Monday, October 31, 2011

Doctor Who: "The Ballad of Russell and Julie" Wrap Party Special

One more Doctor Who-related video gem for today -- David Tennant, Catherine Tate, and John Barrowman created this video to honor Russell T. Davies and Julie Garner for their work on Who. Davies and Garner moved on to other projects following the end of Tennant's run as the Doctor. Enjoy! :)

Doctor Who: "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"

Thanks to Ruth for bringing this little slice of Who-related awesomeness to my attention. Film at the end of David Tennant's tenure as the Doctor, this cast and crew celebration is set to The Proclaimers "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" --

Femnista: Halloween 2011

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Publisher Software from YUDU

Earlier this year I was thrilled to be a part of the 1930s and 1940s-themed issue of Charity's Tude, the online magazine from Charity's Place. Since then, Charity renamed her publication Femnista (catchy, no?), and I'm excited to announce that the latest issue is now available. This issue focuses on all things "morbid and magical," exploring everything from the magic in Pushing Daisies and Harry Potter to Beastly and the vampire craze. My contribution is an expanded look at Robin McKinley's novel Beauty (read my original review here).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Grimm 1.1: "Pilot"

Last night NBC debuted Grimm, its own fairy tale-inspired show, one that is decidedly darker in tone than Once Upon a Time. Based on the previews alone, I would've assumed that I would've been nuts about Once, but Grimm, looking much darker, was an iffier proposition. So I was somewhat surprised to find that I thought Grimm was really a brilliant debut, turning fairy tales and police procedurals on their head, a glorious match-up that's creepy, compelling, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, really quite funny.

Detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is on top of the world. The recently minted homicide detective happily endures some good-natured ribbing from his partner Hank (Russell Hornsby) about believing in "happily ever afters" since he's about to propose to his girlfriend Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch). His good mood is shaken when he sees an employee of a local law office, Adalind Engel (Claire Coffee), transform into a hideous witch-like creature before his eyes. He carries the unsettling vision with him to a horrific crime scene, where they discover the dismembered (and largely consumed) body of a college student -- and no paw prints, only the impression of a boot.

Later that day, Nick is receives a surprise visit from his Aunt Marie (Kate Burton), frail and nearing the end of her life. She drops several bombshells on Nick -- he's the last of the Grimms, legendary "monster hunters" if you will, able to the disguised creatures for who they really are -- wolves, witches, etc. Nick's parents didn't die in a car wreck, they were murdered for being part of this ancient Grimm bloodline. Before she can explain further, they're attacked by a monstrous creature, and Marie whips out some incredible fight moves before Nick shoots their attacker dead (who then transforms into a perfectly normal-looking man).

When a little girl goes missing -- suspiciously wearing a red shirt like the murdered jogger -- Nick is thrust headlong into a world he never suspected existed, a world where the Brothers Grimm fairy tales are very real warnings of very real and ancient dangers. In his quest to save the latest "Little Red" from becoming a murder victim, Nick meets Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), a reformed "Blutbad," or "Big Bad Wolf," who controls his natural urges with a strict regiment of diet, drugs, and pilates. Monroe is Nick's "in" to the supernatural world he now faces, proof that not all the creatures the Grimms' chronicled are evil. (Side note: Robin, the missing girl, is played by Sophia Mitri Schloss -- and when she's rescued and hugs Nick's neck, the adorable factor was positively off the charts!)

Despite the fact that the premiere episode was centered on "Little Red Riding Hood," which is like my least favorite fairy tale EVER (disgusting story warning about child predators, ick!!), I really enjoyed the Grimm debut. If I had to describe the style of this show with one phrase, I'd have to say film noir -- no, it's not black and white (ha!), but the camera angles, close-ups, the way the scenes are cut to build suspense, all of these elements work together to recall the style of classic film noirs from the 1940s and 1950s. Grimm is all about SUSPENSE and things that go "bump in the night," and on that score the premiere succeeds brilliantly. The use of light and shadow, darkness and color (especially the greens -- they are so brilliantly enhanced it lends the setting an eerie, otherworldly look -- a heightened reality, if you will).

Besides the dark, fairy tale undertones to the hour, I loved the relationships established between Nick and his investigative partners. Nick and Hank have a great "buddy chemistry" vibe between them, a solid friendship, and I look forward to seeing how Nick attempts to juggle his partnership with Hank and his newfound "creature sighting" ability. (Random aside: was anyone else besides me distracted by how much Giuntoli looks like Clark Kent?? His resemblance to every other actor who has ever played Superman is positively eerie!) Nick's "Grimm partner," Monroe, is HILARIOUS. I love how the reformed Blutbad is so deliciously droll and matter of fact about everything that is blowing Nick's mind sky-high. Mitchell's character brings some much-needed humor to the show, and I look forward to seeing how he gets roped into Nick's investigations.

If you're going to turn the typical police procedural crime show on its head and insert classic fairy tales, I don't think you could've asked for better than this premiere. They needed to go "dark," but for my money it wasn't too dark -- the show's mood and suspensful atmosphere was nicely reminscent of the "creepiness" factor found in the traditional Grimm stories. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE making the Grimms criminal profilers -- that is the perfect background you need to make your hero an investigator. Nicely done.

One more casting note -- Nick and Hank's boss, Captain Renard, is played by Sasha Roiz, fresh off a season three stint on Warehouse 13 as one of the show's big bads over the past summer. When the closing scene reveals that he's in league with the Hexenbeist (sp??), a.k.a. witch-woman Adalind, I am eager to discover what "grim" secret the seemingly conscientious and nice police chief is hiding.

After yesterday's pleasant surprise, I'm eager to see where Grimm goes next week! If you watched the premiere I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Once Upon a Time 1.1: "Pilot"

ABC's Once Upon a Time was one of the most hotly anticipated (or perhaps I should say well-advertised?) shows of the new fall season that finally debuted this past Sunday. I've mentioned many times here how much I adore fairy tales, traditional and reimagined, and Once seemed guaranteed to suit my tastes. Needless to say, despite some reservations -- or perhaps I should say questions? -- about how the high concept of this show will play out, I thoroughly enjoyed the premiere. So let's talk. :)

Fairy Tale Land is a place renowned for its happy endings, and as the show opens we get to witness one of the most famous play out -- Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) awakening Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) with true love's kiss. Their happily ever after is tarnished by the promise of the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), who threatens that she will destroy the happy endings of every person who stands in her way. Cut to the "real world" where Emma Swann (Jennifer Morrison), a tough-as-nails bail bondswoman catching a client on what just happens to be her birthday. She's a loner, and while later blowing out a birthday candle on her celebratory cupcake (NICELY staged scene!), a young boy shows up on her doorstep. The boy is Henry (Jared Gilmore), who turns out to be the baby she'd given up for adoption ten years ago. Henry begs Emma to return with him to his hometown of Storybrooke, Maine. Much to Emma's chagrin, Henry is convinced that every story in his precious book of fairy tales is true, and that only Emma can help the citizens of Storybrooke remember who they truly are -- denizens of of Fairy Tale Land who were robbed of their happy endings by his evil adoptive mother Regina, the town mayor.

This episode introduces several of the main fairy tale characters and their real-world counterparts, as the narrative cuts between Emma and Henry's present and "flashback" scenes revealing how the Evil Queen's curse came to be. For the most part I absolutely loved the look of this show, in particular the Fairy Tale Land scenes -- the colors, the "richness" of the fabrics and set pieces were a visual feast! There is some dicey CGI in the Fairy Tale Land exterior scenes that just screamed "fake," which was unfortunate, but for the most part everything worked beautifully setting up the difference between the real world and the fairy tale one. (I just have to say, though, the Queen's curse was a friggin' SMOKE MONSTER?? Really? That was INCREDIBLY lame and looked just terrible on-screen. Bah...)

I loved Goodwin and Dallas as Snow White and Prince Charming -- Goodwin's looks fit the character perfectly, and she's capable of expressing this wide-eyed sincerity that just seems to scream "Snow White" to me, while Dallas -- well I'd be hard-pressed to ask for a more dashing Prince. :) Their heartbreak over having to sacrifice twenty-eight years together, until their daughter can break the Queen's curse -- or so Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) promises -- is played out with a heart-rending, sense of the epic that lends the concept of this show a cinematic flair. And the Prince's dramatic swordfight while holding his baby daughter was EPIC. Absolutely loved it.

Likewise I was extremely impressed with Morrison's performance as Emma. Her past as a supposedly abandoned orphan, her upbringing grounded in the harsh reality of the foster care system, is going to make Henry's task to open her eyes to fairy tales-as-reality quite the tall order. Gilmore is absolutely ADORABLE as Henry. He has all the prepossession of a mini adult and all the hopefulness and simple faith of a child. It is an extraordinarily winsome combination, and its easy to see why Emma finds herself drawn  to him inspite of his outlandish claims. I really look forward to seeing how their relationship develops.

This episode also gives us brief introductions to fairy tale/real world Gepetto/Marco (Tony Amendola), dwarf Grumpy/Leroy (Lee Arenberg), "psychiatrist" Jiminy Cricket/Archie (Raphael Sbarge), and the delightfully cranky Granny (Beverly Elliott) and her granddaughter Ruby (Meghan Ory). Presumably the show plans to introduce more fairy tale characters from the legends -- perhaps specifically the Disney canon, given the dwarves' names? -- throughout the show's run. My concern, if that's the right word for it, is that the constant back-and-forth between real world Storybrooke and Fairy Tale Land, where we'll get the classic characters' backstories, will get old really fast. It is not a formula that suggests it will lend itself to forward momentum narritive-wise. I am, however, open to being persuaded otherwise. :)

Some of Storybrooke's residents are not so clearly identifiable -- the adorable Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan), for instance. Do you think he's the Queen's Huntsman -- and therefore I can cling to the hope that he's one of the good guys? Or, given that Emma sees a wolf on the road before she wrecks her car trying to leave town, do you think there's a chance Graham is the the Big Bad Wolf? This leads to another question -- does Rumplestiltskin, a.k.a. Mr. Gold in Storybrooke, recognize Emma because he's in league with the Evil Queen? And did the Evil Queen somehow "know" that Henry was Snow White's grandson? Or was did that just end up being a coincidence? SO MANY QUESTIONS! *wink*

So, if you watched Once Upon a Time, I'd love to hear your thoughts on its premiere. Was it everything you'd hoped, and what do you hope from future episodes? I'd love to discuss theories for how this Storybrooke mess is going to play out. :)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pan Am 1.5: "One Coin in a Fountain"

I finally caught up with this week's Pan Am episode, which took the crew to glamorous Monte Carlo where romantic complications positively exploded for many members of the Clipper Majestic crew. The crew's first stop is London, and on the flight a vivacious woman named Ginny (Erin Cummings) makes herself at home in the cockpit, chatting to the pilots and catching Dean's (Mike Vogel) eye, to the surprise of everyone. My first thought here was my oh my, how times have changed -- convenient plot devices aside, it's hard to wrap my head around the fact that anyone could simply waltz into a plane's cockpit!

Dean seems more than willing to put the disappearing Bridget behind him and pursues Ginny with an abandon that borders on uncharacteristic. Colette (Karine Vanasse) has gotten a bit of a short shrift for the last two episodes, but the wordless looks she'd cast Dean's way when he would talk to Ginny where just heartbreaking. I do hope this means that the show will continue to explore the idea of a relationship between the two of them. The crew's jaunt to Paris proved that Dean and Colette have a lot of chemistry, and I love how she seems able to read him with just a look.

There's another intriguing passenger on this slate of European flights -- Niko Lonza (Goran Visnjic), a United Nations attache from Yugoslavia. (Completely superficial moment -- was Visnjic not TO DIE FOR in those suits??) In London Kate (Kelli Garner) meets her British handler Roger (David Harbour), who informs her that Niko was the target of her next assignment. The only problem is, the handsome passenger has caught Maggie's (Christina Ricci) eye. Kate shows a lot of improvement in the spying and confidence departments in this episode (more on the latter in a minute), nicely reflected in how Roger, and later his US counterpart Richard (Jeremy Davidson) treat her. Kate's got moxie when she wants to exhibit it, and that is a must when taking on Maggie -- their romantic rivalry over Niko is HILARIOUS.

Wasn't the dress Kate wears in this episode absolutely FABULOUS?? Oh goodness it was amazing. Garner had some nice chemistry with Visnjic -- but then again, wouldn't you have to be a block of wood not to feel something around him? Just sayin'! *wink* However, I have really mixed feelings about how Kate's mission played out. After leveraging Niko's interest in her into a date, which allowed her to obtain a Russian spy's fingerprints at the casino they visit, the two sleep together (things don't get too explicit). Hooking up with Niko wasn't strictly necessary for the mission, and sleeping with him seemed a bit out of character for Kate -- agree or disagree? Prior to this she's been such a driven straight arrow -- it sort of felt to me that much like her sister, she was testing boundaries. I'm curious to see how this relationship plays out -- by the end of the episode it is abundantly clear that Kate is emotionally invested. But once Niko finds out she was assigned to gain his interest, I predict things will blow up in a spectacular fashion.

Once again Ted (Michael Mosley) proves that he can be a real charmer when he's motivated -- and he's increasingly eager to gain Laura's (Margot Robbie) good opinion. Laura is stressed because she wants to officially end things with her former fiance Greg, and can't do that until she tracks down the engagement ring she pawned -- which was then subsequently sold. A chance encounter with Ted at Pan Am headquarters leads to the two of them tag-teaming through the New York subway system in search of the missing ring. The constant ribbing banter between the two of them cracked me up (they're clearly perfect for each other, no? *wink*). And when Ted FINALLY admits that he traded his prized Rolex for Laura's ring, I could've swooned. The man does have a heart. :)

It seems like Monte Carlo brought out the reckless side of Kate and Dean. Dean's shenanigans with Ginny could in particular have severe repercussions, since Ginny just happens to be the "companion" of Everett Henson (Scott Cohen). Henson is a Pan Am vice president with the power to make or break Dean's career -- and surprisingly, Dean doesn't seem to care. He should be warned, though -- my read on Ginny's character is that she's not principled enough to sacrifice her future and security for an amorous rendezvous.

Looking forward to this weekend's episode!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pan Am 1.4: "Eastern Exposure"

Pan Am's fourth episode was all about what makes Ted tick and the tensions simmering beneath the surface of the Cameron sisters' relationship. The Clipper Majestic is unexpectedly re-routed from Iceland to the Rangoon, all so fledgling spy Kate (Kelli Garner) can pick up a package and then deliver it on her next stop in Jakarta. It's getting to the point where Kate's -- how can I say this? -- nervousness, eagerness to prove herself, is getting on my nerves just a bit. I realize that she is experiencing a huge learning curve. But for this episode and the previous one I feel like there has been this unfortunate tendency for her to come across as whiny instead of, well, professional. However, I still really like Garner as an actress and her handle on the 1960s time period -- Kate does have an admirable amount of gumption, so I will be patient. :)

While I realize that Pan Am is filmed on backlots, etc., I loved the set up for the crew's visit to the Orient. The sunshine, the color, the sights & sounds were all gloriously realized on-screen. And for some reason this trip more than the previous really drove home for me what an opportunity a career as a Pan Am stewardess really was for women like Kate, Laura, Maggie, and Colette (Karine Vanasse). In an era when the ideal, touted in entertainment like The Donna Reed Show, was that women should aspire to be homemakers, working for Pan Am blew the doors to the world wide open for its employees. (I am in no way seeking to diminish the wife/homemaker role if that is what someone chooses -- only pointing to the fact that for a long time there were no other options.) I loved seeing Rangoon and Jakarta through Laura's (Margot Robbie) eyes -- the shyer, sheltered Cameron sister is really starting to open up and grow up thanks to the opportunities offered by her new job and budding friendship with the free-spirited Maggie (Christina Ricci).

I thought it was interesting how this storyline revealed Kate's control issues vis-a-vis Laura. When her mission seems on the verge of going sideways, she blames Laura. She wants her sister to grow up but doesn't really want to allow it -- because if she does, that has the potential to drastically alter their relationship and her identity. If she's not trailblazing, grown-up, sensible Kate -- the one who is as guilty of telling Laura what to do as their mother -- than who is she?

Ted (Michael Mosley) was in danger of becoming a caricature based on his behavior in the first Pan Am episodes -- he was too cocky, too self-assured, too entitled. But his bravado never really put me off (goodness I can really love a smart aleck), and in this episode we are finally treated to a revealing, and heartbreaking, glimpse into Ted's past. Ted was a Navy test pilot whose career was derailed after a crash that was blamed on pilot error (but was in reality mechanical failure). Ted's father, a wealthy government contractor, sacrificed his son's Naval pilot career (and chance to join the space program) on the altar of ambition. After THAT revelation, I just wanted to give Ted a big hug. When, with Laura's help, Ted finally gets the broken-down television to work in their Jakarta hotel so he can watch the Mercury 9 shuttle launch, the expression of childlike wonder and awe on his face is absolutely priceless -- very well played, Mosley.

I absolutely LOVED Ted and Laura's chemistry together during the television scene. She's in pajamas and curlers, fresh from an argument with Kate, and he's frustrated, pondering missed opportunities. I like how Ted so clearly likes Laura, but respects/realizes that she's perhaps not the usual kind of girl he encounters. Thus far Laura does not appear to be the type to succumb to fast talk and easy, charming manners. There's an attraction there, and the two characters seem to really like each other, but the show isn't forcing them to prematurely act on it -- and I like that, because I feel like Laura (ironically enough) could really help Ted grow up a bit.

It is also interesting how Ted wants to be respected on his own merits, -- which is why the fact that he's a copilot rankles since his experience with the Navy *should have* given him seniority over Dean (Mike Vogel). But he hasn't quite let go of the concept of favors or connections equalling advancement (even though, after our introduction to his father, we can assume Ted would be loathe to rely on him). The precedent set by Ted's privileged background runs deep in his character -- it will be interesting to see how he works through those issues. Also, I thought Dean's handling of Ted's blow-up was extremely classy.

Going forward, I hope the show continues to test the sisterly relationship between Kate and Laura, especially now that Laura's moved in with Maggie. My only concern is that I don't want to see Laura lose the sweetness that seems to be such a foundational aspect of her character as she tests her independence. Related to that, hopefully the realization that Kate has at the end of the episode, when Richard (Jeremy Davidson) gives her the "extra" photographs Laura took with the "spy camera" -- namely, that she doesn't want to alienate her sister -- will stick. I'd hate for too much tension to skew the very honest affection/frustration balance between them. (And speaking of Richard, how is Kate not just a puddle on the floor every time she has to talk with him? I LOVE HIS CHARACTER.)

So what did you all think? :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Doctor's Eleven

This is perhaps one of the most awesome Doctor Who-related pieces of fan art that I have ever seen. Thanks to the BBC America blog for bringing this to my attention. Click here for more info on the print and the artist.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pan Am 1.3: "Ich Bin Ein Berliner"

I know I'm a couple of weeks behind on my Pan Am reviews, but that doesn't mean my interest in and appreciation for the show has changed -- life's just been a little crazy. *wink* This episode marked a distinct uptick in story quality in my opinion, and made the smart decision of nixing flashback scenes to focus on the characters wholly in the present. For our third flight, the crew of the Clipper Majestic flies to Berlin, coinciding with President Kennedy's famous Berlin Wall speech. Throwing the characters in the middle of such an iconic event is a smart move, and given the politics of the 1960s one hopes the show will continue to take advantage of real history instead of relying solely on spy adventures, etc.

Kate (Kelli Garner) is tasked with purchasing a book in Berlin by her handler Richard (Jeremy Davidson). I simple shopping trip should be her easiest mission yet -- but when her contact's cover is blown, Kate has a burned spy on her hands and no way of getting her safely out of Germany. Honestly, the spy storyline was the weakest aspect of this episode, and the weakest incorporation of the spy angle thus far in the show. While on the one hand I applaud Kate's "leave no contact behind" attitude -- she does a decent job standing up to her cranky British contact Roger (David Harbour) -- her whole handling of her burned contact's future just felt a little sloppy to me, and the mission gone sideways lacked a real sense of peril.

If Kate's storyline was relatively weak, this episode delivered extraordinarily fine moments for Collette (Karine Vanasse) and Maggie (Christina Ricci). This trip marks Collette's first to Germany -- with good reason. Her coworkers don't seem to be all that interested in delving into her palpable tension at the prospect of setting foot on German soil. It's not until their arrival that Dean (Mike Vogel), in a nice follow-up to the sweet flirtation he and Collette shared in Paris, pulls Collette aside and asks for the full story -- and it is revealed that Collette was three when the Nazis took Paris, and she lost her parents to the war. The show handled her flashbacks extraordinarily well. Lost in the crush of people jockeying for position to hear Kennedy's speech, Collette nearly has a panic attack remembering the sounds associated with the horror of her childhood. This was a fantastic, heart-wrenching way to give real depth to Collette's character, and Vanasse handles the material with extraordinary sensitivity -- very well done. The moment at the end of the episode, where Collette tells Kate that she went to Berlin to forgive, but can't, because the wounds of the past hurt too much -- oh that brought tears to my eyes. This show could've kept things at a "fluffy" level, but moments of emotional resonance like this elevate the storytelling to an extra special level.

The show has never really given us the free-spirited Maggie's background, but this episode drops big clues into what makes her tick and why she's so passionate about blazing her own path in the world. It's revealed that Maggie worked as a precinct captain during Kennedy's election campaign, believes passionately in his message, and missed an opportunity to meet him and say thanks -- until Pan Am takes her to Berlin, coinciding with his visit. Maggie's unflagging enthusiasm to experience Kennedy's speech and her determination to meet him serve as a wonderful window into the "magic" of the Kennedy Camelot era. And while the scene where she practically walks up to Air Force One on the Berlin airstrip (security has really changed, hasn't it?), I really liked how although she wasn't able to actually "meet" him, they made contact -- it felt authentic, and magically possible somehow.

Co-pilot Ted (Michael Mosley) finally starts to act a bit less like a cocky jerk in this episode -- he's still nauseatingly full of himself (HA!), but I love how the show is handling his interest in Laura (Margot Robbie). When he tries to make a pass at Laura in the Berlin crowd and is rebuffed -- but not exactly discouraged -- well you can tell that Laura is the first girl in quite a while to prove immune to his "charms." (She's moral and classy! What a novelty!) I like how he doesn't push things -- there's hope for you yet, Ted. :)

If you've kept up with Pan Am, I'd love to hear your thoughts! "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" was a standout in this show's thus-far short run, thanks to a politically (and personally) charged stopover in Berlin. I'm completely addicted to the look and feel of this show -- the sets, costumes, and MUSIC are just fantastic, every scene dripping with period flavor. And I really feel like the actors have an excellent feel for the mores and attitudes of the 1960s -- I really appreciate not being thrust out of the world of the show by a 21st-century anachronism or attitude. My goal is to have posts covering episodes four and five up sometime this week.

Attracted to Fire by DiAnn Mills

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Attracted to Fire
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (October 1, 2011)
DiAnn Mills


DiAnn Mills believes her readers should “Expect an Adventure.” She is a fiction writer who combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed novels. Her books have won many awards through American Christian Fiction Writers, and she is the recipient of the Inspirational Reader’s Choice award for 2005, 2007, and 2010. She was a Christy Award finalist in 2008 and a Christy winner in 2010. DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and is the Craftsman Mentor for the Christian Writer’s Guild. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops. DiAnn and her husband live in Houston, Texas. Visit her website at: or find her on Facebook at


Special Agent Meghan Connors’ dream of one day protecting the president of the United States is about to come true. Only one assignment stands in her way. After the vice president’s rebellious daughter is threatened, Meghan is assigned to her protective detail on a secluded ranch in West Texas. Unfortunately, working with Special Agent in Charge Ash Zinders may be as tough as controlling her charge. Ash has a reputation for being critical and exacting, and he’s also after the same promotion as Meghan. But when the threats escalate and security on the ranch is breached, it becomes clear this isn’t the work of a single suspect—it’s part of a sophisticated plan that reaches deeper and higher than anyone imagined. And only Ash and Meghan can put the pieces together before it’s too late.

Watch the book trailer:

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers and I go way, way back. I can still remember discovering Alexandre Dumas's novels in middle school. The adventures of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan rocked my world. A classic bromance, no? *wink* This afternoon I saw the latest big-screen adaptation of this classic brothers-in-arms saga, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I can only shake my head in mystification that Hollywood is apparently unable to produce a straight-forward adaptation of the novel. Why, I have no clue -- it's not like Dumas didn't already liberally douse his fiction with loads of drama.

ANYWAYS -- this version of The Three Musketeers is very much in the mold of Pirates of the Caribbean or the big-screen Sherlock Holmes. The current trend in Hollywood seems to require adding a steampunk-type vibe to any costume drama. Don't misunderstand me -- I'm not complaining, I love all of the aforementioned films. If you appreciate the source material and have a healthy appreciation for the ridiculous, this film delivers in spades. The costumes, settings, and the cast -- this is a gloriously rendered slice of eye candy full of glitz, humor, and best of all, hot guys who like to wear cloaks and fight with swords. MEN WITH SWORDS!!! WIN!! :)

I thought it was fascinating how the film chose to remain faithful or wildly deviate from the source material. I was rather surprised that they kept the idea of a relationship between Buckingham and Queen Anne intact, though in this case it is entirely fabricated for the sake of a European power struggle. Also, we're given Matthew Macfadyen as a deliciously angsty, brooding Athos, who apparently rocks seventeenth-century diving gear. He also has a past with Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich), only in this case they were never married -- and she was never "just" a spy (think Lara Croft -- I think Jovovich was channeling her inner Angelina Jolie for this role). Among the current crop of actors I can't imagine anyone better than Macfadyen as Athos -- he's almost so serious its as if he's parodying his earlier romantic roles (such as Darcy in Pride and Prejudice).

Any adaptation of The Three Musketeers rises or falls on the chemistry between the four male leads -- and Macfadyen's Athos is superbly supported by Ray Stevenson as the gregarious Porthos and Luke Evans (SWOON!!) as the (ex? how exactly does that work?) priest/lover Aramis. Stevenson appeared earlier this year in Thor as Volstagg, Thor's "mighty man" who loves to eat. *wink* He brings such a great sense of humor to these roles -- his Porthos may very well be my favorite on-screen incarnation of the character. As to Luke Evans...oh my word, I want to write the man an ode. He deserves it. Evans's career is, I suspect, on the brink of exploding -- he first came to my attention as Apollo in Clash of the Titans, and looking forward he gets a promotion to Zeus in Immortals, which will be followed by Bard the Bowman in The Hobbit films (I AM SO HAPPY ABOUT THAT!). Evans really knows how to rock wearing black leather (just being honest here), and he brings this great sense of world-weariness and intelligence to the role of Aramis. Look for the scenes where he's wearing wire-rimmed glasses - ADORABLE. FREAKING ADORABLE. I could watch him all day. :)

Mads Mikkelsen as the Musketeers' nemesis Rochefort, head of the Cardinal's guard, also deserves an ode singing his praises. I love Mikkelson, ever since he played Tristram in King Arthur I'm thrilled whenever he shows up on-screen. Mikkelsen looks quite dashing in Rochefort's eyepatch, and I thoroughly enjoyed his final fight with D'Artagnan. Listening to Mikkelsen growl his way through a scene never gets old. *wink*

I was a little concerned about Logan Lerman as D'Artagnan, as the only thing I'd really seen him in prior to this film was the Percy Jackson film (which, inexplicably, is getting a sequel). I don't know how much, if any, of his own stunt work Lerman performed, but the end result on-screen is a ton of fun to watch. He manages to hold his own opposite a slew of seasoned (and frankly, hotter) actors -- I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was hilarious that he seemed to be taking his cues for D'Artagnan's portrayal from co-star Orlando Bloom's appearance in the Pirates franchise. In fact, this whole film owes a RIDICULOUS debt to Pirates of the Caribbean, from D'Artagnan doing his best to mimic Will Turner's heroics, to the flipping AIR SHIP BATTLE OVER PARIS. Yes, really. Pirate ships with hot air balloons in the sails, I never thought I'd see the day. LOL!

Speaking of Orlando Bloom, he was absolutely HILARIOUS as the villainous Duke of Buckingham. Bloom clearly put all the years he had to observe Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow into good use. Every time he appeared on-screen he chewed the scenery with ridiculous gusto. I have to give Bloom credit, he played the megalomaniacal villain role to the hilt, and really seemed to relish the opportunity. Not to mention the fact that he owned the clothes and that crazy pompadour hairstyle. On the other side of the villain equation, Christoph Waltz (seen earlier this year in Water for Elephants) played a wonderful Cardinal Richelieu -- chilling when required, and oh-so-adept at doing whatever is politically expedient in order to survive. I feel like he was a bit under-used, though -- but if this turns into a franchise (as the last scene in the film suggest that is the hope of the filmmakers), hopefully he'll be given the chance to really unleash Richelieu.

Two more quick casting notes -- I thought Louis XIII looked vaguely familiar throughout the entire film. Turns out Louis was played by Freddie Fox, the nephew of none other than James Fox, which makes him Laurence Fox's COUSIN! THERE'S A HATHAWAY CONNECTION!!! Freddie's acting debut was also in the Miss Marple episode Why Didn't They Ask Evans? I have to wonder how much ribbing poor Freddie is going to take for his *ahem* colorful costumes in this flick. Thank goodness my Musketeers didn't have to wear colored tights. *whew* Also, it was fantastic to see James Corden as Planchet, the Musketeers' servant. Corden should be instantly recognizable to fans of Doctor Who as he's appeared in two of Matt Smith's best episodes, The Lodger and Closing Time. Corden was HILARIOUS, the perfect foil for his grouchy masters.

The Three Musketeers is a heck of a lot of fun -- it has a total summer blockbuster vibe, with lots of action and explosions and gorgeous costumes, with the bonus of classic characters to draw in the lit-loving crowd like yours truly. *wink* I was rather suprised that director Paul W. S. Anderson is perhaps best known for directing flicks like Resident Evil prior to this outing. He keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, a really enjoyable mash-up of historical drama and modern flash. Perhaps most shockingly, Anderson has a script to work with that was co-written by Andrew Davies -- yes, the Andrew Davies. I have NO idea what the heck Davies was doing "slumming" with this project (do you think he's depressed about Julian Fellowes's success with Downton Abbey? HA!!!), but perhaps he's to thank for any resemblance to Dumas's novel. And the score was FABULOUS -- written by Paul Haslinger, it had all of the pomp and drama one could wish for as the soundscape to an adventure of this kind.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the 1993 version of The Three Musketeers starring a pre-24 Kiefer Sutherland as Athos and a pre-crazy Charlie Sheen as Aramis -- and I think a part of the reason I liked this new version so much is because it seems to possess the same zany spirit as its predecessor, gleefully tweaking the story to suit its purposes while giving the audience plenty of swordfights and heroics. This movie was a lot of fun -- and while I don't think it *needs* to be franchised, I'm not going to complain if the sequel Buckingham practically begs for at the end of the film pans out -- because this motley crew was a whole lot of fun to spend an afternoon with. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

And because I CAN... :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Wonderland Creek
Bethany House (October 1, 2011)
Lynn Austin


For many years, Lynn Austin nurtured a desire to write but frequent travels and the demands of her growing family postponed her career. When her husband's work took Lynn to Bogota, Colombia, for two years, she used the B.A. she'd earned at Southern Connecticut State University to become a teacher. After returning to the U.S., the Austins moved to Anderson, Indiana, Thunder Bay, Ontario, and later to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

It was during the long Canadian winters at home with her children that Lynn made progress on her dream to write, carving out a few hours of writing time each day while her children napped. Lynn credits her early experience of learning to write amid the chaos of family life for her ability to be a productive writer while making sure her family remains her top priority.

Extended family is also very important to Austin, and it was a lively discussion between Lynn, her mother, grandmother (age 98), and daughter concerning the change in women's roles through the generations that sparked the inspiration for her novel Eve's Daughters.

Along with reading, two of Lynn's lifelong passions are history and archaeology. While researching her Biblical fiction series, Chronicles of the Kings, these two interests led her to pursue graduate studies in Biblical Backgrounds and Archaeology through Southwestern Theological Seminary. She and her son traveled to Israel during the summer of 1989 to take part in an archaeological dig at the ancient city of Timnah. This experience contributed to the inspiration for her novel Wings of Refuge.

Lynn resigned from teaching to write full-time in 1992. Since then she has published twelve novels. Five of her historical novels have won Christy Awards in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, and 2009 for excellence in Christian Fiction. And two of her inspirational fiction books were chosen by Library Journal for their top picks in 2003, and 2005. One of Lynn's novels has been made into a movie for the Hallmark Channel, starring actress Shirley Jones. Ms Jones received a 2006 Emmy Award nomination for her portrayal of Aunt Batty in the film.


Alice Grace Ripley lives in a dream world, her nose stuck in a book. But happily-ever-after life she's planned on suddenly falls apart when her boyfriend, Gordon, breaks up with her, accusing her of living in a world of fiction instead of the real world. Then to top it off, Alice loses her beloved job at the library because of cutbacks due to the Great Depression.

Fleeing small-town gossip, Alice heads to the mountains of eastern Kentucky to deliver five boxes of donated books to the library in the tiny coal-mining village of Acorn. Dropped off by her relatives, Alice volunteers to stay for two weeks to help the librarian, Leslie McDougal.

But the librarian turns out to be far different than she anticipated--not to mention the four lady librarians who travel to the remote homes to deliver the much-desired books. While Alice is trapped in Acorn against her will, she soon finds that real-life adventure and myster--and especially romance--are far better than her humble dreams could have imagined.

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pre-order alert!

Amazon knows me so well. :) Season 2 of Downton Abbey is now available for pre-order! The three-disc set is slated to release February 7, 2012. Masterpiece Classic will air Season 2 January 8 - February 19th.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: Baby, It's Cold Outside by Susan May Warren

Baby, It's Cold Outside
By: Susan May Warren
Publisher: Summerside Press
ISBN: 978-1-60936-215-7

About the book:

Five strangers with broken hearts. One raging blizzard. Baby, it's cold outside!

Dottie Morgan has no desire to share her home -- or her heart -- this Christmas. After all, her holiday spirit froze over when she lost her son in World War II. But when the blizzard of the decade descends on Frost, Minnesota, trapping Dottie in her home with four near strangers, she discovers that opening her door might also open her heart to a miracle...and a new reason to celebrate Christmas.


When war claimed her only son Nelson, Dottie Morgan grew cold and brittle, the physical embodiment of the name of her hometown of Frost, Minnesota. Nelson had been her salvation, a sign of redemption and forgiveness for the youthful folly that caused her to spurn her childhood sweetheart Gordy's declarations of love for adventure with a ne'er do well thug. With crushed dreams and a hopeless outlook, Dottie resigns herself to another isolated Christmas and a lonely future, sure that God and mankind has forgotten her -- but more than that, positive that she doesn't deserve to be found. But when a fast-moving snowstorm brings four lonely souls to her door for shelter, Dottie discovers that not only she stands in desperate need of a new beginning. Gordy hopes for one last chance to rekindle his romance with Dottie. Violet, a tomboy who understands cars better than men, served in the WAACs and now struggles to adjust to civilian life and her family's expectations. Jake, a handsome stranger newly-arrived in town, hopes for redemption and carries with him news that could destroy Violet's dreams. And Arnie, a lost and lonely boy, longs to be a hero for his single mother, their family bereft by his father's wartime death. Isolated in Dottie's Storm House, these five bruised and wounded near-strangers are forced to confront their deepest fears for a chance to grasp hold of the promise delivered to the world anew each Christmas -- hope birthed in a world craving a second chance at redemption.

Oh how I adored this book. Baby, It's Cold Outside is the perfect Christmas read, brimming with the warmth and nostalgia of the late 1940s, made all the richer by Warren's trademark and skillful handling of emotional issues that cut to the core of what it means to be a believer in a fallen world. This novel is saturated with hope and spiritual truths, capable of thawing the most jaded of hearts if you'll but crack open the door, much like Dottie does, and listen to the whispered promise that no matter where you're at, no matter the pain,
God has not forsaken you. With Dottie as the centerpoint, Warren speaks strongly to the idea of what makes a family -- not just those one is related to by blood, but family forged by the fires of shared experiences and faith. It's a powerful reminder to not overlook or forsake those who are different or whom tragedy has set apart from the "norm." The flirtatious song from which the novel takes its title dually speaks to the sweet, heart-stopping romances that Warren spins on the page, and on a deeper level as an invitation to take shelter in God's never-failing promises of redemption and second chances.

I am admittedly biased towards novels centered around World War II and its aftermath -- the 1940s is a decade rich with history and change, heartbreak and hope. Warren is adept at bringing this generation to life, with characters that feel wholly authentic to the time period, but vibrant and relatable thanks to their struggles with hopes and heartaches that are timeless and define what it means to be human. It seems that the 1940s is where Warren really shines when writing historicals. She has a gift for sprinkling her narrative with little details that bring the time period to life, from descriptions of clothing and food to the music and expressions that bring the characters and the time period to sparkling life on the page. And setting the story during the 1949 holidays is a well-played stroke of genius -- enough time has passed for the reality of the war's aftermath to settle into the characters' lives, and on the cusp of a new decade's worth of promise, Warren posits a question for the principle players, and by extension the reader: will the tragedy and heartbreak of the past define one's future, or will one allow God to bring beauty and hope forth from the ash heaps of shattered dreams?

I have to briefly speak to Violet and Jake's blossoming romance, as since it begins with letters it is one of my favorite storylines in the novel. With echoes of You've Got Mail (perhaps a more apt comparison would be In the Good Old Summertime, the musical remake of The Shop Around the Corner that released in 1949), Violet and Jake fell in love through letters, where the worst hurts of their wartime experiences were laid bare (only Warren adds the delicious twist of "stolen" identities). In the Storm House, they're faced with the choice -- is the hope of love worth the risk of possible rejection? The risk of being truly known? Warren writes some of the best, most sizzling romances in the business. The tension between Jake and Violet sends sparks off the page, and Jake's quiet heroism and vulnerability will melt your heart -- Warren's outdone herself with this hero. :)

More than a passing seasonal treat, Baby, It's Cold Outside is a novel saturated with rich spiritual truths and overflowing with the beauty of grace. Warren's novels never seem to fail to meet me where I'm at and encourage me when I need it most. The characters within this novel's pages are so heart-breakingly authentic, so fully-realized on the page they'll become your friends, and if you're like me you'll be loathe to finish the book's final pages. Warren's story will weave its way into your heart, leaving you warm with its gorgeously rendered illustration of the meaning of Christmas -- redemption for a fallen world, hope to broken souls. Like so many of Warren's books, this one is a gift to treasure.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside Contest!

Warm up to Christmas early this year with Susan May Warren's Baby, It's Cold Outside! To celebrate the release of her new Christmas book with Summerside Press, she and the publisher are giving away a Kindle Fire and hosting an early Christmas Party on Facebook!

Read what the reviewers are saying here.

One festive winner will receive:

  • A brand new Kindle Fire
  • Baby, It's Cold Outside by Susan May Warren
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. Giveaway ends on 10/26!

But, wait there’s more! Join Susan May Warren on 10/27 for merriment and a few early Christmas presents at her Baby, It's Cold Outside Christmas party! Grab your Christmas sweaters, socks and pj’s and join Susan and a few friends for a fireside chat about her recent books (Heiress & Baby, It’s Cold Outside), holiday traditions, favorite Christmas recipes, a trivia contest and more! Invite your friends and don’t miss the fun!

RSVP here and we'll see you on October 27th at 5 PM PST / 8 PM EST!

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

Remember, you must enter by clicking one of the above icons. Comments on this post DO NOT count as entries. Thanks and good luck!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Case Histories starts tomorrow

Tomorrow night Masterpiece Mystery kicks off a brand-new series -- Case Histories, starring Jason Isaacs (YUM!), based on the novels by author Kate Atkinson. Here's a bit about the series:

Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter, The Patriot) stars as private investigator Jackson Brodie, the tough former soldier and policeman with a heart of gold, in this series based on the acclaimed novels by Kate Atkinson. Brodie, haunted by a past family tragedy, struggles to balance his personal and professional life while coming to the rescue of the bereaved, the lost and the dysfunctional in the Scottish city of Edinburgh.
Here's the thing: I love Jason Isaacs. L-O-V-E him. But at the risk of shocking everyone reading this who is well acquainted with my Masterpiece fanaticism, I'm not planning weekly reviews of this series as it airs. (*gasp!* I know, right?)

Next Sunday sees the premiere of the ABC series Once Upon a Time, followed by the currently airing Pan Am, and I'm just more interested in watching those shows on Sunday night right now than a Jason Isaacs mystery show based on books I never heard of until I read the Masterpiece schedule. (Jason, I'll make it up to you someday, PROMISE!) :) Be sure to check back in and let me know how you like Case Histories if you watch it!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

More The Real Stewardesses of Pan Am

When I posted two of these videos last week, I didn't realize that ABC was making "The Real Stewardesses of Pan Am" a regular web series! I just finished watching episode three of Pan Am and should have my review up tomorrow. Until then, enjoy parts three and four in this series:

Part Three:

Part Four:

Let's talk about Snow White...

Next year will see the release of two fresh takes on the Snow White fairy tale -- releasing in March, Snow White (not the final title) stars Lily Collins as Snow White and Julia Roberts as her nemesis the wicked queen, while June will see the release of Snow White and the Huntsman starring Kristen Stewart (gag...sorry, reflex) as Snow White, Charlize Theron as the queen, and Chris Hemsworth (THOR! YAY!) as her "mentor" the huntsman.

With the first film releasing in six months (I can't WAIT to see a trailer), there have been a plethora of promo images popping up around the internet, so I thought it would be fun to compare the two. :)

First let's look at Snow White and the Huntsman, beginning with the official film synopsis:
In the epic action-adventure Snow White and the Huntsman, Kristen Stewart (Twilight) plays the only person in the land fairer than the evil queen (Oscar winner Charlize Theron) who is out to destroy her. But what the wicked ruler never imagined is that the one young woman threatening her reign has been training in the art of war with a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, Thor) who was dispatched to kill her. Sam Claflin (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) joins the cast as the prince long enchanted by Snow White’s beauty and power.
Sounds like a decidedly dark take on the familiar story, no? While I'm not all that thrilled with the prospect of Kristen Stewart in the lead role, perhaps she has the edge needed to make Snow White a warrior princess:

I absolutely LOVE the look of Charlize Theron as the Wicked Queen -- icy, menacing, I suspect she's relishing this role:

Now, the real reason I'm interested in this film are the two male leads (just being honest here). :) Chris Hemsworth wowed me in the the summer blockbuster Thor, and he looks to be exploring a grittier, more intense persona here that I can't wait to see on-screen:

Sam Claflin as "Prince Charmont" worries me just a bit. I thought he was adorable in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but with the look he's got in this promo photo he's nearly unrecognizable...can't wait to see how this works on-screen, though!

Snow White and the Huntsman also features appearances by Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Bob Hoskins, and Eddie Marsan in supporting roles.

Now, as much as I love Chris Hemsworth, at this point I'm a bit more excited about the untitled Snow White project coming in March. This just looks like FUN, people. :) Here's an excerpt from the official film synopsis:

In Relativity’s Untitled Snow White starring Oscar®-winner Julia Roberts and breakout star Lily Collins (The Blind Side), an evil Queen (Roberts) steals control of a kingdom, and an exiled princess (Collins) enlists the help of seven resourceful rebels to win back her birthright in a spirited adventure comedy filled with jealousy, romance, and betrayal that will capture the imagination of audiences the world over. The film also stars Armie Hammer (The Social Network) as the object of their affection, Prince Andrew Alcott, and Nathan Lane (The Birdcage) as the hapless and bungling servant to the Queen.
First let's look at Lily Collins as Snow White:

Now, I'm not familiar with Lily Collins, but I have to give her props because as far as I'm concerned, it takes real guts to wear a swan on your head and look happy about it. Here's another shot of Snow White with the dwarves:

Collins appears to have the looks, youth, and spunk to carry off the role quite well, I think! And I LOVE the colors, especially the way her dress pops in contrast to the dwarves' clothing. If nothing else this film promises to be a feast for the eyes.

In a departure from her leading lady/sweetheart-type roles, Julia Roberts is playing the wicked queen -- and I think she's going to be excellent. Love her gown, love the whole "look"!

While I'm unfamiliar with Armie Hammer (LOVE that name, makes me smile!), I am quite suitably impressed with his princely look:

NICE. I think we need a close-up, don't you? :) (Not trying to slight Chris Hemsworth, but sadly there just aren't that many promo photos of him in his hunstman garb around...yet.)

This Snow White also features Nathan Lane as the queen's lackey and Sean Bean as the king.

While I'm looking foward to both films -- my love of fairy tales knows no bounds, and I'll give just about any fresh take on a familiar classic a shot -- I have to say I'm a bit more excited about the color and sound of the March release than the more Lord of the Rings-style Huntsman project. My opinion is, of course, subject to change without notice. :) I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Titanic 2012

A few days ago the trailer for Julian Fellowes's (the genius behind Downton AbbeyTitanic miniseries surfaced online. The release coincides with the upcoming 100th anniversary of that tragic event. Here's a bit of info from ITV's website:

Oscar® award-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park; Downton Abbey) and a stellar cast lead by Linus Roach (Law and Order UK; Batman Begins) and Geraldine Somerville (Harry Potter; Survivor) collaborate in a spectacular retelling of the epic disaster.

Marking the 100th anniversary of the tragedy which continues to captivate the world’s imagination, Titanic follows four separate, yet intertwined, narratives building to a dramatic climax. With different lives united by a single horrifying event, the stories elegantly illustrate the contrast from the finery and opulence of first class passengers to the behind the scenes work and toil of the underprivileged. As the story unfolds, we gain a captivating insight into the world of 1912 and the tragic events leading up to their icy deaths. Produced by multiple BAFTA award-winning Nigel Stafford-Clark, Titanic is the global television event of 2012.
And here's the trailer:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Review: Beauty by Robin McKinley

By: Robin McKinley
Publisher: HarperTrophy
ISBN: 0-06-440477-3

About the book:

Sixteen-year-old Beauty has never liked her nickname. Thin, awkward, and undersized, with big hands and huge feet, she has always thought of herself as the plainest girl in her family -- certainly not nearly as lovely as her elder sisters, Hope and Grace. But what she lacks in looks, she makes up for in courage. When her father comes home one day with the strange tale of an enchanted castle in the wood and the terrible promise he has made to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows what she must do. She must go to the castle and tame the Beast -- if such a thing is possible...

Here is the unusual love story of a most unlikely couple: Beauty...and the Beast.


Everyone knows the story of Beauty and the Beast, right? A beautiful girl agrees to live as an unspeakable monster's prisoner in order to save her father's life -- and an unlikely friendship blossoms into a transformative romance. For her first novel, Robin McKinley took as her basis the traditional French fairy tale and breathed fresh life into the bones of the familiar story. In McKinley's hands Beauty's adventures are transformed into a gorgeously rendered coming-of-age tale, anointing the familiar story beats with a depth and emotional resonance that have made Beauty a modern-day classic.

The youngest of three daughters of a prosperous merchant, Beauty was christened Honour at her birth, and dissatisfied with that moniker, she adopted the name of Beauty -- and the childish joke stuck. Beauty, you see, is convinced that she's anything but -- a drab sparrow when compared to the ethereal beauty of her older sisters. She takes great satisfaction in being the brains of the family, immersing herself in her studies, enjoying an idyllic, privileged life until her father's sudden reversal of fortunes sends the family reeling. Relocating to a humble cottage on the edge of a mysterious forest where all is not as it seems, and the competent Beauty leads her family in adapting to their new surroundings -- until her father crosses a Beast, leaving Beauty with no choice but to sacrifice her freedom for her father's life. Ensconced in the Beast's castle, Beauty grows to flourish with the Beast's companionship. But unable to shake the pull of her former life, Beauty must decide if she possesses enough faith in herself to follow her heart and change the course of her life forever.

I adore fairy tales and retellings in all forms, from novels and short stories to films. Somehow I missed discovering the treasure that is McKinley's Beauty until my Children's Lit classes in college -- but the genius of McKinley's retelling lies in its timelessness and ability to speak to the reader no matter their age. Beauty is a relatively straightforward retelling, retaining the traditional tale's essence and expanding the character of Beauty into a confident, perspicacious teen on the cusp of womanhood, able to see everything in the world except herself with remarkable clarity. Beauty's relationship with the Beast grows at an achingly slow burn, their affection and trust blossoming like one of the castle's enchanted roses. McKinley's sparkling, lyrical prose spins a seductive web, and Beauty's journey to love her courtly Beast and in turn accept the gift of his adoration of and faith in her transforms the fairy tale into a wholly immersive, unforgettable reading experience. McKinley would go on to take greater risks in future fairy tale re-imaginings (i.e., Rose Daughter and Spindle's End), but Beauty, her first, holds a special place in my heart for its elegant simplicity and lilting, musical prose.

*Here's the link to my out-of-print edition (the "vintage" 1990s cover holds a special place in my heart). :)

The Avengers - first trailer!

The first official trailer for next summer's The Avengers just hit the internet, and can I just tell you I am SO. FLIPPING. EXCITED. :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Inspector Lewis: The Gift of Promise

Inspector Lewis concluded its fourth series on Masterpiece Mystery last night with The Gift of Promise -- an episode mostly notable, in my opinion, for a nicely colorful revelation about Hathaway's past. :) Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:
Local businesswoman and aspiring blackmailer Andrea De Ritter asks former MI5 chief Grace Orde to sign her new memoir, Lies and Secrets, to "Leon." She adds a cryptic note of her own — "Who killed Mary?" — then dispatches the book to her intended blackmail victim, Leon Suskind. But it is Andrea who becomes the victim...of murder. Deciphering Andrea's puzzling inscription and Lies and Secrets' connection to Leon is no easy task for Lewis and Hathaway, whose suspects include everyone from gifted children to gifted liars. "Some secrets stay secret," the former spy chief tells Lewis. But as the murderer strikes again and again, poisoning and stabbing in protection of a dangerous secret, Lewis is forced to take on nothing less than the British Secret Service itself. Kevin Whately, Laurence Fox and Anna Chancellor (Pride & Prejudice) star in The Gift of Promise.
Former MI-5 spymaster Grace Orde (Cherie Lunghi) is visiting Oxford signing copies of her tell-all, cleverly titled (HA) memoir Lies and Secrets. It is no surprise that the event attracts the well-read Hathaway's (Laurence Fox) interest -- what is surprising is that he reveals to Lewis that he was "talent-spotted" for MI-5 during his Cambridge days. (Hathaway, a spy? BE STILL MY HEART.) The book signing also draws the attention of local businesswoman Andrea De Ritter (Elize du Toit) who has an entirely different purpose in mind. De Ritter runs a foundation for gifted children, facilitating their entry into institutions of higher learning such as Oxford. For someone who claims to be rather philanthropic and high-minded, De Ritter has a disturbing interest in blackmail (and barely of-age students, but that's another story), sending a copy of Orde's memoir to Leon Suskin (David Westhead), her sometime business partner, with the cryptic message "Who killed Mary?" tucked inside. After having her troubled young lover Elmo Woodeson (Matt Orton) deliver the package, De Ritter turns up brutally bludgeoned to death in her home, all signs pointing to a lovers' spat. But the late businesswoman's attempts to earn some quick cash through blackmail unleashed a web of secrets decades in the making, ones that will require every ounce of Lewis (Kevin Whately) and Hathaway's investigative prowess to unravel in as the body count threatens to tick ever higher...

I am a total sucker for anything involving spies or mysteries that uncover decades-old secrets -- the potential for drama is through the roof and the stakes just seem higher somehow -- so on that score alone, The Gift of Promise delivers in spades. The revelation that Hathaway was approached during his time at Cambridge to join MI-5 made this episode ALONE, made all the more delicious by MI-5 veteran Orde's easy recognition of Hathaway's, suitability, shall we say? :) All of the unknown about Hathaway's past is what makes him such a maddeningly attractive character, and it is revelations like this that make me want to know it all. It's a Catch-22. I'm addicted to the enigma, aren't I? *wink*

Speaking of spies, it was wonderful to see Cheri Lunghi as Grace Orde. She is SUCH a classy actress, the perfect choice for my money to convey the combination of beauty and brains and overwhelming strength of will that one imagines it took to rise to Orde's position in MI-5. I first encountered Lunghi in the Horatio Hornblower episode The Duchess and the Devil, one of my favorites in that series, memorable for the fantastic way she played off a young Ioan Gruffudd. Her most recent Masterpiece appearance was in the Miss Marple episode A Murder is Announced.

While ultimately the "twist" involving Leon Suskin and his family was a bit predictable (more on that in a moment), I really enjoyed how the Suskin family -- for all appearances quite normal and ordinary, the parents excited to be blessed with an extraordinarily smart daughter -- hid such deadly secrets beneath the veneer of upper-middle class respectability. My subconscious apparently recognized David Westhead, playing Leon Suskin, from his appearances years ago in Foyle's War and Doctor Who (a stretch, I know, but my mind has done stranger things). Recognizing his on-screen wife Judith, however, was a no-brainer. Anna Chancellor has appeared in a TON of projects, but she will always and forever be Miss Bingley from "the" 1995 Pride and Prejudice. Most recently she appeared in the six-part miniseries The Hour, a drama about a newsroom in the 1950s (which I really should blog about, because I liked it!). I'm accustomed to Chancellor playing strong-willed, brassy characters, so seeing her play a character like Judith who was practically afraid of her own shadow (not without reason, given her past), was a surprisingly welcome change.

The Suskins' daughter Zoe is played by Lucy Boynton, who doesn't have many credits to her name -- yet -- but she could be one to watch. Prior to Inspector Lewis Boynton appeared in the absolutely delightful, go-rent-it-right-now-if-you've-never-seen-it film Ballet Shoes, followed by an appearance as Margaret Dashwood in the 2008 miniseries version of Sense and Sensibility. Zoe is an interesting character -- gifted with an intelligence well beyond her years, she's more than capable of Oxford academics but somewhat at a loss when it comes to relating to her older peers. The fact that she and Hathaway seem to understand each other so well (early on she pegs him as a "gifted child," which would explain A LOT about his personality *wink*) raises a TON of interesting suppositions about his own growing-up years. I really loved watching Fox and Boynton's scenes together -- I think they played off each other really well, Fox's gravity raising Boynton's maturity, and her youthfulness reminding viewers that yes, as unbelievable as it may be Hathaway was once a child. *wink*

If I could delve into spoiler-rich territory for a bit, let's discuss Lewis and Hathaway taking on MI-5 and long-buried secrets about "The Irish Troubles" from the 1980s. While I suspected that Judith Suskin had a past with Zoe's tutor Donald Voss (Mark Aiken), I little suspected how deep their connection ran. I assumed that Zoe was a product of an affair Judith was desperate to hide, when in reality Zoe was caught in the dangerous middle ground between her mother's past and present. The "disconnect," if you will, between Lewis and Hathaway trying to prevent more murders while Orde sits on vital knowledge -- and says nothing, because that is what spies do, apparently -- is maddening and really well-played by all involved. It was also quite eye-opening to watch the final confrontation play out, since I'm given to understand that Oxford police don't carry guns -- so there was an extra layer of tension in Lewis and Hathaway's face-off with Voss that isn't always present in American procedurals because of the weapons "equality" if you will.

These last four episodes of Inspector Lewis have been some of the most enjoyable of the series thus far, and set the bar extraordinarily high for future installments in the series. This is largely due to the banter between Lewis and Hathaway -- they've always had a brilliant partnership, but it feels like at long last really and truly comfortable with each other, freeing each up to give as good as they take. Lewis's relationship with Hobson (Clare Holman) has really blossomed during the last two episodes. Instead of rushing things, this series hit the re-set button, and Lewis is almost, rather adorably FLIRTATIOUS. The show has always been very honest and transparent about Lewis and Hobson's respective "baggage" -- these characters aren't going to do anything lightly, or so it seems, but the fact that each gives the other a "gleam in the eye" as the saying goes makes me so flippin' HAPPY. :)

I'm looking forward to revisiting this year's episodes on DVD -- especially since I do feel the explanation of the blackmail plot and Voss's past was somewhat...lacking or rushed, is perhaps the word (stupid broadcast edits). And I eagerly anticipate Inspector Lewis's return next year -- Lewis and Hathaway have a partnership that, as far as I'm concerned, must never die. :)