Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Review - E.M. Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1905
Format: Hardcover, 208 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Lilia has spent the last few years since her husband died being under the thumb of his family. They don't want to be separated from Lilia's daughter Irma, but something must be done about Lilia. She is scandalous; riding bicycles through the quiet suburban streets of Sawston, forming inappropriate relationships with men, and worst of all, encouraging them! Her mother-in-law, Mrs. Herriton, thinks it's a wonderful idea that Lilia go off to Italy for a year, supposedly as the companion of their homely neighbor Charlotte Abbot, when in fact Charlotte will be watching over Lilia. Lilia's brother-in-law Philip has always painted a magical image of Italy, and they hopes that this will be the case. Philip also urges them to stop at Monteriano. Little did they all know that this suggestion would be their downfall. The letters from Lilia indicate that the two women are spending a considerable amount of time in Monteriano. The family back in England take little notice of it till they learn that Lilia has formed an attachment with a man there and they intend to marry! This is unacceptable to the Herritons and Philip rushes off to stop the misalliance, but he is too late. They are already married and Charlotte feels despondent. But there is nothing to be done. Later in the year they hear that Lilia has died in childbirth. They think the matter is at an end. But soon Lilia's husband Gino starts reaching out to Irma, the sister of his son. In order to appease Irma the family decides on a misguided attempt to rescue the baby boy from his heathen father and bring him back to England. The tragedy of Lilia's death will not be avenged, it will be increased tenfold.

The problem with Forster is that there almost always comes a point where the book goes off the rails and you are left with this feeling of it being a close call. It was almost genius, but not quite. If it hadn't been for that last chapter, if the character didn't forget itself... it could have been a masterpiece. It's frustrating to read a book that could have been so much more. If only. I liken it to the first time you read Northanger Abbey, the beginning set up in Bath is perfection and then it devolves into Gothic parody. Of course as you develop your sensibilities you realize that what you thought was a misstep for Austen was in fact perfectly calculated and the book rises in your estimations to be your favorite of her works. Despite being an Edwardian Austen, I don't think Forster's missteps were cunningly crafted. I think the story, for the most part, got away from him. But Forster was a man who also learned from his mistakes and each book improved by the lessons previously learned. The problem therefore with Where Angels Fear to Tread is that this was his first book published when he was only twenty-six years old. There was no previous to learn from and so it is rough. Very rough. It's not quite there yet and is more than a bit schitzo, but you can see how his writing will develop and how the tragic accident at the denouement will focus the narrative in future books. Also, now knowing how the narrative flows, on future readings I won't be lulled into believing the book is something that it's not. So like Northanger Abbey, I hope my opinion of this work will only improve.

What I find interesting is that all the characters are living these proscribed little lives, trapped by convention and circumstance. While they don't all immediately rail against their situations, their reactions speak for themselves. With their first taste of freedom they almost quite literally go crazy. Lilia marries almost the first man she sees who she has no common language with. Caroline goes along with this crazy scheme and even falls for the same man. Lilia's sister-in-law Harriet takes the law into her own hands and loses her mind. As for Philip, he just loses all sense and logic and loves everything. All these people just throw off the chains of the life they had been living and do something they never would have expected themselves capable of. What I wonder is would the tragedy of the book, with Lilia's marriage and subsequent death, even have happened if she hadn't been so smothered by her life? If she hadn't been kept in this cage of conventionality that is suburban Sawston? I think that that is the key of the book. It shines a light on the strictures of society and the cages we are put in or put ourselves in and shows us that there is another way. Of course the result her is in the dramatic extreme, but it shows that by crushing someone for long enough their reaction might be equally strong in the other direction. Therefore a balance has to be reached somehow. But I don't necessarily think that Forster is advocating this balance. I think he is advocating the need to feel something, anything, in a society that is repressive.

This need to feel something, even an extreme, is where I think the book goes from social commentary to unintentional satire. Yes, you would expect that losing the chains that had forever trapped you might make you overzealous to embrace this new freedom, but the way in which all the characters react seems so far out of character that it is almost unbelievable. People are by nature contradictory creatures, but are they really this contradictory? If a book loses it's grounding in reality, it loses something of the point it is trying to make. While Lilia getting re-married is a believable catalyst, the way it is handled lends itself more to French Farce. The book takes it's title from the famous Alexander Pope quote "fools rush in where angels fear to thread." But I don't think that the rushing in should be like the Keystone Cops, bumbling and falling over each other. Everyone gets to Italy and they act like they are on drugs, ecstasies of experience and throwing off the shackles of their bourgeois life. While if Forster had toned this down, he could have had an amazing social commentary on the respectability and "superiority" of suburban life, instead it feels like a fever dream where one minute our enemy is our enemy, the next they are our savior or our bosom companion. Nothing that happens in Monteriano actually makes the least bit of sense and yet we are to believe it is some kind of transformative experience? Again, cue the Keystone Cops.

But there is something that can't be denied and that is the English obsession with Italy. And I want to know why? Writers from Waugh to Forster, they had this near religious ecstasy about Italy. To me, Italy is just a country that I hope to one day visit. The English obsession for specific generations though is beyond "The Grand Tour" it's like Italy is the only place where one can be and feel and see, where there is actually culture. Firstly, I think this is a disservice to their own country, but more then that, being someone not raised in this culture to revere Italy it's off putting. It creates a chasm between the writer and the reader. Someone mentioning Italy doesn't transport me like Philip into a haze of reminiscences that are the only worthwhile memories of my life. I just want some explanation as to why this is the case. Is it because of the public school system and the ingraining of Latin so that Italy is the cradle of civilization? With Waugh I get the religious connotations, but seeing as England is mainly not Catholic, it couldn't be this religious aspect. Yes, the art is something to be admired, but... just what is it? Why was Italy the be all end all. Having spent so much of this past July reading about the generation of the Bright Young People, they all had this feeling about Italy. Never once was it explained, it was just accepted. I'm sorry, but reading this book over a hundred years after it was written, I would request some explanation of the English Italy alliance please.

Because this love of the country spills out into the most problematic part of the book. Gino. Lilia's husband is Italian and, not too put too fine a point on it, a brute. Yet he is almost quite literally forgiven everything because he is representative of this country that they love and he has all these people in his thrall. His exuberance, his lust for life, they are able to cover up his darker sins of adultery and abuse. While you could say he's a modern day version of the rough and unlikable man as hero, a la Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, I still don't think that that excuses anything. Being able to have emotions doesn't mean that all the emotions are acceptable. Because you love doesn't mean you should cheat on your wife! This isn't an either or situation. Life needs compromise, but it also needs some restraint. It's not all or nothing. If Forster had actually bothered to create a true character, a complex man with faults then perhaps I could have liked the book more, but to have a man be totem for his country, to have all the good and the bad of an entire people? It just doesn't work. Gino as Avatar is laughable. Could a man really forgive the death of his son in such a manner? Could he shrug off basically all the cares of life? I don't think so. Maybe the English love Italy because they believe it is this magical land where everything works out and nothing much matters, never realizing that it's this imaginary dream that doesn't exist. If it's unbelievable in fiction, well then, there's no chance it's real life now is it?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Forster Fall

I remember when I was first introduced to the work of E. M. Forster. I don't think anyone can forget the juggernaut that was the 1992 adaptation of Howards End starring Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, and Anthony Hopkins. It was the darling of the awards circuit garnering nine Academy Award nominations and winning three, Emma Thompson winning her first Oscar. I was in high school when the movie came out and didn't do much reading outside of school, I know that's shocking. But when I finally graduated in 1996 I spent that summer luxuriating in reading. The complete Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy started my summer, followed by all of Jane Austen. After finishing Austen I was bereft, I was encouraged by a kindly soul to read Forster. I read A Room with a View and was enchanted, despite the shoddy ending, Howards End instantly became one of my favorite books ever, A Passage to India wasn't really my cup of tea, and as for The Longest Journey, the less said the better.

It was apparent to me that Forster was a very uneven writer, and hence I hesitated to read his final two books, even though both had had lavish movie adaptations, one even by Merchant and Ivory. Despite my feeling otherwise time hasn't stood still, and it's almost twenty years now since I first read Forster. Besides wanting to re-read my two favorites, I thought I might as well bite the bullet and finally get around to reading Maurice and Where Angels Fear to Tread. Because my first introduction to Forster was through the Merchant and Ivory adaptation of Howards End I thought it would be fun to combine the two sensory experiences of literature and film. I hope you will join me this month as I delve back into Forster's work, revisiting some old friends and hopefully making some new ones. The one thing you'll be guaranteed of is a lot of Helena Bonham Carter and Rupert Graves, seeing as they couldn't keep themselves away from any adaptation!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 1st, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A shivering of worlds.

Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.

This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.

As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.

There will be a reckoning..."

I am really in denial that this is the last Terry Pratchett book. BUT if it had to end, it's ending with my favorite character, Tiffany Aching.

Lady of Magick by Sylvia Izzo Hunter
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: September 1st, 2015
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Sylvia Izzo Hunter brought “both rural Brittany and an alternative Regency England to vivid life” in The Midnight Queen, her debut novel of history, magic, and myth. Now, in her new Noctis Magicae novel, Sophie and Gray Marshall are ensnared in an arcane plot that threatens to undo them both.

In her second year of studies at Merlin College, Oxford, Sophie Marshall is feeling alienated among fellow students who fail to welcome a woman to their ranks. So when her husband, Gray, is invited north as a visiting lecturer at the University in Din Edin, they leap at the chance. There, Sophie’s hunger for magical knowledge can finally be nourished. But soon, Sophie must put her newly learned skills to the test.

Sophie returns home one day to find a note from Gray—he’s been summoned urgently to London. But when he doesn’t return, and none of her spells can find a trace of him, she realizes something sinister has befallen him. With the help of her sister, Joanna, she delves into Gray’s disappearance, and soon finds herself in a web of magick and intrigue that threatens not just Gray, but the entire kingdom."

Um, it's Regency Magic, did you have any doubt I'd recommend this?

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
Published by: NAL
Publication Date: September 1st, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In her thrilling new series, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England…and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth."

I am SO STINKING EXCITED for Deanna Raybourn's newest series. She's just been getting better and better as a writer and now she's jumping from paperback to hardcover too!

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest
Published by: Roc
Publication Date: September 1st, 2015
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From Cherie Priest, the award-winning author of Maplecroft, comes a new tale of Lizzie Borden’s continuing war against the cosmic horrors threatening humanity…

Birmingham, Alabama is infested with malevolence. Prejudice and hatred have consumed the minds and hearts of its populace. A murderer, unimaginatively named “Harry the Hacker” by the press, has been carving up citizens with a hatchet. And from the church known as Chapelwood, an unholy gospel is being spread by a sect that worships dark gods from beyond the heavens.

This darkness calls to Lizzie Borden. It is reminiscent of an evil she had dared hoped was extinguished. The parishioners of Chapelwood plan to sacrifice a young woman to summon beings never meant to share reality with humanity. An apocalypse will follow in their wake which will scorch the earth of all life.

Unless she stops it…"

More Lizzie Borden and more Cherie Priest, I approve. 

A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: September 1st, 2015
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Things are looking up.

For the first time in what feels like years, October "Toby" Daye has been able to pause long enough to take a breath and look at her life -- and she likes what she sees. She has friends. She has allies. She has a squire to train and a King of Cats to love, and maybe, just maybe, she can let her guard down for a change.

Or not. When Queen Windermere's seneschal is elf-shot and thrown into an enchanted sleep by agents from the neighboring Kingdom of Silences, Toby finds herself in a role she never expected to play: that of a diplomat. She must travel to Portland, Oregon, to convince King Rhys of Silences not to go to war against the Mists. But nothing is that simple, and what October finds in Silences is worse than she would ever have imagined.

How far will Toby go when lives are on the line, and when allies both old and new are threatened by a force she had never expected to face again? How much is October willing to give up, and how much is she willing to change? In Faerie, what's past is never really gone.

It's just waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

A Red-Rose Chain is the ninth installment in Seanan McGuire's urban fantasy October "Toby" Daye series."

Yes, this week might have too many new books I need.

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: September 1st, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"This fall, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist return in the highly anticipated follow-up to Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST.

In this adrenaline-charged thriller, genius-hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist face a dangerous new threat and must again join forces.

Late one night, Blomkvist receives a phone call from a trusted source claiming to have information vital to the United States. The source has been in contact with a young female super hacker–a hacker resembling someone Blomkvist knows all too well. The implications are staggering.

Blomkvist, in desperate need of a scoop for Millennium, turns to Lisbeth for help. She, as usual, has her own agenda. In The Girl in the Spider's Web, the duo who thrilled 80 million readers in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest meet again in an extraordinary and uniquely of-the-moment thriller."

Did I really like the original trilogy? Not really. Will I read this? Definitely. If for no other reason then there's so much bad press from Larsson's partner.

A Beam of Light by Andrea Camilleri
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: September 1st, 2015
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In time for Andrea Camilleri’s 90th birthday, the nineteenth installment in his irresistible New York Times–bestselling Inspector Montalbano Mystery series.

When Inspector Montalbano falls under the charms of beautiful gallery owner Marian, his longtime relationship with Livia comes under threat. Meanwhile, he is also troubled by a strange dream as three crimes demand his attention: the assault and robbery of a wealthy merchant's young wife, shady art deals, and a search for arms traffickers that leads him deep into the countryside, where the investigation takes a tragic turn."

For my mom, who loves this series. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Review - Lauren Willig's The Lure of the Moonflower

Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: NAL
Publication Date: August 4th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 528 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Jane doesn't know if it's wise to be working with Jack Reid, alias the Moonflower. But her mission is in Portugal, she doesn't speak the language, and he's the agent on the ground. Seeing as her old companion Miss Gwen is married to Jack's father, Jane has heard all there is to about Jack and his ever shifting allegiances. What she hasn't heard about Jack is that perhaps the legend doesn't match the man. And that man has sure heard of the legend of the Pink Carnation, who is now supposedly leading this new mission that he isn't allowed any input on. Jane is not suited to the rugged search for the Portuguese Queen across the rough and tumble countryside, yet that is just what she plans to do. She is being dictatorial and living down to his expectations. But that is the problem. They have both prejudged each other and found the other lacking. If they could just start over then perhaps they could find more than just a serviceable working arrangement. That new start happens when the deadliest of French spies, the Gardener, appears on their trek. They both have a history with him, and neither one is pleased to see him. They scrap all their plans and go off the grid, trying to beat the Gardener to the Queen and trying to become compatriots. While in the future Eloise and Colin are facing something just as daunting. Their wedding day. Which should go off without a hitch, that is until Colin's beloved Aunt Arabella is kidnapped the night before the ceremony and Colin reveals she was spy in her day! So they just have to deal with the kidnapper's demands and THEN they can get married.

While I haven't been a part of the Pink Carnation fandom since it's inception, arriving only two years late to the party, I hope I've made up for those two years with my cheer leading. Yet it was still hard to say goodbye to all the characters I have loved, even minus those two years. I thought that I'd be OK with it. I thought, given enough warning as well as re-reading all the previous eleven volumes I wouldn't have any pangs. I was wrong. These characters have been my friends through ups and downs for eight years! There's a scene near the end on Lord Richard's ship where Jack stumbles into the assorted crew, many of which are his family, and it just hit me. This might be the last time I see these characters in a new adventure. I didn't want to let go. I was on that ship and I was immobilized. I wasn't looking from face to face with bewilderment like Jack, I was looking from face to face and thinking of all the stories left to tell. There's Jack's little sister Lizzy, I don't just want, I need to know about her future adventures. Plus what about Jack's other sister Kat? Yes, she ends up with Tommy, but how? Also what about all the characters we have yet to meet? This world is teaming with stories that are now being set aside. Closure was given, but it's surprising sometimes that closure is the last thing we really want. What we really want is one more chapter before bedtime. 

My initial problem, aside from the series ending, was that I've never been the biggest fan of Jane. She's always been an enigma, and rightfully so, she is illusive after all. Always in the background setting the world to rights. Lauren previously needed her to be infallible and maddeningly omniscient and capable. These traits don't lend themselves to a character of flesh and blood, but an analytical ice maiden. A perfectly coolly composed heroine does not make the most interesting read. The Lure of the Moonflower gets off to a rocky start because, like Jack, we only see what Jane wants us to see. This capable perfect agent. When the truth starts to creep out, her self doubt, her sacrifices, how much she and Jack feel the weight of the mantle of spy, do you finally start to relate and to understand Jane. The loneliness, the long nights, the seclusion, the isolation from everything and everyone else as you have to be self sufficient and self reliant. That is where Lauren succeeds and the book comes together, she believably gives us insight into Jane. Slowly the layers are peeled away and the person who was once inconceivable is now all too human and relatable. While Jane's dalliance with Nicolas (aka the Gardener) shows us that she does have desires, her calculated seduction doesn't really give us any insight. It's in opening up to Jack that we learn about the real Jane behind the carefully constructed mask. If anyone had every told me my heart would ache for Jane I would never have believed them. But when she talks about her parents declaring her dead and her tombstone, that was it. Like Jack I wanted to protect her even though she didn't need the least bit of protection.

It's this opening up to Jack that not only makes Jane relatable, but that made me connect to her. Most of my young life I would shun help and advice. Even things like the simplest critique of how to write a paper better and I would shut down. Obviously I should know how to write my own paper! Sheesh. It wasn't until college that I realized that part of growing up is finding people to help you, people to lean on. Of course, this is a very trial and error procedure. Sometimes the people you think you can rely on the most turn out to be AWOL when you need them the most. Which is why I reverted to old habits and only counted on myself. So I totally get where Jane is coming from. But there's such a burden, so much weight on your shoulders if you go it alone. Finding the right people, the right group of friends who are their to lift you up when you're down, to help you over the rough patches, that is the most precious gift we can get in life. Over the course of The Lure of the Moonflower Jane realizes that Jack is just such a person. Someone who takes the weight of the mantle "The Pink Carnation" off her shoulders. Neither of them have any reason to trust the other, but their experiences together and there similar backgrounds makes them compliment each other. To have Jane find someone to compliment her is a wonderfully happy place to end this series, but more than that, to find someone to share her burdens, to rely on, someone with whom you can let down your defenses and admit you need help, that is the true happily ever after.

Also getting to a point where Eloise was allowed a happily ever after was a nice balance. While her future is more writing the exploits of daring do than perpetrating them, there was finally a nice symbiosis between the two plots to end it on the right note. I have always been a fan of the modern framing device used by Lauren with Eloise and Colin, but there were times when it felt they were just there to tell the future history of what happened versus being integral to the story. And sometimes you even wondered if perhaps Lauren's publishers were right to think of writing them out. By finally bringing spies, ever hinted at but never seen, into the present, the past and present finally clicked like they never have before. Aunt Arabella being a spy just makes so much sense. It's one of those things that when it happens you think, "how did I not see this before!?!" Eloise always wondering about Colin's spy affiliations felt forced. There was no way this gentle country squire was in any capacity related to any activities at Thames House. But Arabella! SO MUCH SENSE! Her globetrotting ways, her keeping of the family secrets. All of it just made this book reach another level. Of course some of that level was of the French farce variety, but when has Lauren's books ever disappointed by going farcical? Of course now I want an entire series just for Aunt Arabella, in the manner of her friend M.M.Kaye's "Death in" series. If there was more proof needed that I don't want to ever leave these characters desiring all these different spin-off series would be all the proof you need.

As for the book within the book. Perfection. I had been hoping for some time that Eloise might drop her academic career and have the series pull a meta switch on us and that's just what Lauren has done. I remember when it was first bandied about that Colin was secretly a spy, only to turn out to be writing about them, that wouldn't it be ironic if Eloise turned her dissertation into a book and became a bestselling author before Colin. And not only that, but a bestselling author writing about his family! Little meta jokes have always entertained me, hence my love of Abed on Community. Yeah self-referential humor! But more than that, I like that it brings the series full circle, beginning again at the end. Guess I'm supposed to read them all again right? I also love that Colin is such a great guy he literally doesn't mind this twist of fate. He and Eloise are a perfect couple. But the line that really captured it for me is when Eloise mentions to Aunt Arabella that there's a story in the Pink Carnation's further escapades, and Arabella replies more then one, I sighed wistfully. These characters have been my friends on more then one adventure, and I wish them the best of luck. Because obviously they live on and keep having adventures, even if Lauren isn't writing them. Yet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Begining of the End

We always knew it would end with Jane. Therefore the announcement of Jane's book on February 18th of last year was bittersweet. Lauren said it best:

"It’s official. Pink XII – aka the book after The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla – will be the last book in the Pink Carnation series.

Twelve is a pretty good number for a series, don’t you think?

Here’s what I can tell you about Pink XII so far. It’s Jane’s book. It’s set in Portugal in autumn 1807. And it will presumably make its appearance at some point in 2015.

The first book in the series, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, was published in 2005. It’s hard to believe that the Pink series has been going strong for nearly a decade – but the decade mark seemed like a good time to wrap it up, before it begins to go stale.

Wrapping up the series doesn’t mean that we’ll be leaving the world of Pink forever. I’m not ruling out the possibility of novellas or related novels. After all, there are still far too many characters who need their stories told….

More about Pink XII soon!"

The copious comments on this post reflect my emotions. But I was prosaic about the whole thing, I went through the five stages of grief rather well. Rarely does an author get to end a series on their terms. Either they sell phenomenally well and the series is pushed beyond it's viability, resulting in parody, bad stories, and installments that are a shadow of their former brilliance and strain credulity. Or they sell badly and the author is never given the chance to wrap everything up in a neat and perfect little bow. Lauren's Pink Carnation series worked better than most long running series in that each installment was predominately self-contained but still placed within this larger framework. And yes, there are stories I still want told, yes, there's characters I don't want to part with. But I would choose this bittersweet ending over a broken heart any day.

Twelve books, three novellas, and ten years. I have a copiously laden bookshelf devoted to Lauren. Yet the true balm isn't in the satisfactory conclusion of this series, and yes, you will be satisfied. The balm is that Lauren continues to write. With her first three stand-alone novels Lauren has proven that she can keep us in her thrall. Plus it's also fun to play "spot the Pink Carnation reference." But when a series goes from hardcover to paperback, you know the end is nigh. Thanks go to Penguin, Dutton, and NAL for letting Lauren end the series on her terms. Also thanks for all the ARCs over the years, you couldn't have been lovelier. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: August 25th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Hardly a day goes by when nine year old Laurent Lepage doesn't cry wolf. From alien invasions, to walking trees, to winged beasts in the woods, to dinosaurs spotted in the village of Three Pines, his tales are so extraordinary no one can possibly believe him. Including Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache, who now live in the little Quebec village.

But when the boy disappears, the villagers are faced with the possibility that one of his tall tales might have been true.

And so begins a frantic search for the boy and the truth. What they uncover deep in the forest sets off a sequence of events that leads to murder, leads to an old crime, leads to an old betrayal. Leads right to the door of an old poet.

And now it is now, writes Ruth Zardo. And the dark thing is here.

A monster once visited Three Pines. And put down deep roots. And now, Ruth knows, it is back.

Armand Gamache, the former head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, must face the possibility that, in not believing the boy, he himself played a terrible part in what happens next."

So, yeah, I'm kind of getting into the Gamache mysteries now... got quite a few to catch up on first!

The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory
Published by: Touchstone
Publication Date: August 25th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"By the #1 New York Times bestselling author behind the Starz original series The White Queen, a riveting new Tudor tale featuring King Henry VIII’s sixth wife Kateryn Parr, the first English queen to publish under her own name.

Why would a woman marry a serial killer?

Because she cannot refuse…

Kateryn Parr, a thirty-year-old widow in a secret affair with a new lover, has no choice when a man old enough to be her father who has buried four wives—King Henry VIII—commands her to marry him.

Kateryn has no doubt about the danger she faces: the previous queen lasted sixteen months, the one before barely half a year. But Henry adores his new bride and Kateryn’s trust in him grows as she unites the royal family, creates a radical study circle at the heart of the court, and rules the kingdom as Regent.

But is this enough to keep her safe? A leader of religious reform and the first woman to publish in English, Kateryn stands out as an independent woman with a mind of her own. But she cannot save the Protestants, under threat for their faith, and Henry’s dangerous gaze turns on her. The traditional churchmen and rivals for power accuse her of heresy—the punishment is death by fire and the king’s name is on the warrant…

From an author who has described all of Henry’s queens comes a deeply intimate portrayal of the last: a woman who longed for passion, power, and education at the court of a medieval killer."

More Royals behaving badly and I can't seem to get enough.

Breakout by Ann Aguirre
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: August 25th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"All hell is breaking loose in the edge-of-your-seat follow-up to Havoc and Perdition from New York Times bestselling author Ann Aguirre…

The prison ship Perdition has become a post-battle charnel house with only a handful of Dred’s soldiers still standing and now being hunted by Silence’s trained tongueless assassins. Forging an uneasy alliance with mercenary commander Vost—who is their only chance at escape—the Dread Queen will do whatever it takes to end her life sentence on Perdition and keep the survivors alive long enough to cobble together a transport capable of getting them off station.

If Dred and her crew can win the deadly game of cat and mouse, the payoff is not only life but freedom—a prize sweeter than their wildest dreams. Yet the sadistic Silence would rather destroy Perdition than let a single soul slip from her grasp…"

Come on, of course I need this, was there any question?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pink Carnation Spotlight - Toby Stephens (Jack Reid)

Ah, Jack Reid. The British Harrison Ford. There is one man and one man alone I could ever see playing you, no matter what his age. He IS Jack Reid.

Name: Toby Stephens

"Dream" Character Casting for the Lauren Willig Miniseries: Jack Reid, aka The Moonflower

First Impression: The Great Gatsby. OK, it wasn't so much the ill-advised 2000 adaptation with Paul Rudd of all people that was my first impression, it was an article in People Magazine about the adaptation that got my attention. The article was about Toby and his breaking into America with The Great Gatsby. The real reason I found this so fascinating is that Toby is Maggie Smith's son! Even if you aren't a British dilettante you know who Maggie Smith is! Toby Stephens was quite literally born to be a great actor, though not in The Great Gatsby.

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Lauren Willig Miniseries: Um, because he just is Jack? OK, you probably need more convincing as I'm casting a forty-six year old in the role of a man twenty years his junior. He has the gruffness down pat. Between playing Mr. Rochester and Captain Flint he's got gruff covered. With Flint he's got that ruggedness that is necessary to survive in the wilds of Portugal. But more then that, think of how Jack creates these characters and lives their lives, there's a survival attitude, but also a mischievous imp in there too... one who might dress up as a gypsy woman to mess with people perhaps? Also, really, I often say how all British actors have an American counterpart and vice versa, he really is the British Harrison Ford. He can call me Princess any day.

Lasting Impression: OK, this is a really close call between Cambridge Spies and Jane Eyre, it's a dead heat tie in fact. In Cambridge Spies I really got a sense of the range of his acting skills, I mean he's such a wicked good actor that you are actually rooting for him to outwit the British. But it was in Jane Eyre that I fell in love with him. He IS my Rochester. Before I had read Jane Eyre and in all the adaptations I have watched I just couldn't get why anyone thought Rochester was so broody and wonderful. Orson Welles, nope. George C. Scott, Timothy Dalton, William Hurt, and even Michael Fassbender didn't work for me. As for Ciarán Hinds? Spare me. No no and no. It's Toby Stephens and only Toby!

What else you've seen them in: Toby is everywhere, never wanting to be typecast or pigeonholed. From several Bronte adaptations, to Shakespeare, great period pieces like Cousin Bette to actually being the villain in a Bond movie, his range and where he will show up next will surprise you. Yes, that's him on Law and Order: UK and Inspector Lewis. That new star-studded production of Agatha Christie's And Then There Where None, yes please! And if you want some comedy with your mystery, check out Vexed, but ONLY the first season. Why yes, why not star in the revival of Noël Coward's Private Lives with his wife! But one of my all time favorite random appearances is Toby's three episodes on Robin Hood as Prince John. He is the ONLY one who understood the camp nature of this show and made you realize how awesome it could have been all along if only he had been there. He was a light in a dark and depressing show, which I did completely watch for Richard Armitage, who now owes me one.

Can't believe it's them: Space Cowboys! Really!?! He played a young Clint Eastwood!?! This is too hilarious to have not known. This is now forever in my mind as the funniest fact about Toby. Might actually have to watch the movie now...

Wish they hadn't: The Chamomile "Cousin Fucking" Lawn. And yes, that is my version of the title, though most people just call Toby's first acting role as The Chamomile Lawn. I remember it so well, the one and only time I watched this miniseries. It wasn't available in the US and I was visiting my friend Sara in Canada and we went to the video store and there it was. I was so excited. But this is such a weird miniseries. All about Tara Fitzgerald having a love affair with twins. Jennifer Ehle has a great line about DANCING! But overall I remember that it was about two cousins who were in love, hence, "cousin fucking." Avoid this, it's not worth your time. Though I do wish my friend Sara had kept a running log of all the random exclamations I made while watching this, it would be quite entertaining, especially as she was in the other room and I would literally yell out random things.

Bio: Toby Stephens was literally born into acting royalty, his mother being Maggie Smith, his father was no less a great actor, being Robert Stephens. After his parents divorced he followed his mother around the world for her various acting jobs. Therefore it is not at all surprising that both him and his brother became actors. While offered so many television and film roles he has almost always shunned Hollywood, turning instead to his first love, theater. When he first started out he quickly garnered many awards, winning the Sir John Gielgud Prize for Best Actor and the Ian Charleson Award for his performance in the title role of Coriolanus at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1994 when he was only twenty-five! He is also a prolific narrator of books, which I didn't know and must now hunt up, oh, looks like he does Flashman, makes total sense for Jack Reid, as well as performing in broadcast radio dramas, yadda yadda, Flashman! He is married to the actress Anna-Louise Plowman, whom he has stared with several times and with whom he has three children. He is also totally and completely awesome. He can be good or evil and whatever he is you will root for him. Doubt me? Watch Black Sails STAT, especially if you want to see him get "reacquainted" with his Cambridge Spies co-star Rupert Penry-Jones.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pink Carnation Spotlight - Hayley Atwell (Jane Wooliston)

I have never attempted to cast Jane till now. Much like her nom du guerre, she has been a mystery, though a mystery who might have been played by Paloma Baeza. Always there, always watching, waiting, the perfect society beauty that could kill you if you only knew. Therefore I wanted an actress that could be that society beauty but could totally kick ass, and that's why only Agent Carter herself could play Jane.

Name: Hayley Atwell

"Dream" Character Casting for the Lauren Willig Miniseries: Jane Wooliston

First Impression: The first time I saw Hayley Atwell was as the fabulous JJ Feild's sister Rosa in The Ruby in the Smoke. What struck me about her was not only her assurance as an actress, but that the character wasn't pretentious and let her heart, not society, lead her choices. Plus she got a kick ass wedding in the follow up, The Shadow in the North. I mean look at that wedding dress!

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Lauren Willig Miniseries: Demure bride by day, kick ass action hero redefining gender stereotypes by night... who else could play Jane? She has the acting skills to bring off that demure society beauty while the physical skills to beat you down. If you really want to see Hayley at her best, watch the thirteen minute mini pilot that was made for Agent Carter. I actually like it more than the series, despite my love of Jarvis. The reason being she is a lone agent, a rogue who can do anything. Which is what Jane has become.

Lasting Impression: Captain America. As you know I totally saw Captain America for one JJ Feild, but his co-star Hayley really stole the show. She went her own way, put up with no nonsense, and seriously is awesome. She went on to form S.H.I.E.L.D. after all! A strong female lead in a male dominated Marvel franchise is sure to make us women viewers sit up and take notice. We're finally not the damsel in distress, we're saving the day!

What else you've seen them in: The Prisoner, Mansfield Park, Brideshead Revisited (and doing a better job than Diana Quick EVER did), The Pillars of the Earth, and The Duchess. Until her stint in Captain America, Hayley really was the go-to actress for period films, no matter the period. In fact I would very much argue that the reason I love Captain America so much is that it's a period piece that just happens to be part of the Marvel universe. Since Captain America Hayley has been in quite literally almost all Marvel films, which makes me actually watch the others occasionally. And let us not forget she is the first female Marvel character to have her own TV show! How freakin' awesome is that?

Can't believe it's them: Cinderella. And yes, I did for some reason go to this overly Technicolor live action reinterpretation of the cartoon which couldn't figure out which time period it was meant to be in. Seriously, what is with Cate Blanchett? She's dressed for the golden age of Hollywood in rural France! What was so odd though was Hayley playing the bucolic and dying mother of Cinderella who looked like she had stepped out of a painting by Rossetti. Also, seriously, what's up with the blond hair? That is SO obviously a wig!

Wish they hadn't: Any Human Heart. Seriously, DO NOT WATCH this piece of shit show. It is depressing and just weird. I mean Matthew Macfadyen, whom I love and adore, plays such a scumbag, he sleeps with his dead son's girlfriend if I recall correctly. The only reason to watch this would be to see the brilliance of a young Sam Claflin, but as soon as he turns into Matthew Macfadyen, yes they play the same character, just stop. It's not worth it waiting for Hayley to show up, she dies in a bombing raid. Oops, did I spoil it? Good. Now you won't watch it.

Bio: Hayley was born to two motivational speakers in London who soon divorced and she spent her childhood divided between the school year in England and the summer in the US in Missouri, being a dual citizen. But having two such outspoken parents led to some interesting experiences, such as walking on hot coals at the age of nine and going on anti-vivisection rallies as a teenager. Her mother believed that theater was an important communal experience and Hayley was taken to productions at an early age, once at the age of eleven seeing her future co-star Ralph Fiennes as Hamlet. She studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 2005 and getting her first role in a TV movie about Charles and Camilla starring Laurence Fox as Prince Charles. But it was her role the following year in Andrew Davies's The Line of Beauty that really brought her into prominence, getting a role in a Woody Allen film the following year. Though film and television aren't her only outlets, she is also an accomplished stage actress earning a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for the 2009 revival of A View from the Bridge. Most people site 2011, the year Captain America came out, as her big breakthrough, but I think she's been brilliant from day one, seriously, just watch Mansfield Park. Her rise to fame was just inevitable. Plus she has some wicked Dubsmash skills.

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