Sunday, December 04, 2022

Movie Music: Newman, Ahrens, and Flaherty's "Anastasia" (1997)


I have owned this soundtrack since I was in college. I first saw Anastasia (1997) on Thanksgiving break during my freshman year of college, and I loved it so much, I bought the soundtrack when I was home for Christmas. Anastasia is hardly the stuff historical documentaries are made of, but if you're like me and don't expect your animated movies to be exactly factual, then you can enjoy it for the history-inspired fable it clearly is. The music by David Newman, Lynn Ahrens, and Stephen Flaherty, was nominated for two Academy Awards, though it didn't win either of them. 

The first song in both the movie and the soundtrack is "A Rumor in St. Petersburg," and it's so much fun -- it reminds me of the song "The Rumor" from Fiddler on the Roof, as I'm sure it's meant to. After all, both movies are set in Russia in the early part of the 1900s. The song works splendidly to communicate not just the setting, but also tell us the basic plot: two con artists (voiced by John Cusack and Kelsey Grammer) are searching for a girl to impersonate the missing Princess Anastasia to get them a big reward from her grandmother. 


Meanwhile, an orphan named Anya (Meg Ryan) with no memory of her past sets off to figure out who she used to be, as the song "Journey to the Past" explores. The music helps us feel the mixture of determination and hesitancy she feels about trying to find out her history. The music swells as her questions give way to optimistic ideas of what she might find on this journey. This was nominated for the Oscar for Best Song, but of course it lost out to a little tune called "My Heart Will Go On." Sigh. 


My third selection to share today is "Once Upon a December." I think this is the most beautiful song in the whole score, and the one that best captures the mystery and yearning that run through this film. In it, Anastasia regains a memory of dancing with her father in the palace as a child. It's haunting, isn't it? 


Usually I limit myself to three tracks for these reviews, but today I'm sharing one more song. "At the Beginning" plays during the end credits, sung by Donna Lewis and Richard Marx.  It's my favorite song on the whole album. This song gives me a happy energy high, and I could listen to it over and over. In fact, I often have :-) My favorite part is at 2:25. My college roommates and I used to belt this song together -- we were all singers, and although we had wildly different musical tastes, we all loved this soundtrack and this song.  Ahh, such good memories <3


Dasvidaniya!  (Which doesn't mean "farewell" the way Rasputin claims in one of his songs, but is more like "until we meet again," just fyi...)

(This review originally appeared here at J and J Productions on November 18, 2015.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Sweeping Away My Autumn To-Do List 2022

Today is the end of November, and tomorrow will officially feel like winter in my mind, even if it won't be very wintery outside where we live for another 6 to 8 weeks.  That means I'm ready to see how I did with the items on my Autumn To-Do List for the year.  Here we go!

(All photos are my own, mostly from my Instagram account)

~ Publish My Rock and My Refuge -- Check!  My retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" is out in the world, and you can buy it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Book Depository... or directly from me!

~ Finish my third Classics Club List -- Check!  You can see it right here.  I read fifty classic books for it in just over two years :-o

~ Start a new Classics Club List and read 2 books for it -- Check! My new list is right here, and I've read six books for it already!  They were:

~ Read 12 books off my TBR shelves -- Check!  I read thirteen:

~ Watch 3 movies off my TBW shelves -- Check!  I watched six:
  • Marlowe (1969)
  • Nightmare Alley (1947)
  • Gold of the Seven Saints (1961)
  • Kidnapped (1971)
  • Dead Man's Folly (1986)
  • The Mirror Crack'd (1980)

~ See Marlowe in the theater -- Fail, but only because its release has been pushed away to February.  Not my fault at all.  I WILL see it, if it's playing anywhere within an hour's drive.

~ See See How They Run in the theater -- Fail.  I blame publishing a book for eating up all my free time for most of this autumn.  I hope to get it from the library.

~ Watch Andor on Disney+ -- Semi-fail.  We only have 4 episodes left to watch, and I'm hoping to burn through them with Cowboy over the next couple weekends.  I am really, really digging the show, but he's kind of meh about it, so that's part of why we haven't finished it yet.

~ Host an Oktoberfest gathering -- Check!  We had some lovely friends over to enjoy good German food and lots of conversation and fun.


~ Go to Colonial Williamsburg for the brick firing -- Check!  We rented a beautiful 1700s house with my brother's family and stayed there with them and my mom for four nights, visiting Colonial Williamsburg and the Yorktown Battlefield, riding the ferry across the James River over and over, and generally having a jolly, yet restful time.

~ Make pumpkin cream cheese muffins -- Check!  I made them twice, in fact.

~ Host my TENTH annual Tolkien Blog Party! -- Check!  We had a wonderful time celebrating J. R. R. Tolkien and his wonderful writing.  Can't wait to do it again next year!


Onward and upward! Wintertime, here I come :-)

Monday, November 21, 2022

My Ten Favorite Fantasy Movies -- 2022 Update

I made my first list of ten favorite fantasy movies almost ten years ago -- in 2013!  It's high time for an updated version.

I'm defining fantasy here as involving magic or something supernatural somehow. So these aren't necessarily all swords-and-sorcerers stuff, but they do all involve non-real, magical things happening.

You'll notice that I'm counting the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy as just one film each.  Otherwise they'd take over way too much of the list, and that would be silly.


1. The Lord of the Rings (2001-03) Nine companions from the four races of Middle Earth journey to Mount Doom destroy the One Ring and thus defeat evil Lord Sauron and his plans to take over the world.

2. The Princess Bride (1987) After Buttercup's (Robin Wright) true love Westley (Cary Elwes) is murdered by pirates, she agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), but gets kidnapped before the wedding. I'll never forget the first time I saw this movie -- it changed my ideas about humor and fantasy forever.

3. The Hobbit (2012-14) Fourteen companions from three races of Middle Earth journey to the Lonely Mountain to destroy the dragon Smaug and regain the dwarvish treasure there.

4. Willow (1988) Two reluctant companions (Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer) journey to protect a baby princess and thus defeat the evil queen and her plans to take over the world.

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), noted professor of archealogy, spends more time out chasing down antiquities that have mystical powers (or are worth lots of money) than he does teaching classes. Who can blame him?

6. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) resorts to commandeering, raiding, pillaging, plundering, and otherwise pilfering his weasely black guts out, all to regain his beloved ship. More fun than a barrel of undead monkeys!

7. Cinderella (2015)  Ella (Lily James) treats her stepmother (Cate Blanchett), a prince (Richard Madden), and her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) with courage and kindness. It's a fabulously faithful retelling of the classic fairy tale, and it delights me.

8. The 13th Warrior (1999) An Arab exile (Antonio Banderas) joins a band of Norse warriors in their bold attempt to defeat the freaky bear-men-things that are attacking a bunch of small villages. Swords and danger and glory galore!

9. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) grows up lean and mean on the Londinium streets, not learning he's the son of the late king (Eric Bana) until he's an adult. He reluctantly agrees to take on his uncle, Vortigen (Jude Law), who killed Arthur's father and usurped the throne. This one is a fun ride.

10. The Mummy (1999) A librarian (Rachel Weisz) and her brother (John Hannah) convince an adventurer (Brendan Fraser) to lead them on an archaeological expedition that quickly gets way more exciting than they ever expected. I like the sequel almost as well.

I've only reviewed a couple of these, sorry.  For those ones, I've linked my reviews to their titles here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Time Machine: Colonial Williamsburg

Have you ever wondered what life was really like during the 1700s? Reading books and watching movies can only go so far toward helping you understand how people lived and worked hundreds of years ago. 

Since time machines have yet to become widely available, most of us have no way to revisit the past. If only there was a place where people recreated Georgian life, so we could see and experience it first-hand. Oh, wait—there is! At Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, you can do precisely that. 


I first visited Colonial Williamsburg in the early ‘90s. Pre-teen me had read all the American Girl books about a girl named Felicity who lived in Williamsburg during the colonial era. I learned from them that the historic center of the city has been restored to look the way it did in the 1770s, on the eve of the American Revolution. Although I considered history to be one of my least-favorite subjects in school (I was twelve; please forgive me), I loved learning about how people lived in days gone by. 

Around that same time, we moved to North Carolina, and our first spring there, my dad had to attend a conference in Williamsburg, VA. I convinced my family we should all go along so we could experience the colonial recreation for ourselves. We’d been to many living history spots over the years, and we expected this to be similar: a handful of restored buildings, a dozen tour guides in period clothes, a few people demonstrating handicrafts, maybe a blacksmith. I hoped there would be a gift shop. 

Imagine our delight when we stepped onto the cobblestone streets of Colonial Williamsburg. Not a small cluster of restored buildings, but several streets lined with them! Not a dozen tour guides, but hundreds of reenactors in period dress! Not a few handicrafts being demonstrated, but shop after shop where you could see people plying their trades. (And yes, there was a blacksmith.) Not just a gift shop, but store after store where you could buy recreations of household items, books about the town, and more, plus several restaurants where you could eat food prepared from colonial-era recipes! Paradise! 

My whole family fell in love with Colonial Williamsburg. In fact, it became one of our favorite places. We would plan our vacation routes so we could stop there for a day or even just drop in to eat a meal. And the best part? It continues to grow! New houses are restored, more reenactors are hired—it keeps getting better and better. I went back in 2011, my first visit in almost a decade, and I was astounded at how it had grown. 

On that first visit, we discovered many different ways to learn about and experience colonial life in Williamsburg. We began by buying the tour package that let us traipse through the Governer’s Mansion, the Raleigh Tavern, the powder magazine, and homes of people great and small. I particularly loved the houses, the way they gave me a glimpse of the world inhabited by colonists in all different walks of life. And the reenactors fascinated me. Most of them are portraying a specific character, or even historical figure, complete with name, personal history, and an occupation. Visitors are encouraged to engage them in conversation, and although I’m still too shy to talk to them much, I’m blessed with a father who loves to ask questions. That first visit, I was young enough to be unembarrassed by him accosting reenactors, asking them, “Now, who are you? What are you doing? Tell us your story.” They gladly did just that. They explained what they were doing, whether it was cooking, sewing, or making a pair of boots. They told us their historical character’s names, where they were born, what their parents did, if they were married, if they had children, how long they’d lived in America, what their aspirations were—this budding writer was fascinated indeed. 

The shops and restaurants are all open to the public, as are most of the gardens. The shops are one of my favorite things to visit. I love browsing their wares: period clothes and accessories, hand-bound books and journals, quill pens, clay pipes, hand-dipped candles, mob caps, tricorn hats, books that explain various facets of colonial life, and more. While I haven’t gotten into wearing period clothes while I’m in Williamsburg, I love buying little things like soap, hats, and candles there. 

We’ve recently learned that if you want to experience living as a colonial American for more than a few hours, you can even rent a restored house to stay in overnight. There are a multitude of these lining the side streets of Colonial Williamsburg, and they’re furnished with antiques and replica furnishings, but also have modern plumbing and electricity. In them, I can easily imagine myself wearing period clothing while seated at a desk, writing in a hand-sewn journal with a quill pen—it's as close to a time machine as I’m ever likely to get.


(This post originally appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Femnista magazine.)

Monday, November 14, 2022

Wrapping up the Book Tour and Giveaway


Congratulations to Anne Pinkava, who won the Fairy Tale prize package, and to Raquel Evans, who won the Old West prize package!  

I will contact both winners by email today, so be on the lookout for that, Anne and Raquel!

Thank you to everyone who made my book launch tour so much fun!  Today, we wrap things up with an interview by my best friend and editor, Deborah Koren.  If you need to catch up on the tour stops, here's a complete list, with links to the specific posts:

November 8: Live interview with the Christian Mommy Writers Group (watch here on YouTube) and live reading of the first four chapters (watch here on Instagram)

November 9: Book review on Instagram from @AliciaAndHerBooks and book review at Meet, Write, and Salutary

November 10: Book review on Instagram from @Heather.Wood.Author and book review at Ink Castles

November 11: Book review on Instagram from @Books_With_Cordy and book review at The Caffeinated Fangirl

November 12: Interview with Olivia at Meanwhile, in Rivendell... and book review at VT Dorchester

November 13: Interview with Eva at The Caffeinated Fangirl and book review at Meanwhile, in Rivendell...

November 14: Choose and announce giveaway winners and interview with Deborah Koren at Cimharas.com 

Here's one more quote from a review because I love sharing them:

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

"My Rock and My Refuge" Book Tour and Giveaway

Today is the day! My Rock and My Refuge is now officially available.  You can buy it from Amazon here or from Barnes and Noble here, or you can buy an autographed paperback from me by filling out this form.


My Rock and My Refuge already has quite a few reviews on GoodReads, if you're curious what advance readers are saying about it.

Today also kicks off my book tour!  Here's the official schedule:

November 8: Live interview with the Christian Mommy Writers Group at 2pm EST (watch here on YouTube) and live reading of a few chapters at 10pm EST (watch here on Instagram)

November 9: Book review on Instagram from @AliciaAndHerBooks and book review at Meet, Write, and Salutary

November 10: Book review on Instagram from @Heather.Wood.Author and book review at Ink Castles

November 11: Book review on Instagram from @Books_With_Cordy and book review at The Caffeinated Fangirl

November 12: Interview with Olivia at Meanwhile, in Rivendell... and book review at VT Dorchester

November 13: Interview with Eva at The Caffeinated Fangirl and book review at Meanwhile, in Rivendell...

November 14: Choose and announce giveaway winners and interview with Deborah Koren at Cimharas.com 

Speaking of the giveaway, here are the prizes!


Prize 1: Fairy Tale Prize Pack
  • Beauty and the Beast coloring book
  • Fairy tale hand cream
  • Red metal bookmark shaped like a rose
  • Pair of 2-oz candles called Marta Beckmann and Mr. Wendell


Prize 2: Old West Prize Pack
  • 750-piece jigsaw puzzle with a picture of a steam train in the mountains
  • Old Pioneer Recipes cookbook
  • Red metal bookmark shaped like a rose
  • Pair of 2-oz candles called Marta Beckmann and Mr. Wendell

This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses ONLY. It will run through 11:59pm on Sunday, November 13.  On Monday, November 14, I will choose and announce two winners, one for each prize pack.  I will announce those winners here on my blog and on Instagram, and also notify them by the email address they provided to the giveaway widget below.  So be sure you enter using an email address you check regularly!

Must be 18 years old or have parental permission to enter.  No purchase necessary, void where prohibited, and not affiliated with any one besides myself.  I purchased all prizes for the purpose of this giveaway.  All prizes will be shipped via USPS.  I am not responsible for what happens to the prizes after I mail them.


Don't forget that if you buy a copy of My Rock and My Refuge during the month of November, I will send you some book launch goodies!  Read this blog post for more information on how to get them.


Okay, it's time for me to make an extra-big cup of coffee to celebrate this book finally being out in the world :-)

Monday, November 07, 2022

"My Rock and My Refuge" Launch Goodies AND Signed Copies

My Beauty and the Beast retelling, My Rock and My Refuge, launches TOMORROW!!!


I am excited to announce that anyone who orders MRAMR during the month of November is eligible to receive a package of book launch goodies!  It doesn't matter if you order a paperback or an ebook, or where you order them from, and this offer is good worldwide!  I will send them anywhere that the USPS delivers.

What kinds of goodies?  Feast your eyes:


You'll receive:
  • an art card featuring location artwork by LadyWithPug
  • a bookmark featuring character artwork by Skye Hoffert and a quotation from the book
  • a bookplate featuring character artwork by LadyWithPug
  • an official "Once Upon a Western" sticker

The easiest way to get these goodies, of course, is to order your paperback copy directly from me!  Then I can autograph your book, and you'll automatically get your goodies along with the paperback(s).  I have a handy form right here that you can fill out if you're interested in autographed copies of my books -- any of them!  It's not exactly an order form because I can't take payments through it, but it lets you tell me what books you want to buy directly from me, and how many, and what their prices and s&h costs, and what payment options I can accept.  Once I get your form submission, I'll email you to discuss mailing addresses, what names you want me to sign the books to, etc.

However, you can totally get these launch goodies even if you order your copy from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or another bookseller, as long as you order it during the month of November!  Simply email me a picture of your completed order form that includes the following info:
  • site/place purchased
  • date of purchase/order
  • confirmation of purchase/order (not just the book being in your cart)
Please black out or cover up all personal information such as your credit card or other payment information.

Just email that to me at { RachelKovaciny at gmail dot com } along with the address you'd like me to send your goodies to, and I will pop them in the mail!

Now, I'll leave you with one more snippet from an advance review...