Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

A secluded island turned romantic resort, murder, a mysterious ring, an unknown woman in white, secret passages, cliff top struggles, old family legends of bloody hands, a locked room and missing key, romance and love that lasts beyond a lifetime.  These are the elements you’ll find in Tammie Clarke Gibbs’ Island of Secrets.

Shane Alexander is a rich man with a private island and a big problem.  After renovating his centuries-old family mansion into a private resort for the wealthy, his first guests flee the island complaining of ghosts, and spreading the story to news outlets.  He summons a group of reporters to come to the island and see for themselves that it is not haunted.  One of them, he promises, will spend a weekend at his luxury resort, all expenses paid.

Lila Fitzpatrick is a young woman who owes Cassie, her roommate and one of the invited reporters, a big favor.  Laid up with a broken leg, and unable to take advantage of Shane Alexander’s offer, Cassie calls in that favor.  Lila reluctantly assumes her identity and takes her place on the boatload of journalists going out to the secluded island.  She figures she’ll take the boat ride over and come straight home, debt paid.

However, Shane Alexander chooses her as the reporter to spend the weekend and dispel the stories of ghosts.  She soon finds herself in an eighteenth century carriage with an old purse containing a note of warning dated in the 1700′s and addressed to…herself!  She slips on the ruby ring that is also in the purse, and enters Mr. Alexander’s renovated mansion, to find a group of what appear to be period actors, including Shane, discussing her.

Shane, having left her in the hands of his assistant, returns from his errands to find the reporter missing.  She reappears briefly in the locked room, with the missing key.  They find themselves drawn to one another, feeling as if they’ve known one another longer than a few hours, when Lila suddenly disappears before Shane’s eyes again.

Romance blossoms between Shane and Lila in the eighteenth century as they try to untangle the mystery of what is happening to Lila and Shane, who murdered Uncle Gustavus, and who wants to murder Lila, while the Shane of the present day struggles with the issue of the disappearing ‘Cassie,’ the real Cassie calling accusing him of kidnap and possibly murder, a police investigation, and his own flashbacks to memories of Lila and things he’s sure have never happened.

I found beautiful prose and imagery in Ms. Gibbs’ writing, such as The haunting silhouette of Winship Manor towered above like a savage animal, crouching in the darkness waiting for its prey, which made it easy to imagine the island, the old mansion, the roaring fires, dark passages, and clifftops.  A compelling story line kept me guessing and pulled me along with several fascinating and unexpected twists.  This was a fun story to read, and I look forward to more from Tammie Clarke Gibbs.  If you like Gothic romance with a time travel twist, give this book a try!

Reviews of Robin Hood have been quite mixed.  I come down on the positive side.

My experience of the movie suggests that the biggest cause of poor reviews might be expectations.  Robin Hood is an icon: Lincoln green, pointy hats, feats of archery, Sherwood forest with his merry outlawed men, the lovely maid Marian, disguises and tricks against the rich and powerful, particularly the love-to-hate-him Sheriff of Nottingham, and the hope of King Richard the Lionheart coming home to save the kingdom from his evil brother John.

Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood has very little of these stock features.  Robin Longstride is an archer, in the king’s service, but we barely see that.  He spends the movie not in Sherwood, but at the Crusades and in the village of Nottingham, wearing the standard russets and browns of the day, not a stitch of green, no pointy hat.  He has only a few men: Little John, who is not quite so overbearingly large as previous incarnations of the story suggest, but only a little taller than average; Allan a Dale, Will Scarlet, and Friar Tuck, who really is not one of his men at all in this movie.  Marian is a nearly middle-aged, overworked woman coping almost single-handedly with  her blind father-in-law, the running of a manor and small village, and thievery both of run-amok orphans living in Sherwood and the English authorities, while her husband Robert of Locksley has been at war for a decade.  King Richard is dead; and definitely not coming home to save the kingdom.

The Sheriff of Nottingham makes only a cursory appearance or two. The real villain, Godfrey, is busy pitting the barons against the new king, John, while plotting with Phillip of France to step into the disarray and make an easy conquest of England. 

As to the wonderful hi-jinks and disguises that are an integral part of the Robin Hood story, they are also nearly non-existent here.  Robin Longstride, archer, is honest with the Locksley family–widow Marian and her father-in-law–about who he is.  It is the father-in-law’s idea for him to become the long-absent and now dead Robert of Locksley and help the family.  From there on, apart from assuming the dead man’s identity, Robin lives in the open, no disguises, and apart from stealing back the grain being stolen from Marian by the authorities, there is no stealing from the rich.  Until the last 5 minutes, Robin and his men are not outlaws at all.

Once I stopped expecting the standard elements, I appreciated the new take on the old story. I felt the characters came alive as real people, more genuine than the stock characters we know. (I have to admit, I have always wondered how a bunch of men living in the forest managed to have so much lincoln green material on hand to make matching outfits.) I felt I could relate to them better because they were no longer larger-than-life, but ordinary men thrust into extraordinary events, which allows us to ask the question that makes stories an important part of life: what would I, no legend, but an ordinary person, do in such a situation? It allows us to look into possible futures and think beforehand about who we want to be at such moments.  It allowed me to see very clearly how the legend of Robin Hood might have sprung from an ordinary man.

As a historical novelist, I enjoyed the attention to detail: how a siege is conducted, how Marian rides her horse.  Robin Hood tales often portray Richard being absent while held captive and awaiting ransom, and returning to England to free the nation from the evil John’s tyranny.  The movie depicts Richard dying in battle, killed by a cook, and leaving the kingdom to John.  It turns out this is a fairly historically accurate–and fascinating–detail.  (On the other hand, historical records report that Richard was a man of mercy, forgiving the boy with the pan who killed him, while the movie portrays him as less than that, setting Robin and several others in stocks, awaiting flogging and branding, for Robin’s crime of voicing an opinion for which King Richard asked.)

The name Robin Hood probably drew plenty of viewers.  But it also probably left many disappointed, as it was not what they expected. I briefly thought the producers might have gotten better reviews with the same exact movie had they simply not named the characters Robin, Will, Allan, John, Marian, and Friar Tuck, and thus avoided the problem of expectations.  In the last 10 minutes of the movie, however, when John reneges on his word and outlaws Robin instead, it became clear that the real answer was to call this movie Robin Hood: The Prequel, for this is what it is.  This, as they say, is just the beginning.

Plans for a sequel are up in the air, although the ending of Robin Hood clearly begs for one. If it materializes, I would definitely see it. I also expect I will watch this movie again, and enjoy it more a second time, knowing what to expect. If you like Robin Hood, if you like war , adventure, and action, or historical movies, I recommend this one. Just go in with the proper expectations.