Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review: Star Trek: Countdown by Mike Johnson, et al.

Star Trek: Countdown
By: Mike Johnson, et al.
Publisher: IDW
ISBN: 978-160010420-6


Star Trek: Countdown was released as the official graphic novel prequel to the 2009 film that relaunched the franchise -- and kick-started my own love affair with the classic characters of Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise crew. This slim volume is a fast read, taking place entirely within the confines of the "classic Trek" universe, detailing the threat that leads to the Romulan Nero's single-minded quest to destroy everything Spock holds dear. While I first fell in love with the Star Trek universe thanks to the film that follows the story laid out in this volume, it wasn't until Into Darkness was released that my new-found love for the characters in the Trek universe blossomed into a full-blown obsession that drove me to seek out ancillary product like this graphic novel.

The artwork is gorgeous -- I particularly appreciated the detailed renderings of an older Spock Prime and the evolution the Eric Bana-portrayed Nero undergoes, from dedicated family man to vigilante. While the actual mechanics of the star's implosion and the use of "red matter" is thinly-realized at best, I appreciated the perspective and backstory on the classic universe developments which led to the events that unfold in the new-Trek universe in the Abrams film. There's the Vulcan/Romulan tension that Spock Prime has been working so hard to diffuse, and welcome appearances from The Next Generation characters such as the Enterprise's erstwhile Captain and now Ambassador Picard, Geordi, Worf, and the ever-logical Data. Having laid the groundwork for the re-booted characters I've come to love, I look forward to exploring further volumes in this series!

About the book:

The countdown to the motion picture event of 2009 begins here, in the exclusive graphic novel prequel to Star Trek, the upcoming blockbuster film from Paramount Pictures!

JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Mike Johnson, Tim Jones, and David Messina present the origin of Nero, the mysterious Romulan who will ultimately threaten the survival of the entire universe. Don't miss this story that brings Star Trek back to the big screen!

Review: Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

Going Vintage
By: Lindsey Leavitt
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens


At the outset sixteen-year-old Mallory's junior year promises perfection -- secure in her role as one half of "Jeremy and Mallory," the uncertainty and identity issues that plague the teenage years seem banished from her life. Until one day, during a break in a study session (read: she writes Jeremy's paper, they make out) she discovers an open window on Jeremy's computer -- a window into a life she never dreamed existed. Within the confines of Friendspace and its popular Authentic Life game, Jeremy has created a whole other persona, one she never dreamed existed, where he shares his hopes and dreams and feelings with a virtual wife. Reeling from the very public break-up and subsequent shredding her reputation takes online, Mallory is primed for a radical change. She finds her plan and method in the form of a list from her grandmother's high school days, circa 1962. Become the pep club secretary, find a steady -- life was sweet without the pressures of being connected to technology 24/7.

But unplugging in a world where relationships have become dependent on social networking and internet research is easier said than done, particularly when Jeremy won't let her go and his handsome, hipster eccentric cousin Oliver loves to make her smile. Mallory's radical attempt to live in the 1960s may yield unexpectedly rich dividends, if only she can realize that the more things change, the more they stay the same -- and the love and life and living is a roller-coaster ride to be embraced, no matter the decade.

People, I loved this book so much I read it in a DAY. ONE DAY, people. Where was Lindsey Leavitt when I was in high school? This book! Mallory's love affair with the past could so be MY LIFE. Much like the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, Going Vintage gently forces those of us who love the past, who might tend to idealize it, to not live in the past -- but rather use the lessons of the same to enrich one's present. It's all about balance, right? Mallory is a delightfully relatable heroine, sure to find a friend with anyone who has ever longed to "unplug" or been burned by society's increasing obsession with social -- and oft-times superficial -- networking. Mallory's hunger for something real, something substantive, flies in the face of everything she's been taught to believe and accept as the norm in a world that praises conformity as a prerequisite for acceptance.

It's so refreshing to read such an honest, generally positive portrait of family life. Mallory's family is far (FAR) from perfect, but Leavitt makes sure that their conflicts and disagreements never overshadow the bottom line -- that they love each other and are committed to making the respective spousal, parent/child, and sibling relationships work. Even the awkward "birds and the bees" talk is given a refreshingly honest, poignant spin, as Mallory discovers and copes with the fallout from giving "pieces" of herself to another. Even physical actions on the more "innocent" end of the spectrum -- kisses and embraces -- are shown to foster an emotional commitment and connection that have consequences when the relationship implodes. And in Mallory's case, the dawning realization that she's given of herself and received nothing in return -- that she has no sense of individuality outside of a relationship -- is the driving impetus for her self-imposed media fast and journey towards self-discovery and emotional wholeness.

Though Mallory wisely determines to know herself before entering into a new relationship, the seeds of the same planted early in her post-Jeremy life are perfectly realized. Oliver is quite possibly one of the best heroes I've read this year -- quirky, funny, and adorably authentic, I loved how he was determined to know the real Mallory, not the online version whose life was defined by quick, bullet-point "updates." Going Vintage is a total charmer, a sweet coming-of-age story that balances its deftly realized exploration of the importance of knowing oneself and finding balance in personal relationships with a healthy dose of warmth and humor. Within the pages of Going Vintage Leavitt delivers the perfect summer read -- fast-paced, light and breezy fun with an unexpectedly poignant, valuable lesson subtly woven throughout Mallory's journey. Very well-done -- Leavitt is an author to watch!

About the book:

When Mallory discovers that her boyfriend, Jeremy, is cheating on her with an online girlfriend, she swears off boys. She also swears off modern technology. Inspired by a list of goals her grandmother made in 1962, Mallory decides to "go vintage" and return to a simpler time (when boyfriends couldn't cheat on you online). She sets out to complete grandma's list: run for pep club secretary, host a dinner party, sew a homecoming dress, find a steady, do something dangerous. But the list is trickier than it looks. And obviously finding a steady is out . . . no matter how good Oliver (Jeremy's cousin) smells. But with the help of her sister, she'll get it done. Somehow. Lindsey Leavitt perfectly pairs heartfelt family moments, laugh-out-loud humor, and a little bit of romance in this delightful contemporary novel.

Romeo & Juliet trailer

Okay, Romeo & Juliet has never been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, but this looks gorgeous and a million times better than the Franco Zeffirelli film, so yay for that. Script by Julian Fellowes and DAMIAN LEWIS as Lord Capulet. DAMIAN friggin' LEWIS. I am so there.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: The She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta

The She-Hulk Diaries
By: Marta Acosta
Publisher: Hyperion


Though I have only a passing knowledge of She-Hulk's presence within the Avengers universe (i.e., I know she exists), when I learned that Marvel was releasing a series of chick lit-style novels featuring some of their most famous heroines, I was immediately sold. I mean, if this novel does well they might release one starring Black Widow, right? Puh-leeze?! But I digress. *wink* Two parts Bridget Jones and one part superhero action film, The She-Hulk Diaries introduces Jennifer Walters, a single, business-like, and currently out of work lawyer trying to balance her personal and professional life. She particularly struggles to reconcile the part of her life that involves morphing into a six-foot-seven green Amazon with a penchant for partying and wanton destruction with the dedicated lawyer who'd like to meet a guy more into her than her secret green alter-ego. But keeping her real life separate from her superhero life soon proves to be harder than she realized, as her new dream job puts her on a collision course with the man that got away years earlier, and her new high-profile case demands both Jennifer and Shulky work together to save the world.

There are times when nothing but a breezy chick lit novel will do, and here Acosta takes the tropes of the genre and spices them up with a healthy dose of superhero-related shenanigans. I loved the diary-style, first-person format. Jennifer has an fairly entertaining, self-deprecating sense of humor (the OMG!'s are way overused, however), and her resolutions for a better, more fulfilling life -- right down to the ridiculous, constantly moving, self-imposed "deadline" -- would be engaging enough without the presence of She-Hulk. But add a green, party-loving superhero who refuses to act with tact or discretion befitting a top-level attorney, and you have the (potential, at any rate) for chick lit comedic gold.

This novel prompted me to do some quick reading on She-Hulk's history, and while Acosta's take on the iconic character can hardly be seen as definitive, based on a cursory reading of the character's biography the cases and supervillains Shulky encounters does not seem entirely out of place within the character's overall canon. For the very casual fan, such as myself, it works. I was particularly intrigued to learn that during the John Byrne-penned "Sensational She-Hulk" years the character was known for breaking "the fourth wall," a self-aware characteristic that dovetails nicely with the diary format Acosta use to tell her She-Hulk story.

While fans with more knowledge of Jennifer Walters' history than I can debate the merits (or lack thereof) of Acosta's interpretation of She-Hulk, overall I enjoyed this fresh take on the popular superhero conceit, otherwise typically limited to comics or films. While I thought Acosta went a tick too far in illustrating the initial differences between Jennifer and Shulky's personalities, in playing to the tropes of a chick lit novel I appreciated the manner in which so much of Jennifer's growth trajectory as a character involves coming to terms with her superhuman persona -- embracing both the strengths and weaknesses of her duality. With all-too-brief nods to other touchstones in the Avengers universe -- the Mansion, Tony Stark's womanizing ways, Hawkeye, and Black Widow -- The She-Hulk Diaries is a fluffy, light-weight summer entertainment. With more polish and inclusion of other Marvel legends, this is a concept that could be a lot of fun -- and I hope I get the chance to see that play out with other characters.

About the book:

CURRENT STATUS: No job, no boyfriend, no permanent place to live, no car, and most of my clothes are held together with staples and duct tape. Bank account almost wiped out. Many of my former associates have expressed a desire that I never darken their doorways again for legal and financial reasons.

She-Hulk got us got us kicked out of the Avengers Mansion. People keep posting videos online of her New Year's Eve shenanigans: twirling, flaming telephone poles in Times Square, climbing the Empire State Building while dangling Anderson Cooper, dancing wildly at parties, and commandeering a motorcycle cop's ride to do wheelies across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Saying there are two sides to Jennifer Walters's personality is an understatement. When she hasn't morphed into a 650-pound, crime-fighting, hard-partying superhero, she's a single lawyer trying to get her act together. Hilarious and action-packed, The She-Hulk Diaries tells her story, as she juggles looking for Mr. Right and climbing the corporate ladder by day with battling villains and saving the world by night. Maybe she'll finally take on a case that will define her career. Maybe she won't meet one Mr. Right, but two, and she'll have to choose. Maybe bad guys will stop trying to destroy the planet so she can read her Perez Hilton in peace.

OUAT: The Little Mermaid teaser

How am I just now seeing this?!

where I talk about Lewis & Hathaway

The latest issue of Femnista has been released, and I talk all about THESE GUYS, so, you know, go forth and read! :)


Excuse me while I FREAK OUT:

I knew from somewhere about the Charles Augustus Milverton-now-Magnussen thing, but no rumors of who was playing him!!!!! EEEPPPP!!!!!

spy stuffs

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Nancy Bilyeau's The Crown on sale!

Last month I raved about a new favorite novel -- The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau, the story of a young Dominican novice during the reign of Henry VIII. This book is AMAZINGLY good, and today only (7/27/13) you can purchase the Kindle version for just $1.99! Go forth and read!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tom Hiddleston is brilliant

People this just made my Friday...Tom Hiddleston re-enacting the plot of Thor 2 with action figures! :) :)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review: The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner

The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile
By: C.W. Gortner
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 978-0-345-52397-6


Isabella of Castile was never meant to be queen. Today an image of this formidable Renaissance monarch has survived that is alternately admired for her contributions to art, literature, and education, or castigated for her role in bringing the notorious Inquisition to Spain and the forcible expulsion of those Jewish subjects who refused to renounce their faith and embrace Catholicism. Arguably -- and understandably -- much of the focus of history is on the darker aspects of Isabella's reign, a legacy shrouded in ominous tones, particularly since, in the ensuing centuries, society has by and large removed itself from the strictures of a life led by the demands of one's faith. As he did so superbly with his novel exploring the life of the controversial Catherine de Medici, within the pages of The Queen's Vow Gortner brings to life a vibrantly complex Isabella, a woman who is very much a product of her time while managing to defy the conventions of the same that would seek to proscribe the roles of women to the hearth and home alone.

The only daughter of Juan II of Castile, Isabella was preceded in the succession by her older half-brother, the dissolute Enrique, and her younger brother Alfonso. Following their father's death, their mother reviled at court, Isabella and her brother became wards of the king, but lived in veritable exile in a shabby shadow court in Arevalo. Her sheltered youth comes to an abrupt end with the birth of a niece -- a child Isabella and her brother, as the only other claimants to the Castilian throne, are required to swear fealty to -- an oath whose legitimacy is called into question by rumors of the infanta's dubious parentage, called further into doubt by Enrique's sexual preferences and his wife Juana's thinly-veiled regard for a certain courtier. Shocked by the profligate excesses she encounters at court, the devout Isabella finds herself thrust into a battle for her very life. When Alfonso becomes the unwitting pawn of nobles seeking to oust Enrique, Isabella becomes a virtual prisoner in a delicate dance for her life, one where she must respect Enrique as king while disdaining his policies and remain defiant of those who would seek to make her a pawn on the marriage market. When the unthinkable occurs, the girl never meant to rule becomes heiress to a crumbling empire, with the vultures circling, each side determined to claim her as a powerless pawn of their cause. But Isabella has a strength within her as yet untapped, and the princess who was only ever meant to make at best a strategic marriage becomes a ruler who will not be gainsaid, a queen whose force of will and dreams of empire refuse to be denied.

Love her or loathe her, the Isabella found within these pages is an extraordinarily compelling woman. In an age when queens -- if they came to the throne -- were expected to be controlled, she determined to chart her own course, going so far as to arrange her own marriage against the explicit wishes of her half-brother. While it is generally believed that Isabella did not meet her husband-to-be, her cousin Ferdinand of Aragon, until their wedding day, Gortner takes some license with the record to suggest an earlier meeting between the two, a moment in Enrique's court which plants the seeds of a relationship that would blossom into a love story for the ages. While there was an undeniably strategic political advantage to their union, benefiting both parties and their respective kingdoms, theirs is a life-long partnership that transformed the trajectory of their people -- for good or ill -- forever. Theirs is an electric partnership, fraught with tension, but in the end a "marriage of true minds" -- a ground-breaking union where each cherished and valued the contributions and strengths of the other.

Gortner not only succeeds in bringing the past to vibrant life, but in making me care about his characters -- at one moment left in awe of Isabella's strength, at another moment heartbroken as choices are made that will live in infamy. He excels at recapturing the humanity of women oft-times maligned by the historical record, never excusing or dismissing a controversial action, but rather restoring such to within its proper context. For a fifteenth-century Catholic monarch like Isabella, the dictates of the church were the literal alpha and omega, the beginning and the end by which all decisions are measured, and heresy and dissent in matters of faith are not to be tolerated. By understanding the fallibility of Isabella's now legendary, larger-than-life persona, and restoring her humanity -- her brilliance and her short-comings -- he delivers an unvarnished, compelling portrait of a woman who fought for the right to determine her future and strove to live out her faith in the best way she knew how, for good or ill. While the consequences of allowing the Inquisition into Spain or of the expulsion of the Jews aren't fully analyzed, the agony and fear that went into Isabella's decisions are fully explored, resulting in a perfectly-realized portrait of an imperfect, but compelling woman.

In The Queen's Vow Isabella emerges as a fully-realized, multi-faceted woman, a compelling and contradictory mix of tradition and ground-breaking, forward-thinking independence. With a meticulous attention to detail and a deft hand for period mannerisms and dialogue, Gortner excels at bringing Isabella and her world to life on the page. He is the rare author capable of balancing his audience's modern sensibilities with a soul-deep understanding of the the time in which Isabella lived, a gift of restoring the triumphs and short-comings of his leading lady, capable of elucidating her motivations and fears with a compassionate and clear-eyed touch. A Gortner novel is an experience to savor, and Isabella's story is no exception -- by turns exhilarating, maddening, and heart-breaking. I can't wait to see where Gortner takes readers next!

About the book:

Isabella is barely a teenager when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone her half brother, King Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at the age of seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her -- Fernando, prince of Aragon. As they unite their two realms under "one crown, one country, one faith," Isabella and Fernando face an impoverished Spain beset by enemies. With the future of her throne at stake, Isabella resists the zealous demands of inquisitor Torquemada even as she is seduced by the dreams of an enigmatic navigator named Columbus. But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella's resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny.

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

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: The Spear of Destiny by Marcus Sedgwick

The Spear of Destiny (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary #3)
By: Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Puffin


The third entry in Puffin's yearlong series of short stories celebrating Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary has introduced me to yet another author whose work I am determined to explore further after trying this sample. Marcus Sedgwick, author of the Raven Mysteries, was tasked with bringing the third incarnation of the Doctor to life, as played by John Pertwee for most of the 1970s. While I am only passingly familiar with Pertwee's Doctor, based on appearances alone I've always suspected he was rather a deliciously eccentric aristocratic type. In doing some reading about the Third Doctor's tenure after reading this story, I thought it was fascinating that Pertwee's tenure was often characterized by intrigue and spy capers, inspired by popular television programs of the time such as the long-running The Avengers. Sedgwick brings the spy caper quality of the era's television shows to bear within the pages of this short story, one that sees the Doctor embark on a museum heist and once again face one of his greatest foe.

The Doctor's companion here is Jo Grant (played in the series by Katy Manning). Jo was a junior operative with UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, later the Unified Intelligence Taskforce), an elite paramilitary group dedicated to fighting extraterrestrial threats to the Earth's existence. I was fascinated to learn that the UNIT which figured in new-Who episodes such as "World War Three" and "The Christmas Invasion," as well as the spin-off series Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, had its origins in the classic Who stories. UNIT was notably featured in the Third Doctor's run, and having the Doctor operate under its auspices fits neatly within the realm of television spy show tropes such as CONTROL in Get Smart or The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Here the Doctor and Jo are tasked with stealing a spear thought to be the Norse god Odin's spear, the legendary Gungnir. Unable to retrieve the spear in the 1973 present, the Doctor and the delightfully ditzy Jo travel back to its last known point of origin -- the Viking age. Given the current popularity of Thor, this story's exploration of Norse mythology is particularly fresh and relevant. Touching on the idea that myths and legends have their origin in fact, and mixing the presence of the Master and his sinister machinations into the historical record, Sedgwick delivers a fresh, entertaining short story just begging to be made into an episode or a full-length novel. (Note to the show's producers: I would LOVE to see the Doctor visit the Vikings or something similarly new -- I love Victorian England and all but the Doctor has ALL of time and space to work with, let's remember that!) Following this highly entertaining introduction to the Third Doctor I see myself checking out episodes from his era at the first opportunity!

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.

The Third Doctor and Jo Grant are trying to track down the magical spear of Odin when they find themselves caught up in a vicious battle between two Viking tribes. But one of the Vikings is even more dangerous than he appears to be. Can the Doctor stop the spear getting into the wrong hands before it's too late?

Agent Carter clip!

The full Marvel One Shot: Agent Carter will be released on the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray/DVD, but until that drops in September Marvel has released this teaser featuring Hayley Atwell as Captain America's first love (AWW!!!):

Good Morning Storybrooke!

Here's a fun video from the upcoming Blu-ray/DVD release of Once Upon a Time's second season:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Harvest of Gold by Tessa Afshar

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Harvest of Gold

River North; New Edition edition (July 1, 2013)


Tessa Afshar


TESSA AFSHAR was voted "New Author of the Year" by the Family Fiction sponsored Reader's Choice Award 2011 for her novel Pearl in the Sand. She was born in Iran, and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life. She moved to England where she survived boarding school for girls and fell in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, before moving to the United States permanently. Her conversion to Christianity in her twenties changed the course of her life forever. Tessa holds an MDiv from Yale University where she served as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School. She has spent the last thirteen years in full-time Christian work.


The scribe Sarah married Darius, and at times she feels as if she has married the Persian aristocracy, too. There is another point she did not count on in her marriage-Sarah has grown to love her husband. Sarah has wealth, property, honor, and power, but her husband's love still seems unattainable.

Although his mother was an Israelite, Darius remains skeptical that his Jewish wife is the right choice for him, particularly when she conspires with her cousin Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Ordered to assist in the effort, the couple begins a journey to the homeland of his mother's people. Will the road filled with danger, conflict, and surprising memories, help Darius to see the hand of God at work in his life-and even in his marriage?

A hidden message, treachery, opposition, and a God-given success, will lead to an unlikely bounty.

If you'd like to read the first chapter of Harvest of Gold, go HERE.

Once Upon a Time Season 3 trailer!

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review: Patience, Princess Catherine by Carolyn Meyer

Patience, Princess Catherine (Young Royals)
By: Carolyn Meyer
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Patience, Princess Catherine is Carolyn Meyer's YA retelling of Catalina of Spain's early years in the Tudor Court, her marriage, teenage widowhood, and subsequent years-long struggle to see her promised betrothal to her one-time brother-in-law, Prince Henry, realized. Framed by chapters where an older Catherine, victim of King Henry's attempts to see their marriage dissolved, Patience, Princess Catherine is a diary-like reminiscence of Catherine's arrival in England, interspersed with brief passages from Henry's point-of-view. 

Having just finished Philippa Gregory's The Constant Princess, I sadly found this fictional retelling of Catherine's life sorely lacking. While Meyers does an adequate job sticking to the historical record in that Arthur is viewed as weak and sickly, his marriage to Catherine left unconsummated, facts alone do not a compelling story make. Meyers' incarnation of Catherine is curiously lifeless -- there is no suggestion of the vibrant queen who reigned at Henry's side for over twenty years, who fought for her marriage and position. Catherine here is immature, easily swayed, and -- thanks to the diary-like format of most of the novel -- frankly boring as there is no well-formed narrative, only a dry recitation of events punctuated by fictional insight into Henry's psyche. 

Given the inevitable tragic conclusion of Henry and Catherine's marriage, the insight Meyer's attempts to provide into Henry's youthful view of Catherine suggest -- in this context -- that Henry harbored a passion for his first bride. Whether or not this is in fact the case, Meyer's writes Henry with the voice of a man much older than ten years of age when the book opens. Not only does the tone feel off, but these passages in particular are riddled with distracting spelling and grammatical errors, with words misspelled, misused, or omitted altogether. 

Patience, Princess Catherine is a textbook introduction to Catherine and Henry -- the research is there, but these larger-than-life characters are stripped of their life and vibrancy, left colorless, pale shadows on the page. Between the characterizations, awkwardly-executed narrative, and abundance of distracting editorial mistakes, I was left rather underwhelmed by this offering in Meyer's Young Royals series. Hopefully, subsequent volumes in the Young Royals series will succeed in bringing history to life on the page in a more vibrant, engaging manner.

About the book:

England anxiously awaits Prince Arthur's betrothed--the Spanish princess who will be its future queen. But when Arthur dies not long after the wedding, Catherine of Aragon's fate becomes uncertain. Will the king and Catherine's parents arrange a marriage with Arthur's brother, Henry, or will she return to Spain a widow? Through all this turmoil, the young princess's resolve remains unshaken. She will one day be England's queen . . . no matter how long it takes.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

The Constant Princess (The Tudor Court #1)
By: Philippa Gregory
Publisher: Touchstone
ISBN: 978-0-7432-7249-0


The youngest daughter of two of the most famous monarchs in Spanish history, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, Catalina, the Infanta of Spain, knew her destiny from the time she was three years old. Betrothed to Arthur, the Prince of Wales and Tudor heir, Catalina was destined to become the Princess of Wales and then Queen of England, carrying her mother's passion to defend the faith of the Roman Church to England's shores, securing a critical alliance and cementing a lasting peace between Spain and the newly-installed Tudor king, Henry VII. Though she has prepared her entire life to be God's anointed queen in England, Catalina finds herself ill-prepared for the emotional and physical adjustments her new life requires. Though she finds her intended attractive and harbors hopes for an affectionate union, those girlish dreams are soon dashed by the political machinations of the English court that put such pressure on her marital relations the young couple become even further estranged with little impetus to overcome their personal and cultural differences.

But Catalina perseveres, and falls deeply in love with Arthur, who proves to be a dedicated prince and a promising ruler. The future the young princess was raised to believe her birthright seems secure, and the un-imagined gift of passion she feels for her young husband is a blessing that surely signals their union and marriage are highly favored -- until disaster strikes, and in the damp and cold Welsh climate Arthur falls ill and dies, but not before exacting a promise from Catalina that will change the course of her life forever. Demanding that she claim their five-month marriage was unconsummated in order to marry his younger brother Henry, and in so doing fulfill her destiny to be queen, and in so doing assume a position of power and responsibility that will allow her to fulfill their shared dreams for Arthur's rule. Devastated by her loss but determined to keep her word, Catalina embarks on a game of intrigue and danger that will cost her far more than she'd ever dreamed -- for to keep her promise she must find the strength within her to withstand the power plays and political machinations within and without her household that would seek to see her denied her birthright. But the girl who arrived on English shores an innocent will not be denied, and Catalina, daughter of kings, fights to achieve her destiny as queen of England and in so doing her constancy and passion leave an indelible mark on the pages of history.

After revisiting several Tudor-era films (among them Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age) I found myself wanting to explore more Tudor-set fiction, and so decided to try my first novel by the prolific Philippa Gregory. Katherine, the wife whom Henry VIII abandoned after over twenty years of marriage has always held a special fascination for me. She not only one of the wives to have survived Henry's mercurial temperament when it comes to women, but she never ceased fighting for her place, her rights, or denying Henry's right to have their marriage invalidated, a sacred promise she believed in and respected in spite of Henry's betrayal. While her life has always been marked by faithfulness and constancy in my mind, I have always tended to picture her as the middle-aged matron, failing to ever imagine her in the first bloom of youth, and how that vibrancy and the years she endured as a young widow must have marked her and informed her later decisions and beliefs.

Following Arthur's death, following the generally accepted historical record Catalina vowed she was a virgin, and therefore provided a dispensation from the pope was provided, as such was therefore able to marry her one-time brother-in-law Henry, when he reached his majority. Gregory, however, takes this one step further, by asserting that Catalina lied -- that her marriage to Arthur was in fact a marriage in word and deed, and the lie was therefore necessary to maintain her position as queen-to-be. Frankly, I've always thought it a little unlikely that her first marriage wasn't consummated, so I had no issue with this scenario -- nor does it, in my mind, invalidate Katherine's famously devout nature. At this point in her life, little more than a child, in danger of losing everything she was raised to be -- her very identity -- one can imagine that such a falsehood might be viewed as a matter of survival. Given how Henry treats Katherine after twenty-plus years of marriage -- setting aside the all important issue of the lack of a male heir -- I loved Gregory's idea that, once upon a time, a vibrant, loving marriage was within Catalina's reach. And if keeping a deathbed promise to her beloved Arthur meant securing a marriage with Henry at any cost -- it's a lie I can imagine was not spoken lightly or without great personal cost.

Gregory divides the novel between third-person narrative and first-person, italicized "diary entries" told from Catalina's perspective. The balance between third- and first-person point-of-view works less well than one could have wished -- I think Gregory would've been better served to stick with a third-person account of Catalina's life, as more often than not the italicized entries recap action already covered or are frankly too long for the italicized format. Whether or not you like Gregory's take on Catalina's early life, she's produced a highly readable, entertaining account of Catalina's first years in England. Gregory's succeeded in crafting a narrative that is evocative of the time period and a highly sympathetic portrait of a princess who, time and again, refused to be bowed by circumstance. Sure to provoke further interest in the time period and its heroine, The Constant Princess has dramatically increased my respect and admiration for a woman whose faith and constancy in the face of her marriage's dissolution is arguably the result of a lifetime of determination and dedication to her faith and principles.

About the book:

"I am Catalina, Princess of Spain, daughter of the two greatest monarchs the world has ever known...and I will be Queen of England."

Bestselling author Philippa Gregory introduces us to one of her most unforgettable heroines: Katherine of Aragon. Known to history as the queen who was pushed off her throne by Anne Boleyn, here is a Katherine the world has forgotten: the enchanting princess that all England loved. First married to Henry VIII's older brother, Arthur, Katherine's passion turns their arranged marriage into a love match. But when Arthur dies, the merciless English court and her ambitious parents -- the crusading King and Queen of Spain -- have to find a new role for the widow. Ultimately, it is Katherine herself who takes control of her own life by telling the most audacious lie in English history, leading her to the very pinnacle of power in England.

Set in the rich beauty of Moorish Spain and the glamour of the Tudor court, The Constant Princess presents a woman whose constancy helps her endure betrayal, poverty, and despair, until the inevitable moment when she steps into the role she has rehearsed all her life: Henry VIII's Queen, Regent, and commander of the English army in their greatest victory against Scotland.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sherlock at Comic-Con

Click through to see the taped messages from Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch that aired at the Sherlock Comic-Con panel. Benedict is in especially fine form. *wink*

Friday, July 12, 2013

Review: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

What I Saw and How I Lied
By: Judy Blundell
Publisher: Scholastic


It's 1947, and with the return of servicemen from overseas, all of America -- including Evie Spooner and her parents -- are determined to embrace the promise of a postwar boom, to realize anew the promise of the American dream of success and plenty, uninhibited by wartime rationing and shortages. At fifteen, Evie is caught between the comfort of childish things, the known, and the irresistible pull of adulthood -- the mystery of filling out a stylish dress, red lipstick, and nylons. It's the mystery of being desired -- of finding within herself when she looks in the mirror some version of her glamorous mother Bev, something more than the Plain Jane she sees, the one her parents refuse to release into adulthood.

The Spooner family has everything to gain thanks stepfather Joe has plans to expand his string of electronics stores, but beneath the veneer of success and respectability lurks the specter of wartime deprivation and secrets. Following a mysterious phone call, Joe packs the family in the car on a whim and they head to Palm Beach, Florida -- a promised land of milk and honey. But the glamour of Palm Beach is a patchwork fraud, as the city is closed for the season, and in this land of thinly-veiled artifice Evie begins to see the first cracks in her family's happy facade. With ex-GI Peter Coleridge, an wartime acquaintance of Joe's, she feels the first stirrings of love -- but her obsession with Peter blinds her to the havoc he wreaks in parents' relationship. When a deadly hurricane bears down on the Florida coast, ripping away Evie's security, she's left with to pick up the shambles of her adolescent dreams -- and the price of a maturity hard-won and come far too soon.

What I Saw and How I Lied is a deliciously atmospheric coming-of-age story amid the possibilities and optimism that exploded within the postwar decade. Blundell has succeeded in penning a novel that reads like a film noir classic come to life on the page. Evie's story possesses the shadowed, moral ambiguity found within classic noir films like of The Big Sleep, the romantic obsession of love gone wrong in Laura, and the collision of untamed nature and man's basest instincts in Key Largo. With the finesse of a finely-edited film and the wry sensibilities of a noir master like Raymond Chandler, Blundell has crafted a remarkably atmospheric novel, steeped in not only the history of the time period, but its entertainment sensibilities as well, wrapped up with a timeless understanding of the heartache attendant with growing up hard and fast.

I absolutely loved Evie's unvarnished honesty. Her desire to experience the trappings of adulthood without (as yet) a measurable understanding of the cost is heartbreakingly relatable. There is a timeless quality in her desire to find love, her idolization of her parents, and I suspect her drive to keep peace between them -- to ignore any fissure in their relationship -- will ring all too true for many who read her tale. Quite frankly, I found her story highly disturbing in many respects -- Evie's utter naivete, the increasingly, glaringly apparent fact that those adults she should be able to rely upon for advice and protection are falling woefully short  alternately broke my heart and left me deeply chilled, wondering just how many unknown Evies are out there, facing their own impossible choices all in the name of survival.

With What I Saw and How I Lied, Blundell has succeeded in crafting a pitch-perfect, beautifully realized historical imbued with a timeless, chilling intensity. I loved how she sprinkled the history of the war and its impact on those who fought and those who survived throughout the narrative, from war profiteering to the tragic blight of prejudice and the unfathomable horror faced by the realization of what that prejudice wrought in the Nazi camps. Evie's coming-of-age is delicately fashioned on the page, absolutely heartrending in how Evie's adolescent daydreams collide with the stark adult reality of her parents' secrets. A twisty, thought-provoking period piece, timeless in its emotional intensity and honesty, What I Saw and How I Lied is a gorgeously-rendered coming-of-age story told with the grace and shadows of the finest noir tale. A chilling, unforgettable story sketched with a filmic sensibility that brings Evie's postwar world to vibrant life on the page -- very well done, very well-told.

About the book:

This National Book Award winner set during the aftermath of WWII is now available in paperback!

When Evie's father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe's company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 - first look!

Okay, I love Hiccup and Toothless so much this teaser might have brought a tear to my eye. Just sayin'!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review: The Edge by Rudy Josephs

The Edge (Starfleet Academy #2)
By: Rudy Josephs
Publisher: Simon Spotlight


Offering a glimpse into the lives of Kirk, McCoy, Spock, and Uhura before the events of the 2009 J.J. Abrams film that relaunched the Star Trek franchise, the Starfleet Academy series continues with its look at the cadets' school days with The Edge. For some inexplicable reason, the publisher elected to release The Edge, which clearly covers the first few months the quartet spend at the Academy, after The Delta Anomaly, when they are well-established in their studies, Academy routine, and relationships. As one who tends to read series from start to finish, releasing even category fiction of this ilk out of order like this is jarring to say the least, and in this case unfortunately colors my overall opinion of Josephs' single entry (to date) in the series.

The Edge confronts Kirk, Uhura, and McCoy with the rigors of Academy training, forcing Kirk in particular to assess whether or not the rules, regulations, and expectations placed on the cadets by the Academy brass are indicative of the life this erstwhile free spirit wants to lead long-term. The first challenge facing Kirk's class of cadets is the desert survival race, setting the precedent that winning is everything. Kirk narrowly misses claiming victory, taking consolation in the fact that he's met Lynne, a gorgeous and driven fellow cadet. As weeks pass, and Kirk sees cadets destroy their lives all in the name of a bid at Starfleet glory, he's forced to evaluate just how far he's willing to go to carve a name for himself in the Academy's annals in his own right, outside his famous father's legend.

While I like the overall concept of Kirk, Uhura, and McCoy being forced to evaluate the personal cost of succeeding in their chosen field -- the discussion of the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the honor system at the Academy felt reminiscent of some of the moral conundrums tacked by Classic Trek -- it does not translate into an engaging storyline. Joseph opens the novel strong with the desert survival race, but then the forward momentum of that event fizzles as Kirk and company settle into the routine of Academy life. The characterizations of the four main players are fair to solid relative to their Abrams' film counterparts, but here Uhura and Spock fare best. While jumping back in time series-wise was jarring, I loved seeing how this series envisions Uhura and Spock's first meeting and the way in which they bonded over each being outsiders in their own way when compared to the Academy norm.

The Edge provides many moments fans of the new incarnations of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Uhura will enjoy -- from Uhura's initial flirtation with Spock (all in the name of practicing "small talk") to the loyalty to McCoy that drives Kirk to act when the former's reputation is threatened. Josephs sketches each of the principle players in a manner that is faithful to their on-screen counterparts, particularly when it comes to Kirk's bravado and Uhura's intense focus. While the character moments fail to outweigh the plot's uneven -- and oft-times sluggish -- pace, The Edge is a pleasant enough diversion if one wishes to while away a few hours in the company of the future Enterprise crew.

About the book:

A new Starfleet Academy series for teens--filled with romance and adventure! In The Competitive Edge, Kirk finds out how much of a toll the intense training classes and grueling schedule of academy life is taking on all the cadets, including himself. But some recruits seem better equipped to handle the challenges. Is there something that is giving them an edge? Kirk is determined to find out, especially since one of the cadets with a little something extra is his new girlfriend.

Austenland trailer!

Austenland has a trailer!!! I AM SO EXCITED!!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Review: The Nameless City by Michael Scott

The Nameless City (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary #2)
By: Michael Scott
Publisher: Puffin


Puffin continued its year-long celebration of Doctor Who earlier this year with the release of The Nameless City, a short story featuring the Second Doctor as portrayed by Patrick Troughton. Since I came to the show via the Ninth Doctor, I've never really had the opportunity -- or, frankly, the curiosity -- to learn more about his earlier incarnations until this year, when celebrations surrounding the show's fiftieth anniversary have led to the release of specials, short stories, and novels featuring the first eight Doctors. Prior to the release of this short story, I'd never heard of author Michael Scott -- but after reading his contribution to the 50th Anniversary celebrations, I'm thoroughly impressed with his style and imagination.

Referred to as the "cosmic hobo," here the Second Doctor appears to be more whimsical than his predecessor, very suggestive of the childlike wonder Matt Smith is capable of bringing to the role as Eleven. Within the pages of Scott's story the Second Doctor is joined by long-time companion Jamie McCrimmon (played by Frazer Hines on-screen), an eighteenth-century Scotsman and one of the Doctor's longest-serving companions, appearing in well over one hundred episodes. I LOVE the idea of the Doctor having a long-term companion from a historical time period relative to whenever the show aired. The creative possibilities for introducing an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century native to not only future worlds but the twenty-first century and its people and technology are endless! It's an avenue I dearly hope the showrunners for New-Who consider, as I think it could breathe fresh life into this dearly-loved series.

More so than in the case of Colfer's First Doctor story, I feel as though Scott has succeeded in writing a story that hits the right balance of appealing to New-Who fans while avoiding the temptation to project the show's later mythology onto one of the Doctor's first incarnations. This story very much feels as though it could be an episode of the show, different enough in tone and style to distinguish it from the reigns of Nine, Ten, and Eleven whom I know fairly well. *wink* The Archons were suitably creepy villains, and I loved the glimpse of the unnamed Master, operating in the shadows. If the Doctor and Jamie's on-screen relationship is half as interesting as I found it play out in this story, I definitely need to make time to become better acquainted with Patrick Troughton's Doctor. Very enjoyable!

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.

When Jamie McCrimmon brings the Second Doctor a mysterious book, little does he realise the danger contained within its pages. The book transports the TARDIS to a terrifying glass city on a distant world, where the Archons are intent on getting revenge on the Time Lord for an ancient grudge.

Burton & Taylor trailer

Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor? I AM SO THERE.

Not sure about a US air date, but I seem to remember hearing something about this film airing on BBC America this fall.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review: Where Treasure Hides by Johnnie Alexander Donley

Where Treasure Hides
By: Johnnie Alexander Donley
Publisher: Tyndale


With Europe on the brink of war, artist Alison Schuyler never expected to have her life changed while waiting for her train at Waterloo Station. Returning to her home in the Netherlands following an exploratory trip to Wales -- where, at the behest of her grandfather she gathered intelligence on how to protect their beloved nation's national art treasures from the coming conflict -- she is arrested by the sight of a British officer defending a young Jewish child from the recently-arrived Kindertransport. Lieutenant Ian Devlin is equally captivated by the beautiful artist, and puzzled by her determination to deny the obvious attraction between them. Though she spends just a few unforgettable hours in Ian's company, Alison is sure the family fate -- and the coming war -- means their fledgling relationship is destined to fail. When she returns to the Rotterdam and her family's renowned gallery, Alison throws herself into her work, determined to forget Ian's kind eyes and their ill-fated attraction, even going so far as to entertain the attentions of a persistent German count who seems to value winning her affections as much as the art treasures she so cherishes. But all is not as it seems with the count, and when war comes Alison must decide where her true treasure lies -- in her own efforts, in protecting the art that is her life, or in taking a leap of faith on a love she can't forget and a God who knows her heart's deepest desire?

It's no secret that I LOVE World War II-era fiction, so when Donley's debut was released earlier this year I fell in love with the gorgeous cover and knew I had to read it. The opening is promising -- I loved the romance of Alison and Ian's "meet cute" at the train station. It's reminiscent of two of my favorite classic wartime dramas -- Waterloo Bridge, a World War I-set drama featuring a gorgeously-told, ill-fated romance between Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh, and the poignant wartime romance The Clock featuring Judy Garland and Robert Walker. There is a fairy tale-like quality to the novel's opening pages, from Ian's gallant defense of the refugee boy, even to Alison's insistence that love is out of reach due to a family "curse."  Donley succeeds in imbuing the opening of her novel with an old Hollywood atmosphere and charm, with the promise of a romance laced with the bittersweet poignancy and uncertainty of wartime.

I applaud Donley for focusing her storyline on elements of World War II history that -- in my experience, at any rate -- have not received a great deal of attention in similarly-themed fiction. I loved the Rotterdam setting, and the passion Alison and her grandfather have to see their national treasures protected from potential Nazi looters. It reminded me a bit of the Masterpiece Contemporary film Framed, which -- though set in the present day -- took its cues from the historical evacuation of the National Gallery's treasures from London to Wales during the war, and similarly touches on the power of art to inspire and foster a sense of national identity and pride.

That said, where the novel begins to falter is in pacing and characterization issues that surface as the story progresses. First and foremost, the whole idea of a Schuyler family curse simply doesn't work. Frankly, it feels incredibly immature for Alison to continue to rebuff Ian in order to "save" him -- I'd have much preferred her to simply acknowledge that she has trust issues, scarred by her father's abandonment (instead of chalking up his behavior as a result of the "curse" playing out in his own life). SPOILERS: And the final fifth of the novel, where Alison leaves the safety of London on a stranger's word, and then develops a tolerance for her captor indicative of the Stockholm Syndrome is, quite frankly, beyond the scope of believability or sense. There is good drama and then there is just idiotic behavior, and unfortunately for Alison her actions in the novel's final act fall firmly into the latter camp. Pacing-wise, the novel possesses an ambitious scope by covering the entire war period -- I think this book would've been stronger and her characters better served if she'd had the chance to flesh out her storyline over two volumes instead of one, making time jumps less jarring and Alison's character more grounded and mature (especially given her complete disregard for her physical health when she leaves England).

Despite my issues with Alison and the story's pacing, I think Donley has the potential to be an author to watch. She has knack for imbuing her writing with period detail and a welcome willingness to explore lesser-examined aspects of wartime history. The beginning of Alison and Ian's romance has the charm of a fairy tale, and I loved the latter's sense of honor and duty, particularly as it plays out during his flight to freedom from the Germans. There is a lot of potential here, and should Donley release a sequel I'll definitely check it out.

About the book:

Artist Alison Schuyler spends her time working in her family’s renowned art gallery, determined to avoid the curse that has followed the Schuyler clan from the Netherlands to America and back again. She’s certain that true love will only lead to tragedy—that is, until a chance meeting at Waterloo station brings Ian Devlin into her life. Drawn to the bold and compassionate British Army captain, Alison begins to question her fear of love as World War II breaks out, separating the two and drawing each into their own battles. While Ian fights for freedom on the battlefield, Alison works with the Dutch Underground to find a safe haven for Jewish children and priceless pieces of art alike. But safety is a luxury war does not allow. As time, war, and human will struggle to keep them apart, will Alison and Ian have the faith to fight for their love, or is it their fate to be separated forever?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Charles & Camilla visit the Doctor Who set

I LOVE this. Charles and Camilla visit the Doctor Who set, and Prince Charles even gets to use the Dalek voice modulator!!

Endeavour returns Sunday!

Just a quick reminder that this Sunday, Endeavour returns to Masterpiece Mystery with Girl, the first of four brand-new episodes!! I AM SO EXCITED. Here's a preview scene from the episode:

Watch A Scene from Endeavour: Girl on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

And you can read my review of the pilot episode here. Enjoy! :)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Passing Bells on sale!

Everyone remember how much I love, love, LOVED The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock? No? Go read this for a refresher! Well I learned today that Amazon has the Kindle version of this FABULOUS book on sale for just $2.99! SERIOUSLY WHAT A STEAL! Grab a copy while you can -- and remember to double-check the pricing, as I have no idea how long this sale will last!

personal update

Hello everyone, and to my fellow Americans Happy Independence Day!

I just wanted to take a brief moment to give a short personal update, as posting may come in fits and starts in the weeks to come. This summer has been challenging, to say the least. Last month I said goodbye to my last remaining grandparent, Granny Martha -- she was a pistol :) and lived to be 97!

Around the time we learned that Granny didn't have much longer, we also learned that my dad is facing some health challenges. I really don't want to get into specifics as we learned this week that he'll be facing some tests over the next two weeks in order to determine a course of treatment. No specifics because, well, I don't want to speculate "in print" as it were before all the facts are known -- it's too easy for me to do that inside my head if you know what I mean. =P

I'm asking for your prayers for my family, specifically health and healing for my dad, and wisdom for his doctors. Thank you all so much! I'm not planning to abandon the blog by any stretch of the imagination -- this thing helps keep me sane, lol! -- but I did want to let all of you readers know, whom I value as dear friends, what's going on if posts seem a bit more irregular than usual. :) Thank you!!