Thursday, December 31, 2020

Book Review: Joy to the World: A Regency Christmas Collection (2020)

Joy to the World: A Regency Christmas Collection

Joy to the World: A Regency Christmas Collection by Carolyn Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Go to my Christmas Fiction page to read more of my reviews!

Heaven and Nature Sing by Carolyn Miller

This novella is my least favorite of the collection. I've read about Regency house parties before and in ways that made them unique from each other. This one is merely the stereotypical house party. Throw into the mix two people suffering from the "he/she loves me, loves me not" syndrome, and I just completely lost interest. I can't stand that much miscommunication between romantic leads. It was almost like the stereotype of a stereotype. I would give this one 2 stars. They should have hired Camille Elliot to contribute instead.

Far as the Curse is Found by Amanda Barratt

Brilliant. This novella is brilliant, especially for fans of either The Phantom of the Opera, The Man in the Iron Mask or Beauty and the Beast. It's radiant from start to finish, the story of two inexorably broken souls who are yearning for wholeness. I found the faith elements in this one to be very genuine, especially when the hero, Dwight, surrenders all of his anguish and fear to the Lord. This one I rate 5 stars, hands down, and I intend to read it faithfully every year.

Wonders of His Love by Erica Vetsch

We have another winner! I haven't read many books about artists so it was interesting having the hero be an artist struggling to make his place in the world. Ms. Vetsch's imagery is strong. I could see the fabric, smell the pain, see the colors the way that Hamish did. Overbearing parents are a reality of any era, so I completely bought that Cilla would be overwhelmed by her deceased husband's mother. My one niggling complaint is that, in some ways, it felt more Edwardian than Regency, but since I also love the Edwardian era, it didn't really matter in the long run. This one is 4 stars.

12 Delights of Christmas Tag

Better late than never, I suppose! Although it's still the actual Twelve Days of Christmas since that ends at Epiphany. So I guess this still counts. Many thanks to Heidi at Along the Brandywine for tagging me; so thoughtful of you!

I hope everyone has enjoyed a Merry Christmas. This year's holiday was a bit of a strain which is why I disappeared for almost an entire month. But I wanted to get one last post in before we ring out the old and ring in the new. Thankfully, this is the first time that my sister and I actually did Advent every day, so that was an enormous blessing in our lives. It helped keep some of the frantic worries at bay.

 1) A favorite Christmas tradition?

My family goes to the WWI memorial in a local cemetery on Christmas Eve to commemorate the Christmas Truce during the Great War. We play Silent Night in German on m phone (the version from the film Joyeux Noël), light candles, say a prayer, and leave a bouquet of flowers. It only takes us a couple of minutes, but it's important to remember those times when peace won out over war.

2) Say it snowed at your domicile, would you prefer to go out or stay curled up inside?

I'm more of the stay inside and read kinda girl. Although I do go ice fishing, so I guess it's a 50/50 chance.

3) Tea or hot chocolate?

Both! Although tea is healthier for me, so that's usually what I choose.

Our Christmas tree

4) Favorite Christmas colors (i.e. white, blue, silver, red and green etc)?

I've preferred the pastels of pinks and greens and silvers in the past, but this year I've enjoyed having a very Victorian Christmas tree in reds and greens and golds. I do have a shelf in my room with a Narnia flair so it's all white with some Jim Shore figurines from his White Woodland collection and I love it.

Date Nut Balls (Christmas cookies) shared for the 12 Delights of Christmas tag
Date Nut Balls

5) Favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

Probably a recipe we make called Date Nut Balls. Loads of chocolate, dates, peanut butter, and walnuts. They're delicious.

6) How soon before Christmas do you decorate (more specifically, when does your tree go up)?

It's usually the day after Thanksgiving. My sister and I helped our parents decorate too so I don't remember which day, in particular, we decorated our apartment. Probably the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

My Narnia themed white shelf

7) Three favorite traditional Christmas carols?

Silent Night (sung in German), Once in Royal David's City (as sung by Michael Crawford), O Holy Night

8) A favorite Christmas song (i.e. something you might hear on the radio)?

Santa Claus is Coming to Town as sung by the Jackson Five

9) A favorite Christmas movie?

Mmm, probably The Apartment from 1960 with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. I know, I know, it's not really a Christmas movie, but I always watch it at Christmas. Otherwise, I love The Polar Express and both of the Home Alone movies.

10) Have you ever gone caroling?

Not so far, no.

11) Ice skating, sledding, skiing, or snowboarding?

Probably sledding since I loved that as a child. I haven't gone in years though, so sad.

12) Favorite Christmas feast dish?

The prime rib. So delectable!


Here are the questions if you choose to answer them on your own blog! Do let me know if you answer them and let Heidi know as well!

1) A favorite Christmas tradition?

2) Say it snowed at your domicile, would you prefer to go out or stay curled up inside?

3) Tea or hot chocolate?

4) Favorite Christmas colors (i.e. white, blue, silver, gold, red and green etc)?

5) Favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

6) How soon before Christmas do you decorate (more specifically, when does your tree go up)?

7) Three favorite traditional Christmas carols?

8) A favorite Christmas song (i.e. something you might hear on the radio)?

9) A favorite Christmas movie?

10) Have you ever gone caroling?

11) Ice skating, sledding, skiing, or snow boarding?

12) Favorite Christmas feast dish?


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

A Christmas Blessing

book cover of When God Calls the Heart at Christmas by Brian Bird and Michelle Cox with a Christmas tree in the backgroundDear Readers, you know what kind of year this has been in the United States. It's been rife with emotional ups and downs, with health challenges, with fear, and with courage, with rebellion and obedience, and with social and political unrest.

My heart and spirit grow weary more easily now, especially as Christmas draws closer. So many plans and traditions have been canceled. There are no craft fairs this year, no Lutefisk dinner, no Christmas tea with the ladies at Sons of Norway, and no opportunity to attend the German Christmas Market or the St. Lucia Day celebration in Denver.

When I'm troubled, I tend to clean. Yesterday I rummaged through my nightstand, stacking papers in the shred or throw-away piles, and I found a book that I suspect is going to be a blessing during this December. A very dear friend of mine gave me a copy of When God Calls the Heart at Christmas by Brian Bird & Michelle Cox, a series of devotions from Hope Valley, based on the Hallmark television program When Calls the Heart.

I actually stopped watching this show maybe 2 or 3 years ago for various reasons, but my friend gifted me this little book in Christmas 2018 and I just never got around to reading it, the fate of many books, unfortunately. That is until my cleaning frenzy unearthed it from the depths of my nightstand.

When God Calls the Heart at Christmas has devotions for the 25 days of December leading up to and including Christmas. What are the chances that I would find this book on December 1st? That's what I like to call a Godthing. Instead of simply putting it aside because I don't watch the show anymore, I decided to sit down and spend time reading the devotion for December 1st.

There's nothing quite like being whacked over the head with profound truths that are relevant to how I'm feeling emotionally and to what the world is currently going through with Covid. It was called What is Your Unexpected Storm? and reminded me that that troubled times "can prove difficult, but they can also be blessings in disguise because they cause us to lean on God in ways we wouldn't otherwise." 

Even the prayer was pinpoint accurate, beginning with Dear Lord, I don't like disappointments and difficult circumstances - especially at Christmas. Even though my heart is heavy, remind me of why we celebrate this time each year, of the joy of your amazing gift of ultimate love and redemption for the world.

This little book is truly blessing my heart. I even dragged out my journal so that I could journal out my responses to the two questions asked in each daily devotion. 

I guess what I'm saying is that even though Christmas looks different this year, God is still faithful. And he still works in providential ways. Like my finding this book and the very first devotion being so timely. That's providence.

Maybe I'll even watch When Call the Heart again after being so deeply touched by this little devotional. Thanks, Brian and Michelle, so very much, for this Christmas blessing.

Merry Christmas,

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Classics Club #25 Spin Results

The spin # is 14 and I have until January 30, 2021 to read Phantastes: A Faerie Romance by George MacDonald.

I've never read this one before so I'm quite excited about it!

Happy reading to all the participants!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Book Review: The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White (2019)

An honest review of Christian author Roseanna M. White's book The Number of Love
The Number of Love

Series: The Codebreakers #1

Author: Roseanna M. White

Year: 2019

My Rating 

Official Synopsis

Three years into the Great War, England's greatest asset is their intelligence network--field agents risking their lives to gather information, and codebreakers able to crack every German telegram. Margot De Wilde thrives in the environment of the secretive Room 40, where she spends her days deciphering intercepted messages. But when her world is turned upside down by an unexpected loss, for the first time in her life numbers aren't enough.

Drake Elton returns wounded from the field, followed by an enemy who just won't give up. He's smitten quickly by the intelligent Margot, but how can he convince a girl who lives entirely in her mind that sometimes life's answers lie in the heart?

Amid biological warfare, encrypted letters, and a German spy who wants to destroy not just them but others they love, Margot and Drake will have to work together to save themselves from the very secrets that brought them together.

Go to my Historic Fiction page to find all my Christian historic fiction reviews!

Unfortunately, The Number of Love failed. I loved the first half and then spent the last half in deep-rooted confusion and frustration. The heroine, Margot, is presented as an asexual character who values academia but ends up falling in love. I know an asexual woman and that's not how it works so that aspect of the character troubled me. She should have either been designed differently or allowed to not fall in love. It's not that I disliked the hero, Drake. I do like him, quite a lot, but their romance felt awkward the moment it began heating up and I just could not force myself to believe it. There was no suspension of disbelief whatsoever.

There is also a serious character age issue. Apparently, Margot is seventeen, but she has the personality of a much older woman, at least in her mid-twenties. Having her be a teenager did not work, not even for a WWI era novel.

And finally, the use of Catholic characters but accidental (or intentional) misrepresentation of the rosary frustrated not only me but also a Catholic Goodreads friend of mine who was deeply upset.

On a positive note, the romance between Drake's sister Dot and Red is darling. I'm so proud of Dot for forcing herself outside her comfort zone. That can be a challenge for people who suffer from anxiety. Red is a very sweet and kind war veteran missing one of his feet. I appreciated his introduction and then how he became a secondary character when I wasn't actually expecting that of him. He and Dot are an ideal match, and I wish the book had focused on their relationship instead of on Drake and Margot.

The faith elements are also strong. Margot undergoes a bit of a crisis of faith due to the death of a loved one. God has always spoken to her in patterns of numbers, and she finds His voice has gone silent. So she has to work through her own rage and resentment before she's able to reconnect with God. Drake also spends quite a bit of time praying, although I did experience more of a disconnect with his faith when his romantic interest in Margot triggered and the topic of his prayers began changing.

In the end, I rated the book two stars, one for the character of Margot who I love when she's not implausibly in love, and one for the writing style, which continues to be exemplary.

I may or may not read book two in The Codebreaker series since I disliked Philip Camden in this book and he will be the male lead in the sequel.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Book Review: The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill (2018)

The Lost Girl of Astor Street

Author: Stephanie Morrill

Genre: Christian Historic

Year: 2018

My Rating    

Official Synopsis 

Lydia has vanished.

Lydia, who’s never broken any rules, except falling in love with the wrong boy. Lydia, who’s been Piper’s best friend since they were children. Lydia, who never even said good-bye.

Convinced the police are looking in all the wrong places, eighteen-year-old Piper Sail begins her own investigation in an attempt to solve the mystery of Lydia’s disappearance. With the reluctant help of a handsome young detective, Piper goes searching for answers in the dark underbelly of 1924 Chicago, determined to find Lydia at any cost.

When Piper discovers those answers might stem from the corruption strangling the city—and quite possibly lead back to the doors of her affluent neighborhood—she must decide how deep she’s willing to dig, how much she should reveal, and if she’s willing to risk her life of privilege for the sake of the truth.

Go to my Historic Fiction page to find all my Christian historic fiction reviews!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I'm a bit of an odd duck because I love culturally diverse romantic relationships so I love that our heroine falls in love with an Italian police officer. It just made my heart happy and I really felt their attraction for one another.

Having the setting be the middle of the roaring Twenties and in Chicago no less was brilliant. It just has this intense mysterious vibe while still maintaining a bit of that historical feel that I love and appreciate from my favorite authors. Piper is a strong female character, and she does make some fairly stupid mistakes, but I actually liked her, and I usually dislike the absurdly foolish, headstrong heroines so prevalent in Christian fiction nowadays. She might have been foolish, but she was also observant and made some pretty snappy choices at crucial moments.

This book also SURPRISED me, which almost never happens. There are two things that surprised me. First, that Piper fell for the Italian cop because that never happens. In most Christian fiction she would have fallen for the boy she grew up with, but nope, so that was refreshing. And second, well, I can't say for fear of serious spoilers.

On the whole, this is a pretty terrific book that I'm so glad I read. I know I'll be buying and I'm absurdly excited about her next novel, Within These Lines, which tells the story of an Italian/American girl falling in love with the son of Japanese immigrants to America during WWII. I hope I haven't set my expectations too high for this one, but I expect to LOVE it, hands' down, no holds' barred.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Afternoon Tea in Epcot's United Kingdom (Disney World)


Afternoon Tea in Epcot's United Kingdom

In January 2019, my sister and I celebrated our milestone and half-milestone birthdays at Disney World with a very dear friend of ours.

Our second day in Orlando we spent in Epcot, which is AMAZING btw.

One of the buildings in Epcot UK with a winding side path lined with hedges and flowers

Before we really even got started in the park, we headed to the United Kingdom located to the right almost as soon as you enter the World Showcase.

a replica of the Hampton Court Palace in Epcot UK

There is a replica of the Hampton Court Palace, parts of it anyway. That was super fun.

One of the side streets located in Epcot's UK

Beautiful little side-streets and charming, well-manicured greenery lined all of the UK, really making me feel like we were in England. We were there early before anything really opened up, but we had reservations for an experience.

The Rose & Crown Pub located in Epcot's UK

So once we took some photos and our reservation time was close, we headed over to join a queue of people at the Rose & Crown Pub where we had signed up for a "tea experience."

The above photo isn't mine but was borrowed from the Disney website. I missed taking one of the Rose & Crown somehow. Oops!

Twining tea packets during the tea experience at the Rose & Crown Pub in Epcot UK

We were part of a grouping of about 35 people, all crammed into one section of the Rose & Crown. A charming lady from York was our hostess. We were provided with several clear glasses in which to brew our tea (and she instructed us exactly how long to brew each type of tea). We drank five types of Twinings tea since they're partnered with Disney for this tea experience, 4 hot, and then one iced.

The hot teas were English Breakfast, Spiced Apple Chai, Summer Berry Green Tea, and Budding Meadow Camomile. 

The iced tea was Lady Grey, one of my favorites, but I had never had it iced before and just loved it.

Of the hot teas, the favorite with our entire party was the Summer Berry Green Tea, a tea that is impossible to find within the United States apart from shopping in Epcot. We each purchased a box of the tea, and we're now almost out so we'll have to order some new boxes from Twinings' website and have them shipped from across the pond.

Tea sandwiches during the Rose & Crown tea experience at Epcot UK

We were provided with delectable sandwiches that I wish could fully remember the types of fillings, but it's been too long at this point.

Tea sandwiches during the Rose & Crown tea experience at Epcot UK

We did have a cheese sandwich, it might be the one with the rye bread. Obviously, there's a cucumber sandwich, and then an egg salad, but I can't remember the fourth sandwich. They were all delicious.

Scones, clotted cream, and jam at the Rose & Crown Pub tea experience in Epcot UK

Last, but not least, we were served these gorgeous scones with clotted cream and jam while we drank our iced Lady Grey tea. Everything was divine. We each had one plain scone and one scone with currants, both were perfection.

Mary Poppins tea spoons gifted during the Rose & Crown Pub tea experience in Epcot UK

Finally, we each received a Mary Poppins tea spoon as a gift.

The entire experience cost $35 each if memory serves me and was worth the expense because how many times are you going to be able to sit down in Epcot and enjoy afternoon tea? We wouldn't do it every time, but this was special due to the birthdays.

Labeling it an "experience" is accurate because our hostess from York gave us a bit of history about tea, instructions on how long to brew the individual types of tea, and various tips along the way. It was a very interesting and educational hour spent and we all three loved it.

One reminder is that this experience is really not for small children (we had a few hyper munchkins in attendance). Wait until the kiddos are at least twelve before signing them up.

Of course, right now this experience is not available due to COVID, but I thought it would be fun to share and possibly provide an idea for folks planning a trip to Disney World when all the crazy is over. ♥

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Radio Theater: Lionel Barrymore and Orson Welles in A Christmas Carol (12/24/1939)

I wrote this blog post to participate in The Sixth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. 

A Christmas Carol

Starring: Lionel Barrymore, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Frank Readick, Erskine Sanford, George Coulouris, Ray Collins, Georgia Backus, Bea Benaderet, and Edgar Barrier

Aired: December 24, 1939

My Rating★★★

In all the world, there is no story I love better than A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I collect different and unique print copies of the book, have watched countless versions so long as they preserve the spiritual and social message of Dickens, and have tracked down many different radio dramas and narrations performed throughout the years.

But my favorite radio version, by far, aired on December 24th, 1939, and stars the superlative Lionel Barrymore in the role of Scrooge, with Orson Welles as the narrator.

Go to my Classic Hollywood page to find all my Classic Hollywood reviews!

There is a radiant nostalgia in this particular performance. Orson Welles has always been and will always be my favorite radio theater performer, and so I know I have a lot to thank him for in regards to this version. But there is nothing like Lionel Barrymore's performance. Orson actually played Scrooge in the 1938 production of A Christmas Carol, and I like that version as well, but just as I feel that Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson were meant to perform as Holmes and Watson in their radio series, so too was Lionel Barrymore born to play Scrooge.

Lionel's performance helps the listener see the events as they happen. He sells the idea of ghostly apparitions and heartfelt grief over memories and choices made in the past, and his fear of the future. Two years ago, my father and I sat in front of the fireplace in the living room and just listened to this play, completely ensconced in the world of Charles Dickens. That takes not only a magnificent author like Charles Dickens, and a magnificent narrator like Orson Welles, but a superior performer like Lionel Barrymore for Scrooge.

The briefest segment is with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, chopping out the scenes with Scrooge's business partners and the characters who stole from "Scrooge's" corpse. It's an unfortunate omission, but they couldn't fit everything into the production and squeeze it into an hour. Overall, the story itself preserves all of the spiritual and supernatural elements that make up A Christmas Carol. It's a stunning representation of redemption and proof that a person can change and be someone else, a fact I have always and will always believe, but is important to be reminded of sometimes in literature.

A Christmas Carol aired over the American airwaves as a Christmas gift from the Campbell Soup Company to their buyers and listeners eighty-one years ago. And we have the blessed opportunity to listen to it today. What a miraculous job of preservation, and I extend a heartfelt thanks to Campbell Soup for this beautiful production of A Christmas Carol.

I wrote this blog post to participate in The Sixth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Please click the link or the photo below to read the posts by the other participants.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Classics Club Spin #25

This will be the first Classics Club spin I've done, so here we go. The spin number will be announced on 11/22 and then I have until January 30, 2021, to read whichever book correlates to the spin number of the club. These books are already listed on my Classics Club page as a part of my reading goals.

#theclassicclub #ccspin

  1. Alcott, Louisa May: Little Women (1868)
  2. Bronte, Charlotte: Villette (1853)
  3. Christie: Agatha: And Then There Were None (1939)
  4. Conrad, Joseph: Heart of Darkness (1899)
  5. Dickens, Charles: Bleak House (1853)
  6. Du Maurier, Daphne: My Cousin Rachel (1951)
  7. Dumas, Alexandre: The Count of Monte Cristo (1844)
  8. Eliot, George: Middlemarch (1871)
  9. Fitzgerald, F. Scott: Tender is the Night (1934)
  10. Forester: C. S.: The African Queen (1935)
  11. Graham, Winston: Ross Poldark (1945) 
  12. Jackson, Shirley: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
  13. Lewis, C.S.: Surprised by Joy (1955)
  14. MacDonald, George: Phantastes: A Faerie Romance (1905)
  15. Melville, Herman: Moby Dick (1851)
  16. Scott, Sir Walter: Ivanhoe (1892)
  17. Thompson, Flora: Lark Rise (1939)
  18. Trollope, Anthony: Doctor Thorne (1858)
  19. West, Nathanael: Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) 
  20. Woolf, Virginia: A Room of One’s Own (1929) 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Movie Review: "Christmas Holiday" (1944) starring Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly

Christmas Holiday begins with Charles Mason (Dean Harens) just about ready to begin his holiday leave from the army. He's heading home to San Francisco to be married, but before he sets foot on the plane, he receives a telegram from his girl, telling him that she's terribly sorry but she's married someone else.

Despite the shock, Charles keeps his plans, boards the plane, and when foul weather arises, finds himself landed unexpectedly in New Orleans. A man he meets randomly invites him out to a nightclub where he meets singer Jackie Lamont (Deanna Durbin). Over the course of their brief encounter of a few days, Jackie tells him her story, that of a woman who fell in love with and married a liar and a prolific gambler, Robert Mannette (Gene Kelly). And, as it turns out, a murderer. When Robert is caught red-handed (almost literally), he is sentenced to prison. His mother, Mrs. Mannette (Gale Sondergaard), is deeply devoted to her son, and his arrest crushes the hopes she had that Robert might turn out all right since he married such a sweet, wholesome girl as Abigail (Jackie's real name). Instead, her fury turns against Abigail and before she can even blink, 7 years have passed and Abigail is now Jackie Lamont, a nightclub singer and about as far from that wholesome girl as she could get.

Go to my Classic Hollywood page to find all my Classic Hollywood reviews!

Deanna Durbin and Dean Harens

I see where Universal Pictures went wrong with this one. If you cast Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly in a movie called Christmas Holiday, people will think that it's actually a fun, lively, breezy Christmas musical. You might just as well say that The Godfather is a Christmas movie.

To be fair, the novel's author W. Somerset Maugham entitled his 1939 novel the same title. But still, there were bound to be problems, first with the title, and then with the cast. It would have served them well to rename the film, giving Maugham the right to choose the name naturally, but to pick something else, anything else.

That said, for a 1940s noir film, it's not bad. There are a lot of dark, broody, dusky scenes, helped along by the black and white filming. I like how they added a bit of a New Orleans flavor to the set, especially the many levels of balconies so prevalent in that city.

Gene Kelly and Gale Sondergaard

You can tell where Gene Kelly is headed. He had only been in Hollywood for 2 years at this point, which I'm sure is why they cast the newcomer in such a different role than we usually associate with him. His character is charming, but he's a liar. He has the typical Kelly smile, but he's also somewhat terrifying. Let's just say it's not his normal fare which makes Christmas Holiday all the more interesting because it isn't how we're used to seeing Gene Kelly.

Deanna Durbin

As for Deanna Durbin, she's lovely, but she's dark. I didn't know she could play such a disillusioned character. One of my favorite scenes with her is actually when she begs Charles to take her to Christmas church services, where she sits weeping in one of the pews, grieving over what she has become and over what has been taken from her. She possessed genuine star quality in this film, something I didn't anticipate. She actually outshone Kelly, which is a hard thing to do, imo.

Dean Harens and Deanna Durbin

Then we have Dean Harens, an actor who was only cast in a couple of motion pictures and then moved over to television. He was a delight, handsome, good-natured, and sweet. I liked him immensely and I'm so terribly disappointed that he isn't in more movies.

Gale Sondergaard

Gale Sondergaard as Manette's mother was a brilliant casting choice. She's always brilliant, but I appreciated her being not a straight-up villainess like we sometimes see. Here she's simply a mother who wants her son to be a better man.

Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly

Did I love this movie? No, not really. I don't regret watching it, but sometimes the noir is just too broody if you know what I mean? A least the Hays Code kept Abigail from being a prostitute in a brothel, which is how the novel depicts her. So that's definitely on the plus side for me. It was more an interesting view of two actors whose usual roles are VERY different than their roles in Christmas Holiday. The ending is a bit of a humdinger so keep that in mind.

Deanna Durbin proclaimed this film to be her favorite role that she ever performed and I can see why. She does sing and here's where she sings Irving Berlin's Always, that beautiful song that most people probably associate with her. It's the theme song for Abigail and Robert's love and she sings it more than once, and it's just beautiful.

Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly

If you want to try something different then Christmas Holiday might be right up your alley. Just remember, this is not an actual Christmas movie. It just happens to take place over the Christmas season, that's all. It could have been set at any time in the year and have been exactly the same story. This is film noir, plain and simple, and does a pretty decent job of depicting the genre.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Claude Rains, Ann Todd, and Trevor Howard in "The Passionate Friends" (1949)

I wrote this post for The Third Annual Claude Rains Blogathon hosted by PEPS.

Today is the first time I watched The Passionate Friends. I've never been a huge Claude Rains fan. He's been in the background of some of my favorite movies, but I never really paid him that much attention. I've done him an injustice all these years by not trying harder to find films featuring him in a more substantial role, and I owe him an apology.

Go to my Classic Hollywood page to find all my Classic Hollywood reviews!

The Passionate Friends involves a complex array of emotions that always come back to the same theme: fidelity or adultery. Happiness or sadness is not always something we can control, but a lot of the time, contentment is well within our control. It's something we either choose or don't choose.

Mary (Todd) is a very contented woman. Her compassionate husband, Howard (Rains) takes excellent care of her and gives her as much attention as he can for being such a busy man with his investments and his work. She likes her husband and he likes her, and if there isn't an enormous amount of passion, well, it is what Mary signed on for when she married Howard.

It's only when Steven (Howard), an old flame of hers, shows up that she's willing to risk it all. All of her contentment flies right out the window as soon as he walks in the door. Whether it's in 1939 when she embarked on her first affair with him or nearly 10 years later when they meet by chance while vacationing in the Alps (on the French side), Mary loses all sense of reason the moment she sees Steven.
Claude Rains and Ann Todd The Passionate Friends
Claude Rains and Ann Todd

This movie saddened me more than I can say, and I'm glad that it was made during the Hays Code since during that era infidelity if shown, had to have negative consequences. Which it always does, anyway, whether people realize it or not. Infidelity is going to hurt someone, deeply, be it children, relations, or one or the other of the spouses, particularly if both individuals are married, then there are two families who are being harmed.

Mary is a woman who likes to think of herself in a certain way. She's the narrator, and because she only sees things through her own lens, she's an unreliable narrator. There appears to be very little reason for her to love Steven over Howard. She appreciates Howard's steadiness, his support, and his affection for her, to say nothing of the wealth he provides. They're very well off. But Steven, well, he's the adventurous, romantic type who reads her poetry, dances with her, and whispers sweet nothings in her ear. She's in love with the idea of being in love, but not to the degree that she truly wants to sacrifice all of her comforts. She's a deeply selfish woman who only truly realizes her selfishness when she sees firsthand the pain she's causing Steven and his family.

Ann Todd and Trevor Howard in The Passionate Friends
Ann Todd and Trevor Howard
When Steven and Mary accidentally meet up ten years later, they go for a picnic in the Alps, have a couple of conversations, and that's it. Steven's happy with his wife and his children and as soon as he parts from his brief reunion with Mary, well, his thoughts are back with his family where they belong. But Mary cannot stand the idea of his happiness being something apart from her. She even imagines him telling her that he never got married because how could he marry anyone other than her. She deludes her so completely into thinking that Steven wants to be with her, that the harm done to Steven and his family is almost irreversible. Thank goodness I said almost because, naturally, there cannot be such a terribly tragic end.

Poor, dear Howard, Mary's husband. A lovely, quiet sort of man with very little visible passion, but at the end, after his first truly infuriated rant at his wife, Howard confesses his love for her. Because somewhere along the way, he truly fell in love with Mary, and he wants to keep her, warts, pains and all. 
Ann Todd and Trevor Howard in The Passionate Friends
Ann Todd and Trevor Howard

The ending had me holding my breath. I honestly wasn't sure what would happen. I won't go into details, but for me, it was highly satisfactory and showed the reality of forgiveness and mercy that can still exist in the world. People say things in anger and they're very true things, but it doesn't mean you can't find your way back from them. The relationship between Mary and Howard is actually a very beautiful thing.

Claude Rains is marvelous in The Passionate Friends. He doesn't have as many scenes as Ann Todd or Trevor Howard, but when he is on the screen, he's a scene-stealer. I appreciated his steady, smooth, professional approach, which made his rage near the end that much more terrifying. I've never seen him as a frightening sort of person, but he managed it there. I'm delighted to say that Claude Rains deeply impressed me and because I watched this film, I will seek out more of his movies.

Claude Rains and Ann Todd The Passionate Friends
Claude Rains and Ann Todd
Other reviewers have mentioned that Ann Todd felt distant in her role as Mary, that they could never fully connect with her, and I agree with them. But I think that's the point. Mary's fooled herself about herself so completely that the audience has no idea who she is. There is no genuine authenticity left in the woman, except perhaps at the very end, but even the ending is selfish on her part, though I'm sure she thinks herself selfless.

Then there's Trevor Howard. My goodness. I've only ever seen him in films from the 1960s so I could have never imagined him this young. I spent half the film disliking Steven, but at the same time, loving Trevor Howard's performance. It was a complicated viewing, to be sure. His character redeemed himself in my eyes because at their 10-year reunion, Steven would not cheat on his wife. And I appreciated seeing Trevor Howard play the character with fidelity at that point. It was refreshing after all of their shenanigans earlier in the film.

Overall, The Passionate Friends is thought-provoking and an overwhelmingly intimate look into the mind of Mary. I appreciate that they didn't take the story lightly or try to pretend that adultery is just a lark and harms nobody. I was surprised to learn that this was one of H. G. Wells' stories, but since I'm not keen on Wells, there's not much chance I would have ever read the story. I wonder if it's accurate. Anyway, David Lean as director delivered a stunning and mindful story that is brilliantly cast and I'm glad I took the time to watch it.

Remember, I wrote this post for The Third Annual Claude Rains Blogathon hosted by PEPS. When you get a chance, hop on over and read the other participants' posts.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Gene Kelly and Judy Garland shine in "The Pirate" (1948)

I wrote this article for With Glamour and Panache: A Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly Musicals Blogathon hosted by Heidi at Along the Brandywine

Gene Kelly was one of my very first introductions to Classic Hollywood when I was a teen. I tried to get my hands on as many of his films as I possibly could, and probably watched at least 10 of his movies the first year I "found" him. Thank you, public library! 

I remember disliking his first pairing with Judy Garland, For Me and My Gal, and so I was reluctant to try The Pirate, but I am SO GLAD I DID. This has literally been one of my favorite Gene Kelly movies for at least two decades, although I do have a confession to make, which I'll get to later.

Go to my Classic Hollywood page to find all my Classic Hollywood reviews!

First, on to the story!

In the heart of the Spanish Main, young and sheltered Manuela (Judy Garland) dreams of adventure and romance. The pirate, Mack the Black Mococo, the scourge of the sea, is her ideal man, and she daydreams of him swooping down on her like a chickenhawk and carrying her away. Instead, she finds herself engaged to be married to the newly elected mayor Don Pedro Vargas (Walter Slezak) of their small town, a man at least twice her age and, if we may confess it, a bit on the soft and chubby side. An obedient girl, she acquiesces to the wishes of her Aunt Inez (Gladys Cooper) and agrees to the match. Not that she had much choice, but still, it's the thought that counts.

Manuela's single request now is that she be allowed to travel with her aunt to Port Sebastian to fetch her trousseau. Her desperation to see the ocean moves her aunt, and Inez agrees. After all, Inez will be with her, so what could possibly happen?

Apparently, lots and lots of things can happen!

Because at almost the exact same moment that Manuela and Inez pull into Port Sebastian so too arrives a troupe of performers, headed by the flamboyant and flirtatious Serafin (Gene Kelly, as if anyone else could play this role!). A ladies' man to the core, Serafin calls all the girls he meets niña, that is, until he bumps into Manuela. He falls for her in an instant (or as Michael Crawford says in Hello, Dolly!, "it only took a moment"). For her, well, it takes a bit longer because all she sees is a rake accosting her while she's simply standing by the railing admiring the sea.

That night, Manuela sneaks out to watch Serafin and his troupe perform. He spots her in the audience and brings out his mesmerizing mirror with he proceeds to hypnotize her. He thinks to get her to confess to her love for him (ummm, remember, they literally just met a few hours before so that's pretty ambitious of him). Instead, Manuela confesses her undying love for the pirate, Mack the Black Mococo, all while performing a sensual and intense dance number, of which she remembers nothing when she wakes up in Serafin's arms to him kissing her (snapping his fingers didn't work).

But an idea has been planted in Serafin's mind. Manuela refuses to love him as himself, but maybe, just maybe he can pull of the performance of a lifetime as Mack the Black Mococo. After all, she doesn't remember that she confessed her love for the pirate, and he's willing to try anything to win her. Can it work!?

This is a crazy movie, start to finish, no questions asked.

Judy Garland's costumes are stunning, absolutely marvelous and so vibrantly colorful. It would not have had the same effect in black and white. The Pirate absolutely REQUIRED technicolor. Gene Kelly never looked so suave and debonair. I usually don't go for the mustached man, but it so seriously worked for him in this film. He successfully channeled a bit of Tyronne Power and Douglas Fairbanks.

The music is upbeat and peppy thanks to the skills of Cole Porter, one of my favorite composers of Classic Hollywood. 

Now, on to my confession. Despite The Pirate being a musical, and my loving Cole Porter, the musical numbers are NOT my favorite thing because they just didn't FIT.

The musical numbers are a bit gaudy and ostentatious, if I'm to be honest, which sometimes works, but didn't quite do it for me here. Original audiences must have felt the same because The Pirate lost money at the box office. Gene Kelly's song Niña when he first arrives in Port Sebastian is fun, and matches the character, and it lets Kelly's dancing really shine. Unfortunately, the pirate ballet is a bit of a mess, an imaginary muddle that Manuela dreams up while watching Serafin playfully challenge a donkey with a sword. If you've spent your whole life wanting to see Kelly in shorts, then this is your musical number, me, not so much. And let's not forget Be a Clown. WHAT?! I mean, what . . . the . . . heck. I'm afraid that even Cole Porter ended up hating this film so something went sadly wrong somewhere on the musical side of things.

However, Love of My Life and You Can Do No Wrong play to Garland's strengths, lovely, sensual ballads meant to woo Serafin, and woo him she does. But I think the best is probably the main song Mack the Black, sung by Garland when her character is under Serafin's hypnosis. It's powerful and wild and allows Garland's chaotic energy to shine. Apparently, there was also a number filmed called Voodoo between Kelly and Garland. I'm thinking that Love of My Life took its place. Louis B. Mayer saw the footage of Voodoo, about had a heart attack, and demanded that even the negatives be burned. WOW, that must have been some number! Something like The Point of No Return in The Phantom of the Opera perhaps.

One of my favorite dance numbers, ironically, is one of the craziest but was also groundbreaking for the era. Dressed as clowns, Kelly dances with the Nicholas Brothers, two skilled African American dancers. Just watching that dance is incredible because it places all three men on equal footing. They wear the same costume and dance in sync with each other, with no one playing back-up. It's brilliant and makes The Pirate memorable for that reason alone.

Okay, I've mentioned that the musical numbers don't realllllly work for me. So you're probably wondering why I love this movie. It's because of Kelly and Garland, of course! Their chemistry is GENIOUS! 

There is pure snark radiating between them. I know Garland was struggling when making this film, but the audience would never know it. She sparkled like the richest ruby and Kelly in his masterful way brought just the right tinge of comedic humor to the role of Serafin. Vincente Minnelli did a terrific job directing this one, and I really do wish it had been more popular. I guess it was just a tad too silly, which I can understand, I do, but I still love it anyway.

I love the rip-roaring fight between Manuela and Serafin. It's HILARIOUS, I almost choke laughing every time I watch the movie. I especially love it because Garland actually hits Kelly a time or two when she's chucking brick-a-brack at him, to say nothing of swatting his behind with the flat of a fencing sword. It's the perfect comedic scene and from the very first time I watched The Pirate until now, for their chemistry alone, I love this movie.

The Pirate has a ridiculous ending and some ridiculous musical numbers, but Kelly and Garland are MAGIC.

Remember, I wrote this article for With Glamour and Panache: A Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly Musicals Blogathon hosted by Heidi at Along the Brandywine. So if you get a chance, head on over to her blog to read the other entries as they come trickling in over the next couple of days!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Classics Club: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle (1883)

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood

Author: Howard Pyle

Year: 1883

My Rating ★★

Read for my Classics Club challenge.

I did not love this story.

I didn't hate it, but I sure didn't love it.

I was in my early twenties the first time I read The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle. At that time I was all about adventures and heroes and didn't really think twice about aspects of the story that REALLY BOTHER me now.

There's really only one character that bugs the heck out of me now, and that character is ROBIN HOOD. Robin is not likable. Little John is likable. Allan a Dale is likable. Even Will Scarlet is fairly likable, although absurd. And Friar Tuck makes me laugh. But Robin is an arrogant man.

I dislike Robin Hood for two reasons.

First, Robin has set himself as judge and jury for anyone wealthier than someone of his own status. If you're a friar or a bishop or anyone of nobility, look out, you're in trouble. Robin even takes offense when he realizes that the beggar's guild is pretty rich so he steals from BEGGARS. Really? He claims that a portion of the funds he steals from these individuals goes to charity, those in need who are under the thumb of the wealthy, but the reader never experiences that generosity. It's simply told the reader and then we move on, never meeting anyone apart from a single knight named Sir Richard of the Lea that Robin helped financially. 

Robin wants an even playing field. No one has the right to be rich when so many people are poor, that's the message of Robin Hood. I can't get behind that. To be fair, I didn't live in Robin Hood's time, but this book was written in the 1800s, not the 1200s, so this is Howard Pyle's message, not a message from the era in which it is set. The wealthy are not painted in a positive light. They are evil monsters who deserve to be relieved of their wealth and have it spread around. I'm sorry, but that's not Robin's right to judge. He's only in a position of power because he can evade the law. That's all. Otherwise, he's simply a yeoman robbing from the rich to maybe give to the poor, but also to feed his own coffers. All while praising the life of him and his men in Sherwood Forest and decrying anyone else who might possibly want to work a steady job or live in a city.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Cary Grant and Priscilla Lane star in the spooky spectacle "Arsenic and Old Lace" (1944)

I wrote this for the Spooky Classic Movie Blogathon hosted by KN Winiarski Writes! 

For me, Halloween is synonymous with Arsenic and Old Lace

Every year I pull my copy off the shelf, blow an imaginary layer of dust from the cover, and pop it into the DVD player. I discovered this year that somehow we actually own 3 copies of this movie through a variety of giftings and inheritings from others. While I do love Arsenic and Old Lace, owning 3 copies is a bit much, even for me!

The art of dark comedy has always drawn me and you don't get much darker than this movie. There's a bit of a terrifying element underlying the whole thing for a variety of reasons.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Go to my Classic Hollywood page to find all my Classic Hollywood reviews!

Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), acclaimed dramatic critic and author, is in love. And for a man who has spent his entire adult life sarcastically decrying the idea of love and marriage, this is a stretch. But on Halloween, he finds himself and his darling bride-to-be, Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane), standing in line at the marriage license bureau in Brooklyn, New York, getting officially hitched. He even has a honeymoon to Niagara Falls all planned, tickets for the train, and orders for flowers to be delivered to his new bride at her family's residence. Elaine's father is the local minister and the parsonage and the Brewster family home bookends a very historic, and slightly spooky cemetery. 

Everything is going so well! Mortimer and Elaine are married! His maiden aunts, Aunt Abby (Josephine Hull) and Aunt Martha (Jean Adair) are practically over the moon knowing their nephew has finally, finally proposed to the girl they've adored for so many years, and pretty much watched grow up next door. But alas, not everything is as it seems. Mortimer remembers that he left notes for his latest book Mind Over Matrimony somewhere in the house and he's desperate to find them before Elaine sees them. He hunts and hunts throughout the main room of the house, lifts up the window seat, and finds a dead body! Horror!

Not knowing quite how to approach his aunts with the devastating news that their other nephew Teddy (a dear man who unfortunately believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt) has killed someone and put his body in the window seat. He approaches Abby and Martha as they're handing out goodies to the local trick-or-treaters (wow, I wish I got whole jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin pies when I trick-or-treated as a kid!).

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

My Halloween article for Femnista

I wrote an article for the obsession themed Halloween issue of Femnista, a blog/web magazine contributed to by a variety of female authors.

It's entitled A Japanese Lesson in Romantic Obsession and can be found by clicking on the photo below. It was a fun article to write since it covers two of my favorite Japanese movies, One Week Friends (the photo below with Kento Yamazaki) and My Little Monster.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

A Regency Garden Party Celebration

In July 2018, my sister and I hosted a Regency Garden Party.

Both of us love hosting parties, I love Jane Austen, and our intimate circle of friends has always indulged us on this point. Now that we have our own place (my sister and I are roommates) it makes party hosting easier, but for the Regency Garden Party, my sweet parents loaned us their backyard. It made all the difference being able to play croquet and have afternoon tea on the lawn while making Regency bonnets in the house.

It was a sublime experience and I can't believe I never shared it on my blog. 

Tea Table Spread

Our spread of goodies set up under the canopy.

Fruit Cocktails with heavy whipping cream and twills

Delicious fruit cocktails with heavy whipping cream and twills.

pastel macarons purchased from Costco

Divine macarons purchased from Costco just for the occasion. I'm not brave enough to try my hand at making macarons, although maybe someday. I've seen enough baking shows with Australian baker Adriano Zumbo to be unnerved at the prospect of making my own macarons.

Lemon Tarts and homemade lemon scones

Lemon tarts and homemade scones, although now I can't remember what type of scones. I'm thinking they were probably your basic plain scone or maybe lemon, one of those two.