Monday, October 5, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: October 6th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who's ever been chosen.

That's what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he's probably right.

Half the time, Simon can't even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor's avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there's a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon's face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here -- it's their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon's infuriating nemesis didn't even bother to show up.

Carry On - The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you'd expect from a Rainbow Rowell story - but far, far more you'd expect from a Rainbow Rowell story - but far, far more monsters."

OK, I'm not really sure that this book will work. Fangirl explored the fandom of a Harry Potteresque book, but to actual then write the "Harry Potter" books, which were kind of cheesy without context... this could be an epic fail. 

Hollow Earth: The Book of Beasts by John Barrowman and Carole Barrowman
Published by: Aladdin
Publication Date: October 6th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Matt and Emily Calder’s travels through time come to a thrilling conclusion in the third book of the Hollow Earth trilogy as the siblings struggle to close Hollow Earth—and keep the monsters inside.

Twins Matt and Emily Calder may be divided by time, but they are united in their mission to close Hollow Earth before the monsters inside can destroy the world. The key to success lies with their Animare talents: they can draw things into life and travel in time through art. But there are monsters outside Hollow Earth as well. Monsters intent on taking control of the beasts for themselves. And the worst monster of all is their own father…"

Woo hoo, new book in the series finally!

Cemetery Girl Book Two: Inheritance by Charlaine Harri and Christopher Golden
Published by: InkLit
Publication Date: October 6th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 128 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Charlaine Harris, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse Novels and the Harper Connelly Mysteries, and New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden present an original graphic novel illustrated by acclaimed comic book artist Don Kramer—second in the Cemetery Girl Trilogy.

She calls herself Calexa Rose Dunhill. She has been living—hiding out—in Dunhill Cemetery ever since someone left her there to die. She has no idea who wants her dead or why, but she isn't about to wait around for her would-be killer to finish the job.

Despite her self-imposed isolation, Calexa’s ability to see spirits—and the memories she receives from them—guarantees she’ll never be alone, even among the deceased. The only living people she allows herself to interact with are Kelner, the cemetery’s cantankerous caretaker, and Lucinda Cameron, an elderly woman who lives in an old Victorian house across the street. With their friendship, Calexa has regained a link to the world beyond tombstones and mausoleums.

Until the night she witnesses a murder that shatters her life—a life now under a police microscope—as their investigation threatens to uncover Calexa’s true identity…"

Ever since I read the first installment I've been dying for book two, thankfully it's FINALLY here.

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: October 6th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A haunting tale of intrigue from New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley.



The charm of spending the Christmas holidays in South Wales, with its crumbling castles and ancient myths, seems the perfect distraction from the nightmares that have plagued literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw since the loss of her baby five years ago.

Instead, she meets an emotionally fragile young widow who's convinced that Lyn's recurring dreams have drawn her to Castle Farm for an important purpose--and she's running out of time.

With the help of a reclusive, brooding playwright, Lyn begins to untangle the mystery and is pulled into a world of Celtic legends, dangerous prophecies, and a child destined for greatness."

Um, yes please!

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym
Published by: Picador
Publication Date: October 6th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 192 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In 1970s London, Edwin, Norman, Letty and Marcia work in the same office and suffer the same problem - loneliness. With delightful humour, Pym takes us through their day-to-day existence: their preoccupations, their irritations, their judgements; and, perhaps most keenly felt, their worries about having somehow missed out on life as post-war Britain shifted around them. Deliciously, blackly funny and full of obstinate optimism, Quartet in Autumn shows Barbara Pym's sensitive artistry at its most sparkling. A classic from one of Britain's most loved and highly acclaimed novelists, its world is both extraordinary and familiar, revealing the eccentricities of everyday life."

Barbara Pym is one of those British authors I have heard a lot about but never read, perhaps is now the time?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Book Review - Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1887
Format: Hardcover, 131 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Doctor John Watson has been invalided out of the army and is looking for a place to call home. He runs into an old colleague, Stamford, who says that he knows someone else who is looking for a roommate, having found the perfect place at 221B Baker Street. He warns Watson that Sherlock Holmes is a little odd. Watson readily agrees to room with this intriguing man, who knows so much about certain sciences, yet doesn't know the earth goes around the sun. One day over breakfast Watson reads an incredulous article in the paper about the science of deduction and thinks it is pure bunkum. Holmes is a little miffed, he wrote the article after all and decides to prove the truth of it by having Watson tag along when he leaves the house on one of his mysterious errands. It turns out that Holmes is the world's only consulting detective and he has been summoned to a crime scene by Scotland Yard. There lies the body of Enoch Drebber. Dead but without a mark on him. Written on the wall in blood is the world "rache." A close examination of the crime scene, a visit to the officer who was first on the scene, a few telegrams later, and Holmes knows who the killer is. Not only that, he is able to produce the killer in the sitting room of 221B Baker Street for the police officers. The explanation as to how he came to his conclusion is a much longer story and involves love, marriage, and Mormons.

Despite watching so many adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories, other then possibly reading The Hound of the Baskervilles in grade school, I had never picked up any of Arthur Conan Doyle's books to read. So quite a few years back now I picked up A Study in Scarlet and I couldn't actually believe that this was how the greatest consulting detective of all time started out. Firstly, I was bored. But more importantly it seems more like a treatise against Mormonism than anything else. I mean, in all seriousness, what was Arthur Conan Doyle's issue with the Mormons? Because there isn't just dislike, there is hate emanating out of these pages. Fiery, burn in the hottest circles of hell hate. I couldn't really get past the fact that so little of the book was the actual mystery and so much of the book was a rallying cry against religion that I quite quickly decided to not read any further in the Sherlockian oeuvre until I could rectify my expectations with reality. So, obviously that took a few years, and my newish addiction to Sherlock coupled with the dearth of new episodes made me realize that perhaps the time had come to read all the Sherlock Holmes books. All of them! At least I was prepared for A Study in Scarlet this time around, so there wasn't going to be any surprises. Or so I thought. I was actually surprised that I really liked it.

This second reading of the book produced an unexpected enjoyment and it is all down to Sherlock and Benedict Cumberbatch. I literally can not count the number of times I have watched the nine episodes that currently exist in this series, but that first season, and that pilot episode are easily the ones I have watched the most. From what I remember of all the stories Conan Doyle had written, this modern retelling is a loose interpretation. They pick out details here and there and spin them into something new and exciting. Having forgotten everything in A Study in Scarlet, minus the Mormon hate, I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the original story was actually incorporated into "A Study in Pink." The reinterpretation of the source material made me appreciate it more. The adaptation had streamlined the story into a more taught narrative, yet at the same time it helped me understand the original more. Plus, the little reversals are extra funny. Holmes pointing out "rache" as the German for revenge in the original story, while in the TV episode he smacks down Anderson for the deduction as simplistic. Though it was the cabbie as killer combined with the two pills, one that was deadly, that made me shiver. Oh Gatiss and Moffat, sometimes you really piss me off, and other times, man, you nail it. Also, thank you for not testing the pills on a dog and killing it. I think that is where Conan Doyle went a little too far.

Yet just because I enjoyed A Study in Scarlet more this time around does not mean I was blind to it's flaws. The main flaw is that the mystery is written in such a way that you as the reader can not solve it. Part of the fun of mysteries is seeing if you can follow the clues and the red herrings and come to the same deduction as the detective, and perhaps beat him or her to the punch. The way the story is set up Holmes figures it all out and arrests the culprit. Then there's the long and hateful flashback to America and the Mormons, in which Conan Doyle proves his ignorance, mainly about American geography, I can't speak to the Mormon part, and then everything is handed to us on a plate as a fait accompli. I don't like this kind of storytelling. On a re-read it isn't so bad because you already know who the killer is, but on a first read it just angers me. The god like pretension of an author to think that they can change storytelling convention to appear more intelligent by being the only ones who could solve this crime. Of course you're the only one who could solve it, you wrote it so the reader wouldn't know! And this is why I hate Josephine Tey. She is noted for her interesting and modern narrative structure, otherwise called bullshit by me. Her book The Man in the Queue was one of the worst books I've read, and guess what, you're lack of adhering to conventions wasn't original, here is Conan Doyle doing it forty-two years earlier!

What I still find interesting is that when I first read this book the youth of Holmes and Watson struck me. Over time you get this fixed idea of what they look like, the staid middle aged Victorian gentleman. But this isn't the case at all! Given the supposed date of Holmes's birth and the date of the events in this story, Sherlock would only be twenty-seven years old! I mean, I know you were viewed older sooner then, what with younger mortality rates, but still, twenty-seven is damn young! While I'm not going to bother looking up all the ages of the copious actors who have played Holmes over the years, one thing can be deduced readily, and that they are never as young as he is in his first adventure. While most cases can be put down to the fact that for a series you need an actor who can play Holmes at a variety of ages, so casting older helps. But still, I wonder if it's just psychological. That we, as the audience, wouldn't take such a young man seriously. That he would have the gravity that is expected of Holmes. I of course call foul, if just for my undying love of the Young Sherlock Holmes. But on the whole, Holmes is played as the audience expects him to be. I bet if you asked the random Sherlockian Holmes's age in the first adventure, they'd place him in his mid to late forties. And they would be oh so wrong.

A point of interest that brings about much contemplation to me is that this story, which contained a murder whose like was never seen prior, was serialized exactly one year prior, and published in book form the same year as the first Jack the Ripper killings, in particular the canonical five. In fact, Jack the Ripper is often fused with multiple genres, Sherlock Holmes being one of them. I wonder, did A Study in Scarlet inspire a man prone to killing to commit a crime the likes of which had never been seen? It's almost as if Conan Doyle was egging someone on to take up the challenge Holmes laid at the feet of his culprit. Or was Conan Doyle that in touch with the changing times that he knew this violence, these types of horrific acts of murder, were the future of crime and he caught the spirit of these times in his stories? Because both Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes fascinate us to this day. Did one influence the other in any way or was it just the society of that time? Yes, I might be a bit of a ripperologist, but I had never really thought about the confluence of these two very famous Victorians. It is no wonder that people have been creating mashups... it's something to really get those little grey cells working, as another famous detective would say.

Book Review - Andy Weir's The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir
Published by: Broadway Books
Publication Date: February 11th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 387 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Mark Whatney has inadvertently been left behind on Mars. He was part of the Ares 3 mission to the red planet which had to be aborted due to a dust storm and he was left for dead. He doesn't blame his crew mates, they did what they had to do. They did what he would have done in their situation. The problem is, how to tell them he's still alive? Which he won't be for much longer unless he figures some things out, like food. Plus, even if they did know it's not like they can just turn around and pick him up. His life has now become a struggle to survive, but that survival won't mean much unless at the end of it there's some way off the planet. He concentrates on one task at a time. First food and water. If he doesn't have food and water there's no point. So it looks like he's going to get very sick of potatoes, but you eat what you have, or in this case can grow. Once this hurtle is cleared, he needs to get the word out he's alive. Luckily for him Mars is scattered with the debris from past and future missions. The only problem is Mars is big and to get to these other sites is epic journeys of not just days, but weeks. And if while trying to get to these sites something happens, he is cut off from his Habitat and his food supply. But soon Earth is alerted to his survival and they are just as committed to bringing Mark home as Mark himself is. Each and every day is a struggle, but with his unique sense of humor and his captain's never ending supply of 70s television and disco music, he's going to try to make it, to survive being the first person to ever live on another planet. And if he does survive, he will never eat another potato again.

Every once in awhile there's book that you'd not heard anything about and then all of a sudden, bam, it's all everyone is talking about. There are huge endcap displays in stores that look like they have been ransacked, there's a movie adaptation in the pipeline, famous actors are interested in starring, all your friends have read it, the book is ubiquitous. And you'll be intrigued. You'll pick it up out of interest, and realize it's the kind of book that has mass appeal because it's nothing very original and bores you to tears. I have been sucked into this frenzy more then once. Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson, Gillian Flynn, all overlooked authors until they were propelled forward by this weird cultural phenomenon. Therefore when people started talking about The Martian, I was hesitant to say the least. I wasn't going to be caught in a Girl on the Train scenario again. My decision to read the book started to waiver when I saw the trailer for the movie, yes, starring a famous actor. Yet I held firm. But then people's opinions who I trusted as being very harsh started raving about this book. And I'm only human. I caved. And I'm really glad I did. It's an intense book that is meant to be devoured in as few sittings as possible. It's by no means a perfect book, while the first person narration of Mark Watney is spot on, the third person narration back on Earth is choppy, which, let's be honest, is to be expected from a first time author. But what I liked was the book felt like a Michael Crichton book grown up, the science was more accurate, and Mark was a wonderfully snarky narrator, perfect for the disillusioned reader of today. The irony here is that I was at a Michael Crichton movie when my resolve started to waiver. That's right folks, Jurassic World brought me to my generation's Crichton!

Recently one of my friends asked me if she should read this book. I said yes, obviously, but I gave her the caveat that it should be read only if she had the time to devote to reading this book in one go. This book is so suspenseful that you will struggle to set it down. For awhile I wondered if it was just the plight of Mark, the question surrounding his survival. This book is very realistic so his survival isn't a given and I am not going to tell you how it turns out. But I think the real reason is that everything is in the moment, which ups the suspense. What I mean by this is that there's no long expositions about his life back on Earth, his parents in Chicago whom he must miss, etc etc. Yes, his parents are mentioned, but that is all. We know nothing about his past life or his future life, we are living his life moment to moment with him. It's almost like we have a front row seat to his subconscious and survival is the only thing that is allowed to take up valuable brain power. That and bitching about 70s television shows. This means that anyone picking up this book will relate to his situation. He has a distinct personality, but at the same time he is a blank slate, he could come from any background so he could be you or me. Then there's the 70s television and music that are his bane and savior. Everyone has seen these shows or heard the music sometime in their life, it's a cultural touchstone. By including this in the story it gives us something more to relate to in a situation where we feel the question of Mark's survival but in a situation that we would never find ourselves in. So while we might never find ourselves on Mars, we can feel his pain of watching Three's Company and how lame it was when Crissy left.

And I needed that little connection, that 70s kitsch, because there is no way in hell you will ever see me going to Mars. It's not just that this book brought home how I would obviously die very quickly in this situation, it's that I never want to be in this situation in the first place. It says a lot for this book that I enjoyed it so much when I am now and never will be interested in space travel. Yes, the stars and outer space are interesting. I look forward to updates from Mars and the search for intelligent life and when will they reinstate Pluto, but as for wanting to be an astronaut? No chance in hell. I have never wanted to actually go into space myself. I am firmly of the couch surfing the galaxies school. It always mystified me that kids growing up wanted to be astronauts, firefighters, and the president. I wanted to sit and draw, not be shot up into space, trapped in a burning building, or have to make decisions with the fate of the world in jeopardy. Yet reading this book, I can see why people might want to venture out into the unknown. Again, I would die in five seconds, but the day to day survival of Mark, how he works things out, how he messes up, how he triumphs in the face of adversity, this is what an astronaut should be. They should be someone to look up to and admire for what they have done. Yes, going to the moon and back, that's kind of cool, but surviving against all odds for such a long period of time on an alien world? Now that deserves respect. That deserves the accolades of the first men in space.

I think I've also just inadvertently answered my own question I was about to posit... I mean, how realistic is it that NASA would spend SO MUCH MONEY to save Mark? So, as per what I just said, maybe it's because he is the ideal astronaut, the hero everyone has been waiting to come along to add new life into NASA. He's the only human to have lived on another planet! But realistically? Would this play out as it did fictionally in real life? So much of this book is based on real science and real scenarios, it's oddly the most human aspect that I question, and that's would they actual attempt to rescue Mark? It's not JUST the money, though that would be a big concern, it's more human nature. Our attention span as humans keeps shrinking more and more. We like everything in small digestible bites. Anything that is too long loses our interest and here we're supposed to believe that the world as a whole was invested in Mark Whatney for 687 days! That is almost two years! Could the interest in him really stay at fever pitch? Could they really have a thirty minute show daily on the news networks just devoted to him? Well, yes, the news networks can spin nothing into a show, just watch the news sometimes to see, but would people keep watching? I think interest would be at the beginning and at the end. But would that end interest make the pay out of all this time and money worth it? Maybe I'm just cynical, but I don't buy it. Yes, call me contradictory that I buy everything on Mars but have no faith in humanity. And in fact, I believe it's far more likely that they would just hush it all up. Sweep Mark under the carpet and call his death an unfortunate accident.

While I really liked this book there's a part of me that can never love it. I'm just not geeky enough, in the science vein. I could out geek anyone on books and TV, but science, I've never been the biggest fan of science. Yes, I am glad it's there, I just wish I hadn't ever had to take any in school because for me I've never found it relevant. Even being forced to take "Physics in the Arts" in undergrad where they try to focus the science on things that will interest artists, like the chemistry behind developing photos and sound waves in music, I was still bored stiff. Therefore when the book would sometimes go off on a sciencey tangent it would lose me a bit until the next rift on Dukes of Hazzard, where the police should have totally just gone to their house and arrested them and avoided all the car chases. But that's me, I'm the Dukes of Hazzard girl not the "what is it that makes soil viable" girl. And while some of the science was fascinating to me, like how to make soil viable on Mars, there was that other part of me going, but all the science... why all the science? Which again feeds back into why I would never be an astronaut and why I would be dead in seconds. Not only do I not have the passion and desire, but I lack the know-how. But even with all the science that sometimes bogs down the narrative in my opinion, it's real science, and I have to applaud that. Now, if we could make this actually a reality in my lifetime, that would be really cool, you know, for me to watch from my sofa. Elon Musk better get working on this...

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Sometimes being in a fandom is hard. Like really really I can't wait for the next episode I want it now hard. Being a fan of a British show makes it even harder because they have such shortened seasons. While us Americans have to admit that approximately six to thirteen episodes definitely means higher quality than a show lasting twenty-two, we're used to that twenty-two. Add to the fact that a British show doesn't always have a new season each year, and, well, withdrawal symptoms set in and there's only so many times you can watch the old episodes before you crave new ones. Now if you're a fan of Sherlock everything is multiplied by a thousand. In five years we've only had nine episodes. With new seasons every other year it's a wait. The fact that the next season doesn't even start filming till next year, and it's time for a deep breath. But we have the Christmas episode this Christmas! Or whenever "coming soon" is. That coming soon gives me hope. Yet it has also sparked in me more of a need then ever for some Sherlock. Hence, like Irene, I admit I am Sherlocked!

But I have been Sherlocked since long before Benedict Cumberbatch picked up the mantle. My childhood was spent watching Jeremy Brett and Basil of Baker Street and, of course, Nicholas Rowe as the Young Sherlock Holmes. Listening to audio books of old radio broadcasts on family car trips, that idea didn't go quite as planned. Yet despite my inculcation at such a young age I have never read the complete canon written by Arthur Conan Doyle. So, I thought to myself, why not? Why not while away the time waiting for Benedict to return to the small screen by reading all the original adventures. But more then that, think how much Sherlock Holmes has spread into our society. Think of all the offshoots and adaptations and reinterpretations, think of all of that! It's all of that I want to connect with too! I want to immerse myself in the totality of Sherlock Holmes and when I emerge have a Benediction... so join me in exploring the world of Sherlock Holmes over the next three months, canon, non-canon, comedy, prequel, future incarnation, inspiration, television, film, books, all of it! Bring it on!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Movie Review - A Room with a View

A Room with a View
Based on the book by E.M. Forster
Starring: Elaine Cassidy, Rafe Spall, Laurence Fox, Timothy Spall, Timothy West, Sinéad Cusack, Elizabeth McGovern, Mark Williams, Sophie Thompson, and Tom Stewart
Release Date: November 4th, 2007
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Lucy Honeychurch and her chaperon, cousin Charlotte, are in Italy to be tourists. But the pension they have chosen is letting them down. They were promised a room with a view. Well, the room has a sort of view, not the kind they were expecting. At dinner their grievances are met with a solution, a father and son, the Emersons, have offered their rooms to the two women. Charlotte thinks this is beyond the pale and insists they switch pensions first thing in the morning. But the arrival of Mr. Beebe, a clergyman they know and respect, means they rethink their decision to leave, and Lucy convinces Charlotte with the help of Mr. Beebe to rethink the Emersons's offer. As Lucy awakes that first morning in Florence, it's to a glorious view. Lucy is very proper and polite and does all the things that tourists should do, but as Mr. Beebe notices when she plays the piano, there is something in her that is very exciting. Lucy isn't the staid Edwardian that she seems. This hidden nature of hers is very much in line with the outspoken Emersons, and before Charlotte whisks them off to Rome practically in the middle of the night, Lucy will share a kiss and maybe her heart with the young George Emerson. But in Rome she is reintroduced to Cecil Vyse, an opinionated and upright Englishman, but opinionated in all the right and not outspoken ways. Lucy eventually condescends to marry Cecil when they are back in England, but the arrival of the Emersons into their small little community is going to change Lucy's life forever.

After watching so many confined and staid and uptight and stagy adaptations of Forster's work it was such a relief to watch one that has real passion. An adaptation that could move you literally to tears. While there might be those who criticize Andrew Davies's adaptation for playing fast and loose with the storyline, I counter that he cut to the quick of the story and kept that which was vital intact. If you weren't a Forster purist or had never read the books, just watch the old Merchant and Ivory adaptation and then watch this one, it is without a doubt that this version makes a better film. That is what it comes down to in the end, which is the better movie, and this one will always win, even with the weird transfer error of blurred behinds and a lackluster score. What I think made this version work was that, like the book, the integration of Lucy's piano playing as a window to her soul was actually incorporated throughout the movie. Instead of a few set pieces with Helena Bonham Carter rigidly sitting at a piano and obviously not knowing what to do, here Elaine Cassidy throws herself into the music and bares her soul. It is distinctly a plus that you can actually see that she is playing the music, even if the ADR team might have dropped in a more accomplished version later. One can not stress enough that to make a good movie you have to connect with your audience, and this connected with me, with passion and empathy and yes, love, and sometimes it hurts.

All the feels in this movie just made it more real, more human, more alive. There's affection and attraction. If you look at the kiss between George and Lucy in the Merchant and Ivory adaptation, it's like watching two people who don't even like each other being yelled at by the director to kiss and they are going to try to stop the inevitable for as long as possible. That kiss is painful to watch. Here, well, the kiss is painful to watch for different reasons. There is abandon and discovery in it. True feeling. True connection. It's joyous. In fact, I would say that is what is at the very center of this adaptation, there is joy. Life is breathed into the story and we connect to it because it's joyous. There's this message that we are to live life now. Live for today. Don't settle, don't do what you think is expected of you. Don't go for the passionless Cecil, go for the man who makes your heart race as he sneaks a kiss behind the bushes. In this version by downplaying Cecil and actually giving George all his lines you actually connect to George in a way Forster wanted you to but was never quite able to accomplish. The speech that George gives to Lucy and Charlotte in the dinning room before he is banished from Windy Corner makes you realize how they are meant to be. I was like Charlotte, in the corner weeping, because this is what love looks like. You fight for it, you make your case, you don't go off like a wounded dog wrapped in a blanket in a carriage.

Yet, all the success of the Emersons comes down to the genius who cast the Spalls as father and son. By having an actual father and son play these characters you don't get that weird disconnect between father and son that Denholm Elliott and Julian Sands had. They felt like strangers, and Julian was way too posh. Here you not only see their love for each other, but they are able to play off each other, have the same inflection in their voices, the same infectious grin. They are true kindred spirits and by having this love offscreen it bleeds over into the film. It doesn't hurt that both of them are superb actors, in fact can we perhaps get Timothy some more well deserved awards STAT? As for Rafe, I've talked about my love of Rafe before... But seriously, now and forever, they are the Emersons for me. You love Mr. Emerson for his sweetness, his befuddled charm, his strong opinions and his belief that love conquers all. And George, I can understand why Lucy would love you, I love him watching this adaptation. He is a good man with a big heart and that grin. I'm sorry, but that grin could steal anyone's heart. He exudes vulnerability and likability and you can't help but love him. Whereas Julian Sands, I can never nor will never get that. There isn't anything inherently likable about him that makes you want to take him home and never let him leave. But Rafe, he is a good man.

This likability combined with this seize the moment and live your truth today feeds into the coda that Andrew Davies created. Now a LOT of people have expressed their displeasure about the coda, which isn't really a coda so much as a framing device for the entire story. Andrew Davies has written it so that George dies a hero in the first world war and that Lucy has come back to Italy to remember the good man that she loved. Hue and cry from all around. Firstly, have these people read the real ending that Forster tried to omit later? The one where George is a conscientious objector and then cheats on Lucy? Um, I don't think so. So right there, this ending is better, love till death do they part and all that. Secondly, Forster loves his tragedies in his final act, to leave the reader with a little slice of life and a lot of what the fuck. He had apparently toyed with the idea of killing George and having a rather different ending. Perhaps that is why in the book the ending doesn't quite work. There's something off with it. He could never get it quite right so he seems to have given up. This ending fixes that imperfect fit. Yes, it's sad. But the melancholy has a truth to it. This makes the story something more. Something greater. It's a true love story that lasted as long as it could, but reality gave us that final gut punch that Forster loved so much. Yet Lucy, while sad, is still happy, in her way. She knows that she loved a good man, that she lived the life she was meant to have, even if she was only able to hold on for a short time. It's truth and love at it's most human level.

But I really want to know, what is it about Andrew Davies that he just knows? He just gets how to streamline a story, how to take something that is good or near prefect and make it perfection. His unerring eye as to what needs to be kept and what needs to be ditched and how to sum up something that was long winded but still keeps it's essence with just a few words? Of the twenty-eight adaptations of his I have watched, I only disliked six of them, and none of the problems I had with those could be laid at his feet. Well, maybe B. Monkey, because he wrote the book as well.... But still, of my favorite miniseries of all time, almost ten of those were done by him. Is he some sort of magical adaptation fairy that comes along and sprinkles pixie dust on the production so that it will be perfect? Does he have a knack for channeling the authors and just knowing how they'd write it and exactly in what way with the perfect cadence? I remember in one of the adaptations I didn't care for, Tipping the Velvet, the one thing that really added to the miniseries was the music hall songs. Watching the extras on the DVD I found out that all the songs were Andrew Davies's idea AND he wrote them all. He is a genius and has the special power of just knowing. He gets it. That is why I think he should be the only one to adapt certain pieces of literature, and I for one am beyond gleeful that one of the pieces he did adapt was A Room with a View.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Published by: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: September 29th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price--and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone...

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz's crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction--if they don't kill each other first."

If there was one author whose work I fell in love with last year it was Leigh Bardugo. I have been counting down the days (literally) till I'd get my hands on this new book!

The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon
Published by: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: September 29th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 3868 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Have you ever wanted to hold a little piece of the impossible? Lavishly illustrated in full color, The Doldrums is an extraordinary debut about friendship, imagination, and the yearning for adventure from author-artist Nicholas Gannon. A modern classic in the making, The Doldrums is for readers of inventive and timeless authors such as Brian Selznick and Lemony Snicket.

Archer B. Helmsley wants an adventure. No, he needs an adventure. His grandparents were famous explorers . . . until they got stuck on an iceberg. Now Archer's mother barely lets him out of the house. As if that would stop a true Helmsley. Archer enlists Adelaide—the girl who, according to rumor, lost her leg to a crocodile—and Oliver—the boy next door—to help him rescue his grandparents. The Doldrums whisks us off on an adventure full of sly humor, incredible detail, and enormous heart.

With approximately twenty pieces of breathtaking full-color artwork, as well as black-and-white spot illustrations, and gorgeous, literary writing, Nicholas Gannon proves himself to be a distinctive new voice with his middle grade debut. Be in it for the limitless imagination. For the characters who capture your heart. For the rich world you'll want to settle into. But most of all, be in it for the friendship. That, after all, is the true adventure."

Yes, this is cover lust pure and simple. Seriously. Look at the work of art!

The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Widlass by Jim Butcher
Published by: Roc
Publication Date: September 29th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 640 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Jim Butcher, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Dresden Files and the Codex Alera novels, conjures up a new series set in a fantastic world of noble families, steam-powered technology, and magic-wielding warriors…

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…"

Jim Butcher going all Steampunk? I approve.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Movie Review - A Room with a View

A Room with a View
Based on the book by E.M. Forster
Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott, Daniel Day-Lewis, Simon Callow, Rosemary Leach, Rupert Graves, Patrick Godfrey, Judi Dench, Fabia Drake, Joan Henley, Amanda Walker, Maria Britneva, Mia Fothergill, and Peter Cellier
Release Date: December 13th, 1985
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Lucy Honeychurch is visiting Florence with her cousin and chaperon Charlotte Bartlett. They are there merely as tourists, and as tourists they expected a room with a view at their pension, which they don't have. A forward, if tactless man, Mr. Emerson, offers the ladies his and his son's rooms, which both have delightful views. Charlotte is insistent they refuse the offer and then snub the men. But the Reverend Mr. Beebe says that they should feel free to take the offer of the rooms, and so they do. The Emersons are omnipresent to Lucy, they are at the church she ventures into to look at the frescoes, young George rescues her after she witnesses a brutal murder in one of the squares, and they are on the fateful picnic outside Florence when George kisses Lucy. Charlotte sees the incident and whisks Lucy away to Rome. Things settle into their old routine back in England. Lucy becomes engaged to Cecil Vyse, a move that surprises no one. Life is much as it was, till a twist of fate, as George Emerson would put it, brings him and his father to this small town and back into Lucy's life. If Lucy thinks that her engagement will deter George, she is much mistaken. He knows that they are meant to be together and that Cecil is the type of man who goes about life never knowing anyone. Can Lucy face the lies she's been telling herself and everyone around her about her true feelings? Or will she live a life afraid of the passion and truth within her?

Despite being touted as the pinnacle of achievement in period films I have been coming to realize more and more that Merchant and Ivory productions aren't nearly the best out there. They take themselves far too seriously and they don't strive for balance, allowing the dour to overtake the levity necessary to create a satisfying and well rounded viewing experience. I think that this is a feeling that has been developing in me for quite some time. That is the only reason I can think of as to why I had no desire to watch A Room with a View. Not back when I first watched it, not even now when I rewatched it. This is a movie that could disappear off the face of the earth and I would have no opinion about it one way or another. The main fault lies in the leads. Helena Bonham Carter and Julian Sands have absolutely no chemistry at all. Without this passion the film is as cold as a dead fish.

In order to distract us from this failing the post production crew has filled the film with pretentious theatrics in order to make up for this passionless void. They think that by playing enough classical music loud enough that we will be stirred into the epicness of the passion and love awoken in Lucy and George, but instead it just focuses the spotlight on this failing. But the truly absurd device they use to make us "believe" in the grandness of the story is painted and pretentious cue cards announcing each section of the film. I should have guessed they were coming after the opening credits were presented as a laughable dramatis personae. Usually it is the chapter titles done in a Florentine flourish, but occasionally it's just superimposed over the film. Any way you look at it the intrusive nature of these cards dividing the film into "acts" smacks of the academic superiority that underlies the entire film and makes it a prime example as to why I don't like Merchant and Ivory all that much.

To continue with the film's pretension I want to discuss an odd little device they used throughout the film. The absurd lady novelist played by Judi Dench, instead of waxing lyrical over the city and Italy is obsessed with a scandalous story she has heard. How she has heard of it we never know, but she does know all the details. The story she tells happens to be E.M. Forster's first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread. While this little meta call out with it's self-referential humor should be an amusing nudge and wink to Forster fans, instead because of the superiority complex of the filmmakers it comes across as smug and self-indulgent. Plus, are they maybe hinting that Forster's first book was actually written by Eleanor Lavish? Because that is an insult. I can't help thinking that with Monteriano this and Monteriano that this movie would have been better served by filmmakers who were concerned with actually telling THIS story, not another story entirely. But if we are to talk of something that links the stories together let us talk about the violets and the COMPLETE OMISSION OF THEM! Violets are key to the beauty of Italy in both these stories by Forster, yet they are easily replaced in two scenes with Cornflowers, and in their most important scene, with the kiss between Lucy and George, they are completely missing. The description of these humble flowers by Forster add to the beauty of his story and are symbolic, and their omission is yet another sign of the filmmakers narrow vision wherein whatever they do is right, even if it does a disservice to the source material.

Going back to the other main problem, the lack of passion between the leads; this alone destroys the film and makes it deathly. Let's look at the scene where they kiss in Italy. Lucy is supposed to stumble onto George on the hillside and he embraces her. Instead it is staged like it's being acted with puppets. She stops, he sees her. Slowly he moves towards her, he kisses her, in the most dispassionate way ever, Maggie Smith screams. What the hell people!?! Is this some weird post modern take on romance? They are meant to be together, but we won't let the passion show, they will just inexorably and snail like move towards each other and part as if nothing had happened. Seriously, we are supposed to believe this is passionate? Cecil and Lucy's kiss has more spark and spontaneity about it, and he freakin' asks her permission! This one defining moment in Lucy's life should not be stilted and laughable. It should be her awakening that there is more to life. But than again, even the piano playing that is supposed to show her soul is oddly lacking, perhaps because it's obvious Helena Bonham Carter isn't playing... I really, I just can't even. I wonder if there was some point when the filmmakers went, hey, you know what? They have no chemistry, this movie is screwed. Ugh, seriously, Cecil is better than George, and that isn't a good thing.

But this "George Problem" I think falls completely at the feet of Julian Sands. Yes, I have a Julian Sands problem. He can't act. He is atonal. Plus he comes across as pretentious and upper class and suave and confident and even a little supercilious. In other words, everything George Emerson is not. He's put together, amused, and not a muddled mess. This I think is why there is no chemistry, his inability to act. The whole point of George is that he is everything Cecil is not. But the problem here is Cecil is played by Daniel Day-Lewis, someone who not only knows how to act, but runs rings around the rest of the cast, save Denholm Elliott. He brings depth and intrigue to the character of Cecil who we should hate and want out of Lucy's life. Instead you can't help thinking that Lucy would be far better off with Cecil. I mean, seriously people, how is Julian Sands still getting acting gigs? Have you see Warlock? I have, and it totally is proof as to why his screen actor's guild card should be revoked. If that isn't enough, how about Boxing Helena? And, oh dear, he's now on Gotham. More reasons never to watch that show again. All I have to say is at least we have Maggie Smith to provide some balance. You can never get too much Maggie Smith, as the filmmakers wisely knew. In fact they just started throwing her some of Lucy's parts just to keep her onscreen more, which was fine by me.

The only reason that this movie isn't completely flawed is that the comedic figures were so well cast that they were able to rise above the problems of the film. Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Denholm Elliott, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Simon Callow are the only reasons to watch this film. They bring the world that Forster wrote to life. They understand that life, and in particular Forster's writing, isn't just people in the throws of passion and life or death decisions, life is made up of foibles and comedic turns of phrase. Of making something humorous by the proper delivery or inflection, or even the tangling of a comedic prop. Life, like a good story, needs balance. Of all the adaptations I have watched so far the only one not to strip away all the humor of Forster's was Where Angels Fear to Tread, and that, far and away, was the adaptation I have enjoyed the most. The more I watch Merchant and Ivory films the more I realize why people for so long have denigrated period pieces. They take themselves too seriously and just don't get it. Humor is the ameliorant of life, without it, what's the point? So what is the point of this film eh?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review - E.M. Forster's A Room with a View

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1908
Format: Hardcover, 319 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin Miss Charlotte Barlett have arrived in Florence, but their rooms in the Pension Bertolini do not have the promised for views, instead overlooking a rather insalubrious alleyway. Overhearing their dilemma at the dinner table, the rather forward Emersons, a father and son, offer them their rooms. Miss Barlett thinks this is beyond proper, but the good Reverend Mr. Beebe says there could be nothing wrong with their accepting the offer. It might have been put indelicately, but it is a beautiful gesture. So Lucy and Charlotte get their views. They also get a lot more than they bargained for with the eclectic denizens of the pension, who all seem to have taken a dislike to the Emersons. One day Lucy ventures forth with a female writer, Miss Lavish, who soon deserts her and Lucy takes up with the Emersons. She doesn't understand everyone's dislike of them, they seem quite nice, if a little outspoken. There will be two incidences with the younger Emerson, George, before she leaves Florence. Both will shake her, one might forever change her heart. But back in England Lucy finds herself reverting to who she was prior to Italy. Boring and conventional she becomes engaged to Cecil Vyse. Her and Cecil have known each other for years. Their alliance is expected, even inevitable. Until Cecil does something silly and it brings the Emersons back into Lucy's life. She can not deny what happened with George. But can she put it behind her, marry Cecil, and just get on with her life? Or will her life take an unexpected turn and embrace the passion she found awakening in Italy?

The first time I read A Room with a View I was not much older than Lucy Honeychurch. I experienced Italy for the first time in her footsteps and was enchanted. In fact, I think this book would make a lovely companion piece to an art history class because of the reverence it has for art and history. But for all that is right in Italy, there is much flawed back in England. Re-reading this book all these years later, while I might not identify as strongly anymore with Lucy, I still feel the flaw in the ending. It isn't that I object to Lucy and George ending up together, they obviously belong with each other. I object to the fact that as soon as Cecil has been kicked to the curb the ending is just thrust at us and the book is over. Just because the ending is inevitable doesn't mean I don't want to read the steps inbetween Mr. Emerson ferreting the truth out of Lucy and Lucy and George eloping. It almost feels as if the book has been expurgated and we're missing all this story that should be there. Did Forster feel unequal to the task or did he just grow bored with the story? Plus why is Lucy's family mad at her about the elopement? They seem the type of family who would champion love and yet they aren't talking to her over her marriage? WHY? Plus we never get to really see Lucy and George as a couple. We know far more about Cecil then we do about George and I feel that George needed to be made less of an enigma. Give us more of a reason to love him than that he is not Cecil, which I will admit does strongly recommend him. I just feel that this struggle that Lucy has been facing of her life in a muddle which she has finally broken free of is nullified by the quagmire that the ending is. And this isn't even addressing those editions that include the epilogue. Seriously, if you want to be quickly jaded about life and the inevitability of human nature to destroy all that is good, look up the epilogue. At least there is one thing I can agree with Forster about the ending, omit that epilogue. Too bad he wasn't successful enough with getting it fully excised like he was with the epilogue for Maurice.

While I lack the open eyed naivety I had when younger, though to a lesser degree than most, there is still something about being caught up in new experiences and new ways of seeing things which is at the heart of A Room with a View. Expanding your mind and letting these new ideas sweep over you. If you can capture just a bit of that opening up that Lucy experiences, you will be the better for it. The idea that struck me most this reading was the idea of doing something beautifully or doing something delicately. When the Emersons offer Lucy and Charlotte their rooms in the pension, it isn't a delicate gesture but it is a beautiful one. Society might even think it a little outre for the ladies to accept the offer, which is why Charlotte dithers about the idea. But the gesture is done because it is right, because it is beautiful, because it's their hearts desires to have "a room with a view" even if they won't admit it to themselves or the Emersons. I think this hits on something that is a universal truth in our society. On the whole, we do what is right, what is proper, what is acceptable. We donate to the set charities, we support the right causes, we don't make a stir. But what if instead we did what was right in our very bones? Grand gestures that might not be politically correct but that have heart and beauty in them? Bring something good into the world, not because it's what is expected, but because it is what is unexpected. Little or big gestures, something every day. What would the world turn into if every day someone did something beautiful for another human being? It would be a kind of grace.

But to know what is beauty versus what is delicate you need to know yourself. That is where the younger me really latched onto Lucy and her journey. She is just starting out to see the world and to come to terms with who she is and what she wants out of life. She is looking at art and trying to decide whether she likes it or whether she is supposed to like it. She is trying to see what kind of people she should surround herself with. To her the Emersons are good people, yet to others they are uncouth. Who is right? What is her opinion? Most people struggle with these concepts all their lives. They don't know who they are or that they are constantly changing and evolving. Lucy gets easily muddled. She gets swept up into events and situations that she doesn't know how she got there or how to get out of. Can you imagine actually going to Greece on a moments notice with people you don't really like just to avoid one person? I actually kind of can. How many times has this happened to me? Not Greece in particular, but countless other trips or jobs or changes in routines. I have spent too much time doing one thing to avoid another and getting muddled beyond hope. To be young and impressionable again, I don't think I could stand that. But there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Something that will form you, be it art or literature, or in Lucy's case, music. Little does she know that it is in how she plays music that she is baring her soul. Forster himself puts it so eloquently: "Does it seem reasonable that she should play so wonderfully, and live so quietly? I suspect that one day she will be wonderful in both. The water-tight compartments in her will break down, and music and life will mingle." And that is when she will rise above the muddle and know who she is.

Which all brings me to why I dislike Cecil so much. It's not that he's a prig and pretentious and hates all the good in people and just wants everyone to suffer so he can laugh at them, though that is all true. I dislike Cecil because he uses Lucy's muddle to his advantage. She doesn't know what she wants out of life and therefore Cecil uses her impressionability to try to mold her into who he wants to marry. He cares not for her family or her friends, they are all fodder for him. He isn't delicate or beautiful in his gestures, rather thwarting everyone and spitting in the eyes of all. As Lucy points out, his declining to do something as simple as make a four for tennis would make everyone happy, yet he takes pleasure in denying them this and then interrupting their game with dramatic readings from bad novels. He doesn't even really see Lucy. He sees her as an ideal. A painting that will perfectly adorn his life and that he can force into the mold. Whenever she really shows any glimmer of her true self Cecil thinks she is joking, because this isn't what he had envisioned. Cecil is a despicable human being who isn't worthy to be slim on my shoes, and yet he serves the purpose of the moment. In one moment he is the shield for Lucy to keep George at bay. In another moment he is the reason George is her soulmate. Because, as I've mentioned before, George isn't really explored as a character, he is perfect for Lucy because he is everything Cecil is not. George lets Lucy find out who she is, lets her make her own decisions, because he is the anti-Cecil and the man for Lucy.

The one character though that I find the most interesting is Miss Charlotte Bartlett. She is the stock character of literature who is the spinster who is always concerned with propriety, appearances, and not being an inconvenience, while being the exact opposite. Seeing as Forster is such a fan of Austen you can easily see her mold in Emma and Miss Bates. As I get older I relate to these characters more and more. No, it's not my descent into spinsterhood and the eventual owning of a cat army, it's that these characters, with all their flaws, are the most human, the most sympathetic. Despite how many times while reading A Room with a View you might want to smack Charlotte, unlike Emma Woodhouse and her smack down of Miss Bates, you could never do such a thing because you pity her. The highlight of her life is how by saving Lucy from the advances of George she has actually given herself relevancy to someone she cares deeply for. Yes, it's exasperating and pitiful, but in her own way she is being proper and delicate and helpful. Yet, it's her beautiful gestures at the end that transforms her into someone who is to be more then just pitied. Lucy's mother hints at how much Lucy is like Charlotte, which Lucy rebels against. But Charlotte gives Lucy a chance, something which she probably never had. She doesn't warn Lucy about Mr. Emerson's being at the rectory, though she knew. It is through Lucy and Mr. Emerson meeting there that Lucy and George end up together. Though Charlotte denies knowing of his presence, it is my opinion that she decided to do something beautiful. She lied to facilitate love. She let Lucy have a chance at happiness, despite all her previous attempts to thwart it, propriety be damned.

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