Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Celebrating the release of Follow the Heart!

Today I am thrilled to help my dear friend Kaye Dacus celebrate the release of her newest novel, Follow the Heart, the first in the Great Exhibition series from B&H Publishing, releasing May 1st!

Kaye Dacus is the author of humorous, hope-filled contemporary and historical romances with Barbour Publishing, Harvest House Publishers, and B&H Publishing. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, is a former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers, and currently serves as President of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. Kaye lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is a full-time academic advisor and part-time English Composition instructor for Bethel University.

Follow the Heart, Book 1 of the Great Exhibition Series is the story of an American woman is sent to England to marry wealth, but finds herself torn between the poor man she loves and the viscount who offers the wealth and stability that can save her family.

About the novel:

Kate and Christopher Dearing’s lives turn upside down when their father loses everything in a railroad land speculation. The siblings are shipped off to their mother’s brother in England with one edict: marry money.

At twenty-seven years old, Kate has the stigma of being passed over by eligible men many times—and that was before she had no dowry. Christopher would like nothing better than to make his own way in the world; and with a law degree and expertise in the burgeoning railroad industry, he was primed to do just that—in America.

Though their uncle tries to ensure Kate and Christopher find matrimonial prospects only among the highest echelon of British society, their attentions stray to a gardener and a governess.

While Christopher has options that would enable him to lay his affections where he chooses, he cannot let the burden of their family’s finances crush his sister. Trying to push her feelings for the handsome—but not wealthy— gardener aside, Kate’s prospects brighten when a wealthy viscount shows interest in her. But is marrying for the financial security of her family the right thing to do, when her heart is telling her she’s making a mistake?

Mandates . . . money . . . matrimony. Who will follow the heart?

And now a few fun questions!

How does Follow the Heart fit with the other books you've written?

Follow the Heart and the Great Exhibition series are similar to my contemporary series (The Brides of Bonneterre and the Matchmakers series with Barbour Publishing) as they are light-hearted, stand-alone novels which are tied together with recurring characters and a familiar setting. They’re also similar to The Ransome Trilogy (Harvest House Publishers) as I try to fully immerse the reader in the language, fashion, and details of the historical era. And each book fulfills my promise of “Humor, Hope, and Happily Ever Afters” that my readers have come to expect.

What's the takeaway/what do you hope will stick with people when they finish reading the book?

Women, especially, tend to look at our choices as a series of obligations—we do what we feel we are obligated to do for the sake of our families, not necessarily what we feel our hearts are telling us to do. I believe, and it’s the theme of this book, that we spend too much time worrying about how we can fix/help/support our families (or those around us at work or in friendships) and not enough time listening to and trusting God. When we pray, we tend to tell God what’s wrong and ask him to fix it. But do we ever really take the time to just be still and listen to what God is trying to tell us? And can we really let God take care of those we feel responsible for and let go of that burden of responsibility that may not, in truth, be ours to bear?

What interests you most about the Victorian era?

I love that it still has the sensibility of the Regency era—from the activities like balls and dinners to the formality of courting customs—yet in 1851, the world is on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution: train and steamboat travel, telegraph, indoor plumbing (“retiring/refreshing rooms” with pay toilets at the Great Exhibition!). I also love that women were starting to come into their own a bit more. Still not considered equals, but at least starting to get some recognition for their contributions and accomplishments in society.

How does the title of the book tie in with the story?

It’s pretty literal and very clearly spelled out in the story—Kate must decide if she will marry a man she doesn’t love because of what she feels is her responsibility/obligation to save her family or follow her heart and marry for love and (possibly) see her family suffer for it. It goes deeper than that, but that’s where the premise of the story started. 

If you had to choose another genre to write in, what would it be?

As Jeff Gerke (publisher, Marcher Lord Press) is fond of reminding me: everyone has a science fiction book in them somewhere. And he’s right. I’m a long-time sci-fi TV/movie fan (I’ve been to a few Star Trek conventions, after all), and I’ve recently been playing around with an idea for a sci-fi story/series. It’s mostly world-building and character development at this point, but it’s a fun diversion. (Ruth here: LOVE THIS IDEA!!) :)

If you were to star in a romantic movie, would it be contemporary or historical, drama or comedy, and what actor would play your leading man?

If I were to star in a romantic movie, it would be a humorous contemporary. Melissa McCarthy, Queen Latifah, and Adele would play my three best friends with whom I share a large house in the ’burbs of Nashville, and Oded Fehr would be a highly respected (and wealthy) surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and he would fall head-over-heels in love with me. Of course, tomorrow, I could be an independent Englishwoman who travels to New Zealand in the early 20th Century there to meet the handsome, charming Karl Urban and, after some humorous misunderstandings and miscommunication, we live happily ever after on our sheep farm. 

Thanks for stopping by, Kaye! Follow the Heart is available everywhere May 1st, including Amazon, Kindle, and LifeWay Christian Stores! Enjoy!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: Roses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd

Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I (Ladies in Waiting #3)
By: Sandra Byrd
Publisher: Howard Books
ISBN: 978-1-4391-8316-8


Just shy of her seventeenth birthday, Lady Elin von Snakenborg's future is in flux -- though she is engaged, her fiance's eye has turned toward her younger sister, jeopardizing her future just as she prepares to embark on an arduous journey to the English court as one of the Swedish Princess Cecelia's attendants. With her future at home uncertain, Elin turns her attentions to life at the English court and its charismatic queen, Elizabeth I. When Elin catches the eye of the Marquess of Northampton, Sir William Parr, she determines to forge a new life for herself at the center of Tudor power, and remains behind in service to Elizabeth when Cecelia and her retinue return to Sweden. Taking the name of Helena, she determines to become a true Englishwoman, and devotes herself to serve her new queen. Helena's loyalty to Elizabeth does not go unnoticed or unrewarded, and she quickly becomes one of Elizabeth's chosen few, a lady of privilege and power in a dangerous world that would seek to sway the queen's decisions. When Helena falls in love with an untitled gentleman, she discovers just how high a price the cost of friendship with a queen can be, and must decide how to balance loyalty to her sovereign with the desires of her heart.

Roses Have Thorns is the third installment of Sandra Byrd's Ladies in Waiting series, exploring the lives, loves, and times of powerful Tudor queens as seen through the eyes of their closest companions -- the ladies in waiting who stood in attendance while history was being made. I haven't read Byrd's work before, but after reading her richly evocative exploration of Elizabeth and Helena's world, I definitely plan to explore the previous novels in this series which focused on two of Elizabeth's predecessors -- her mother, Anne Bolyen, and her father's last wife, Kateryn Parr. I love novels that seek to shed light on the lives of women at pivotal points in history -- most often against highly patriarchal social constructs. Byrd's work here illuminating the life of Elizabeth I, as seen through the eyes of one of her closest companions -- a foreign noblewoman who rose to the heights of Tudor power, becoming the second-highest ranking woman in the land, fits comfortably alongside the fiction from the likes of C.W. Gortner. Gortner is a master at restoring the humanity and complicated passions to women (such as Catherine de Medici) oft-times maligned by history. In a similar fashion Byrd crafts a thoroughly engaging portrait of Elizabeth through the eyes of a woman who revered her, whose unswerving loyalty was balanced by a keen insight into the volatile nature of the power Elizabeth wielded, and the passion and strength it took to devote herself whole-heartedly to her country's welfare.

I loved Helena's character, as over the course of the novel the once shy, uncertain princess matures into a compassionate, fiercely loyal friend of the crown, and as such is uniquely placed to witness the trials and triumphs of Elizabeth's reign -- from the threat posed to her crown by her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, to the "Protestant wind" that destroyed the threat poised to her island kingdom by the Spanish Armada. But the favor of the queen is not without cost, and as it becomes increasingly clear that Elizabeth will devote herself to the service of England at the expense of marriage and family, she demands a level of loyalty and sacrifice in her attendants that mirrors her own. Byrd's poignant exploration of Elizabeth's sacrifice of singleness is extraordinarily well-crafted, humanizing the legendary queen in memorably unique manner. Likewise, the stress service to the queen places on Helena's second marriage illuminating and heart-breaking -- I'd never considered the cost of service to the queen, only the honor. By far my favorite aspect of the novel comes in the final third, where Helena fights to renew her marriage, stressed to the breaking point by the demands of royal service. It's one of the most frankly honest, stirring portraits of the work it takes to sustain a marriage that I've ever read in historical or contemporary fiction.

Byrd has clearly done her research on the time period, saturating each page of Helena's story with delicious period detail, from the gowns and jewelry that adorned Elizabeth and her ladies to the customs, pastimes, and politics that made up day-to-day court life. She deftly utilizes language, cosmetic detail, and historical fact to create a rich, evocative portrait of an epicenter of sixteenth-century power. If I have one complaint, it's the novel's pacing and the manner in which the passage of time is marked in this relatively slim volume (just over 300 pages). Covering a span of nearly forty years, time flies at a break-neck speed, making this a fast read, yes -- but one wishes for more pages in which to savor Helena's experiences and rise to power in service to Elizabeth. Chapters can cover nearly two years -- and when one's protagonist is at one point having a child per chapter, it's unavoidable that the pacing and structure of the novel feel rushed as a result. That said, being left wanting more isn't an entirely bad problem for a novel to have. *wink*

Roses Have Thorns offers a unique, richly-drawn portrait of Elizabeth as seen through the eyes of one closest to her -- a woman who devoted decades of her life in service to the queen of her adopted homeland. Replete with the drama, intrigue, and passions the period is known for, Byrd grounds the very human elements of her story with a subtle faith thread, one that never overwhelms the story but is instead organic to the time period, enriching and personalizing the struggles of characters long dead, brought to vibrant life with Byrd's evocative prose. This is a gorgeously-rendered achievement, and if this is the type of historical fiction Byrd is capable of I'm left more eager than ever for her next project. A novel of women, their friendships, and the price of power, Roses Have Thorns is thought-provoking, heart-rending historical fiction at its best.

About the book:

What happens when serving a queen may cost you your marriage -- or your life?

In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiance has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth's circle.

But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen's downfall, Helena is forced to choose between her unyielding monarch and the husband she's not sure she can trust -- a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.

A rich, tautly woven tale of love, deception, and grace, Roses Have Thorns vividly conjures the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots and is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart.

*Thanks to the publisher for the review opportunity.

Friday, April 26, 2013

BBC America's "The Musketeers"

I'd almost forgotten about this project, and then these photos surfaced:

Here's the info about the show from the press release accompanying the photos:

BBC AMERICA has released the very first photos for The Musketeers, their new 10-part action drama set for 2014.

Created by My Week with Marilyn‘s Adrian Hodges, Musketeers takes the characters from Alexandre Dumas‘ classic novel and puts them on the chaotic, lawless streets of 17th century Paris, where soldiers Athos, Aramis and Porthos serve as Louis XIII’s personal bodyguards. They meet and befriend D’Artagan, a skilled fighter who is dead-set on achieving justice for his father’s death. Luke Pasqualino (Skins, The Borgias) stars as D’Artagnan, with Tom Burke (The Hour) as Athos, Santiago Cabrera (Heroes) as Aramis and Howard Charles as Porthos. (The Hour‘s Peter Capaldi, Tamla Kari, Maimie McCoy, and Hugo Speer round out the ensemble.)

Doesn't this sound fun? I'm super excited about the prospect of 1) MUSKETEERS!, 2) Tom Burke, 3) Santiago Cabrera, and 4) Peter friggin' Capaldi from The Hour. Helllloooooo eye candy. *wink*

Disney classics

These photos are SO COOL. Disney characters spliced with photos of the real-life models that inspired them!

The Sleeping Beauty ones are my favorite. :) Photos via The Mary Sue/jamieleto.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

today at TeeFury

Calling all Doctor Who fans -- today's shirt at TeeFury is absolutely ADORABLE.

The Doctor & Friends by joebot is available today only!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Normally I'm not all about remakes...

...but this, this is another story entirely. According to Deadline, Fox has secured the rights to Guys & Dolls and is eyeing Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the leads. Please, please, PLEASE this casting NEEDS to happen! I think this could have some real potential.

can I get an amen?

14 Reasons Why Life Should Be More Like "Singin' In the Rain" via Buzzfeed.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I took the afternoon off Friday, and in the mood for a film I went to the first afternoon showing of Oblivion, one of my most anticipated films of the year since I first saw the initial trailers a few months ago. People, this movie did NOT disappoint -- I absolutely LOVED it. LOVED IT!! Epic, twisty, romantic, and GORGEOUS, with a very human heart at the core of its bleak dystopian storyline, Oblivion is one of the best science fiction films I've seen in -- well, I don't know how long! :)

The year is 2077, sixty years after alien Scavengers (or "Scavs" as they're called throughout the film) destroyed the moon, unleashing a wave of devastating earthquakes and tsunamis that left the planet devastated. The survivors left alive fled to one of Saturn's moons (now called Titan) and Tet, a space outpost which oversees the activities of technicians like Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) stationed on Earth, tasked with overseeing the extraction of the planet's remaining resources for use on humanity's new Saturn-moon home. Jack and Victoria's main purpose is to protect the machines that extract the planet's seawater from Scav attacks, and to maintain the fleet of weaponized drones, programmed to eradicate any remaining hostile alien resistance.

Jack is a drone repairman, who leaves his station home, hundreds -- if not thousands -- of feet above the Earth's surface each day to repair Scav damage to the drones from the night before. Victoria, the team's communications officer (as well as Jack's lover), remains behind to monitor his work via and relay their progress to Sally (Melissa Leo), their contact on Tet with the creepily sugar-sweet southern accent. With only two weeks left in their assignment before the promised evacuation to Titan, Victoria is excited and eager that nothing go amiss, anxious to keep their superiors impressed with their effectiveness as a team. Jack, however, is strangely reluctant to leave the devastated planet, carrying within a secret that he's loathe to share even with Victoria -- he's haunted by dreams of Earth, of a pre-war New York City, and of the face of a woman he doesn't know yet finds himself inextricably drawn to imagine every time he closes his eyes.

One day, a routine drone repair mission goes horribly wrong. Following a drone signal into a sinkhole -- which turns out to be the remnants of a library -- Jack is cornered by a cleverly-executed Scavs trap and nearly captured. His close call with the Scavs causes Jack to start to question everything he's assumed about his enemy and their goals as regards his work. After the unthinkable happens and the Scavs succeed in destroying one of the water collection stations under Jack and Victoria's care, he discovers a Scav signal beacon using the spire of the Empire State Building to send a signal into space. He destroys their device, but not before it does its work, bringing an orbiting spaceship crashing to Earth -- a spaceship containing hibernation pods holding humans, one of whom is a woman with the face that's haunted Jack's dreams -- a woman who knows his name.

Jack is horrified when the drones attack the helpless pods, managing to save only one -- his mystery woman, who turns out to be an astronaut named Julia (Olga Kurylenko) who's been in stasis for sixty years. When he defies Victoria's wishes and takes Julia back to the crash site to retrieve the ship's black box recorder, they're captured by a group of Scavs -- and the enemy turns out to be the last thing Jack ever suspected. The Scavs he's been taught to hate are fellow humans, survivors of the war led by an old soldier named Beech (Morgan Freeman). Beech pushes Jack to look beyond the boundaries of the life he's been living -- the work, the off-limits, allegedly radiation-poisoned areas of Earth -- and see the truth about Sally and the Tet -- that there are no aliens, and that everything Jack thought he knew about the war was a lie.

I'm going to pause my recap of the film there, because for me part of the joy in this film experience was in watching the twists and turns of the plot unfold. But seeing as I have never been what one could call a spoiler-free blog, I'll save a few points that I can't resist addressing until the end of this post. :)

The world of this film, the look, is just amazingly rendered on-screen. The post-apocalyptic scenes of Earth, battered nearly beyond recognition, are made all the more eerie by the glimpses Jack encounters in his daily work of the life that existed before the invasion -- remnants of the Brooklyn Bridge, the crumbled stone facade of a library, etc. The most striking is perhaps the top portion of the remnants of the Empire State Building, at least eighty-percent of the structure buried under rubble, with only the battered remainder of the iconic observation deck and the spire still in view. The familiar, half-hidden by the rubble of a ravaged planet, is at once both frightening and eerily captivating.

The clean, sharp lines of Jack and Victoria's outpost home, all silver and glass and chrome (nicely reflected in Victoria's costuming choices -- where Jack gets dirty and worn in his work on-planet, Victoria remains freakishly perfect, smartly dressed and coiffed, almost eerily reminiscent of the Stepford Wives. As the film progresses there is an eerie sense of inevitability in all of Jack and Victoria's interactions -- every time he questions something about their life or work, she knows just the right word or action to take to refocus Jack's attention, dismissing his questions.

While Jack's station is all clean, sharp lines, the rubble of the portion of the planet they're tasked with overseeing stands in stark contrast to the clean lines of their base -- it's a harsh, inhuman environment, until Jack uncovers more and more of the fragmented rubble of a once-vibrant civilization, especially books. Books are, of course, not the only detritus of humanity that Jack covertly collects during his drone-repair missions, but as a bibliophile myself they are the most meaningful -- records of one of humanity's most precious gifts, imagination, free-thinking. Jack collects his treasures and brings them to his secret woodland hideaway, a pocket of Earth filled with forest and lakes. It is unclear if this is simply a corner of the world that missed the apocalyptic conflict that destroyed most of humanity, or if it is the Earth gradually being re-born -- but either way, the beauty of Jack's hideaway in contrast to the desolation overseen by the drones speaks to the wild vibrancy of pre-war life, a life that stands in stark contrast to Jack and Victoria's very scripted relationship and work.

I've seen some reviews of Oblivion arguing that it's too derivative, the elements that make up the story have all been done before -- or that it's sexist, focusing on Jack's transformation and heroic journey a the expense of the film's two female characters. To address the first point, if previously explored plot elements or sci-fi tropes are presented to me in a new, fresh, glossy package -- I love the twist. To address the second point -- I tend to accept the characters in this film at face value, and this is very simply Jack's story. I don't think he's heroic at the expense of the female characters -- if anything, Victoria is tragically a victim, through no fault of her own, while Julia exhibits a quiet strength that I find in no way diminishes her vis-a-vis Jack's more "flashy" heroics, and Jack's determined attempts to do right by both of the women in his life are arguably admirable. In sum, if I'm taking a simplistic view I'm willing to give the film many subsequent viewings to change my mind. :)

Here's where things are going to get a little spoiler-y. Prompted by Beech's veiled hints that there is more than meets the eye to Jack's work, he and Julia risk an excursion into one of the off-limits radiation zones -- only to discover that there is no radiation, and most shockingly, Jack has a double -- Tech 52, performing the identical drone-repair tasks. This is where things get really interesting in my view, as Jack #1, also known as Tech 49, not only has to process that his work is a lie and his memories of a pre-war life with Julia are real -- but that he is a clone, something that should not be. Everything the Scav survivors believe, everything within Tech 42's slowly reawakening humanity argue that a clone is more machine than human, a pale copy of its source DNA.

And this is what I loved about Oblivion -- it's suggestion that what makes humans human -- free choice, the ability to love, to think -- is a spark that the machine that resides in the Tet, that seeks to strip Earth of its resources, can never truly extinguish. Simplistic? Sure...but Jack is a likeable character here, and I thoroughly enjoyed the world of the film and the way in which Jack's awakening, his sacrifice, unfolds on-screen.

Here Cruise is very much in his element as the man versus the "system," if you will -- and like him or loathe him (and I used to count myself in the latter camp, for some reason I will never understand, as the Mission: Impossible movies are just plain awesome), I have to give him props for turning in a performance that felt both moving and authentic. And I loved seeing Kurylenko on-screen again -- her role here is admittedly a small one, but it's pivotal to the storyline, and I'd argue her character here is a step up from her appearance as Camille in Quantum of Solace (although Camille is admittedly one of the stronger heroines in the Bond series).

Also, since I don't watch Game of Thrones I've apparently been missing out on this incredibly gorgeous Danish guy named Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, playing Beech's second-in-command Sykes. I thought about posting a picture of Nikolaj actually in this film, but then I googled him and came up with this, so you're welcome:

This is only director Joseph Kosinski's second film, but seeing as Oblivion is based on his original, never-published graphic novel concept, if this guy ever directs anything besides Tron films in the future (sorry, I just have no interest in going THERE) I'm definitely interested -- I think he's got a fantastic imagination, and the world-building he oversees in this film is just superbly done. And the score, people, THE SCORE! The music is just GORGEOUS -- sweeping and romantic and tension-filled by turns, it's become a new favorite.

Oblivion happily lived up to all of my expectations and was a thoroughly entertaining, occasionally thought-provoking, GORGEOUS piece of cinematic science fiction. I can't wait to revisit it.

we all know this is out today, right?

But just in case...just in case someone DOESN'T know (and I would feel terrible about that), consider this my public service announcement: Michael Buble's fifth studio album, To Be Loved, released TODAY -- and having listened to it three times through  now I can say that it is FABULOUS and well worth the wait. Target is once again carrying an exclusive edition with three bonus tracks, if you're into that sort of thing. :) Here's the info:

  1. You Make Me Feel So Young
  2. It's a Beautiful Day
  3. To Love Somebody
  4. Who's Lovin' You
  5. Something Stupid (featuring Reese Witherspoon)
  6. Come Dance With Me
  7. Close Your Eyes
  8. After All (featuring Bryan Adams)
  9. Have I Told You Lately That I Love You (with Naturally 7)
  10. To Be Loved
  11. You've Got a Friend in Me
  12. Nevertheless (I'm in Love With You) (featuring the Puppini Sisters)
  13. I Got It Easy
  14. Young at Heart
  15. Be My Baby (Target exclusive)
  16. It's a Beautiful Day (swing mix) (Target exclusive)
  17. My Melancholy Baby (Target exclusive)

a Shakespearean infographic

In honor of William Shakespeare's birthday, Goodreads posted this AMAZING infographic on their blog, so amazing I just had to share it. (Click to enlarge graphic or click HERE to peruse the infographic on Goodreads.)

trailers, trailers, trailers!

The past few weeks have seen several new trailers released in advance of some of the year's most anticipated films -- so this is me playing catch-up:

Iron Man 3 -- opens 5/3, can. not. WAIT.

Star Trek Into Darkness -- opens 5/17, also can not wait! BENEDICT!! :)

Man of Steel -- opens 6/14, and this is the trailer that finally got me excited about this film (Superman stories have always been a bit of a hard sell for me).


Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: The Heiress of Winterwood by Sarah E. Ladd

The Heiress of Winterwood (Whispers on the Moors #1)
By: Sarah E. Ladd
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 978-1-4016-8835-6


Amelia Barrett, orphaned and raised by her uncle's family, stands on the cusp of inheriting Winterwood Manor its assets -- but only if she marries by her twenty-fourth birthday, a deadline approaching in just two months' time. While her family has encouraged her engagement to Edward Littleton, soon to be her uncle's business partner, Amelia resists. She dreams of a life where she controls her future, free to care for Lucy, the orphaned babe left in her care at the passing of the child's mother, her friend Katherine. When Lucy's father, naval Captain Graham Sterling, arrives on shore leave, his plans are straightforward -- arrange for his daughter's care and return to his war-bound ship and crew. But Graham didn't count on Amelia's determination to remain a part of Lucy's life, her resolve to save his daughter from the motherless childhood she herself endured. Amelia's proposal is audacious -- she proposes a marriage of convenience to Graham, thereby guaranteeing Lucy's care and future and granting Amelia the control of her birthright. Reluctant to tie himself anew to the responsibility of a family, Graham accepts Amelia's offer, and the pair's unorthodox alliance unleashes a wave of fury that threatens to engulf all they hold dear. It's a risk Amelia is willing to endure for Lucy's sake, but when the one she values most becomes a pawn in a dangerous revenge scheme, Amelia and Graham must join forces to protect a future suddenly more precious to both of them than either had ever dreamed.

Winner of the 2011 Genesis Award for historical romance, Sarah Ladd's debut is an assured, polished offering that lives up to its pedigree -- easily one of the better debuts I've read in years. The Heiress of Winterwood introduces a fresh new voice in Regency-era fiction sure to please fans of classic romances, marrying the drawing room sensibilities of Jane Austen with a healthy dash of gothic suspense in the tradition of the Brontes. I loved the female initiative shown through Amelia's proposal in this twist on the marriage of convenience trope -- a lady such as she, gently bred, would be the last one you'd expect to be so forward. But with a passionate dedication to keep her promise to Lucy's mother, and a deeply compassionate, generous heart, Amelia is my favorite kind of period drama heroine -- one who isn't afraid to be thought of as a bit eccentric, if you will. :) Likewise Graham is hero sure to find a place in the heart of anyone who has ever loved fellows named Darcy or Wentworth -- principled, honorable, and determined to never repeat the mistakes of his past, Ladd handles Graham's slow-burning interest in Amelia and her unorthodox offer with a deft hand and a refreshing believability. A second son and a man of war, Graham is naturally reluctant to take on the responsibility of a new bride when his own future is so uncertain, which opens the door for a very organic exploration of faith and trust issues.

Despite Amelia's boldness in proposing marriage to a man she's only just met, she and the other characters who inhabit her world are very much of products of the Regency time period in which they lived. Ladd has an excellent eye for period detail and mannerisms that flesh out the world of Winterwood Manor, from carefully-planted details describing Amelia's clothing and pastimes to the attitudes she encounters when her plans vis-a-vis Graham and Lucy become known, including her own passing concern with maintaining some semblance of a proper lady's reputation. That said, I hope that in forthcoming volumes Ladd balances correct speech with readability -- the dialogue is articulate and proper, but at times so concerned with maintaining a period-appropriate level of formality that readability is sacrificed, slowing the forward momentum of the plot.

While summaries of this novel focus on the danger surrounding Lucy's disappearance, nearly two-thirds of the novel pass before this pivotal plot point occurs, and as a result the novel's overall pacing is a uneven. Ladd has an undeniable talent for world-building, transporting her readers to 1814 England with her well-researched, articulate prose. And the first two-thirds of the novel, introducing Amelia and Graham, is a study in slow-burning romance and reluctantly-realized attraction. There's a gradually increasing sense of the menace facing Amelia and Lucy throughout sixty percent or so of the novel -- nicely reminiscent of Bronte with its gothic overtones and imperiled heroine, or later masters of similarly suspenseful fiction (i.e., Victoria Holt or Georgette Heyer -- as regards the latter, The Talisman Ring comes particularly to mind). However, this careful groundwork means the first portion of the novel is occasionally sluggish pacing-wise, especially when compared to the stellar final third act that sees Ladd unleash her full potential as an author. The romance, action, and pacing of Winterwood's conclusion will leave you eager with anticipation for a sequel -- this is the rare story that fully delivers on its promise of introducing a new voice to watch in historical romance.

The Heiress of Winterwood is a richly atmospheric, memorable debut marking Sarah Ladd as an author to watch. Sure to appeal to fans of Austen and Heyer's regency romances, Ladd deftly marries the manners and sensibilities of the Regency period with a touch of the peril, suspense, and lush romance that characterized later gothic romances from the likes of the Brontes, woven together with a subtly-drawn thread of faith. It's a heady combination, at once both wholly true to the time period in which the story is set, while simultaneously setting Amelia and Graham's story apart from other historical fiction that share this time period. If subsequent Ladd novels possess the charm and romance of Winterwood with slightly more polished dialogue and even pacing,  I cannot wait to see where this author takes readers next after delivering simply one of the best inspirational debuts in my recent memory. With a poise and polish that belies Ladd's stance as a debut author, The Heiress of Winterwood is replete with all of the romance and intrigue that its lovely cover implies -- a richly satisfying debut whose promise and potential leave me eager for the sequel -- very well done.

About the book:

Amelia Barrett gave her word. Keeping it could cost her everything.

Amelia Barrett, heiress to an estate nestled in the English moors, defies family expectations and promises to raise her dying friend's baby. She'll risk everything to keep her word -- even to the point of proposing to the child's father -- a sea captain she's never met.

When the child vanishes with little more than an ominous ransom note hinting at her whereabouts, Amelia and Graham are driven to test their boundaries of love for this little one.

Amelia's detailed plans would normally see her through any trial, but now, desperate and shaken, she's forced to examine her soul and face her one weakness: pride.

Graham's strength and self-control have served him well and earned him much respect, but chasing perfection has kept him a prisoner of his own discipline. And away from the family he has sworn to love and protect.

Both must learn to have faith and relinquish control so they can embrace the future ahead of them.

*Thanks to Litfuse for the review opportunity, and my apologies to both Litfuse and the author for the delay in completing this post. Click here to see what others are saying about Ladd's debut.

Friday, April 19, 2013


I can't even start...people, this story is SO fascinating. Go to Collector's Weekly to read the story of the rediscovery of a warehouse filled to the brim with jewelry from classic Hollywood films. The pieces -- and the history -- are absolutely fascinating!

First poster for Thor: The Dark World!

SO EXCITED. Apparently the first trailer will release next week!

Doctor Who - Series 7 finale news!

Hot on the heels of the posters promoting upcoming Doctor Who episodes, the BBC has released the following image and the title of the series seven finale -- "The Name of the Doctor."

Can. Not. WAIT. This hearkens back to the series six finale, am I right? Here's the episode info from the BBC:

The ‘poster’ for the series’ final adventure (above) was unveiled today and it also confirms that Alex Kingston is back, joining Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman for what promises to be a jaw-dropping end to a spectacular series.

But we’re not there, yet! We’ve still to unravel the mystery of Clara – the woman ‘twice killed’ and yet still by the Doctor’s side… What secrets does she hold? And in the weeks ahead we’ve a trip to a haunted house, a journey to the centre of the TARDIS and a nightmare clash with the mighty Cybermen. But after all those adventures we have The Name of the Doctor and stand by for something that you might always have believed to be impossible…

Image via Blogtor Who/Pinterest.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

new Doctor Who posters!

The BBC recently released three new promotional posters for upcoming Doctor Who episodes and I just LOVE them. My favorites are "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS" and "The Crimson Horror." :)

Thoughts on the latest slate of episodes? I am loving the dynamic between Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman, but the storytelling has been a bit "iffy" since the stellar "Bells of St. John" episode in my opinion. I mean everything that's followed has been good, just not *quite* at that level for me. I was talking to some fellow Who fans at work, and I think it is probably due to the normal "adjustment" period I have to wade through any time the Doctor regenerates or switches companions. Normally that seems to happen at the beginning of a season, though, so hopefully things will pick up here for the Doctor and Clara, as the latter has only the back half of season seven to make her debut mark.

Images via Blogtor Who/Pinterest.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: Love at Any Cost by Julie Lessman

Love at Any Cost (The Heart of San Francisco #1)
By: Julie Lessman
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2167-1


In the summer of 1902, Cassidy McClare packs her bags and heads west from Humble, Texas, to the glittering lights of San Francisco, hoping a summer with her beloved aunt and cousins will help her forget the man who jilted her when her father's oil wells ran dry, and the family fortunes disappeared along with the once-plentiful liquid gold. Determined to forswear men, Cassie decides to focus on her fledgling teaching career and her hopes of obtaining a position in the school her Aunt Cait dreams of opening, serving the poor and disadvantaged women of the Barbary Coast. But the moment Cassie steps off the train, her resolve is tested when she collides head-long into the arms of the most dashing, hazel-eyed rogue she's ever seen.

Jamie MacKenna escaped his Barbary Coast roots through hard work, lucky breaks, and sheer force of will, determined to make a name for himself that will erase the shame of his antecedents and allow him to provide his mother and sister with everything life has denied them -- including a life-changing surgery that promises to correct the debilitating hip injury that keeps her nearly bedridden, an injury Jamie blames himself for allowing to occur.When Jamie collides with the Texas spitfire he's sure all his problems are over -- not only is Cassie beautiful, but as an heiress and cousin of his closest friends, marriage to her would allow him to provide for his family and secure his future. Reluctant to risk her heart, Cassie finds herself hard-pressed to withstand Jamie's ardent pursuit -- but when Jamie learns of her family's reversal of fortunes, he's ill-equipped to deal with the stunning realization that the playboy has lost his hear to the pauper princess. If they have any hope of a happily-ever-after, two wounded, misguided souls will have to trust their hearts and futures to the pen of a God who longs to write a love story for them both beyond their wildest dreams.

Moving from Boston to the glamour of turn-of-the-century San Francisco, where the glittering homes of Nob Hill compete with the squalor of the Barbary Coast, Julie Lessman introduces the McClares, a family every bit as passionate and full of life as the O'Connors who made her name. Cassie McClare is something of an anomaly when compared to her beloved wealthy cousins. I loved Cassie's unique, spitfire qualities, but the over-reliance of "country" vernacular as a means of distinguishing her from her cousins quickly become cloying and repetitive cliches. "Thunderation!," "sweet Texas tea!," "low-down polecat," and "pretty boy this-or-that" quickly move from endowing Cassie with a loveable quirk to frankly annoying and over-used verbal cues by the novel's end. While she's more comfortable in jeans and boots than the corsets and gowns attendant with being a member of the San Francisco elite, she is nevertheless determined to immerse herself in her cousins' world, focusing on her faith and fledgling teaching career instead of "pretty boys" who steal kisses with breathless promises and then break your heart.Despite hailing from the less-than-savory Barbary Coast, Jamie has never encountered a woman as straightforward and determined to withstand his considerable charms as Cassie. And when his pride meets her prejudice, sparks fly from the page!

I love the organic way in which Lessman weaves faith into the storyline -- it's very present while never pedantic, a delicate balance to achieve in fiction of this ilk. Her characters leap from the page with a freshness and vitality that is very contemporary, while managing to remain true to the time period in which the story is set. But what sets Lessman's brand of storytelling apart is the frank honesty with which she approaches matters of faith, passion, and desire. The plot has all the twists and turns of a deliciously soapy drama, but the action is grounded by relatable characters who struggle with trust, faith, and what it means to live as a believer in a refreshingly honest manner, proving the timelessness of Lessman's thesis -- that a love story written by God, with the author inextricably woven throughout the relationship, is the most passionate love affair of all.

Running parallel to Cassie and Jamie's tumultuous story is the that of the widowed Aunt Cait and her brother-in-law, the rakish Logan McClare. Engaged until the revelation that Logan betrayed her with another woman, Cait went on to marry his brother, and following her husband's death determines to honor his memory by continuing his work to clean up the Coast and open a women's school. But when Logan determines to win anew the heart of his youthful love, Cait finds her own resolve sorely tested, and she joins her niece in struggling to cope with feelings for men who have more faith in themselves than their Maker. I love how Lessman always has a storyline involving an older, mature couple in her novels, proving that passion rekindled is every bit as heart-stoppingly swoon-worthy as the travails and triumphs of the younger set. :) Given the revelations about Logan at the end of this novel, I cannot wait to see his and Cait's story continued in the sequel!

While reading Love at Any Cost I couldn't help but think that Jamie's good looks and bravado were reminiscent of Clark Gable's character in one of my favorite classic films, 1936's San Francisco, colliding with a transplanted Doris Day as Calamity Jane, the country girl transformed in the 1953 film of the same name. It's no coincidence that Lessman's novel evokes the glamour of classic Hollywood, as she pens stories with a Technicolor flair and a wholehearted belief in love's transformative power, with one addendum -- that the best love stories are those that stem from a passionately shared faith. Replete with a host of well-drawn characters and a healthy dash of period detail, Love at Any Cost is a thoroughly entertaining, energetic introduction to the McClares, replete with Lessman's sparkling wit and passionate romance. I cannot wait for the next installment!

About the book:

He's looking to take care of his family. She's looking to take care of her heart. Trouble is...love's looking to take care of them both.

Cassidy McClare is a spunky Texas oil heiress without a fortune who would just as soon hogtie a man as look at him. Jilted by a fortune hunter, Cassidy travels west hoping a summer visit with her wealthy cousins in San Francisco will help her forget her heartache. But no sooner is she settled into beautiful California than Jamie McKenna, a handsome pauper looking to marry well, captures her heart. Can love prevail when Jamie discovers that Cassidy is poorer than he is? And can Cassidy ever learn to fully trust her heart to a man?

Bestselling author Julie Lessman brings the delectable Gilded Age to life in this sumptuous new series. Join your favorite romantic storyteller as she moves to the hills of San Francisco for more romance, passion, and surprising revelations.

*Thanks to Revell for the review opportunity.

Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan

I love me some F. Scott Fitzgerald, so I've been anticipating Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby for a while now -- even moreso after seeing the stunning photoshoot star Carey Mulligan recently completed for Vogue. The costumes, people, THE COSTUMES. Never mind that I've pinned all my hopes on Mulligan being the most perfect film realization of Daisy to date.What's that when compared to these CLOTHES?

Images via Vogue/Pinterest. Aren't these GORGEOUS, people?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Catching Fire - first trailer!

Ohmygoodness I can't WAIT:

Review: Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson

Fear in the Sunlight (Josephine Tey #4)
By: Nicola Upson
Publisher: Bourbon Street Books
ISBN: 978-0-06-219543-2


British mystery writer Josephine Tey and a select group of friends descend upon the Welsh resort village of Portmeirion in the summer of 1936 with a two-fold purpose -- one, to celebrate Josephine's milestone fortieth birthday, and two, to meet famed filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma, to consider their offer to turn Josephine's novel, A Shilling for Candles, into their next film. Between Tey and the Hitchcocks, Portmeirion has attracted a glittering and varied clientele, but one that for all its seeming privilege stands at the precipice of profound change. Facing middle age, Josephine is preoccupied with analyzing her feelings for one-time lover Marta, while the Hitchcocks, having reached the pinnacle of success in the British film industry, face the decision of whether or not to try their fortunes in the glittering American mecca of Hollywood. But personal turmoil is quickly forgotten when two women in the party are found brutally slain, bringing to light a hidden web of family secrets and long-festering hatreds, casting a bitter pall over the once-sunny party. The advent of "fear in the sunlight...where it is so unexpected" reveals the machinations of a criminal mind so depraved as to test even the mettle of the Master of Suspense...

When I was given the opportunity to review this title, I was thrilled with the chance -- murder in the glamorous pre-war 1930s, featuring one of my favorite filmmakers at the height of his powers? A heady proposition indeed. While I have only a passing knowledge of Tey, having yet to read one of her novels, I have thoroughly enjoyed other contemporary authors' ventures in casting authors as sleuths (i.e., Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries). As a long-time lover of the cozy mystery perfected by Agatha Christie, I expected something of that ilk from this novel -- an atmospheric outing with a healthy dose of history, wherein a famous author matches wits with a killer -- something akin to a real-life (and younger) Miss Marple. What Fear in the Sunlight delivers instead is something substantially less than expected -- atmospheric, yes, but more of a psychological treatise than a period mystery, with a sprawling cast of characters, where Tey's presence is so anecdotal to the plot as to be completely superfluous.

When Tey isn't debating whether or not to agree to Hitchcock's film proposal, she's struggling to define her relationship with Marta (who, it must be mentioned, is already IN a relationship with another "mutual" friend -- what. a. mess.). It's interesting to note that Tey's famous love of privacy and single status (her fiance died in the first World War) seems to have led to the assumption that she must have indulged in same-sex affairs -- and the assumption here, of something undocumented and of a highly private nature, is troubling. Literally every other character fares better than Tey here, particularly her close friend, police inspector Archie Penrose, and the Hitchcocks themselves, as well as the Draycott family, the latter of which figures largely in the horrors that unfold. Penrose is an interesting character whose intelligence and sense of justice would make a compelling lead -- one wonders why, with Tey so nominally "involved" in the crime at Portmeirion, that this isn't simply a mystery featuring Penrose and his experiences. That said, the expansive case of characters featured here is wildly confusing at first blush, and it takes about a fourth of the novel before the narrative begins to coalesce, where a darkly disturbing picture of poisonous family secrets begins to emerge, seeds planted decades earlier that grimly flower in the most incongruous of locales.

Following a painfully slow start, Fear in the Sunlight manages to gel into a page-turning mystery that plays with the idea of the the reader as voyeur, and what, if any, responsibility does the watcher bear in what unfolds -- much like Hitchcock did in his many films. Upson spins a heady web of messy family secrets, only barely glossed by a coating of Hollywood glamour -- a sheen that quickly vanishes as bitter rivalries and dangerous obsessions come to light (not to mention the stomach-turning descriptions of crime scenes). If Tey was dropped from the novel and the narrative's oft-times meandering exploration of fear and voyeurism was trimmed and tightened, allowing Penrose to take center stage and increased character development among those actually involved in the crimes, Fear in the Sunlight had the potential to be a stellar period mystery. As is, for all its flashes of interesting psychological insight or neat plot twists, I'm left wishing for what could have been rather than what was, hoping that someday, Penrose gets his own novel.

About the book:

"Fear of the dark is natural, we all have it, but fear in the sunlight...where it is so unexpected -- that is interesting." -- Alfred Hitchcock

Summer 1936. Mystery writer Josephine Tey joins her friends in the resort village of Portmeirion, Wales, to celebrate her fortieth birthday. Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, are there to sign a deal to film Josephine's novel, A Shilling for Candles. But things get out of hand when one of Hollywood's leading actresses is brutally slashed to death in a cemetery near the village. The following day, as fear and suspicion take over in a setting where nothing -- and no one -- is quite what it seems, Chief Inspector Archie Penrose becomes increasingly unsatisfied with the way the investigation is ultimately resolved. Several years later, another horrific murder, again linked to a Hitchcock movie, drives Penrose back to the scene of the original crime to uncover the shocking truth.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the review opportunity.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Once Upon a Time - the Graphic Novel preview!

For some reason I am super-excited about this -- mainly because the cover is GORGEOUS, I suppose. On September 4th the first Once Upon a Time graphic novel will release, entitled Shadow of the Queen. The story will fit into the show's continuity as it follows the events of the season one episode that RIPPED MY HEART OUT, "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter." You can read more about the release here, and pre-order your copy from Amazon here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Posting is apt to be a bit sporadic here for the next few days as I strive to meet several book review commitment deadlines...so I thought I'd check in and leave you with this delicious teaser photo from one of my new favorite things -- the Australian television show Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, recently released on Blu-ray and DVD.  People, I love this show SO MUCH. And this picture makes me SO HAPPY. If I can ever get my act together I want to blog about this show UNTIL THE END OF TIME. But until then, meet Nathan Page as Detective Inspector Jack Robinson and Essie Davis as Miss Phyrne Fisher. :)

So what's new with everyone? Discover any new shows or films or fabulous reads?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters trailer

I have a lot of trouble believing that the first Percy Jackson movie made enough money to warrant a sequel, but what the heck do I know? LOL Thanks to Karrie for posting the trailer (and helllloooooooo Nathan Fillion):

Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: Look to the East by Maureen Lang

Look to the East (The Great War #1)
By: Maureen Lang
Publisher: Tyndale
ISBN: 978-1-4143-3895-8


Raised by a loving adopted family, Julitte Toussaint nevertheless struggles with her identity and place in Briecourt, a small town bitterly divided by a decades-old feud pitting Toussaint against de Colville. But in the first weeks of the conflict that would come to be known as the Great War, Toussaint and de Colville alike find themselves bidding farewell to fathers, sons, and brothers, called upon by a common love of country to fight the encroaching menace of the German army. Despite sharing a common enemy and worry for imperiled loved ones, the bitter partisanship that divides the town continues to rage unabated -- until the fateful day the war comes home to Briecourt in the form of German soldiers. And thus the citizens of Briecourt are faced with a greater threat than the prejudices that have for so long divided neighbor against neighbor -- soldiers who demand obedience, who commandeer supplies, and seek to keep a frightened populace under control with an iron hand.

The occupation becomes something more than simple survival when Julitte stumbles upon the town's greatest secret -- hidden refugees, including wealthy, handsome Belgian businessman Charles Lassone, caught behind enemy lines before he was able to return to his homeland and join his countrymen in their fight against Germany. The attraction between them is immediate, giving Julitte hope of not only a future following the war but of a life free from the shadow of her past. However, Charles isn't content to sit out the war in hiding, and bolstered by his love for Julitte and inspired by her faith in a God who would have a plan for even his dissolute life, he determines to escape Briecourt and join the Allies. But in a town physically occupied by the enemy and spiritually divided by a poisonous prejudice, Charles's risky bid for freedom threatens to destroy more than his hope for a future with Julitte...

Maureen Lang's The Great War series has been on my radar for quite some time. She's one of the first inspirational-market authors in my experience to explore the rich history of the first World War, which is a natural extension of my fascination with the second World War, as the roots of that later conflict were first birthed in the horror of the trenches. And thanks to the popularity of Edwardian era set programs such as Downton Abbey and most recently, Mr. Selfridge, Lang's fiction set during this time period is surely poised for fans new and old alike to discover her evocative, poignant portrait of ordinary people struggling to survive extraordinary times.

While the passage of time is a bit too fluid for my liking -- the novel covers approximately two years, but the actual passage of time is only remarked on in the haziest of terms -- Lang's setting and depiction of the struggles of an occupied people are one of the novel's greatest strengths. I was powerfully reminded of a recent miniseries I discovered -- Monsignor Renard, a Masterpiece production detailing the travails of a French town under Nazi occupation. In both book and film the terrific strain the townspeople were forced to endure, the overwhelming force brought to bear to keep a subjugated people in line are powerfully told -- the means not always involving outright brutality, but more often than not psychological warfare, instilling in the conquered a paralyzing fear of action -- anything to avoid reprisals. The suspicion Julitte's best friend, Ori, faces for collaboration is a particularly effective illustration of the manner in which the occupiers could break a people's will -- by tearing the fabric of trust between family and friends. The long-standing feud Lang puts in play adds another layer of conflict, as the lack of any true community in Julitte's hometown is the first front in the war she and her neighbors must wage if they are to survive.

I loved Julitte and Charles's romance -- achingly sweet, replete with stolen glances and dreamed-of kisses, but stitched through with a refreshingly genuine, honest exploration of spiritual matters and the importance (initially on Julitte's side alone) of a shared faith. Charles is a particularly well-drawn hero, as his struggle to define himself outside the parameters of his family's name and wealth and the accompanying life of privilege he so enjoys is sorely tested by the advent of war and its rapid destruction of his high-minded ideals regarding the conflict. The stark reality of probable, imminent death forces Charles to confront not only what he believes about patriotism but himself and his goals and purpose in life -- heretofore directionless without the grounding of the faith his sister and Julitte so fervently share. And while I loved Julitte's gentle spirit and quiet faith, one aspect of her characterization was troubling -- the to my mind unnecessary inclusion of the townspeople's belief that she is some sort of miracle-worker. It wasn't explored in great enough depth to really substantively further ostracize Julitte (any moreso than her status as adopted Toussaint, child of a leper colony). That aside, Julitte's struggle to reconcile the tenets of her faith with the evil and hardship she encounters under German occupation is among the freshest, most honest illustrations of a believer grappling with the unthinkable in fiction of this ilk.

Look to the East is a fascinating glimpse into a world at war and its impact on the lives of a handful of ordinary citizens called to make extraordinary sacrifices. Lang's research is stellar, transporting readers to a world under siege, where an entire way of life undergoes irrevocable change in the crucible of war. With clear, articulate prose and a deft hand weaving matters of faith, doubt, and identity throughout, through Julitte and Charles's experiences Lang weaves a rich tapestry detailing the French wartime experience. For that matter, it is so refreshing to read war-set fiction that focuses wholly on the everyday European's experience (while Charles is half-American, it is an incidental plot point) -- so often American authors focus on the wartime experiences of Americans (understandably so). I fell in love with the history and Lang's well-drawn characterizations -- with a tighter, more clearly articulated timeline and a more focused plot climax (Julitte's Greek grandfather is a poorly-conceived deus ex machina in an otherwise carefully-meted story arc), I have high hopes for my future experiences delving into Lang's crisp prose and lovingly-crafted, relatable characters.

About the book:

France, 1914

The small village of Briecourt may be isolated from early battles of World War I, but a century-old feud between the de Colvilles and Toussaints rages in the streets. Despite being adopted as a child, Julitte Toussaint endures the scorn of the de Colvilles more than most, given the folklore surrounding her heritage.

Then everything changes the day the German army sweeps in to occupy Briecourt, trapping a handful of outsiders behind enemy lines, including Belgian entrepreneur Charles Lassone. When Julitte discovers Charles hiding in the church basement, an unexpected and dangerous love blossoms between them.

But heroes aren't made in cellars. Eager to join the Allied forces -- and prove himself worthy of Julitte's love -- Charles convinces the de Colvilles and the Toussaints to finally work together to smuggle him out.

Yet with the life of every villager on the line, who can be trusted? And when the line between ally and enemy is blurred, will faith and courage be enough to sustain them all?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


A few weeks ago Liz and Kaye and I were in the mood for some lighter movie-going fare, and so we settled on a matinee showing of Admission. Based on the previews I expected a straight romantic comedy. And while the film contains several laugh-out-loud moments, the comedic elements of the script take a backseat to the story's unexpectedly poignant exploration of coming to terms with life when it disappoints or shocks or sends you reeling. The humor is subtler, the storyline and themes more serious than I expected -- but I absolutely fell in love with this movie's quiet heart and charm. If one is going to label it a "romantic comedy," Admission fits the bill in the term's loosest sense -- which is, I suspect, why it has such middling reviews. But I'd argue that a more apt descriptor would perhaps be a thinking person's comedy, as this movie grapples with questions of love, loss, fulfillment, and purpose in a very genuine manner.

Based on the novel of the same name by Jean Hanff Korelitz (which I've not yet read), Admission centers on the life and career of Princeton University admissions officer Portia Nathan (Tina Fey). Portia is in line for promotion to the head of admissions, and with Princeton's recent slip to second in rankings the upcoming recruitment season is her chance to shine. Portia is a classic Type A personality -- driven and dedicated, she lives to excel at the job she's given her life to. But unlike her colleagues, when it comes to the applications that cross her desk she actually sees the students, taking the hopes and dreams and work that went into the applications quite literally. I loved how the applications come to life when Portia reads them, the imagined student "appearing" in her office to plead their case. It's a visual device that could have easily been overused, but the film manages to use to just often enough to underscore the heart beneath Portia's desire to live life according to her plan.

But as the saying goes, the best laid plans oft go awry, and Portia faces her world unraveling on multiple personal and professional fronts. Her long-time professor boyfriend, Mark (Michael Sheen) breaks up with her DURING the annual faculty lunch she hates to co-host, leaving her for his pregnant (surprise!) girlfriend (double surprise!) and fellow professor, the delightfully witchy Helen (Sonya Walger). Sheen is absolutely HILARIOUS as Mark, delightfully awkward as he finds himself living a life he never wanted -- i.e., one with kids. Getting unceremoniously dumped in so public a fashion is the first blow, and while the awkward dance her colleagues undergo -- the whole "do we/don't we" say anything, do we address the proverbial elephant in the room?? -- is played for laughs, it underscores the very real threat Portia faces (and Fey portrays with such sensitivity) -- how does a control freak survive when one's life spirals into chaos?

Meanwhile, Portia's job proves more difficult than usual as John Pressman (Paul Rudd), the head of a unconventional college readying its first graduating class, hounds her into visiting his school to meet a student he feels would be exceptional Princeton material -- Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), who turns out to be the very definition of eccentric. But John has an ulterior motive -- an acquaintance of one of Portia's college friends, he's aware of a secret Portia's kept hidden for nearly twenty years -- the child she gave up for adoption. He's sure that Portia is Jeremiah's biological mother, and equally sure in his conviction that Jeremiah needs familial roots and the straight-laced admissions officer desperately needs loosening up.

Now, no matter how well-intentioned John may have been in his single-minded quest to reunite biological mother and child, the manner in which in goes about this is, of course, RIDDLED with ethical issues to say the least. He's extremely thoughtless at the very least. But that aside, as a means of forcing Portia to confront the past she's tried so hard to escape -- namely, her prickly relationship with her mother -- it's a masterstroke. Motherhood is a role Portia seems to have assiduously avoided thanks to her issues with her own upbringing (her mother being a radical feminist who repeatedly told Portia she was the product of a one-night stand).

For his part, John has just as many issues regarding his family and future to work through as Portia, though he comes at them from the opposite perspective -- where Portia is conservative, straight-laced, and grounded, John is a free-thinking, devil-may-care liberal determined to go wherever the wind (often quite literally) takes him. The conflict there is in his travels John takes it upon himself to adopt Nelson (Travaris Spears), the orphaned son of friends he made while doing relief work overseas. John is determined to raise his son without the trappings of wealth and eccentricity (to say the least) that he dealt with as a child -- the only catch being that Nelson desperately wants roots and a sense of normalcy, qualities he see's in Portia's "boring" life.

One of the most refreshing aspects of Admission lies in how both Portia and John have to overcome a multitude of past baggage and mistakes for their chance at a happy ending -- in most films of this ilk, the balance toward change always seems weighed toward the female lead, no? Here, both of them have been hurt, both have made mistakes, both have fought with everything in them to escape the self-described stigma of their parents' choices. And while this film doesn't offer easy answers or the perfect happy ending, wrapped and tied with a beautiful bow, I found its ending not only refreshingly realistic but also saturated with grace -- forgiveness and the hope of second and third and fourth chances -- as Portia and John explore their fledgling relationship and experience a renewed relationship with their mothers (especially on Portia's side). Wounds aren't forgotten or glossed over, but rather acknowledged, and those moments of raw honesty hold the promise of forgiveness and healing.

Tina Fey and Paul Rudd are fantastic together with a thoroughly appealing on-screen chemistry (seriously, there's one moment in the film when John calls Portia "exquisite -- you. will. DIE). I just loved Fey here -- she just embodies everything you want a smart and intelligent Hollywood leading lady to be, you know? The supporting cast shines with Wallace Shawn as Clarence (nevermind that the man has a film career that spans over three decades, he will always and forever be Vizzini from The Princess Bride) and Gloria Reuben as Corrine, Portia's professional rival and hilarious office frenemy. But best of all is Lily Tomlin as Susannah, Portia's ex-hippie mother. People, she was absolutely hilarious and stole nearly every scene she appeared in (especially the whole drunk-dialing Portia while riding a bicycle).

This movie was a surprising charmer -- and if you're in the mood for some thought-provoking, subtly humorous movie-going fare Admission is well worth the ticket price or rental. If you've seen (or read the novel) it I'd love to hear your thoughts!