Tuesday, May 29, 2018

"Dancing and Doughnuts" Cover Reveal

Here it is!!!!!

Do you love it?  I love it.  It's from the same artist who did the cover for Cloaked and my short story "No Match for a Good Story" and I think it continues the look of my series so perfectly.

What's this book about?  Well, someone's been spiking the apple cider at a Kansas dance hall owned by a family with twelve daughters.  No one in the small town has been able to find the culprit.  A hungry Civil War veteran drifts into town and decides he's going to solve this mystery for them and earn the reward the family is offering.  It's my version of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," which is probably my favorite fairy tale.

I'll be releasing this in August, and I'll be calling for ARC readers a month or so before the release, so stay tuned for that if you like reading free books before the rest of the world gets their hands on them!  Meanwhile, Dancing and Doughnuts already has a Goodreads page, so click here to access that and add it to your to-read list!

Meanwhile, feel free to visit me elsewhere online to interact with me in other places and ways!  I've got an author website where you can sign up for my newsletter, a Goodreads author page, a Facebook page, an Instagram account, and an Amazon author page.

Tell me what you think of the cover!  Doesn't it blend well with the previous two?

Friday, May 25, 2018

"Solo: A Star Wars Story" (2018) -- Initial Thoughts

If you are avoiding spoilage for this movie, stop reading this.  I mean it.  Just stop.  Go see the movie, then come back.

DKoren, I'm serious!  Close the browser window now.  You will not be happy with me or yourself if you don't.  I don't want you mad at me.  I don't want you mad at you.  Come back and read this after you've seen it.

Look, Han and I are really serious about this.  We warned you.  Don't scroll down past this pretty picture of Han's blaster.  If you do, it's on you.  I'm serious now.

Actually, by "spoilers" I really mean "lots and lots of fangirling, with a few small tidbits some people might find spoily."

Cuz I flibbertigibbeting LOVED THIS MOVIE.

GaaaaaaAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.  I am consumed with bouncy, giddy happiness over how much fun it is.  But serious too, cuz you know, Han Solo has some really good weight to his character; he's got his dark past and secrets and that little mysterious aura of "I'm not as happy-go-lucky as I want you to think I am."  That's why I fell in love with the scoundrel twenty-some years ago, and why I've never fallen out of love with him.  He's not just another bad boy/joker/hot-shot.  He's got a heart as big as his swagger.  How I want to hug him.

So, the more trailers I saw for this, the less I worried about how well Alden Ehrenreich was going to fill Harrison Ford's boots.  I admit it, I was worried when they first talked about making this movie.  But then I saw Ehrenreich in Hail, Ceasar! (2016) and thought he did really well there.  He seemed to have the requisite moxie, but... I've loved Han Solo since I was a teenager.  For like 20 years, Harrison Ford was second only to John Wayne for me.  (He's still my #4 favorite.  Just love him so much.)  I knew it was gonna be really hard for me to accept someone else in the role UNLESS he just understood the character inside and out.

Yeah, no worries there.  Ehrenreich had me convinced he was Han Solo by the end of his first scene.  I wasn't feeling like I was watching someone play Han Solo, I was watching Han, that's all.  Full stop.  No more questions or doubts or worries.  I was ready to sit back and enjoy the ride.

And what a ride!  I admit it, I love heist movies.  This one has multiple heists.  There are cons and double-crosses and triple-crosses galore, and did I mention it's also a buddy movie?  Totally a buddy movie.  Han and Chewie, together again for the first time.  If it hadn't been like midnight when that film ended, I would've just stayed in my seat and watched all over again.  But... I have kids to parent and other boring adult things like that which require sleep, so I came home instead.  But wow, I really need to see this again.  Like all good heist movies, I want to see the puzzle pieces after I know how they fit together so I can see how they all slot into place.

Oh, and while this didn't have a ton of laugh-out-loud moments, I was grinning through just about the whole thing.  Nice thing about driving home after midnight is most of the lights are green and there aren't a lot of cars on the road anymore, so I can actually go the speed limit for once instead of like twenty miles under it, and so I very much just let myself be Han Solo driving home cuz... it's been a while since I pretended I was Han Solo, but that's not something you forget how to do.

Did you hear Ehrenreich has a three-movie deal?  YAHOO!  I hope all three are as fist-pumpingly fun as this one.  I could go on and on about how muchly he nailed this role.  I mentioned Harrison Ford has been a major favorite of mine for decades, and that means I've studied him in a ton of movies.  He's one of those people that I know how he'll move, what gestures he'll use, what expressions and vocal inflections he'll have.  What beats he'll put in his dialog.  And Ehrenreich used just enough of all of those to flavor the character, but not so many that it looked like he was doing an impression.  You could see he could become the Han Solo we meet in A New Hope.  A smirk here, a shrug there, a hand-twitch or an eye-roll or a cocky little half-grin -- so much goodness.  He done good.

Everyone else is fun too!  I liked Donald Glover's over-confident Lando.  I liked Woody Harrelson's robber dude, and Paul Bettany made a good baddie as always.  Chewie was delightful -- Joonas Suotamo did a great job of moving like a younger version of the Chewie we first met so long ago.  Emilia Clarke was interesting -- I didn't get hugely invested in her character, but Han liked her, so I liked her.  I think she pulled off a good blend of sweet and untrustworthy.

As for the story, it felt like a western to me in so many ways.  The first Star Wars trilogy always had that cowboys-in-space vibe, maybe not as blatantly as Firefly did, but it was there, especially when it came to Han.  But the prequels and the new movies have tried to be more, I don't know, serious or something, and many of those movies (The Force Awakens being the exception) have failed to keep the fun, can-do pioneer feel of the originals.  This one has that in spades.

Yeah, it's a cowboy caper buddy movie in space.  That's what it is.  MAN, I want to go see it again.

Is this movie family friendly?  More cussing than I expect from a Star Wars movie, to be honest -- I think 9 or 10 bad words.  Low-level, for the most part.  Things you'd expect Han to say.  There's also a teeny bit of innuendo that most kids will miss, plus quite a bit of smooching.  And lots of fights and blasters and stuff, but nowhere near as intense as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as far as danger and stuff.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Summer 2018 To-Do List

Here are the things I want to do before the end of August:

~ Publish Dancing and Doughnuts in August

~ Read all five INSPY Awards finalists for the mystery/suspense category, which I'm judging.  Because of this, I'm not doing a library books goal this summer so that I don't overwhelm myself.

~ Read The Harvest Raise by Katie Schuermann

~ Read 2 books for my Classics Club list

~ Read 3 other books from my TBR shelves

~ Watch 5 movies from my TBW shelves

~ Go see Solo: A Star Wars Story

~ Go see Ocean's 8

~ Go see Incredibles 2

~ Go see Ant-Man and the Wasp

~ Go see Mission: Impossible -- Fallout

~ Make these Creamy Lemon Icepops

~ Make these Chocolate Mint Greek Yogurt Pops

~ Clean up the giant junk pile that has accumulated in my bedroom again

~ Order photos -- I WILL do this before the end of the year, and summer might be a good time for it

~ Teach Mad Dog to tie her shoelaces

~ Visit the Ark Encounter

~ Go on a hike someplace I've never been before

That seems like it'll keep me busy, right?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Spring To-Do List Wrap-Up

Well, it's the end of May, so let's see how I did on my spring list, shall we?  It's almost Memorial Day weekend, which I always feel is the end of spring and the beginning of summer, so I think it's time to wrap this up.

As always, book and movie titles are linked to my blog reviews of them if I've written one.  (All photos are mine from my Instagram account.)

~ Be done with the major revisions on Dancing and Doughnuts and close to publishing it Check!  I'm working on the minor revisions now, and I am planning to release it in August.  Come back here Tuesday for the cover reveal!

~ Read Loving Isaac by Heather Kaufman Check!  My review is here.  It was wonderful!

~ Read 2 titles from my Classics Club list Check!  In fact, I read three:  Smith of Wooten Major and Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, and Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather.

~ Read 3 other books from my TBR shelves Check!  I did soooooo much wonderful reading this spring -- I read SEVEN other books from my TBR shelves!  I can hardly believe that myself.  I read If I'm Found and If I Live by Terry Blackstock, An Atlas of Tolkien by David Day, Cinder Ellie by J.M. Stengl, The Choir Immortal by Katie Schuermann, The Second Confession by Rex Stout, and The Broken Gun by Louis L'Amour.

~ Read 3 books from the library Check!  I read four:  Girl in Disguise by Greer McAllister, Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, and Based on the Journal of Arabella Clemens Fulton edited by Judith E. Greenberg and Helen Carey McKeever.

~ Watch 5 movies from my TBW shelves Check!  I watched SEVEN.  Which would have made a bigger dent in my TBW pile if I hadn't gotten movies for my birthday too.  I watched Sauce for the Gander (1942), A Bear Named Winnie (2004), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), Murder on the Orient Express (2017), Along Came Jones (1945), The Book of Life (2014), and Son of a Gunfighter (1965).

~ Go see Paul, Apostle of Christ if it's playing anywhere near me Fail.  It did play here during Holy Week, but I never got a chance to go see it :-(

~ Go see Tomb Raider Check!   I liked it -- here's my review.

~ Go see Avengers: Infinity War Check!  I liked it okay eventually.

~ Go see Solo: A Star Wars Story I'm not marking this one as a check or a fail because it doesn't come out until tomorrow, but I'm wrapping this list up today because I have time and feel like it.  So I'm just moving this to my summer list.

~ Get back into a blog-reading routine so I quit falling behind on all my favorite blogs Semi-fail.  I've been reading the blogs I love more often, but I still am not back to my former level of faithful reading.  Phooey.  Something to keep working on!

~ Order photos Fail.  And we're going on a vacation this summer, so I'm not going to even bother trying to order photos until after we get back.

~ Have my plans for VBS crafts solidified Check!  I've got most of my supplies either assembled or ordered, and I feel really confident about the crafts I've got planned.  They're going to be fun, and most of them are something kids and parents will want to keep longer than just until the end of the week.

~ Plant milkweed and chickory in the gully behind our house to feed butterflies and bees  Check!  Not sure how much of it will come up and bloom, but we did plant them.

~ Make a cute terrarium out of the old fish tank I brought home from my parents' house  Fail.  I've come to realize I don't have a place to keep a terrarium because I already have houseplants filling up the available places to house plants.  So... giving up on this idea.

~ Try to make a ruffled-neck shirt like these out of a t-shirt I have that has a really wide and saggy neck that I hate Check!  It turned out really cute and was relatively quick and easy to do.  I may do this with more shirts in the future just because sometimes I find a shirt I like, but it has a v-neck and I don't like the way I look in v-necks, so then I don't get that shirt, and now I have a way to turn a v-neck shirt, or shirt that is too low-cut, into a shirt I like and feel comfortable wearing!  In fact, I think I'll try it with this shirt next:

That's it, friends!  I'll be posting my summer to-do list soon!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Who Wants to be in on the "Dancing and Doughnuts" Cover Reveal?

That's right!  The cover for my next book, Dancing and Doughnuts, is allllllllmost ready for the big reveal.  Like I did for Cloaked, I want to have some of you help me share it with the world by doing a cover reveal on Tuesday, May 29.

In case you haven't heard me talking about this book already, Dancing and Doughnuts is my next Once Upon a Western story.  It's a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" set in post-Civil War Kansas, and I'll be sharing more about it during the cover reveal :-)

If you would like to join me in showing off the cover on your blogs or in social media this coming Tuesday, May 29, please email me at rachelkovaciny at gmail dot com with "Dancing and Doughnuts cover reveal" in the subject line.  All participants will receive my gratitude, fake internet points, and an imaginary hug :-)  And get to see what the cover looks like before anyone else!

I will send participants the cover image no later than Friday, May 25, to give you a couple days to set up your posts.

If you want to know more about my books, please check out my website, rachelkovaciny.com -- you can even download a free story there, my winter western called "No Match for a Good Story" that blend elements of the Sheherezade story from The Arabian Nights with characters from my Sleeping Beauty retelling, "The Man on the Buckskin Horse."

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Musings on "Avengers: Infinity War" (2018)

This isn't exactly a review, but more of just me putting my thoughts and feelings about the movie down someplace.  Also, I will probably post stuff that could be considered spoilage.  Movie has been out for like a month now, so I figure if you're going to see it, you've had your shot, and if you haven't seen it and still care about spoilers, you can just not read this post until you're done, right?

I went to see Avengers: Infinity War again today.  Second time.  First time, I came out feeling like I'd been run over by a steamroller.  Just wrung out and hung up to dry.  So emotionally exhausted.  My best friend had the opposite reaction:  she came out feeling like she was ready to conquer the world.  This intrigued us.  It always fascinates us when we have opposite reactions to things, or similar reactions for opposite reasons.  So I'm sure we're going to ponder and discuss this for a long time.

Anyway, I spent lots of time thinking about the movie, listening to her reasons why she loves it, reading other people's thoughts, and generally wrapping my head around the story Marvel Studios unleashed on us here.  I have a deep desire to like the MCU movies, mostly because I've got these characters so tangled up in my heartstrings now.  And, for the most part, I do like the movies.  I don't love all of them, but I love a lot of them, and I enjoy just about all of them in some way.  Enough so that I own every single one of their movies so far.

I'm not sure I like this one, though.  I respect it.  I appreciate it.  But boy, howdy, it is a hard one for me to like.  Why?  Because it's filled with sadness.  I realized this afternoon that I need a healthy dose of happy in my MCU.  Which is why my favorites are The Avengers (2012), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Iron Man (2008), Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), Black Panther (2018), Thor (2011), and Ant-Man (2015).  I can watch those ones (especially The Avengers and Thor: Ragnarok) over and over and over.  And many of the others too.  That's why I own them on DVD -- so I can do just that.  Don't get me wrong -- I'm sure I'll buy this one and rewatch it multiple times.  Possibly not until after the next Avengers movie comes out, though. 

It's entirely possible that the next movie will make me reverse my feelings on this one.  Put together, they might form one glorious whole.  But right now?  Nope.  I'm not sitting here eating brownie mix straight out of the bowl because this movie made me happy, I'm doing that because I need to be consoled after it, and brownie mix is a good source of consolation.

Although I don't like this movie, I can appreciate it.  It's incredibly well-made.  The writing is breathtakingly good.  Tight, focused, single-purposed, and inspiring.  The acting is never less than excellent, and sometimes astonishing.  Robert Downey Jr. and Josh Brolin in particular really wowed me this second time through.  Alan Silvestri's score is so good that I'm thinking I'll buy the soundtrack, which is kind of rare for movies I don't actively like/enjoy. 

So right now, you're thinking to yourself, "But Hamlette... you love Hamlet.  That's sad."  True.  But it's a good sad.  And I'm trying to figure out how to define the difference.  Because I can fiercely love and even enjoy desperately sad stories like Hamlet and Logan (2017) and Rogue One (2016).  And I think the difference between them is that, the sad movies I love are sad because someone dies for a reason.  Hamlet and Logan and Cassian and Jyn and other tragic heroes I love -- they die to accomplish something.  And yeah, Heimdall and Loki do that too in this.  I mourn them, but in a good way. 

But everyone else?  Died because a homicidal monster snapped his fingers.  And that makes me angry.  And being angry about an MCU movie makes me sad.  So it's a TOTAL different kind of sadness.  And not at all the enjoyable kind.  And that's why I don't really like Infinity War very much.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Murder on the Orient Express" (2017)

I missed out on seeing this in the theater, but I've seen it twice on DVD now.  The first time, I liked it okay.  The second time, I found it fascinating.  As generally happens to me, the first time I watch a movie, I'm just there to understand what's going on.  The second time through, I start to dig into things like the subtext and meanings and really notice nuances in the performances.

Although I already knew the basic plot of Murder on the Orient Express because I've read the Agatha Christie novel a couple times, I still spent my first viewing just following the story.  It's been years since I read the book, so I'm not sure how closely it followed that, but I did NOT remember several things, like (spoiler alert) how it involved a kidnapping much like the Lindbergh case (end spoilers) -- I'm going to have to re-read the book to see just how faulty my memory of it is.  One thing I did remember was the ending.  Which I feel they were faithful to here.

Let's all admit, though, that really we're watching this more for the all-star cast and the pretty costumes than the plot, shall we?  Because there have been other movie versions of this same story, most notably the 1974 film that also boasted an all-star cast.  And this is probably Christie's most-famous book, so people generally have a basic idea of what it's about.  In case you don't, here's my fairly non-spoiler-y rundown of the plot:

Famous detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) has just finished solving a case in Jerusalem when he's urgently called to consult on another one.  He acquires a spot on the already-filled Orient Express train.  And once the train is underway, there's a murder.  And an avalanche that stops the train.  Because he's a famous detective, he gets asked to solve the murder, and of course one of the other quirky passengers must be the murderer because they're in the middle of nowhere.  It's a fun variation on the old "country house murder" scenario.

Branagh directed and produced the film as well as starring in it.  I happen to be very fond of him as a director because he knows how to tell a good story in a straightforward, non-frilly manner that pleases me.  While this story is necessarily more complicated than, say, Cinderella (2015) or Thor (2011), it's got a lot in common with the many Shakespearean films he's directed.  Certainly this star-studded cast is nothing compared to his Hamlet (1996), a story much more complex than this.  It's his ability to tell a convoluted story in a straight-forward way that makes me like his directing so much, and certainly that added to my enjoyment of Orient Express.  While the story has many tangled twists and turns, I was never confused.  None of the surprises felt jarring or unwarranted.  Everything made magnificent sense in the end, which of course is a tribute to Agatha Christie's original story, and to Michael Green's screenplay, but also to Branagh's clarity as a director, I think.

And Branagh's acting is no less adept.  At first, you want to dismiss his Poirot as a persnickety, obsessive caricature.  But as the film progresses, we see the wistful man behind the absurd mustache.  He holds sacred the memory of a girl he once loved, or perhaps I should say, the girl he still loves, but has lost.  He has little patience for greedy or grasping people, but much sympathy for those who are troubled or hurting.  He dispenses with pleasantries when they are no use, but is punctiliously polite otherwise.  And, over the course of the story, he grows and changes more than we usually see in the lead detective in a possible series.  He begins the story confident there is right and wrong and nothing else, but he ends it admitting that there are, indeed, gray areas in the world where it is difficult to make a perfectly right choice.  (Spoiler alert again)  Like Sherlock Holmes in certain canon cases, he chooses not to pass judgement or turn over culprits for punishment, since he is not a member of the police and feels doing so would be more harmful than just.  (End spoiler.)  By the end of the film, I felt strongly sympathetic toward this Poirot, and I'm very happy to see that there's a sequel planned!

The other stand-out performance here, I felt, was Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard.  I've seen her in a handful of other things, but the only one where I cared much for her at all was LadyHawke (1985), which she was quite compelling in.  She was actually a bit of a revelation here, as I'd never quite understood why everyone was gaga over her, aside from the fact that she's pretty.  But her acting here was superb -- alternately repellent and compelling, and with a fragile hardness underneath everything that, particularly on the second viewing, I found revelatory.

Everyone else was enjoyable.  Johnny Depp was obviously having a great deal of fun being intimidating and gauche.  Judi Dench could have used more screen time (but I love her, so I always want more), but she was a nice blend of frosty and pensive.  It was fun seeing Willem Dafoe again, as I've liked him so much ever since I first saw Clear and Present Danger (1994) as a teen.  He was also having a great deal of fun in his role as a pompous, bigoted Austrian professor.  And it was delightful to see Daisy Ridley in a period piece.  I hope she joins Lily James and Keira Knightley in doing lots and lots of them, because she suited it well.

It's always nice seeing frequent Branagh collaborator Derek Jacobi, though he had a small part with little to do.  Josh Gad was much more subdued than I'm used to seeing him, which was a pleasant change.  Penelope Cruz felt a little one-note, but I've honestly never really been a fan of hers.  The only other cast member I found particularly interesting was Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, who was utterly charming in his short bits of screen time.  But everyone was well-suited to their roles, and I enjoyed the entire ensemble.

Is this movie family friendly?  Not entirely, as it does deal with a murder, obviously.  The murder itself is eventually shown in flashback in a not-terribly-gross-or-detailed way.  There's a prostitute in an early scene, though while her profession is mentioned, there's just some innuendo in the scene, nothing shown.  There are guns and cigarettes and alcohol.  There's a tragic backstory (Spoiler Alert!!) that involves a kidnapped and murdered child (End Spoiler Alert).  And there's quite a bit of bad language, though mostly the old-fashioned sort.  Older teens would be fine, but not tweens or younger.