Thursday, December 22, 2022

She IS Family: "While You Were Sleeping" (1995)

While You Were Sleeping (1995) came out the weekend I turned fifteen. A couple of months later, I went to a sleepover hosted by a girl I was gradually becoming friends with. The next morning, the hosting mother took us to see this at the local second-run theater. It was the first movie I had seen in the theater since I was eight. I was enthralled by the experience. I can still remember exactly what that theater looked like: a tiny auditorium with only maybe a dozen rows of seats, covered in worn pseudo-velvet. My friend’s mom let us sit together wherever we chose, while she and her little son sat in the very back. He fell asleep clutching Skittles candies that dyed his hands all sorts of colors. 

To this day, nearly twenty years later, Skittles always make me think of this movie. Of a grainy filmstrip image interrupted now and then by hair and lint. Of sharing popcorn and giggles with three or four other teenage girls, two of whom are still my close friends. 

But, nostalgia is not the main reason why I love this movie. I love it because it gave me my first real taste of the idea of a “found family.” I grew up in a very close-knit family, and I’m very attached to the idea of having people who love and accept you; people you belong to and who belong to you; people to be with in troubles, celebrations, and everyday life. So as the movie began, my heart ached for Lucy (Sandra Bullock) as she struggled to celebrate Christmas alone, with no family at all to share her joy, no one she belonged to. With both her parents dead, no siblings, and really no friends, she embodied a loneliness so potent it felt contagious. 

And then the Callaghan family embraced her, literally, giving her a giant group hug when they learned she was their comatose son’s fiancée. Which she wasn’t, but they believed she was, and before Lucy could gather the courage to explain the truth, they made her part of their family. They gave her the love, acceptance, and belonging she’d been missing. (She then fell in love with their other son, Jack [Bill Pullman], but I’m not going to go into the whole plot because you’ve probably seen this movie a million times, too. And if you haven’t, go rent it, stream it, borrow it, or buy it.) 

I was fascinated by this idea of finding a family if you didn’t have one, of joining other people and forging the bonds that are so dear to me. I’ve been drawn to stories about “found families” ever since: Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, the X-Men movies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, The Avengers, and Lost. One of my favorite television shows from childhood, Five Mile Creek, also dealt with this theme, though it took me years to realize that. 

While You Were Sleeping first brought the idea to my attention, and made me wonder, “What if I didn’t have a family?” I’ve often imagined myself ending up like Lucy: alone with a cat and plenty of acquaintances, but no one I belonged to. What would I do? Would I go find or create a family for myself? How does one even go about that? 

I make friends fairly easily. If you like books or movies, I’m happy to hang out with you and discuss them. We can totally be friends. But close friends, friends that feel like they belong to you—I make those very slowly. It can take me years to get to the point where I’ll feel that bond of kinship, not just friendship. It does happen eventually, if I let it. I’d like to think that, had I never met my husband, never gotten married, and for some reason not lived anywhere near my parents or brother, I would have formed a family of sorts around myself. Not quite the way Lucy does, of course—I’m pretty sure I would never have the opportunity to rescue a man from an oncoming train and then pretend to be his fiancée. But somehow, I would find people to be my family. 

Toward the end of While You Were Sleeping, Lucy’s boss tells her, “You are born into a family. You don’t join it like the Marines.” I like to believe he’s wrong, that if you need a family, you can find one… or one will find you.

(This post originally appeared in the November/December 2014 issue of Femnista magazine.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Movie Music: Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" (1954)

For nearly seventy years, the actual motion picture soundtrack for the wonderful Christmas movie White Christmas (1954 -- my review here) was unavailable.  They never released it when the movie was made because Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney sang for competing recording companies and were contractually forbidden from singing together on an album.  They could sing together in a film, but not on a recorded album.  Because contracts are fun like that.  So, when the studio did release an album of music from the film, they had Peggy Lee sing all of Rosemary Clooney's songs instead.


Just this year, the real movie score was FINALLY released on CD!!!

I bought my copy from Amazon, but it is probably available from other sellers too.  I have listened to my copy over and over... though I haven't managed to listen to the second CD yet, which has the soundtrack for Holiday Inn (1942).

Today, I'm going to share my favorite songs from this movie.  The best versions I could find on YouTube are actually clips from the film, so that's what I'm sharing here.

"Sisters" is super fun to sing.  I don't have any actual sisters, just one brother, but I have four sisters-in-law who are all very dear to me, and so I sing this in their honor sometimes.  I do have two daughters, though, and they find this song super fun.  From observing them, I've come to understand this song even better -- how you can love and be protective of a sister, but also compete with her.

Cowboy likes to sing "Snow" to me whenever I get super excited because it is snowing, it's going to snow, or there's even the slightest chance that we might get snow.  And I'm completely fine with that, because I absolutely love snow!  The harmonizing in this song is spectacular.  Wow, such perfect blending.

My mom used to sing "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" once in a while, and I always think of her when I hear this song.  It's so tender and sweet and full of the appreciation of ordinary life.  I've sung it as a lullaby to my kids once in a while.

Obviously, the big star of the show is the song "White Christmas."  The ending of the film is such a beautiful, spectacular, heart-warming celebration of Christmas and dreams coming true.  I adore it.

Merry Christmas to all!  Happy listening :-)

Sunday, December 11, 2022

"Hamlet at Elsinore" (1964) -- Initial Thoughts

Although many, many productions of Hamlet had been filmed before this 1964 version, this is only the second one to have been recorded in the Kronborg Castle at Elsinore (Helsingør, in Danish), where the play takes place.  The first was a silent film, and no one has done another since, which is kind of weird because they do a live production of Hamlet there every summer, and it's a really big deal.  They get big-name actors, and I'm surprised they don't record the performances more often.

Anyway, this particular production was done by the BBC in 1964, and it was recorded on videotape, not film, which I suspected when I was watching it.  Early videotape has a very distinctive look; once you've seen it, you won't have a hard time recognizing it.  Christopher Plummer received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Prince Hamlet, as this was telecast in Great Britain and the US.  Oddly, considering the fabulous cast, it was not made available on home video or DVD until 2011.  I'm so glad it wasn't lost, and that we can watch it now, because it is overall so good.  The print gets a little grimy here and there, though, but it's never unwatchable.

It kind of boggles my mind that this was made only one year before The Sound of Music (1965).  Christopher Plummer's Captain von Trapp always strikes me as quite a middle-aged chap in that, but he exudes youth and promise in this.  I would have thought this was about ten years earlier, not one, and the fact that Plummer can convince me he's so young here really adds to my admiration of his performance.

Over all, Plummer is a sympathetic Hamlet.  He is generally gentle and even playful, which I found very pleasing.  But sometimes he ran around and shouted and waved his arms a lot, and that was jarring.  I think he was playing Hamlet as actually going somewhat mad, so I guess all the shouting and arm-waving was supposed to show that?  It was usually super abrupt and unexpected, though, and sometimes pulled me out of the story, which I did not appreciate.

But I really loved a lot of his readings of lines that are often just considered throw-aways or ignored totally.  He clearly put a LOT of thought into his portrayal.  I know that Plummer was a stage actor before he got into movies, and you can see he's very comfortable with this style of storytelling.  I suppose all the shouting and gesticulating might be a carryover from his stage acting, actually, as that's such a different style from film.

Michael Caine was an absolute stand-out as Horatio.  Solid, dependable, loyal, brave, even wise -- everything a Horatio ought to be.  I can't believe Caine has never done any more Shakespeare.  He absolutely sold me here.  At the very end, his exchange with Fortinbras was particularly moving.  I would rather have liked to see how he would play Hamlet himself. 

The other stand-out in this production was Robert Shaw as Claudius.  Oh my goodness!  He was fantastic!  When I looked at the casting for this and saw him here, I was kind of dubious because I mostly think of him as the bad guy in The Sting (1973), and that's kind of a blustery sort of role, more blunt cudgel than sharp knife.  

But oh my, he was so good as Claudius.  Crafty, cunning, and quite sexy.  Wandering about in a dressing gown with no shirt underneath, and canoodling in bed with Gertrude, and then there's this whole thing with him being half-drunk at the play-within-a-play that was super interesting.  I think he's going to edge his way onto my Top 5 Claudiuses list with another viewing or two.

I'm afraid that Polonius (Alec Clunes), Ophelia (Jo Maxwell Muller), and Laertes (Dyson Lovell) were not particularly noteworthy.  Lovell and Muller started out pretty well as an affectionate pair of siblings, but their first scene was their best, and they both bored me later on, until Ophelia's mad scenes.  Muller shone there, I thought.  But Lovell never got interesting again, alas.  And Clunes as Polonius grated on me, though I think that was probably intentional, as this Polonius is not sympathetic at all.

June Tobin was okay as Gertrude.  She pretty clearly didn't believe Hamlet at all in the closet scene, and really preferred to think he was actually mad, as evidenced by the aforementioned satisfied canoodling later on.  No avoiding sharing her bed with Claudius for this Gertrude, which was interesting just because it's so different from a lot of portrayals.

The one rather odd bit of casting was Donald Sutherland as Fortinbras.  Maybe it's just because I've seen him in quite a few other things, but he just felt weirdly modern in the role, while all the others felt suitably... well, Elizabethan, if not actually ancient Danish.  That may just be a personal quibble, though.

The only thing I didn't like much at all was the way the person voicing the Ghost just ranted and shouted and roared and yowled.  If you can chew the scenery with just your voice, that actor did it.  Also, they did a lot of extreme close-ups that were supposed to be really cool or whatever, this being the sixties, but they seem very dated now.

Having the whole thing actually filmed in the real Kronborg Castle was really cool, though the acting was so good that I rarely pulled out of the story enough to think, "Oh, so that's what the actual courtyard looks like!" and so on.

Overall, it's a solidly enjoyable production, and I look forward to watching it again.  For the purpose of my Hamlet Comparisons, here's how I rate the various portrayals:

Hamlet: A
Horatio: A+
Laertes: C 
Ophelia: B 
Claudius: A
Gertrude: C
Polonius: C 
Overall Production: A-

Random note, but wow, 1964 was an amazing year for Hamlet fans.  Not only did this get filmed and telecast, but that's when Richard Burton was playing Hamlet on Broadway, and his version was filmed and released to theaters!  Wow.

Is this version of Hamlet family friendly?  Well, mostly.  But you do have Claudius and Gertrude kissing in bed, him shirtless and her in a sort of corset thing, but it goes no farther than kissing.  But there are a whole lot of paintings all around the castle featuring a lot of naked people, and some families might not be comfortable with that.  

This is my contribution to the Charismatic Christopher Plummer Blogathon hosted by RealWeegieMidget Reviews and Pale Writer this weekend.

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 

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 

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...

Monday, October 31, 2022

Happy Halloween! Have a Free Book... No Tricks!

Want something to read while you wait for My Rock and My Refuge to get released next week?  Well, you are in luck!  Because I am offering a free copy of my Sleeping Beauty retelling The Man on the Buckskin Horse to everyone who is signed up for my author newsletter.

If you're already a newsletter subscriber, you should have gotten an email this afternoon with instructions on how and where to access your free copy!

If you're not a newsletter subscriber yet, you can follow this link or use the widget in my blog's sidebar to sign up.  And then you will receive a welcome email with instructions on how to get your free copy.

And that's all there is to it!  Happy reading!

Friday, October 28, 2022

"Kidnapped" (1971) -- Initial Thoughts

I've been interested in seeing Kidnapped (1971) for quite some time because I quite like Michael Caine, and he plays Alan Breck Stewart in this version, and I love Alan Breck Stewart.

As reasons to watch a movie go, an actor you enjoy playing a character you love is a pretty good reason, if you ask me.  And, happily, Michael Caine did not disappoint me.  He was as mercurial, good-hearted, and brave an Alan Breck as you could possibly want.  And he was never, ever boring, of course -- I'm pretty sure Michael Caine is incapable of turning in a boring performance.

Kidnapped is about a young man, David Balfour (Lawrence Douglas) who ought to inherit some sizeable property when his father dies, but his miserly Uncle Ebenezer Balfour (Donald Pleasance) has him kidnapped by the cunning Captain Hoseason (Jack Hawkins) and shipped off to be sold as a slave in the Carolinas.

Of course, David Balfour doesn't stay kidnapped.  He escapes with the help of Alan Breck Stewart (Michael Caine), a Highlander who took part in the Jacobite Revolution.  You see, the book is set in 1752, in Scotland, and the British and Scottish people are still going at each other in the fiercest way.  The massacre at Culloden Moor in 1746 was very recent memory, and yeah... lots of violence was happening, let's say that.

Alan Breck is on his way back to France to bring much-needed money to the Jacobites in exile there.  David Balfour is a Lowland Scotsman and just wants to get back to the property his uncle is bilking him out of.  They form an unlikely friendship, one a fierce and fiery rebel and the other a calm and naïve boy, and they stick together through thick and thin.  Including through one very sticky situation where an enemy of Breck's, one Colin Campbell, gets assassinated from ambush.  The murder is pinned on James of the Glens (Jack Watson), and he's arrested and bound to be hanged for it.

David Balfour happens to know that James of the Glens is innocent because he was standing right by James of the Glens when the murder happened, and James obviously didn't do it.  But nobody wants David to give this testimony in court because of reasons, especially not the Lord Advocate (Trevor Howard) who is convinced that hanging James will cure the Highlanders of their foolish rebellion once and for all.

Okay, so, that's a pretty fair rundown of the story.  It's all based on the books Kidnapped and David Balfour (aka Catriona, aka David and Catriona) by Robert Louis Stevenson.  And Stevenson based a big chunk of the book around real events.  Because Colin Campbell, James of the Glens/James Stewart (NOT the actor), and Alan Breck Stewart were all real people.  Colin Campbell really did get killed, in what's called the Appin Murder. James of the Glens really was arrested and hanged for it even though he was very obviously innocent.  And Alan Breck really was suspected of being the actual killer.  But Breck was never captured, even though he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death.  Nobody actually knows what happened to him.


Well, this movie decides to make up an ending for him.  Unlike in David Balfour, where he eventually escapes back to France, this movie decides to give him a very different character arc from the books.  In this movie, Alan Breck actually did assassinate Colin Campbell, and he goes to the authorities in Edinburgh and gives himself up to try to free James of the Glens.  Because James has a pretty daughter named Catriona (Vivien Heilbron) who is in love with David Balfour, and Alan Breck decides he's had enough of war and death and running and hiding, or something.

Which I guess is a pretty cool character arc, even if it springs up very suddenly in the last 3 minutes of the movie.  And even if it has absolutely no basis in historical fact whatsoever.  I mean, we're just supposed to assume that this works, and James of the Glens goes free, and Catriona gets her dad back, and... and that is NOT what happened!  James was hung!  You can't just rewrite history because you suddenly wish you were making a movie of A Tale of Two Cities instead of Kidnapped and decided Alan Breck should have a "far, far better thing I do" moment.  Dude.


I mean... if you want to change the ending of a piece of fiction, okay, that happens.  But this is based on history, y'all.  You can't just decide to ditch history 'cuz you feel like it.  Sigh.

That wee issue aside, I did enjoy the movie, especially the performances by Michael Caine, Donald Pleasance, and Terence Howard.  Donald Pleasance was particularly weaselly as Ebenezer Balfour, miserly and conniving to the last -- his final words before he died made me laugh aloud.  

And Terence Howard really excels at playing characters who are so painfully bored by whatever is going on around them.  His dry delivery always amuses me.

I'm afraid Lawrence Douglas left me bored, which is a shame since David Balfour is the hero of the book, but this movie version is more the Alan Breck Show than anything, so I guess I didn't mind so much.  

He had a very good droopy look that would be very effective at a graveside, except we didn't really have any gravesides for him to use it at.  Vivien Heilbron's Catriona was way more interesting than his David Balfour.

Jack Hawkins wasn't in great health at this point in his life, so his scenes are pretty short and his voice was dubbed.  Which made me sad because I like him so much in things like Ben-Hur (1959) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).  

Jack Watson, on the other hand, was a stand-out -- I started making up stories about his James of the Glens whenever he was on screen because he was absolutely fascinating!  I just couldn't seem to stop my imagination from spooling out little imaginary scenarios for him.  

Especially during the powerful scene where he's in prison and says goodbye to his daughter Catriona.  I felt things, I tell you.  I've seen Watson in a couple other things, but never really took much notice of him.  I'll be keeping an eye out for him from now on, though.

Is this movie family friendly?  Pretty much.  There's some very obviously fake violence, memories of battle scenes with a lot of stabbing but not too much blood, and some mild cussing.  No nudity or sexual situations (though David and Catriona do sleep next to each other in a cave at one point, but they are not alone in the cave and no extramarital activity is implied).  For a '70s movie, it's remarkably clean, really.

This review is my contribution to the Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasance Blogathon hosted by Cinematic Catharsis and RealWeegieMidget Reviews this weekend.  Thank you for giving me a reason to finally watch this movie, fellow cinephiles!

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Movie Music: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's "Brigadoon" (1954)

I used to listen to this soundtrack all the time as a teen. In fact, I still have most of the songs memorized, even the minor ones. I'd listen to this while I was doing schoolwork or writing, and hearing it always makes me think of my little corner in the basement where I had my desk, not far from the family computer, which was a 486 and so cool because it played CDs! (Does anyone here even know what a 486 is?) 

Okay, anyway, this is the soundtrack for Brigadoon, a musical about a very unusual town in Scotland: it only exists on earth once every hundred years. Two American hunters, Tommy (Gene Kelly) and Jeff (Van Johnson), stumble into the town on that one day, and Gene's character quickly falls in love with a Brigadoon woman, Fiona (Cyd Charisse). Most of the movie takes place during that one day they have together. 

"Once in the Highlands" is a lovely, haunting song that tells you the basics of the story before the movie even begins. I guess the show's writers audiences to have extra help wrapping their heads around this kind of odd story. "And this is what happened... the strange thing that happened... to two weary hunters who lost their way..." I like the use of chorus here because it ends up sounding sombre and eerie, and really setting the mood for the story. 

"The Heather on the Hill" is the big romance number. Tommy is fascinated by Fiona, mostly because she's not trying to get him to marry her, but also because she's quiet and intelligent and sincere. He's got a girl back in America who is loud and bossy and wants to marry him, you see, and the contrast kind of hooks him. So here, he asks if he can join her in gathering flowers. 

After that song, they dance this dance, which I love, partly because it's very different from Gene Kelly's typical jaunty, peppy dancing. Fiona hasn't told Tommy yet that Brigadoon is magical, and in the dance, she's trying to keep herself from liking him because she knows it can't last, but gradually she finds she can't help falling for him. (Her dress has the weirdest neckline ever, though -- it's always bugged me.) 

And after dancing together, she leaves, and he sings my favorite song from the whole movie, "Almost Like Being in Love." And dances a much more typical dance, for him. He says "almost," but we can all tell there's no "almost" about him being in love by this point. I'm just going ahead and including the movie clip for this song, partly because I love watching Gene Kelly dance and partly because Van Johnson is so grumpy and fed up through the whole thing that he makes me chuckle. But if you'd rather just listen to the music, you can do that too -- you don't *have* to watch it if you're not all that into musicals or whatever. 

That's all for today! But if you want a gently haunting movie to watch this Halloween, I definitely recommend trying Brigadoon for yourself.

(This review originally appeared here at J and J Productions on October 28, 2015.)