Downton Abbey, Series Four Trailer

Saturday, August 31, 2013

...and the preview of series four is here. What do you all think?

My impressions are... BRING. IT. ON. There's plenty of kissing, tears and finally a smile or two.

Share any thoughts you have below.

Lessons Learned from Book Reviewing

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Recommending a book has changed since I first became an avid reader. Once upon a time, my reaction might have been akin to something like this, “that was good,” and in turn while I was sitting around on the floor of my friend’s house, chatting, I’d have said, “you should read this book – want to borrow mine?” Today, I write a rambling 500-word review in which I debate the merits of a book, splash those thoughts across Twitter, document the reading progress on Goodreads and look for fellow readers’ opinions. How far that thirteen-year-old girl has come.

Last week, a reader kindly shared with me that my review prompted her to read a book and she enjoyed the novel as a result. Then Lydia posed a question on Twitter wondering what other’s thought about “rating systems.”  This got me thinking – what do I want to impart in a review and more importantly what do you wish to get out of a review? Earlier in the year, I saw an expertly written blog post on writing book reviews and thought it was an interesting subject. Made me think about what I’ve been able to claim as new experiences, learning the good and bad ends of reviewing. It’s something that I claim as a “challenge” in the best sense. In my humble experience, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to write a book review. Obviously there are the “basics,” you as a reader should consider; sharing likes vs. dislikes, cute quirks you may have laughed over in the book or a personal anecdote that happened during the reading time. Beyond that, each format is unique to each reviewer.

Here are some of the talking points I like to include and ways I’ve vacillated in how “best” to write reviews plus some “rules” I write by.

Format: This is probably the greatest challenge. Speaking from experience, you’ll have probably all noticed that I’ve used a variety of formats. From writing a strict, “full-length” synopsis in my own words followed by conclusive thoughts to dividing up the review between the pros and cons, there’ve been several revisions around here. Any way you write the review is really up to the writer, but one thing I think are important is seeing the books “stats” (i.e., the publisher, publication date or if the book belongs in a series) and I think I prefer the “proper” publisher’s posted synopsis after a reviewers thoughts.

My goal is not only for the format to be easy to read but also easy to write, so dear readers tell me, which of the numerous formats do you prefer?

Opinions: Number one to all reviews – no matter the presentation or familiarity of the author’s and their work, is honesty. There is no way around that. It’s the first thing I tell myself when starting a new review – I try to accurately assess what I loved about the book, what bugged me and weigh the pros and cons overall. Everything I write is done so with the goal of being honest – hence the reason I may too often repeat too many of the reasons the book didn’t suit (in multiple reviews albeit a different book, re-hashing the same topic), particularly if I feel like the only reader who doesn’t like the book, it’s kind of my way of saying, in all likelihood, “it’s me, not the author.”

Looking back over some of my older reviews – as well as current, sometimes I question the validity of the words I wrote, namely those that are gushing and say nothing “bad” about the book. Each time the reacting is the same thing: they are sincerely meant. If a review is overwhelming with positive reactions (who doesn’t like a well-placed exclamation point – we all relate, right!? *wink*), it’s because the book genuinely inspired that reaction in me. The same goes for any reaction; the good is taken and accepted with the bad and vice versa.

Rating System: When first I began reviewing, I didn’t “rate” the book. Meaning, a review was written but there was no 4/5 star rating implemented. Once I begin accepting blog tours in earnest and posting reviews to Amazon and Goodreads, things changed. The “star rating” just naturally transitioned into blogging.

What do you – authors, readers, and bloggers – think of “rating” books? Is it helpful? Necessary?

Now, I’d like to open this topic – or any bookish, writing topic, for discussion. What do you, our blog reader’s look for when checking reviews of books or anything review subject? What do you, the reviewers want to impress on readers – and authors, do you like anything specific from book bloggers?

Any thoughts are most welcome! Please, the comment section is open for discussion.

Casting Scoop: The Sound of Music

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Happy, mad, curious or outraged, a live re-make, re-boot, "inspired by" (whatever it may be!) production of The Sound of Music is happening this winter.

First it was announced that the NBC special had cast the talented Grammy winner Carrie Underwood to play the iconic role of Maria, now we have learned who she will play opposite in the role of Von Trapp. The news has been floating around for a few days but in case you missed it, the role went to Stephen Moyer. Known for his role in a vampire show, the British actor has also starred on Broadway, so perhaps he has a voice...? Being unfamiliar with his credits - both screen and stage, I have no opinion one way or the other. I am curious about him playing this iconic role though.

Here's what the EW article says:
True Blood star Stephen Moyer has been cast in NBC’s live holiday production of The Sound of Music.

Moyer will portray World War I hero and single father Capt. Georg Von Trapp, who is living in Austria on the cusp of World War II. He falls for his governess, Maria (Carrie Underwood), who he hires to take care of his children.
The three-hour production is scheduled for Dec. 5 and will be based on the original 1959 Broadway production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

Moyer has musical experience from his days working in London theater and recently appeared in a staging of Chicago at the Hollywood Bowl.

Only thing left to be announced are the children! Cannot wait to find out who will fill those shoes. Until then, what do you think about this casting? Or the production in general - one that is said to "honor Broadway over big screen"? Are you for it, against it, or have you warmed up to the idea?

Any thoughts are welcome!

Pride & Prejudice (2005) - Breathtaking Adaptation of the Jane Austen Classic

Monday, August 26, 2013

Pride and Prejudice

Though I don’t know if this classic piece of literature authored by Jane Austen is considered one of the “greatest” stories ever told, it has its own powers of persuasion that initially endears it to us – predominately through its feisty heroine and swoon-worthy hero (immortalized on-screen by Colin Firth), and has made itself known as a saga that transcends time. Here are my informal ramblings. Chime in with yours!

With a family of five daughters, Mrs. Bennet (Brenda Blethyn) is a mother on a mission. She wants to see all of them married – not just to prominent men, but wealth to see them settled beyond what their father (Donald Sutherland) could settle on them – and what better start than the new owner of Netherfield Park, Mr. Charles Bingley (Simon Woods). Considered the greatest beauty of the Bennet family, eldest Jane (Rosamund Pike) quickly captures the fancy of Bingley and an expected match is imagined between the two. This acquaintance leads the Bennet’s to that of a Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfayden) whose wealth exceeds Bingley and again a new prospect is made. 

Second eldest – in both “age and beauty,” Lizzie (Keira Knightley) doesn’t waste time sparring with the intellectual Darcy whose pride clashes with Lizzie’s own intellect. Distracting her from the arrogance and frustrating presence of Darcy is the arrival of the foppish Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander) who is to inherit the Longboure estate upon her father’s passing – and he has set his sights on marrying Lizzie! Not about to be bullied into matrimony, Lizzie instead puts her mind to seeing Jane and Bingley fall further in love… only to watch Jane’s heart break over a separation …and so the story goes.  

This is the sort of story all authors and aspiring authors wish they had or could write. Not perhaps the style or genre, but characters who stick with readers long after the last page is turned, or the unexpected, subtle moments of humor woven into the parts that make up a solid and charming yet complex novel. As I rewatched this story on DVD for the first time in a good long while, though overall for the zillionth time (and counting!), contemplating the likelihood of reviewing it, I looked at this remake through new eyes. I wanted to try and form a balanced opinion because otherwise there’d likely be abnormal amounts of gushing, and indeed I feel like the conclusions reached are true to the emotions this version stirs – both good and bad.

There are likely three groups of people and opinions when settling on this big-screen adaptation, those who a.) watched it under duress and think it’s rubbish (you will probably be a purist of the book or the A&E miniseries if this is your reaction), b.) those of you who haven’t seen the longer version or c.) people who watched this 2005 account who can also appreciate remakes or retellings. I fall into the latter type.  The first thing that endears this film to me is a personal story that involves seeing this with family and some typical miscommunication, and secondly, the film being praise-worthy on its own recognizance – not to mention this movie is seriously, beautiful! Lush landscapes, picturesque settings and ornately majestic estates are the primary working parts of the scenic backgrounds – that and a magnificent score. Matching this rustic beauty contextually is a different timeframe which shows a surprisingly, more uncouth Bennet family. It’s a representation that is further identified by the costumes and way of living (the posture of the characters, loud and unrefined country dances or table settings). Instead of the refined charm of the A&E adaption, this version chose to “loosen” the propriety bounds and for example, made Lizzie a more “casual beauty.” Or to show the family’s daily routine involving a pig walking through the kitchen – and I love every second of it, or very nearly.

Aside from the cast (which we’ll discuss later), the thing that works best under Joe Wright’s direction is how well condensed the script is; speaking in relation to prior cinematic works, not the original text. There is perhaps a time of adjustment even as the first frames unfold, however once a viewer gets caught up in each moment, hold on! The film moves swiftly – pacing that was impossible to do any other way. There isn’t time for Lizzie to develop a rapport with the scoundrel Wickham, she has to hear his version and then, in a dizzying but flowing sequence find herself spontaneously accepting Darcy’s dance at Netherfield. Fans of Pride and Prejudice in its full form will likely find much to criticize about all that is omitted or rush, I however have to admit to being impressed with writer’s. Given what they had to work with, the story flows well and is in actuality something that works to its favor.  

Everyone probably has a certain bias against Macfayden going into this… let me just admit that I was also in the same boat. Each time I watch him bring the incomparable Darcy alive – stern persona intact, he wins me over a little more and I love the way he and Keira play off each other. From “the” exquisite dance to the swoon-worthy second proposal, this couple met and surpassed the expectations I had of seeing Darcy and Lizzie reimagined. They have a strong cast supporting them – including Carey Mulligan, Jena Malone, Kelly Reilly and Judi Dench plus many other familiar faces appear something that lent a sense of comfort to the production. In retrospect, all that suggests this 2 hour version worth its mettle is that it dares to interpret the story in its own way and time. It doesn’t take all its cues from established predecessors and uses the cast and fresh script writer’s to the best advantage – one example being the dramatic but effective proposal scene. It causes a reaction and is wonderfully fulfilling. Another being the “artsy” feel of the film – instead of conversational fillers, often there are emotional scenes in which the characters feelings are revealed in their expressions and actions instead of confronting them verbally. Widely speaking, the one real failing is that the actors don’t play most of these pivotal scenes with enough conviction. It wasn’t that their lines aren’t delivered with passion… they just lacked a bit of determination. 

Re-inventing a timeless tale may not always be for the better or a calculated risk worth taking. Countless epic fails have proven that, however I admire this film and its unique perspective on the story of Pride and Prejudice
How about you? What do you think of this more contemporary, looser adaptation of Austen’s popular novel?

(This post does contain affiliate links; if you buy anything through these links, I'll receive a percentage of the sale. Read the disclosure page for details.)  You can buy Pride and Prejudice digitally on Amazon Video or purchase on DVD

The Icing on the Cake by Janice Thompson

Friday, August 23, 2013

About the Book:
Author: Janice Thompson
Publisher: Revell
Publication Date: 2013
Find the Review Elsewhere:
Series: Weddings by Design – Book 2
Genre: Fiction; Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5  
 Being able to start her business on the upscale end of downtown Galveston is all Scarlet Lindsey has ever wanted. Aligning herself with Galveston’s most prominent businesswoman, Bella Neeley seemed like a good idea at the time only now Scarlet begins to wonder if she’s up to the task. When Bella’s wild brother, Armando Rossi breezes into town, Scarlet finds herself being thrown together with him for the betterment of various projects – everything from bringing up to code outdated soundboards for a church program to a baking contest - which ever so slowly reveals that there may be more to Armando than parties and wanderlust. Much as she loves creating the perfect confectionary delight at her business Let Them Eat Cake along with her trusty assistant, Kenny mounting pressure from her aunt – who has funded Scarlet’s venture, and the impending nuptials of her best friend, Scarlet soon finds herself battling her own dreams at the cost of a love that may be right in front of her… and her health.

As a “sidekick” character, Scarlet was a fun presence. As a leading character, she’s one of the most memorable women to grace the pages of this genre. Instead of the typical leading lady – one that sometimes falls into a paper doll punch out stereotype, Scarlet is her own person; in fears and dreams, we discover who the real Scarlet Lindsay is and it’s a young woman who will resonate with some part of all of us. Not only is the girl spunky, something that undeniably endears her but she also suffers from something we all have – maintaining a healthy weight. Instead of focusing on balancing a healthy lifestyle with eating habits, like anyone, Scarlet is her own worst critic and uses extreme methods to attempt to feel better about herself. Thompson writes this with delicacy with exception to the relationship and reaction of Aunt Willy whose opinion of Scarlet is far from complimentary and seems to wear the story down.  

This then leads me to my next point of contention: the familial relationships. Don’t get me wrong, I do adore all the crazy-ness and closeness of all the people who surround the first-person narrative, it’s just that in ‘Icing,’ the eighth book in which familiar characters routinely pop up (first in the Weddings by Bella series then her “Hollywood” trilogy), it seems like too much of the events or character personas are falling into the trap of being exactly the same as previous books. For example though she evolved in a different situation, while reading this novel, I was constantly brought back to Hannah’s story (Picture Perfect); I found myself making many comparisons of Scarlet’s story to Hannah’s or even Bella's. Everything from the term of endearment these Southern girls call their mother’s to the dozens of family members or almost-family (think the Splendora Sisters) that crop up within the pages. I think were their more individuality and exclusion, there’d be room for growth while still preserving the integrity and charm of beloved characters.

Particularly interesting to the outline of this book was what the author's note revealed; Armando playing a significant role was an afterthought for the outline of the story. Reading through the book and getting a different, better perspective on Armando made me glad that he did find a spot in the concept. Janice doesn’t just write an excellent study in the ideal contemporary woman, she also writes a humorous behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in wedding planning – and she is no stranger to the realism of wedding planning having planned weddings and decorated multiple wedding cakes. Putting all her first-hand knowledge to good use puts a unique spin on The Icing on the Cake. The book has everything a good romantic-comedy should; hilarity, memorable personalities and of course, a smoldering hero. With all that, it’s not difficult to understand having one’s cake and eating it too. ♥
Synopsis: Scarlet Lindsey’s aunt Wilhelmina may be Texas’s most popular cake baker extraordinaire, but she’s also getting on in years. When Scarlet decides to take on the role of cake decorator at her cranky aunt’s bidding, it’s just the beginning of a series of misunderstandings and mishaps that will lead her to compete in a cake challenge on national television-and might even lead her to finding true love.

Coming Next from Janice Thompson: A seamstress at a swanky bridal boutique, Gabi Delgado dreams of doing more than ripping out seams and fitting dresses to doe-eyed brides. She wants to see her own dress designs gracing the young women of Texas. When Jordan Spencer, the editor of Texas Bride magazine visits the shop to do a feature, Gabi is devastated to lose her job in his very influential presence. Convinced she'll never get her dreams off the ground now, Gabi needs lots of encouragement--especially from her friend Bella Neeley--to take a chance and start her business. And as she gets to know Jordan, she discovers that she may have to take a chance on love as well. Could it be that she'll have to design her own wedding dress soon? - February 2014

Available August 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Sincere thanks to the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of reviewing this book honestly.  

Stranded by Dani Pettrey

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

About the Book:
Author: Dani Pettrey
Publisher: Bethany House
Publication Date: September 2013
Find the review elsewhere: 
Series: Alaskan Courage – Book 3
Genre: Fiction; Suspense, Romance, Christian Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Fans returning to the Last Chance Frontier and Alaskan wilderness will find Gage McKenna and Darcy St. James reunited when Darcy’s friend disappears off a cruise ship. Working on the smarts she honed as a former investigative reporter, Darcy left the job following a conscious troubled by a case, a decision she made when where the lines should be drawn begin blurring. Now she is drawn back in while trying to protect her now-missing friend and much to her dismay she finds Gage will also be a working member of the cruise – along with his family who have signed a contract to provide expert, guided tours at various scenic locations. When past and present collide, Darcy and Gage discover it’s not just Abby who is in danger – or missing, Darcy has also made herself a target.

In case you hadn’t heard, the McKenna family is baaack! There’s been no secret made how well these novels resonate with fans – its ability to make us catch our breath then turn around and coax a smile brands this series as leaders of its genre. As a reader, the excitement and danger makes for a fast, entertaining read (the kind you never wish to see conclude) and specifically speaking from a point of relation, discovering an emotionally relatable character within these pages has been a wonderful journey – it not only endears the character, but illustrates them as “real” people, which may be a needless point since really, the McKenna’s have felt more like a family who were a group of best friends, rather than cookie cutter characters whom we read about for 300 hundred pages and then promptly forget. True to the prior books, none of the McKenna siblings are forgotten – save for Reef whose rebel predispositions means the dude is rarely around, if anything, visiting them again was a blast especially since they are removed from the prior locations of the books and placed on a ship. Their laid-back teasing always comes at the most opportune interval (just when readers are in need of a momentary bit of relief!) and more emotions play into the dynamics in particular considering what is revealed about Jake; visiting these characters is like reliving a favorite event or spending the day relaxing in your favorite spot. Pettrey has a brilliant knack for combining familial ties and a top-notch mystery; the former offers comfort and stability – think feelings of a warm hug or the comforts of home, and the latter earning each story the distinction of being a page turner. Given the circumstances, again, there is no shortage of adventure; the mystery runs along similar lines and is yet again impressive though I do remember questioning the possibility (through educated guesses and the clues) of what it ultimately ended up involving.

Gage is probably the most complicated of the McKenna men yet. From experience he doesn’t trust easily and fights his own judgment more than once. He judges Darcy on a standard he should not, which then interferes with him trusting her based on past experiences that have nothing to do with Darcy. Getting to know Darcy again was fun and while I think Cole’s story may be my favorite yet, I thoroughly enjoyed Stranded; one of Dani’s best assets is the past she seamlessly forms between the romantic leads of each novel. Darcy and Gage may have found love quickly when you read this as a stand-alone novel (which I don’t easily recommend) but when read as a series their love story has greater meaning and more history. If nothing else – and they are about much more than that, the McKenna’s are unforgettable. The good thing about these books is that there is more than merely unforgettable characters. Dani wove strong bonds and fantastic plots – two things that any avid reader will tell you are non-negotiable musts in fiction. Fans of suspense or familial sagas will be swept away by Pettrey’s masterful Alaskan Courage series. The only disadvantage is having to bid adieu to them for another year.
Synopsis: When her friend vanishes from a cruise ship, reporter Darcy St. James isn't satisfied with their explanation that she simply left her job of her own accord. Something isn't lining up, and Darcy believes the only way to find the truth is to put herself in Abby's position. Within days, Darcy learns her friend wasn't the only person to disappear mysteriously. Last summer, a woman vanished under almost identical circumstances.

Gage McKenna has taken a summer-long stint leading adventure excursions for the passengers of various cruise lines that dock for a few days of sightseeing. He's surprised to find Darcy working aboard one of the ships, investigating a troubling report. Something sinister is going on and the deeper they dig the more Gage fears they've only discovered the tip of the iceberg. - Goodreads

Coming Next from Dani Pettrey: Silenced, coming summer 2014; synopsis N/A

Sincere thanks to author Dani Pettrey for providing a complimentary copy of this book. 

© Copyright 2011-2013 Dreaming Under the Same Moon / Scribbles, Scripts and Such

Red 2 (2013)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Red 2
When Red first came out, I gushed over it’s a hilarity with the friend who recommended it. When I learned that its sequel finally had a trailer, I’d just gotten a new laptop and was sitting on the couch testing the internet connection. Needless to say, my family gathered around the screen to watch the trailer and laughed-out-loud at each witty line. Seeing that trailer put this sequel high on my summer to-do list – fortunately, it didn’t disappoint.

Sarah (Mary Louise-Parker) is bored. It’s been far too long since she, along with her boyfriend Frank (Bruce Willis) were on a high-stakes mission. Sarah had a taste of what adventure outside of fiction looked like and now she wants more than weekend house projects or grocery shopping. As a retired CIA officer, Frank has seen his share of bad things but his valiant attempts to live a normal life aren’t going well with Sarah who wants to recapture the adventure. Things are about to get complicated when Frank’s friend and former partner Marvin (John Malkovich) reappears in their life with news of a disclosed list now on the Internet which claims that Frank, Marvin and others in the CIA were a part of a team called Nightshade which involved the theft of nuclear bomb. Trying to convince Frank they are in danger turns out to be harder than Marvin thought – and he’s willing to do anything to persuade Frank, even fake his own death.

This prompts an Interpol investigation and the FBI to put Frank in a holding facility. Naturally, Frank escapes the custody of the man hired to clean up the mess, and after said escape, a price is put out on Frank’s head including giving the go-ahead to an arch nemesis (Byung-hun Lee), and eventually even MI6 puts a hit out, the assignment going to Victoria (Helen Mirren), a once-upon-a-time ally of Frank’s. The globe-trotting heroes are again on the run for their lives, this time with a ticking time bomb at the end of their quest.

FILM REVIEW | Red (2010)

As we were anxiously waiting the silly sponsor adds to end in the theater, my mom leaned over and said, “I think you are going to be the youngest person here.” This prompted a laugh from me because it is true, largely because of its cast, Red draws a different crowd than the apocalyptic crazy movies my peers are usually interested in. May I just say… it’s their loss. This movie and its predecessor are hilariously good in an outrageous but classy kind of way. The script has moxie to be sure plus oh my, the cast! Who could go wrong with this line up? Between Bruce Willis’ calm, quiet, nonchalant (even in let’s-panic-because-we’re-about-to-die, dire near-death situations) Frank Moses to Malkovich’s crazy Marvin and finally Helen Mirren’s machine-gun toting awesome-ness, there is never a dull moment. For fans of the prequel, in addition to all of the old faces and favorites, there are some new players in Red 2 and it makes the adventure more fun for it; we are challenged to pick out those who will end up being an ally and those who are traitors. The new faces include Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Hon plus Anthony Hopkins and Neal McDonough. This is only half of the reason this movie works this well.

Though it’s probably been done a million times prior to this, the plot is a fun one. Best of all was the cast returning and driving the concept forward with savvy smarts and some fabulous wit – all of which is delivered with a brilliant kind of twinkle. While watching this, memories of the first movie assaulted me and I enjoyed all the small fallbacks to its original film. Seeing the jealous side of Sarah or Victoria’s sassiness adds character to the movie and another priceless key element is the honesty these characters have towards each other. For example, Victoria warns the man whom she’s been ordered to end and better still, she does it casually in a phone conversation as if it were an everyday occurrence – and of course, no one could pull this off better than the incomparable Helen Mirren. Some viewers will probably be bothered by what Victoria does since it’s played for laughs instead of confirming who her targets may be – were they enemies? Looking beyond that, Red 2 is just good old-fashioned fun. I am not sure what else to say about it!

The stunts are fantabulous – including a clever and funny chase sequence that involves a small VW car, a bike and a flashy sports car. Later on, we also see Victoria making use of her numerous arsenal of weaponry and in true stellar fashion, Mirren’s entrance doesn’t disappoint, it’s timed just right. Somewhere between the gang stealing a plane and Sarah’s awkward attempts to compete with Katja, there is more excitement than any one person can gush over. One of the things that I loved about this movie was all the globe-trotting; watching the adventure span so many continents from one country to the next adds more adventure and “ups” its first script nicely. If you were a fan of Red, you’ll enjoy its equally entertaining sequel. I do think some of the first blush humor has worn off because viewers already experienced meeting these unlikely super spies. That being said, filmmakers did it right getting back its principle cast and the comic book stills between the frames was cute, all of which endears this as one flick I’ll end up owning and enjoying repeats of – whether I am the target audience or not.

CONTENT: There are some cheeky references to an unmarried couple’s sex life [all minor], Sarah locks lips with two-three different men to obtain information or for means of distraction, and the script has some profanity – one use of the f-word is present along with sh*t, h*ll, da*n and crudities like b*tch or a**. Additionally we hear some covert references to various body parts and talk of Marvin being on a drug for years via a government agency, there’s a shot of a man naked [waist up]. Various explosions take place, some with deadly results – several people are shot and killed or are on the receiving end of a machine gun spray. Red 2 is rated PG13.

Bleeding Heart by Amber Stokes

Sunday, August 18, 2013

 About the Book:
Author: Amber Stokes
Publication Date: 2013
Find the review elsewhere: 
Publisher: Seasons of a Story (Self-Publishing via Amazon Kindle)
 Genre: Fiction; Historical, Christian
Rating: 4 out of 5
 Over the years, self-publishing has had a stigma attached to it. Why, I do not know – in the past six months I, as an avid reader have turned pages on a handful of self-published novels, and have found each one to be worth the paper on which they were printed. This one is different since it is authored by a lovely writer whom I have been honored to get to know certainly as an encouraging blogging buddy and as a friend. Amber sets her story in Oregon in the early 1800’s and on top of a setting she is passionate about (and researched), she also crafted a hard-hitting novel involving characters that are broken in unusual ways – imperfect beyond the “normal” character flaws readers usually encounter. The heroine is Sally Clay, a woman no longer a lady who was left to make her way in the world when the man she thought she loved spurns her for better prospects. Over the timespan of many months, Sally’s life becomes entangled with Joe and Seth Clifton – brothers with broken hearts of their own, and an Irish immigrant named Myghal.

As a blogger, the author has a very sweet personality in her communication with fellow authors and people, and yet she is always able to illuminate her opinion in an easily understood approach. This gift of hers transitioned into her first foray into fiction, with genuinely lovely results. Like any good author, Amber cares about her characters – from its five titular characters to a big-hearted cook in a logging camp, no one is forgotten. In Sally, we meet a woman who didn’t think she was worthy of a good life or pure love, and we sorrow with her over the anguish she experiences. Sally is ultimately who the story revolves around; she represents a pinnacle of what forgiveness in love means in the most tender way – not just by her being her own worst critic, also from her peers and in the most heartbreaking, unpredictable ways (in Joe’s acceptance and protection if not love, and Myghal’s secreted ardor) but from God. This is one of the driving points that ties into the epilogue, one that is comfortable and sunny – something that means more because of the journey. Perhaps the most interesting parts of the book is first, that each of the characters are broken after being ill-used by someone they thought trustworthy, and secondly the unexpected elements that take the story in unusual places.

In particular, all of the souls in need of forgiveness was thought-provoking as authors don’t usually tackle this much anger or sorrow in one group of characters; a story may deal with emotional fallout in “big” ways, just not the characters all individually though most do generally feature at least one character who is at peace with their past. There is one of these “bleeding hearts” who haven’t been trampled on by love; their hearts have been shattered – and still are! – and each is reacting differently in their present. To be honest, I think that in order to fit better with the pacing, it’d have been more impactful to limit the number of people who are in need of healing. This novel is shorter than most (which I don’t mind in the least) and with the time jumps (also, something Amber did well), this presents a problem with pacing considering that most “average” books struggle with getting the time frame “just right.” Addressing the things that will undoubtedly take a reader by surprise, let me just say – wow! There was one pivotal event that I never expected. The author handled it expertly well and used it to the stories advantage instead of letting it drag down what was a compelling plot.

Even though I cannot say that the setting was a favorite or that everything “clicked” (the mood swings of the villain or the “convenient” emotional fallout in the aftermath of a death of a character we never meet), I can say that Bleeding Heart was a sincerely poignant and purposeful story. In this book, any avid history buff will find a western treasure; the “voice” is profoundly genuine and unique, and is not a book you want miss out on journeying through - it's one I know will find a permanent place on my shelf, virtual and actual. Bleeding Heart is not just a “pretty face,” it has a picturesque realism – just be prepared, you may need a tissue or two!
Read more about Amber in Dreaming Under the Same Moon’s spotlight post 

Learn more about the novel, read fellow blogger's reviews!

Purchase the novel on Kindle 

Synopsis: Sally Clay’s livelihood has been snatched away, but in its place arises an opportunity to escape from her sordid past and an unrelenting, unwanted suitor. Boarding a train with a heartsick rancher and an enigmatic miner, she leaves Virginia City behind and heads to Northern California, waiting for the chance to make right what went wrong three long years before.

But the road to revenge is far from smooth. Sally soon learns that the jagged pieces of a broken heart can far too easily wound the hearts of others – and hers isn’t the only heart that’s broken. Tragedy and fear dog her steps as she flees from the redwood forests to the high desert and back again. Will her bleeding heart ever find a way and a place to heal?

A desperate soiled dove. Three men who come to care for her. One man determined to claim her.

All on a journey that will show them what true love really involves. - Gooreads / Author Synopsis

Coming Next from Amber: TBA with a tentative release date of winter 2014

Sincere thanks to the author for providing an e-ARC complimentary copy of this book for reviewing purposes.

Welcome to Last Chance by Cathleen Armstrong

Friday, August 16, 2013

About the Book:
Author: Cathleen Armstrong
Publisher: Revell
Publication Date: 2013
Series: A Place to Call to Home – Book 1
Find the review elsewhere:  
Genre: Fiction; Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5
Long ago, Lainie Davis let go of her would-be dreams. She learned that even a mother’s love can be bought when, at fourteen, her mother threw her out, choosing her current live-in instead. Now, she’s learned the reality that the man you love will choose his vice every time over Lainie’s love. Lainie has had enough. Packing up her meager belongings after months of saving, Lainie leaves behind Nick and LA without a backward glance only to end up stranded on her way to her destination in the small town of Last Chance Mexico. There, Lainie is met with warm-hearted people who would give a stranger a hug before they’d betray them. Despite being a girl who doesn’t think she has room in her life for their lifestyle, Lainie soon finds her resolve melting towards these people. But it’s only a matter of time before her past catches up to her.

There is something about small town stories that stir feelings of nostalgia and I think this is one of the most syrupy books I’ve ever read that featured such a town. During at least the first half of the book, this is a panorama that is overemphasized – to such an extent that the people don’t seem sincere like I am sure their intentions were. Or that is how I interpreted the characters; I liked the people of Last Chance, their kindness just seemed to come far too easily and trusting Lainie shouldn’t have been as “simple” as it was. These people don’t just trust her with secrets, they give her access to their livelihood and what each of these mounting contributions do is play into one too many clich├ęs. Though she wasn’t easy to relate too – or her situation wasn’t, I liked Lainie. Her hard shell was developed for good reason and where, to some she may seem harsh (she often calls it just as she sees it and though she has compassion – we see this in the latter half of the novel – she often speaks before she thinks), her attitude was really a front of protecting herself rather than being one of an impassioned soul. She was a character whose traits went beyond a favorite color or a bad habit and that was interesting. Given my aversion to females who curl up in a ball and refuse to function after a break-up, I also connected with Lainie’s willingness to continue living even while she did miss Ray – I must applaud Armstrong for her intuitive smarts in rewriting the scenario on this standard. Speaking of Ray, he was similarly intriguing as Lainie's male counterpart. He was a person not nearly as fleshed out as that of Lainie, though he still stood his own against her and I believe challenged her in ways no one else did.

In ‘Last Chance,’ debut author Armstrong created a nice persona in which to hone her skill and expand on its participants. True to form, there is a potentially dangerous situation that carries the climax and I was impressed that the author didn’t string readers along – it’s over before it even begins and though each scenario has a downside (the prolonged vs. short-lived), I am siding with this exception, particularly since it “felt” more plausible. Even if I cannot say it was the best I’ve read in this year, Cathleen Armstrong is clearly out to prove she is a name to watch. Her lead characters are dimensional and her story was “edgier” (a bar owner, tattooed characters, teen drinking) than most of her peers. This leads me to wonder what she has on the horizon!  
Synopsis: The red warning light on her car dashboard drove Lainie Davis to seek help in the tiny town of Last Chance, New Mexico. But as she encounters the people who make Last Chance their home, it’s her heart that is flashing bright red warning lights. These people are entirely too nice, too accommodating, and too interested in her personal life for Lainie’s comfort-especially since she’s on the run and hoping to slip away unnoticed.

Yet in spite of herself, Lainie finds that she is increasingly drawn in to the dramas of small town life. An old church lady who always has room for a stranger. A handsome bartender with a secret life. A single mom running her diner and worrying over her teenage son. Could Lainie actually make a life in this little hick town? Or will the past catch up to her even here in the middle of nowhere? - Goodreads

Coming Next from Cathleen Armstrong: TBA 

Available August 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. 

Sincere thanks to the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing purposes.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (2012)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

If not based on classic literature, about the only thing you can rely on from British comedy is a quirky production full of misunderstandings and high-class drama. ‘Wedding’ fits neatly into that box.

Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

(This post does contain affiliate links; read the disclosure page for details.)

Author: Julianna Deering
Publisher: Bethany House
Publication Date: 2013
Find the Book Elsewhere: 
Amazon | Goodreads
Find the review elsewhere:  
Series: A Drew Farthering Mystery – book 1
Genre: Fiction; Historical, Mystery
Rating: ★★★★★

Life for Andrew Farthering has been an easy one. As the only son of a wealthy entrepreneur, Drew lived a comfortable country life but since the passing of his father, he was left with his widowed mother – a woman who never emotionally connected with her son, as a child, Drew became enamored with mystery novels, which instilled in him a love of solving a jolly good puzzle. His stepfather, who was a business partner with his father wishes Drew would join him in the business, however Drew has never felt totally at ease with the man. Coinciding in the aftermath of his mother scandalizing the Farthering name, trouble comes a-calling in Drew’s village – or rather right on his own estate grounds, Drew has more mystery than he could have ever wished for. With the help of his best friend, Nick and a sassy American guest, Madeline Parker, Drew and the gang search for the clues that are eluding the police only to find out murder is not just the stuff Agatha Christie novels are made of.  

Some books are decent at passing time, others make it onto reader’s inevitable “best of” lists and then there are those that additionally earn the honor of a spot on avid reader’s keeper shelves (and we all know how limiting this space can be! *wink*) along with flummoxing reviewers. Rules of Murder has the distinction of the latter. Julianna Deering’s first in a trilogy series was such a charming, interesting novel that I feel quite at a loss as to how best to convey that. Co-mingling elements of classic British mysteries (think in the tradition of Agatha Christie's Marple) with sophisticated features inspired by the likes of Downton Abbey, ‘Rules’ has a snazzy narrative that isn’t one I’ll be soon to forget. One of its best assets is its strong male presence thanks to Drew. Not many books have a prominent male “voice” and in Drew, readers are rewarded with a good ‘un. He’s prominently male (and those of you who long for a male characters to be just that will totally understand what I mean) yet there is a cheeky, flirty side to him that still manages to be gentlemanly and irresistible, add in the fact that he’s through and through British, and what you are left with is golden. There is a price to pay for the strong perspective of Drew, that being the absence of his lady love, Madeline. Many readers will find fault with her rare appearances and the underdeveloped romantics. I did not – this is for two reasons.

Unlike most series, Drew and Madeline are going to be primary for three books – this is self-explanatory in the series name, which gives Deering more freedom to keep the romance in play without “showing” too much, too early. What she begins with these two leaves us wanting more, and that is excellent writing. I adored these two quintessential love birds together; from his rebuffed marriage proposals and professions of love to Madeline’s cute quips and steadfast loyalty, there couldn’t have been a better duo in this setting. The second reason I was unaffected by the whirlwind relationship was the era. Everything these two did or said to each other constantly brought to life the pictures any reader has of this era – from the dialogue to the “brash” reactions, everything fit neatly into its box, and I say this with only the highest regard, which leads straight into the authentic research Deering seems to have woven into her novel. None of the prose seemed out of place or awkward leaving a reader nothing if not impressed by the time the final page is turned – that and eager to read Death by the Book!

Before wrapping this up, I cannot exclude the excellent mystery qualities. The surprise isn’t so much who the man behind the mayhem is, as the body count. Great Gatsby! That was something quite unexpected as the number of deaths tallies up to five if memory is serving me correctly, instead of keeping the perpetrator in the shadows (or at least in the latter parts of the book when one can make an educated guess), what he gets away with is the real surprise. Fortunately, Julianna does everything for a purpose, making nothing about this book “useless” in any form. And if there is one thing that is a sure thing here, it’s a sparkling good time – from secondary characters (like Nick whom I also loved) to the mentions of motor cars, there’s never tedious moment. Like a fellow reviewer boasted, anyone who enjoyed ‘Rules’ is going to be beyond eager for more adventures from Drew & Company; if its impending sequel is anything like this novel, count me in!

Synopsis: Drew Farthering loves a good mystery, although he generally expects to find it in the pages of a novel, not on the grounds of his country estate. When a weekend party at Farthering Place is ruined by murder and the police seem flummoxed, Drew decides to look into the crime himself. With the help of his best friend, Nick Dennison, an avid mystery reader, and Madeline Parker, a beautiful and whip-smart American debutante staying as a guest, the three try to solve the mystery as a lark, using the methods from their favorite novels.

Soon, financial irregularities at Drew’s stepfather’s company come to light and it’s clear that all who remain at Farthering Place could be in danger. Trying hard to remain one step ahead of the killer–and trying harder to impress Madeline–Drew must decide how far to take this game. - Goodreads

Coming Next from Julianna Deering: Drew Farthering wants nothing more than to finish out the summer of 1932 with the announcement of his engagement to Madeline Parker. Instead, he finds himself in the middle of another murder case. The family lawyer has been killed, a cryptic message stuck to the body with an antique hatpin. Drew is content to leave solving this one to the police, but when the dead man's widow asks for his assistance, he can't help but be pulled in.

Life at home is just as troubling. Madeline still hasn't decided whether she will accept his proposal of marriage, and worse, her formidable maiden aunt, Ruth Jansen, appears at Farthering Place with the sole objective of convincing Madeline to return to America.

When a second murder occurs, and another baffling message secured with a hatpin is found at the scene, the village of Farthering St. John is thrown into a tizzy. And it seems Drew and Madeline and their friend, Nick Dennison, are the ones who will have to crack the case before the Hatpin Murderer strikes again. – via Goodreads, February 2014

Sincere thanks to the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing purposes.

Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

About the Book:
Author: Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon
Publisher: Blink, a subsidiary of Zondervan
Publication Date: 2013 (ARC)
Series: Doon – Book 1
Genre: Fiction; Historical, Contemporary, Young Adult
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5
Long before I realized this book was a re-telling of the timeless Brigadoon tale, the smoky intrigue on the outside of this book captivated me. When opportunity arose to obtain a copy and review Doon, I snapped it up and prepared to get lost in an angst-ridden romance. The young adult novel tells the story of besties, McKenna and Veronica who, upon graduation make a much-needed escape to Scotland. Kenna’s gift to Veronica is a ticket to come along and celebrate their last summer before college and internships begin. Having an aunt from Scotland who has now passed away, the girl’s use Gracie’s cottage and soon learn that Veronica’s visions of a blonde-haired guy may not merely be visions – they may be a precursor of what’s to come. When the two girls find a portal through the brig o’ doon into a mystical land of royalty – protected by a powerful enchantment, and witches, they become embroiled in a fight to save the mysterious land …and their hearts.

Bearing in mind that the premise of Brigadoon is not a favorite – though it does always stir feelings of nostalgia, this novel has that kind of addictive pleasure. The similarities are striking and quite fun – between Veronica’s fierce beauty and romanticism, and Kenna’s logical wild child complex, both girls present interesting challenges and further the story in their own unique ways; elements that help modernize the timeless musical. The most relatable part of their characteristics is their loyalty to each other; despite their vast differences, they’d created and protected a bonded friendship – one that was tested by distance, family drama and clashing (or often insecure) personalities. This is something that I appreciated about the book. It didn’t take long for this girl to be caught up in the “voices” of these heroines – though Veronica does wind up being the stronger presence of the two girls (the ending reveals why this is), both were witty and fun. Living inside their heads and world was interesting if not compelling. Unfortunately, I did wind up having some reservations about the book both in regards to its spiritualism and the content*.

Considering the majority of the concept sought adventure in the supernatural, the early lead on realism (the girl’s perspective while in reality) was what hooked me. Soon as we are transported into the land of Doon, where there was never a dull moment – from jousting events to grand balls, excitement was palpable in nearly every page. There is ample amount of teenage romance (some may even find it implausible) and adventure while the girls peel back the layers of questions surrounding the Scottish land. Pursuant to their personalities, Veronica’s romantic liaison is passionate and the girl falls hard and fast. Kenna’s is sensible and sweet, and she fights with everything in her against any feelings as she doesn’t believe in the promise of a happy-ever-after. Her prince, Duncan is a special guy who I presume we’ll get to know more in book two, something I am eager to experience. But despite all the “harmless fun” of the book, there were reservations I had. I thought the references to God were an interesting way to incorporate His protection and everlasting love, however I didn’t feel like there was “enough” told about Christianity. Instead, everything is left up in the air – is God really a presence in the story? Or is the Protector a supernatural power? Open-ending this for determination left up to readers (particularly considering this is also being promoted to a wider audience plus considering it’s a fantasy novel) to experience was more detrimental than helpful.

In the end, Doon was a novel full of cute whimsy, silly romanticism (in a mostly good way – though much emphasis is place on the physical, something I can forgive considering the age) and is a decent start to what is supposed to be a four-book series. While I may not be anxious to revisit this piece of Scottish charm, I will be curious to see where its sequel goes. Any girl who enjoys stories with fairytale qualities are in for a terrific bit of amusement just don’t except perfection.
Find the review:

Watch the book trailer:
 (*What to know: there are a few uses of h*ll and some minor suggestive conversation regarding sexual relationships. A girl “teases” a guy in a half dressed state and the two of them nearly go “too far” while spending the night together – they sleep in separate rooms.)
Synopsis: Veronica doesn't think she's going crazy. But why can't anyone else see the mysterious blond boy who keeps popping up wherever she goes? When her best friend, Mackenna, invites her to spend the summer in Scotland, Veronica jumps at the opportunity to leave her complicated life behind for a few months.

But the Scottish countryside holds other plans.

Not only has the imaginary kilted boy followed her to Alloway, she and Mackenna uncover a strange set of rings and a very unnerving letter from Mackenna's great aunt—and when the girls test the instructions Aunt Gracie left behind, they find themselves transported to a land that defies explanation. Doon seems like a real-life fairy tale, complete with one prince who has eyes for Mackenna and another who looks suspiciously like the boy from Veronica's daydreams. But Doon has a dark underbelly as well. The two girls could have everything they've longed for...or they could end up breaking an enchantment and find themselves trapped in a world that has become a nightmare. - Goodreads

Coming Next from Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon: TBA (book 2 of 4), with a targeted release date of summer 2014
Sincere thanks to the publisher (Blink, Zondervan) for providing a complimentary ARC copy of this book for reviewing purposes

Latest Instagrams

© Finding Wonderland. Design by FCD.