Friday, December 19, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Exodus: Gods & Kings

This weekend I went to see Exodus: Gods and Kings and wrote a review for BreakPoint, which you can check out here. If you've seen the film, I'd love to hear your thoughts on Hollywood's latest take on the story of Moses!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


See how there are five retweets on this? THE FIRST IS FROM SASHA ROIZ. This is a banner day my friends, a BANNER DAY.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I was kinda ambivalent about this, given the trainwreck that was the prequels, but despite the stupid looking lightsaber, I AM SO IN. All the Force feels are here, people, ALL OF THEM, plus THE MILLENIUM FALCON FLIES AGAIN. *dies of happiness* Enjoy. :)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Honoring the Courage of Strangers

Sarah J. Maas shared her grandmother's story of loss, survival, and hope on her blog today -- and trust me on this, it is a must read (and have tissues at hand)! May these stories never, ever be forgotten. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cinderella trailer!!

Y'all this looks AMAZING! And the cast!!! Hayley Atwell as Cinderella's mother, CATE BLANCHETT as the stepmother, Holliday Grainger as Anastasia, Sophie McShera (DAISY!!) as Drizella, Richard Madden as the Prince, and Lily James as Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh and with a score by Patrick Doyle!! AND THOSE COSTUMES!!! This is to die for. Bring on March!! :)

the closest I'll ever get to Chris Messina...

So this happened.

I will savor this moment forever.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Baby It's Cold Outside

This video for Idina Menzel & Michael Buble's version of "Baby It's Cold Outside" is the CUTEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Big Hero 6

I'm a bit late sharing this, but better late than never, eh? ;-) I got the chance to review Disney's latest animated feature for BreakPoint -- the Marvel-inspired Big Hero 6. If you haven't seen this yet, it is ADORABLE. For the love GO!! You can check out my review of the film here. Enjoy! :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review: First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

I'm SO excited to share that today I'm over at Austenprose sharing a review of First Impressions by Charlie Lovett! I was thoroughly charmed by this novel -- a delicious, dual-time narrative examining the inspiration for Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and the contemporary world of rare books! You can check out my review of the novel HERE. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review: Scandalized by a Scoundrel by Erin Knightley

Scandalized by a Scoundrel (All's Fair in Love #2)
By: Erin Knightley
Publisher: CreateSpace/Amazon


The third son of a titled Englishman and an American mother, Gabriel Winters has little reason to love his father's homeland or appreciate the privileges to which he is now entitled as the newly-minted heir. Ostracized his entire life for his American blood, Gabriel was never expected to inherit -- but when his two older half-brothers died, duty forced him to return to England and claim the title he never wanted. Following his friend Nicholas's wedding, Gabriel vows to return to America to choose a bride, determining that in this most personal of choices, the wishes of his blue-blooded extended family would be thwarted once and for all. But when he finds himself on the receiving end of Miss Amelia Watson's impressively wielded pistol, he finds all of his preconceived notions about well-born British females threatened by her spirit. When he discovers the secret hiding behind Amelia's bold demeanor, he offers his expertise -- lessons in hand-to-hand fighting techniques -- and friendship. But can a scoundrel with a chip on his shoulder ever hope to earn the trust of a wounded woman whose walls protect not only her secrets, but her family's honor?

After her mother's death at the hands of highwaymen when she was only thirteen, Amelia has spent years fighting to overcome the specter of fear brought into her life by that senseless act of violence. Losing her mother left her father crippled by anxiety, and Amelia saw her dreams of a future slip away as she made the transition from child to caregiver before she reached adulthood. Loathing the pity her family tragedy garners everywhere her story is known, at first Gabriel proves to be a refreshing antidote to her usual circle of acquaintance. Their sparring helps her to forget, however briefly, that she has too long been known as one marked by tragedy and consequently to be pitied for it.

Gabriel's unorthodox offer to teach her hand-to-hand fighting techniques first shocks and then intrigues Amelia, but she welcomes the chance to expand her personal arsenal of self-defense techniques. Gabriel hopes to assuage his guilt over judging her initial response to him, clinging to his plan to marry an American heiress, sure a feisty spinster could never compromise his well-laid plans. But as the lessons give way to the intimacy of close comradeship, sparks of a more dangerous, romantic sort begin to fly. When secrets are revealed, can these two wounded hearts seize a chance at a wholly unexpected love story?

After falling in love with Erin Knightley's writing in Ruined by a Rake, I immediately downloaded the next two novellas in the All's Fair in Love series, and I'm happy to report that this sequel does not disappoint! Picking up shortly after Nicholas and Eleanor's swoon-worthy romance, here Knightley sees them preparing for their wedding, moving the spotlight to a pair of the happy couple's unlikely - - but oh-so-perfectly matched -- friends. Knightley is fast proving to be a master of the novella format, delivering all of the humor, character and plot development (with the exception of Nicholas and Eleanor, who seem a little "bland" now that they are relegated to supporting players), and swoon-worthy romance that one craves in a full-length novel in a scant one hundred or so pages. These stories are refreshingly intense, fast reads, romances crafted with equal parts passion and restraint.

Amelia's relationship with her father is reminiscent of Austen's Emma and Mr. Woodhouse, though lacking a significant degree of that heroine's confidence. In eight short chapters, Knightley manages to sketch a convincing, nuanced portrait of a woman equal parts scarred by past trauma but craving independence and the strength to not be defined by her past. Through Gabriel's self-defense lessons, Amelia gains the confidence to emotionally thrive. And while the progression of her relationship with Gabriel may seem contrived, especially given the rules that governed proper social interaction between the sexes during the time period, Knightley presents the lessons with a restraint that lends their method of connecting with each other a genuine authenticity. This is a romance, yes -- but for every nod to the Darcy-esque, wounded hero tropes this is above all a story about inspiring the heroine to live life to the fullest.

With Scandalized by a Scoundrel, Knightly is fast becoming my go-to author for a sweet, swoon-worthy romance. Thus far, her stories have all the passion and humor one could want, and non of the spicier, envelope-pushing scenes found in other romances of this ilk that may deter some readers. This is such a refreshing read, not only in its development of the romance but in its treatment of fear. It is rushed due to the length restrictions of the novella format, but Amelia's journey from fear to empowerment is saturated with authentic hope. And isn't that, after all, part of the eternal draw of these tales -- the hope of acceptance and a safe haven at the end of a romantic journey.

About the book:

In all his years in the army, Lord Gabriel Winters never once would have described an opponent as beautiful. But when he finds himself staring down the barrel of Miss Amelia Watson’s pistol, it’s the only word that comes to mind. Despite her clear distrust of him—and not to mention his own determination to avoid English women at all costs—Gabriel is more than intrigued by his friend’s bold neighbor.

Amelia has plenty of reasons to distrust strangers, and the broad-shouldered, devilishly handsome viscount deserves no exception. But when he challenges her to lay down her weapon and learn to fight in a new way, she finds herself capitulating. He may be a scoundrel, but he’s also the first person in years to look at her without the blasted pity she hates so much.

Though the lessons start out innocently enough, the heady pull of attraction soon gets in the way. They’re as incompatible as water and gunpowder, so why is she suddenly looking forward to the thought of being . . . Scandalized by a Scoundrel?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

OUAT "The Apprentice" Promo Stills

GUYS!!!! There are a whole bunch of stills from this coming Sunday's episode of Once Upon a Time FRESHLY PINNED to my Once board (or Tumblr...or Twitter feed) and they are amazing and beautiful and totally WINNING THE WEEK for me so check them out if you're so inclined! Can't WAIT for Sunday!!

Monday, October 13, 2014

My Old Lady

I've now seen the film My Old Lady twice (it is SO worth it!) and had the opportunity to review it for BreakPoint -- you can read my thoughts on the movie here. If you get the chance to see this gem, whether in theaters or whenever it releases on DVD (hopefully soon!), I hope you'll add it to your must-see is SO worth it. :)

Monday, October 6, 2014

never say never, eh?

So last week, this happened:

We'll see how this goes... ;-)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lewis & Hathaway are BACK!

Remember those dark days when we all thought that Inspector Lewis was ending, never to return to our television screens? Well, my friends, that long dark night of my Lewis and Hathaway-loving soul is ending THIS WEEKEND! Sunday on Masterpiece, Lewis (Kevin Whately) and Hathaway (Laurence Fox) return for three BRAND-NEW episodes! Behold the amazing previews:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014

this weekend on Masterpiece...

This weekend on Masterpiece sees the premiere of season two of The Paradise followed by a new Miss Marple mystery entitled Endless Night (reading the book now, which is a non-Marple tale, and boy is it trippy...can't wait to see how they translate THIS to the screen)! I'll be watching The Paradise later next week On Demand, because Sunday ALSO sees the start of Once Upon a Time's fourth season, and priorities, priorities, I need to reconnect with Captain Hook. *wink* Enjoy!

The Paradise Season 2 Preview:

A scene from Endless Night:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Ismeni by Tosca Lee

Ismeni (Prequel to The Legend of Sheba)
By: Tosca Lee
Publisher: Howard Books


Despite her beauty, thanks to being born under the shadow of the feared Dog Star, Ismeni prays for a quiet, notoriety-free life. Instead, the girl who craves normalcy and loves a humble stable boy captures the eye of a prince, an honor not to be refused, and against all odds and expectation, despite her broken heart, is elevated beyond her wildest dreams. And when tragedy threatens her firstborn daughter, Ismeni fights with every scrap of strength within her for the child's future, with one prayer on her lips -- "'Seek wisdom...and rise.'"

Little is known of the legendary Queen of Sheba save her famous visit to Solomon, a legend birthed from thirteen brief verses in 1 Kings 10. That brief interlude between two ancient monarchs captivates the imagination to this day, with appearances in film, opera, and ballet. The story of a powerful queen capturing the attention David's famously wise son, particularly in a time and culture where patriarchy was most often the order of the day, has long captivated my imagination. But before Sheba could make her famous pilgrimage, the stage must be set for her rule -- and that is the story Tosca Lee delves into with this prequel...the story of Ismeni, Sheba's mother.

Lee has long been on my list of to-be-read authors, and thanks to this short story I now know why. If this sample of her writing is any indication, each and every accolade I've ever read for her past novels is richly deserved. Ismeni is absolutely exquisite, a richly imagined story gorgeously told. This is easily the best example of the best way in which to showcase a writer through e-book bonuses or short stories. This is a tale masterfully rendered on the page, beautifully plotted, fostering a level of suspense and emotional involvement in the outcome that, frankly, should be impossible in a mere fifty-two pages. But thanks to Lee's capable skill, Ismeni's story shines.

Ismeni is an exquisite story, tugging the heartstrings and setting the stage for one of history's most famous queens. This short tale possesses all the flavor of an epic spun in an unforgettable web by a master storyteller. Lee has rocketed to the top of my list of must-read authors. Beautifully done!

About the book:

A mysterious beauty, a destiny set in the stars. Born under an inauspicious sign, young Ismeni is feared by her own people. The single thing she prays for: to live an invisible life. But that is not to be for the young woman who has captured the attention of the king’s youngest son. A story of love, passion, and twists of fate through the eyes of the woman who will one day give birth to the legendary Queen of Sheba.

Review: Tremors by Bonnie S. Calhoun

Tremors (Stone Braide Chronicles #0.5)
By: Bonnie S. Calhoun
Publisher: Revell


Selah Rishon Chavez is haunted by dreams of the Sorrows, when the country was decimated by all manner of destruction, from nuclear explosions to natural disasters. But those events that changed her world forever occurred long before her birth -- over a hundred and fifty years ago -- and so she buries the fear and questions the vivid dreams foster. She has more immediate concerns: just days from her eighteenth Birth Remembrance, she's been pledged to marry a man she hasn't seen since childhood. Loathe to see her future slip away in the bonds of an arranged marriage, Selah longs for the freedom her brothers possess, to join the family business collecting bounties on the Landers who wash ashore near their village.

But one morning, everything changes when Selah witnesses her brother kill a Lander. Shocked by the senseless waste, Selah vows to discover why her marriage of convenience is so important to her family, determining to fight tooth and nail for the freedom to choose her own future. Driven to spying on her own family, Selah uncovers a tangled web of secrets involving fuel payoffs, mysterious genetic research, and ancient manuscripts -- pieces of a puzzle that seems impossible to solve in time to prevent her marriage. When she sees her father commit a shocking act of violence, Selah decides to throw caution to the wind. Forget consequences -- she'd take what freedom she had left and live life to the fullest...but her brave rebellion may cost more than she could ever dream.

Released as a precursor to Thunder, the first book in Bonnie S. Calhoun's new dystopian series the Stone Braide Chronicles, Tremors introduces Selah and her world. While many e-book bonuses stand alone well as fully-realized short stories, this reads more as a deleted opening to the full-length debut to come, raising more questions than answers. Calhoun packs this "story" -- consisting of four short chapters -- with information, introducing the concept of Landers, the Sorrows, and sinister genetic research, but without much context or depth. There is so much going on here, I was left craving some good world-building, which one assumes will follow in Thunder (and raises the question of why this intro was even needed, though I expect it was likely a publisher decision).

That said, I love seeing an established house like Revell dip their toe in the ever popular young adult market for dystopian thrillers in the mold of Hunger Games. While this intro is far too brief to get a good grasp of Selah's character, her moxie and drive to achieve self-determination is promising, very much in the spirit of Katniss and other heroines of her ilk. The concept is interesting and the world-building holds promise -- I particularly can't wait to discover more about the Landers and why they are hunted. On this excerpt's merits alone, I think it would've served better to include this story in the full-length release, but as a teaser I am undeniably intrigued to read Tremors.

About the book:

In this gripping prequel to Thunder, unsettling secrets change Selah Chavez's life forever in the days before her 18th Born Remembrance.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Miss Marple returns!

This Sunday, Miss Marple finally returns to Masterpiece with two -- TWO!! -- back-to-back mysteries:

A Caribbean Mystery

Greenshaw's Folly

Both star Julia McKenzie as Agatha Christie's famous sleuth, and while she's never managed to equal Geraldine McEwan's portrayal in my book, she did finally grow on I'm really looking forward to these new films! You can check out trailers and clips below:

A Caribbean Mystery trailer:

A Caribbean Mystery sneak peek:

Greenshaw's Folly trailer:

Greenshaw's Folly sneak peek:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: This Is How I'd Love You by Hazel Woods

This Is How I'd Love You
By: Hazel Woods
Publisher: Plume
ISBN: 978-0-14-218148-5


Fresh from Harvard, Charles Reid is one of thousands of young men eager to be the first to enlist, the first to represent America at long last entering the Great War that has long been raging on the European continent. Desperately brave and desperate to matter, in his hunger for an anchor from home to ground him while overseas, Charles enrolls in a pen pal program seeking a chess partner, and is matched with Sacha Dench, a vehemently antiwar journalist. Dench is far from the type of patriot Charles was sure would seek to boost the morale of the boys overseas, but like his wealthy parents' disappointment in his choice of military service, he views Dench as a challenge. Desperate to prove his mettle and the rightness of his place in the world gone mad, Charles posts his response just prior to embarking for France. And thus the game is set, and the first volley of words is fired between two very disparate men whose mutual love of chess will spark a connection with staggering, unforeseen consequences.

Hensley, Sacha's only daughter and just seventeen, is shattered -- her heart broken and her life uprooted simultaneously, with an intensity and force that has left her reeling. Her future once so bright and assured, when her father loses his position at the newspaper thanks to his antiwar sentiments they are forced to accept the largess of a distant cousin and a job across the country, far from everything that defines home and comfort. Yet this loss is relatively minor compared to her internal loss of confidence in herself. For having given her heart to a teacher, only to have her trust thoroughly abused, Hensley is left desperately longing for a place to belong, for a truth to once again anchor her in a world gone mad.

Their correspondence begins when Hensley impulsively scratches her own desperate words of optimism in the margins of her father's latest reply to Charles, instinctively recognizing and responding to a kindred soul in search of an emotional anchor. In the face of once unfathomable horrors, now made everyday, commonplace occurrences by the reality of war, Charles -- serving as a medic -- grabs onto Hensley's words with both hands. A connection, a lifeline writ in whispered hopes and dreams and scribbled on fragile pieces of paper, quickly forms between the lost girl and the boy trapped in a nightmare world. For these two lives, nothing makes sense until they intersect on the page, their words breathing hope and life and purpose into their days. But when trial and tragedy strike, will words prove strong enough to overcome the secret scars Charles and Hensley have sustained from their respective battles?

When I first heard about This Is How I'd Love You, I was immediately interested in the novel, as historical interest in the time period aside, I am an absolute sucker for a love story told through letters. There is something undeniably appealing and romantic about a love story crafted through words, especially handwritten, one's heart and soul poured onto the page, and a connection forged through a meeting of minds and hearts alone, irrespective of appearance or background. But I was nervous. Hazel Woods is not only a new-to-me author, but a new-to-me debut author...and while I'm always open to trying new authors, the very concept of this story resonated so strongly with me that I was desperately afraid of meeting disappointment within its pages. Thankfully, I couldn't have been more wrong to worry, for This Is How I'd Love You is, frankly, a stunner of a debut. Not only one of my favorite reads of the year, it is quite simply one of the best debut novels I've ever read.

Alternating between Charles and Hensley's point-of-view, Woods has crafted a love story that is absolutely breathtaking in its intensity. More than just a romance, this is the story of the very human need to know and be known, and the power of that connection when found. Ideally suited to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, Woods doesn't shy away from the reality of the battlefield atrocities a man in Charles's position would have faced, the impact of those horrors serving as the impetus for him to ground himself within the safety of the cocoon created by Hensley's un-looked for but welcomed words. Likewise the war's impact is felt on the homefront, thought thanks to Sacha's political stance from a very different angle. Hensley struggles with the physical sense of ostracism brought on by her father's firing, compounded by the emotional ostracism of the brief affair with her teacher and its life-changing result. Their shared words give them the courage to face the unknown, as Charles writes "Hold on....I would see us through to a happier day."

But when the voice behind the prayerful words gains a face, both Hensley and Charles are faced with a second choice: to find the courage to claim this chance at happiness, or hold forever to a dream come true -- but physically unfulfilled. And therein lies the essence of this book, for in its stunning simplicity, their story cuts to the core of some of the greatest fears one must face as a human being -- the fear of the unknown, and of being known. For while their words "have created a self," there is still the truth of that self, the living, breathing, physicality of it, that has as yet remained shadowed. Here Woods has crafted a love story for the ages and a stunning, heart-wrenching portrait of grace. For as Charles and Hensley both discover, they each have mistakes and imperfections, those "deal breakers" that they fear will destroy the gift of their shared words. And that is where each has the chance to be a living embodiment of grace to the other, living out their words of love in each other's lives, the once bleak and empty uncertainty of the future "trumped by the fact that it is" theirs to share together.

With her debut Woods has crafted a novel to savor, a gorgeously-rendered portrait of grace and the power of words to inspire, connect, and change lives. With her meticulously-crafted prose, Woods has sketched a powerful picture the Great War's social impact, touching on issues of class and particularly the expectations faced by women like Hensley who desperately desired to live life on their own terms, shedding the shackles of social convention that placed them under the control of male family members (no matter how well-intentioned). Her characters are both wholly of their time and timeless, the desire for connection and acceptance resonating through Charles and Hensley's now "antiqued" (but oh-so-romantic!) method of communication. This Is How I'd Love You is a novel sure to wend its way into your heart, bring tears to your eyes, and remind you of the power and beauty of a life fearlessly lived.

About the book:

As the Great War rages, an independent young woman struggles to sustain love -- and life -- through the power of words.

It's 1917 and America is on the brink of World War I. After Hensley Dench's father is forces to resign from the New York Times for his antiwar writings, she finds herself expelled from the life she loves and the future she though she would have. Instead, Hensley is transplanted to New Mexico, where her father has taken a job overseeing a gold mine. Driven by loneliness, Hensley hijacks her father's correspondence with Charles Reid, a young American medic with whom her father plays chess via post. Hensley secretly begins her own exchange with Charles, but looming tragedy threatens them both. When everything turns against them, will their words be enough to beat the odds?

Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours for the review opportunity!

About the Author

03_Hazel Woods

Hazel Woods lives in New Mexico with her husband and two children. For more information please visit You can also find her on Twitter. 

This Is How I'd Love You Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 25
Review & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, August 27
Interview at Dab of Darkness

Friday, August 29
Interview at Book Babe

Monday, September 1
Review & Interview at Closed the Cover

Tuesday, September 2
Review & Interview at A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, September 3
Review at The Bookworm

Friday, September 5
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

Monday, September 8
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry

Tuesday, September 9
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, September 10
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes

Thursday, September 11
Review at Booktalk & More

Friday, September 12
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews

Monday, September 15
Review & Guest Post at Bookish

Tuesday, September 16
Review at Book of Secrets

Wednesday, September 17
Review at Book Nerd

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New Once trailer!

Less than THREE WEEKS until Once Upon a Time's fourth season premiere! And there's a new trailer with a few new clips! And this GORGEOUS screenshot of Belle (Emilie de Ravin) in THE DRESS. The Rumbelle feels! *dies*

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: India Black and the Rajah's Ruby by Carol K. Carr

India Black and the Rajah's Ruby (India Black #0.5)
By: Carol K. Carr
Publisher: Berkley


India Black, the proprietress of Lotus House, is one of London's most sought-after madams. But before she struck out on her own and made a name for herself, she was simply India Black of Mother Moore's establishment, where her mane of ebony hair, startling blue eyes, flair for witticisms and sharp mind made her one of Moore's most popular earners. Possessing no illusions about life or her place in it, she possesses an extraordinarily good head on her shoulders...but isn't above acknowledging the appeal of a handsome face. And that is exactly what Philip Barrett, one of her regulars, possesses in abundance, leading India to agree to accompany him on a business venture, where she'll pose as his wife in order to provide Philip with the veneer of respectability required to fleece a rich American investor, Mr. White. India anticipates a quiet, boring weekend in the country, but when White's priceless ruby is stolen and all signs point to Philip as the culprit, she must use her every wile to escape.

I've seen glowing reviews of Carol K. Carr's India Black series for several years now, and in the mood for a short, quick read I opted to meet India via the pages of this novella. India Black and the Rajah's Ruby is actually the third release in the series, but as it tells the story of how India gained the funds necessary to become an independent businesswoman, I decided to read it first. Structured as a short memoir, with India the madam sharing the secret behind her legendary business acumen for the benefit of those "tarts" seeking to follow in her footsteps, this short novella proves to be an entertaining introduction to India and her world.

I expected India's attitude but I didn't expect quite so MUCH of it, which was a refreshing surprise. I confess I'm accustomed to reading about more refined, proper heroines from this time period. And while India is far from crass, there's a rough edge to her voice that is at once both hilariously matter-of-fact and very much in keeping with her background and profession. While I got a kick out of India, I do wish that the restrictions of the novella format had allowed for greater character and plot development. This tale lacks the overt mystery element one can only assume is present in the full-length novels, but occasionally I felt as though Carr was trying to cram so much information into this reminiscence that the resulting prose was occasionally stilted and the story flow uneven.

That minor issue aside, India Black and the Rajah's Ruby left me wanting more, and I'll be checking out the first full-length India Black novel at the earliest opportunity. I love a heroine who defies expectations, and India promises to do that in spades with a great deal of humor, style, and verve.

About the book:

India Black uses her wit and wiles as both a madam and a spy, proving she’s the best there is when it comes to undercover work…

Drawn into intrigue by her lover Philip Barrett, India finds herself being used as a pawn to help him steal a valuable jewel. Turning the tables, she proves that India Black answers to no man, no matter how attractive he may be…

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review: Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie

Sparkling Cyanide
By: Agatha Christie
Publisher: Harper Collins


One year ago, everything changed for a seemingly close-knit group of friends and family -- for it was one year ago that one of them died. Seven went to dinner in a celebratory mood, and only six returned, for the seventh -- sparkling, effervescent, attractive Rosemary Barton -- drank champagne laced with cyanide. Rosemary was a golden girl, with everything to live for, and her suicide shocked the circle of survivors, for although suicide emotionally out of the question as a viable option for the inexplicable, horrific events of the evening, it was the verdict. For who would want to kill Rosemary? It must have been the depression she'd suffered as a result of a particularly nasty bout of flu. As horrible and tragic as it was, depression was the only option, the only way to bring order and reason from chaos. The only other option was even more unthinkable...that one individual who walked away from that fateful dinner was a killer...

As the anniversary of Rosemary's death approaches, the six other attendees begin to reminisce about their respective relationships with Rosemary...for as time has distanced them from the immediacy of her passing, so too has it dulled their comfort level with the suicide verdict, giving rise to uncomfortable questions. George, the long-suffering, dully respectable husband, has his doubts fanned by anonymous letters claiming Rosemary was murdered. Iris has begun to fear that she never truly knew her sister at all, while the mysterious Anthony bitterly regrets his onetime flirtation with Rosemary for jeopardizing his secrets and his hope of a relationship with her sister. Stephen, an up-and-coming politician, fears his long-time liaison with Rosemary may have jeopardized his career and his marriage, all the while wondering if his wife Sandra might have taken drastic steps to eliminate her rival. And last but not least, the quietly efficient Ruth, George's secretary, begins to ponder just how much she hates her employer's late wife. All connected, all harboring secrets...but only one with enough vitriol to kill Rosemary...and the ripple effect of that rash action threatens to strike again as the anniversary and the questions it raises inches ever closer...

When I first started reading Agatha Christie years ago, I almost exclusively confined myself to the Poirot mysteries, having fallen in love with the mustachioed, fastidious detective in no small part thanks to David Suchet's portrayal in the long-running television series. Thankfully, as the years passed I learned to broaden my reading horizons and discovered the gems that lay waiting in the other corners of Christie's extensive backlist. Sparkling Cyanide has long been high on my list of Christie standalones to read, especially since it is based on one of my favorite Poirot short stories: "The Yellow Iris." (The episode is one of my favorites among the television series' hour-long adaptations.) And when I finally tracked down a copy of the elusive 1983 film version, starring my much-loved Anthony Andrews and transplanting the story to Los Angeles (!!), I knew that at long last I had to read the source material.

There is something irresistibly compelling about a dinner table set mystery. Similar to a locked room tale, the dinner setting (also employed by Christie in Lord Edgeware Dies) immediately limits the pool of potential suspects. There is something extraordinarily creepy about the thought of sitting at table with a killer. The very idea of taking a meal with someone (typically) implies a certain conviviality, one Christie happily turns on its head by taking her limited guest list and making them question everything they thought they knew about each other.

As the novel opens, Rosemary Barton has been dead nearly a year, the approaching anniversary leading her family and friends reminisce about their acquaintance with Rosemary. It becomes quickly apparent that no one knew Rosemary as well as they'd thought...nor any other member of the group that witnessed her shocking death. I loved how Christie structured the novel, beginning with chapters told from each survivor's viewpoint, building tension as the mystery of Rosemary's relationships with each and her true state of mind at the time of the fateful dinner gradually click into place. At the one-third mark, Christie brings the story into the present, building towards the anniversary and the ramifications of George's insistence that his wife didn't commit suicide as widely assumed, leading him to plan a second -- and equally fateful -- dinner party.

The multiple viewpoints utilized aren't the neatest method I've ever seen Christie use for a mystery of this ilk, but the characters are engaging and I loved watching the secrets of their relationships and views of each other unfold in all their scandalous glory. This novel marks the final appearance of Colonel Race (also seen in The Man in the Brown Suit and as Poirot's friend in Cards on the Table and Death on the Nile), who, while never a star investigator, ably plays the assistant role, facilitating the investigation and here the dashing Anthony's creative breakthrough in recognizing the murder method.

Each and every main player in the cast is deliciously over-the-top in the best soap opera fashion (with the exception of Colonel Race), and though Sparkling Cyanide may not be Christie's most tightly-plotted mystery, in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- it's eccentricities it is one of her most delightful. This book was sheer, unadulterated fun to read from start to finish. This mystery is all about relationships, running the gamut from love to loathing and everything in between, replete with Christie's signature droll sense of humor and a dash of romance between Iris and Anthony. I would love to see this tale get a proper film adaptation, playing up the period elements and keeping the characters true to their time period and scripted histories. This is pure, delicious soap opera as only the Queen of Crime can deliver, a diverting breath of fresh air for mystery lovers looking for something a little different from a favorite author.

About the book:

Agatha Christie's genius for detective fiction is unparalleled. Her worldwide popularity is phenomenal, her characters engaging, her plots spellbinding. No one knows the human heart - or the dark passions that can stop it - better than Agatha Christie. She is truly the one and only Queen of Crime.

Sparkling Cyanide

"Rosemary that's for remembrance" Six people are thinking about beautiful Rosemary Barton, who died nearly a year before. There's the loving sister, the long-suffering husband, the devoted secretary, the lovers, and the betrayed wife. None of them can forget Rosemary But did one of them murder her? 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Storybrooke gets Frozen...

With Once Upon a Time's fourth season set to premiere Sunday, September 28th (how on EARTH is it September already?!), ABC has finally dropped some fresh promos introducing Frozen's Elsa to Storybrooke...and vice-versa. The reception is (no pun intended) a trifle chilly...

Downton Abbey Series 5 Trailer!

It's getting close people, it's getting very, very close! Downton Abbey's fifth season starts in the UK on September 21st (happy birthday to me!) and let's be honest, January will be here before we know it. Last week ITV finally released a proper trailer...enjoy!

*Image copyright ITV/Carnival Films/Masterpiece. No copyright infringement intended.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos

Undressing Mr. Darcy
By: Karen Doornebos
Publisher: Berkley


Vanessa is a workaholic, public relations genius with little time for love or leisure. If she can't tweet it, hastag it, or distill it into a succinct sound bite, it isn't worth her time or attention. The only exception is her beloved Aunt Ella, the grand dame of the local Jane Austen Society chapter and the one familial constant in Vanessa's life since childhood. But now, with Ella facing a diagnosis of dementia, her aunt has enlisted her niece's help to make this year's Jane Austen Society convention the best yet, a fitting swan song for a woman who has devoted her life to all things Jane. So what if Vanessa barely knows her Bennets from her Dashwoods? She's determined to bring the full force of her expertise to bear on the situation and make the convention shine, for work at least keeps her too busy to ponder a future without the only family she's ever known.

The scheduled highlight of the conference is guest speaker Julian Chancellor, author of the memoir My Year as Mr. Darcy. Within the book this real life Darcy details his quest to the live the life of a true Regency gentleman, bringing history to life in his accompanying promotional talk, provocatively -- and very literally -- titled "Undressing Mr. Darcy." Pure catnip for Austen aficiandos, the show sees Chancellor perform a "historical" striptease, all in the name of historical authenticity, and all for a good cause -- restoring Chancellor's crumbling family home. Vanessa never expected to find a man the very antithesis of everything modern that she embraces so attractive. As she finds herself succumbing to the romance and allure of the Austen mystique, Vanessa finds herself questioning everything she thought she wanted and the truths she held as fact -- but in her eagerness to embrace this new way of life, will she lose sight of what matters most?

I love a good chick lit novel, and it's a well-established fact that I adore all things Austen-related, so when I stumbled across Undressing Mr. Darcy I was sold. The cover alone is sheer perfection -- the little black dress, the pop of red, the provocative title -- I eagerly bought the package hook, line, and sinker. However, what I discovered within the pages of Doornebos's chick-lit flavored homage to Jane Austen was something several degrees less effervescent and sparkling than I'd hoped.

Doornebos knows the world of Austenites, and takes great delight in expounding on her knowledge on the page ad nauseum. As Vanessa, who has spent most of her life scorning anything Austen-related, throws herself into the conference, she finds herself intrigued by Julian Chancellor's apparent affinity for an old school, technologically free existence -- and his enticing, unorthodox presentation of a Regency gentleman's most intimate habits doesn't hurt, either. But as Vanessa immerses herself in the conference and begins to experience for herself the timeless allure of Austen's life and works, the narrative veers into pedantic territory. If I wanted a lecture about Austen's life and works, I'd attend a conference myself or read a non-fiction title. The more heavy-handed approach taken here grinds the narrative momentum to a halt.

Character-wise, I appreciate the fact that Vanessa was clearly a pro at her job, and I thought the social media "hashtags" sprinkled throughout the narrative were a fun, if slightly over-used, nod to the electronic realities of modern life. And I ADORED Vanessa's relationship with her delightfully eccentric Aunt Ella. Though she doesn't delve too deeply into the heartbreaking realities faced by families coping with a dementia diagnosis, Doornebos does touch on those struggles -- from living arrangements to memory loss -- which adds a welcome note of emotional gravitas to the storyline. Where the novel falters is in Vanessa's overall arc and romantic interests.

The novel is roughly divided into three sections: the stateside conference, Vanessa's visit to the UK, and back again. For the first portion of the novel, Vanessa remains relatively true to her introduction -- she's intrigued by Julian (who wouldn't be?), but at her core she's still a driven professional...just one with a few new, attractive "distractions" in her life. But Julian is a poorly-realized Darcy stand-in, as early on something seemed "off" in his interactions with Vanessa, so it was frustrating to see this supposedly smart, savvy businesswoman swallow is act wholesale. It's even more frustrating to witness when there is a PERFECTLY AMAZING SECOND OPTION waiting in the wings. Chase may moonlight as a pirate and lack a British accent, but he is SOLID GOLD and accredited by Vanessa's family and friends. As attractive a dream as Darcy coming to life is, there is no contest here -- which makes Vanessa's insistence on mistaking "proximity for intimacy" all the more frustrating.

Undressing Mr. Darcy is a study in missed opportunities. This is a novel that wants to be a fluffy, humorous chick lit but lacks the sparkle that one not only expects from such but that I would argue is an absolutely necessary component! The pieces are in place, and there are moments of golden humor (the reaction Julian's performance garners at the conference is hilarious), but I couldn't help but think that they needed to be culled by a good scriptwriter and transferred to a film. Clocking in at nearly 400 pages, Undressing Mr. Darcy has an unfortunate tendency to crawl when it should zing with energy, leading to a lot of skim-reading -- a frustrating reality given the cute concept and the appeal of Vanessa's American love interest. There's lots to like here, not the least being Doornebos's passion for Austen and Austenites, but unfortunately the resulting story left me cold. (For the record, I still ADORE the cover!)

About the book:

Taking it off in the name of history…

Thirty-five-year-old American social media master Vanessa Roberts lives her thoroughly modern life with aplomb. So when her elderly Jane Austen–centric aunt needs her to take on the public relations for Julian Chancellor, a very private man from England who’s written a book called My Year as Mr. Darcy, Vanessa agrees. But she’s not “excessively diverted,” as Jane Austen would say.

Hardbound books, teacups, and quill pens fly in the face of her e-reader, coffee, and smartphone…

…Until she sees Julian take his tight breeches off for his Undressing Mr. Darcy show, an educational “striptease” down to his drawers to promote his book and help save his crumbling estate. The public relations expert suddenly realizes things have gotten…personal. But can this old-fashioned man claim her heart without so much as a GPS? It will take three festivals filled with Austen fans, a trip to England, an old frenemy, and a flirtatious pirate re-enactor to find out…

Friday, August 22, 2014


Tomorrow!! TOMORROW CAN'T GET HERE SOON ENOUGH!!! Peter Capaldi will finally, FINALLY, at long last make his debut as the Twelfth Doctor and I am so excited I can't even begin to express it!!

Is anyone going to see it in theaters? I'll be watching on BBC America.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Breathless previews!

This Sunday on PBS, Masterpiece begins airing Breathless, a three-part series about the doctors and nurses of a 1960s London ob-gyn hospital ward. And it stars Jack Davenport!! Squee!!

I've read mixed reviews of this series, as apparently it was conceived as an on-going drama, and part three supposedly ends on something of a cliffhanger -- and the show wasn't renewed. But I could really care less, because HELLO JACK DAVENPORT and a dishy '60s setting and lots and lots of DRAMA (if the previews are any indication)...all catnip for this viewer so I'll definitely be watching!

Series preview:

Scene from Episode 1:

*Photo copyright Masterpiece/ITV. No copyright infringement intended.

Guardians of the Galaxy Easter Eggs!

Well this is handy...

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

TCM remembers Lauren Bacall

Absolutely loved her.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Last weekend I went to see The Hundred-Foot Journey -- if you haven't made plans to see this film yet, for the love GO! It is just exquisite. A lovely, lovely film. I had the pleasure of reviewing it for BreakPoint, and you can read my article here.

Helen Mirren is pitch-perfect (as is her norm). Also, the Manish Dayal? Best. Smile. EVER.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


I have a tumblr, if anyone is interested in that sort of thing (I know, I'm super late to that party). It's mostly a lot of Once Upon a Time GIF sets right now, because WHY NOT?!, but if anyone has any good recs for Doctor Who or Grimm or other BBC show-related sites let me know in the comments or on tumblr...much appreciated!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Return to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel!

I totally forgot that The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was happening, and now that I've seen the trailer, I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Last weekend Guardians of the Galaxy, one of my post anticipated movies of the year, finally came out and promptly became one of my favorite things ever. If you love superhero movies or space operas or both, this is SO the movie for you.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to write about the film for BreakPoint. You can read my article HERE.

If you've seen the movie I'd love to hear your thoughts and fangirl in general. :)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Amazing Kindle Sales!

I have NO IDEA how long Amazon is going to have these books on sale, but as they are by some of my favorite authors, and at FANTASTIC prices, I didn't want to let the chance go by to share them here. Remember to verify the price before purchase!

Mesu Andrews - $1.99 EACH:

Laura Frantz - $1.99 EACH:

Jill Eileen Smith:

Brock & Bodie Thoene: The Gates of Zion is currently just $0.99!

Act fast & enjoy! :)

Review: Ruined by a Rake by Erin Knightley

Ruined by a Rake (All's Fair in Love #1)
By: Erin Knightley
Publisher: CreateSpace/Amazon


Eleanor's introduction to her step-cousin Nicolas did not have an auspicious beginning. At the age of seven, a full two years younger than her, the boy had the temerity to steal a kiss upon their introduction, an embarrassment that branded him forever as a thorn in her side. Their relationship grew increasingly combative until Nicolas taught Eleanor to fence, their frequent -- and secret -- bouts providing an outlet for their mutual irritation. While not serving to ingratiate her cousin into her good graces, the fencing lessons did, at least, allow Eleanor to tolerate Nicolas's presence in her life. But two years ago, the annoying boy who had so long been the bane of her existence left to assume a military commission, and Eleanor forgot her longstanding tormentor as her life became consumed by the loss of her beloved mother.

After witnessing the toll her parents' tumultuous marriage wreaked on her family, Eleanor determines to embrace spinsterhood at twenty-four and never marry. But her resolution is tested all too soon when she re-enters society and her uncle Malcolm determines to use his eldest niece as a pawn in his political machinations. Horrified, Eleanor refuses, but when Malcolm threatens to impose his will on her younger sister instead, she is well and truly trapped. Her only distraction is Nicolas's return, now a dashing soldier who bears little resemblance to the annoying prankster of her youth. Could it be that her one-time adversary is just the man she needs to help foil her uncle's plans? Or will her old prejudices blind her to the truth Nicolas has always known -- that they are a perfect match.

Novellas can be a hit-or-miss proposition -- a good one can provide a serviceable introduction to a new author's writing style, while a poorly-conceived effort can kill any interest I once may have held in a full-length book. But even rarer is the novella that provides a wholly satisfying story on its own, with tension, humor, and a swoon-worthy romance. Happily, amazingly, Ruined by a Rake delivers on all fronts, turning me into an instant Erin Knightley fan, eager to explore her backlist! The adversaries-to-lovers romance trope is a classic for a reason -- who doesn't love the sparks that fly when to individuals who are absolutely perfect for each other can't see the truth right before their eyes? Julia Quinn (The Viscount Who Loved Me) and Loretta Chase (Lord Perfect) are two masters of the genre and the formula -- and to find a storyteller whose work delivers ALL THE FEELS of a master in a novella? One cannot help but take notice!

Knightley imbues what could otherwise be a formulaic, by-the-numbers storyline with a refreshing energy. Not only were Eleanor and Nicolas raised as step-cousins, Eleanor is two years senior, and for years has relegated Nicolas to the position typically occupied by bratty, annoying younger siblings. Knightley does a fantastic job sketching their tension-fraught relationship, particularly in how Nicolas isn't even on Eleanor's radar. Not only is he younger, but she's predisposed to avoid all thoughts of marriage thanks to the tensions she witnessed in her parents' relationship. This is a woman determined to forge her own path in life, and it is her independent spirit that draws Nicolas to her first and foremost and that which he seeks to support and enable, rather than control.

While the length constraints of the novella format make Eleanor and Nicholas's journey to a happily-ever-after somewhat rushed, Knightley is careful to sprinkle hints of their history of mutual annoyance throughout the story, ensuring that the emotional payoff, when it comes, is sweet and well-earned. Over the course of just eight slim, tightly-plotted chapters, I fell head-over-heels for Knightley's writing. It's replete with the humor and spark I adore in favorite romance authors like Quinn, Chase, and Kate Noble, with a sweetness all its own. This is a heart-melting romance with nary an impropriety in sight -- a refreshing change of pace from mainstream offerings, and all the more delightful because Knightley's characterizations truly shine. I cannot wait to dive further into her backlist, and am particularly eager to see how she handles the freedom afforded in full-length fiction.

About the book: 

It started with a kiss.

When nine-year-old Eleanor Abbington first met her uncle’s new stepson, Nicolas Norton, the boy rudely stole a kiss from her that set the tone for their contentious and competitive relationship. It wasn’t until years later when Nick introduced her to fencing that they finally had a proper outlet for their frequent arguments.

Having just emerged from mourning following her mother’s death, Eleanor is exactly where she wishes to be at the age of four-and-twenty: an on-the-shelf spinster and unofficial companion to her aunt. Unfortunately, her ambitious uncle has other plans for her future. On the eve of his house party, he lays down his ultimatum: either Eleanor marries the man of his choosing, or he'll force her seventeen-year-old sister to do so instead.

When Nick unexpectedly arrives on their doorstep after a two year absence, Eleanor is in no mood for their normal banter. Seeming to know exactly what she needs, Nick challenges her to pick up the foil once more. During their pre-dawn matches, he shows her just how strong she can be . . . and exactly how much he’s changed since leaving. But when her old adversary becomes her only ally, she may very well find herself . . . Ruined by a Rake.

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:

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!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

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


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.