjoyable, escapist romance laced with spiritual truths. Very well done.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Anna Karenina trailer!

Is this not the most gorgeous thing you've ever SEEN?! Anna Karenina opens -- in what will likely be a limited release -- in November. This cast -- this cast is AMAZING! Kiera Knightley, Jude Law, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Michelle Dockery, Emily Watson, Olivia Williams, Holliday Grainger, Ruth Wilson -- can we say Oscar bait? AND a score by Dario Marianelli? Can. Not. WAIT.

"The Wesen Connection"

I am going to go out on a limb here and say this is the best thing you'll see all week:

Thanks to Lori for bring the video to my attention on Facebook. Now I'm gonna go count down the days until Grimm returns in August... :)

Belle promoted to series regular!

I was absolutely THRILLED to learn this morning that Emilie de Ravin has been promoted to a series regular for Once Upon a Time's upcoming second season. That means MORE Belle and Rumple! SQUEE!!! :)

Last week it was also announced that Meghan Ory, a.k.a. Red, has also been promoted to series regular -- it is wonderful to see the show recognizing its strengths in planning for season two!

Rebel by Linda Windsor

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2012)
Linda Windsor


Linda Windsor makes her home at a restored and "growing" late 18th century home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Above the Windsor front door hangs a sign saying "Fort Necke, assigned 1684, established 1830," which means the land grant is older than the current building. She purposely left off the ageing brought on by the restoration to her mind and body - not enough space to accommodate the number. Chronologically, she admits to celebrating another birthday, just like the rest of us, each year on July 8th -- which also happens to be the anniversary of the day the Liberty Bell cracked.

Amid the often chaotic "country inn" atmosphere, Windsor has written quite a collection of historical and contemporary romances as both Linda Windsor and Linda Covington. Windsor's historical novels are known for her distinctive voice and flair for incorporating history with romance and adventure, while her contemporary romantic comedies are guaranteed to warm the heart, lift the spirit, and tickle the funny bone. Windsor insists that nothing is more entertaining than life itself, be it past or present.

With a degree in education from her local university, one of the greatest rewards to the innate teacher in Linda was hearing from readers that her Irish Gleannmara series was approved for some middle school English book reports as well as being used in home-schooling. To Windsor, entertaining, or keeping the pages turning, while educating is as much as any historical novelist can ask for.


With Merlin dead, the succession undecided, and the Celtic church on the defensive from Rome, intrigue sweeps the court of the High King Arthur. But it’s battlefield news that consumes Queen Gwenhyfar’s young scribe, Kella O’Toole: her fiancĂ© is dead and her father gone missing.

Determined to find him at all costs, Kella defies the queen’s orders and sets out for Pictish territory. Her foster brother Alyn, a disillusioned priest who questions his calling, agrees to help her. The journey itself is perilous. But it’s their secrets that land Kella and Alyn in a viper’s nest of treachery that threatens both their lives and the future of Albion.

Can they summon the love and faith they need to find their way not only out of danger, but into happiness? Brilliantly researched, vividly imagined, and movingly written—a memorable climax to the Brides of Alba series.

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Maleficent - first look!

This afternoon the first image of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent (in the upcoming film of the same name retelling  Sleeping Beauty) was released, and it is SO. COOL.

Sleeping Beauty is not only my favorite Disney animated film, but it is my favorite fairy tale, so I'm really looking forward to this movie -- I just can't believe we have to wait until 2014! *sigh* :)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

A Tale Dark & Grimm
By: Adam Gidwitz
Publisher: Puffin

About the book:

Reader, beware.

Warlocks with dark spells, hunters with deadly aim, and bakers with ovens retro-fitted for baking children lurk within these pages.

But if you dare,

Follow Hansel and Gretel as they walk out of their own story and into the wilds—where magic, terror, and a little bit of humor shine like white pebbles lighting the way.

Come on in. It may be frightening, and it’s certainly bloody, but, unlike those other fairy tales you know, this one is true.

Once upon a time, you see, fairy tales were awesome.


What if the fairy tales we all grew up with were real? It's a familiar question thanks to the recent popularity of television shows such as Grimm and Once Upon a Time which that take the tales many of us loved as children and grounds them in the present-day reality. The original Brothers Grimm tales were more often than not dark, scary, bloody, and violent -- stories that by today's standards are often deemed unacceptable for children. With his twisty, imaginative debut Gidwitz seeks to reclaim the imaginative power of the original fairy tales, reminding readers of just why these tales hold such a timeless, imaginative appeal. In A Tale Dark & Grimm, Gidwitz seeks to set the record straight about the true story Hansel and Gretel -- there's so much more to their experiences than an edible house and nearly getting turned into a witch's supper. Pulling no punches, Gidwitz follows Hansel and Gretel in their quest to come to terms with childhood, parental disappointment, and growing up, enriched by timeless Grimm classics that have inspired and fueled the imagination of countless generations navigating the murky, danger-filled waters leading to adulthood.

 Opening with Hansel and Gretel's birth in the Kingdom of Grimm, Gidwitz sets the record straight regarding their birth -- they were in fact the children born to the king and queen of "Faithful Johannes" fame, who lose their heads when their parents sacrifice their children in order to save a loyal servant. Disturbed -- and rightly so -- by the murderous tendencies of their parents, Hansel and Gretel run away from home in search of parents less willing to axe their offspring. Along the way they wander through the tale that bears their names (edible house and child-craving cook included), "The Seven Swallows" (a variation on "The Seven Ravens"), "Brother and Sister," "A Smile as Red as Blood" (a variation of "The Robber Bridegroom"), and "The Three Golden Hairs" (also known as "The Devil with Three Golden Hairs"). Each adventure tests Hansel and Gretel's bravery and endurance, leading them to a crossroads -- the point where they must decide that in order to achieve the future they desire, they first must return home to deal with the demons of their past.

The adventures Hansel and Gretel surivive in Gidwitz's debut are from, for the most part, lesser known fairy tales -- lesser known, arguably, because they are decided un-PC by today's standards. Stories like "Faithful Johannes" and "The Seven Ravens" are decidedly darker in tone and content than the more famous stories white-washed by Disney and the like for public consumption. Gidwitz retains the violence (hello, losing your heads!) and darkness (trips to hell) of the original fairy tales, interpsersing commentary from a hilarious narrator (very much in the vein of Lemony Snicket), urging those of a squeamish nature to close the book and run. It's a shame that the original Grimm stories are perhaps discovered only after a person has been introduced to a more "sanitized" retelling, because the whole delightful purpose of folk and fairy tales, in all their wonderful extremes, was a way of teaching one how to live -- cautionary, hopeful, adventuresome tales that understood life is hard but worth it.

In his delightfully snarky, entertaining debut, Gidwitz understands the purpose of fairy tales in a manner in which most of society today has arguably lost -- that "to find the brightest widsom one must pass through the darkest zones. And through the darkest zones there can be no guide. No guide, that is, but courage." It's a study in the resilience of fairy tales, the power of childhood imagination, and an unexpected picture of grace -- underscoring that moment when, as children, our parents become human and less than perfect, and how in extending the grace of understanding that life is hard, but worthwhile, a new generation rises up and the circle begins anew. I'm thoroughly looking forward to Gidwitz's follow-up, In a Glass Grimmly, releasing this September.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: Snow White & the Huntsman by Lily Blake

Snow White & the Huntsman
By: Lily Blake
Publisher: Poppy/Hatchette Book Group
ISBN:  978-0316213271

About the book:

Ten years ago, the stunning and vengeful Queen Ravenna murdered her king the same fateful night she married him. But controlling the  now desolate kingdom has begun to take its toll on the evil Queen. To keep her magic and beauty from dying, she must consume a heart that is pure. And the only one that has been under her cruel watch all along belongs to the king's daughter.

Ravenna calls for the imprisoned Snow White, but the young woman escapes from the castle and seeks refuge in the Dark Forest. Because the forest is enchanted with magical flaura and deadly fauna, the Queen sends for the only man who has ventured into the woods and survived: a tortured Huntsman called Eric.

With his hope long forsaken, the Huntsman agrees to bring back the girl. But when Eric finds his prey, he hestitates. Will he kill her?

Or will he train her to become the greatest warrior the kingdom has ever known?


Snow White & the Huntsman was one of my most anticipated films of the summer, and a theater-going experience that left me with decidedly mixed feelings. I loved the visuals and the hints of a unique and fresh take on the Snow White story thanks to charismatic performances by Charlize Theron as Ravenna and Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman. But overall I felt the film was decidedly lacking in the plotting and character development areas -- with so much potential only partially realized on-screen, I was left wanting more -- and with that aim in mind I decided to investigate the movie novelization. Film novelizations are very iffy propositions, more often than not a slap-dash attempt to capitalize on a movie's popularity. For the most part this SWATH adaptation is a mediocre work of fiction, falling into the same traps as its filmic inspiration -- too enamoured with Snow's world instead of the story's characters. But at best this slim volume offers some interesting additional tidbits of insight into the Huntsman and the Queen, and leaves me hoping for a more character-driven, satisfying second outing, if/when the SWATH sequel comes to pass.

The novelization offers some background information on Ravenna and her brother Finn -- apparently her coup against Snow's father was in retaliation for his attack on her family. Interestingly enough in the film there is no sense that Snow's father was guilty of this crime, no concept of a blood-feud, but it does add an interesting contextual shade to the Snow/Ravenna relationship. The novelization also (thankfully) white-washes at the least the incestuous overtones between Ravenna and her brother Finn, explaining away their almost "mystically" close relationship as a result of their mother's powerful curse.

The best (and I used that term loosely) aspect of this novelization  is in the increased depth and insight it brings to bear on the characters of Snow White and the Huntsman (the latter is actually given a name -- Eric) and their relationship. Thanks to having the visual of Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman firmly ingrained in my imagination, I positively relished any extra nugget of insight into the Huntsman's character, background, and view of Snow White (yes, I am a SAP). :)

While Snow and the Huntsman fare the best in the novel, William is white-washed into a bland, barely-there supporting role (he fares much better in the film thanks to Sam Clafin's energetic performance). I think part of the issue is the fact that both Snow and William are seventeen in the book, and while watching the film I reckoned them both a (slightly) more mature early twenty-something. The story's fascination with Snow-as-savior fares marginally better here, in part due to the fact that since most of the novel is told from her point-of-view, we are a little more invested in seeing her "rise to the occasion" to vanquish Ravenna and reclaim her throne.

As novelizations of scripts go, this one does a decent job of translating the SWATH story to the page with adequate if uninspiring prose. It's a quick, fluffy read, and while it does add a few interesting details that expound on the film (most notably, perhaps, there is no ambiguity as to who Snow White favors romantically -- and in this case I couldn't agree with her more!), but like the film that inspired it this is a story that is more concerned with style and world-building than character substance. Hopefully some of these issues will be rectified in the script for SWATH 2...I dearly hope so. The Huntsman deserves it. :)

AND just so we can all keep focused on what's really important here, how about a picture of the Huntsman demanding a better script for the next film?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Glamorous Illusions Giveaway!

What is our "true" identity? Join the conversation at Lisa Tawn Begren's Glamorous Illusions Author Chat Facebook Event Page. On the evening of 6/27 we'll gather to talk about our spiritual journey, share our stories and a few laughs.

In the meantime, celebrate with Lisa by entering her Glamorous Illusions Giveaway!

One "glamorous" winner will receive a "Glam Prize Pack":

  • A $350 Visa Cash Card (Oh ... think of what you could do: treat yourself to a mani/pedi, a fabulous new dress, dinner for two, or even a two-night escape in a lovely hotel - you're only limited by your imagination!)
  • Glamorous Illusions (by Lisa Tawn Begren)

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends 6/26/12. Winner will be announced at Lisa's "Glamorous Illusions" Facebook Party on  6/27 {Fun begins at 5pm PDT / 8pm EDT}. Lisa will be hosting an evening of meaningful chat, fun trivia, laughter, and encouragement - bring your friends! She'll also be giving away some GREAT prizes: gift certificates, books, and a Book Club Prize Pack! (Ten copies of the book for your small group or book club and a live chat with Lisa via video or phone.)

So grab a few of your friends and your copy of Glamorous Illusions and join Lisa on the evening of June 27th for an evening of fun.

Don't miss a moment of the fun. RSVP TODAY and tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 27th!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Short-Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Short-Straw Bride
Bethany House Publishers (June 1, 2012)
Karen Witemeyer


Karen Witemeyer is a deacon's wife and mother of three who believes the world needs more happily-ever-afters. To that end, she combines her love of bygone eras with her passion for helping women mature in Christ to craft historical romance novels that lift the spirit and nurture the soul.

After growing up in California, Karen moved to Texas to attend Abilene Christian University where she earned bachelor and master's degrees in Psychology. It was also there that she met and married her own Texas hero. He roped her in good, for she has lived in Texas ever since. In fact, she fell so in love with this rugged land of sweeping sunsets and enduring pioneer spirit, that she incorporates it into the pages of her novels, setting her stories in the small towns of a state that burgeoned into greatness in the mid- to late 1800s.

Karen is living her dream by writing Christian historical romance novels for Bethany House.


No one steps on Archer land. Not if they value their life. But when Meredith Hayes overhears a lethal plot to burn the Archer brothers off their ranch, a twelve-year-old debt compels her to take the risk.

Fourteen years of constant vigilance hardens a man. Yet when Travis Archer confronts a female trespasser with the same vivid blue eyes as the courageous young girl he once aided, he can't bring himself to send her away. And when an act of sacrifice leaves her injured and her reputation in shreds, gratitude and guilt send him riding to her rescue once again.
if you would like to read the first chapter of Short-Straw Bride, go HERE.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Snow White & the Huntsman

Snow White is the current princess du jour, enjoying quite the resurgence in popularity with no less than three wildly varied incarnations within the last year -- as a central character in the television show Once Upon a Time and in the family-friendly flick Mirror Mirror, the latter released just a scant three months ago. Snow White & the Huntsman is the latest big-screen incarnation, and from the previews it promised to be a dark and twisty take on the familiar story, with an epic feel more akin to Lord of the Rings than the classic Disney animated film. It a point. To be clear, I really liked this film, but that does not mean I was immune to its many (MANY) issues. So let's discuss. :) This is apt to be LONG...

The film opens with the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) as storyteller, sharing Snow White's story and how her kingdom fell under the power of a charismatic evil queen. (I COULD LISTEN TO CHRIS HEMSWORTH ALL DAY.) The opening scene promises a tale surprisingly in-step with the story's Brothers Grimm roots -- a beautiful queen (Liberty Ross), longing for a child, comes upon a brilliant red rose blooming in defiance of winter's cold. Pricking her finger on a thorn, three drops of blood fall to the snow, a stark visual contrast that prompts her to wish for a child with skin as white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair as black as a raven's wing -- and this is key -- a spirit akin to the rose's defiance and strength in blooming in the dead of winter.

In time a daughter is born to the queen and her husband, King Magnus (Noah Huntley -- the older Peter in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!), and christened Snow White (Raffey Cassidy), as physically she embodies the beauty her mother wished for prior to her birth. But more than outward beauty, Snow's mother never fails to remind her daughter that true beauty comes from within, and that is her greatest strength. But Snow's happy childhood is doomed to fail, no more playing weird games with apples with William (Xavier Atkins), her best friend and son of Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan -- Wallander, Miss Marple, Inspector Lewis, ShakespeaRe-Told), her father's closest advisor. Snow's mother dies and her father goes COMPLETELY off the rails. Conveniently the king's resulting death wish coincides with an invasion of dark knights who happen to be MADE OF GLASS, and let me tell you watching them shatter is absolutely mesmerizing. Following his disturbing easy victory, Magnus comes upon a prison wagon holding a beautiful woman named Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and is instantly smitten. Her golden hair and clothes are the complete opposite of the dark knights, so OF COURSE SHE'S A VICTIM, right?! (Let's not think about why she would be the only human in a sea of glass warriors, whatevs...) Magnus carries her off to the castle and makes plans to marry her THE NEXT DAY, because WHY WAIT, that would make sense. Silly man.

The wedding night does not go well for Magnus, as to be expected. Ravenna is no victim, she's the sorceress who used the dark knights to gain entry to the castle -- and does she ever have issues with men and power. This dichotomy between Snow and Ravenna is one of the film's most interesting points -- Snow, raised with the understanding that true beauty and strength comes from purity of heart, while Ravenna (as it is revealed later in flashback) bears the mark of her mother's conviction that beauty is her only power, a weapon to be used to avenge her mother's death and to crush her enemies. But such a curse is not without  a failsafe -- by Ravenna's fairest (innocent) blood the spell was cast, but by fairest blood it can be undone.

On that fateful wedding night, Ravenna siezes control of the kingdom and imprisons Snow, the girl's only allies -- William and his father -- barely escaping with their lives. Now I'm not entirely sure how much time is supposed to have passed (if it's mentioned in the film I can't recall) -- in the novelization it's ten years, but on the film's Wikipedia page it's fifteen -- but either way, Snow is now of age and is played by Kristen Stewart, who is wisely given very little dialogue. And here's where things start to get interesting...

Charlize Theron as Ravenna OWNS this film. Her evil queen is by far the scariest, most intense, mesmerizing incarnation of the legendary villain to every grace the screen (or my imagination for that matter). Her icy blonde beauty is the perfect foil for Snow's darker looks, and the intensity she brings to bear on this role is just incredible -- screaming, bodily thrashing around, she throws herself into this role heart and soul. That said, I wish -- oh, how I wish -- the film gave Ravenna's character more context. It isn't revealed until over halfway through the picture the source of Ravenna's power, and that is only in a hazy flashback sequence. I wanted to see what brought Ravenna to Snow's kingdom, what set her on the course to become a power-hungry queen. And perhaps most ofa ll -- who was responsible for the attack on her family that led to her mother's "gift" of the spell that would ultimately become her daughter's destruction? The idea, the set-up, of physical beauty as a weapon versus beauty and strength of spirit is nicely meted out throughout the film, but I was left wanting -- there's a lot of promise in the "twists" this incarnation of the familiar story brings to life, but all too often the development of potentially fascinating plot points are left under-developed.

So Ravenna's power is waning because Snow has finally "come of age." No longer content with consuming the youth of captured young women (I thought this was just a brilliant twist on the queen's desire to remain "the fairest one of all"), her mirror -- played by Christopher Obi (seriously, the molten mirror? AMAZING) -- advises her to consume the heart of Snow, her primary rival, and in doing so promises her immortality. Ravenna sends her brother Finn (Simon Spruell), a completely disgusting creep, to bring Snow's heart to her. (Was it just me, or did Ravenna and Finn's relationship have some disturbingly incestuous overtones? ICK.) When Finn enters her cell (and is COMPLETELY GROSS), Snow siezes her chance and slashes him with a nail, escaping her cell and barely escaping the castle with her life.

This is where Snow kind of goes off the rails a bit -- she shows little ill effects from her imprisonment. She has a surprising amount of stamina and apparently no negative psychological impact from being locked up by a psycho since she was a small child. Thanks to a conveniently available horse she makes it to the Dark Forest, a.k.a. the point of no return. Now the forest in the Disney film terrified me as a child, and I loved how the filmmakers took that concept and ran with it -- the menacing trees with their groping branches, the idea of hallucinogenic pollen increasing the terrifying visions, the concept of the forest feeding on one's fear -- all of that brilliantly played out on-screen. Indeed it is a mark of one of the film's greatest assests -- it's world-building and set design. This is a movie you can lose yourself in quite literally, and I was happy to do so for two hours. :)

With her prey loose in the forest, Ravenna requires a hunter with nothing to lose -- and enter the Huntsman, the other best part of this film when it comes to acting. I could write PAGES on Hemsworth's performance. It's riddled with angst (love me some angst!) and self-loathing -- the Huntsman is a man in need of redemption, in need of a cause, and as such he was responsible for the greatest part of my emotional investment in this film (really, this just should've been a movie about Ravenna and the Huntsman...who needs Snow? LOL). The Huntsman is all for delivering Snow to Ravenna until he meets Snow in the Dark Forest and is -- what? impressed by her desperation to live? Unaware of the value of his charge's identity, the Huntsman takes Snow to a nearby village, claiming all he wants is a monetary reward...but oh Chris, we know your are not as far gone as you'd like everyone to think. *wink*

Now, prior to this film's release, thanks to the trailers and reading various summaries online, I fully expected a lot of screentime to be given to a teacher/student relationship between Snow and the Huntsman -- I was under the impression she would transform into a "warrior queen" under his tutelage. Well unless I missed something, the Huntsman teaches Snow one (1) defensive move, and by the end of the movie she is wearing armor and leading men into battle. *rollseyes* The script instead spends far too much time (especially once Snow meets the dwarves) developing this rather silly idea that she is some sort of healing, mystical savior -- there is NO context for this savior complex, it is just a given thanks to dwarf Muir's (Bob Hoskins) apparent power as a seer. I'm sorry but Kristen Stewart has the charisma of a two-by-four, I cannot buy her as a savior or warrior queen at all. She works fairly well as Snow White when she doesn't say anything, but even then that gets a bit nuts because she's mum when you expect dialogue (i.e. the concluding scene) and ridiculous when she talks (ie. the "rally the troops" speech).

So, let's try to wrap this up. INTERESTING CAST MEMBERS -- the dwarves are brought to life by a score of familiar faces. There's the aforementioned Hoskins, joined by Ian McShane (Beith), Ray Winstone (Gort), Eddie Marsan (Duir), and Toby Jones (Coll), to name a few. I confess that after a single viewing I was left rather lukewarm by the dwarves' appearance -- I enjoyed seeing the familiar faces, but was annoyed by their use as a vehicle for driving home the idea of Snow-as-savior. I wish they'd (like all the characters in this film) had been a bit better realized script-wise. I was thrilled to see Rachael Stirling as Anna, one of the women Snow and the Huntsman encounter in the village at the edge of the forest. Anna is the one who reveals Snow's true identity to the Huntsman, and she brings this tragic sort of gravitas to the role - it was espeically heart-breaking to listen to her explain how the women of her village voluntarily scar themselves in order to escape Ravenna's search for "consumable" beauty and youth. I've been impressed by Stirling's appearances in The Young Victoria, Inspector Lewis, and Miss Marple, and look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

The adult William is played by Sam Clafin, of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides fame, doing a lovely Robin Hood/Hawkeye impression with his bow & arrows (seriously, what IS it about archers on film lately? LOVE IT). I loved William's loyalty to Snow White, the way he goes undercover with Finn's men in order to find her, but oh how I wish he had a more charismatic leading lady to work with. OH WELL. *sigh* I was fascinated by the script's twist on the famous apple scene, and how it involved one of Snow's oldest friends -- seeing William offer Snow the apple, then realize Ravenna adopted his form, and watching her transform -- that was really well-done. Also of interest is the famous kiss, and that it is not William, whom we expect to wake Snow, that delivers it...

It is the Huntsman's kiss that wakes Snow White from the poison apple-induced slumber. From talking with a few friends I gather many viewers would prefer Snow to end up with William -- but the Huntsman's kiss certainly points in another direction (will be VERY interesting to see how these relationships play out in the sequel). Leaving aside the fact for the moment that I think both the Huntsman and William deserve other leading ladies -- working with what we're given I love the idea of Snow White and the Huntsman as a twist on the traditional princess ending up with a prince fairy tale trope. Hemsworth's delivery of the Huntsman's apology for not protecting Snow is just heart-rending, saturated in regret and "what-ifs." In principle, if not in execution, I loved the concept of Snow White making the Huntsman a better man, of two individuals from such disparate backgrounds complementing each other. I want my revised and refreshed fairy tales to have twists like this -- and having Hemsworth fill half of that equation, well that goes a long way in my book. :)

Lest you think I didn't like this film, rest assured that I did -- but there was so much unrealized potential that I couldn't help but over-analyze. *wink* (I'm actually thinking about seeing it in theaters again.) I'm not holding my breath, but if the planned sequel materializes, with more attention to story and character development, married with this film's stunning visuals and costume design (seriously, Colleen Atwood had BETTER get an Oscar nomination for her amazing work), there's a lot of potential here. I love the Huntsman character and the suggestion that he is perhaps the princess's best match -- and with the ambiguity of this film's ending, I'm VERY curious to see how this love triangle of sorts is further addressed in any sequel(s).

All things told, I'm pleased with Rupert Sanders' directorial debut. He's crafted a stunning world here, one that holds great promise for future projects. Composer James Newton Howard also delivers a score with some memorable cues -- it isn't my favorite work by the prolific composer, but it gets the job done. And if a stronger script is delivered for the sequel, I may be able to further overcome my antipathy towards Stewart as a leading lady. *wink* In any case, Hemsworth and Clafin win the day. :)

Let's end this with just ONE MORE Huntsman picture, because I really feel you can never have too many:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Endeavour Preview

We all know how much I love Inspector Lewis, right? What is perhaps not as well-known a fact is that I'm also nuts about Lewis's predecessor, Inspector Morse (I've seen fifteen of the thirty-three Morse films, just haven't blogged about them yet). On July 1st, Masterpiece Mystery will be airing Endeavour, a prequel film to the Morse series, set in 1965. For some reason I JUST NOW LOOKED UP PREVIEWS and now I'm EVEN MORE ridiculously excited for this film:

Watch Endeavour Preview on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

Here's the DVD trailer preview with some additional footage:

I just discovered more EXCITING NEWS! Four two-hour episodes of Endeavour have been commissioned based on the successful airing of the pilot episode in the UK. I AM SO HAPPY ABOUT THIS (behold the strength of the Morse/Lewis brand).

Love in Disguise by Carol Cox

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Love in Disguise
Bethany House Publishers (June 1, 2012)
Carol Cox


Native Arizonan Carol Cox has an abiding love for history, mystery, and romance. The author of more than 25 books, she believes in the power of story to convey spiritual truths. Carol lives with her husband and daughter in northern Arizona, where deer and antelope really do play--within view of the family's front porch.

A word from Carol:

As a native of Arizona, I have a longtime interest in the Southwest and its history. My family shares my love of the Old West, as evidenced by this photo taken back in the halcyon days before my son turned to a life of crime and started robbing trains for a living...


When costume-maker Ellie Moore suddenly finds herself out of a job in the middle of a bleak Chicago winter, she uses her knowledge of theatrical disguise to secure a position as an undercover operative with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Her assignment: find the culprit behind the theft of silver shipped from the mines near Pickford, Arizona.

Disguised as Lavinia Stewart, a middle-aged widow, Ellie begins her investigation. Soon she finds she must also pose as the dazzling young Jessie Monroe, whose vivacious personality encourages people to talk.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Love in Disguise, go HERE.

To read my review of Love in Disguise, click here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review: Love in Disguise by Carol Cox

Love in Disguise
By: Carol Cox
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0-7642-0955-0

About the book:

Jobless and down to her last dime, Ellie Moore hears about a position with the Pinkerton Detective Agency and believes it's the perfect change to put her acting skills and costumes to use. Reluctantly, the agency agrees to give her one assignment, one chance to prove herself. Disguised as Lavinia Stewart, a middle-aged widow, Ellie travels to Arizona to begin her investigation. When the need arises, she also transforms into the dazzling Jessie Monroe, whose vivacious personality encourages people to talk.

Mine owner Steven Pierce is going to lose his business if he can't figure out who's stealing his silver shipments. In his wildest dreams, he never expected to receive help from a gray-haired widow...or to fall in love with her beautiful niece.

Then the thieves come after Lavinia and Jessie. Ellie isn't safe no matter which character she plays! Should she give up and reveal her true identity? What will Steven do when he realizes the woman he's falling in love with doesn't really exist?

Set in 1880s Arizona, Love in Disguise blends romance, humor, and mystery for a can't-put-down read.


As the personal assistant of a famous actress bound for England, Ellie Moore dreams of making a name for herself on the stage. Orphaned and raised by theater folk, Ellie is sure that all she needs is a chance to prove her worth, and her "plain Jane" exterior will finally be outshone by her talent and drive. But her dreams of treading the boards come crashing down when she's dismissed and unemployed and friendless in the harsh Chicago winter. A chance encounter with Pinkerton agents in desperate need of a female operative to send West seems like the answer to her unspoken prayers. She's naive and utterly unprepared for the rigors of undercover work, but her determination and bravado (and skill with theatrical make-up) win her the tryout of a lifetime, the chance to prove her mettle to the Pinkerton Agency. Sent to Arizona with only the directive to conceal her true purpose while uncovering the identity of silver thieves, Ellie arrives suspicious of all and unprepared for the way in which certain townspeople went their way into her heart. When her early queries produce no results, she crafts a second character in the hopes of increasing her investigative scope. With danger lurking at every turn, Ellie grapples with questions of her own idenity -- can love win when it is birthed from a necessary deception?

I don't read many western-set novels, simply because many prairie romances are not to my tastes. Cox's first novel with Bethany House is a refreshing spin on the tropes of a traditional western romance. I love a spy-themed story, and coupled with the behind-the-scenes flavor of Ellie's theatrical background, Cox delivers an engaging girl-has-a-wild-west-adventure tale that breathes fresh life into one of romance's genre mainstays. I was reminded of two of my favorite films as a child -- Calamity Jane and The Harvey Girls. The former is particularly appropriate since a major polot point involves a former actress's assistant traveling west under an assumed identity -- and both films concern women finding adventure and romance in the limitless possibility emblematic of the western frontier. That sense of old-fashioned adventure saturates the pages of Ellie's story -- in that sense Love in Disguise is a throwback novel, but its familiarity is enlivened by Ellie's adventures in detection.

Ellie's theatrical background proves the perfect backdrop against which Cox explores questions of identity and self-worth. As Ellie investigates the silver thefts, she utilizes two of her own character creations to ensure anonymity -- resulting in three versions of herself in play, unsure of whom she can trust. Faced with the decision of who she wants to be and if she can accept unconditional grace, the masks Ellie employs while in Pickford essentially serve as the impetus for her return to faith. There is a bit too much time spent dwelling on Ellie's insecurities, particularly how that impacts her amateur investigation (instead of the case). Also, I would've loved a bit more romantic tension and stronger point-of-view scenes from Steven, the handsome mine owner, would've added some welcome spice to the romantic storyline. That said, I adored the final scene between Ellie and Steven, a heart-stoppingly lovely scene of the wonder of being truly seen and loved for one's self.

Those minor issues aside, Love in Disguise is a thoroughly enjoyable offering. Ellie's spunky misadventures in her quest to prove herself as Pinkerton-worthy unfolds with a lively energy old-fashioned charm. Cox has hit on a winning formula, infusing fresh life in the western romance genure -- more well-plotted adventures of this ilk would be most welcome.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Jean Dujardin, oh how I love you...

So remember way back at the beginning of the year when I fell in love with The Artist and its star Jean Dujardin? Exhibit A:

Excuse me while I swoon. :)

ANYWAYS, way back then I posted the absolutely hilarious video from Funny or Die, Jean Dujardin's Villain Auditions. I think we all need to see this again:

Hilarious and adorable, no? But I discovered today that there's more...behold the wonders of Jean Dujardin's Villain OUTTAKES:

And finally, Jean Dujardin's Cigarettes ("Cigarettes won't kill you. I WILL." HA!!):

I love him, I really do. Somebody cast him in a Bond film or something like that ASAP.