Friday, April 29, 2011

The Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen

I don't normally flip to the back of a book when I read but lately several of the books I've read have author's notes and whatsits there that I find interesting. I happened to flip to that page on this book where the author mentions that her story's hero was based on Captain Wentworth from Jane Austen's Persuasion as well as C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower. I blinked, looked up from the page and did something very much looking like this:

Two of my favorite (albeit fictional) nautical heroes smooshed into one man? This is going to be the best book ever.

In The Girl in the Gatehouse, set around the year 1813-1814, twenty-four year old Mariah (because Americans don't know the British pronunciation when it is spelled Maria) Aubrey - a secret author - is banished from her family and home and is sent away to an aunt's estate. She finds she's not really welcome at her new residence either but is at least given somewhere to live as she takes over the dirty, forgotten gatehouse with her former nanny, Dixon. We get the idea that she has done something terribly wrong, but we're not exactly told what and during that time, any social gaffe could have brought about a result like this. Was it the novel writing or something far more serious?

Mariah lives a somewhat pinched life on her small annual income and the gracious free rent provided by her aunt but life becomes even more of a challenge when Mariah's somewhat evil step-cousin Hugh takes over the estate, makes her pay rent, and then leases the main estate to a Captain Matthew Bryant. Captain Bryant is fair and good-hearted but new to money and intent on winning back the girl who rejected him for his lowly stature before he was heroic and rich and this goal is the end all to every action he does.

To pay for her sudden expenses and the addition of Martin, her aunt's hook-handed former servant, Mariah takes up the quill once again and begins publishing novels - under a pseudonym so as not to bring further shame to her family.

With a cast of interesting characters provided by the nearby poorhouse (run by a woman Miss Hannigan would quail under)  including two aged sisters, Mariah begins to learn that there is hope in life no matter what you've been through.

But when Mariah keeps seeing a man running along the rooftop of the poorhouse (sending her messages in semaphore no less) and no one is allowed to recognize his existence...paired with cousin Hugh's dogged search of the entire estate and gatehouse for "something" - the mystery really gets going.

Each chapter begins with a relevant quote, the story of Mariah unfolds slowly, little clue and crumb bit by bit, as well as the real thoughts and feelings about women as authors at that time. Even women in general and how little they could really do for themselves. I almost feel schizophrenic when I try to describe all the elements that come together in this book but it certainly isn't written that way - it's put together very smoothly, everything unfolding at just the right time.

A touch of gothic novel and a touch of Jane Austen this story has enough mystery, romance, hardship and redemption to intrigue you, keep you guessing, and then warm your heart.

And if you haven't read or seen Persuasion - what are you waiting for? While you're at it, the Horatio Hornblower books by C.S. Forester and the films by A&E are also excellent.

This book was provided by Bethany House for the purposes of reviewing, the opinions, however, are entirely mine.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Shabby Apple women's dress GIVEAWAY! - CLOSED

I can't decide what I like most about Shabby Apple - their beautiful clothes, their brilliant collections, their charity work or the company ideals of:

A return to what dresses were always meant to be - a one piece outfit. No need to add tank tops, no cardigans, nothing (except accessories, of course!)

Shabby Apple offers women's dresses in regular, plus and maternity as well as little girl's dresses (and even accessories) at their website: 

If you're unfamiliar with the company I suggest you go as fast as you can and check them out. They even have a "shop by body type" feature which will help you choose the best dress for you.

Going through each Shabby Apple collection is like going on an adventure.

Are you going on a Roamin' Holiday?

High flying in vintage style?

Or looking stunning in Yosemite Park?

Don't you feel like you could look fabulous and go anywhere? You can!

Shabby Apple has graciously offered a 10% discount to all of my readers - simply use the code "abitoshine10off" when checking out.

Even more graciously they've offered a women's dress for a giveaway and you could win the gorgeous Tuxedo III dress - see the rules below!

Chocolaty frills bedeck the bodice of this new take on the tuxedo profile.  Tuxedo III is adorned with darling details, including ruffled front placate and high, ruffled collar.  Dress buttons up the front and hits just below the knee.  Belt NOT included.


Giveaway open to U.S. residents only.

There are no exchanges on the dress you win so be sure you get your sizing, etc. correct.

Please leave a separate comment for each of the following:

1 Entry - Visit and tell me in the comments your favorite item.

1 Entry - "Like" Shabby Apple on Facebook! Click here. Be sure to come back and comment!

1 Entry - Tell me, where would you like to travel in a Shabby Apple dress? Montana? Italy? Tahiti?

1 Entry - Blog, tweet or facebook about this giveaway (as always leave a comment so I know)

Giveaway ends Tuesday May 3rd at 8 PM Pacific time. Winner will be announced Wednesday the 4th.

Good luck!

This giveaway is now closed. Winner posted here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Classic Movie Monday - Easter Parade

I was almost stymied when this assignment for CMM came up and I couldn't find this movie online. And then I realized oh duh...I bet TCM is going to be airing it! And I was right, and thank you DVR for not making me get up at 6:00 AM to watch it. :)

I saw this movie a few years back when it was loaned to me by a student who learned I hadn't seen it yet and knew I must. For some reason I wasn't that excited to watch it and after seeing it can't figure out what I was thinking. But I think a lot of people feel that way about the classics and let me tell you - a lot of these movies are going to be much better than you might think! This movie is actually pretty funny. Like in a part of the opening scene where Fred Astaire's character Don Hewes cons this poor kid out of his stuffed rabbit with an elaborate dancing and drum scene.

The bunny, a hat and a huge bouquet are all going to his dance partner/girlfriend Nadine, played by the gorgeous Ann Miller. Tell me you don't love her lighter in front, darker in back hair? She basically shoots down poor Don and tells him she's breaking up the act and everything else. Don leaves in a huff but she doesn't seem at all put out when friend Johnnie (Peter Lawford) comes by. Hello, gorgeous.

Poor Johnnie realizes Nadine only wants him for his money and ditches her. Plus he's friends with Don so that would just be awkward, now wouldn't it? 

Johnnie finds Don at a bar trying to drown his sorrows. He holds up a glass of booze and asks the bartender, "Can you drown a brunette in this?" Bartender says, "How tall is she?" "Five foot six." Bartender adds more booze. "Try that." Ha!

While there he claims in a Pygmalion reminiscent attitude that he could make any of those girls dancing in the background as good as Nadine. He randomly stares at Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) and decides on her telling her to meet him at dance hall for practice in the morning. It's a disaster and she hilariously explains her reasons for not knowing her left leg from her right - "I was left handed as a child and the doctor told my mother I might become a dangerous criminal!"

They make the best of things but their first performance is also a (hilarious) flop as well as a spoof on a dance Fred did with Ginger Rogers where part of her feathered costume broke off and floated in his face. Things go better when he decides to play to Hannah's talents (singing) instead of trying to make her into Nadine.

Then by chance of weather she meets this fella with an umbrella - hello again, gorgeous. He's instantly smitten but all she wants to do is run away. Seriously?

She eventually agrees to a date with him and they end up with this guy as their waiter and they have the best explanation of a salad ever made.

Oh yeah and she tells poor Johnnie she's in love with Don. This guy is gorgeous, sweet, understanding to a fault, smart (almost finished with law school and then going to medical school) and rich....why are we supposed to be in love with Fred Astaire in this movie??

Because he's an amazing dancer, that's why. This scene in particular is amazing.

Ann Miller still looks fabulous even when you kinda hate her character for being such a snob and for making Don and Hannah's lives a bit miserable. Though when I see these gloves and feel like I should be doing the dishes.

And how do they get back at her? By dressing up as dirty hobos. Yeah...that'll show her...

This scene actually reminded me quite a bit of a scene from The Pirate* with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.

And what's with the Easter Parade title? The dress-fabulous-and-get-your-photo-taken-people-parade is what opens and closes the movie and...that's about it. But I defy you not to have that song stuck in your head forever. I was still singing it while walking my trash outside.

Would I recommend Easter Parade? Absolutely. Funny and entertaining with some great dancing and a fun love triangle story that is still quite relevant. And while we're on the topic of Fred Astaire I'm loving this song by Emma Wallace that this particular youtuber always puts perfectly to movie clips.

*A movie called The Pirate you KNOW I had to watch and I did just last week! Apparently Easter Parade was supposed to reunite Judy Garland and Gene Kelly after The Pirate but Gene had a broken ankle and couldn't perform. Although if you want to see Gene Kelly do a pole dance and then later wear Daisy Dukes shorts showing off some amazing thigh muscles then definitely check out The Pirate. Also that scene I previously mentioned that seemed so familiar was basically a copy of "Make 'Em Laugh" from Singin' In the Rain. And total confusion where everything is the same ensues.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said."

Matthew 28:5-6a 

A [song] for you this morning.

Photo taken by me in Israel - in a lovely garden run by Brits. :)
It isn't Jesus' tomb but it is a tomb of the period.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My "where did I put that?" basket

 I don't know about you but I have a handful of objects that I use frequently and can never seem to leave in the same spot making me hunt for them each time I want them. Well no more. This basket - from a bath gift set if I remember correctly - is my catch all for these items. Batteries, cords, camera cases and remotes now have a snug home in semi-organized style.

An empty, clean salsa jar now holds a camera case strap, a battery tester and a connector for my camera cord. These small things would normally get lost in the bottom of this basket, but this holds them together.

This isn't particularly stylish but I tied my most used cords together with bread twist ties. I'm not sure how I managed to have six in matched pairs but I did. Now I only have to look at the color and I know which cord I am grabbing. And since these get almost daily use, that is a time saver I appreciate!

No more looking, wondering and frustration over those items anymore.

And speaking of forgetfulness let me tell you there are some quirks to driving a "vintage" vehicle. Like how opening the door doesn't set off a buzzer to tell you you've left your lights on.

This sign I made from a cereal box and some ribbon. I merely painted the plain side of the box and wrote my message with a Sharpie. I won't forget now! Wait...what was I talking about?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Classic Movie Monday - Sunset Blvd.

I was interrupted approximately eleventy billion times while trying to watch this but I finally made it and was so glad I did - it was amazing.

I watched this online and did all my own screencaps and...kinda went crazy with them because there were so many great scenes.

Warning - there's a dead guy in the pool. But I thought this shot was awesome, and so did Missie because she used it too. ;)

"Poor dope always wanted a pool."

Joe is a script writer in Hollywood who is down on his luck and trying unsuccessfully to either get a job or get someone to loan him some money. He blows a tire dodging some repo men and pulls into the garage of a dilapidated mansion. He likens it to Miss Havisham's home from Great Expectations and it has that same what mess am I getting myself into? sort of feel. Especially shown below when the butler tells him as he ascends the stairs, "If you need any help with the coffin, let me know." I love the look on Joe's face.

Oh and the coffin is for THIS. And yes I screamed a bit. I really do not like chimps or apes and this?

The home - and the dead chimp - belong to Norma, an aging diva from the silent films age. She is fantastically dramatic and weird and I took a bunch of screencaps of her looks and faces.

"Sat coiled up like a watch spring..."

"I am big. It's the pictures that got small."

"Kissing his cold, dead lips..."

Norma is obsessed with two things: being a star and being adored. While Joe is the main character and narrates the story, she really takes over the story, just as she takes over his life.

"Don't they know what a star looks like any more?"

Norma likes Joe and decides to keep him. I mean that in all senses of the word. Joe doesn't really like being a kept man but doesn't really know what else to do with himself. He lives in a mansion with a pool, tennis court, bowling alley, movie theater, ballroom, etc. and gets a closet full of fancy suits.

"DeMille said I was his greatest star..."

"Of course you didn't, I wouldn't let you."  

Right about here is where things go from strange to way off the deep end. 
I really loved the use of mirrors in this film.

"That's a lie they still want me!"

"You heard him...I'm a star..."

Joe unintentionally starts a little something on the side...

Which upsets Norma considerably. She's incredibly unstable anyway but this really sent her over the edge.

I loved the way this scene was shot with half the man's face in shadow. Not only perfect for the creepy revelation given here but truly he'd become half the man he was.

This film is gloriously creepy and really won me over with that bit of Toccata and Fugue on the pipe organ. If you get a chance to watch this, absolutely do.

I found this Sunset Blvd in 5 Minutes video that I thought was pretty funny. Spoiler warning though - it gives you the whole plot.