book review: My Rock and My Refuge by Rachel Kovaciny.

Beauty and the Beast… re-imagined

Marta knows she shouldn’t feel this way toward Mr. Wendell. She needs to keep her job as his servant, especially because her family back in Germany depends on the money she and her brother Jakob send home. Marta’s new feelings can’t be as important as helping her family save their bakery, can they?

Marta doesn’t want to believe the rumors that Mr. Wendell profited from another’s tragedy to gain his wealth. Although his face bears terrible scars, she sees past them to his kind and generous heart. Still, she wonders why he never leaves his big house high in the Colorado mountains. Does he hide himself away because of his disfigured face, or because he has a guilty conscience?

While Marta tries to push away her questions, others are determined to find answers. Their efforts lead to a fresh tragedy that threatens Marta’s hope of finding happiness with Mr. Wendell. Will Marta fail her family and her new friends, or will God bless her efforts to build a happy future for them all?

I remember reading an early draft of My Rock and My Refuge in the summer of 2021 (before it even had a proper title). I read the whole thing in one day and when I was finished, I told my mom “All of the Once Upon a Western books have had heart. But this book has a soul.” Now, over a year later, I’m thrilled to celebrate the release of such a special book—first with this review and, in a couple days, an interview with Rachel herself.

My Rock and My Refuge is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and it was a lot of fun seeing all the different ways Rachel incorporated aspects of the fairytale. The stolen rose, the magical mirror, [Disney] Belle’s love of reading (which is uniquely subverted in this retelling), a painting of the Beast, helpful servants, a curse (of sorts), and so on.

Additionally, My Rock and My Refuge contains elements of Jane Eyre. What those elements might be, you’ll just have to read the book to find out. (But there are no wives locked in attics, manipulative heroes, or St. Johns. So…not to worry! XD)

On that note, Marta Beckmann, the main character of My Rock and My Refuge, reminds me of an older Jane Eyre. But she’s also her own forthright person. Although Marta is usually right in her observations of people and situations, she’s not perfect—I absolutely loved how she realizes that she needs to depend on God at all times (instead of herself).

…too often, I relied on myself and my abilities for help, and only asked our Lord for guidance or assistance if I could not solve something myself. That was the wrong order.

When I’m feeling discouraged or downhearted, I gravitate toward movies, shows, and books that have a more overt Christian message. My Rock and My Refuge contains a few theology-heavy conversations (and Marta’s internal monologue is filled with references to her faith and her Lord). I can see why all of that would come across as preachy to some people, but sometimes that kind of thing is just what I need, personally. So I don’t mind the focus on morals and attending church and correcting one’s behavior and thoughts to match up with God’s will.

But anyway! Back to the characters…

Arthur Wendell is the ‘Beast’ in this retelling, but he’s far from beastly. A little gruff at first, even rude. But he’s a good man at heart, something that quickly becomes clear. No, he doesn’t give Marta his library. But he gives her something even better—the means of learning how to read the books in his library. Wendell is deeply loyal to the people he cares for, and that soon includes Marta. Their romance is straightforward and sensible…but also swoon-worthy.

Speaking of swoon-worthy, Marta’s brother Jakob is a sweetheart. Stubborn, but a sweetheart. I agree with another reviewer who said that Jakob should get his own spin-off. I also liked Dan McLeod (Arthur’s friend), Mrs. Craig (Arthur’s housekeeper), Peter Craig (Chip? XD), the miners who buy Marta’s bread, the Lings (friends of Marta’s), and so on. One thing I appreciate about My Rock and My Refuge is that there’s plenty of conflict without anyone being nasty. (Well, with the exception of a few very minor, very racist characters.)

And last but not least, there’s Alex McLeod. He’s the ‘Gaston’ of My Rock and My Refuge (but not a villain). I have the biggest soft spot for Alex. He’s not-so-secretly my favorite character, bringing good days to his mother and buying Marta’s bread and going through the pain of suddenly being an only child instead of the youngest child. I think I’m probably in the minority when it comes to liking Alex, but that’s okay. 😉

My Rock and My Refuge is a Western, a romance, and a fairytale, all wrapped into one beautiful story. It’s like a loaf of good bread: warm, wholesome, and strengthening to the heart (see Psalm 104:15b). I think you’ll love it! I know I do. ❤

Where to find ‘My Rock and My Refuge‘ + Rachel Kovaciny online

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Have you read My Rock and My Refuge yet? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!


book review: elysium tide.

After belittling a colleague in the OR, British neurosurgeon Peter Chesterfield is ordered to take a leave of absence in Maui. While strolling along the beach one night, Peter pulls a woman’s body from the surf. She survives just long enough to whisper a mysterious message to him. Determined to find the woman’s murderer and bring order back into his life, Peter ends up butting heads with police detective Lisa Kealoha. But when a sinister plot is uncovered, the two of them must set aside their differences and work together.

This was such a good novel—a tense thriller that truly kept me turning pages. It was refreshing, in a way, to read a mainstream Christian novel written by a male author. Even more refreshing was how Peter and Lisa’s relationship stayed professional. I’ve read more than one Christian thriller/mystery where the romance between the leads is treated as more important than the main plot. (Or at least equally important.) That wasn’t the case with Elysium Tide, and I appreciated that.

The main mystery was a little hard to follow at times—so many moving parts! And one surprise villain reveal just…didn’t work for me. What really kept me reading was Peter’s faith journey. He begins the book as an atheist but slowly, ever so slowly he starts to entertain the possibility of an all-powerful Creator Who cares about him. I was rooting so hard for Peter to become a believer! There was one moment where he finally decides that maybe, just maybe there might be a God. That was such a huge step for his character, and it made me tear up.

I will say that the ending of Elysium Tide was somewhat disappointing. I DM’ed James Hannibal, asking (rather frantically) if there was going to be a sequel. And he said no. 😦 However, I feel as thought the disappointing ending is a total ‘your mileage may vary’ kind of thing. (There’s no real cliffhanger, for one thing.)

I confess that the main reason I picked up Elysium Tide was because the main character was a doctor. And the medical aspect of his character/the story didn’t disappoint. Lots of nice medical details for me to enjoy. 😉 And, contrary to how it might sound, I did enjoy the rest of the story. And I would happily check out more thrillers from James Hannibal.

Overall, if you’re a fan of clean mystery thrillers, smart characters, and actually Christian fiction, chances are good that you’ll love Elysium Tide.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


movie review: Scaramouche.

This review is a contribution to the MGM Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings.

The French countryside seethes with talk of revolution, but Andre Moreau (Stewart Granger) has bigger problems on his mind—his father has stopped giving him money, his old flame Lenore (Eleanor Parker) is marrying someone else, and—worst of all—Andre just found out that Aline (Janet Leigh), the beautiful woman he met on the roadside and fell in love with, is his half-sister.

With so much on his mind, Andre brushes off his friend Phillipe’s talk of a coming day of reckoning for the French aristocracy. But when Phillipe is killed by Noel, the Marquis de Maynes (Mel Ferrar), Andre vows revenge. He will stop at nothing to avenge his friend—including joining a travelling theatre troupe and hiding behind the role of ridiculous clown Scaramouche.

Scaramouche is a movie I’ve seen many, many times, and it’s always lots of fun. I’m not much a fan of Andre himself—he’s a little too loose for my tastes (and I feel as though Granger is a bit too smug in the role). But the rest of the cast really shines. Eleanor Parker’s Lenore is fiery and breathtakingly gorgeous, giving as good as she gets and holding her own against Andre’s madcap ways. Parker and Granger’s scenes together are full of chemistry and sparks that almost set the screen on fire.

Janet Leigh also does good work, although Aline’s childish character fades a little into the background when contrasted with Lenore’s sparkling presence. (I do love how the two of them work together to save Andre from dueling Noel on more than one occasion. Female allyships are so great to see!)

My favorite character in Scaramouche, surprisingly enough, is Mel Ferrar’s villainous character Noel, the Marquis de Maynes. Noel and Andre are connected on a much more personal level than either of them suspect. Rewatching the film with knowledge of that connection adds even more depth to Noel’s encounters with Andre.

I’m not ordinarily a fan of Ferrar’s work, but he is, in my opinion, the best piece of casting in the whole film. Noel is proud and cruel toward those who cross him, a brilliant swordsman, and…actually a decent boyfriend? He is in love with the queen herself (Marie Antoinette!), but since that can never go anywhere, he courts Aline after the queen recommends her. The moments of thoughtfulness and care that we see from Noel in regards to Aline really do something to humanize him. (Also, Noel’s respectfulness toward women is such an interesting and marked contrast to Andre’s *cough* problematic treatment of Lenore.)

I’m not saying that Noel is not the villain of the film. He definitely is, remaining cold and calculating and heartless throughout. But I did like his relationship with Aline and how sweet he could be to her.

Anyway! I’m here to review Scaramouche, not write an essay about Noel. XD Besides the cast and characters, Scaramouche also boasts detailed, beautiful sets and costuming in vivid Technicolor. This is France just before the revolution and the costuming and set design reflect that. Bright, opulent excess on the part of the aristocrats, darker shades and tones for the common people (good for sneaking around and plotting).

In addition, Victor Young’s score is amazing: rich, thrilling, sumptuous. One of my favorite movie soundtracks. Here is the theme that plays over opening titles, so you can enjoy a sample of the music. (And really, the whole soundtrack is worth a listen.)

If you’re in the mood for an entertaining swashbuckler, I highly recommend Scaramouche. There are some The Scarlet Pimpernel vibes and some The Vikings (1958) vibes. Overall, it’s a terrific film that I’m sure I’ll enjoy for many years to come.

Have you watched Scaramouche? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!


mini movie reviews: june 2022 edition.

These days, I’ve been watching more TV shows than movies (planning one or two blog posts centered around those shows). But since I haven’t done one of these posts since February, I still have a good backlog of titles to review. Let’s get into it!

Edge of Doom (1950) – I watched this purely for Dana Andrews and Farley Granger (as one does). It’s a interesting, though odd story about an emotionally disturbed young man and a priest and how their lives connect in a rather tragic way. Noirish, if not exactly a film noir.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957) – Such a good twist at the end! Billy Wilder really knows how to make ’em.

Cat Ballou (1965) – Western comedies are such an underrated film genre! Cat Ballou follows a young woman through tragedy and outlaw escapades and creating the weirdest found family on earth. The songs in this are so catchy (still getting stuck in my head, months later) and Lee Marvin was a RIOT in his Oscar-winning dual role.

Hell on Frisco Bay (1955) – I love mob stories. And Alan Ladd. So a combination of the two was all but bound to win me over. And it totally did! I thought the romance subplot would go in a cliched direction when I started the movie, but I found myself really rooting for Steve (Alan) and Marcia to mend their marriage. As to whether or not they did, well…you’ll just have to watch the movie!

Boomerang! (1947) – Another Dana Andrews movie, telling the true story of a high-profile murder trial. Solid performances from Dana and Lee J. Cobb.

My Darling Clementine (1946)My Darling Clementine has a quiet wistfulness to it that other John Ford films share (like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). Henry Fonda was wonderfully steady as Wyatt Earp. I loved seeing Tim Holt and Ward Bond again as well. There’s so much to love about this thoughtful frontier Western!

Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) – Yep. You’ve just got to love Western comedies. I’m very familiar with Burt Kennedy’s snappy dialogue, thanks to his work on the WWII TV show Combat!, and it was a joy to have that same kind of clever humor present in a Western.

(By the way, if you’ve seen and enjoyed Support Your Local Sheriff, Rachel Kovaciny’s novel Dancing & Doughnuts has a very similar vibe.)

Double Indemnity (1944) – I knew there was a reason I didn’t trust Fred MacMurray. XD

Spider-Man (2002) – Would you all throw tomatoes at me if I told you that I don’t like Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Spider-Man? *ducks* I’ve seen all three TM Spider-Man films more than once and I’m sure I’ll watch them again…but for Harry, not Peter. The best-friends-to-enemies/downward spiral trope is one of my favorites, weirdly enough. And Raimi’s trilogy did it so well.

Green Mansions (1959) Green Mansions is one of the absolute weirdest films I’ve ever seen. When I tell you that not even Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins could save this movie, you know it’s bad.

House of Strangers (1949) – The story of an Italian family torn apart by greed and hatred and bitterness. Near the end of the film, the characters have a chance to break free of their family’s wretched generational cycle…but will they? This was a recommendation from The Classic Movie Muse, and it was great. I spent most of the movie disliking Richard Conte’s character (which was stressful, as he’s one of my favorite actors), but I loved Edward G. Robinson’s portrayal of the family patriarch. So much fun, even when he’s being mean, lol.

Little Men (1998) – A pleasant surprise! Any adaption of Little Men is viewed narrowly until I can judge its portrayal of Dan (as he’s my favorite fictional character), but I needn’t have worried. Ben Cook made an excellent Dan. And the rest of the film was a good adaption of a children’s classic. My little brothers enjoyed it immensely.

On the Beach (1959) – Nope. Nope. Nopeity nope. In a nutshell, On the Beach is about people living out their last days in Australia as a massive cloud of radiation moves ever closer to the continent. Depressing and disturbing. Excellent performances from great actors like Gregory Peck, Anthony Perkins, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire, but just…no.

God’s Not Dead: We the People (2021) – This is not a movie. It’s a sermon wrapped up in a few half-hearted performances. Which was disappointing, because I thought the previous movie in the series (God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness) was quite good, considering. But this fourth movie was most definitely not.

Red Eye (2005) – Another friend-recommended film, this time a recommendation from Charity. I love a good psychological thriller set on a plane, and Red Eye was certainly that. I want to see Rachel McAdams in more films now! And, of course, Cillian Murphy is always a good idea. 😉 (Even when he’s playing a horrid villain.)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) – Why did it take me so long to see this delightful movie? I loved the 60’s aesthetic, Illya, the twisty plot, and Henry Cavill’s face (not necessarily in that order).

Have you seen any of these films? Spot any favorites on this list? Do let me know in the comments!


movie review: Ocean’s 11 (1960).

Ocean’s 11 tells the story of eleven guys, headed up by one Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra), who plan an elaborate heist—one that involves stealing hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars from five Las Vegas hotels (all on the same night). The film takes a lot of time to showcase the personalities and personal lives of several of the eleven men before getting to the heist itself. (In fact, the film is nearly halfway over before you discover just what the eleven are planning to steal.)

If you go into Ocean’s 11 looking for lots of action scenes and thrilling heist montages and a plot that zips along…you won’t find it here. But if you want a movie that’s full of humor, a great twist ending, and fun performances from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford (to name a few), well, you’re in luck. Especially when it comes to those performances. Because, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really watch Ocean’s 11 for the heist elements (though those are a riot). I watch it to see the characters play off each other. I watch it for the 60’s aesthetic. And yeah, I partly watch it for Richard Conte because he’s one of my favorites. ❤ But…mostly for the fun performances. So much humor sparks and fizzes across the screen throughout Ocean’s 11.

On a side note, I find it interesting that some contemporary critics condemned Ocean’s 11 for the amorality of its characters. (Read this for more details.) Today, morally gray characters and ‘slightly better than the Big Bad’ villainous main characters are all the rage. But even back in the 1960’s (which was a decade not exactly known for its morality), some people found the unrepentant attitudes of the eleven to be troubling.

Personally, the characters’ lack of morals doesn’t bother me so much—I don’t particularly admire any of the characters or aspire to be like them. And they do get their comeuppance in the end (no spoilers on just how it happens though).

When I watch Ocean’s 11, I’m not looking for role models. I’m looking for an entertaining movie experience. And that’s exactly what I get, every time. It’s soooo fun to see the different cast members play off each other, particularly the Rat Pack. Caesar Romero also gets a small, yet important role, and he makes the absolute most of it (as usual).

Is Ocean’s 11 for everyone? No. But if you’re a fan of slow-paced (yet interesting) films, male-centric casts, and/or the 1960’s in general, you just may love it.

Have you seen Ocean’s 11? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments!


P.S. A very happy birthday to Dean Martin! I wasn’t planning to post this review on his birthday (since I didn’t even know when that was), but I’m glad it worked out that way. If you’re in the mood for more Dean content, my friend Jillian wrote two excellent blog posts about him: ‘Dean Martin, a Man of Hidden Depth‘ and ‘King of Cool.’

a review of Spider-Man: No Way Home.

This review will be full of unmarked spoilers. Just…so you know. 😉

The greatest superhero crossover event since Avengers: Endgame, No Way Home concluded the MCU’s Spider-Man trilogy with tons of fan-service and an emotional wallop (the two sometimes went hand in hand). I thought No Way Home was an excellent final installment to the trilogy; I’ve listed my favorite things about the film below!

Tom Holland’s Spider-Man

Although Andrew Garfield is my favorite Spider-Man (and we’ll get to him in this post, never fear), Tom Holland’s take on the character is an incredibly close second. We have followed Tom’s Peter from his introduction in Captain America: Civil War to that terrible Snap in Avengers: Infinity War and now finally find him grappling with the fact that everyone knows Spider-Man’s true identity. (Thanks to that creep Mysterio. *glares*)

“Come on. Wong. Hasn’t he been through enough?”

In answer to Doctor Strange’s question, I would give a resounding (and tearful) “YES.” MCU Peter has been through the wringer and then some. Tom Holland has played the character to perfection through all those ups and downs. He had a lot of emotional scenes and character beats to work with in No Way Home—everything from May’s death to Peter becoming friends with alternate versions of himself to having Ned and MJ forget who Peter Parker was. And yeah, like I said…perfection. Thanks to Tom Holland, you really feel Peter’s pain, heartbreak, enthusiasm, joy, love—all of it. You can’t help but want the absolute best for Peter Parker. </3

All the multiverse craziness

Full disclosure—when I watched No Way Home, I had only seen Spider-Man 2 and 3, of the Tobey Maguire films. And that was only once, quite a while ago. I feel that No Way Home could have had even more impact for me if I was more familiar with Tobey’s films. That being said, I still LOVED getting all those villains in one movie and seeing both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield team up with Tom Holland.

Especially Andrew Garfield. Because, like I said, he’s my fave. Which brings me to…

This moment

Literally worth watching the whole movie, just for this scene.

Michael Giacchino’s Score

Listening to it as I write this post and it is everything. Giacchino is my favorite film composer in general and he did such a good job with No Way Home. Here’s a ten minute soundtrack suite if you want to check it out!

The weight of responsibility and choices and all that grown-up stuff

We finally got the ‘great power/great responsibility’ line in an MCU movie. And the placement of it in this movie specifically was excellently timed. MCU Peter Parker has access to more power than any other iteration of Spider-Man that has come before him (in the movies, that is—I don’t know about the comics). Not only does MCU Peter have Stark tech, he also has a powerful wizard friend who can cast spells that wipe people’s memories, break open the multiverse, and who knows what else. Because of all that, Peter ends up pulling people—super-villains—out of their respective universes and into his own.

At first, I didn’t understand why it was Peter’s responsibility to cure the villains. I still think that there is some weak writing in that aspect of the plot: some of the villains might have genuinely had their minds changed by chips and serums and all that (like Doc Ock), but some of them were jerks—and a little bit of tech isn’t going to change that. (Looking at you, Electro.)

But you know what…whatever. I can handle some flaws for the sake of the overall plot (especially if I love the characters—and I do). And I understand better now why it was up to Peter to help the villains. By pulling them into his universe, however inadvertently, he became their nemesis as well. He had the power to cure them, thanks to Tony’s technology, and so he had the responsibility to try.

We’ve seen the ‘hero curing the villain’ plotline before (hello, The Amazing Spider-Man), but I don’t think it has ever been done on such a grand scale. The compassion shown for the villains by Peter, Peter, and Peter (XD) is such a rare and wonderful thing. Redemption for everyone—not just the villains, but the heroes as well. Grace upon grace. Truly beautiful.

My oldest brothers deride Marvel movies, claiming that each movie is the same as all the others—the good guys always defeat the bad guys. I find that so annoying because 1) it’s untrue (Infinity War, anyone?), 2) good triumphing over evil is, like, the most common plotline ever, and 3) just because good wins out over evil doesn’t mean that there aren’t other consequences. And that is certainly the case in No Way Home.

Doctor Strange mind-wipes everyone on the planet so that they forget Peter Parker. What’s more, he does this unwillingly, at Peter’s insistent request. The same Peter who, days before, ruined a spell because he couldn’t stand the thought of having to admit all over again to May that he was Spider-Man. The same Peter who, now changed forever by the events of those few days, sacrifices his identity and his relationships with those he most loves so that the world can be saved.

I admit I was expecting there to be some quick fix for the memory wipe. That MJ and Ned would, somehow, end up remembering Peter by the very end of the film. But nope. And what’s more—Peter accepts that. He doesn’t go crazy trying to force MJ to recognize him. He accepts the consequences of his actions, takes it on the chin, and continues to shoulder the responsibilities that are his, thanks to his extraordinary powers.

I think we all just saw Peter Parker grow up.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Spider-Man: No Way Home. Jon Watts stuck the landing. The entire trilogy is probably my favorite MCU trilogy, as the quality stays so consistent throughout. And…it’s Spider-Man! Far From Home is still my favorite of the three, but No Way Home was so good that I watched it three times in less than forty-eight hours. (It was a weekend, I have a bunch of family members who wanted to see it, and the rental period was very short. XD) And I’d still watch it again tomorrow, if I could. So there’s that.

Have you seen No Way Home? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!


movie review: flightplan (2005).

Whenever I become obsessed with interested in a new actor, I usually end up watching movies that I would never have watched otherwise. That was the case with Flightplan, which I watched solely for Sean Bean. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by just how much I enjoyed the film in general. (Though Sean Bean remains my favorite part. *wink*)

So what is Flightplan about? Jodie Foster plays Kyle, an American aviation engineer who is heading back to the States (from Germany) with her young daughter Julia and the body of her recently deceased husband. While en route to America, Julia disappears. Kyle is understandably frantic—how on earth could a child disappear from a plane that has been searched top to bottom? As Kyle’s fear and paranoia grows, questions arise in the minds of the crew as to whether or not Julia even existed in the first place.

It’s a bit hard to talk about Flightplan in detail because it’s best if you experience it spoiler-free. That’s what I did and I LOVED all the plot twists. What I can comment on, however is the cast. (Also: James Horner composed the soundtrack. So there’s that.)

Jodie Foster is great as a panicked, yet determined woman with a singular mission: find her child. Peter Sarsgaard is Gene, a sky marshal who acts as a liaison between Kyle and the captain. Sarsgaard was great in the role. And then, of course, there is dear Sean Bean as Captain Rich. As I mentioned already, he’s my favorite part of the film. The captain is in a pretty difficult situation, dealing with an distraught passenger who may or may not be delusional. But he does such a good job. Favorite character. ❤

(Do you know how rare it is for Sean Bean to play a good guy AND *spoilers* survive as well? It’s rare. But it’s what happens in Flightplan, so yay!)

To sum it all up: if you enjoy well-made, well-paced thrillers, The Lady Vanishes (1938), and/or Sean Bean, I highly recommend Flightplan!

This review is a belated contribution to 18 Cinema Lane’s Travel Gone Wrong Blogathon, under the ‘Horrifyingly Wrong’ category.

Have you watched Flightplan? Do you enjoy thrillers? Let me know in the comments!


triple feature: three westerns, reviewed.

Recently, I re-watched three excellent westerns: The Tin Star (1957), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), and Hour of the Gun (1967). I loved them all so much that I just had to share my enthusiasm with y’all. So here’s my review for each one!

The Tin Star (1957)

Sheriff turned bounty hunter Morgan Hickman (Henry Fonda) rides into a small town with a dead body in tow. He’s coming to collect the bounty on the dead outlaw from Sheriff Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins), a young and inexperienced lawman. Events conspire to keep Morgan in town and he reluctantly agrees to give Ben a few lessons in how to keep the peace so that Ben actually has a chance of living past thirty.

(A bit of a side note, but I’m still Quite Put Out that Alfred Hitchcock twisted Anthony Perkins’ charming, boyish onscreen persona the way he did. I absolutely love Perkins in both Friendly Persuasion and The Tin Star and I wish he’d made more films like that! But after Psycho, he was typecast. Sigh.)

This movie almost feels custom-made for me. Henry Fonda playing a bitter, lonely bounty hunter with a tragic past who undergoes a lovely character transformation and finds himself part of a family again? Anthony Perkins as a good-natured, earnest young lawman who also gets a great character arc? Old West action scenes and a score by Elmer Bernstein? Yes, please!

The Tin Star focuses on the characters and their relationships with one another, and that’s what I love most about it. Morg, Ben, Nona, Doc McCord, and Kip are all truly likable characters—you root for them and want them to be happy. At least, I do. 😉

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Three men—Howard (Walter Huston), Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart), and Curtin (Tim Holt)—travel to the Sierra Madre in search of gold. They strike it rich pretty quick…but that’s just when their troubles start, thanks in large part to Dobbs’ greed and paranoia. The story spirals downward quickly, giving us a terrifying, yet fascinating look at the effects of gold lust on a man’s soul.

This was one of my dad’s favorite movies—he would often quote Humphrey Bogart’s lines or the infamous ‘badges’ bit. Because of that, I grew up on Treasure of the Sierra Madre and it remains one of my favorite films to this day.

Dobbs is one of the most disgusting, despicable characters ever seen in a movie; Humphrey Bogart did a fantastic job portraying him. XD Walter Huston is, of course, iconic as the old prospector Howard. And although Tim Holt’s Curtin tends to get lost in the shuffle when folks review Treasure, he’s my personal favorite of the trio. However, Curtin is not my favorite character in the film as a whole—that honor goes to Cody (Bruce Bennett), the cool-headed, quick-thinking, and (ultimately) tragic treasure hunter. Cody only gets a small part in the story, but his is a pivotal role nonetheless.

Max Steiner’s score for the film is engrained in my brain, the way other movie soundtracks from my childhood have become a part of me (like Miklós Rózsa’s Ben-Hur and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s The Adventures of Robin Hood). My favorite track is easily ‘Texas Memories‘—so many feels!

In closing out this review, I’d like to say that if you’ve never seen The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and you’re thinking that it sounds like a depressing, pointless film…it does end well, with justice restored and good futures ahead for the remaining characters. A truly great movie.

Hour of the Gun (1967)

In the aftermath of the infamous shoot-out at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp (James Garner) seeks vengeance on the men who killed his brother Morgan. Meanwhile, Doc Holliday (Jason Robards) is determined to keep Wyatt from going down a lawless, hate-filled path.

Oh, man. This movie. I’ve listened to the soundtrack for year, but I only got around to watching the film itself earlier this February. Why did I wait so long? That’s partly a rhetorical question, but also…I’ve never been a fan of James Garner, so a movie starring him wasn’t high on my to-watch list. Well, I’m a fan now! James Garner portrays Wyatt Earp with a quiet, steely anger that is completely at odds with any other role I’ve seen him play. Wyatt’s thirst for vengeance is relentless—you can almost feel the anger radiating from him. But Garner’s portrayal isn’t one-note. Take the scene when Morgan dies. There’s so much emotion and heartache packed into that moment, particularly in Garner’s eyes. (In fact, he does a lot of acting with his eyes throughout the film.)

But Jason Robards as Doc Holliday is also EXCELLENT, becoming (in an intriguing twist) the voice of conscience and reason as Wyatt descends deeper into revenge-seeking madness. Doc gets the best lines too, which I suspect is par for the course when it comes to Wyatt Earp movies. 😉 Everyone else is well-cast, including Robert Ryan as Ike Clanton (Ryan should only ever play villains—I never trust him), a very young Jon Voight as Curly Bill Brocious, and Monte Markham as the wonderful Sherman McMasters.

Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack is what first brought Hour of the Gun to my attention, and I love it to this day. Particularly the main theme. Sooooo, so good.

Returning to Wyatt (because he’s my favorite part of the film): recently, I watched My Darling Clementine (1946) for the first time (which is what led to my revisiting Hour of the Gun). And while I love Henry Fonda more than James Garner (and really enjoyed Fonda’s take on the character), it’s Garner’s vengeful anti-hero that will forever be my favorite Wyatt. I’ll watch Hour of the Gun over and over again just for him. That doesn’t happen often, that I’ll watch a movie multiple times just for one actor’s portrayal of a character. But James Garner’s Wyatt has joined “the happy few”, which includes the likes of Glenn Ford as Ben Wade and Alan Ladd as Shane.

Have you seen any of these movies? Which is your favorite of the three? Let me know in the comments!


book review: MAMMOTH by Brian McBride.

After the death of his father, misfit and aspiring paleontologist, Tommy Rhodes, seeks refuge in the ramshackle lighthouse that stands guard over the city of Mammoth, Washington. Left in disarray by years of bad weather, it’s the perfect place for Tommy to hide from everything that’s gone wrong with his life – and to party with his band of friends, the Jailbirds – the only family he has left.

After a storm uncovers a secret hidden in the walls of the old lighthouse, Tommy unravels a mystery beyond his wildest dreams and the deadly conspiracy that surrounds it – and Tommy’s entire life seems tangled at the heart of it all.

Tommy and the Jailbirds – Jude, Maya, Mars, and newcomer Lydia – are thrust into the middle of a deadly hunt for the truth that will challenge their bond, uncover the secrets that lurk beneath the surface of Mammoth, and test just how far they’ll go to set things right.

Mammoth is one of those stories that I didn’t even know I wanted until I read it—it’s also unlike any other novel I’ve ever read. The vibes of Mammoth remind of Indiana Jones, The Outsiders, all the Enid Blyton adventure books I read as a child, and Mystery Lights of Navajo Mesa (a Last Chance Detectives story). But Mammoth is also its own, unique story. Although there isn’t even a hint of magic in the story, the phrase that keeps popping into my mind when I think of Mammoth is ‘urban fantasy.’ There is a heightened sense of reality about this novel, one that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. Storms rage, the sea churns, and adventure awaits.

At the heart of Mammoth is its cast of characters. Tommy, grappling with the sudden death of his father. Maya, growing up well-to-do, but at odds with her life and her mom. Jude, doing everything he can to protect his little brother and break the generational cycle of violence and hatred. Mars, a sometimes unwilling—yet always loyal—participant in his friends’ adventures. And Lydia, whose heart breaks for the injustices committed by her brother Reid. These characters grabbed me and I was surprised to find myself tearing up over some of them—mainly Tommy and Jude. (Surprised, because I didn’t expect an adventure/treasure hunt novel to evoke such emotion. XD)

There were a couple things I didn’t love about Mammoth: the villains’ motivations and plans didn’t always make total sense to me (and neither did the events that happened a hundred years in the past, specifically why a certain horrific slaughter took place). Part of my confusion was probably because I read Mammoth so quickly, but I do think certain things could have been explained with more clarity. And then, I had a certain expectation for the last few chapters of the book that didn’t come true. (Basically, there was an antagonistic character that I expected/hoped would turn out to be an ally after all—and it didn’t happen.) That’s a purely personal thing, of course, and most of you guys probably won’t even think of that character the way I did. 😉

Mammoth sucks you into a world of treasure hunts, class divides, salt seas, brave characters, and secrets—so many secrets. Highly recommended to those looking for a gripping, high-stakes adventure novel.

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.


five reasons you should read the Knights of Tin and Lead trilogy (+ ‘In the Glorious Fields’ review!)

Today’s the day! In the Glorious Fields, the third and final book in the Knights of Tin and Lead trilogy, is now out in the world. I was privileged to receive an e-ARC a few days ago, and I’ll be reviewing it a little later on in today’s blog post. But since the review probably won’t mean as much if you haven’t read the first two books, I thought I’d start out by convincing you to read the whole Knights of Tin and Lead trilogy. I hope I can! ❤

Reason #1—The KOTAL trilogy retells King Arthur legends in an Old West setting.

How cool is that? My limited knowledge of King Arthur’s story stems from the Great Illustrated Classics abridgement of Howard Pyle’s take on the legends, so I caught very little of the retelling aspect of the KOTAL trilogy. (You can definitely enjoy it with no knowledge of the original legends!) But the vibes, people. Chivalry, courage, and the tiniest bits of magic—all wrapped up in a vivid Old West setting. I’d gladly read a dozen books written in this story world.

Reason #2—The characters are lovable, and there’s someone for everyone.

The Knights of Tin and Lead trilogy has a large cast that only expands as the series progresses. The final book has something like ten different POV characters (with several more that don’t get POV chapters). If that thought is intimidating, don’t worry—it’s actually quite easy to keep everyone straight, once you get into the story. (There are also helpful character lists at the beginning of each book.)

And like I said above, there is a character for everyone: upright heroes, antiheroes, complex villains, three sets of awesome siblings, married couples, younger kids, a wise, old mentor…and more! I love them all. (Or nearly all.)

Reason #3—The writing itself is beautiful.

Emily Hayse has a gift for writing beautiful, evocative prose that lands you squarely in the world of the Western Territory. (Or any other story world she happens to write about.) I may or may not have felt a bit of writer’s envy while reading the trilogy. 😉

I’m inches from death, and yet all I see is the poetry of it: the dust from the spent bullets rising in the golden light of morning; the smoke from the guns hanging on the air over the rocks like mist; the green, beautiful land cut down the center with a golden stream.

The Beautiful Ones

Reason #4—The stories are truly epic in scope.

With each book, the scope of the world and the series itself expands. The characters travel hundreds of miles, going all over the Western Territory in their attempts to stop the curse on the land from taking them all. Months, then years pass. Relationships that will last until death (and beyond) are forged. Friendships are shattered, then built back up (or not). Our heroes deal with the curse on the land, the monsters within it (human and otherwise), and their own flaws and failings and fears—all against the backdrop of towering mountains, soaring blue skies, and dusty trails.

Reason #5—The entire trilogy is out now.

It was torture waiting for In the Glorious Fields, I tell you. I don’t think I’ve ever anticipated a book more eagerly—and I’m not just saying that! (The fact that I read my e-ARC in four hours flat kinda speaks for itself.) But now, you can have the entire series on your Kindle in seconds. No more waiting—just binge-reading. 😉

And with all that said, here is my review of In the Glorious Fields!

Series finales can be tricky to pull off in a stakes-raising, reader-satisfying way. But Emily Hayse has done just that with In the Glorious Fields, the final volume of the Knights of Tin and Lead trilogy. Even with the large cast of characters, so many different POVs to juggle, and a dense plot that covers much ground and many months, In the Glorious Fields moves along at a brisk pace (the short, snappy chapters really help). Every beloved character gets a chance to shine and show what they’re made of—reminding us why we fell in love with them in the first place.

Because this trilogy is a retelling of the King Arthur legends, In the Glorious Fields does contain much tragedy, death, and darkness. At one point in the story, I began thinking “If this [specific, spoilery situation] isn’t resolved, the previous two books will be ruined for me as well.” But I shouldn’t have feared. In the Glorious Fields ends well—with hope, goodness triumphing over evil, and new beginnings. I truly couldn’t have asked for more.

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Have you read any of the books in the Knights of Tin and Lead trilogy? If you have, I’d love to fangirl about the stories and characters with you. If you haven’t, you can find the entire series for sale on Amazon—and add it to your shelves on Goodreads.


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