Wednesday, July 26, 2017

TV Movie Review - Persuasion

Persuasion
Based on the book by Jane Austen
Release Date: April 1st, 2007
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Alice Krige, Anthony Head, Julia Davis, Michael Fenton Stevens, Mary Stockley, Peter Wight, Marion Bailey, Amanda Hale, Sam Hazeldine, Jennifer Higham, Rosamund Stephen, Stella Gonet, Nicholas Farrell, Louis Shergold, Rupert Penry-Jones, Joseph Mawle, Finlay Robertson, Tobias Menzies, Maisie Dimbleby, Sarah Buckland, and Tilly Tremayne
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

All is chaos at Kellynch Hall. Anne Elliot, the daughter of Sir Walter Elliot and the younger sister of Elizabeth Elliot has tried all she could to get her family to retrench but the time has come to face reality. As her father and sister stuff their faces with delicacies the decision has been made to lease the house and move the family to Bath. The father of Elizabeth's dear friend Mrs. Clay has found a naval man without children to take the house. A perfect fit, as his wife has nothing to do but make sure the house is preserved. Though upon hearing that their name is Croft Anne is beset by emotions she thought long gone. Eight years previously she was engaged to Mrs. Croft's brother, Fredrick Wentworth. The engagement was broken as it was viewed he didn't have any prospects. He is now a wealthy captain and is coming back into Anne's life looking for a wife. Anne has no hope that she might regain his heart, instead tucked away with her younger sister Mary at Uppercross she sees Fredrick set his cap at Mary's sisters-in-law, Louise and Henrietta Musgrove. Anne is aflutter and constantly aware of his presence. He is kind, but he is no longer hers and it aches so painfully. When the party from Uppercross takes a trip to Lyme Regis the expected course of all their lives is upended. Louisa has a fall and Captain Wentworth's friends must nurse her back to health while Anne is sent off to Bath to rejoin her family. Soon Captain Wentworth comes to Bath and Anne can't help hoping that perhaps things have changed. Perhaps she can hope again. She has somehow attracted the attention of her cousin and her father's heir, Mr. Elliot, and could this jealousy spark Captain Wentworth into making his feelings known? Or will Fredrick lose the love of his life because he embraced the opposite of all that he initially regretted in Anne's behavior all those years earlier?

ITV's Jane Austen season of 2007 did a lot to rectify issues I had in previous Austen adaptations. Consisting of Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion, while Northanger Abbey easily won the day, Persuasion wasn't that far behind. What this adaptation did while not being 100% faithful to the book was to give us an intimate, introspective, and artistic adaptation that emotionally connects you to Anne Elliot. This adaptation favored music that pulled on your heartstrings instead of attempting to jam all the book's dialogue into a ninety minute movie. This allows the quiet to fill the space, to let you dwell as Anne has dwelled on the loss of Wentworth all those years ago. You can actually feel a void opening up inside you as Anne's pain becomes your own. In this adaptation Anne is always the touchstone for the audience. She is front and center, it is her POV that we take as our own. The camera work reinforces this with her always on screen while other characters are off screen, their dialogue sometimes buried in the background, not fully heard, because as Anne is our conduit we only observe what she does and a human can only see and hear so much, they're not omniscient. Yet it takes awhile for the viewer to get at what the director is trying to do. For the first few minutes all you can think of is how jittery the handheld camera work is and how close the closeups are. But then you start to realize that the agitation in the camera work reflects Anne's state of mind, and while yes, it's jittery, you realize that it also makes what would be a static image on a television screen alive. The camera and Anne have a symbiotic relationship, with the modern technology being there to reflect Anne's emotions. This can be seen when Anne looks directly into the camera. It's not gimmicky like in Mansfield Park with a wry and arched brow that makes you want to slap Frances O'Conner or just too much like in The House of Mirth where you're counting Eric Stoltz's pores, here it lays bare Anne's soul thanks to Sally Hawkins's portrayal. Sally Hawkins is such an amazing actress that the smallest facial gesture, the intimation of a tear conveys so much. So while this adaptation doesn't go for strict accuracy the feeling is correct and that can cover a plethora of sins.

Yet sometimes the lack of faithfulness results in absurdities. The main absurdity of this adaptation is Anne and the running of Bath. As in, she seriously runs all over Bath after Captain Wentworth. First she runs after him when he suddenly leaves a concert and accosts him in the entryway. Secondly she runs after him when he leaves the Elliot's residence after he was inquiring after Kellynch Hall for his sister. This then starts the main running sequence that rivals Frank Potente's race through Berlin in Run Lola Run. She runs outside and is directed to the Croft's residence where she runs into Captain Harville who gives her Wentworth's letter and sends her to the Pump Room, where the Croft's say she's just missed him, and at this point when she starts running again, you might be laughing a little, because seriously, all the running! Yes, a panting Anne finally runs into Wentworth and all is well. But seriously, ALL THAT RUNNING THOUGH! Even Anne's poor friend Mrs. Smith had to run to tell Anne the truth about Mr. Elliot and his schemes. Yes, Mrs. Smith, who in the book can't even walk due to her horrid health joins Anne on a leg of her epic race. From the Elliot residence to the Croft residence running along the Royal Crescent actually away from the main part of town and everyone's residences for those who know Bath and who know where everyone in the book lives, poor Mrs. Smith is panting out her story. She's trying to break through to a distracted Anne about Mr. Elliot and yet, all I could think of was, seriously, stop running for five seconds and hear her out! But what bothered me more than just the absurdity of this situation was that this shows a total lack of propriety. A woman in this time period would NEVER have done this. And yes, I know that by showing Anne breaking with convention it shows how her love for Captain Wentworth overrides all other concerns. But still! This is Anne Elliot! It's a total break in her character. If I wasn't so emotionally invested by this point I would have totally written off the adaptation for this need for speed. But as it is, I was there for every single second of her run panting with fervent hope that she wouldn't be too late.

Of course the observant reader will notice that this running was all necessitated by the moving of some important dialogue to an earlier part of the book. Anne's speech about women loving longest after all hope is gone is originally said to Captain Harville and overhead by Captain Wentworth, leading to him writing his soul piercing confession which reunites them near the end of the book. Instead Anne's speech is entrusted to Benwick when they are all seated at the Harville's home in Lyme Regis. In between talking about poetry and prose she decides to drop her big speech as a confidence to Benwick while Wentworth is way on the other side of the room being quite boisterous and therefore he doesn't hear it. This of course then forces the narrative to find some other contrivance for Wentworth to hope and write that letter to Anne. Here it's Wentworth coming to the Elliot's residence in Bath and asking if his sister and brother-in-law should give up the lease on Kellynch because news has reached them that Mr. Elliot and Anne are to live there once they are married. Anne of course refutes this instantly and then is interrupted by Lady Russell and the running begins. This asking after Kellynch is just too forced. Too direct. Anne and Wentworth are both stumbling in the dark unable to realize that the other is still in love with them and this just seems too active. The way Austen wrote it is sweet. It dawns on Wentworth how wrong he was and thus lays his heart bare in the only way he has at his disposal, a letter. How else is he to hope unless he overhears Anne's speech? Asking after a lease on a house, that's not romantic, it's pragmatic. Plus he goes home, then writes the letter, then has to be hunted down. It's just too much work. There's also the fact that we know how they both feel so this seems to be done just to draw out the suspense a little longer. You can't have perfect happiness without a little hurdle, and apparently the previous eight years wasn't enough for this adaptation.

But any faults can be forgiven, even the odd detail of Captain Wentworth apparently buying Kellynch Hall, by the superb cast. You couldn't hope for a better cast. Of course the casting that made me giddy was that of Anthony Stewart Head as Sir Walter Elliot. Buffy fan that I am seeing "Giles" relish playing this vain and pompous man was a dream come true. Seriously, just cast him in almost anything and I'll watch. I say almost because there's no way anyone's getting me to watch that Shondaland show Still Star-Crossed. As for the rest of the cast, yes, it's a little weird seeing The Borg as Lady Russell, but she's a far less domineering Lady Russell than other versions, and I appreciate that. But I'm not going to sit here and just list why I love every actor, and seriously, I love every single actor in this all the way down to Cully's husband from Midsomer Murders, when there are two that need to be talked of, Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. Sally Hawkins has been the darling of independent British cinema for years, especially working with Mike Leigh, even winning a plethora of awards for their collaboration Happy-Go-Lucky. But it's her more miniseries roots that brought her to my attention first in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, and later in The Young Visiters, Byron, and the Sarah Waters adaptations of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith. Yet it's in Persuasion that you can see how she can inhabit a role so completely that dialogue isn't even needed to convey what she is feeling. As for Rupert Penry-Jones, well I might have written him off as a pretty boy with The Prince of Hearts, Cambridge Spies, Casanova, and his basically replacing Matthew Macfadyen on Spooks, but then I watched Whitechapel. Holy hell, that show is amazing and his portrayal of a driven yet completely OCD DI makes it one of my favorite shows ever. Persuasion mined the best of British drama and has a stellar cast that makes you shake your head in amazement that all these people are in one place at one time.

Though I feel that this review would be incomplete without me taking a shot at PBS. Oh PBS, I have so many issues with you. Seriously, SO MANY. Substandard releases could be brought up here, but instead I'm going to take you to task for your editing. Seriously!?! Stop it! Thankfully you've basically stopped editing the DVD releases because of the fan outcry for which I really have to thank Downton Abbey. But I'm still waiting for my Sally Lockhart mysteries with the sex scene back in... Instead I'm going to bitch about your broadcast editing. I watched this adaptation of Persuasion when it first aired in England, then when it finally aired the following January on PBS I was excited to watch it again but found it lacking. As in lacking all scenes with Captain Wentworth and Captain Harville talking to each other in and around Lyme Regis. I actually had to turn it off I was so enraged. Here's the thing about movies, television shows, any kind of visual broadcast: it's the vision of a person or group of persons that go to the trouble to make this beautiful show. That vision should NEVER been lessened, censored, or randomly changed not for "objectionable" reasons but to make more time for your sponsors! PBS made a pledge to bring quality television to America and more and more it's about the appearance of doing so without actually doing it. Even since Exxon left Masterpiece no longer theater has been in a steep decline and it's come to the point where I no longer even watch the channel. I can't abide editing, and as for speeding up the frame rate, which you totally did during season one of Poldark, it actually makes me physically sick. Also, why can't you air shows at the same time as England? I mean, you've fixed it with Sherlock so what gives!?! Yes, I know, I shouldn't end a review that is glowingly in favor of a production with a negative, but do you ever get the feeling that PBS isn't really involved in these shows at all and is just taking credit for what the BBC and ITV are doing?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: July 25th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Egypt, 1912—Amelia Peabody and her dashing archeologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson, are once again in danger as they search for a priceless, stolen bust of legendary Queen Nefertiti and Amelia finds herself the target of assassins in this long-awaited, eagerly anticipated final installment of Elizabeth Peters’ bestselling, beloved mystery series.

Arriving in Cairo for another thrilling excavation season, Amelia is relaxing in a well-earned bubble bath in her elegant hotel suite in Cairo, when a man with knife protruding from his back staggers into the bath chamber and utters a single word—"Murder"—before collapsing on the tiled floor, dead. Among the few possessions he carried was a sheet of paper with Amelia’s name and room number, and a curious piece of pasteboard the size of a calling card bearing one word: "Judas." Most peculiarly, the stranger was wearing a gold-rimmed monocle in his left eye.

It quickly becomes apparent that someone saved Amelia from a would-be assassin—someone who is keeping a careful eye on the intrepid Englishwoman. Discovering a terse note clearly meant for Emerson—Where were you?"—pushed under their door, there can be only one answer: the brilliant master of disguise, Sethos.

But neither assassins nor the Genius of Crime will deter Amelia as she and Emerson head to the excavation site at Amarna, where they will witness the discovery of one of the most precious Egyptian artifacts: the iconic Nefertiti bust. In 1345 B.C. the sculptor Thutmose crafted the piece in tribute to the great beauty of this queen who was also the chief consort of Pharaoh Akhenaten and stepmother to King Tutankhamun.

For Amelia, this excavation season will prove to be unforgettable. Throughout her journey, a parade of men in monocles will die under suspicious circumstances, fascinating new relics will be unearthed, a diabolical mystery will be solved, and a brilliant criminal will offer his final challenge . . . and perhaps be unmasked at last."

I thought we had seen the last of Amelia Peabody, how happy am I to be wrong! Plus Joan Hess is doing an event just a block from my house, oh, I can't wait to go!

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: July 25th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Meet Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead.

Dr. Greta Helsing has inherited the family's highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. She treats the undead for a host of ills - vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies.

It's a quiet, supernatural-adjacent life, until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life."

This sounds like a really interesting take on the Dracula mythology!

Vanguard by Ann Aguirre
Published by: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: July 25th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The companion fourth book in the New York Times―bestselling Razorland YA series sees beloved characters reunited and features an unexpected new romance."

Could you give us less details?

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein
Published by: Geek and Sundry
Publication Date: July 25th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 300 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"It's the year 2147. Advancements in nanotechnology have enabled us to control aging. We’ve genetically engineered mosquitoes to feast on carbon fumes instead of blood, ending air pollution. And teleportation has become the ideal mode of transportation, offered exclusively by International Transport―the world’s most powerful corporation, in a world controlled by corporations.

Joel Byram spends his days training artificial-intelligence engines to act more human and trying to salvage his deteriorating marriage. He’s pretty much an everyday twenty-second century guy with everyday problems―until he’s accidentally duplicated while teleporting.

Now Joel must outsmart the shadowy organization that controls teleportation, outrun the religious sect out to destroy it, and find a way to get back to the woman he loves in a world that now has two of him."

I really had hope in loving Ready Player One and I so didn't... so I now have faith in this book instead.

The Backstagers by James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh
Published by: BOOM! Box
Publication Date: July 25th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 112 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"All the world's a stage . . . but what happens behind the curtain is pure magic—literally!

When Jory transfers to an all-boys private high school, he’s taken in by the only ones who don’t treat him like a new kid, the lowly stage crew known as the Backstagers. Not only does he gain great, lifetime friends, Jory is also introduced to an entire magical world that lives beyond the curtain. With the unpredictable twists and turns of the underground world, the Backstagers venture into the unknown, determined to put together the best play their high school has ever seen."

My old theater loving self just has to say YAS! 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Review - Jane Austen's Persuasion

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Published by: Max Press
Publication Date: 1818
Format: Hardcover, 255 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Anne Elliot is to be pitied. It's not just that her father and eldest sister are vain foolish creatures who care only for rank and money it's that these traits led them to convince Anne to break her engagement to Commander Frederick Wentworth, thinking he would amount to nothing. Seven years later there is finally peace, though not in Anne's heart. She still loves Frederick Wentworth, now a Captain and a wealthy man. Yet she knows she will never be lucky enough to get a second chance to be his wife. Instead she is to move with her family to Bath. They have been forced to give up their ancestral seat of Kellynch Hall due to their straitened circumstances. And in a twist of fate their home is to be let to Captain Wentworth's sister and brother-in-law. What's more Anne is to spend some time with her younger sister Mary at Uppercross, a mere three miles from Kellynch Hall, delaying the painful separation from home and yet seeing it in the hands of strangers who might have become Anne's family! Mary married Charles Musgrove, whom initially paid court to Anne, whom Charles's two sisters, Henrietta and Louisa, would have rather their brother had married. It's Henrietta and Louisa who become the center of the social life around Uppercross as Captain Wentworth visits his sister and decides that one of these two fine ladies will become his wife. Not only has Anne lost the love of her life but she must now watch him court another, her own bloom faded. Though the course of love is never smooth, Louisa meets with a tragic accident which tears at the soul of Captain Wentworth while Anne meets her father's heir, her cousin Mr. Elliot, who sets his sights on Anne's heart, a heart that is receptive to his advances at first. Can Anne find love again after so many years being thwarted? And who will win her heart? The old flame or the new?

For certain reasons Persuasion is the one book by Austen I'm least likely to turn to when needing an Austen fix. This has nothing to do with the book itself and everything to do with the 1995 adaptation. While for most adaptations I'm able to appreciate them to varying extents and then leave them behind, I just can't with Persuasion. To me the adaptation and the book are one. I find this ridiculous. I really don't know where this came from. When I re-read Pride and Prejudice I don't always see Colin Firth! He might be the best Mr. Darcy but depending on my mood Mr. Darcy could be any number of very good Darcys out there. Yet Captain Wentworth is Ciarán Hinds and Anne Elliot is Amanda Root and Mr. Elliot is Samuel West. And here's the thing; I HATE them all in this adaptation. It's not that they're wrong for the roles per se, it's just that my mind actually revolts at this casting, or maybe it's the directing, I just can't. Amanda Root with that emotionless placidity and those horribly high collared dresses, Samuel West with his smarm, and Ciarán Hinds? Just all the no. Now this isn't like my seething hatred of the 1999 adaptation of Mansfield Park, because nothing will ever match that, this is just the actors entering my subconscious and making the book less than. Because the book is brilliant and if I could just somehow succeed at untangling the two it seriously would better my literary life and I would be ever so grateful for purifying my love of Austen. Perhaps intense therapy by watching the 2007 version over and over again might help? Yet the irony of it all is that unlike Frances O'Connor I actually really like the three leads. In other things obviously. In fact I quite admire Ciarán Hinds, just never as a romantic lead. As for Samuel West? He really has grown on me over the years, plus if I ever get annoyed with him I can just watch him getting killed in Howards End and we're all good. As for Amanda Root she redeemed herself with The Forsyte Saga. Now if only I could have the book be the book and the movie be the movie!

I will say I succeeded far better this time around at trying to make this separation a reality. "Forcing" myself to think of Rupert Penry-Jones was very helpful. But more than that it's how having re-read Austen's entire oeuvre in such quick succession I was struck by how mature her writing had become and all other issues faded away. This makes it all the more heartbreaking that she died so young seeing what her writing could have evolved into. Her six books are all classics, but with Persuasion we see Austen at the top of her game. She's a more confident writer, willing to take narrative risks and in the end creating what I think is her most approachable book for modern readers. Where this really shines is in the almost stream of conscious panicked flow of her thoughts when she encounters Captain Wentworth again for the first time. Even if Andrew Davies in his introduction hadn't pointed this observation out to me I know I would have latched onto it and other moments like it. There's something about these sections that pulse with life. It captures to an extent not just how you think when under pressure but it's almost as if Austen has perfectly captured what it's like to be in the midst of a panic attack. The whooshing of time and thoughts, the way time expands and contracts, the rushed half composed thoughts just pushing against you: [A] thousand feelings rushed on Anne, of which this was the most consoling, that it would soon be over. And it was soon over. In two minutes after Charles's preparation, the others appeared; they were in the drawing-room. Her eye half met Captain Wentworth's, a bow, a curtsey passed; she heard his voice; he talked to Mary, said all that was right, said something to the Miss Musgroves, enough to mark an easy footing; the room seemed full, full of persons and voices, but a few minutes ended it. Charles shewed himself at the window, all was ready, their visitor had bowed and was gone, the Miss Musgroves were gone too, suddenly resolving to walk to the end of the village with the sportsmen: the room was cleared, and Anne might finish her breakfast as she could.

Who couldn't feel for Anne in that moment? The crush and press of all those people in the room and knowing that "the one" was among them. Much like Mansfield Park we, as readers, are in an interesting position having not been there for the courtship of our hero and heroine. "The One" has already been found and the love is already there. But here it's more unique in that it was lost. Anne is a different kind of heroine to any of Austen's previous heroines. She found love at a young age but was dissuaded and therefore lost the love of her life. Unlike Darcy who is rejected by Elizabeth their love wasn't cemented so a similarity of situations doesn't exist. All Austen's heroines have at some time thought they have lost the love of their lives but unlike Anne they haven't had to wait almost a decade for a happily ever after. If you start to lose hope after a few months, imagine the pain bearing this weight year after year? She lost everything to care for her family, to tend to the duty due to the Elliot name and yet by some miracle she is given a second chance. She is past her prime, as can not be said enough by Austen as she tells of the faded bloom that Anne once possessed, and yet there is hope from the ashes. She regains her beauty as she regains the belief that Captain Wentworth hasn't forsaken her. Their love is just as strong if not stronger. It has endured. And while I begrudge the 1995 adaptation I do agree with it's tagline as "A Fairy Tale for Adults." This isn't about finding perfect happiness as a young teenager, this is about love enduring, how even when you're at the age when society has written you off as being hopeless with regards to finding a mate it can still happen. Seeing as I'm not the teenager I was when I first picked up Persuasion being told that it can still happen is a magical message indeed. I will of course ignore the fact that they met while teenagers and that Anne's older sister named Elizabeth is probably on the shelf forever. See, I can delude myself in some regards!

With Austen's more mature authorial voice she's also willing to tackle more "real world" problems. She began this in Mansfield Park by actually deigning to talk about the war and here she continues that and compounds it with depictions of licentiousness, poverty, and illness. So while she might still rush her endings she is braver in depicting the larger world around her through the filter of the drawing room instead of having anything untoward happen off book and open to interpretation. Which brings me to the Musgroves. While one could make fun of the Musgroves as being a family that tends to fall and injure themselves, a lot, I see this as just a vehicle in which Austen is showing the precarious nature of health in that day and age. At this time in her life Jane was probably thinking quite a lot on life and death as she was slowly dying herself. Unlike in other books where deaths are just backstory here they're more present, more real. Death is the end of any story, happy or otherwise. Maybe it's just the fact that health care is constantly in the news that this aspect of Persuasion struck me so forcibly, but life was precarious. Life is still precarious. Yes, we have had amazing advancements in medical care but there is still suffering, there is still lack of access, there are still people like Anne's friend Mrs. Smith! Poor and in pain and trying to reclaim some of their lives. And Mrs. Smith is herself an interesting character. How exactly are we meant to deal with her? She was Anne's equal now fallen on hard times. Therefore she deserves our pity. And yet... This and yet is because she withholds key information from Anne and only decides to tell her when she thinks it will bring herself gain. This is all water under the bridge and Mrs. Smith is congratulated as helping reunite the happy couple and she gets the help she needed. But she got it in such a scheming way that I still don't know what to make of her. And here is the power of Austen. Complex characters that make us think. I might in the end not like Mrs. Smith, but I pity her and admire her balls.

The characters though I can never admire on any level are Anne's father and her eldest sister Elizabeth. Sir Walter and Elizabeth are perhaps the most self-centered vainglorious characters Austen has ever written. And the thing is, I don't think she wrote them as comedic relief, no matter how hard you laughed when hearing how many mirrors Sir Walter had in his dressing room or how he will only observe people under natural light. I believe that she wrote them to be a social commentary on Bath. If you've read anything about Austen's life you know she lived in Bath for a time and that she hated every moment of it. In Northanger Abbey we get a taste of Bath life but all the characters are passing through. They've only made Bath their temporary destination. They are tourists, nothing more, and it's not these people that Austen seeks to lambaste. It's those who have chosen Bath as their permanent residence. Whether she's commenting on the town because of the type of people it draws or on the people themselves, one thing is certain, as Austen has written Anne's family they are true denizens of Bath. When Kellynch has to be given up Bath is the obvious choice, for personality type more than for financial straits. Here Sir Walter and Elizabeth can glory at all the people who want to be near them and they in turn can fawn over their Dalrymple cousins. It's a symbiotic relationship of people who are leeches in a town that leeches your will to life. It's no wonder Anne hates the town so much, who wants to be around a swarm of self-centered assess who long to be trendsetters whom everyone follows? No thank you. As for the whole "Anne losing her bloom" perhaps it was a combination of Bath coupled with the lose of Captain Wentworth. Bath sucked Austen's will to write and it was her fallow period, therefore it's no wonder when reclaiming her voice she decided to shout to the rooftops her hatred of the Roman town.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Do Not Quite Despair Yet

Now that I'm talking about these pieces here on my blog I've noticed a trend is for me to change the intention of the original piece illustrated by the brothers Brock by eliminating a character. This often shifts the narrative in another direction, sometimes inwards. The elimination of a character also sometimes makes the piece unbalanced, here with the object of Catherine and Mrs. Allen's gaze being out of frame. I wanted that lack of balance. I wanted the viewer to feel the unease of Catherine as she desperately waits for the weather to clear so that she might get her longed for walk with Miss Tilney. Of course in the original piece, as happens in the story, it's the odious John Thorpe who enters and sweeps Catherine away and mortifies her in front of the Tilneys. John Thorpe needed to be eliminated in so many ways and omitting him from this piece brought me joy. But by rewinding the narrative until the moment before John Thorpe enters I have given Catherine hope, she does not quite despair... yet. As for the medium choices, a reproduction, no matter how good, doesn't quite do "I Do Not Quite Despair Yet" justice. The paper is a textured off-white that I have heavily varnished with Mod Podge to give it the slickness of the damnably interfering rain. I then did quick pen work over the top, trying to stay away from the precision of the original which I knew I didn't want to or couldn't achieve. An interesting note on this piece is that I totally forgot I made it. When I framed the other pieces in the series this escaped me and therefore it was a few years later that it was framed and joined the others in my library. It is very happy to have been reunited. Because it feels so good. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Room for Doubt by Nancy Cole Silverman
Published by: Henery Press
Publication Date: July 18th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 278 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When radio reporter Carol Childs is called to a crime scene in the Hollywood Hills at five thirty in the morning, she’s convinced it must be a publicity stunt to promote a new movie. That is, until she sees the body hanging from the center of the Hollywood sign. The police are quick to rule it a suicide, but something doesn’t add up for Carol. Particularly after a mysterious caller named Mustang Sally confesses to the murder on the air and threatens to kill again. With the help of an incorrigible PI, her best friend, and a kooky psychic, Carol is drawn into the world of contract killers and women scorned. As she races to find the real killer, she finds herself faced with a decision that will challenge everything she thought she knew.

“In Room for Doubt, a page-turning cozy with a dollop of noir, investigative reporter Carol Childs goes undercover to infiltrate a secret society that’s meeting out savage justice for scorned women. At the same time, Childs navigates the behind-the-scenes minefield of a radio news station, a world which the author knows firsthand, and a new relationship with an unconventionally sexy PI, who further complicates Childs’ personal life. With a carload of quirky characters and a Los Angeles setting that comes alive, there’s no doubt Nancy Cole Silverman has penned another winner.” – Dianne Emley, L.A. Times Bestselling Author of the Nan Vining Series"

I like that it kind of sounds like Moonlighting, combining the cozy crime solving with the seedy underbelly of LA. 

The Sumage Solution by G.L. Carriger
Published by: GAIL CARRIGER LLCs
Publication Date: July 18th, 2017
Format: Kindle, 314 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Can a gentle werewolf heal the heart of a smart-mouthed mage?

New York Times bestseller Gail Carriger, writing as G. L. Carriger, presents an offbeat gay romance in which a sexy werewolf with a white knight complex meets a bad boy mage with an attitude problem. Sparks (and other things) fly.

Max fails everything - magic, relationships, life. So he works for DURPS (the DMV for supernatural creatures) as a sumage, cleaning up other mages' messes. The job sucks and he's in no mood to cope with redneck biker werewolves. Unfortunately, there's something oddly appealing about the huge, muscled Beta visiting his office for processing.

Bryan AKA Biff (yeah, he knows) is gay but he's not out. There's a good chance Max might be reason enough to leave the closet, if he can only get the man to go on a date. Everyone knows werewolves hate mages, but Bryan is determined to prove everyone wrong, even the mage in question.

Delicate Sensibilities? This story contains M/M sexitimes and horrible puns. If you get offended easily, then you probably will. The San Andreas Shifter stories contain blue language, dirty deeds, and outright admiration for the San Francisco Bay Area. Not for the faint of heart (mouth/tongue/etc.).

This book stands alone, but there is a prequel short story featuring Bryan's brother, Alec, the Alpha. Want to know why the pack moved? Read Marine Biology."

I really enjoyed Marine Biology when it came out originally and was very excited for it's peripheral attachment to the Parasol-verse, so a full book? Yes please! 

The Blue Cat of Castle Town by Catherine Cate Coblentz
Published by: Dover Publication
Publication Date: July 18th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 128 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Once in a blue moon, a blue kitten is born. And that little cat knows how to hear the song of the river — the ancient song of creation, as old as the world itself. Occasionally there have been men and women who were born knowing the song, but mortals cannot teach it to each other. Only a blue cat can do that, one who sings and believes in the song.

This is the story of the blue cat sent by the river to restore the days of Bright Enchantment, when there was beauty and peace and contentment in people's hearts. But now a dark spell is enveloping Castle Town, brewing an obsession with gold and possessions. The river's song declares that riches and power will fade, while the beauty of handmade crafts endures, and the blue cat must find a mortal who will not only listen to the song but also sing it. Inspired by the real-life artistry of 19th-century Vermont crafters, this charmingly illustrated 1950 Newbery Honor winner continues to captivate young dreamers."

Yes, I'm a sucker for stories about kitties.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Playing the Tourist: Bath

So I recommend Bath with the full knowledge that Jane Austen herself is pissed at me for doing so. But it's an irony of life that the place that she most hated, living there for a few bleak unproductive years, is the place now most associated with her. Not just because her two posthumously published novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, are predominately set there, but because Bath itself is virtually unchanged since her time and houses the Jane Austen Centre which hosts the yearly Jane Austen Festival, which is in September if you're interested in attending. So if you're following in the footsteps of Jane and her novels, you must invariably go to Bath. Sorry Jane. But for the Janeite it's such a thrill, to be able to walk past Jane's house at Number 4 Sydney Place, to go to the pump room where you can still take the waters! Though they do sound gross and are warm. To marvel at the Roman Baths, and yes, that's basically where the water is from. To promenade along the Royal Crescent. To literally BE in her world. It's the closest you can get to a time machine.

But most importantly, it's where the Jane Austen Centre is located. Oh, how I LONG to make the pilgrimage there. And for me it IS a pilgrimage. Though I fear the gift shop might bankrupt me, it's bad enough I can order some things online! And I just noticed they have a bicentenary mug... I think that's a must buy. While the centre does have many wonderful artifacts and recently unveiled the most accurate depiction of Jane to date with a new waxwork that looks eerily like the author Mary Robinette Kowal, it's the immersive elements that make it so unique. All the guides are dressed in historically accurate clothing and portray characters from Austen's books. Yet to get the true experience I've always found that wearing the clothes of a time period really transports you, and yes, you can do that here! In fact it's their most popular exhibit! They have a selection of Regency dresses, coats, bonnets, top hats, shawls, fans, reticules, and parasols all for you to try on and get your picture taken in! After that experience you're probably in need of refreshment, and they have a tea room on site where you can relax while a painting of Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy presides over the room. One can hope that Jane would at least approve of that.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

TV Movie Review - Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey
Based on the book by Jane Austen
Release Date: March 25th, 2007
Starring: Geraldine James, Julia Dearden, Gerry O'Brien, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Desmond Barrit, Felicity Jones, J.J. Feild, Bernadette McKenna, William Beck, Shauna Taylor, Sophie Vavasseur, Carey Mulligan, Hugh O'Conor, Mark Dymond, Catherine Walker, and Liam Cunningham
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Catherine Moreland didn't have the upbringing or character to be a heroine. Despite how many horrid Gothic novels she's read none of her daydreams of masked bandits and vampires was ever going to come true. But just because she wasn't destined to be a heroine didn't mean her life would be without adventure. To that end the Allens, dear family friends, invite her to go to Bath with them. Balls! Gowns! Shopping! Society! And who knows, maybe a dashing stranger would ask her to dance? Henry Tilney is more goofy than dashing, but in one dance he makes a deep impression on Catherine. Her later friendship with Isabella Thorpe and the attentions of Isabella's brother John Thrope can not sway her affections for Henry Tilney. When she is invited by Henry's father under a purposeful misunderstanding to return with them to their home of Northanger Abbey nothing could make Catherine happier than perhaps if Isabella would stop flirting with Henry's older brother while engaged to her own brother James Moreland! Yet Catherine's daydreams of what an Abbey means in Gothic literature might get her into trouble. Yes, there might be dark secrets and vampirism at the Abbey, but not of the kind Mrs. Radcliffe writes about. Could Catherine's imagination get in the way of finding true love? Or is her desire to be a heroine going to pay off with a happily ever after?

In the spring of 2007 I was beyond thrilled at the prospect of ITV's Austen season. New adaptations of Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey? I could not wait! Each one had something to recommend it. Persuasion had Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer playing Sir Walter Elliot, Mansfield Park starred Billie Piper in her first post-Doctor Who role, and Northanger Abbey was adapted by Andrew Davies. Andrew Davies! Who understands what adapting a book is about, spirit versus direct transcription! Though he has said you can basically cut and paste Austen's books from prose to screenplay. I viewed this televisual event as a chance to reacquaint myself with the lesser read of Austen's novels, as I viewed these three at the time. What I found interesting is that my opinion and these three books radically changed on that reading. Though what surprised me the most was how much I adored Northanger Abbey. I had actually never re-read Northanger Abbey after that first read ten years previously because I was too naive to get the parody aspect at the time and therefore ranked it as Austen's worst novel. Older, and hopefully wiser, I thought Austen had never been funnier. And as for Henry Tilney? He instantly became my favorite Austen hero. Why? Because he is a fully rounded character, not some ideal. He has a sense of humor, he loves to read, and well, he's not perfect and somehow that makes him perfect.

When it came to the adaptation of Northanger Abbey my ever increasing love of Henry Tilney wasn't in the least hurt by the masterful portrayal of the role by J.J. Feild. In fact, I'm sure that my reconsideration was in no small part helped by J.J. There's only so much a book can do until you can affix a visual to a character, which is why I often dream cast books as I read them. I couldn't have done better than J.J. for Henry Tilney. Prior to his becoming Henry Tilney he'd made a minor impression on me. As Frederick Garland in the Sally Lockhart mysteries he made the most of a role that PBS almost obliterated with their editing. And when he starred in The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton he'd made enough of a favorable impression that I just couldn't believe he'd give his wife a venereal disease! And I would have totally taken him back with that hangdog expression almost more sheepish than Hugh Grant's patented look. But it was Northanger Abbey that made him forever one of my favorite male actors. The humor? The arch looks? He's perfection. He nails the comedy but he can combine it with pathos and stern censor yet all coming from the heart. He became my heartthrob. I've watched everything he's been in since, yes, even Captain America. I even tried my hardest to like TURN with his little rat tail, but even he couldn't elevate that show. But while I'll always point to Northanger Abbey as the true beginning of my crush, the zenith is Austenland.

Though I do wonder if the little Gothic fantasies of Catherine might supersede the perfection of Austenland. These are not only hilarious, I think they are the key to the dramatization of Northanger Abbey. It's not just that seeing Catherine actually dressed up as the heroine she wishes herself to be pursued by villains is perfection, it's that these overacted vignettes show perfectly her overactive imagination and how she is later able to suspect Henry's father of murder. What's more they perfectly capture the tone Austen was aiming for in her parodying of Gothic literature. Northanger Abbey was written from a place of mocking love, you can see Austen herself has read and devoured these novels from Mrs. Radcliffe and Lewis, how else could she know them so well to then poke fun of them? Yet as I myself proved on my first reading, I was naive to what she was parodying and therefore was unable to understand the brilliance of the book. There dramatization of Catherine's daydreams coupled with excerpts from the actual books referenced by Austen gives the viewer a quick grounding in the genre and then moves onward to parodying that genre. Therefore Davies has made Northanger Abbey able to stand on it's own. Context while nice isn't necessary if this is your first exposure to Austen. If only this adaptation had existed when I first read Northanger Abbey I would have come around to loving it so much soon!

The only thing I really question about this adaptation is did Isabella really have sex with Captain Fredrick Tilney, Henry's older brother, in order to secure an engagement to him? In the edition of Northanger Abbey I recently re-read the introduction was penned by Andrew Davies and he says that Isabella's seduction and therefore her fall from polite society is supported in the text. But is it? In his adaptation of Sense and Sensibility Andrew Davies had Colonel Brandon and Willoughby duel. I of course thought this was creative license along the lines of a certain wet shirt. But if you read Sense and Sensibility knowing that a duel occurs, sure enough, it's not an exaggeration, it is supported by the text. There is a line where Colonel Brandon tells Elinor that he dueled Willoughby when recounting his sad history with Eliza. So knowing that Andrew Davies was right on the duel I was expecting to find him right on the seduction... but I at least didn't see that in the book. Catherine is away from Bath so we as readers are away from the action. So we see Isabella flirting with Captain Tilney and then Catherine gets a letter from Isabella asking for Catherine to help repair the breach with her brother and former fiance James Moreland. While Isabella's desire to return to James might seem out of character I don't think we can infer that she was trying to get back her old beau in a hurry because she was despoiled and possibly pregnant. After all the conditions under which their marriage was to take place figured in a two year engagement. So if I'm missing some key in the text I want to know! Otherwise I think it's all Davies and his desire to add a little more explicit sex to Austen.

But I will allow this license with regard to Isabella because seriously, I hate the whole Thorpe family. A bunch of low class no accounts who weasel their way in and manipulate. What I won't forgive is the clunky narration. At the beginning and the end of the movie Geraldine James has a little voice over. The beginning is actually the first lines of the book and the conclusion is a little of the end of the book and a little artistic license on Andrew Davies part. What I take issue with is that it just doesn't work. It sticks out and makes the whole movie not a cohesive whole. Look to the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma where at the end the narrator was revealed to be Mrs. Elton in a wonderfully fun turn of events and as also a way to incorporate the narrative device into the overall story. Here it just falls flat. Yes, I do agree that there needs to be some framing device but it needed grounding. According to IMDb Geraldine James is actually Jane Austen. Um, I didn't get this at all and I'm pretty sure it didn't say that in the credits. Also, if she was supposed to be Austen, she was 57 when this film was made... more than a tad too old to be Jane. They could have gone the root of Emma and had another character narrating it, but on further reflection wouldn't it have been wonderful for Mrs. Tilney to be the narrator? Looking down on the girl who was going to grow up and make her son happy. In order to get the point across the portrait of Mrs. Tilney could have been of Geraldine James and if you caught it you caught it and if you didn't, no matter. It would have been a cute little nod and a wink and would have made me very happy indeed. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: July 11th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The unforgettable characters from Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire unite to save the Great Library of Alexandria from itself in this electrifying adventure in the New York Times bestselling series.

Hoarding all the knowledge of the world, the Great Library jealously guards its secrets. But now a group of rebels poses a dangerous threat to its tyranny...."

Jess Brightwell and his band of exiles have fled London, only to find themselves imprisoned in Philadelphia, a city led by those who would rather burn books than submit. But Jess and his friends have a bargaining chip: the knowledge to build a machine that will break the Library’s rule.

Their time is running out. To survive, they’ll have to choose to live or die as one, to take the fight to their enemies—and to save the very soul of the Great Library...."

One of my plans for summer is to read all the books so far in this series.

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay
Published by: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: July 11th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 576 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"“Wonderfully wicked and deliciously dark, The Witches of New York had me totally spellbound. Reminiscent of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Ami McKay has written a book brimming with atmosphere, intrigue, and a cast of mesmerising characters. I loved it.” — Hazel Gaynor, New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home

Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply.

New York in the spring of 1880 is a place alive with wonder and curiosity. Determined to learn the truth about the world, its residents enthusiastically engage in both scientific experimentation and spiritualist pursuits. Séances are the entertainment of choice in exclusive social circles, and many enterprising women—some possessed of true intuitive powers, and some gifted with the art of performance—find work as mediums.

Enter Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair. At their humble teashop, Tea and Sympathy, they provide a place for whispered confessions, secret cures, and spiritual assignations for a select society of ladies, who speak the right words and ask the right questions. But the profile of Tea and Sympathy is about to change with the fortuitous arrival of Beatrice Dunn.

When seventeen-year-old Beatrice leaves the safety of her village to answer an ad that reads "Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply," she has little inclination of what the job will demand of her. Beatrice doesn't know it yet, but she is no ordinary small-town girl; she has great spiritual gifts—ones that will serve as her greatest asset and also place her in grave danger. Under the tutelage of Adelaide and Eleanor, Beatrice comes to harness many of her powers, but not even they can prepare her for the evils lurking in the darkest corners of the city or the courage it will take to face them."

Obviously there's no way this is as good as one of my favorite books ever, aka Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but the comparison means I'll give it a go.

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: July 11th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
""Jane Austen at Home offers a fascinating look at Jane Austen's world through the lens of the homes in which she lived and worked throughout her life. The result is a refreshingly unique perspective on Austen and her work and a beautifully nuanced exploration of gender, creativity, and domesticity." - Amanda Foreman, bestselling author of Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire

On the eve of the two hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen's death, take a trip back to her world and the many places she lived as historian Lucy Worsley visits Austen's childhood home, her schools, her holiday accommodations, the houses - both grand and small - of the relations upon whom she was dependent, and the home she shared with her mother and sister towards the end of her life. In places like Steventon Parsonage, Godmersham Park, Chawton House and a small rented house in Winchester, Worsley discovers a Jane Austen very different from the one who famously lived a 'life without incident'. Worsley examines the rooms, spaces and possessions which mattered to her, and the varying ways in which homes are used in her novels as both places of pleasure and as prisons. She shows readers a passionate Jane Austen who fought for her freedom, a woman who had at least five marriage prospects, but - in the end – a woman who refused to settle for anything less than Mr. Darcy. Illustrated with two sections of color plates, Lucy Worsley's Jane Austen at Home is a richly entertaining and illuminating new book about one of the world’s favorite novelists and one of the subjects she returned to over and over in her unforgettable novels: home."

With what's going on with my blog right now you think I'd forgo a chance to promote a Jane Austen book?

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs
Published by: Bantam
Publication Date: July 11th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A standalone thriller featuring a “tough-talking, scarred heroine” from the author of the Temperance Brennan series, the basis for the hit TV show Bones.

Meet Sunday Night, a woman with physical and psychological scars, and a killer instinct....

Sunnie has spent years running from her past, burying secrets and building a life in which she needs no one and feels nothing. But a girl has gone missing, lost in the chaos of a bomb explosion, and the family needs Sunnie’s help. Is the girl dead? Did someone take her? If she is out there, why doesn’t she want to be found?

It’s time for Sunnie to face her own demons—because they just might lead her to the truth about what really happened all those years ago."

Hey Kathy Reichs has written a standalone! 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Book Review - Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Published by: Little Books Ltd
Publication Date: 1817
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Catherine Morland isn't like the Gothic heroines she loves to read about; her name is prosaic, she's a content and happy girl who could never think badly of anyone and is surrounded by a big family who love her. But more importantly, alas, she's never even been to a crumbling castle or monastery let alone to the South of France where she could be held hostage. Her first real adventure is when her kindly and wealthy neighbors, the Allens, invite Catherine to accompany them to Bath. Mrs. Allen views Bath in the first few days of their residence as rather boring as they have no acquaintances, but that is soon about to change. Catherine's first acquaintance is a Mr. Henry Tilney, a lovely young man who dances with her and disappears. Her second acquaintance appears as if she'll be around longer. Isabella Thorpe is the daughter of an old classmate of Mrs. Allen and they soon become fast friends. It transpires that Isabella's brother John is friends with Catherine's brother James, and soon Isabella is confiding her feelings for James to Catherine all while trying to get Catherine and John together. But despite just one night Catherine's heart already belongs to Henry Tilney. Luckily for her he soon returns to Bath, bringing along his sister Eleanor and his rather forbidding father. As is often the case with young girls battle lines are drawn, Isabella wants Catherine to be hers alone now that she has become engaged to James, yet Catherine is defiant and sticks to the Tilneys. In fact Catherine shortly leaves Bath with the Tilneys for their ancestral home, Northanger Abbey. All the complications of Bath are behind Catherine, but will she create her own obstacles in the Gothic surroundings of an old abbey that might thwart her and Henry's happily ever after? Or did the Thorpes already plan for her disappointment?

Northanger Abbey in my mind is unfairly the most maligned of Austen's novels. The reason is because it's not what people expect. It's not like her other books and I think that is precisely the reason it holds such a special place in my heart. Admittedly the first time I read it I was thrown, because being released after her death you think it will adhere more to her later works, whereas in truth because of when it was written it's more a transitional novel bridging the style of her juvenilia and her later work. Therefore it's only on subsequent re-reads that you can fully appreciate Northanger Abbey for what it is. This book is unbalanced, it's not perfect, but it so clearly shows what Austen will be capable of with her wry observational style in the first section of the book. Which is why so many people say the book gives them such hope only to fall apart. While the second half is weaker, it shows that she is capable of seeing her concept through to the end. Because Northanger Abbey was written as a parody of Gothic literature, so therefore she had to take it to it's logical conclusion of Catherine thinking laundry lists are secrets of the dead. As a parody it is a wonderful send-up of the popular literature of the time, but as proto-Austen the first half is a glimpse into the writer she will become. That this is what she will be known for. For her humor, for what she will become, for the feelings, all the feelings I have each time I re-read this book it is easily in my top three of Austen's six novels.

As for those feels? Oh. My. God. It's not like this is the first or second time I've read this book but once again I am sucked in and it's like I'm reading it for the first time. I know what happens and yet my anxiety was at such a level you can not imagine it. I was seriously convinced that Catherine wasn't going to get her "happily ever after" that has been happening now for TWO HUNDRED YEARS! Seriously, two hundred years and I felt like it was happening for the first time. My main source of anxiety isn't that her and Henry get together, it's that they get the chance to get together despite everything those detestable Thorpes throw in their way. Oh, how I hate those Thorpes. Yes, John Thorpe is horrid with all his monetary delusions with regard to the Morlands, and with his assumptions. Also, let's take a moment here to point out how little men have changed in two hundred years. The way he's talking about his horses, it's like listening to a guy at a bar five minutes ago detailing everything there is to know about his car that you never cared to know! But I forgive John, to an extent, because there is no doubt in my mind that everything he believes and does is controlled by his puppet master and sister, Isabella. Such a faux friend! She only befriends Catherine to get to closer to her brother James, and when that falls apart, gaw, she's just scheming and double crossing, and just a lying little bitch. She deserves all the ill that befalls her. In fact, I think she might just be my most hated character in all of Austen... huh, that's a revelation that Caroline Bingley isn't going to like.

But going into Catherine's mind and how she sees Isabella? That is truly painful. Because the truth is Catherine is a heroine more in the Disney sense, she's all goodness and light and can't imagine anyone being mean or duplicitous because she's never come across this before. Of course her eyes will be opened by the end of the book but what I find fascinating is that because she is so genuine if someone isn't the only conclusion she can reach is one straight off the pages of the Gothic novels she loves so much. The second half of Northanger Abbey deals with Catherine thinking that Henry's father killed his wife because Catherine doesn't have any foreknowledge about people who say one thing while meaning another. She gives General Tilney these dubious motives because its the only way she can understand how he makes her feel. General Tilney is all polite obsequiousness to Catherine, assuming she is a rich heiress due to the Allens. Yet while everything is so nice that comes out of his mouth she can't ignore that she doesn't like him. She has every reason to like him, logically, but she picks up on the fact that Henry and Eleanor are never happy around him and therefore he must be a murderer. She is naive but sweetly so, so you can see why Henry can forgive her for making someone who is two faced into a man capable of the worst horrors... but of course, he has nothing on the duplicity of Isabella! Scheming, money grubbing, false friend!

Thankfully Henry can forgive Catherine's overactive imagination. Because the truth is this, Henry Tilney is the perfect Austen man. Darcy, a bit haughty, Bingley, a bit naive, Brandon, a bit dour, Edward, a bit too secretive, Knightly, a bit too much of a pedo, Wentworth, a bit too stalwart, and Edmund, a bit too relative... whereas Henry? Henry in my humble opinion is the perfect man. Seriously, this isn't up for discussion. Just take this as fact. He is perfect. Perhaps it's because he's the most fleshed out of Austen's heroes, but there's just something about him that makes me think, yeah, he's the one for me. One reason is his sense of humor. Can you imagine say Darcy, Brandon, and Wentworth in a room together? Not a smile among them. Whereas Henry is self-deprecating, willing to see the humor in tense situations, and seriously, think about it, who wants to marry someone who they can't have a good laugh with. Though the part that truly melts my heart is when he tells Catherine that of course he reads! Due to that odious John Thorpe Catherine has come to the wrong conclusion that not only do men not read but that reading is silly. I'm sorry, but reading is not just the best way to live a richer life full of adventure, but it's been proven that it makes people more empathetic because they can put themselves in other people's shoes. The fact that Henry proudly proclaims that he's a reader? Melting again. Not just that, he's read all the books Catherine loves and is a huge Mrs. Radcliffe fan. Be still my heart... or the lumpy wet mass it now is since it melted.

Though the sad truth is I don't think everyone has fully embraced Henry or Catherine... because as I said before, this is the troublesome book among Austen fans. I think the real reason is actually the parody of the Gothic. When Austen first wrote Northanger Abbey Gothic novels were all the rage. In fact, with age bracket and the rabidness of the following, the Twilight franchise is comparable. So Gothic novels were the Twilight of the early 1800s. Now here comes a girl who's never written a book before and she decides to parody the books she loves and also loves to mock. While Gothic literature comes and goes, having a resurgence every now and then, there's never been that stranglehold on the public imagination that it had during Austen's life, especially with the works of Mrs. Radcliffe. So modern readers aren't tuned into what the book is parodying. I remember reading Vanity Fair years ago, which is a bit of a slog, because there are so many topical jokes. I distinctly remember getting one of the jokes, which was in reference to She Stoops to Conquer and I thought, think how much I'm not getting. This book might be uproarious to someone of the time or a historian of the time... Therefore the first time I read Northanger Abbey I, like most everyone else, just didn't get it. It's just a sub par Austen I incorrectly thought. Thankfully, unlike most, I wasn't going to swear off the book. When I read it a second time knowing more I realized I was a fool the first time. The way Austen even parodies the origin stories of heroines is spot on. Plus, it's totally meta! So in other words, read something Gothic then come back and read how Austen tells her version... it's a little snarky, but in my mind nearly perfect.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I Am Sure They Were Talking of Me

While "I Am Sure They Were Talking of Me" might be my most straightforward use of media, being nothing more than gesso and pencil, I really spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning behind my color and media choice as well as figure placement. I started with the blue paper, which one obvious interpretation is I chose it because of the rain that forced this meeting between Harriet Smith and Robert Martin and his sister Elizabeth in Ford's, but the secondary reason is because of the depressed spirits of all involved. Harriet and Robert and Elizabeth are all seeing each other for the first time since Harriet rejected Robert's marriage proposal, so you can imagine their barely concealed feelings. Which brings me to the fact that you can patently see that Harriet isn't even in this piece. I have completely removed her. The reasoning behind this is twofold, one, Elizabeth at first ignores her, but more importantly can you imagine how much Harriet just wanted to disappear? We have all had instances when we dread running into someone after a fight or a split, where we see them for the first time from a distance and just hope and pray fervently that they won't see us. This is the first time I really felt the humanity of Harriet, she is a real person versus Emma's plaything. This moment, more than any other in Emma, shows Harriet's humanity and insecurity. By eliminating her as the object of the two figure's focus I have given her her heartfelt desire to just disappear into the background. I have removed her from the situation entirely while her presence is still so obviously felt. But more than that, by having Robert looking not at a figure but into the distance I can feel hope that he has an inkling of his and Harriet's happily ever after, even if he's currently a little spiky, hence his angular lines.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown
Published by: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication Date: July 4th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A collection of all-new Paris-themed essays written by some of the biggest names in women’s fiction, including Paula McLain, Therese Anne Fowler, Maggie Shipstead, and Lauren Willig, edited by Eleanor Brown, the New York Times bestselling author of The Weird Sisters and The Light of Paris.

“My time in Paris,” says New York Times–bestselling author Paula McLain (The Paris Wife), “was like no one else’s ever.” For each of the eighteen bestselling authors in this warm, inspiring, and charming collection of personal essays on the City of Light, nothing could be more true.

While all of the women writers featured here have written books connected to Paris, their personal stories of the city are wildly different. Meg Waite Clayton (The Race for Paris) and M. J. Rose (The Book of Lost Fragrances) share the romantic secrets that have made Paris the destination for lovers for hundreds of years. Susan Vreeland (The Girl in Hyacinth Blue) and J. Courtney Sullivan (The Engagements) peek behind the stereotype of snobbish Parisians to show us the genuine kindness of real people.

From book club favorites Paula McLain, Therese Anne Fowler (Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald), and anthology editor Eleanor Brown (The Light of Paris) to mystery writer Cara Black (Murder in the Marais), historical author Lauren Willig (The Secret History of the Pink Carnation), and memoirist Julie Powell (Julie and Julia), these Parisian memoirs range from laugh-out-loud funny to wistfully romantic to thoughtfully somber and reflective.

Perfect for armchair travelers and veterans of Parisian pilgrimages alike, readers will delight in these brand-new tales from their most beloved authors."

I think you all know why I'm excited for this book? LAUREN WILLIG!

Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: July 4th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Asian-American superheroines Evie Tanaka and Aveda Jupiter protect San Francisco from perilous threats in the second book in Sarah Kuhn's snarky and smart fantasy trilogy • "The superheroine we’ve been waiting for." —Seanan McGuire

Once upon a time, Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang) was demon-infested San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine, a beacon of hope and strength and really awesome outfits. But all that changed the day she agreed to share the spotlight with her best friend and former assistant Evie Tanaka—who’s now a badass, fire-wielding superheroine in her own right. They were supposed to be a dynamic duo, but more and more, Aveda finds herself shoved into the sidekick role. Where, it must be said, she is not at all comfortable.

It doesn’t help that Aveda’s finally being forced to deal with fallout from her diva behavior—and the fact that she’s been a less than stellar friend to Evie. Or that Scott Cameron—the man Aveda’s loved for nearly a decade—is suddenly giving her the cold shoulder after what seemed to be some promising steps toward friendship. Or that the city has been demon-free for three months in the wake of Evie and Aveda’s apocalypse-preventing battle against the evil forces of the Otherworld, leaving Aveda without the one thing she craves most in life: a mission.

All of this is causing Aveda’s burning sense of heroic purpose—the thing that’s guided her all these years—to falter.

In short, Aveda Jupiter is having an identity crisis.

When Evie gets engaged and drafts Aveda as her maid-of-honor, Aveda finally sees a chance to reclaim her sense of self and sets out on a single-minded mission to make sure Evie has the most epic wedding ever. But when a mysterious, unseen supernatural evil rises up and starts attacking brides-to-be, Aveda must summon both her superheroine and best friend mojo to take down the enemy and make sure Evie’s wedding goes off without a hitch—or see both her city and her most important friendship destroyed forever."

I still have to get to the first book, but I'm happy to see there's a second!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Playing the Tourist: Box Hill

Emma lives a very cloistered life in Surrey. The fictional town of Highbury and her home of Hartfield are her entire world. A trip to Mr. Knightly's house is a big to-do. It's literally a half a mile away from Hartfield and Mr. Knightly visits Emma and her father daily and yet she hasn't been to Donwell Abbey in over two years! With these locations being in a small fixed sphere and fictional you might think that there's no way to "play the tourist" for Emma, but you'd be wrong. Because there is Box Hill! Box Hill is a very real place and if you think visiting Donwell Abbey is a big endeavor, just think about what going to an actual tourist site means for Emma? But it's just not the fact that Emma gets to see a glimpse of the wider world which makes Box Hill so important, it's that it's during this trip that everything comes to a head narratively speaking. During this trip Jane Fairfax decides to leave Highbury, Mr. Knightly gives up hope of winning Emma because of the display her and Frank Churchill put on, but most importantly this is where Knightly gives his "badly done Emma" smack down which makes her start to reflect inwardly and finally grow into the woman who would marry Mr. Knightly. Box Hill doesn't just command gloriously epic views of Surrey, it's an epic place psychologically for all our characters. Seriously, Box Hill is the linchpin of Emma.
 And while the excursion for our beloved characters mights not have gone to plan, that doesn't mean you should skip this destination spot which is cared for by the National Trust, there's a plaque and everything! It is the twelfth highest spot in Surrey and overlooks Dorking to the southwest. Due to generous donations of land and money over the years to save the site from development the area covers over 1,200 acres that you can walk admiring over forty species of butterflies and plants. That makes me sound incredible dorky (dorking?) when it comes to nature, but who doesn't love a pretty flower with a butterfly landing on it? Bizarre side note, my friend Matt actually made up a song about Butterfly Weed that I can still sing. If you're like me though the main thing you're wondering is why it's called Box Hill. Apparently it takes it's name from the box woodland on the steep west-facing chalk slopes overlooking the River Mole. Though I have no idea how the River Mole got it's name so I'm just going to make up a The Wind in the Willows reference for my own amusement. And speaking of amusement which tends to lead for the need of refreshment, instead of needing a huge staff of servants to take a picnic to the top of Box Hill for you the National Trust has kindly put in a cafe in the shop cum visitor's center near the viewpoint which serves light lunches and afternoon teas with takeaway teas and cakes available. So who's ready to go with me? You're paying.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Miniseries Review - Emma

Emma
Based on the book by Jane Austen
Release Date: October 4th, 11th, 18th, and 24th, 2009
Starring: Michael Gambon, Jodhi May, Robert Bathurst, Tamsin Greig, Valerie Lilley, Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller, Dan Fredenburgh, Poppy Miller, Blake Ritson, Veronica Roberts, Louise Dylan, Jefferson Hall, Laura Pyper, Rupert Evans, Liza Sadovy, and Christina Cole
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Emma Woodhouse grew up motherless, raised by a father always expecting the worst. Yet she made the best out of what she was given and dotes on her anxious father and never strays too far from home, unlike her sister who moved an unacceptable distance, less than 15 miles away to London! Therefore Emma's little community of Highbury is her entire world and they view her as their queen. Yet one might pity those in Highbury for an active imagination like Emma's trapped in a small circle of friends they have become the beneficiaries of her schemes. Even if they don't want to be her playthings. Emma thinks she excels at matchmaking, which Mr. Knightly says isn't matchmaking so much as wishful thinking that sometimes comes true, as in the case with their respective siblings and Mr. Weston and Emma's governess Miss Taylor. She will prove him wrong though with her new project, Harriet Smith. Harriet Smith is the natural daughter of who knows whom Emma plans to marry to the Reverend Elton. But Mr. Knightly is right and she doesn't really know people well and Mr. Elton has another wife in mind, Emma herself! Trying to extricate herself from this mistake and the harm it's caused to Harriet leads Emma into more mistakes. The worst might be a lack of propriety when Mr. Weston's son, Frank Churchill, finally returns to Highbury. Emma knows that he has been marked out for her. If she were the marrying sort Frank would be whom she would marry to make everyone, except her father, happy. Therefore she is more open with her feelings, more cutting with her words, all in the pursuit of a good time with Frank. But Frank has hidden motives, reasons for his being in Highbury other than paying his respects to his new mother and his old home. If only Emma would take a moment to stop and look inward versus outward she might see the world in a whole new light.

With every prior adaptation of Emma I had strong reservations, be it an oddly healthy and robust Jane Fairfax to an overly creepy Mr. Knightly, yes I'm looking at you Andrew Davies. Though in some fairness to Andrew Davies I don't think anyone could have succeeded in doing Emma any kind of just given only ninety minutes to tell the tale. Therefore when it was announced that a new miniseries of Emma was on it's way and me having just started my blog, I went a little overboard with the blog posts about the actors and the new adaptation. With four hours there was a far higher chance of them getting it right or at least keeping in everything that needs to be there in order to be moderately faithful. Four glorious episodes, four glorious hours so that they don't relegate Mr. Woodhouse to a chair and only vaguely reference him (which once you cast Michael Gambon you'd be hard pressed to do!) And while I've enjoyed it every time I've watched it, this time it just struck me harder. I adored it. Yes, it has pacing problems with the plot not clicking until Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax arrive, but that's the same problem the book has! In my initial review I was lenient on changes, because it's an adaptation so of course they're going to fiddle with it. The best adaptations aren't word perfect, look to the Harry Potter franchise for proof. But this time there were some little things, little shifts that got to me. All of them to do with Frank Churchill. My main gripe is actually one against all adaptations of Emma, why can't Frank be introduced just as Austen wrote it? Instead there must be some amusing confusion, some meet cute that is just wrong in my mind. In the Gwyneth Paltrow version Emma is driving a carriage!?! What nonsense is this? She would NEVER do this and her father would never allow it. But what I really objected to here was Frank being viewed as a resident of Highbury. No. This changes too much to be allowed. His father settled there long after Frank was off with the Churchills it was NEVER his home. This makes Emma and Frank's meeting some sort of predestination a lifetime in the making instead of just a few months. Frank doesn't deserve any more importance, he's full enough of himself already.

But anyone who's anyone has issues with Frank Churchill, it's the fatal flaw of Emma. Therefore I should console myself with what they got oh so right, and that's the inclusion of Emma's family, the extended Woodhouse clan. They are the first to go as being "extraneous" when time is considered in most Emma adaptations. But you can't really understand anyone unless you see them with their family. Their family is who forms them and whom they either surround themselves with or run away from. To omit Emma's family is to omit a true understanding of her. I can remember actually fuming in the theater watching Gwyneth Paltrow quickly showing off her slumbering father to visitors to Hartfield because that was his only real scene. No dialogue due to being unconscious! Emma's father is the central figure in her life, the figure around which everything happens and is decided! To push him to one side is unacceptable. But then again most people would be even more surprised from the aforementioned Gwyneth Paltrow version as to the importance of Emma's elder sister Isabella and her brother-in-law, Mr. Knightly's younger brother John, and all their children. Because while Emma is set apart in her community, she has love. She has a bustling family with all its pros and cons. Nephews paying extended visits and nieces to comfort her in her old age. Which makes her situation sadder. Her love has made her make sacrifices that others, especially her sister, haven't had to make. Isabella is like a mirror image Emma. That is what Emma's life could have been. And while we have the knowledge that Emma will get her happily ever after and perhaps daringly visit the seaside, when we meet her, when we get to know her she might be the queen of the castle, but it's a sad castle with a shut-in she loves dearly, but a shut-in none the less. You feel Emma's pain, Emma's loneliness amongst the bustle and familial love. This brings a little humanity to Emma by showing her as coping bravely with the loneliness of her life by being outgoing and scheming. A lonely existence no matter how little there was to distress or vex her is still lonely.

Though to bring this all across, to show the joy in the sadness, the humor in the everyday, the right actors were needed. It must be said, Gwyneth Paltrow was too haughty, too cold, and the less said about the poultry and pervy Kate Beckinsale version the better. Romola Garai though is perfection. She brings that joy that Jennifer Ehle did to Pride and Prejudice. An infectious smile that couples well with Emma's scheming and mischievous nature. As for Jonny Lee Miller? He's the perfect balance! He himself is quite goofy with his laying about in chairs, his eye rolls, his sighs. His comedic timing is perfect. The two of them form a very good double act which makes their romance believable. Because, the thing with Mr. Knightly and Emma is that if not properly cast they come across as just a convenient not a realistic couple. They just get married because Emma doesn't what her nephew to lose out on his inheritance to a child of Harriet Smith's and well, what's good for her sister is good for her, so how about a Knightly! Here you actually believe it. Yes, there's a beautiful dance and lots of swelling music to help sell it, but what's interesting is that those aren't the moments that make my heart hurt. It's when he scolds Emma about her behavior or when she is just sitting and looking at his usual chair now empty. Their being apart or fighting or just not talking physically hurts me. And while I could easily believe Romola Garai capable of this, loving her in everything from Daniel Deronda to I Capture the Castle to The Hour to The Crimson Petal and the White, the only thing Jonny Lee Miller had in his favor was Trainspotting. But the negatives were stacked against him, Plunkett and Macleane anyone? Dark Shadows? The most boring Sherlock Holmes currently around? Yes, he was passable in Dracula 2000 and that Byron movie, but the biggest negative was that he'd been an Austen hero before. Yes, our Jonny Lee Miller was Edmund Bertram in the horrid 1999 version of Mansfield Park, which is not only a bad adaptation but it is distinguished as being one of my most hated films ever. So to have this depth, this humor, this snid perfection that would give Emma perfect happiness? A delightful surprise indeed!

Then again, this adaptation was full of surprises. Mainly because it understood that the purpose is to adapt the story, make it true in feeling if not in word. While Austen purists might say "but that's not in the book." There is nothing done in this adaptation that isn't supported by the text if not directly than in supposition! Personally I hate Austen purists, and I'm sure she would have hated them too. She wrote for fun so if you have fun reading the book or watching the adaptation I'm sure Austen would be happy. As I say again and again if you question what adaption means look at the first two Harry Potter movies which are really horrid and how slavishly Chris Columbus tried to stick to the books, then look at Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the mood is so perfect the film switched the franchise up a notch and made it not just viable but enjoyable, not something you just watched to pretend Harry Potter was real but you knew wasn't very good deep in your heart. Back to Austen, what struck me most in this adaptation was the visual imagery of dolls used throughout. This works so well because Emma basically treats those around her, especially Harriet Smith, as her playthings, and therefore to have doll imagery is a natural extension. This isn't something Austen would explicitly spell out but seems like something she'd love. The implications are all there, Emma's very nature makes it logical, so therefore it just makes this adaptation feel right. And it's not just Emma playing with her dolls under a table as a young girl in one of the best time lapse scenes with Miss Bates ever, it's that the dolls appear again when she's scheming about Isabella, then Mr. Elton, and then later Mr. Knightly even references them in passing. The adaptation has created a through line that is perfection. Added to this is the delightful opening credits that depict famous scenes from the book in silhouette, or, as they look to me, in paper dolls! But I wouldn't expect less from Sandy Welch who did two of my favorite miniseries ever, Jane Eyre in 2006 and North and South in 2004.

Yet this review can't all be glowing... there is a flaw. Now it's time for my rant against PBS. PBS, you treat your British shows and by extension your viewers like shit. You hack the shows up, aka "edit for time" and speed up the frame rate so that you can show more ads for cruises no one watching the show will ever go on. As a viewer you can only see the "original UK broadcast" by buying your DVDs. And it's your DVDs I want to talk about, in particular THIS DVD. How could you release such a wonderful show with such a sub-par release? The transfer is abysmal! What the fuck is with this transfer! I mean, seriously, WHAT THE FUCK! It's grainy and horrid. The first fifteen minutes was me trying to come to terms with having actually paid money for something that was barely a step above a bootleg VHS tape you'd buy of some lost Doctor Who episode or Red Dwarf special at a science fiction convention. The first disc has a constantly flickering weird green bar in the lower right corner of the screen. Plus there was some weird shift that made the right edge of the screen vibrate on both discs. I thought, well, it's not Blu Ray so now that I'm into Blu Ray I could upgrade, but guess what? There is no upgrade! This is the only version they released in this piss poor quality. I'm not joking when I say that the winter scenes looked like they were from a nature documentary from the 70s. I expected some Brit with out sized specs and corduroys to appear screen left and start talking about the mating habits of some birds or fluffy field vermin. I mean, I don't want to piss on PBS, they offer so much, but compared to how the channel used to be, with lovely long intros to these shows that were well researched and presented versus Alan Cumming just coming on at the beginning of only one episode of Wallander to complain about how dull and dark he was? I mean, yes, I agree about his bitching about Wallander, but I could at least use a little more Alan! Masterpiece No Longer Theatre isn't even repeated and where are the lovely old British comedies on late at night? All that is gone and instead we have shitty overprice DVDs and edited sped up shows. Not cool PBS. Not cool at all. So while I adore this miniseries, just stream it, don't give them money for this shitty treatment of their consumers.

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