Saturday, March 31, 2012

Grimm 1.14: "Plumed Serpent"

"Plumed Serpent" is one of my favorite Grimm episodes this season -- twisty and inventive and just plain cool. :) According to the official website, this episode takes its inspiration from the tale "The Two Brothers," about two young men seeking their fortunes -- and along the way one facing down a dragon. Personally I thought this hour felt a bit like a story of knights of old battling dragons to save their lady fair -- almost Arthurian in its sensibility.

This episode opens with two men breaking into an warehouse to steal copper. It looks like someone else has beaten them to the score, and they briefly consider moving on when they hear coughing. WHY THEY MOVE TOWARDS THE NOISE IS BEYOND ME, as the spray from the coughing (ewww) is IGNITED, torching the two thieves to basically nothingness. When Nick (David Giuntoli) and Hank (Russell Hornsby) arrive at the scene, it's clear there is some sort of wildly powerful accelerant in play, which, upon analysis, turns out to be a mixture of HUMAN FAT AND METHANE. (This show can be so twisty, I love it!) This brings up an interesting question about the show -- how long has Nick been on the Portland police force, and did super-strange things like this only start happening after he "inherited" his Grimm abilities from Marie? And is anyone wondering about this uptick in bizarre besides Renard (Sasha Roiz)? LOL!

When a witness to the break-in comes forward, they ID a horribly scarred homeless guy as the possible perpetrator. This is conveniently followed by news of another break-in at the warehouse, so of course Nick & Hank & company go to investigate. There they encounter the homeless guy who Nick sees transform into a scaly, incredibly cool-looking humanoid dragon, who then coughs up spit and ignites it, nearly TORCHING PORTLAND'S FINEST! Now I'm not entirely sure how the liquid fat sample they collect at the scene leads them to identify the man as Frank Eberhart (Don Alder), but whatevs. Interestingly enough Frank was a welder, who comes from a long line of men who used fire throwers in the military (I LOVE how this show incorporates the fantastical into real life, especially in a case like this that works so well because it makes so much sense). Nick discovers that Frank has a daughter, Ariel (Danielle Panabaker), who works at a club where it turns out she's a -- wait for it -- FIRE DANCER (is this actually a thing at clubs? just wondering...).

At the club Nick's surprised to see Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), looking particularly dashing in a vest and tie (!!) -- apparently Monroe does cut loose every once in a while, hmmm? *wink* During Ariel's performance she transforms into a dragon creature -- Monroe helpfully explains that they are actually Daemonfeuers, dragonlike creatures who convert their fat into flame (and also have a thing for copper). They are very much throwbacks to the old days of chivalry and quests -- which explains why Frank went off the rails years earlier, when his wife died in a fire and he failed to protect her. Ariel is apparently really turned on by the idea of meeting a Grimm, and claims she has no idea where her father is -- so Nick gets the bright idea of following her home, where she basically mauls him (including a kiss!!), and then causes all sorts of problems by answering Nick's phone and talking to Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch). (Side note: the set decoration for Ariel's house was FANTASTIC -- seriously everything from the sets to the costumes on this show are top-notch. Come Emmy time I hope this show gets some recognition for its visual work!)

Now this is where things get interesting -- the first time I watched this episode (the initial broadcast), I thought Ariel was first and foremost a stalker type, who went after Nick because he rebuffed her advances. But upon a second viewing, it was her determination to give her father a final grand battle that really hit me. The whole culture of this type of Wesen is really well-realized, I think -- death with honor, the great battle is valued more than hurting Nick just because he's a Grimm. I guess the bottom line is, it was a rather welcome surprise that it was these creatures who posed the greatest threat to Juliette since Nick's become a Grimm. One expects his personal life to be targeted because of Wesen animosity/distrust of Grimms, but in this episode Nick is forced into a fight because he's a useful, worthy opponent, not because he's hated for who he is -- make sense?

When Nick discovers that Juliette has been kidnapped, he turns desperate, and does what he always does -- turns to Monroe for help. At this point in the episode I'm thinking it is past time for Monroe to maybe take a self-defense class or something. I mean I know he's a Blutbad and all, but if he's going to be constantly running interference for Nick, a Grimm, with unhinged Wesen-types, well I just think he needs to be prepared. LOL! So the dragon's lair is basically an abandoned train tunnel, which is really pretty perfect because it is creepy as heck -- LOVE THIS EPISODE'S ATMOSPHERE. Things I also love: 1) Monroe geeking out about old train equipment, 2) Monroe giving the speech about the knight slaying the dragon being the old archetype of the whole relationship magilla, or something like that, 3) Monroe being HEROIC -- you see the theme here, right? ANYTHING TO DO WITH MONROE.

While Nick is taking out Ariel's CRAZY FATHER, Monroe frees Juliette -- and I cannot even begin to tell you how much I loved it when Juliette decked Ariel -- this girl's got game, LOL! Also, it is way past time that Monroe finally got to meet Juliette -- and seriously Nick, it is ridiculous that he had to put his LIFE ON THE LINE before he could meet your girlfriend. *rollseyes* Silly Grimm.

So the final explosion Ariel sets off leaves everyone thinking she's dead -- but I love the reveal at the end that she isn't. This lady is just unhinged enough to make things interesting -- and she definitely deserves an encore appearance (hopefully in season two!). This episode brings the potential stress and dangers of Nick's identity as a Grimm back into the spotlight -- and even though Juliette has no idea who her boyfriend really is, getting kidnapped is upsetting enough that she's starting to question if she can deal with Nick's job long-term. While the idea of a break-up is EXTREMELY UPSETTING, I have a feeling the show is headed towards a killer season one cliffhanger. And given the consistent uptick in overall episode quality over the course of this past year -- that is something I'm really looking forward to. :)

Femnista: The Edwardian Era

The March/April issue of Femnista is now available, and it's all about the Edwardian Era. This issue features articles on everything from Downton Abbey to L.M. Montgomery to Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. My contribution is an article on two classic films based on the Titanic tragedy -- Titanic 1953 and A Night to Remember (1958), as well as the book by Walter Lord that inspired the latter film. Enjoy!

Click to launch the full edition in a new window
Self Publishing with YUDU

Read online or download this issue.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Hunger Games

I took the afternoon off today and finally went to see The Hunger Games. After finishing the novel (my review), I wasn't quite ready to rush to the theater -- I needed to "sit" on the story for a few days. I'm glad I waited -- this movie was a powerful book-to-screen adaptation, probably one of the best -- in that it is so faithful to the source material -- adaptations that I've ever seen. I suppose that is what you get when the author has a background in screenwriting and helps craft the screenplay (WIN). I'm not interested in rehashing the plot -- if you're unfamiliar with that you can check out my review. But there are points that I want to discuss, so let's go...

First of all, I LOVED the look of District 12. It's described as what once was Appalachia, remote, mountain living -- but Collins's prose is so terse, so matter-of-fact not a lot of time is spent dwelling on Katniss's home (it's just taken as a matter of fact). In the world of the film, District 12 is very Depression-era Appalachia, a bleak, rough existence. Evoking the feel of 1930s-era history is brilliant, a perfect fit for the hardscrabble, coal-mining existence that Katniss hails from. And when we're introduced to the gaudy, colorful world of the Capitol, the differences are so stark as to be horribly jarring. The line of demarcation between the haves of the Capitol and the have nots of District 12 was almost nauseating in a way.

I was incredibly impressed with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. I've only seen her previously in X-Men: First Class (where she played the young Mystique). At only twenty-one, Lawrence has an assurance and screen presence far beyond her years. In the novel we have the luxury of being completely immersed in Katniss's thoughts and feelings, thanks to the first-person narration. I found Lawrence to be more than up for the challenge of conveying the full scope of Katniss's emotions -- her determination, fear, uncertainty, and anger. And I love the fact that she isn't your typical stick-thin starlet. Physically she was completely believe able for me -- this was a girl at home in the woods, a huntress. Lawrence can be a very expressive actress, and at her age, with the screen presence she has now -- wow, talk about a bright future.

I should probably mention Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Now I've only read the first book, so I don't even understand how there can be such a thing as "Team Gale." So for a character I was already relatively ambiguous about, Hemsworth got the job done. Though I have to say it was rather jarring seeing him without his trademark blonde hair. Oh, one development I did like as far as Gale goes in this film is that we see his troubled reaction to watching the Katniss/Peeta relationship play out during the games, something not possible in the novel.

Now that I've got that Gale person out of the way, I can talk about Peeta. I was a little concerned based on the brief glimpses of Peeta in the previews that Josh Hutcherson would come across as a little too...wooden, I think is the word I'm looking for. I was pleasantly surprised to have my fears proven groundless. Through his performance, Hutcherson grows Peeta from the baker's son, almost shell-shocked at being chosen during the Reaping, to a charismatic, engaging and most importantly, in love, youth on the verge of losing the girl he loves to the Games. I've read several reviews that feel the Katniss/Peeta screen relationship was lacking. Now while I would've always loved to see more of their slow-burning relationship, what we're given on-screen worked extraordinarily well for me. The film allows us to see Katniss's gradually dawning realization that for some reason beyond her comprehension, particularly in the context of the horrible situation they're in, Peeta matters. And Peeta quite frankly adores her, a fact that Hutcherson conveys extraordinarily well.

District 12's Games organizer is the garish Effie Banks, and Elizabeth Banks does a terrific job portraying all of her absurd extremes. And her clothes -- oh they were fantastically realized. I love love loved Lenny Kravitz as the designer Cinna (gold eyeliner and all). He was grounded, as compassionate as can be given the situation -- I was quite happy with the film's delivery of the Cinna/Katniss friendship. And his costumes were extraordinary -- girl on fire, indeed. But even more interesting to me, though, was Woody Harrelson's performance as 12's sole previous victor, the drunken Haymitch. I really liked Harrelson's performance -- in the novel, Katniss is frustrated or hostile to Haymitch much of the time, so I had a hard time getting a good sense of his character, his thoughts and perspective. And Harrelson riddles Haymitch with self-loathing, a quality he gradually puts aside as the realization that he might actually be able to save Katniss and Peeta penetrates his alcohol-clouded brain. At least that's how it hit me.

EDIT: I can't believe I forgot to mention Stanley Tucci's performance as Caesar Flickerman, the interviewer and Games commentator. His mannerisms, his blue hair -- oh he was hilarious, and pretty much pitch-perfect for the role. The periodic commentary he shared with Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith was yet another way the filmmakers took the narrative outside of Katniss's head and let us see the Games from the outside in, as it were.

Witnessing Haymitch's behind-the-scenes efforts on behalf of his tributes was one of the "added" scenes in the film, things Katniss could never know because she was locked in the arena. Frankly I thought peeking "behind the curtain" into the making and running of the Games was really pretty fascinating, and for me it succeeded in making the awful horror of the event more impactful, because of the clinical, calculated manner in which the Games are staged. Since I have yet to read Catching Fire, without giving away too many spoilers is the Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley -- WHAT A BEARD) introduced? I can't remember him being mentioned by name at all. Anyways -- I thought Crane's added scenes with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) were really well-done, particularly his realization at the end of the film that he isn't above being a pawn in the Capitol's plans any more than tributes. I also assume that Snow becomes a much bigger player in the second and third novels -- thanks to Sutherland's performance I already hate him. Sutherland was chilling.

I've touched on the development of the Peeta/Katniss relationship in the arena. The second most important event, to my mind anyway, is Katniss's friendship with the District 11 girl tribute Rue (Amandla Stenberg). Stenberg was SO GOOD, the ideal actress to bring Rue's vulnerability to life. Stenberg and Lawrence's scenes broke my heart, particularly her death and Katniss's reaction -- Lawrence's grief was wholly believable and gut-wrenching. Question, to those who've read the books -- is it revealed that Katniss's care for Rue after her death sparks a riot in District 11? Irregardless I thought that was a powerful scene to include in the film, in how it suggests that Katniss (and later Peeta) fan the flames of discontent in the districts.

At the moment I really can't think of another film that was guaranteed blockbuster status that was filmed without much of the gloss and glamour you expect from Hollywood. Director Gary Ross and his team have imbued every aspect of this film with a sense of gritty realism and authenticity, helped by a lot of handheld camera work that adds urgency and energy to sequences, visually mimicking Collins's high-energy prose. Even the film's score (provided by James Newton Howard) eschews the tendency of blockbusters-in-the-making to go for loud and bombastic. The cues evoking the mountainous, folk music traditions of Katniss's home are gorgeous, a stark contrast to the dangers facing her and Peeta in the arena. Like the novel, watching The Hunger Games is an unsettling experience -- I think the film hit me even a tick harder than the  book did, which I thought was an interesting and honestly somewhat unexpected reaction. It isn't the level of violence -- that's certainly there, but honestly there could have been more, all things considered. I think being outside of Katniss's head, seeing her in this unfathomable situation, seeing the people gleefully betting on a tribute's odds in the Capitol, seeing the Gamemaker's employees clinically raining horror down on the heads of survivors in the arena -- seeing all of this drove home the novel's ripping condemnation of our voyeuristic, desensitized society in a fresh, powerful manner.

The Hunger Games is really an extraordinarily well-done adaptation, a prime example, I think, of thoughtful filmmaking. This is a team that cares about the source material, and I dearly hope they carry this passion through to the sequels. I feel like this post only touches on what I could say about this film, what worked, what was changed -- but that would require more thought (and most likely additional viewings). However, if there's anything I haven't touched on (I try so hard to be thorough, ha!) that you'd like to try and discuss please feel free to mention that in the comments.

Grimm 1.13: "Three Coins in a Fuchsbau"

"Three Coins in a Fuchsbau" was an interesting Grimm episode in that it sought to (finally) give some historical context to the idea of Grimms and allowed a deeper glimpse into Nick's own history. The episode takes its inspiration from a story called "The Master Thief," though I would argue that the script's relation to the fairy tale (originally Norwegian, apparently) is slim at best. The episode opens with three shady-looking eastern European types prepping for what turns out to be a jewelry heist (the Wesen version of Ocean's 11 -- ha!). They are Shakals, which is this show's version of jackals, apparently, known as jewelry robbers and infant eaters (WHY these two go together, I have no idea). Anyways, the proprietor of the jewelry store is some old guy named Sam, who seems almost resigned to the robbery -- like he expected it for some reason. He makes it into his vault just as the thieves break in, but hearing them set to work drilling through the vault door Sam goes for his most valuable possession -- three gold coins, which he promptly swallows, foiling the robbers.

When Nick (David Giuntoli) and Hank (Russell Hornsby) arrive at the scene, they discover the door of the safe blown in, and the mangled body of the store owner inside. The use of explosives leads them to conclude that this is more than just your garden variety smash-and-grab -- perhaps they were after a specific item(s)? Meanwhile, back at Criminal HQ, we learn that the target of the robbery was the coins -- and since they aren't with the rest of the loot, our criminal trio starts to turn on each other. The smarter crook, Soledad (Jordi Caballero) takes off, leaving his compatriots to dance around the trust issue when they discover a mysterious third presence in the house that leads them to end up shooting each other (BECAUSE THEY ARE THAT DUMB). The new guy is a Wesen Hawkman, actually called in the Grimm-verse a Steinadler. This is exciting because the Steinadler is played by Titus Welliver, and while I really have no idea who he is HE LOOKS SUPER FAMILIAR so yay for that. 

So the medical examiner discovers the coins in Sam's stomach, and seriously why is no one talking about how friggin' LARGE those suckers are? I could see swallowing something penny-sized buty these coins...yeesh! Anyways, Hank is strangely eager to take the coins for evidence, and the M.E. is strangely upset to see them out of her control -- OOOOHHH, GRIMM-ISH ARTIFACT ALERT! So Hank keeps acting progressively weirder, and while all of that is going on he & Nick track the robbers' car to their hideout where they discover the Steinadler, who goes by the name of Farley -- and since he's in a house with two dead bodies AND Nick sees him transform, he gets hauled in for questioning.

Hank is getting SO irrational Nick finally sends him home, and at this point I'm thinking he (meaning Nick) is being inordinately SLOW because you have a Wesen on your hands, how about taking a closer look at the coins at the center of this case? But whatever. So Renard (Sasha Roiz) shows up in a nice suit (WIN) and HE takes the coins, much to Hank's chagrin, and we see him make a phone call where he identifies the them as the Coins of Zakynthos, which is apparently a Greek island. BACK TO FARLEY: He's very much aware that Nick is a Grimm, and unlike 99% of the Wesens Nick's met thus far he seems strangely okay with that. Apparently Steinadlers are known for being "heroic and noble," but at the same time you can't really trust them?? TALK ABOUT A MASS OF CONTRADICTIONS! Farley very helpfully explains the origin of the coins (which you can read all about here), but to make a long story short the coins go all the way back to the ancient Greeks, and whoever has them in their possession becomes a creepily charismatic leader (no surprise the last place the coins were seen was the Third Reich and we all know how THAT turned out).

And this is where things get REALLY interesting -- since World War II, Grimms have been the "keepers of the coins" since they are somehow magically less susceptible to their influence, and this is great because it gives Nick's status as a Grimm some historical context that personally I think has been a bit lacking. All of this is very fascinating but them Farley drops a BOMB -- the last Grimm to protect the coins was killed for them 18 years ago, leading Farley to lose the woman he loved because she left him to raise her sister's kid. THIS IS NICK'S LIFE STORY! SHOCK! AWE! MORE SHOCK! This does lead to a nice scene with Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch) where Nick discusses his inner conflict over this revelation -- which leads me to once again gush about how much I love Nick & Juliette as a couple. If this show breaks them up IT WILL BREAK MY HEART.

When in doubt Nick turns to Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), who is is usual adorable self as he continues to geek out over being allowed in Aunt Marie's trailer/Grimm archive (that is never going to get old). Monroe fills Nick in on exciting things like Shakals and Steinadlers, particularly the latter's ambiguity when it comes to things like loyalty and SIDES! As if Monroe geeking out over Marie's antique video projector isn't enough, THEN the show gives me a shirtless Renard scene as he dreams about being the fearless leader of an adoring crowd. Not really into the totalitarian implications there, but Renard is susceptible to the coins so I will cut him a bit of slack. *wink* While Renard is being all fearless leader-y, Nick and Hank track down the missing Soledad where some paperwork clues them into the fact that the coins aren't safe for human handling because they are POISONOUS! Which leads them to get all "WE MUST SAVE OUR CAPTAIN!"

This culminates in a fairly suspenseful confrontation in a creepy, dimly lit parking garage as Nick and Hank, with the now-free Farley's assistance, race to stop a disguised Soledad from attacking Renard and stealing the coins. Of course Nick as an ulterior motive since Farley clued hm into the fact that Soledad was in on his parents' not-so-accidental deaths. Between Nick going after Soledad and later confronting Farley (who stole the coins in the confusion of the garage melee), he's really stepped things up in the charisma department. He's got a ways to go but at least Giuntoli is giving me an increasing feeling that Nick is growing into this famous "Grimm heritage," learning how to control and leverage it, and I like that. Of course hiding the coins in the back of a cabinet in Marie's trailer, which seems like the MOST UNSECURE LOCATION IN THE WORLD is a bit of a step backwards, but whatever. Logic is not always this show's strongest point. *wink* Oh, and the revelation that Hitler was some sort of Wesen? In the context of this show I thought that worked really well, driving home the sense that Grimms have been fighting evil like that throughout the centuries. Thoughts?

Great Expectations begins this weekend!

Wow, it's been a while since we've talked about Masterpiece Classic, hasn't it? After taking the month of March off for repeats and fundraising, Masterpiece Classic returns this weekend with a two-part, brand-new production of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Here's a bit about the production:
Pip, an orphan boy, meets an escaped convict, a mentally unhinged rich woman, and a bewitching girl, and is bestowed great expectations of wealth from a mysterious patron, in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. Starring Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, Bleak House) as Miss Havisham, one of Dickens' most haunting and enduring creations, Great Expectations unites renowned actors David Suchet (Hercule Poirot) and Ray Winstone with emerging talents Douglas Booth and Vanessa Kirby. Adapted by Sarah Phelps (Oliver Twist), Great Expectations celebrates Charles Dickens in the year that marks the bicentenary of his birth. 
Now, hopefully this won't be *too* controversial, but here goes nothing -- I'm not entirely sure if I'm going to be reviewing this immediately after its broadcast. I just feel like I have SO MUCH GOING ON. *sigh* So please bear with me. :)

Oh! And here's a trailer (love the use of "Carol of the Bells") --

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: In the Arms of Immortals by Ginger Garrett

In the Arms of Immortals (Chronicles of the Scribe #2)
By: Ginger Garrett
Publisher: David C. Cook
ISBN: 978-0-7814-4888-8

About the book:

"The time of the angels is over. The age of fear has begun."

Sicily, 1347. It starts with a strange ship in the village harbor. That night an old man falls ill...then the baker's wife...then a street urchin. By morning half the townspeople are dead and more are dying -- horribly. Civic order breaks down. Wolves move in from the countryside. And no one has a clue what is happening or how to stop it. Not the local priest. Not the rich baron. Not the baron's proud daughter, nor the powerful knight who loves her. Certainly not the outcast healer whom many call a witch.

Only the Destroyer and the unseen Watchers know the real story...along with an unwilling visitor from another time. Mariskka recognizes the Black Death that will soon decimate Europe. But she has no voice to speak, no way to help...until she dares open her pain-hardened heart to the unfathomable truth.

Richly imagined, tautly suspenseful, and deeply moving...another heart-stopping historical thriller from the author of In the Shadow of Lions.


It has been far too long since I've lost myself in the pages of a Ginger Garrett novel. In the Arms of Immortals is Garrett's second novel that examines critical turning points in medieval history that changed women's lives forever. In the Shadow of Lions touched on the untold story of Anne Boleyn's faith, and her role in making the scriptures available in an English translation, threatening the religious establishment and allowing individuals to discover and grapple with the tenets of their faith without relying on the church as an intermediary. Immortals takes readers back to 14th-century Sicily, a time when women were granted no voice in the church and introduces Gio, an outcast healer wounded and misunderstood by the very institution that should have heard and protected her, and Panthea, a spoiled baron's daughter whose secret struggles threaten her very soul. When plague arrives in Sicily, and illness which brings a horror and devastation the like of which has never been seen before, Gio and Panthea are faced with a choice -- how do you live when there's no answer to the whys, when God seems silent, and devastation rains down on saint and sinner alike?

Garrett retains the modern-day framing device used in her previous standalone Scribe novel, that of an unsaved woman being given a reprieve through an angelic Scribe's story. Mariskka, briefly introduced in the first novel, is thrust back in time to witness the story that could change her life, but she is powerless to speak once she finds herself in 1347 Sicily, knowing it lies on the precipice of ruin thanks to the coming plague. Mariskka's awakening is woven throughout Gio and Panthea's stories, the latter two women from vastly different backgrounds who unexpectedly find themselves drawn together at the worst time in their city's history, faced with the same choice -- believe a lie, or reach for grace?

Both Gio and Panthea are fascinating studies in the roles of women in the fourteenth-century -- how they were perceived, the roles they were expected to fill, and the cost of testing societal boundaries. Gio, once an innocent, told a lie to save her virtue, a decision that costs her dearly, seeing her shunned by the very one who could have helped her most. Panthea's struggles are more subtle, since as a daughter of privilege she's wanted for nothing, so the threat of her destruction stems from a most insidious enemy -- one's thoughts. Garrett's characterizations are absolute gems, her poetic prose bringing to vastly different but equally passionate women to life on the cusp of one of history's greatest tragedies. These are deeply flawed, realistic women whose respective journeys will break your heart and challenge your faith. Through them Garrett confronts perhaps the greatest lie that has attacked women since the dawn of time -- the lie that we're not enough, good enough, pure enough, capable enough with the reality that a merciful, loving God calls us more than conquerors, if we but accept His freely proffered gift of grace.

Garrett is such a refreshing voice in the inspirational fiction market. Immortals features her lyrical prose, a fast-paced, impeccably-plotted storyline, the trademark way she blurs the line between the physical and spiritual realms, resulting in a page-turning, wholly absorbing read. Her passion for speaking to the role of women in history -- particularly as relates to the unsung heroines of the Christian faith -- is a powerful reminder of the legacy of blood and tears and sacrifice on which my own faith rests. Gio's experience in particular is a masterful examination of the age-old question, "why does God allow suffering?", compassionately daring to suggest that instead we should be asking how shall we live? how shall we choose to exercise our faith in a fallen, messed-up world? This is thought-provoking, challenging, inspiring fiction at its finest.

Necessary Roughness returns in June!

This makes me SO HAPPY. The first preview for the second season of Necessary Roughness just came through my Facebook newsfeed -- the show returns in June!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In the Arms of Immortals book trailer

The subject of book trailers came up at work this afternoon (bad ones), so I thought I'd share the trailer for my current read, In the Arms of Immortals by Ginger Garrett, since I think it is one of the better book trailers out there (review coming soon!) --

What do you like to see in book trailers? Personally voiceovers drive me up a tree since a good 90% of them are SO BAD. But I'm open to being convinced, so feel free to leave me links! *wink*

Downton Arby's

This needed to be shared...

Monday, March 26, 2012

John Carter

Yesterday afternoon I went to see John Carter. I'm a sucker for big sci-fi epics, and was quite curious as to what this film was about, exactly, because I thought Disney did such a crap job marketing it. Seriously, the studio trailers told you nothing of substance which is a real shame because not only was the movie pretty good, but apparently this property is arguably the grandfather of modern science fiction (the Edgar Rice Burroughs series of Mars novels first appeared in 1912) -- and I can't be the only massive Star Wars fan that had never heard of this, right? The shoddy marketing campaign for this film -- inexplicably refusing to capitalize on the story's place in the canon of classic science fiction -- makes absolutely no sense. And I have to think that is where a large portion, if not most, of the blame lies for the movie's poor performance at the box office. Because John Carter was a pretty entertaining flick, which surprised me after the ho-hum promotional push.

All of that said, I'm not going to be able to resist making this review a little tongue-in-cheek, as I found some of the spectacle rather humorous. But I don't view that as a detraction -- it reinforced by overal favorable impression of the film as being fun...because after all I don't watch as many films as I do to think (all of the time, anyways, ha!).

As the movie opens it introduces us to a Mars that is apparently a wasteland, with only two proper cities on the entire planet. The first is led by some guy named Sab Than who looks remarkably like Dominic West (ha!), which led to my first "what the heck is doing in this movie?!" moment. Now for some inexplicable reason West has always rather creeped me out, which served him well in this role as Sab Than is CRAZY and power-mad. So Sab Than is picked to possess the magic blue electric energy weapon (seriously I have no clue what it was called) by the lead bald guy in a fluffy silver-blue robe called Matai Shang (Mark Strong). And this is the point where I start to bemoan Strong's career choices yet again, since this is a new version of the same villain he's played in at least seven films since 2007. Mark, you ARE BETTER THAN THIS! *sigh* Apparently Matai's character is something called a "Thern," which is some sort of legendary group that likes to go around facilitating the destruction of worlds (boo on them!).

So there you have the Mars (I just can't call Mars "Barsoom," sorry Burroughs) set-up, now cut to America where we meet John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is being followed by vacant-eyed men in suits and then ends up DEAD (or DOES HE??) after summoning his favorite nephew, Edgar Burroughs (Daryl Sabara, Spy Kids!), who turns out to be his heir. Edgar or Ned, as his uncle likes to call him, is given John's SUPER SECRET DIARY and this is where things start to get interesting. Carter was a Civil War veteran, very much a man without a country or cause because DANG IT, he's been burned by the world and his wife & kid are dead and WHY SHOULD HE CARE ABOUT PEOPLE ANYMORE?! (Side note: the Ned scenes in New York have something of a steam punk vibe to them after seeing the Martian technology...nice contrast.) Anyways, to make a long story short, John ends up in a cave full of gold which turns out to be some sort of alien way-station, because he kills one of those Thern peeps and then accidentally uses the pretty medallion the bald guy was carrying to transport himself to Mars.

Now I'm going to cut John a little bit of slack here, because when he is transported to Mars (only it takes him quite a while to realize he's on another friggin' PLANET...the four-armed green people weren't a big enough clue), he acquires the awesome super power of being able to LEAP TALL BUILDINGS IN A SINGLE BOUND. Wait...there are only two cities...scratch the tall buildings part. *wink* (In 1912 fantastic leaping may have been cutting edge, who am I to judge?) So he hooks up with Tharks (the aforementioned four-armed green aliens), whose king Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Defoe) takes a liking to him, sort of as in the vein of a royal pet (that doesn't go over well). Now there is all sorts of clan in-fighting as Tars is faced with insurrection, and that's on top of family issues as his unacknowledged daughter Sola (voiced by Samantha Morton) is a clan outcast for holding radical views like NICENESS.

So John jumps around a lot, makes friends with with the giant bobble-headed dog-like creature (who is hilarious, and surprisingly useful), and then he meets Dejah (Lynn Collins), the warrior/professor-type princess of Helium, the "other" city that has been trying to holdout against Sab-Dominic-West-Than, and SPARKS FLY! But before I can talk about SPARKS, I should probably mention that Dejah's father Tardos Mor (Ciaran Hinds -- really! it's hilarious!) wants to marry her off to Sabs, because he is dopey enough to buy into the idea that an arranged marriage will buy lasting peace. Tardos is followed around by Kantos Kan, who is none other than James Purefoy! My reaction: 1) James what the HECK are you doing in this movie? 2) Why isn't this movie ABOUT you? 3) Thank goodness he gets one scene where he can be adorably snarky as ONLY PUREFOY CAN.

Look! It's a Purefoy!
Back to SPARKS. I really liked Kitsch and Collins on-screen. Kitsch was an interesting factor...there's something about him that holds me back from being completely over-the-moon for him, but his voice -- gah!!! There are moments when it takes on this wonderful gravelly quality and I MELTED. And I liked this touch of gentleman-like charm Kitsch actually manages to convey occasionally...helped keep Carter somewhat grounded as a 19th-century hero. He even goes for the angst factor, which comes up during his transformation into a Martian hero, and while it isn't the best on-screen angst I've seen it certainly isn't the worst. One has to give Kitsh credit, he really seemed to throw himself whole-heartedly into this project. As for Dejah -- while I can't speak to how Collins's interpretation compares to the source material, she is very much in the vein of Princess Leia -- smart, sassy, and capable (and occasionally sporting a completely ridiculous wardrobe!).

Dejah is of course the impetus for Carter to START CARING ABOUT PEOPLE AGAIN...I mean MARTIANS...and DO something with his life, all in the best heroic journey/science fiction/adventure story tradition. I really liked the world-building here -- Mars is appropriately bleak and desolate, with pops of color in its cities and the inhabitants' clothing. I even rather liked the green Thark aliens. :) The costumes were this interesting hybrid of minimalist futuristic and ancient Roman soldier garb, which was rather interesting because because it was unexpected (Purefoy as an alien/Roman soldier? Yes, I'll take it.). Two of the three writers have Pixar work in their history, which perhaps explains the well-paced action and the overall feeling of energy that pervades the film. Yes, it has its cheesy moments, but at least it has fun with them. :) And I loved Michael Giacchino's score -- big, sweeping, at times romantic -- it was grand.

John Carter clocks in at a little over two hours, but director Andrew Stanton keeps the action moving at a brisk pace so there were no apparent lags in the forward momentum, for me at any rate. Knowing next to nothing about the specifics of the storyline, I was pleasantly surprised and entertained. It is unfortunate that those with no knowledge of the film's antecedents are probably going to feel like it is derivative (no thanks to the WORTHLESS MARKETING), but just knowing that this series of stories inspired countless writers and films made me appreciate Burroughs's influence in a way I'd never bothered to think of before. And the end of the film was absolute PERFECTION for a romantic sap like me. :) SPOILERS: Knowing that Carter spent over ten years desperately search for a way to return to Mars and his ONE TRUE LOVE just killed me. Kitsch sold me on Carter's single-minded quest. Gotta love a man who doesn't let a little thing like love separated by time and space hold him bac. *wink* All told, a lot more fun than I ever expected. :)

Doctor Who Season 7 teaser!

Well, well, well, look what's arrived -- the first teaser for Doctor Who Season 7, slated to air in the US on BBC America sometime later this year.

The Chase by DiAnn Mills

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Chase
Zondervan (March 27, 2012)
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 or find her on Facebook at


To the FBI it's a cold case. To Kariss Walker it's a hot idea that could either reshape or ruin her writing career. And it's a burning mission to revisit an event she can never forget. Five years ago, an unidentified little girl was found starved to death in the woods behind a Houston apartment complex. A TV news anchor at the time, Kariss reported on the terrifying case. Today, as a New York Times bestselling author, Kariss intends to turn the unsolved mystery into a suspense novel. Enlisting the help of FBI Special Agent Tigo Harris, Kariss succeeds in getting the case reopened. But the search for the dead girl's missing mother yields a discovery that plunges the partners into a witch's brew of danger. The old crime lives on in more ways than either of them could ever imagine. Will Kariss's pursuit of her dream as a writer carry a deadly price tag? Drawing from a real-life cold case, bestselling novelist DiAnn Mills presents a taut collage of suspense, faith, and romance in The Chase.

Watch the book trailer!

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

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games Trilogy #1)
By: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0-439-02352-8

About the book:

Winning means fame and fortune.
Losing means certain death.
The Hunger Games have begun...

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to death before -- and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.


All Katniss Everdeen has ever known is the poverty and hunger of life in the Seam, the poorest part of District 12 in the country of Panem. Panem rose from the ashes of what was once North America, now a shining Capitol that wields an iron control over its twelve districts, with an empty thirteenth left wasted as a warning to any who dream of defying the Capitol's rule. The hardscrabble existence of life in one of the poorest districts robbed Katniss of her beloved father, forcing her into the role of family breadwinner through illegal hunting and trade. When Reaping Day arrives -- the annual event when one boy and one girl are randomly chosen to fight in the Hunger Games -- Katniss's world is rocked when her beloved sister Prim is selected as tribute. With no thought but saving her sister, Katniss volunteers to take her place, catapulting her into the national spotlight. The Games are a brutal reminder of the Capitol's iron control, a world Katniss is determined to survive. In a world that seeks to strip individuals of their humanity and individuality, a world that demands unquestioning obedience and conformity, can a mere girl with an unquenchable fire in her survive? For Katniss is determined not to go quietly into that dark night that the Games demands...

The Hunger Games is a wholly absorbing novel of one girl's fight to survive against a system that has reduced her existence, her hope of a future, to a mere "entertainment." Through Collins's relentless, tense, urgent prose we're thrust deep into Katniss's point-of-view. She's an interesting first person narrator -- because of her youth it is perhaps tempting to question the reliability of her viewpoint. But in the end it is the fact that she is such a mass of contradictions -- mature beyond her years as the family provider, jaded, a hardened survivalist, yet uncertain of her own self-worth and unaware of the effect she has on others -- that in the end is what allows one to fully appreciate the horrific implications of the Hunger Games. For Katniss hails from a future where violent death is the biggest entertainment and the greatest weapon the government possesses, where a tribute is reduced to a pawn, their innocence subjugated to society's bloodlust. And the greatest risk Katniss can take is opening her heart to the realization that she is worthy of a love beyond comprehension -- and the greatest rebellion is daring to dictate one's last breath.

Collins's first venture into the world of Panem and its districts is a completely absorbing read, a wild, pulse-pounding ride that grabbed me by the throat and didn't release me until the final page. And even then, the power of this story remained. Collins's invention of the Hunger Games is a searing indictment of our self-gratifying, 24-hour news cycle, reality entertainment obsessed culture, wrapped in a relentlessly thrilling package. There is no time wasted diving deeply into the bleak world of District 12 -- this is a new reality that the narrative drives us to accept in the same manner Katniss and her peers matter-of-factly accept the requirement of tribute and teenage death matches as a simple fact of life. The shock is jarring, Collins daring readers to examine our own culture and its -- dare we think it -- similarities to Panem in the objectification of human life through our entertainment, both reality and scripted, that sterilizes the cost of war, reducing human pain to an arena event.

For all the horror of the harsh reality Collins presents, it's shot through with rays of hope, unexpected moments of light that shine all the brighter for the bleak, repressive regime of Panem with its callous disregard for basic humanity. Peeta, Katniss's fellow tribute from District 12, is a gorgeously-rendered example of humility, self-sacrifice, and love in a world gone mad -- a love so pure, so without reservation, that Katniss simply cannot comprehend it when they first meet. Of course, by focusing on Katniss's coming-of-age journey -- and by association Peeta's as well -- Collins never really fleshes out the identities of their fellow tributes. By making Katniss and Peeta the most sympathetic characters, the ones who capture readers' hearts, it's tempting to forget the cost of their victory -- until we see it etched in the emotional wounds of their hollow victory.

The Hunger Games is a challenging, thought-provoking thrill ride. A gripping, well-plotted novel that's nearly flawless in its execution, in its ability to draw you into its world, make you emotionally invested in the leads, and then make you question how you view this story, how many steps our own culture is from the world of the Games, because after all, haven't we been there before with Rome and her coliseum? Bring on the sequel!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Grimm 1.12: "Last Grimm Standing"

This episode of Grimm is one of my favorites. :) "Last Grimm Standing" is based on the story "Androcles and the Lion," though personally I think it owes more to Fight Club or The Hunger Games. This hour features one of the show's most chilling openings -- a scruffy, filthy stranger is tracking something (or someone?) through the woods. He sort of reminded me of a Ringwraith. This leads us to an elderly retired couple, very much in love, are preparing for their evening meal when the husband goes to investigate the reason their dog won't shut up. Just outside the home the husband comes upon a wesen (creature), which looks like some sort of gigantic walking lizard/alligator hybrid. The creature ends up basically disemboweling the husband and then cutting the wife's throat before frantically feeding on their still-raw dinner steaks. When the foreboding tracker shows up he's brought friends on horses, and they lasso the wesen and drag him into the woods -- very much a Western-style lynching -- transforming into the horrified, screaming face of a man.

When Nick (David Giuntoli) and Hank (Russell Hornsby) arrive on the scene the sloppy nature of the murders leaves them puzzled -- what kind of killer just doesn't care about the evidence he leaves behind? And what the heck is with the horse tracks? While Nick and Hank work on puzzling this out, Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch) discovers an engagement ring tucked in Nick's dresser -- the look on her face just kills me. I LOVE Nick and Juliette as a couple -- even when Nick's "charisma" as a Grimm is somewhat lacking, the sense of genuine affection between him & Juliette keeps me hooked. Of course this ring was purchased pre-Grimm, so Nick has some things to figure out if he's going to stay in this relationship and keep Juliette safe.

The prints at the crime scene turn out to belong to an ex-con and boxer named Dimitri (Jeremiah Washburn), and on a visit to his parole officer, Leo Taymor (Nick Chinlund), Nick and Hank learn that Dimitri missed his last check-in and has in fact been AWOL for a few weeks. One of Dimitri's friends -- a wesen who is, I kid you not, according to the NBC website a "Dickfellig" (rhino creature) -- takes the investigators to their usual running trail, which just happens to be a few miles from the crime scene and riddled with horse tracks. While Nick and Hank track Dimitri's car to an abandoned warehouse, the other boxer (I can't bring myself to use his wesen name more than once!) is taken by the Grimm version of Ringwraiths. AS IF ALL THIS WASN'T INTERESTING ENOUGH, the warehouse is apparently serving as some sort of arena, decorated with Latin phrases on the floor and walls and blood-spattered EVERYWHERE.

Now no surprise Nick and Hank don't speak Latin, but Renard (Sasha Roiz) does -- and HOW FREAKING AWESOME IS THAT?? I could listen to Renard speak Latin ALL DAY. (Hot? Check. Intelligent? Check. Rawr!) Also no surprise but equally awesome is the revelation that Renard knows about this underground fight club and that the parole officer is in on it. This leads to a confrontation in a creepy parking garage where Renard lays into Taymor about not following his rules, and when Taymor attempts to bluff his way out of the Captain's sights -- well that ends up being a fatal mistake. I thought it was fascinating that Taymor dropped the line about "royalty not having the power/rights" they used to, which raises the question -- is Renard some sort of wesen royalty? By setting rules for this fight club, was he trying to skate the line between good and evil? I'm just not convinced Renard is completely bad since he seems to cover for Nick on a regular basis -- I certainly don't want him to be at any rate. :)

Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) fills Nick in on the true nature and history of wesen fighting -- the Ringwraith-like creatures who have been acquiring fighters are actually Lowen, lionlike creatures who used to be forced to fight in the Roman coliseums. Now they turn the tables on their fellow creatures and force other wesen to fight to the death. While trying to get some inside information from a shady contact on the games, Monroe is sold out and captured -- it turns out the Lowen have been in the market for a Blutbad, but they couldn't be more wrong in thinking Monroe is a violent representative of that species. *wink*

Now the Androcles aspect of this story comes into play when Monroe is thrown into a cage next to Dimitri, who has gone completely mad since his capture. Monroe does his best to help a brother out by removing a spike from Dimitri's hand, but that kindness is too little too late for Dimitri (but don't you love Monroe for trying so hard?). :) Also, how disgusting is it that the captive fighters are fed the bodies of the defeated? Talk about barbaric. When Monroe and Dimitri are pitted against each other in the arena, Dimitri shows no mercy -- and while Monroe puts up a good fight, he stays on the defensive, refusing to descend to the level the spectators want. I loved that, because it would've been so easy for Monroe to let out his "inner wolf" -- but somehow, in the midst of this horror, he manages to restrain himself for Dimitri's sake, I think, even though his opponent is too far gone mentally. IS THERE A MORE CONSIDERATE HUMAN BEING/WEREWOLF ON THE PLANET? I think not.

Just when things are looking really bad for Monroe, we come to the best part of this episode -- WHERE NICK COMES TO THE RESCUE! The Nick/Monroe dynamic is one of the show's greatest strengths and most frustrating weaknesses, because Nick has seemed SO. MUCH. SLOWER. when it comes to accepting the friendship and help Monroe offers in his new capacity as a Grimm. Sometimes I just want to shake Nick and go "get over the fact that he's quirky, that's what makes him AWESOME!" *sigh* But Nick's been coming around, and this episode seems like something of a turning point, so that's good. :) I mean Nick is actually willing to put his life on the line to save Monroe's (sure, backup is on the way but that doesn't mean things still can't go south!) -- NICK & MONROE AGAINST THE WORLD! LOVE IT! I especially appreciated Monroe's "pep talk" about how Nick was going to have to "dig deep" and call on his ancestors, etc., in order to survive Dimitri. :)

Nick is actually not bad with a sword, which makes me like him even more (it's a weakness of mine). But the calvary shows up in the form of Hank and other officers, and the Lowen Games is shut down for good. But Renard isn't one to leave any loose ends, so he ends up setting a wesen PRIEST on the recalcitrent Taymor, and I'm not entirely sure what this priest can do but it's bad, trust me on this. Renard's connections to the church surprised me a bit, which leads to more questions about his true identity -- is there some sort of priestly hierarchy in the wesen world that Renard is a part of? Is that how they are organized, and Renard is like in charge of a district or something? ENQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW.

This was a very solid episode that not only gave me plenty of terrific Nick and Monroe moments, but deepend the mystery surrounding the deliciously enigmatic Renard (yes, deliciously enigmatic...mean every word). :) The only thing that concerns me is the look on Juliette's face when Nick is late for their anniversary dinner -- why does this lateness seem to be making her reconsider their future? Because that's how I read her expression. That aside, episodes like this make me happier than ever that Grimm has already been given a second season. Not content to rest on its laurels this is a show that has shown alot of growth and improvement since the premiere, and the groundwork has been laid for a ton of great developments in the Grimm universe. Give me more Monroe, continue to develop the Monroe/Nick friendship/partnership and I'll be a very happy fan. :)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Once Upon a Time 1.16: "Heart of Darkness"

This episode of Once Upon a Time took us back to the aftermath of Snow White's (Ginnifer Goodwin) failed attempt to stop Charming's (Josh Dallas) wedding to Abigail, leaving her so crushed and desperate she drinks Rumplestiltskin's potion, wiping out all memories of her lost love. Of course Snow COULDN'T WAIT FIVE MINUTES for Grumpy's (Lee Arenberg) news that Charming bolted from the altar...and OF COURSE making a deal with the wily Rumple doesn't come without some unexpected side effects -- namely, losing the true sense of one's very self.

But we'll get back to Snow's shenanigans in a moment. First we must discuss what is quite possibly the best opening of an episode of all time -- I speak of the impossible, amazingly deflected arrow. Now the impossible shot is a favorite cinematic device of mine, because who doesn't love a carefully orchestrated moment of computer generated awesomeness like that? But Once isn't content with the impossible shot, they have Charming DEFLECT IT WITH HIS SWORD. I could watch Charming be that amazing ALL DAY, I kid you not. :) Anyways, the shot in question is from Charming's evil faux father's lackeys (King George just will NOT SAY DIE!). Apparently Charming has still been hanging out with Red (Meghan Ory) -- good thing I like you, Red, just sayin'! -- so this is also after Red gets the little bomb dropped on her that she turns into a wolf and EATS PEOPLE. She seems to have come to terms with her dual nature, though, as she sends Charming on his way after Snow, buying him some time by transforming into a wolf and attacking the soldiers (which raises the question, is she somehow self-aware in her wolf state now? just wondering...). Like I said, AWESOME opening, right?! :)

Cut to Storybrooke, and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) is taking Mary Margaret's MUG SHOT!! Mary is such a prim schoolteacher type the idea of murder is, of course, patently ridiculous -- but Emma has to follow the evidence or else she'll face ousting on charges of favoritism, and of course that wouldn't be helpful. So the mug shot is setting up the idea of Mary Margaret's guilt as a ridiculous concept -- or IS IT?? Because back in Fairy Tale Land we're treated to a glimpse of Snow, looking every inch the fairest of them all, humming a classic song and appearing to bond with a bird. All is sweetness and light until she tries to whack the bird with her broom -- and people that is yet another reason why I love this show. Turn some of the traditional fairy tale tropes on their heads! :)

Enter Grumpy, who leads Snow right into a dwarf-initiated INTERVENTION headed by none other than Jiminy Cricket (Raphael Sbarge)! It has been way too long since we've seen much of Jiminy or his Storybrooke counterpart, so this is a nice development, even if Snow is having none of her friends' concern. The formerly kind-hearted princess is hell-bent on alienating everyone who would call themselves her friend -- and what's supposed to be an intervention helping her recognize that Rumple's potion fundamentally changed her turns into something else entirely as Snow decides that all of her problems will be solved if she kills the Evil Queen. Yikes!

Back at the Sheriff's office, Emma prepares to interview Mary Margaret officially and all, and this raises a couple of questions -- like what in her bounty-hunting background qualifies her to be Sheriff? (I miss Graham.) And two, I have not seen a tape recorder like that since the early '90s. Really that is the best technology that Storybrooke law enforcement has to work with?! *sadness* Regina (Lana Parrilla) helpfully decides to sit in on the interrogation (ha!). When Emma brings out the box that held the heart Ruby discovered, there's a nice little shock because it is really Mary Margaret's jewellery box! *GASP* Okay I can buy this, but how can she not have realized that her jewellery box has been missing since before or shortly after Kathryn's disappearance (of course we know why there's no signs of a break-in -- Regina's creepy skull keys!)?! Regina tries to act all empathetic and nice (gag), because after all a broken heart can make a person do "unspeakable things" (methinks she speaks from experience).

In FTL Snow is all gung-ho about her plot to ambush the Queen en route to her summer palace, and this chick means business since she hijacks a lost knight and threatens to lay into him with a PICK AXE if he doesn't answer her questions. After she knocks him unconscious, Grumpy shows up (so he's a tracker too?) and insists that they revisit the Rumple issue -- perhaps he has a potion that can reverse damage losing the memories of her love for Charming did to her personality. For the convenience of the plot, Snow agrees --

Meanwhile, Emma and Henry (Jared Gilmore) are searching the apartment for signs of a break-in that will back up Mary Margaret's story that her jewellery box was stolen. Instead they find a GIGANTIC KNIFE in a floor vent! Henry is bummed because it looks like is grandmother is going to take a murder rap, which sends him moping to the diner where August (Eion Bailey) attempts to cheer him up. HAVE I MENTIONED LATELY THAT I LOVE THE NAME AUGUST? He suggests the answers Henry seeks may be in his precious storybook, which shocks Henry because here is an ADULT PERSON APPEARING TO VALIDATE OPERATION COBRA! This show is getting really good at slowly parsing out information about the erstwhile Stranger, because while it is a huge deal that he would actually affirm the storybook-as-history concept, we still have no idea why or how he came by the knowledge (the suspense is killing me!). Anyways this cheers Henry right up so he dives into the storybook (I want to read this book cover-to-cover so badly). 

David gets a momentary flash of Charming's awesomeness when he storms into Regina's office, insistent that Mary Margaret couldn't have had anything to do with Kathryn's likely murder. I nearly gag as Regina attempts to be all comforting and reasonable, launching into the age-old debate on the origins of evil -- it "isn't born, it's made" (well I have news for you, Regina, I STILL DON'T CARE if you used to be nice because you are the SHREW THAT GROUND GRAHAM'S HEART TO DUST!). She then blathers on about how "evil doesn't always look evil," and because David's biggest Storybrooke downfall is being RIDDLED WITH SELF-DOUBT her carefully placed words hit home. David decides to go see Archie, hoping that some hypnosis sessions will help him remember what he's done during his blackout periods (more on that in a sec).

At the jail, Emma is saddled with the unenviable task of advising Mary Margaret to get a lawyer when *BOOM* Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) walks in and offers his services -- OF COURSE HE'S A LAWYER TOO! Gah! I love this! Mary is getting pretty desperate so she agrees over Emma's objections. When she tells Gold she can't afford to pay him he surprisingly demurs, saying he'll take on the case for free because he's "invested in her future" (I AM DYING TO KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS!).

In FTL, Grumpy and Snow have finally made it to Rumple's digs, where he drops the unfortunate news that there's no potion available that can restore Snow's niceness (so he helpfully provides her with a magic bow so she can kill the Queen). This hearkens back to earlier talk in the season about the soul-crushing price of magic, something we've seen over and over, particularly in Regina's desperate attempts to hold onto Henry's affection. The only cure is of course true love (which hasn't been bottled -- yet). After Rumple insists that the bow represents his "investment" in Snow's future, she takes off to kill the Queen and Grumpy presumably overtaxed with all of this patience and forbearance that he's had to practice in her presence heads home.

Now this, people, this is where this episode becomes pure awesome. There's been more of a focus on Storybrooke David, and with that comes a whole lot of wishy-washyness so a person could be tempted to forget just how fantastic Charming is in FTL -- and he's on fire here. :) First he braves Rumple's wiles, consequences be damned of making a deal with the green one because HE HAS TO SAVE SNOW FROM HERSELF. In an interesting twist, all Rumple demands as payment for a map to Snow's sniper location is Charming's cloak, from which he later removes a stray hair -- and combining that with the earlier hair he extracted from Snow as payment for the forgetful potion, the man has bottled true love. The question of course remains what the heck will he do with it?!

Fast forward a few hours (?) and Charming sneaks up on Snow and kisses her, sure that true love's kiss will magically restore her memories. Sadly that idea tanks and it appears Snow might succeed with her assassination attempt, but Jiminy (who really gets around) has freed the Prince and given him a valuable piece of advice -- Snow didn't only lose her memories of their love, she lost all memory of who she is at a very fundamental level. So just when we think Snow's arrow may hit its mark, Charming jumps in its path and at this point I'm ready to scream YES!!! Because if he's not fighting with a sword or horse, taking an arrow in the shoulder for his one true love is the next best thing. :) When Charming tells Snow he'd rather die for her than see her heart filled with darkness (shout-out to Joseph Conrad!), I absolutely melted into a puddle of goo. As Charming, Dallas is in the running for best film prince portrayal of all time. ALL TIME!

Charming's faith, his willingness to sacrifice his life for Snow's, that is the true love magic that brings Snow back. And just when I think (hope) that this adorable couple may have bought themselves five minutes of happiness in FTL, evil King George's men ride up and throw Charming in a paddywagon (boo!! hiss!!!), leaving Snow to co-opt Charming's declaration that she will always find him. GOSH I LOVE THESE CRAZY KIDS! So while Snow may be without Charming in FTL, now that she's nice again the dwarves vow to help her get him back. But in Storybrooke, things are not going so well for the ill-fated pair. David's hypnosis session with Archie has unearthed memories of evil Snow vowing to kill "her," memories hazy enough that David "assumes" they occurred in the present, not in an alternate reality (guess I should cut him some slack on that score). Riddled with doubts he once again CRUSHES Mary Margaret's faith the fact that there is any hope for their future (STUPID BOY), leaving her just desperate enough to use the skeleton key she found conveniently hidden in her jail mattress to break out (question -- key planted there by Regina or Mr. Gold?).

Henry's research has somehow led to him discovering Regina's ring of skull keys, which provides the concrete proof Emma needs to realize that Regina is somehow, for some reason, setting Mary Margaret up. THIS IS PROGRESS! She's so ticked she goes to Mr. Gold for help (YAY), because desperate times call for desperate measures. I may be delusional but I rather think Mr. Gold likes Emma -- and knowing he's no where near as heartless as he'd have us believe, I'm hopeful for a lot of Mr. Gold-related awesomeness in the near future. :) A pretty solid episode, great for picture opportunities, no? :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review: Love's Sacred Song by Mesu Andrews

By: Mesu Andrews
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-3408-4

About the book:

Wisdom came as God's gift, but sacred love was forged through passion's fire.

Standing in the shadow of his famous father, young King Solomon wavers between fear and bravado, longing for a love that is true and pure -- a love that can be his cornerstone.

A shepherdess in the northern city of Shunem, Arielah has known since she first laid eyes on Solomon that it was her destiny to become his bride. When her father secures a promise from Solomon to marry Arielah as a treaty bride to help unite the kingdom, it seems her dreams will come true.

But how can this simple shepherdess live as part of Solomon's harem? Can Solomon set aside his distractions to give himself completely to just one woman? Or will he let duty, deception, and the daily routine divide his heart?

Mesu Andrews expertly weaves the words of the Song of Solomon into this touching story of the power of love from a master storyteller.


When Arielah was a child she accompanied her father Jeheosephat, a respected judge of Shunem, to Jerusalem, where she spied the young prince Solomon. And ever since that day she's carried in her heart the certainty that they would one day wed. Years pass, and the great King David lies on his deathbed, comforted by the prize of Shunem, the beautiful Abishag (1 Kings 1& 2), who serves as his "belly-warmer," an intimate but platonic relationship. Abishag's lack of any official status in the royal household becomes a lightening rod, symbolizing the northern tribes' discontent with their favored southern brethren, the tribe of Judah's, rule and dominance in Israeli affairs. With the once-mighty warrior king near death, the time is ripe for conflict to erupt between those who favor a united Israel and David's chosen heir, Solomon, and those who would usurp God's anointed and seek to advance the pre-eminence of Judah. Into this politically volatile climate steps Solomon, a prince of privilege possessing the promised gift of godly wisdom with which to govern his people -- but with an equally competing temptation to succumb to the paralyzing fear of failure. When Arielah is offered as a treaty bride in an attempt to appease the simmering temper of the northern tribes, Solomon accepts, but is wholly unprepared for his unconventional bride and the surrender the love she offers him requires. While the cost of the pure love Arielah offers seems impossible to grasp, with the future of his kingdom and very character at stake, can Solomon afford to reject the hope of love's sacred song?

After Mesu Andrews brought Job's story to life in her debut, Love Amid the Ashes, I was left eagerly awaiting her next novel. I must confess that beyond a rather rudimentary knowledge of Solomon's reign and his famous wisdom, I don't think I've ever given the man his due (I've always been more of a David girl). :) And while the Song of Songs is among the most passionate of texts, I never really connected with it -- perhaps because that slim book always seemed to lack context, a place in the greater narrative of the Old Testament that would put faces to the passionate declarations in those short eight chapters of verse. But ever since I began reading Love's Sacred Song, I feel as though God has been whispering the intent of that book to my heart, birthing within me a love and understanding for this book within the context of my faith. Through Andrews' intricately plotted, brilliantly recreated, colorfully evocative portrait of ancient Israel, the purpose and passion of Solomon and his Shulammite bride spring to life on the page in such a way that -- if one is willing -- you cannot help but be changed and inspired by the journey.

Love's Sacred Song is epic in its scope, embodying everything I love about biblical fiction, making characters on the pages of scripture once again living, breathing people full of passion and life, leaving you cheering for their victories and heart-broken over their (all-too relatable) mistakes. Andrews restores Solomon's humanity, much needed as his legendary wisdom too often leaves him seemingly unrelatable. Here Andrews gives us Solomon early in his reign, a young man attempting to establish himself outside the shadow of his famous father, often paralyzed by the fear of failure and subsequently blinded by pride and the trappings of position. Arielah is a woman you'd like as your friend, a window into the world of a royal harem and its politics and heartbreak, incomprehensible by today's standards. Yet, such was the reality she faced -- and that makes the challenge and victory of the love illustrated in Solomon's sacred song all the more powerful.

More than a love story, though, Love's Sacred Song speaks to the heart's cry of the Father and the unfathomable depth of the love He longs to lavish on each one of His children -- if we but accept it. If the marriage relationship is a gift, an earthly expression of the relationship God desires with mankind -- then the Song of Songs is much more than a picture of God-ordained, sacred love between a man and a woman as outlined in the Song. Since the church is the bride of Christ, the Song of Songs and the love that inspired it point back to the giver of every good and perfect gift, the only one, ultimately, who is capable of offering a lasting love because He knows us best, as He is the one who fashioned us in our mothers' wombs (Ps 139:13). And because He so loved, because the sacred passion He harbored demanded no less, His Son was sent to earth to suffer unspeakably at the hands of His creation, in doing so offer the ultimate bride-price -- His precious blood, covering our failings and reconciling mankind with the creator.

Rich with atmosphere and historical detail, including fascinating glimpses into everything from wedding customs to court protocol and intrigue, Love's Sacred Song is sure to delight historical and biblical fiction lovers alike. With lead characters who send sparks flying from the page and a host of well-drawn supporting players, Mesu Andrews's second novel is a rich, meaty read that will not only entertain, but if you'll let it, challenge and grow your faith, inspiring a deeper appreciation for the texts from which Song draws its inspiration. An intricately plotted page-turner, I particularly appreciated how Andrews seamlessly wove the scriptures that head each chapter into her narrative -- by giving a face and voice to the scripture, the words and their potential impact take root in your soul in a powerful, fresh way. This is fiction at its best, a masterfully crafted work that challenges, inspires, and will break your heart with its beauty all the while encouraging your faith even as tears threaten to fall -- because at its heart this masterclass in biblical fiction points straight back to the Master Storyteller. This novel is an extraordinary gift, one I won't soon forget.