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.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Published by: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: September 22nd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In Furiously Happy, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jenny Lawson explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea.

But terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

As Jenny says:

"Some people might think that being 'furiously happy' is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he's never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.

"Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked-up but you'd never guess because we've learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal. Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, 'We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.' Except go back and cross out the word 'hiding.'"

Furiously Happy is about "taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they're the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence. It's the difference between "surviving life" and "living life". It's the difference between "taking a shower" and "teaching your monkey butler how to shampoo your hair." It's the difference between being "sane" and being "furiously happy."

Lawson is beloved around the world for her inimitable humor and honesty, and in Furiously Happy, she is at her snort-inducing funniest. This is a book about embracing everything that makes us who we are - the beautiful and the flawed - and then using it to find joy in fantastic and outrageous ways. Because as Jenny's mom says, "Maybe 'crazy' isn't so bad after all." Sometimes crazy is just right."

Have I mentioned lately how much I love and adore the Blogess? If not, here's your friendly reminder, and I am totally going to her event near me and so hope I can get my picture of Wil Wheaton collating paper signed by her. 

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: September 22nd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A wildly creative Gothic fantasy retelling of Frankenstein, This Monstrous Thing is a wholly new reimagining of the classic novel by Mary Shelley and is perfect for fans of retellings such as Cinder by Marissa Meyer, fantasy by Libba Bray and Cassandra Clare, and alternative history by Scott Westerfeld.

In an alternative fantasy world where some men are made from clockwork parts and carriages are steam powered, Alasdair Finch, a young mechanic, does the unthinkable after his brother dies: he uses clockwork pieces to bring Oliver back from the dead.

But the resurrection does not go as planned, and Oliver returns more monster than man. Even worse, the novel Frankenstein is published and the townsfolk are determined to find the real-life doctor and his monster. With few places to turn for help, the dangers may ultimately bring the brothers together—or ruin them forever."

The Marissa Meyer link is what interested me. Not the Cassandra Clare. NEVER the Cassandra Clare.

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 22nd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 64 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In what calls their "greatest [collaboration] to date," New York Times bestselling and Newbery and Carnegie Medal-winning author Neil Gaiman and Kate Greenaway-winning illustrator Chris Riddell have created a thrillingly reimagined fairy tale, "told in a way only Gaiman can" and featuring "stunning metallic artwork" (

The result is a beautiful and coveted edition of The Sleeper and the Spindle that the Guardian calls "a refreshing, much-needed twist on a classic story."

In this captivating and darkly funny tale, Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell have twisted together the familiar and the new as well as the beautiful and the wicked to tell a brilliant version of Snow White's (sort of) and Sleeping Beauty's (almost) stories.

This story was originally published (without illustrations) in Rags & Bones (Little, Brown, 2013). This is the first time it is being published as an illustrated, stand-alone edition, and the book is a beautiful work of art."

If you don't have awesome friends like me you don't have the true first edition of this book. I have awesome friends.

Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Published by: Titan Books
Publication Date: September 22nd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A new novel written by NBA All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!

Fresh out of Cambridge University, the young Mycroft Holmes is already making a name ​ ​for himself in government, working for the Secretary of State for War. Yet this most British of civil servants has strong ties to the faraway island of Trinidad, the birthplace of his best friend, Cyrus Douglas, a man of African descent, and where his fiancée Georgiana Sutton was raised.

Mycroft’s comfortable existence is overturned when Douglas receives troubling reports ​ from home. There are rumors of mysterious disappearances, strange footprints in the sand, and spirits enticing children to their deaths, their bodies found drained of blood. Upon hearing the news, Georgiana abruptly departs for Trinidad. Near panic, Mycroft convinces Douglas that they should follow her, drawing the two men into a web of dark secrets that grows more treacherous with each step they take...

Written by NBA superstar Kareem Abdul- Jabbar and screenwriter Anna Waterhouse, Mycroft Holmes reveals the untold story of Sherlock’s older brother. This harrowing adventure changed his life, and set the ​ stage for the man Mycroft would become: founder of the famous Diogenes Club and the hidden power behind the British government."

If you are not a collector of strange facts you probably don't know that Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, yes, the basketball player, is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. So here is your weird fact of the day.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Movie Review - Howards End

Howards End
Based on the book by E.M. Forster
Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Joseph Bennett, Emma Thompson, Prunella Scales, Adrian Ross Magenty, Jo Kendall, Anthony Hopkins, James Wilby, Jemma Redgrave, Samuel West, Simon Callow, Susie Lindeman, and Nicola Duffett
Release Date: March 13th, 1992
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Helen Schlegel is visiting with the Wilcoxes at Howards End, where she becomes engaged to the youngest son Paul. In fits of rapture she writes a letter to her sister telling her of the happy alliance and due to her sister Margaret being unable to journey down to the house their Aunt Juley heads down to suss out the situation. Everything is muddled, the engagement was off before it really began and due to Aunt Juley's misunderstanding chaos reigns with the Wilcoxes and the two families go their separate ways. So how inconvenient that they happen to take a house in London directly opposite the Schlegels for the elder son Charles's wedding. Helen wisely takes herself off to Germany and Paul goes off to Nairobi. This gives Meg and the matriarch Ruth Wilcox a chance to become dear friends. Meg is Ruth's confidant, informing her of her illness, which she hasn't told her family about, as well as how Howards End is her place in the world. Meg longs to see Howards End with Ruth, but it is never to be. Ruth dies shortly thereafter. What Meg doesn't know is that Ruth asked her family to leave Howards End to Meg. The Wilcoxes think this is folly, not knowing the pain Ruth suffered on hearing that the Schlegels were to soon lose their house as the lease was up. But things have a weird way of working themselves out if they are meant to be. Meg ends up marrying Ruth's widower, Henry, and her possessions end up being stored at Howards End, much to the rest of the Wilcoxes displeasure. While Meg's life is sorting itself out, Helen's is spinning even more out of control. She has a hanger-on, Leonard Bast, a poor clerk whom she befriended after accidentally stealing his umbrella. Due to the interactions between the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes Helen hears of some advice for Leonard that she thinks is in his best interest. Instead his friendship with Helen slowly destroys him. Helen, unwilling to believe that anything is her fault, lays the blame on Henry and she cuts herself off from her family after a scene at Henry's daughter Evie's wedding. Helen's behaviour is odd. Something must be behind it. Could it be Leonard? Or could it be the end of everything they believe and hold dear?

I really don't know how many times I have watched Howards End. I wouldn't say it was overly much, in the realm of Clue and The Princess Bride, but then how do I know so much of the blocking and the gestures and the exact way the lines are delivered? So apparently, without my knowing it, I'm some kind of Howards End junky, or the film is just particularly memorable, you choose. But seeing as I had the recent and mortifying experience of learning a new brand of hatred for the book I was still willing to believe in the film. To believe that all this was just me. It was refreshing to find that I still like the film, but by watching it with a jaded and suspicious eye I picked up on the oddest things that I don't think I would ever have noticed were it not for my skepticism. The biggest change is in how the movie diverts from the book, what I call the music and meaning. When Helen first meets Mr. Bast at the concert of that title Merchant and Ivory basically show their hand as to how they are going to treat this film. Instead of Helen going on about the Goblins in the music, they assign that task to Simon Callow in his requisite cameo. Later Helen disagrees with this fanciful assigning of meaning and narrative to the music. She is more prosaic and that makes her differ from the Helen in the book. The film doesn't delve into the deeper meaning of the story. It doesn't dwell on the morbid thoughts of the leads, going instead for the flash and the gloss. This is why the film still works while the book now fails in my mind. The characters internal lives destroy them and make them unrelatable in the book, being petty and self centered asses. By taking things more at face value we are spared the shallow inner lives that Forster wrote and we are left with a satisfying story.    

The movie isn't hurt either by it's superb casting, it's a who's who of the best in British stars, from Antony Hopkins to Samuel West. Emma Thompson picked up her first Oscar for her portrayal of Margaret Schlegel, though personally, I could take or leave Emma Thompson. Yes, the film wouldn't have worked without her, but the truth is that Vanessa Redgrave deserved all of the awards for this film, because it is through her and her character of Ruth Wilcox that the entire tone of the film is set. I defy you to capture the whole feeling of the film better then the first few minutes where Ruth Wilcox is dreamily walking about the grounds of Howards End. It sets up her love of the house and the love of her family. This is the world entire to her and it is perfect. A role that in the book isn't more than a plot device to bring the two families back together after the rift of Helen and Paul is given such depth and pathos that you can't help but be moved. Through her carefully delivered lines we come to love Howards End as she does. Vanessa Redgrave sprinkles magic over the house at the center of the book and gives it a life. In the book you never quite get why the house is so important, why it is everything. Yet in that one speech where Ruth talks about the tree relieving the tooth ache, what in the book is an odd insignificant line, brings all the magic of home and belonging somewhere in the world. Because that is what Howards End is, a place to belong.

Yet if they hadn't found THE PERFECT house I don't know if all Vanessa Redgrave's magic would have worked. In fact, for quite some time this was my dream home. For the country that is. For the city I really wanted the Schlegels house... perhaps that's why I remember this film so much, I wanted to live in their homes. I wanted to live, not in their world or even with them, but in the places they inhabited. The one thing that Forster does and does better than anyone else is describe places in such a magical way that you feel as if you are there, walking through the fields blanketed with flowers. His world, despite the death and despair that always comes at the close, is a place for nature to show it's wonderful bounty. This film felt like the very best of Forster's writing on nature. While Leonard Bast's actual walk through the night isn't magical or mystical in the least on the page, the film captures the romanticism that is found on the road to Monteriano, the woods abundant and fecund with bluebells, even if Broadchurch has tainted my views on woods and bluebells ever so slightly, the magic is still there. There is a Pre-Raphaelite sensibility to the clothing and the flowers that romanticize the setting. Though I will saying that the coupling of Helen and Leonard might have taken the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic a little too far. Overtones of John Everett Millais's Ophelia, and John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shallot, while apt for their love affair, just made you think how uncomfortable being seduced in a rowboat would be.

Though, for all they did right with the production of the film, whomever did the makeup needs to be called out. Seriously people. I am glad that I don't have a high definition television, because the horror of the men's makeup might not have been endurable. They all look like silent film stars, as in that very overly made up way. I kept expecting them to start mugging for the camera, or for ominous music to start as Emma Thompson was tied to the railway track, or even an Errol Flynn sweep across the screen on a rope as Samuel West showed off his swashbuckling skills. Across the board, their skin is a nice flat spray tan, with the eyes and eyebrows comically enhanced. So, was the makeup lady blind or just hired off the most recent Christmas Panto? Every time Anthony Hopkins wasn't shamefully hiding his face I was about to bust my gut with laughter. I wonder if he saw the dailies and came up with that clever hiding of his face when he had to talk about unpleasantness with Margaret just so that the hideous makeup job had less screen time. All I kept thinking of was the season seven episode of Red Dwarf "Blue," where in order to get Dave to stop missing Rimmer Kryten creates "The Rimmer Experience," a virtual reality ride of Rimmer's life seen through Rimmer's eyes. Everyone is heavily made up to the comical extreme. While it works in a comedy, I don't think that was the look they should have gone for in a period drama! As for how the women escaped this fate? I don't think all of them did, Helena Bonham Carter looks a little too Mary Pickford for my liking.

One thing that drove me crazy throughout was the film's heavy handed foreshadowing. So, if you don't want to be spoiled, stop now. Though it you've read my review of the book I kind of spoiled it without warning, oops. Anyway, so two key things that happen at or near the end of the book is that Charles Wilcox repeatedly hits Leonard Bast with the flat or a sword until Leonard dies of his heart condition, though it is manslaughter. The other is that it comes out that Henry Wilcox cheated on his wife Ruth with Leonard Bast's wife, Jacky, while he was in Cyprus. So how were they heavy handed? With Jacky and Henry, it's just a deliberate mentioning of Cyprus in both their pasts that is never mentioned in the book until they fatefully meet at Evie Wilcox's wedding. As for the killer blade? Oh dear me, even if you didn't know it is coming from reading the book, you would have known it was coming with how they handled every mention of the sword like it was semaphore code. "THIS SWORD IS IMPORTANT PAY ATTENTION!" First it's mentioned by Meg at a dinner party she has at her house with Mrs. Wilcox, then on Leonard's second coming to the house he plays with the hilt, then there's a big to-do with unpacking it at Howards End and hanging it under the mantelpiece, AND THEN Meg and Helen discuss how perfect it sits over the fire, AND THEN it's used as a murder weapon. Four, yes FOUR clumsy and obvious references to that damn sword. Couldn't they have alluded to it in a more sly way? Couldn't they have, I don't know, mentioned it twice and not felt the need to point it out with big flashing lights. The only thing they could have done worse is a giant lighted sign pointing at it going, "Keep Leonard Away!" So much for subtlety. But then again, they were painting the book in broad strokes, which overall worked, how can I fault them for doing a better job overall than the author himself?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Review - E.M. Forster's Howards End

Howards End by E.M. Forster
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1910
Format: Hardcover, 461 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Margaret and Helen Schlegel met Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox while abroad. Now back in England the two sisters have been invited to the Wilcox's country house, Howards End. Margaret can not make it, but Helen not only falls in love with the house and the family, but with the youngest son, Paul. The imprudent love affair is over before it has begun, but it creates a tension between the two families. That tension is increased by the Wilcoxes taking a house opposite the Schlegels in London. But the unexpected happens, Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox become dear friends. They confide in each other and Mrs. Wilcox is saddened to hear that the Schlegels will lose their home shortly because the lease is up and the block of houses is scheduled for demolition. Mrs. Wilcox asks Margaret to go to Howards End with her on the spur of the moment, they are about ready to embark when the whole Wilcox family returns home, and their journey to Howards End will never happen. Mrs. Wilcox dies just weeks later. In a note she asks that her family give Margaret Howards End. Not knowing about the impending loss of her home, the Wilcoxes dismiss it as the whim of a dying woman. But the death of Mrs. Wilcox doesn't stop the intercourse between the two families and eventually Margaret ends up marrying Mrs. Wilcox's widower, Henry. This new relationship strains the two families, but nothing will strain them more than one man, Leonard Bast. The Schlegel's met him at a concert where Helen accidentally stole his umbrella. Helen took him up as a pet cause and her family's influence leads this man closer and closer to the brink of destruction. Could one man destroy everything? Or could one woman destroy one man utterly?

It happens so rarely to me that I often forget that it can happen. That feeling while re-reading a book that all is not right. You have this sense of the curtain being drawn back and the wizard being exposed. I can't think of anything worse for a reader than to be disillusioned by a previously loved book. Worse, you don't have any idea how you had come to revere it so in the first place. You even start to question if it's you. Not just that you've probably changed in the years since you first read it, but more than that, you start wondering if you're in a bad mood and you don't know it. Did something happen to tick you off that is somehow seeping into your enjoyment of the book? You start soul searching, trying to find the why, when perhaps it's not you and it really is the book. That is how things stand with me and Howards End at the moment. In fact, if you had asked me prior to right now what are my favorite books of all time, Howards End would have been one of them. Five stars all the way, praise the glory. Yet I should have known better. I should have had an inkling that this would happen. Most changes of opinion aren't foreshadowed by some event that you think insignificant at the time, but this one was. Years ago when the DVD for Merchant and Ivory's production of Howards End was finally released by Criterion I eagerly ripped off the wrapping, sat down and was bored stiff. While I'm not going to go into the film adaptation at the moment, the scales were falling from my eyes and I should have seen that my change in opinion as regards the film might herald a change in opinion as regards the book. Howards End is a muddled mess of ideas and theories and cant and talk talk talk wherein nothing ever comes of the talking. Big topics are handled badly, there's a smug pretension prevalent throughout and I can't help thinking that it's like high schoolers sitting around thinking they're SO DEEP because they're talking about philosophy and the plight of the third world, when really they know nothing.

What struck me first and foremost was the book's preoccupation with money. Yes, it's to be expected with the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes, being rich, and their interactions with the Basts, who aren't just lower-middle-class, but eventually destitute. But it goes beyond this. It goes to Margaret musing about how wonderful money is and how she's on this lovely little island oasis and all those who are struggling are just below the surface. Because obviously the poor are drowning souls. Ugh. Then her and her discussion group talk about what they can do, theoretically, for all those "deserving" poor. Concert tickets, and seaside holidays, and education, for all that spare time they have while scraping by! Because that's all she or her friends are capable of. Talking about it. Being smug and satisfied and content with their lot while never actually doing anything for anyone. And even if they did, it would be something useless to the "deserving" poor, ie a seaside holiday. What makes Margaret so damn superior? Condescending bitch. She could actually go out and do something good, but does she? NO! She's just all talk talk talk. I'm on my lovely island, money really is so wonderful don't you think? At times I almost thought she'd break into the song by Kander and Ebb from Cabaret "Money" because obviously money makes Margaret's world go round. In fact, what proof do we have that Margaret isn't the money grubbing opportunist that Mr. Wilcox's children fear she is? Yes, she's always encouraging him to give his children money, but he's a freakin' millionaire! It's not like supporting his children is even going to make a dent in his fortunes. Oh, this really does add a different spin on things... I think it actually makes more sense than any other reason put forward for the union of Margaret and Henry...

As for those "deserving" poor, let's look to those pathetic Basts. Leonard and his wife Jacky were doing OK. They were struggling along, but surviving. The Schlegels enter their life and everything goes to hell. Because Helen takes the stupid ideas of Margaret and their group and actually tries to help the Basts without actually understanding their situation. She comes in like a gale force wind and destroys everything. This shows so clearly that you just shouldn't meddle in things you don't understand. I don't know if Forster was trying to make a point, but all it pointed out to me was how much I hated the main characters. Helen is so holier than thou, here let me drag you off to confront the man who did you wrong. But it wasn't Henry that did them wrong, it was Helen and Margaret forcing this rumor of Henry's on Leonard. Leave the poor man alone! The worst is after Helen has inadvertently taken everything away from the Basts, destroyed the morale and hope of this couple, she then leaves them behind in the country, never thinking how they are to get home. She has brought them to the brink of destitution, and then by skipping out on them, they are pushed that final inch to full destruction. She is such a self centered ignorant interfering bitch, how can ANYONE like her? She even seduces Leonard and destroys all his personal worth, with him actually welcoming death! And how much thought do any of the Schlegels give to Leonard after the confrontation at Oniton? Negligible. And after his death? Hey, they seem to view his death as logical and inevitable. As for Jacky? Never a backward glance. These people are reprehensible!

But then, the book has a rather odd grasp of death. It seems to be 100% endorsing that our reward in the afterlife is better than anything on earth. That the concept, not the reality, of death makes us strive to be better people. Excuse me? It's not that I don't disagree with this. I mean, the whole afterlife, that's your own belief, but the inevitability of death should make us try to be better, do better, help one another. And that is totally not upheld by the actions of any of the characters in the book. If they actually believe this, then every single one of them is going to burn in hell for hypocrisy and more importantly, for actually leading to a man's death. Because they are ALL responsible for the death of Leonard Bast. Each and every single one of them. It doesn't matter if Charles Wilcox delivered the blow in, what I must say, is the most convoluted scene in the book, each and every one of them is responsible for that death. Yet, aside from Charles who ends up serving three years in prison, and Henry who's morale is destroyed with the imprisonment of his son, everyone else is just, hey ho, it's all rainbows and puppies and oh, who cares if one of the lower classes is dead, life goes on, don'tcha know? What is with the cavalier attitude? Is it that weird stoic German in them that they keep alluding to? Or is it just Forster throwing in another death right at the end to shake us up, but he just didn't know how to handle it? Let's face it, this whole book is a muddle, so should this further muddle be a surprise?

Though I have saved the best for last. The view of women as, well, basically there to support their husbands and have no thoughts of their own. You MIGHT think that this isn't actually the point of the book, Helen and Margaret are rather outre and independent, but look what happens to Margaret when she gets engaged? It's like she's had a brain transplant, or as the book says, the glass or whatever came down between her and her husband and the rest of the world, blah blah blah. She's basically been "upgraded" into a robot. It's all, Henry may say this and that and be a total dick, but I know deep down that's not him. We never see into Henry's head. My guess? He's a dick! There is no proof to the contrary, just Margaret's vain justifications for her husband's actions. Plus what experience does Forster have with marriage or with women? He seems to be drawing on what the male ideal is, but with no experience of that ideal in actuality. Ugh. And least we forget Mrs. Wilcox, a woman who wouldn't burden her family with her death and had one wish, that Howards End be given to Margaret. Of course she didn't really mean that, why would a woman do something so foolish? Obviously her family knew her better, and let's just ignore a dying woman's request. Let's just shove all the unpleasantness under the carpet and worship our husbands and be there just for them and be only as original as it suits them and their life. Because that's the point of life right? Margaret may have started to regret it for one moment, and that moment was gone in a flash and let's take care of Henry, he's had a rough time of it for a millionaire with two successful marriages and lots of houses and cars and blurg. Enough already. Seriously, if my house hadn't lost power and I had nothing else to do this book would never have been finished. I was the true idiot to ever think this was a good book.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Marvels by Brian Selznick
Published by: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 15th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 640 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Caldecott Award winner and bookmaking trailblazer Brian Selznick once again plays with the form he invented and delivers a moving and mesmerizing adventure about the power of story. Two seemingly unrelated stories -- one in words, the other in pictures -- come together with spellbinding synergy! The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle's puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries. How the picture and word stories intersect will leave readers marveling over Selznick's storytelling prowess. Filled with mystery, vibrant characters, surprise twists, and heartrending beauty, and featuring Selznick's most arresting art to date, The Marvels is a moving tribute to the power of story."

Even if you think that Brian Selznick isn't for you, I urge you to pick up any of his books, you will be surprised and most likely blown away simultaneously.

Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton
Published by: Drawn and Quarterly
Publication Date: September 15th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 160 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A follow-up to Hark! A Vagrant, which spent five months on the New York Times bestseller list.

Ida B. Wells, the Black Prince, and Benito Juárez burst off the pages of Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection, armed with modern-sounding quips and amusingly on-point repartee. Kate Beaton's second D+Q book brings her hysterically funny gaze to bear on these and even more historical, literary, and contemporary figures. Irreverently funny and carefully researched, no target is safe from Beaton's incisive wit in these satirical strips.

Beaton began her infectiously popular web comic, Hark! A Vagrant, in 2007 and it quickly attracted the adoration of hundreds of thousands of fans. It was an unequivocal hit with critics and fans alike, topping best-of-the-year lists from E!, Amazon, Time, and more. Now Beaton returns with a refined pen, ready to make jokes at the expense of hunks, army generals, scientists, and Canadians in equal measure. With a few carefully placed lines, she captures the over-the-top evil of the straw feminists in the closet, the disgruntled dismay of Heathcliff, and Wonder Woman's all-conquering ennui. Step Aside, Pops is sure to be the comedic hit of the year: sharp, insightful, and very funny."

While Kate Beaton's comics range from crap to the sublime, the sublime make the crap worth it. Yes, it's uneven, but so are most things and she does make up for it!

The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen by Katherine Howe
Published by: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 15th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A haunting, contemporary love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Conversion.

It’s July in New York City, and aspiring filmmaker Wes Auckerman has just arrived to start his summer term at NYU. While shooting a séance at a psychic’s in the East Village, he meets a mysterious, intoxicatingly beautiful girl named Annie.

As they start spending time together, Wes finds himself falling for her, drawn to her rose-petal lips and her entrancing glow. There’s just something about her that he can’t put his finger on, something faraway and otherworldly that compels him to fall even deeper. Annie’s from the city, and yet she seems just as out of place as Wes feels. Lost in the chaos of the busy city streets, she’s been searching for something—a missing ring. And now Annie is running out of time and needs Wes’s help. As they search together, Annie and Wes uncover secrets lurking around every corner, secrets that will reveal the truth of Annie’s dark past."

Totally didn't realize this was YA, it will still be good though...

Dishing the Dirt by M.C. Beaton
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: September 15th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When therapist Jill Davent moved to the village of Carsely, Agatha Raisin was not a fan. Not only was this therapist romancing Agatha's ex-husband but she dug up details of Agatha's not-too-glamorous origins. Jill also counsels a woman, Gwen Simple, that Agatha firmly believes assisted her son in some grisly murders, although there is no proof. Not one to keep her feelings to herself, Agatha tells anyone that would listen that Jill is a charlatan and better off dead. Agatha could only sigh with relief when the therapist took an office in Mircester.

When Agatha learns that Jill had hired a private detective to investigate her background, she barges into Jill's office and gives her a piece of her mind, yelling "I could kill you!" So when Jill is found strangled to death in her office two days later, Agatha becomes the prime suspect. But Agatha, along with her team of private detectives, is determined to prove her innocence and find the real culprit. This time Agatha must use her skills to save her own skin."

Two "Beatons" this week, interesting...

Driving Heat by Richard Castle
Published by: Kingswell
Publication Date: September 15th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Richard Castle, New York Times mega-bestselling mystery writer and star of ABC's hit primetime show Castle is back. In the seventh novel of his popular Nikki Heat series, the NYPD's top homicide detective has been promoted to captain just in time to face a thrilling case with a very personal twist. Captain Heat's fianc , Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jameson Rook, is deep in an investigation. Professionally for Heat, Rook's meddling in the case compromises her new job. Privately, it becomes an early test of their engagement when Rook becomes a distraction at best, and an obstacle at worst, as their parallel lives not only cross, but collide."

The "Castle" books keep coming on!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Movie Review - Maurice

Based on the book by E.M. Forster
Starring: James Wilby, Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, Denholm Elliott, Simon Callow, Billie Whitelaw, Barry Foster, Judy Parfitt, Phoebe Nicholls, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Godfrey, Mark Tandy, Kitty Aldridge, Helena Michell, Catherine Rabett, and Peter Eyre
Release Date: September 15th, 1987
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Despite a kindly teacher telling Maurice the facts of life before he ventured out into the "real world" he doesn't really believe that he will be like other men with a wife and a home. This thought of his prepubescent self seems to be prophetic as when he's at college at Cambridge he falls in love with his fellow student Clive Durham. They begin an affair of the heart, not of the body. They leave college and continue to be the center of each others lives. This happy situation can not last. A mutual friend, Risley, who has their predilections is caught in a sting operation and arrested and sentenced to six months hard labor for gross indecency. This incident shakes Clive's life to pieces. He and Maurice have been deluding themselves, and from now on they are to be nothing more than friends. Maurice doesn't want to accept this, but quite quickly he sees that Clive is moving on with his life. Clive is soon married and he and his wife Anne are settling into their country estate, Pendersleigh, and having friends round for the weekend and campaigning, living the life of a country squire. They finally convince Maurice to visit, and it will be a fateful one for Maurice. It is during this visit that he meets Alec Scudder, the under-gamekeeper of Pendersleigh. Despite Maurice trying to "cure" himself via hypnosis, Scudder, and his feelings for him, show Maurice that perhaps he doesn't want to change. Perhaps he has found what he had thought he had with Clive? Only this time is it real?

In college my friends and I used to all pile onto one couch in my parent's house and watch movies. They usually would be OK watching whatever film I had planned on viewing, and seeing as this was during the time when I tried to watch an entire actor's oeuvre, they'd sometimes be stuck watching Richard E. Grant for a summer, as we worked our way from Henry and June to Spice World. Ironically, of the two, I would recommend Spice World as the better film, I think Henry and June actually ended up in an impromptu trip to the liquor store in order to finish it. For some arcane and forgotten reason Maurice was watched on one of these nights. I really can not understand what possessed me to suggest it, this was at the height of my James Wilby hatred, seriously, until the Bertie and Elizabeth TV movie I really thought he was a dick cause he could only play them, plus I was also starting a period of hating Rupert Graves which was never fully broken till Sherlock. There are three conceivable reasons as to why we picked Maurice up at Video Station on that summer night, it was either because of Merchant and Ivory, or Hugh Grant, or because I was trying to find a period film that my friend Matt might be willing to watch. I should note that he did not watch it with us. All I remember of the film is that I was shocked we all remained awake through the whole film. Even the most exciting of films, which this is not, often resulted in nap time... hmm, maybe I should have connected letting me choose the film and nap time prior to now.... Needless to say, the film left almost no impression on me, yet I would gladly go back to that night we all watched it just to have one more night with us all piled on that couch never really thinking it would one day end.

If the movie had spent half as much time finding a properly fitting cast as it did fitting every single square inch of frame with Victorian and Edwardian tat then it would have been a flawless film. Instead it suffers from three bad casting decisions, James Wilby as Maurice, Rupert Graves as the laughable lower class Scudder, he can not pull off that accent in the least, and Ben Kingsley as, well, I'm not quite sure what he's supposed to be, maybe Texan? James Wilby is all wrong because he hadn't developed enough as an actor at this point and has no inherent charm like Hugh Grant. Instead we are left with a hero who is basically a cardboard cut out. At times he was so two-dimensional that I actually think having a cardboard cut out deliver the lines would have been more successful. To have the entire film rest on his shoulders is laughable. A strong force is needed for a title role, and by casting Wilby the movie failed before it started. But this was a failure that was forced on them because Julian Sands pulled out at the last minute. Could Julian Sands have made the film work? I can't tell you that... I can say that Wilby has made films I enjoy while Sands hasn't. As for Scudder... well, there it was just the fault of trying to force an accent one someone who was incapable of doing one. I have come to admire Rupert Graves over the years, but he is distinctly working middle class. The lower class accent combined with the bad grammar and language skills didn't work coming out of his mouth. In fact, they were laughable. But nothing will beat the fact that when Ben Kingsley showed up as the hypnotherapist and launched into his indescribable accent, the film, which was at a tipping point from art to farce until that moment, went straight to farce.

The worst part of the entire movie is the confluence of these three in a dream sequence that was obviously ripped off of Vertigo and threw out every bit of style and structure the film had thus far established. Previously the film is unique in that it lacked a score, any music in the film is classical pieces that usually were practical, a pianola, a gramophone, you get the idea. Yet the dream sequence is scored? That's an odd choice. And floridly scored like an untalented Edwardian Bernard Herrmann dropped by. Then the laying of images over each other with color flashes. This is getting more and more like Vertigo by the second. When Ben Kingsley's head started floating in the center of the screen, I was laughing so hard tears were streaming down my face. I just can't rectify this clash, to have a period film that is so distinctly staid and proper to have this stylistic French new wave interpretive dream makes NO SENSE! Much like in Vertigo, the dream is the crisis point of the movie, it's time for the lead to move forward with their life or forfeit it. But just because we have two characters in the grip of a life altering decision as focused through a fever dream doesn't mean that they should be so similar. Fifty years separate these stories, and that is a gulf that can not be breached. Even if Maurice had tried to incorporate the subconscious trying to tell the conscious self it's true desire, even if there had been some psychoanalysis going on, this was with out a doubt the number one way it should not have been handled.

But the film did handle some issues well, and the changes made aided the film and brought more clarity to the story than the book. The biggest change was how Clive's "conversion" was handled. In the book he just realizes as he's nursed back to health that he is no longer attracted to men. This is very flimsy reasoning. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, James Ivory's usual writing partner, had the inspired idea to actually give justification to this conversion through the underused character of Risley. In the book Risley is important for awakening Maurice's interests and inadvertently introducing him to Clive, and later for recommending the hypnotherapist. Instead we are shown a plausible and slightly hinted at story about what really happened to Risley when he was off stage. Risley is caught in a sting operation to entrap homosexuals, and despite being a Viscount, is sentenced to six months hard labor and may never hold a government position due to his proclivities and his arrest. This terrifies Clive into having cold sweats. Clive is also a well respected member of the aristocracy, he hopes to hold a position in government, and he has been living a double life for years. He has a crisis at a dinner at Maurice's house. Not brought on by his recent illness and the fear of telling Maurice they are through, but because he fears exposure and must give up the one thing that matters to him if he isn't to face the same fate as Risley. This, not only makes more sense, but gives Clive more depth. It shows that his sexual orientation isn't just a phase he was going through, but something that would always be a part of him that he pushed aside in order to survive. The last scene of the movie, with Clive and his wife, after Maurice has confronted Clive about being in love with Scudder, it shows a wistfulness, a longing that what Maurice and Scudder have, that is what he wants but is too scared to embrace.

In fact, much of the film is a refocusing of the narrative on Clive. While this honing in does the story the disservice of sidelining Maurice's family, the truth is their hatred of Maurice doesn't serve the narrative if you are actually trying to make him likable. But the fact is if this film had sidelined Maurice just like it did his family, it could have been a better film. By adding more depth to Clive, seeing the whole story through his eyes becomes far more fascinating then just following around the unsympathetic and flat Maurice. One thing I found interesting though is the film really focused in on Clive as being asexual. He loves men, but never physically. He NEVER acts on his impulses. As we see later with his wife, they too have a very chaste relationship, almost like siblings. The book doesn't go to great lengths to stress the fact that Clive and Maurice's love is unconsummated, and in fact, if it wasn't for Forster's insistence that their love had no physical side in the afterward, I would argue that they did have a physical relationship. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Forster added that afterward to try to make the book more palatable by insisting that it was only Scudder and Maurice getting it on, and that Clive was above reproach, aside from that "phase" he went through prior to Greece, but he never acted on his impulses. Again, I think that this gives Clive more depth. You see him not as someone who had two loves in his life and is now content. Instead he is a man always thwarted by his desires he is trying to repress. It makes him a tragic figure. In the book Clive is just the awakening and Scudder is the prize. Clive being perfectly content in his post Maurice life. This little tweak changes that all. It adds more to the story and with Hugh Grant's portrayal of Clive we are given the one and only redeeming facet of the film.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book Review - E.M. Forster's Maurice

Maurice by E.M. Forster
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1971
Format: Hardcover, 319 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Maurice Hall leads an unexceptional life. He is neither brilliant nor dense. He is comfortably middle of the road. But ever since his teacher took him aside one day to tell him about the facts of life due to Maurice's father being dead, Maurice has known he was different. He spent years lost in the fog of puberty and adolescence to one day find a hand reaching out of the mist to him making everything clear. That hand belonged to Clive Durham, and Maurice thought that Clive would be the love of his life. Because that is how Maurice is different, he has always been attracted to men, but never known the truth of himself till Clive. Clive and Maurice spend several happy years together until one day Clive says that after his recent illness he is no longer attracted to men and now wants to marry and settle down with the woman of his dreams. Maurice doesn't know how to handle this new information. He is at sea and can only see two ways out, he shall either kill himself or cure himself. Yet little does he realize that perhaps Clive wasn't the love of his life. Biting the bullet and visiting Clive and his new wife at the ancestral pile, Penge, Maurice meets an insolent young under-gamekeeper, Alec Scudder, who answers Maurice's cry of need in the night. But does Alec spell ruin or redemption for Maurice? Either way, it spells the end of the comfortable suburban life he has been living till now.

Maurice was written right before the outbreak of WWI yet was never published during Forster's lifetime. A select group of friends read it and passed it around between them but Forster didn't seem to think that it was worth it to publish the book during his lifetime. This is of course due to the public perception of homosexuality combined with his book having a happy ending. It would have been obscene libel and might have gone the way of Lady Chatterley's Lover. But there's a part of me that really wishes he had published it. To have an established author release a book that was a homosexual love story might have shaken up the society of the time and deservedly so. Think of the ruckus that Alec Waugh created when he published The Loom of Youth in 1917? Though the homosexual relationships in that book were very understated, it still had a major impact, and not just on his little brother Evelyn. With Maurice nothing is very understated, but nothing is lewd either. It shows two different, yet loving, homosexual relationships between consenting adults. But sadly, in this day and age, to some people this is still unacceptable. Sure there has been progress, even in Forster's lifetime the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised homosexual acts in private between consenting adults, yet still there is not universal acceptance. I can't help but wonder if Maurice was published earlier, if more authors were to show that this is just human nature, that maybe, just maybe, acceptance would be more prolific.

The publication of Maurice being delayed made it an odd duck. It felt like it's time had already been and gone, missing the boat completely. Their are strong similarities to Brideshead Revisited and one wonders if it was all just a matter of timing that Brideshead Revisited is such a classic while Maurice is left to languish in LGBT centers in College Unions across the world. Brideshead Revisited captured the nostalgic zeitgeist of the time when it came out at the end of WWII. It looked back to the same world that Maurice did. A time when university was a golden haven and the world was still unsullied by strife. If Maurice had been published on the eve of WWI, perhaps it would have been the boon that Bridehead Revisited was to the next generation during the next war? But of course we will never know. And there is one crucial difference. The relationship between Sebastian and Charles, while believed to be homosexual in nature, was never boldly stated as such. Once again, despite both books being touchstones in gay literature, it is the ambiguous, the less bold, that is the most lauded and famous. Much like Dumbledore being gay. It's there for you to see, but if you choose not to, you can close your eyes to the truth. Because if there's one thing that people don't like, which is proven time and time again, it's the inconvenience of truth.

While the book in theory has so much going for it with being progressive and inclusive, in actuality it needed to be better written. It lacks a vital spark that some of Forster's books are lucky enough to capture, and I have to wonder if it wasn't the topic but the execution that made Forster hesitant to publish during his lifetime. In the afterward, or as Forster pretentiously labels it, "The Terminal Note," he says that in creating Maurice Hall he purposefully set out to make a character the exact opposite of himself. And I might add that he failed miserably at it. Authors put themselves into their books, this brings the characters to life. But if they have no touchstone, no common ground with their character, well how can they relate? How can they breath life into someone whom they know nothing about? Whom they share no life experiences with? This results in Maurice being a caricature. He's all bluster and panic and rage, yet never sympathetically. If Forster had included some of his own weaknesses, then he could relate, create some starting off point for the reader to connect with Maurice, instead we are always outsiders, and we don't like what we see one bit. There's a reason his family hates him, pompous, pretending, controlling, ass. In fact, I totally side with his family, I hate him too! Rarely am I ever rooting for a character to commit suicide, but every time Maurice contemplated this, well, I was there encouraging him to pick up the gun and end it all.

What initially drew me into the book was that it was so refreshing to find characters who just accepted who they were. Clive Durham never denied that he preferred men. Never. From his youngest yearnings he was honest with himself and his honesty let Maurice realize his own truth, that he too had always been only attracted to men. Of course it isn't dramatic if people don't have internal struggle and strife. So the book slowly went downhill from the radical notion of acceptance to the time honored tradition of "it was just a phase." Yes, perhaps it's just a phase that Clive went through, but Forster doesn't successfully convey this. It comes across as a lie that Clive's homosexuality was just something that everyone does at university. This amazingly insightful and thoughtful youth ends up towing the party line so that he becomes the honorable he was always meant to be. Ugh. While Maurice himself decides to go in another ludicrous direction, by trying to cure himself. Why do people feel a need to lie to themselves and try to fix things that don't need fixing? Yes, society was problematic, they were breaking the law of that time, but by believing what they were told they don't realize that it's society that is wrong, not them. To seriously consider hypnotism over true love with a member of the same sex? Now that is crazy.

But was Forster really advocating true love over conformity? While Maurice never "cures" himself what he does doesn't seem to me logical. Maurice tells Alec that two against the world can do anything. Well, to me, that means to live in defiance of society, to take on the world. To Maurice it means to retire from society and hide in the greenwood like actual fairies. WHAT!?! I thought two against the world can do anything? Apparently that only means to successfully hide from the world so no one knows what they are. So true love is acceptable only by complete removal from the society that is trying to conform them? The choice offered here isn't really a choice. You can make yourself an outcast, and let society win, or conform with society and let society win. So in other words, society will always win and how you lose is your only real choice. What bullshit is this really? Plus why not just go to a country, like France, where they didn't have to hide like the hypnotherapist suggested? I just don't get it. This book is so revolutionary in so many ways but slowly starts to take back every victory one by one till all we are left with is exile. Grumble grumble. Plus, all that is only touched on and never fully addressed, this idea of what it means to be homosexual depending on your class, to look outside Maurice's insular world, all left behind to run off into the woods. I feel the need to yell out my window, but not Maurice's enigmatic beckoning, more bemoaning in this case.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Nightmares! The Sleepwater Tonic by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller
Published by: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 8th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic is the sequel to the hilariously scary New York Times bestselling novel Nightmares! by multitalented actor Jason Segel and bestselling author Kirsten Miller. You thought the nightmares were over? You better keep the lights on!

Charlie Laird has a dream life.

1) He has a weirdo stepmom who runs an herbarium.
2) He lives in a purple mansion with a portal to the Netherworld.
3) Since they escaped from the Netherworld, he and his best friends have been sleeping like babies.

But Charlie can’t shake the feeling that something strange is afoot. Charlotte’s herbarium used to be one of the busiest stores in Cypress Creek. Now her loyal following is heading to Orville Falls for their herbal potions.

Weirder, though, Orville Falls is suddenly filled with . . . zombies? At least, they sure look like the walking dead. Rumor has it that no one’s sleeping in Orville Falls. And Charlie knows what that means.

Things are getting freaky again."

Oh, Jason Segel, how I love you.

A is for Arsenic by Kathryn Harkup
Published by: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: September 8th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"People are fascinated by murder. The popularity of murder mystery books, TV series, and even board games shows that there is an appetite for death, and the more unusual or macabre the method, the better. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but poisons are inherently more mysterious. How are some compounds so deadly in such tiny amounts?

Agatha Christie used poison to kill her characters more often than any other crime fiction writer. The poison was a central part of the novel, and her choice of deadly substances was far from random; the chemical and physiological characteristics of each poison provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. Christie demonstrated her extensive chemical knowledge (much of it gleaned by working in a pharmacy during both world wars) in many of her novels, but this is rarely appreciated by the reader.

Written by former research chemist Kathryn Harkup, each chapter takes a different novel and investigates the poison used by the murderer. Fact- and fun-packed, A is for Arsenic looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering, and detecting these poisons, both when Christie was writing and today."

For those who think all Agatha Christie does is poison...

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