Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review: The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

The Crown
By: Nancy Bilyeau
Publisher: Touchstone
ISBN: 978-1-4516-2686-5


Joanna Stafford forsook the life of a noblewoman that was her birthright as a niece to the Duke of Buckingham for a life of seclusion and spirituality as a Dominican novice at the famed Dartford Priory. These are turbulent times in which to dedicated oneself to the service of the Catholic Church, as ever since Henry VIII obtained the dissolution of his marriage from Katherine of Aragon, the monasteries and priories so beloved by that queen and her supporters have found themselves under attack. All are threatened with dissolution at best, torture and a martyr's death at worst for not bowing to Henry's edict demanding they swear an Oath of Supremacy, binding them to the king first and foremost and ceding to the authority of the new Church of England. But safely ensconced within Dartford's walls, Joanna paid little heed to the tumult of religious politics consuming the outside world, until she receives news she cannot ignore - her beloved cousin has been sentenced to death. Lady Margaret Bulmer may pay with her life for opposing the dissolution of the monasteries and priories, but Johanna determines she will not die alone, and defying the rules of enclosure embarks on a dangerous journey to Margaret's appointed place of execution.

But the day of Margaret's death nothing goes as planned. When Johanna's father attempts to interfere with the execution, both he and Johanna are arrested and thrown into the infamous Tower of London on suspicion of treason. While incarcerated within the Tower's formidable walls, Johanna finds herself the unwilling pawn of the ruthless Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner. He arranges for Johanna's release, on one condition -she is tasked with finding the legendary crown of Athelstan, the first king of a united Britain, whose crown is rumored to possess incredible and dangerous powers. The crown is rumored to be hidden at Dartford, and only when it is safely in Gardiner's possession will her father be released. And so Johanna returns to the priory under a cloud of suspicion and mistrust, her sacred home, once a refuge, now heavy with the portent of faceless dangers. For while her father's life hangs in the balance, Johanna is faced with an equally graver choice -- can one who sought the peace of a religious life survive the treacherous machinations of court? And more importantly, can her faith survive the trials and discoveries her search for the crown requires?

People, THIS BOOK. The Crown is a fresh, utterly captivating glimpse into Tudor England through the eyes of those faithful to the old ways, those who fought to preserve a way of life threatened by the politics of lust and power. Its a rare thing to discover a debut so absorbing and masterfully executed -- a pitch-perfect historical that reads like a tautly-plotted thriller. The intrigue of Henry's court has provided endless fodder for fictional retellings, from the television show The Tudors, numerous films, and countless novels examining the lives of Henry and his wives. Bilyeau smartly sets her debut outside the court proper -- its influence is felt, but The Crown stands apart by showcasing the ripple effect of Henry's policies on those who sought to live their lives and faith outside the court-proscribed norm.

The Crown is positively saturated with the history of faith. Through the characters of Johanna and those who join her in her bid to preserve a vanishing way of life, The Crown is one of the most stirring, well-drawn portraits of faith that I've ever read. This is an emotionally-charged, vibrantly-detailed picture of faith under fire, both personally and corporately, never shying from its oft-times brutally honest examination of the nature and cost of belief, doubt, and sacrifice. While persecution between groups of people, be it over religious, ethnic, or political differences, is as old as mankind itself, here I was particularly struck by the tragedy of the conflict between Catholic and Protestant. Both claiming belief in the same God and His Son, and each side in turn guilty of horrors in the name of advancing their faith.

Joanna is a wonderfully compelling, multi-faceted heroine. A fiery mix of faith, devotion, and a fierce loyalty and temper, the latter often putting her at odds with the lifestyle to which she aspires. In a world where women were confined to strictly proscribed roles, Joanna is a woman wholly of her time, yet determined to be her own woman, above all striving to be true to herself, her faith, and her God. Bilyeau's cast of supporting players are equally well-sketched -- and let me just say, I cannot wait to see what Bilyeau has planned for Joanna's relationships with the angst-ridden healer, Brother Edmund, and the DELICIOUS constable, Geoffrey Scovill. :)

The Crown is an expertly-plotted, page-turning thriller replete with a wealth of historical detail and atmosphere, bringing the sixteenth-century to life. Bilyeau peppers the narrative with fascinating detail, everything from feast preparations to medical treatments for seizures. Given Joanna's status as a novice, Bilyeau deftly recreates the world of the priory, the beliefs and traditions that form the bedrock of Joanna's character. And the history of relics -- particularly the Athelstan crown -- the reverence with which they were viewed and shadowy legends that grew up surrounding their history. With her stunning debut Bilyeau has delivered a heady, unforgettable mix of fact and fiction. An author to watch, I cannot wait to see where she takes Joanna next!

About the book:

Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin's side. Arrested for interfering with the king's justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

While Joanna is in the Tower, ruthless Bishop of Winchester forces her to spy for him: to save her father's life she must find an ancient relic -- a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation.

With Cromwell's troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must decide who she can trust so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England's past.

*My deepest thanks to TLC Book Tours for the review opportunity!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review: Tempest in the White City by Deeanne Gist

Tempest in the White City (Prequel to It Happened at the Fair)
By: Deeanne Gist
Publisher: Howard Books


When Texas Ranger Hunter Scott was assigned to work the Chicago World's Fair, he anticipated working an exhibit that was suited to his rough-and-tumble tastes. Instead he's assigned to the Women's Building, where every corner was created, designed, filled, and run by women. When his nagging stomach pains blossom into an ailment that leaves him as helpless as a babe, he finds his welfare dependent on the one thing he fears most -- a doctor, and a female one to boot. Dr. Billy Jack Tate thought her greatest challenge was being one of the first female doctors in a male-dominated field -- until a handsome, stubborn Texas Ranger stumbles into her clinic and sparks fly.

Tempest in the White City could perhaps be more accurately titled Tempest in a Teacup, as I remain unsure of the point of its release. Ostensibly a prelude to Gist's latest full-length novel, It Happened at the Fair, Tempest is a slim story featuring characters that don't even feature in the later book (if the search inside feature is to be believed). While this story hints at Gist's ability to bring the 1893 World's Fair to life, replete with historical detail and ephemera, this vibrant backdrop is overshadowed by a meet-cute that consists of, I kid you not, a man in desperate need of an enema. It's an interesting twist on the always-popular battle of the sexes storyline in historical fiction, but with so little time in which to develop decent characterizations, as a reader all I was left with was a story about a man so neurotic about his own body processes that he makes himself seriously ill. I mean, really? Perhaps in a full-length novel you could get some plot mileage from a relationship that builds around late nineteenth-century constipation treatments, but in this format it's just...awkward. Here's hoping Gist's full length follow-up takes full advantage of its setting to craft a more...palatable romance.

About the book:

When a World’s Fair Guard and the woman doctor assigned to treat him square off in the White City, a storm is brewing…

Hunter Scott is one of the elite. An 1893 Chicago World’s Fair guard specifically chosen for his height, physique, character, and ability to serve and protect. When he is overcome with debilitating abdominal pain, Hunter stumbles to the Fair’s infirmary only to discover the doctor is female—who ever heard of a female doctor? But even worse, she has the nerve to diagnose him, the toughest man west of any place east, with constipation—an unspeakable ailment in mixed company. What will happen when this tough Texan and attractive doctor face off? Either way, a tempest is brewing...

Friday, June 28, 2013

subscription options!

Just a reminder that this weekend marks the demise of Google Reader, so if you haven't already and you use GR get your subscriptions transferred to a new site! :) I've been using for several months now and I just love it -- personally I think it is the closest option to GR but better if you're looking for increased organizing ability and ease-of-use. The second most popular option seems to be Bloglovin -- I've added a Bloglovin' subscription button in the right-hand sidebar, or you can click here to keep up with Booktalk & More on that site. If y'all have any other GR replacements that you love please chime in with links in the comments!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Matt Smith's Who Goodbye

This has been around for a while but I finally got the chance to watch it. Matt, you'll be missed!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review: A Big Hand for the Doctor by Eoin Colfer

A Big Hand for the Doctor (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary #1)
By: Eoin Colfer
Publisher: Puffin


In honor of Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary in 2013, Puffin announced plans to publish one story each month, each featuring one of the Doctor's eleven incarnations. Eoin Colfer was tapped to deliver the first story, featuring the First Doctor as portrayed by William Hartnell. Since I came to love Doctor Who with the show's resurrection under Russell T. Davies and Nine (Christopher Eccleston), I have a difficult time judging fiction featuring pre-Nine incarnations of the Doctor, as I have so little experience with the original program. That said, I was excited to read Colfer's offering into the Who-universe, as having read a few of his Artemis Fowl novels several years ago I was impressed by his imagination and humor.

Hartnell's Doctor always struck me as rather grandfatherly and frail, an opinion immediately borne out within the pages of this story as I learn that the Doctor's first companion was his granddaughter, Susan, and his mannerisms are suggestive of an old curmudgeon. *wink* The whole plot line involving a bio-mechanical hand and the Soul Pirates is suggestive of the 2005 Christmas special, "The Christmas Invasion," with the Sycorax, a sword fight, and the newly-regenerated Ten regrowing his own lost hand. While I can't really speak to how Colfer's Doctor compares to Hartnell's portrayal, personally I enjoyed the chance (albeit a short one) to see the Doctor interact with a family member in an adventure that recalls one of my own favorite Ten episodes. Though the story itself is barely fleshed-out at a slim forty-odd pages, is nonetheless an entertaining example of both Colfer's imagination and a concept that fits comfortably within the Doctor's universe.

Some criticisms of this story allege that this Doctor is too much of the "Nu-Who" generation, and indeed it's hard to dismiss that allegation when you have this allegedly old man turning into something of an action hero in the second half of the story. I have mixed feelings about this -- on the one hand, I like the idea of writing an old Doctor adventure but updating his point-of-view to include current cultural touchstones, but on the other hand I'd like a clear, engaging snapshot of the Doctor as he was at the beginning of his adventures. That's the rub with time travel -- the show itself is very much a product of its time, but we forget that it's all out of order too. *wink* I wish Colfer had been given the chance to write a full-length adventure featuring Eleven as I think he'd be a perfect fit for Matt Smith's quirks and energy -- but that being said I enjoyed this short story -- especially the epilogue -- and look forward to checking out more of these short stories.

About the book:

Eleven Doctors, eleven months, eleven stories: a year-long celebration of Doctor Who! The most exciting names in children's fiction each create their own unique adventure about the time-travelling Time Lord.

London, 1900. The First Doctor is missing both his hand and his granddaughter, Susan. Faced with the search for Susan, a strange beam of soporific light, and a host of marauding Soul Pirates intent on harvesting human limbs, the Doctor is promised a dangerous journey into a land he may never forget...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson

Miss Buncle's Book
By: D.E. Stevenson
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
ISBN: 978-1402270826


Thanks to the Depression, Miss Barbara Buncle's finances have never been in such dire straits. As the dividends she's relied upon for her living dwindle, delivering ever-smaller returns, she hatches a desperate plot -- surely she'll make money if she sells a novel. But first, she'll have to write it -- and as Barbara is quick to admit, she has little imagination. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and what Miss Buncle lacks in imagination she more than makes up for in determination and observational skill. And so Miss Buncle writes what she knows, and when to her shock and delight her novel, Disturber of the Peace, is published (under the pseudonym John Smith), it becomes abundantly clear that what the unassuming spinster knows best is her town of Silverstream and its varied and colorful inhabitants.

To Miss Buncle's shock, Disturber of the Peace becomes a runaway bestseller, alternately lauded for its simple, refreshing realism or reviled for its gossipy tone and passionate scenes, with the controversy reaching a fevered pitch when Barbara's friends and neighbors recognize themselves within its pages. She never expected those painted in a less-than-favorable light in her book to become obsessed with unmasking John Smith's true identity -- or for others to take their fictional doppelgangers' actions to heart, translating her script for their lives from the page to reality. As the lines between fiction and reality become increasingly blurred, Miss Buncle -- she of little imagination -- finds herself facing the greatest challenge of all: penning her own happy ending and finding the courage to live it out.

People, you know the saying you can't judge a book by its cover? Well I'm happy to say in this case you totally can, as the gorgeous, charming, red-accented cover Sourcebooks created for this reissue is the entire reason I picked up this novel in the first place. First published in 1934, Miss Buncle's Book is quirky, engaging, utterly charming, and very much a product of its time, as the best way I can think of to describe this story is a screwball comedy in novel form. Screwball comedies reached their creative zenith during the Great Depression, tapping into the public's desire for escapist fare, oft-times wrapped in biting -- and hilarious -- social satire (i.e., My Man Godfrey, You Can't Take It With You, etc.). Miss Buncle's Book is startlingly reminiscent of the later 1936 gem Theodora Goes Wild, starring the inimitable Irene Dunne and Melvyn Douglas. In that film, Theodora pens a racy bestseller under a pseudonym and she's desperate to maintain her reputation while evading the ardent pursuit of the man responsible for illustrating her book cover -- the latter sure she needs rescuing from her strait-laced hometown. In contrast to the later film, Stevenson's novel is the bitingly funny portrait of a town in flux, completely at the mercy of a disingenuous authoress who had the temerity to write what she knows with brutal honesty. *wink*

While Barbara Buncle is linchpin around which events revolve, the novel is rather episodic in nature, traveling house to house, examining the impact of Disturber of the Peace vis-a-vis each Silverstream resident's sense of humor (or lack thereof), contrasted with the plot trajectory their literary counterpart is set upon within the novel. Stevenson throws so many characters into the mix that between there actual identities and their fictional counterparts, keeping everyone straight is a bit confusing at first. But once the story finds its rhythm, following Barbara's attempts to deal with the fallout from her debut while trying to pen a sequel, and the impact of her startlingly sharp observations playing out in the lives of her unwitting subjects, the resultant novel is an utter charmer. While I loved watching Barbara blossom, exceeding the expectations of everyone who thought they knew her, I particularly loved the story of the Vicar, the gold-digger, and the student -- a love triangle for the ages!

Miss Buncle's Book sparkles with humor and period detail, a timeless and hilarious examination of the pitfalls of pride and the foibles of human nature. Sure to appeal to fans of P.G. Wodehouse and the like, Stevenson's wit and charm shines. I'm thrilled to have at long last discovered a new favorite "classic" author, and cannot wait to explore her backlist further!

About the book:

Who knew one book could cause so much chaos?

Barbara Buncle is in a bind. Times are harsh, and Barbara's bank account has seen better days. Maybe she could sell a novel...if she knew any stories. Stumped for ideas, Barbara draws inspiration  from her fellow residents of Silverstream, the little English village she knows inside and out.

To her surprise, the novel is a smash. It's a good thing she wrote under a pseudonym, because the folks of Silverstream are in an uproar. But what really turns Miss Buncle's world around is this: what happens to the characters in her book starts happening to their real-life counterparts. Does life really imitate art?

A beloved author who has sold more than seven million books, D.E. Stevenson is at her best with Miss Buncle's Book, crafting a highly original and charming tale about what happens when people see themselves through someone else's eyes.

Monday, June 24, 2013


I can't remember the last time I was quite THIS excited for a book's release!! The Hero's Lot is the WILDLY ANTICIPATED FOLLOW-UP to Patrick Carr's debut A Cast of Stones, which you can read all about HERE - AND I HAVE A COPY!!! Good times ahead people, GOOD TIMES. :)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Review: Dreamspell by Tamara Leigh

By: Tamara Leigh
Publisher: Tamara Leigh


Dr. Kennedy Plain, a sleep disorders specialist, has one driving passion in life -- to complete her study analyzing the affect of sleep deprivation on dreams.  Her deadline is nothing less than the end of her very life, as the inoperable tumor within her brain increasingly threatens the once-vibrant woman's most precious commodity -- time. When one of her long-time patients -- a Gulf War veteran named Mac -- comes to her with a shocking theory, Kennedy is forced to re-evaluate the cost of her research as well as the extraordinary, inexplicable power of that most immeasurable of human emotions, hope. Mac comes to her with outlandish tales of time travel through dreams, of history in flux, a history he hopes to return to in order to right a terrible wrong -- to save the nephews of the infamous Earl of Sinwell, Fulke Wynland, from death at the hand of their erstwhile protector. Kennedy dismisses Mac's story as the ravings of an unstable mind. But, stripped of her research grant and sent home to await her death, Kennedy becomes increasingly obsessed with Mac's tales, and when she finally succumbs to sleep at the end of an eighty-plus hour deprivation cycle, she finds herself thrust into fourteenth-century England. Face-to-face with the infamous Fulke, Kennedy is determined to maintain her hold on 21st-century reality. But Fulke and his effect on Kennedy's emotions, is all too real, and Kennedy becomes increasingly invested in her dream world. For Fulke is not the villain history claims, and if Kennedy can accept her impossible second chance she might not only rewrite Fulke's history but her own as well.

Having read and enjoyed Tamara Leigh's contemporary-set chick-lit novels (Stealing Adda -- a classic!), I was thrilled to see her return to the genre that launched her writing career -- medieval romance. Only this time, medieval romance with a twist -- time travel via one's dreams. Reminiscent of the film Timeline, where one is given the chance to right a historical wrong, this is a book just begging to made made into a film. From the romance, adventure, and intrigue surrounding Fulke's position at court, Dreamspell is an enthralling novel, perfectly poised to transition Leigh's contemporary fans to her historical work.

As someone who has, on occasion, dealt with sleep issues, I found the fictional application of Kennedy's work fascinating. Leigh taps into this rich vein of possibility with a beautifully-told story contrasting Kennedy's modern sensibilities with Fulke's chivalric code. I loved the spicy, slow-burning tension between Kennedy and Fulke, the former completely out of her element masquerading as Lady Lark, one of the king's infamous mistresses, while the latter, hardened by years of battle, finds himself attracted and stymied in turn by "Lark's" strange ways. Leigh takes her time developing a relationship between her leads, forcing each to face their deepest fears, and a veritable host of lies that would seek to destroy any hope of happiness. The mistrust  and impossibilities laced throughout the relationship that would derail it make their eventual, hard-won declarations all the sweeter.

While Dreamspell isn't an inspirational novel per se, given Leigh's history in the inspy market I couldn't help but liken Kennedy's dream journeys to a test of faith. The circumstances are impossible, every logical feeling screams no -- but when she steps out in faith, embracing her improbable second chance at life, she is in a very real sense reborn. And the healing and life found within this second chance is beautifully told, underscored by one of the most poignant, pitch-perfect epilogues I've ever read.

Dreamspell shines with Leigh's passion for the time period. Her carefully-crafted characters, attention to detail, and escalating plot tension work in concert to craft an unforgettable, thoroughly enjoyable tale. It's worth noting that this marks Leigh's first venture into self-publishing, and she is to be lauded for the care she took in delivering a manuscript as professionally presented and crafted as her traditionally published works, from the lovely cover design to the text formatting. Both gorgeously told, poignant tale of second chances and a heart-stopping romance, I loved this book and am more eager than ever to see fiction of this ilk from Leigh's pen. Well done!

About the book:

A time to live. A time to die. A time to dream.

Sleep disorders specialist Kennedy Plain has been diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor. When her research subject dies after trying to convince her he has achieved dream-induced time travel and her study is shelved, she enlists herself as a subject to complete her research. But when she dreams herself into 14th-century England and falls into the hands of Fulke Wynland, a man history has condemned as a murderer, she must not only stay alive long enough to find a way to return to her own time, but prevent Fulke from murdering his young nephews. And yet, the more time she spends with the medieval warrior, the more difficult it is to believe he is capable of committing the heinous crime for which he has been reviled for 600 years.

Baron Fulke Wynland has been granted guardianship of his brother’s heirs despite suspicions that he seeks to steal their inheritance. When the king sends a mysterious woman to care for the boys, Fulke is surprised by the lady's hostility toward him--and more surprised to learn she is to be his wife. But when his nephews are abducted, the two must overcome their mutual dislike to discover the boys' fate. What Fulke never expects is to feel for this woman whose peculiar speech, behavior, and talk of dream travel could see her burned as a witch.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sleeping Beauty

I've become a little obsessed with collecting images for my Fairy Tales: Sleeping Beauty board on Pinterest lately, so I thought it was time to share a few of my new favorites:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Man of Steel

So. WHERE TO BEGIN?! I wasn't sure I'd bring myself to blog about Man of Steel, but it was in my opinion such a colossal missed opportunity that I think I must as some sort of movie-going therapy, for my own sanity. *wink* This post is going to be RIDDLED with spoilers, so consider yourself warned.

It's interesting how times have changed. Growing up I was addicted to the old Justice League cartoons, and thought the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Flash were the best things going -- though I didn't know it at the time, DC comics creations were, to my seven year old mind, the superheroes of choice, the ones that fired my imagination and play. (Wonder Woman still is the best, just FYI -- and I live in dread of the day a film is produced that just butchers the character.)

But then something happened, and Marvel started to unleash film versions of their own slate of superheroes -- ones I had little to no familiarity with thanks to my childhood obsession with the Justice League, but who nonetheless managed to tap into my love for these colorful character types. Films featuring Iron Man, the Hulk (in the absence of a Mark Ruffalo-fronted Hulk picture I'd go with the Edward Norton film), Thor, Captain America, and Spider-Man have all met with my resounding approval. I love these characters, I love these films -- this type of adventure never gets old.

And so it was with no little anticipation that I looked forward to yet another re-boot of the grandfather of all superheroes, Man of Steel -- particularly considering Christopher Nolan's involvement in the project as producer. Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy stands among my favorite films in any genre -- those stories are near and dear to my heart, notably for their character development, world-building, and extraordinarily meted-out themes of sacrifice and redemption. Clearly I pinned too much hope on Nolan's involvement, as despite its history, the strength of decades worth of source material, and a pretty strong cast, Man of Steel was such a disappointment.

Now, to be fair, it's not like everything about this film was a flop -- it has its moments, story beats or brief character exchanges that hint at the film that could have been, and made the resulting viewing experience all the more frustrating. The pieces are there for what might have been a fabulous Superman origin story, but lacking the strength of a strong script and solid character development, the individuals that should make me care about this story are lost in a never-ending (literally, NEVER-ENDING) shuffle and blur of explosions and action sequences. And with a run time of two hours and twenty-three minutes, containing at best roughly thirty minutes of film resembling anything like a compelling story, does not a gripping film make. =P

Perhaps for me what it most boils down to is that the Superman character just doesn't work "dark," i.e. Batman-dark -- and we don't need him to. Much has been written about Superman's parallels to Christ, from the manner in which he is sent to the planet to the purpose he fulfills -- a purpose Russell Crowe's Jor-El suggests when he tells his son that "he'll give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards." If you don't want to look at Superman as a savior-figure, consider him then, at the very least, as the hope of one. That, to me, has always been Superman's defining characteristic, and to see a film that suggests that only to deliver an origin story that is ultimately stripped of hope, and is so bleak is disappointing to say the least. Perhaps that is Man of Steel's biggest downfall -- it suggests a "savior," but then strips away everything that would make him someone to unite behind, someone to cheer for, by making him too human.

This film favors a non-linear approach to telling Superman's origin story, and perhaps if there'd been a greater focus on developing the actual character it might've worked more effectively. As it stands the time-jumps and flashbacks only served to make it harder to really connect with a pre-super Clark Kent. I mean the movie opens with the destruction of Krypton prologue that WILL NOT END and then immediately cuts to an adult Clark, who has apparently been making a living odd-jobbing it around the country. These scenes further support the Superman/Christ parallels, as we see Clark helping and/or saving others in various settings -- and when it is later revealed that he's thirty-three, close in age to when Jesus began his ministry (Luke 3:23), it's suggestive of the savior characterization. But all of that begins to fall apart for me when through various other flashbacks we're told just why Clark left the farm...

Henry Cavill certainly looks like a Superman/Clark Kent, and given his acting resume it's a shame that he wasn't given a chance to bring more to this role than his not inconsiderable muscles. *wink* Now, I get that as a kid Clark would've had a difficult time wrapping his head around why and how much he was different from his peers. I even rather like how the film explores the human tendency to fear the unknown/misunderstood -- that makes sense (especially when you're talking about alien life, ha!). But for whatever reason Clark seems to get stuck in that mindset, obsessed with his differences, and a large part of that blame can be laid at the feet of his earthly parents -- particularly Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and to a lesser extent Martha (Diane Lane). While they certainly love Clark, Jonathan in particular seems to instill in his adopted son this unhealthy fear of becoming known, of hiding the truth from others because of what they might do. Yes, that is the way to live. =P Is it understandable? Okay, sure, but in fiction of this ilk (and I believe it is inherent in the best superhero stories) I want something that encourages me to rise above natural human tendencies and embrace more, to seek possibility, to live in hope.

Further flashbacks reveal that Clark's fellow students and their parents were prone to freak out about Clark's differences (like when he miraculously pulls a bus full of students from the water), but they're hardly marching on the family farm with pitchforks and torches. So while they may not have warmed to Clark, average people are hardly shown to be an active threat -- which makes Clark's actions when his father is imperiled by a tornado all the more incomprehensible. Jonathan actually signals Clark NOT TO RESCUE HIM because there are witnesses, I guess, and Clark (and his mother?!?!) are actually OKAY WITH THAT, so Jonathan dies. WHAT THE HECK?! There is sacrificing yourself out of love, in the face of a real threat, and then there is sacrificing yourself for stupid -- and this falls firmly into the latter camp.

So Clark goes in search of himself or something and after a few years hits the jackpot when he's hired on as part of the crew investigating the discovery of (what turns out to be) a Kryptonian space ship. I suppose Clark was just "drawn" to the area as he goes exploring the ship in the middle of the night, manages to insert the Kryptonian equivalent of a jump drive into the vessel, awakening a recorded version of his father's consciousness. Blah, blah, blah, he gets a super-suit and suddenly, talking to basically a COMPUTER PROGRAM he finds his purpose in life. Never mind how Jor-El can conveniently interface with a ship that presumably left Krypton years before its destruction, or Zod later in the film -- the whole "bestowing of purpose" on his heretofore angst-ridden son is too conveniently played to possess any real emotional resonance. (There is a nice moment as Clark first learns to fly -- the look of wonder on his face as he realizes his possibilities is a moment of refreshing emotional honesty in a film sorely lacking it otherwise.) Clark's sudden acceptance of his Kryptonian heritage just doesn't fly with me, considering the fact that up until this point -- the age of thirty-three -- he's been angst-ridden and disaffected to a point that rivals a teenager. NOT AN ATTRACTIVE QUALITY IN A THIRTY-THREE YEAR OLD, CLARK. *sigh*

Let me talk about Lois for a second, since the space ship investigation is the moment she's introduced to both the audience and Clark. I was so excited when Amy Adams was cast as Lois -- I think she's a fantastic actress, capable of bringing just the right balance of spark and sass to the iconic role. And with a better script this could've worked. It's a different and potentially effective tactic to introduce Lois to Clark in his pre-Superman days. The script is dedicated to giving Lois a more action-oriented role than she's seen in previous incarnations, but when she loudly proclaims to the most TOOTHLESS, BORING PERRY WHITE EVER (Laurence Fishbourne) that he can't fire her because she's a "Pulitzer prize winner" she lost me (pompous much?). I even like the idea of a dedicated journalist like Lois investigating the mystery that is Clark prior to his work at The Daily Planet. However, the moment Clark decides to "out" himself to Lois, thereby removing any mystery about his identity in the FIRST FILM of the series, all of the tension between these two iconic would-be lovers dissolves. There's no tease, no mystery, no tension between nerdy Clark getting on Lois's last nerve. And here, that reduces most of their on-screen relational development (and I use that term VERY loosely, because it is practically nil) to one of predator vs. prey, if you will -- so when the obligatory kiss comes at the end of the film, there's no spark because there's been absolutely NO RELATIONSHIP DEVELOPMENT BETWEEN THEM AT ALL. Is that not the saddest superhero love story EVER?! =P

The movie's final act -- which seems like approximately two-thirds of its run time -- is devoted to basically bringing the apocalypse to Metropolis. People, it just doesn't END. I can't think of another movie where I left feeling so completely and utterly exhausted. There's no balance, no moments of character development that not only break up the relentless action but actually raise the stakes because we then CARE about the characters. Other superhero films feature some level of mass destruction, sure, but I'm convinced that NOTHING compares to the hell that rains down on the hapless human population -- a hazard-assessment team even did some analysis of the damage. One of the characteristics that's always set Superman apart is that he's always seemed to care about each and every human being, going out of his way to STOP chaos. This is just a free-for-all -- but with Zack Snyder directing I don't know why I expected anything less. =P Which brings me to Superman killing Zod -- I'm sorry, but I don't buy that it was necessary. Superman doesn't have to "kill" to put him off doing it in the future -- that is the one GLARING NEON SIGN IN THE FRIGGIN' SAND that Superman has never crossed (on-screen at any rate, not sure about in the comics). Badly done. (Speaking of Zod, all I can say is Michael Shannon really did a great job chewing the scenery, I guess...)

Wrapping this up, I have to give a shout-out to Christopher Meloni as Colonel Nathan Hardy, who was the only character I ended up caring about in this whole mess -- so of course he dies in a blaze of glory. *rollseyes* I also thought Antje Traue as Faora-Ul was nicely villainous as Zod's second in command -- and since she only got sucked into a black hole, maybe she'll return for the inevitable sequel(s).

There's opportunity here, but there is a TON of ground that needs to be made up if any sequels to Man of Steel hopes to restore, oh, I don't know, THE HUMANITY to this character. Cavill could be a good Superman -- if only he had something to work with, instead of merely serving as a prop to be moved around in endless CGI-action sequences. With a character-driven script and a director known for CHARACTERIZATION and STORYTELLING, instead of just elaborate set pieces, a Superman sequel could improve on this mess. But it's got an uphill battle working against it to get me to even marginally care. This cast, but more than that this character and his history deserve better.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell

By: Siri Mitchell
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0-7642-0797-6


When Lucy Kendall returns from touring Europe with her aunt and uncle, she brings back not only trunks full of the latest fashions but samples of gloriously decadent, inventive candies that she hopes will serve as the inspiration for a new creation that could save her family's company -- City Confectionery. But Lucy's dreams of working alongside her father, crafting a new, mouth-watering treat that will capture the tastebuds of customers and surpass the success of Royal Taffy, the runaway bestseller stolen by her father's one-time employee, the ruthless businessman Warren Clarke. But upon her return to St. Louis, Lucy's dreams of a candy-coated future are shattered when she discovers her beloved father, bedridden following a heart attack and the family's financial fortunes on the verge of ruin. Her mother, determined to sell the company, pushes Lucy to make a good marriage before the family's fortune -- and reputation -- is irretrievably tarnished by the confectionery's decline. But Lucy wants more than a marriage -- she wants to be the girl who saves her family with an irresistible candy crafted from the heart and soul of her imagination.

St. Louis is Charlie Clarke's chance to leave the shame of Chicago behind him and reconnect with the father who abandoned his family years before. But his father's position in society as the owner of Standard Manufacturing is wholly outside the realm of Charlie's hardscrabble South Side upbringing, and he struggles to adapt, both resenting and craving his father's sudden interest in his life. When he meets Lucy, the "Queen of Love and Beauty," he's captivated by the girl who for one brief moment made him believe he could be a better man, one worthy of her affections. But Lucy is a Kendall, and when she learns he's the son of the man attempting to force her father out of business, a war of wills ignites between the two that threatens to fragment the tenuous connection between them beyond repair. As the competition between Standard and City grows increasingly heated, can Charlie and Lucy find the strength to resist becoming pawns in a battle that threatens to destroy every sweet thing they hold dear?

I've said it before but it bears repeating -- I adore Siri Mitchell's writing, and though it's taken me a while to finish her latest it was worth the wait as each page was worth savoring (no pun intended given the novel's subject matter!). For her latest tale of a woman struggling for self-actualization, Mitchell turns to 1910 St. Louis and the early days of branding and competition within the sweetest of industries -- candy-making. For an industry whose basis is quite literally in sugar, spice, and everything nice, the actual business side of candy-making proves to be a surprisingly ruthless foil for its output -- one rife with dramatic possibilities and spiritual truths.

Of Mitchell's novels that I've read thus far, Lucy is perhaps the most potentially problematic heroine -- she's incredibly single-minded in her drive to save City Confectionery, and that overwhelming desire coupled with a measure of immaturity and selfishness leads her to commit some rather unsavory actions in the name of family pride. That said, as such Lucy is perhaps one of the most refreshingly honest leads I've encountered yet in inspirational fiction. Raised in church, she is no stranger to the concept of faith, but rather than allowing a relational faith to transform her, she relies on being "essentially" good. Only when she can no longer justify her actions in the name of fairness, when she realizes how she's hurt others in her single-minded pursuit of her goal is she able to realize the need for a vibrant, relational faith in her life. Much like her universally reviled hazelnut chews, the veneer of propriety cannot mask the bitter aftertaste of a personality with whom no one wants to associate themselves -- a crushing realization that forces Lucy to re-examine everything about herself and what she holds true.

Charlie Clark receives equal point-of-view page time to Lucy, at a ratio that surpasses my memory of Mitchell's previous heroes. As a result he is one of Mitchell's most fully realized, appealing, and sympathetic characters. That said he is far from perfect, and like Lucy as in his own way used circumstances beyond his control to dictate his actions, oft-times to the detriment of others. I loved seeing St. Louis society through his eyes, and the unabashed ardor with which he responds to Lucy following their initial meeting was positively swoon-worthy.

The time period and exploration of class differences mark Unrivaled as sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, with a distinctive American twist. :) Mitchell continues to possess an unparalleled ability to evoke history as evidenced here through her carefully-meted use of fact, ephemera, and language to evoke the time in which Lucy and Charlie would have lived. This is a novel rich in historical detail, and thanks to Mitchell's excellent plotting and well-drawn characters, imbued with extraordinary warmth, humor, and unvarnished honesty, results in a positively decadent reading experience. Like the candy at the heart of the Kendall-Clarke feud, Unrivaled is a rich, multi-layered exploration of the cost of pride, the power of forgiveness, and the transformative power of faith, and of a belief that asks only that we come as we are -- not as we think we should be. A deceptively straight-forward romance, like the finest of candies Unrivaled is a gorgeously realized examination of character, honor, and family, beautifully told.

About the book:

Falling in love could be a recipe for disaster...

Lucy Kendall returns from a tour of the Continent, her luggage filled with the latest fashions and a mind fired by inspiration. After tasting Europe's best confections, she's sure she'll come up with a recipe that wills ave her father's struggling candy business and reverse their fortunes. But she soon discovers that their biggest competitor, the cheat who swindled her father out of his prize recipe, has now hired a promotions manager -- a cocky, handsome out-of-towner who gets under Lucy's skin.

Charlie Clarke's new role at Standard Manufacturing is the chance of a lifetime. He can put some rough times behind him and reconnect with the father he's never known. The one thing he never counted on, however, was tenacious Lucy Kendall. She's making his work life miserable...and making herself impossible for him to forget.


As a special bonus, here is my vision of Charlie Clarke (only in a turn of the century suit!) -- he's very much cut from the Neal Caffrey/Matt Bomer mold:

The Hero's Journey

Love this.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: The Delta Anomaly by Rick Barba

The Delta Anomaly (Starfleet Academy #1)
By: Rick Barba
Publisher: Simon Spotlight


As I've become increasingly obsessed with all things Star Trek-related (thanks to the J.J. Abrams' films), it was only a matter of time before I explored some of the Trek fiction that's available. While I've become increasingly fond of the original series character incarnations, I couldn't resist a novel that utilized the re-boot characters that I love so well. The Delta Anomaly is the first entry in the Starfleet Academy series, which explores the lives of Kirk, McCoy, Spock, and Uhura before the events of the 2009 film that brought them together aboard the Enterprise. Before Spock and Uhura were a couple, before Kirk and Spock were on speaking terms, The Delta Anomaly explores the lives of these four key Trek players and their lives as cadets at the Academy that would make them the officers countless fans have known and loved for decades (in one incarnation or the other *wink*).

The novel opens with a murder high atop San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid, shortly followed by an attack on Gaila, the green-skinned Orion cadet with whom Kirk has a brief fling in the 2009 film. Gaila is rescued by Kirk, but disturbing evidence discovered in subsequent medical examinations raises fears that the infamous "Doctor" has returned to prowl the streets of San Francisco once more. The Doctor is known for striking on fog-shrouded nights, and leaving no visible marks of violence on his victims -- but nonetheless stripping them of select internal organs. Tasked with stopping a killer as elusive as the vapor cloaking San Francisco's mist-shrouded streets, Kirk, McCoy, and Uhura -- with a little assistance from a newly-minted instructor called Spock -- must put aside their differences in order to take on a killer threatening Starfleet's finest, a mission that threatens to cost them one of their own.

It's been several years since I've read a category science fiction novel (I cut my teeth on the Star Wars Extended Universe series), and while The Delta Anomaly doesn't have the depth of my favorites from that fandom -- mostly due to the abbreviated YA-length -- it is a fast-paced, enjoyable glimpse into Kirk & company's early years. I really liked the conceit of transplanting a Jack the Ripper-esque killer into the world of Star Trek, and the subsequent investigation and revelation concerning the Doctor's origins and purpose are nicely suggestive of a episode in its tone and subject matter. Having the Doctor serve as a lethal, alien mirror of Starfleet's exploration mandate works well in forcing Kirk, McCoy, and Uhura to view that said mandate from their would-be subject's perspective.

This novel doesn't simply focus on the mystery of the Doctor -- it also provides some insight into the academic experience of Starfleet cadets. I loved the chance to see Kirk as someone other than a playboy, a hotshot braggart -- but he also manages to channel some of his soon-to-be legendary bravado into his studies. It's refreshing to see this newer incarnation of Kirk so driven to succeed at the Academy -- particularly in the test scenarios designed to measure his potential leadership ability (a dry run for the Kobayashi Maru test he faces in the 2009 film).

The Delta Anomaly is a fast-paced, enjoyable little slice of Star Trek-colored escapism sure to satisfy fans looking to spend an hour or two with the characters we've grown to love outside of the two Abrams films. The principle players are sketched in a manner reasonably faithful to their on-screen counterparts, and the balance of academia, mystery, and yes -- even a dash of romance (I LOVED seeing Kirk go all doe-eyed over Hannah the barista!) makes one wish that somehow we could get a television series (as well as more films) featuring these new Trek characters. I'll definitely be reading more in the series.

About the book:

A new Starfleet Academy series for teens--filled with romance and adventure!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Review: A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell

A Walk in the Park
By: Jill Mansell
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark


When her father kicked her out of the house at the age of sixteen, Lara Carson left her hometown of Bath with nary a word or a look back. Moving in with her late mother's sister, Nettie, Lara moved on with her life, but never quite forgot the one she left behind -- the charming golden boy Flynn. Eighteen years pass, and she hasn't set foot in her hometown until she receives word of her father's death. Returning for the funeral, Lara is shocked to discover that her mother's will provided she be left her childhood home after her father's passing. When she reconnects with her one-time best friend Evie and learns Flynn is back in town, Lara is faced with a choice -- whether or not she can build a future at the site of her most painful memories, and if risking a second chance with Flynn can survive the revelation of a secret she's kept for nearly two decades.

Evie is thrilled when her one-time best friend returns, and just in time for her wedding to the drop-dead gorgeous Joel. But when she discovers on the morning of her wedding day that Joel's been carrying on numerous affairs during their relationship, she leaves him at the altar -- and every insecurity she's ever had about her appearance and judgement return to haunt her. When a new man enters her life, Evie begins to wonder if there could be a man out there who'd find her and her alone to be enough. While Joel refuses to stop his efforts to win her back, Evie must decide if she's strong enough to risk her heart on a future full of uncertainties and unknowns -- is the hope of promise as yet unrealized worth the risk?

After my first successful venture reading a Jill Mansell novel (Millie's Fling), I was left eager to try another -- and this second outing met with mixed results. Similar to Millie's Fling, A Walk in the Park features a large cast of quirky, generally likable characters attempting to navigate the twists and turns of relationships and romance. But where the former is pure, frothy, laugh-out-loud escapism from start to finish, this novel is more serious in tone with humorous moments sprinkled throughout -- and therefore the tone of the novel is decidedly uneven. The premise of the novel works well enough for a chick lit, but the problem in my view lies with making Lara's the main storyline. I get that she had a terrible childhood, one that would -- understandably -- make it difficult for her to trust Flynn. That said, none of her reasons for withholding the existence of their child for EIGHTEEN YEARS hold up -- she never gave Flynn a chance to reject their baby, never gave him a chance to choose -- and while he was certainly immature as a teen, who isn't? While Lara's search for her mother's history provides some welcome suspense, ultimately her unfounded distrust of Flynn and her insistence on keeping him at arm's length until the novel's final pages sour any humorous anecdotes sprinkled throughout their storyline.

On the other hand, Evie's story is thoroughly enjoyable by comparison. A very relatable heroine, Evie's struggles with self-image, her dismay at the discovery of Joel's infidelities, and her struggle over whether or not to move on from that chapter in her life play out with believability, warmth, and humor. I particularly loved the "meet cute" between Evie and Ethan, a local hotel "gardener." The subsequent misunderstandings that strive to keep them apart are the stuff of romantic comedy gold, but serve an important dual purpose in how they force Evie to confront her deepest fears and, for the first time, decide that not only is she worthy of a swoon-worthy love story, but that her self-worth (or lack thereof) needn't determine the course of her future.

While I liked A Walk in the Park, overall it lacked the spark, the life, the humor that I crave when diving into a novel of this ilk. That's not to say there isn't a place in chick lit for touching on more serious personal and/or relational issues (i.e., Orla and Hester's storylines in Millie's Fling, or Amy's character arc in The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne), but when those issues are dealt with in a completely surface, cursory manner, as in Lara's case, it cheapens the character and frustrates the reader. And while I generally like the idea of Mansell penning novels with sprawling casts, hopefully further tangential storylines will not involve almost borderline, offensively stereotyped characters the likes of rapper EnjaySeven -- that didn't work for me at all. That said, Flynn is such a winning hero and Evie's story so enjoyable that I'll definitely be reading more Mansell novels in the future.

About the book:

No one could have planned for this...

Lara Carson left her family and boyfriend Flynn eighteen years ago without a word to anyone. Why has no one heard from her since? Does it mean anything that she's suddenly reappeared in Bath just in time for her ex–best friend Evie's wedding? And what about Flynn? Even the most eagle–eyed observer can't tell whether he's happy to see her, or just stunned.

While secrets pile up on secrets, and the gossip mill wings into high gear, the brand–new life Lara's searching for becomes ever more elusive. There's a lot of catching up for everyone to do, and Lara's return is going to be anything but a walk in the park.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Inspector Lewis returns THIS WEEKEND!!!

Inspector Lewis returns this weekend on Masterpiece Mystery, people! THIS WEEKEND!!! Hathaway, I've missed you SO MUCH.

Watch Inspector Lewis: Series 6 Preview on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1)
By: Robin LaFevers
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children


Ismae is a daughter of Death himself, forever scarred by the herbwitch's poison her mother used in her futile attempt to end her pregnancy. Branded with a scarlet scar, feared and shunned for a parentage over which she had no control, Ismae's hopes of escaping her brutal father are crushed when the man he sold her to at the age of fourteen proves just as monstrous. But help arrives from an unexpected quarter when the selfsame herbwitch whose poison left her forever marked as Death's daughter spirits Ismae away on her wedding night, sending her to the legendary convent of St. Mortain. At St. Mortain the gods of old still hold sway, especially Master Death, with every member of the female-only sanctuary dedicated to execute Death's bidding. Ismae embraces the refuge the convent offers, and dedicates herself to her studies, determined to prove worthy of the reprieve she's been granted, vowing to never disappoint Death or her abbess.

Three years pass, and at long last Ismae is ready to put her training as one of Death's assassins into practice. Having successfully completed her first two missions, Ismae is positive her future at the convent is all but assured -- until the enigmatic Gavriel Duval arrives, throwing everything Ismae's been taught to believe about the convent and her calling into question. Duval serves Anne, heiress to the duchy of Brittany, a would-be leader under siege as forces from within and without her kingdom seek to control the young ruler through marriage. But Anne is loathe to cede control of her destiny, an aim Duval has sworn to uphold -- a vow he'll do anything to keep, even if it means reluctantly allying himself with one of the assassins of St. Mortain. Ismae is equally reluctant to trust Duval, as the man is the physical embodiment of everything she's hates about her pre-convent life. But amid the glitter of Brittany's court, the assassin and the warrior find themselves drawn ever closer as the dangers threatening Brittany's sovereignty seek to destroy its young ruler. And when those Ismae serves calls Duval's loyalty into question, she's faced with an unthinkable choice -- serving her god or saving the man who has won her heart.

Grave Mercy has been on my radar for a while now, mostly thanks to its gorgeous cover image and fascinating premise. Going into the novel I assumed it was a fantasy, given the concept of women meting out Death's justice, so I was surprised by the novel's almost straight historical tone. LaFevers weaves the lore and machinations of the convent into the history of Anne of Brittany's struggle to maintain a free and independent duchy. As such this is a surprisingly gritty depiction of the lives of women in the Middle Ages -- whereas much fiction set during this time period (i.e. romances), particularly one classified as young adult, might choose to gloss over the sexual politics of the time period, Grave Mercy confronts those issues head-on. Though of vastly different social backgrounds, both Ismae and Anne are pawns to be bartered in marriage upon barely reaching puberty -- a reality that uncomfortable and shocking by today's norms. Seeing these young women fight for the right to some measure of self-determination is an extraordinarily gripping journey, one that feels both wholly organic to the fifteenth-century time period and contemporary with its vibrantly-penned characters and their life-and-death struggles.

Love story spoilers: Ismae and Duval's love story is simply one of the best I've ever read, in or out of this genre. Each is in their own way damaged by the accident of birth -- Ismae as one of Death's daughters, Duval as one of the illegitimate sons of the late duke's much-loathed French mistress. There is the inevitable clash of personalities -- the Darcy/Elizabeth spark, if you will, where each is completely convinced of the rightness of their cause and doubts the trustworthiness of the other. And, given Ismae's horrifically abusive upbringing and short marriage, she has every reason to be wary of men's motives. The manner in which Duval comes to earn Ismae's trust, proving his honorable character, while she in turn learns think for herself, to examine the longings of her heart and question the dictates of her convent, thereby opening herself to the possibility of a relationship, is gorgeously rendered on the page. The tension between the pair is electric, the restrained passion positively, deliciously breathtaking. This, this is how you pen a memorable romance -- a meeting of two equally powerful, passionate personalities who respect each other enough to work through their issues before committing to each other. Easily one of my favorite literary couples of the year.

I was fascinated by the tension between the gods acknowledged by the convent and the rest of the world, particularly in how Ismae accepts the convent's definition of faith and devotion, thereby dictating her role in the world. But as the novel progresses, and Ismae realizes that her only hope of truly serving her god, of succeeding in a relationship with him lies in a personal relationship and understanding of her calling, I couldn't help but relate her awakening to my own spiritual journey. There's a passage towards the end of the novel that I found extraordinarily moving, when Ismae meets her father face-to-face: "He has given me life, and all I must do to serve Him is to live. Fully and with my whole heart" -- the social conventions of belief must follow a personal relationship in order to reach its full potential.

Grave Mercy is a rich, meaty historical with an unforgettable heroine and a fascinating premise. The first quarter of the novel is bogged down by some uneven pacing as LaFevers establishes her world -- the narrative can't seem to land on whether it wants to focus on the world of the convent or the historical realities  facing Brittany in the late fifteenth-century. But once Ismae's initial training period is over and she joins Duval in the glittering Breton court, every aspect of the story begins to click, from Ismae's struggles to the intrigue facing Anne, and the pages positively flew as I found myself immersed in Ismae and Duval's world. This is a gorgeous, captivating novel, with a heart-stopping romance, gorgeously-rendered characters and an engrossing blend of fact and fiction. I cannot wait to visit this world again -- this one's a keeper.

About the book:

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf? 

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Carol Cox's Great Mercantile Mystery Sweepstakes

Mercantile Mystery Sweepstakes from Author Carol Cox

In TROUBLE IN STORE, author Carol Cox’s latest novel, out-of-work governess Melanie Ross is forced to pursue her last resort: a dusty Arizona mercantile she inherited from her cousin. But local shopkeeper Caleb Nelson is positive he inherited the mercantile, and he’s not about to let some obstinate woman with newfangled ideas take over. His solution? Marry her off–to someone else–as soon as possible! Then a sinister force brings mystery and murder to their doorstep, and this unlikely pair must band together to survive the trouble in store.

To celebrate the story, author Carol Cox and Bethany House Publishers are pleased to announce the MERCANTILE MYSTERY SWEEPSTAKES, and your chance to win one of three marvelous prizes!
Timeframe & Notifications: 

This giveaway starts June 3, 2013 and ends June 20, 2013 @ 11:59 pm (PST).  Winners will be selected Friday, June 21, 2013, and announced right here on the site. 

Melanie causes all kinds of trouble in Caleb’s rough-edged mercantile, especially when she stocks the shelves with expensive, blush-colored china, rather than the usual tools and farm supplies!
Our Grand Prize winner will receive their very own set of Melanie’s fancy china: a vintage, Royal Standard cup and saucer set, service for four. 

In Trouble in Store, the mystery of a beautiful music box causes sparks to fly between Caleb and Melanie.
Our Second Prize winner will have the chance to win an elegant music box, just like the one in the story. This hand-made Italian music box is made of inlaid layers of walnut and rosewood, and plays Melanie’s favorite tune, “Liebestraum”.  

The townspeople of Cedar Ridge come to Ross-Nelson mercantile for supplies, advice, news, and best of all, fresh-ground coffee! Caleb grinds Arbuckles coffee beans as a service for his regular customers.
Our Third Prize winner can enjoy their very own, 1880′s hand-ground coffee, with this antique grinder, Arbuckles coffee, and a pair of Cowboy and Cowgirl mugs.

How to Enter:
Go to and complete the entry box, anytime between June 3 and June 20. Good luck!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Review: Earthworld by Jacqueline Rayner

Earthworld: 50th Anniversary Edition
By: Jacqueline Rayner
Publisher: BBC Books
ISBN: 978-1-849-90520-6


When an amnesiac, recovering Eighth Doctor, long-time friend Fitz, and new -- and reluctant -- companion Anji land on a planet that looks an awful lot like the Earth they know, but isn't, they are of course forced to investigate the anomalies. Reeling from the recent death of her boyfriend and the knowledge that time travel exists, Anji has little tolerance for embracing the Doctor's penchant for investigating the strange and unusual, but even she cannot deny that this Earthworld wrong, with its random dinosaurs, Egyptian pyramids, and warped reality twist on Arthurian legend. For Earthworld is nothing but a theme park, an off-shoot of the New Jupiter that comes into existence far after Anji's own, safely familiar twenty-first century. But this park hides a dark secret -- it's little more than the glorified playground for three homicidal, technologically brilliant teenage girls for whom death is the ultimate game. And now Anji, Fitz, and a Doctor left reeling from an unfathomable loss are caught in their web and marked as their latest prey...

Jacqueline Rayner became one of my favorite Who authors after I read two of her novels a few years ago -- Winner Takes All featuring Nine and The Stone Rose featuring Ten, both with Rose as the Doctor's companion. I was left impressed with her ability to bring the Doctors I know and love to life on the page, and couldn't resist the chance to explore her early Doctor Who fiction -- particularly since I've always liked the physical embodiment of the Eighth Doctor, actor Paul McGann. :)

While Earthworld contains all of the elements I've come to expect in a Who novel -- colorful, exotic settings, deathly peril, and an enjoyable rapport between the Doctor and his companion(s) -- I found myself somewhat hampered by my lack of grounding in a pre-Nine world (I've yet to see the Eighth Doctor's sole filmed adventure in its entirety). Events and people are referenced, and without the rudimentary knowledge of the Eighth Doctor's  history provided in the author's note, I would've been completely lost.

As a result, the first half of the novel was a bit of a slow go for me, seeming a touch less polished than Rayner's subsequent Doctor Who fiction. While the story is an enjoyable enough "episode," I never really connected with the characters in same manner I'm able to do in Who fiction that features Doctors I know and love from the television show. That said, approximately halfway through the novel a slow readjustment occurs, and these characters -- especially the Doctor -- began to remind me of just why I love this show so much. And, wonder of wonders, this new-to-me incarnation of the Doctor began to remind me of the best aspects of Nine, Ten, and Eleven -- their energy, compassion, and boundless capacity for wonder. In what at first appears to be a rather run-of-the-mill, even generic Who tale, Rayner builds towards one of the most poignant conclusions I've read or seen when it comes to this universe, a beautiful illustration of the bond that develops between the Doctor and even the most (initially) recalcitrant of companions, and by extension the reader's bond with the Doctor and his many worlds -- life in the midst of heartbreak, and the power of new beginnings.

About the book:

Anji has just had the worst week of her life. She should be back at her desk, not travelling through time and space in a police box. The Eighth Doctor is supposed to be taking her home, so why are there dinosaurs outside? The Doctor doesn't seem to know either, or else he surely would have mentioned the homicidal princesses, teen terrorists and mad robots? One thing is certain: Anji is never going to complain about Monday mornings in the office again.

*Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the review opportunity!

Review: I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano

I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats
By: Francesco Marciuliano
Publisher: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 978-1-4521-1058-5


As a life-long cat lover, I have a weakness for any and all things feline-related, so when I stumbled across the cover of this slim volume on Pinterest, featuring an adorable feline author, I knew I had to read it. I mean we all know if any animal is going to be an author, if any animal has something worth saying, something the whole world needs to hear, its going to be cats, right? *wink*

"Collected" by Francesco Marciuliano (who, I am now convinced, is a genius), this book is divided into four chapters containing poetically profound feline ruminations on Family, Work, Play, and Existence. Personal favorites include "This Is My Chair" ("Everywhere is my place to sleep / Perhaps you should just get a hotel room"), "Tripped" ("I'm sorry I tripped you on hard cement / But some men paid me five grand to kill you"), and "Elegy for a Toy I Broke" ("I can't believe what a cheap piece of crap you were / Seriously, I hardly touched you before you broke") -- every last one of them absolute gems of feline wisdom!

The perfect, laugh-out-loud funny gift for yourself (if you're like me, haha) or the cat lover in your life, I Could Pee on This is an witty, funny gift book sprinkled with absolutely adorable photos. Highly recommended. And for those who prefer canines, Marciuliano is releasing a companion volume in June, I Could Chew on This, which promises to be just as hilarious!

About the book:

Sometimes "Meow" just doesn't quite get the point across...

In I Could Pee on This you'll find poems penned by cats that reveal their every desire, their every conflict, and their every moment of neurotic genius. You'll discover why cats do things like sit on your face before the sun comes up, help clean your bedside table with their tail, or confirm that there really are one thousand sheets in a toilet paper roll.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Caro Emerald

My latest musical obsession is Dutch jazz singer Caro Emerald. People this woman is AMAZING. I've been listening to her album Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor ALL DAY. Enjoy! :)

"Back It Up"

"That Man"

"A Night Like This"

Review: Beauty and the Beast by Jenni James

Beauty and the Beast (Faerie Tale Collection #1)
By: Jenni James
Publisher: StoneHouse Ink
ASIN: B008940W3Y


When Prince Alexander, the spoiled, handsome ruler of the land directs one of his famous insults at an ugly old woman, the last thing he expects is retaliation. But retaliate she does, cursing him to live each night in the form of a beast unless he can find a woman to love him in his beastly form within a year, thereby breaking the spell. Losing hope that anyone could look beyond his beastly form, Alexander concentrates his efforts on a succession plan, determined to leave his kingdom in better hands than his own. But when he crosses paths with the brokenhearted Miss Cecelia Hammerstein-Smythe, he begins to hope for a future free of his cursed form. For Cecelia, once mocked by Alexander for her kind heart and rejected by another suitor, sees a goodness in Alexander the beast that he never knew existed, making him long to be a man and ruler worthy of her regard. But just as Alexander begins to hope that Cecelia's love might break the spell, another force rises to threaten his hopes -- one determined so determined to steal Alexander's throne he'd do anything to ensure the prince remains a beast forever.

Being an absolute SUCKER for all things fairy tale related, when I stumbled upon Jenni James' series of fairy tale retellings I knew I had to give them a try. James clearly has a passion for fairy tales and her spin on the tropes of the Beauty and the Beast tale possesses some interesting twists. But any charm these sparks of creativity lend the story is overwhelmed by plodding prose, clunky dialogue, and uneven pacing.

James sets her tale in what I can only assume is the Regency time period due to repeated references to cravats and over-use of "gel" for "girl." It's an interesting concept, setting what is essentially a werewolf story in this time frame. While I liked the idea of the prince as a beast only half the time, allowing readers to see Cecelia interact with his human and beastly selves, the conceit falters due to a lack of context. With no set ground rules for the time period or the use of magic within this world, the novelty of this twist quickly fades due to the lack of world-building. And while the basic idea of the "Beauty" character as a somewhat shy, socially awkward society miss is novel, there is never the sense of true peril or sacrifice on Cecelia's part that makes the traditional story -- and more polished retellings -- so timeless.

I have to give the author credit for her passion for these timeless stories, and there are indeed the seeds of unique ideas within this novella that only faltered for a lack of development and polish. That said, the book kept me sufficiently interested to read in one afternoon, if for no other reason than a sense of nostalgia that my childhood self would've appreciated James' romantic bent. Those seeking more substantive, powerful retellings of the Beauty and the Beast story should check out Robin McKinley's classics -- for here is a featherweight, fluffy effort that will leave you craving the transformative power of the source material.

About the book:

A prince by day and a wolf by night—

Prince Alexander has been turned into a werewolf and has one year to find someone to love the beast and break the spell, or he will be a wolf forever. He has nearly given up achieving the impossible, knowing no girl would ever fall in love with such a monster.

Just when he is about to abdicate the throne to his cousin, he meets Cecelia Hammerstein-Smythe, while a wolf, and begins to hope for the first time in months. Can he balance both worlds as a human and beast, gaining the love and trust of a girl who has every reason to despise him?

Cecelia detests the prince. She only knows Alexander as the arrogant monarch—the tyrant who has made her life miserable—though perhaps he's changed right before her eyes. He's not as full of himself as he once was. The prince is gentle now... but then again, so is the beast.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Review: The Red Plague Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

The Red Plague Affair (Bannon & Clare #2)
By: Lilith Saintcrow
Publisher: Orbit


In the years since the Iron Wyrm Affair marked the beginning of Bannon and Clare's unorthodox -- but highly effective -- partnership, the two have become a formidable team in service to Britannia, the ruling spirit of the land currently residing in the vessel of a young Queen Victrix. But recently mentath Archibald Clare has found his considerable intellect distracted from his service to the Crown by a personal vendetta -- the search for his arch-nemesis, the wily criminal mentath Professor Vance. When Clare's obsession begins affecting his health and work, sorceress Emma Bannon finds herself forced to intervene. Britannia has commissioned its most loyal Sorceress Prime to retrieve a wayward doctor tasked with developing a secret weapon for the defense of the realm. Emma has never before questioned a commission from her queen, but when the doctor in question turns out to have an agenda that threatens the realm's own subjects, Emma begins to question her own blind loyalty to the ruling spirit of the land. Bannon and Clare find themselves in a race against time to stop an outbreak that threatens every loyal subject of the Crown. And when one in the Bannon-Clare partnership threatens to fall, the other will find themselves drive to extraordinary lengths to save the other, their polar opposite who has become an unexpectedly dear, indelible part of the other's life.

Saintcrow is on a fast-track to become a favorite author with her Victorian-era steampunk novels, as this, her second in the Bannon and Clare series (third if you count the American-set The Damnation Affair) is perhaps her best yet. This homage to a steampunk-era Sherlock Holmes is a wholly entertaining, page-turning thrill ride that further explores the laws and mechanics of Saintcrow's steampunk universe, while deepening the characterizations and relationship between her two principle players. This time around, the narrative seems more balanced between both Clare and Bannon's perspectives, shading each intensely private character with greater emotional depth. And perhaps because the stakes have never been higher -- or more personal -- for the dedicated sorceress and the brilliant mentath, this installment lays critical groundwork for their future relationship as well as providing fascinating glimpses into each character's shadowed history.

Within the pages of The Red Plague Affair, Saintcrow has a lot of fun playing with the her own variation on the character of Sherlock Holmes and the tropes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic stories. Here Clare the mentath, the brilliant logician, encounters that most dangerous of adversaries -- boredom. That, coupled with the use of addictive substances to sharpen his faculties, brings Clare to the brink of death as his battered body threatens to give way even as his mind seeks ever higher levels of challenge. I adored the manner in which Saintcrow introduces Clare's Moriarty -- Professor Vance has become Clare's latest obsession in lieu of a more challenging case, and when the two are forced into an uneasy partnership the chemistry and humor that results from the meeting of two such brilliant minds is tremendously entertaining.

Emma Bannon, Sorceress Prime of the iron will, is given far greater depth here, as Saintcrow delves into Emma's poverty-stricken past and the cost of service to the crown. This novel smartly introduces shades of grey into Emma's previously black and white view of her government service, which forces her to re-evaluate her previously unquestioning allegiance to blindly follow Britannia's dictates, particularly when those missions begin to threaten the lives of those she holds most dear.

It is perhaps early to speculate whether or not Saintcrow's "endgame" for Bannon and Clare includes a romantic component. I've always been of the school of thought that Sherlock loved Irene Adler in his own way, so there is an inherent appeal in the latent possibilities and simmering chemistry that exists between Emma and Archibald. I absolutely loved how Saintcrow teases readers with the depth of the pairs' feelings for each other, not yet taking the leap but dancing around the issue, teasing out the attraction and the will-they-or-won't-they tension to delicious levels. If Saintcrow is building towards a romance, it promises to be an unforgettable one as the unlikely pair of Bannon and Clare are truly a perfect intellectual match, and I for one cannot wait to see where Saintcrow takes this pair next -- particularly since Clare has yet to discover the lengths to which Emma and her illogical sorcery was willing to go in order to save his oh-so-logical life. *wink*

The Red Plague Affair is a wildly entertaining slice of steampunk-colored, adventurous escapist fiction. The pages flew as I quickly became wholly invested in the latest chapter of Bannon and Clare's story, the excitement and tension building to a fevered pitch that doesn't let go until the final chapter. Saintcrow paints her canvas of Victorian England with charismatic, compelling leads, colorful, well-drawn supporting characters, and action sequences that feature a positively cinematic flair. This is pure, entertaining, candy-coated escapism at its finest -- wildly addictive, page-turning fun guaranteed to leave you wanting more. I cannot WAIT for the next installment of Bannon and Clare's thoroughly entertaining adventures.

About the book:

The service of Britannia is not for the faint of heart--or conscience...

Emma Bannon, Sorceress Prime in service to Queen Victrix, has a mission: to find the doctor who has created a powerful new weapon. Her friend, the mentath Archibald Clare, is only too happy to help. It will distract him from pursuing his nemesis, and besides, Clare is not as young as he used to be. A spot of Miss Bannon's excellent hospitality and her diverting company may be just what he needs.

Unfortunately, their quarry is a fanatic, and his poisonous discovery is just as dangerous to Britannia as to Her enemies. Now a single man has set Londinium ablaze, and Clare finds himself in the middle of distressing excitement, racing against time and theory to find a cure. Miss Bannon, of course, has troubles of her own, for the Queen's Consort Alberich is ill, and Her Majesty unhappy with Bannon's loyal service. And there is still no reliable way to find a hansom when one needs it most...

The game is afoot. And the Red Plague rises.

The fantastic follow-up to The Iron Wyrm Affair, set in an alternate Victorian world where magic has turned the Industrial Revolution on its head.