Monday, August 21, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman
Published by: Tachyon Publications
Publication Date: August 22nd, 2017
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"What would you do if a tornado wanted you to be its Valentine? Or if a haunted spacesuit banged on your door? When is the ideal time to turn into a tiger? Would you post a supernatural portal on Craigslist?

In these nineteen stories, the enfants terribles of fantasy have arrived. The New Voices of Fantasy captures some of the fastest-rising talents of the last five years, including Sofia Samatar, Maria Dahvana Headley, Max Gladstone, Alyssa Wong, Usman T. Malik, Brooke Bolander, E. Lily Yu, Ben Loory, Ursula Vernon, and more. Their tales were hand-picked by the legendary Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn) and genre expert Jacob Weisman (The Treasury of the Fantastic).

So go ahead and join the Communist revolution of the honeybees. The new kids got your back."

Just everything about this screams yes to me. Also come on, a supernatural portal on Craigslist? How much does that sound like an episode of Angel? 

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton
Published by: Marian Wood Books/Putnam
Publication Date: August 22nd, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Of #1 New York Times-bestselling author Sue Grafton, NPR's Maureen Corrigan said, "Makes me wish there were more than 26 letters." With only one letter left, Grafton's many devoted readers will share that sentiment.

The darkest and most disturbing case report from the files of Kinsey Millhone, Y is for Yesterday begins in 1979, when four teenage boys from an elite private school sexually assault a fourteen-year-old classmate—and film the attack. Not long after, the tape goes missing and the suspected thief, a fellow classmate, is murdered. In the investigation that follows, one boy turns state’s evidence and two of his peers are convicted. But the ringleader escapes without a trace.

Now, it’s 1989 and one of the perpetrators, Fritz McCabe, has been released from prison. Moody, unrepentant, and angry, he is a virtual prisoner of his ever-watchful parents—until a copy of the missing tape arrives with a ransom demand. That’s when the McCabes call Kinsey Millhone for help. As she is drawn into their family drama, she keeps a watchful eye on Fritz. But he’s not the only one being haunted by the past. A vicious sociopath with a grudge against Millhone may be leaving traces of himself for her to find…"

She's doing it folks! Home stretch! Who would have ever thought that she'd actually get to the end of the alphabet. I SO didn't. She probably won't get out of the 80s though...

Friday, August 18, 2017

Jane Austen's Cross-Stitch Sampler

Long before Miss Jessica and I created our Jane Austen crafting exchange for the bicentenary of Pride and Prejudice I had made another Jane themed present for her. I had ordered two of the Jane Austen's Cross-Stitch Kit Sampler from The Jane Austen Centre in Bath. I have always had a love of embroidery and cross-stitch from a very early age when at a friend's birthday party I was given a little kit to cross-stitch a Scottie dog. I was hooked. I even started making my own patterns and designs, much to the delight of my grandmother, as I was her only grandchild who showed an interest or aptitude in a home art that she excelled at. What I love about vintage embroidery is that someone slaved over it and even a hundred years later it's still around, the home arts preserved for generations. What's more, if you are recreating a sampler that was made by someone you know or admire, either a family member or an author, doing the same task unites you across time.

At least that's the joy I anticipated when The Jane Austen Centre released their first two kits. Jane and I would be connected through this task! The other kit was a portrait of Jane, and personally, it wasn't the best design. But this design? It's taken from a sampler Jane herself worked probably when she was about twelve years old but adapted here to fit an oval composition. I'd never worked a kit bought from England before, so I didn't know if this is common or not, but they use a different amount of embroidery thread. Usually when cross-stitching, at least stateside, you double the strand so that it doesn't disappear against the ground of the fabric. The kit said to use only one strand. I did try this, but just as I knew would be the case, the thread just disappeared against the background. Luckily I had ordered two kits, so I had double the thread. Which means if I ever get around to making one for myself I seriously need to do some DMC color matching or order myself two more kits, which seems a bit of a waste of money.
  But I seriously love how it turned out. I love that center of flowers and while not a religious person, knowing that Jane is the daughter of a rector growing up in parsonage the religious overtones are to be expected for various reasons. What I really love though is the use of very light yellow and cream threads that give the piece depth while at the same time not making the composition feel crowded. I had it simply but very elegantly framed by my friend Chuck at Meuer Art and Picture Frame Company. In fact Chuck framed it perfectly, with that silver frame being just the right counterbalance to the green matte and the colors in the piece. Complimenting but not overpowering. Also, an interesting note for those who want to get any cross-stitch framed, firstly look online for how to iron it, it's tricky but really works. But more importantly, because the fabric used is porous due to the nature of cross-stitch, make sure you get it stretched over a board that compliments the colors of the piece. If I had used a dark colored board behind the work, let's just say that it wouldn't have that airy elegance that it does.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Miniseries Review - Lost in Austen

Lost in Austen
Release Date: September 3rd-24th, 2008
Starring: Jemima Rooper, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Percival, Gemma Arterton, Hugh Bonneville, Alex Kingston, Morven Christie, Ruby Bentall, Florence Hoath, Perdita Weeks, Michelle Duncan, Guy Henry, Tom Mison, Christina Cole, Elliot Cowan, Genevieve Gaunt, Rae Kelly Hill, and Lindsay Duncan
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Amanda Price is sick of the crassness and just general lack of manners in the modern world. Therefore whenever she can she escapes into the genteel world Jane Austen created in Pride and Prejudice. After a particularly unromantic proposal from her boyfriend the unexpected happens; Lizzy Bennet appears in her bathroom. At first she thinks she's gone mad, but Lizzy soon returns and is quick to enter Amanda's world while Amanda takes her place in the Bennet household. Though with Lizzy absent things quickly start to go awry. Mr. Bingley doesn't fall immediately for Jane and instead fixes his amorous attentions on Amanda. Amanda, being a true fan of the book, tries her hardest to right this wrong, even claiming she is a lesbian in order to unite the destined lovers. Amanda can see her presence is a baffling imposition and her "gifts" of insight after years of reading their story confuses all the characters around her. But she is determined to keep the story on it's track. Lizzy will return and marry Mr. Darcy and everything will be fine. Amanda meanwhile just has to not fall for the man she's been fantasizing about since she was twelve. And at first this is very easy. Darcy knows that there's something not right about Miss Price. She's forward, she's awkward, she's everything that he should be against, and yet, she's the one he wants to dance with. She's the one he's drawn to. But Amanda couldn't ruin the happily ever after of all happily ever afters could she? It's her duty as a fan of Jane Austen to live within the narrative as best she can. But what happens when the characters become real humans to her and love becomes the most important thing of all? 

If one looks at the fandom surrounding Jane Austen, the festivals in full costume, the balls recreated down to the tiniest details, it's clear that the greatest dream of any Janeite would be to find their way into one of her books. This would be the greatest wish fulfillment ever and that is what we get with Lost in Austen. Amanda Price as our avatar has stumbled upon this magical portal in her bathroom and what results is a trip down the rabbit role via Jasper Fforde and the cupboard to Narnia. Amanda gets the chance at catching Mr. Darcy, a dream that every girl for over two hundred years has dreamt upon picking up Pride and Prejudice. But what's so interesting about Lost in Austen is that Amanda is such a fangirl that while she is living her dream she is also trying to maintain the story's narrative. She is almost completely selfless as she keeps trying to keep everything intact while Lizzy is absent. All the while she is fighting her feelings for Darcy. Amanda is at sea when meeting the man she's loved since she was twelve. All these emotions coupled with knowing he is meant for a woman he has never met give us the pull on our heartstrings that the original story does, maintaining the "will they won't they" that is so necessary in keeping the narrative moving. Just like Lizzy she is fighting against what she really wants, and in the process this brassy and bolshy Brit wins our heart as well as Darcy's. When she gives in to her feelings it is sublime, because as Lady Catherine said, perhaps she was too scared to admit what she really wanted, and what Amanda really wanted, despite every instinct in her Pride and Prejudice loving body, was Darcy for herself.

This what-if story is so meta and so wonderful each time I watch it something else catches my eye. It's digging fully into the story that Austen wrote while also playing with every fangirl fantasy or idea that has been posited in two hundred years. Think of not just all the adaptations to film and stage over the years of Austen's work, think of all the alternative tellings, the retellings, the what-ifs, the and-thens, the fanfic, all of it, and yet somehow Lost in Austen found a unique and new story. This takes the characters as we know and love them and throws them on their heads. Some changes are purely for comedic value, such as Caroline Bingley's sapphic interests, others are more poignant, such as the true worth of Mr. Wickham, while still adhering to the strict narrative Austen wrote. Yet what I find most fascinating is that while you could spend years arguing who the "pride" and who the "prejudice" refer to among our hero and heroine, with Amanda we are given a character who has these faults as well. Because Amanda is belabored with her preconceptions of years of escaping into the pages of Pride and Prejudice. She sees the characters as Austen wrote them not thinking that they would have a life beyond the confines of the story. I often wonder when I'm not reading a book if the characters are just all sitting around waiting for me to read them so they can say their lines and act out the scenes or if perhaps they're off somewhere else having a good time until I come and force them into their proscribed roles. Here they are very much off having fun. They have unexpected first names, character traits that one would never expect, and most of all, even more humanity than you'd think a character out of a book could possess. And this throws Amanda for a loop. She is constantly fighting an uphill battle between what she expects, what should be, and what is, and I loved every second of it.       

Yet oddly enough it's Elizabeth Bennet that effects the story the most because of her absence. Pride and Prejudice without Elizabeth Bennet is almost like chaos theory in action. Yes, it's not the dire situation that Jasper Fforde shows in his first Thursday Next book, The Eyre Affair, because Jane Eyre is nothing without it's narrator, whereas without Elizabeth Bennet there are still enough characters to make up a story, it's just a very different one. Because Lizzy is the vibrant core of Pride and Prejudice, always keeping everyone in line with an arched eyebrow or a well placed smile. Without her everything is off, everyone feels off and comments on her absence being so unlike her. And that is my one problem with Lost in Austen, Lizzy leaving. Yes, there is a mutual need that Amanda and Lizzy feel for each other, a desire to be in the others place in some version of Freaky Friday, yet I think Lizzy's need is out of character. Yes, she would fare very well in our modern times, yet she is about family and loyalty and caring for those she loves. How can she justify just leaving them behind and throwing Amanda in their place? I seriously don't get it. As I've said before the adaptation is all about exploring the way the characters are different outside the lines that Austen has drawn for us yet with Lizzy it's like her lines were erased and an entirely new character who is more than a little selfish was drawn in her place. In her modern life she's a nanny and taking care of a family, so why would she take care of this family and not her own? Later when she is able to discuss things with her father it makes a little more sense, but up until then I just don't feel Lizzy's presence. And perhaps they did this on purpose, because if Lizzy were truly herself you'd never root for Amanda and Darcy. But still, my heart breaks for Charlotte Lucas.     

But, much like Pride and Prejudice, this adaptation is a fine balance of comedy with the obligatory ripping out of your heart and gleefully trampling on it. The modern Amanda and her clashes with what the past lacks, especially in regard to dental health, is where the comedy really lies for the first two episodes. Her observations on things she would have never guessed at, like how revolting Mr. Collins really is, or how her randomly misplaced modern vernacular would effect Lydia, or how, like in Austenland, the only song she can perform is wonderfully modern and anachronistic, this are comedic highlights. Yet as the adaptation proceeds the comedy gives way to the heartfelt. The stark truths, such as Darcy having to marry a virgin, and what happens when Bingley becomes unhinged because of Jane's fate. Also, the knowing how it's supposed to be versus what it has become isn't just a thorn in Amanda's side but a knife to the heart. The scene where Jane pleads with Bingley to be happy for the both of them because she never will be, I dare you not to ugly cry. Lost in Austen taps into those universal truths of love and despair that Austen herself wrote about and that makes this adaptation shine. It is so different from Austen, it takes such liberties, and I know this might annoy some viewers, but down in it's bones it shares the same DNA. But I wouldn't expect anything less from the writer, Guy Andrews, looking at his track record he has worked on some of my favorite British shows, but most importantly is Blandings. This was adapted from the Blandings books by P.G. Wodehouse and shows a similar comedic base that taps into true feeling while also strongly hinging on nostalgia.

Though I must sadly end in a rant. This rant has to do with the DVD release. As you have obviously read here on my blog I have issues with substandard releases. What I want is the show as it originally aired in the best quality possible preferably in a really pretty package. That's why I actually am advising you to not buy this release because it is not complete. As anyone who pays attention to DVD releases knows one of the hardest things is licensing of music. I'm not talking about music written for the show but the popular songs and standards that appear in it. Look to the TV show Freaks and Geeks. The DVD release was delayed years because they refused to release the show in any format other than the one that aired, and hence I was a happy camper when I bought my DVD set and all the beloved eighties songs were there. Other shows take a more lackadaisical approach. Look to Northern Exposure, a show which was lauded for it's use of music when it aired and yet the DVD sets, well, the music is noticeably absent and filler music is used, thus making the show less than. Other shows that I've long awaited like Ashes to Ashes I have a feeling will never be released in the US because of the copious amount of eighties songs used and yet I couldn't buy the set unless ever single song was there because it wouldn't be the same. Two of the best jokes in Lost in Austen are destroyed because of these omissions on the DVD. The first is just a quick side joke in that Amanda's ring tone is the theme from the Andrew Davies adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. But the second is a more egregious error. When Amanda is asked to sing she sings Petula Clark's "Downtown." Yes, it's very funny and watching the DVD when it skips from Amanda being asked to sing to the party at Netherfield Park clapping for her I was taken aback. It's not just the removal of this hilarious scene but what the song comes to mean, especially for Bingley in his search for peace after losing Jane that makes the removal unconscionable. Of course there's still time to fix this... just a nice BluRay release, song intact. That's all I ask for. Please?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Hail to the Chin by Bruce Campbell
Published by: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: August 15th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Introduction by New York Times bestselling author and famous minor television personality John Hodgman.

Hail to the Chin is the new raucous and sardonic memoir from Bruce Campbell, a follow-up to the New York Times bestselling If Chins Could Kill. It’s been 15 years since his first memoir but Bruce is still living the dream as a "B" movie king in an "A" movie world.

Bruce Campbell makes his triumphant return from where he left off in If Chins Could Kill with further hilarious, gut-wrenchingly honest confessions.

Bruce brings us through his life in the decade since his first memoir and his roles as varied as they are numerous- from his roles in the Spider-Man movies to his self-referential My Name is Bruce to his role on #1 show Burn Notice and his new STARZ hit series Ash vs Evil Dead.

Over the last 15 years, Bruce has become a regular on the Wizard World convention circuit, has created his @GroovyBruce twitter account with over 400,000 followers and a Facebook page with almost 250,000 likes. His profile and reach is lightyears beyond where it was for Chins.

Hail to the Chin will be bursting with pictures and the signature humor that Bruce brought to If Chins Could Kill and will be devoured by his legions of fans across the country."

If you don't know of my love of Bruce Campbell I don't know what blog you've been reading. 

Return to Your Skin by Luz Gabás
Published by: AmazonCrossing
Publication Date: August 15th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 476 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Past and present are interwoven in this story of everlasting love, where the shadow of witchcraft and man’s greed are defeated by one woman’s passion that transcends space and time.

Brianda, a young engineer, leaves her comfortable life in Madrid to learn more about her ancestors. When she travels to a cold, isolated village high in the Pyrenees to explore her roots, Brianda discovers a family secret—and a new love interest. The mysterious Corso, who is challenging destiny by restoring the neglected manor he has inherited, offers to help Brianda in her research. Together they uncover another woman named Brianda in the family archives, a woman who lived four centuries ago.

Heiress to the distinguished lord of Orrun, Brianda of Lubich defied convention by refusing to marry and carry on the family lineage. In a land convulsed by wars, twenty-four women were accused in one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of Spanish witchcraft. Due to her unconventional ways, Brianda became a target. She makes a promise to her true love, a promise she may not live to keep."

A shadow of witchcraft and I'm sold. 

Sleeping in the Ground by Peter Robinson
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: August 15th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"See why in Sleeping in the Ground, the gripping new novel starring Alan Banks — featuring an opening scene you'll never forget, and a finale you won't see coming.

At the doors of a charming country church, an unspeakable act destroys a wedding party. A huge manhunt ensues. The culprit is captured. The story is over.

Except it isn't. For Alan Banks, still struggling with a tragic loss of his own, there's something wrong about this case — something unresolved. Reteaming with profiler Jenny Fuller, the relentless detective deeper into the crime... deep enough to unearth long-buried secrets that reshape everything Banks thought he knew about the events outside that chapel.

And when at last the shocking truth becomes clear, it's almost too late."

It's always nice when characters you feel in love with on TV Shows that got cancelled keep going in book form. 

I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: August 15th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles—the inspiration for the smash hit TNT series—continue their bestselling crime-solving streak, as they pursue a shadowy psychopath keeping secrets and taking lives.

Two separate homicides, at different locations, with unrelated victims, have more in common than just being investigated by Boston PD detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles. In both cases, the bodies bear startling wounds—yet the actual cause of death is unknown. It’s a doubly challenging case for the cop and the coroner to be taking on, at a fraught time for both of them. As Jane struggles to save her mother from the crumbling marriage that threatens to bury her, Maura grapples with the imminent death of her own mother—infamous serial killer Amalthea Lank.

While Jane tends to her mother, there’s nothing Maura can do for Amalthea, except endure one final battle of wills with the woman whose shadow has haunted her all her life. Though succumbing to cancer, Amalthea hasn’t lost her taste for manipulating her estranged daughter—this time by dangling a cryptic clue about the two bizarre murders Maura and Jane are desperately trying to solve.

But whatever the dying convict knows is only a piece of the puzzle. Soon the investigation leads to a secretive young woman who survived a shocking abuse scandal, an independent horror film that may be rooted in reality, and a slew of martyred saints who died cruel and unusual deaths. And just when Rizzoli and Isles think they’ve cornered a devilish predator, the long-buried past rears its head—and threatens to engulf more innocent lives, including their own."

And speaking of cancelled shows...

Donna by V.C. Andrews
Published by: Pocket Star
Publication Date: August 15th, 2017
Format: Kindle
To Buy

The official patter:
"Book Two of the Girls of Spindrift. From the New York Times bestselling author of the Flowers in the Attic and My Sweet Audrina series, now Lifetime movies, continues a haunting new series featuring highly intelligent teenage girls who struggle to survive a specialized high school and find their place in a world that doesn’t understand them."

Anyone else in for some V.C. Andrews?

Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: August 15th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Fans of Holly Black and Leigh Bardugo will be bewitched by Lana Popovic's debut YA fantasy novel about a bargain that binds the fates—and hearts—of twin sisters to a force larger than life.

All the women in Iris and Malina’s family have the unique magical ability or “gleam” to manipulate beauty. Iris sees flowers as fractals and turns her kaleidoscope visions into glasswork, while Malina interprets moods as music. But their mother has strict rules to keep their gifts a secret, even in their secluded sea-side town. Iris and Malina are not allowed to share their magic with anyone, and above all, they are forbidden from falling in love.

But when their mother is mysteriously attacked, the sisters will have to unearth the truth behind the quiet lives their mother has built for them. They will discover a wicked curse that haunts their family line—but will they find that the very magic that bonds them together is destined to tear them apart forever?

Wicked Like a Wildfire is the first in a two-book series. Readers will be rapt with anticipation for the sequel."

Yeah, the whole, Leigh Bardugo/Holly Black thing got me.

Call of Fire by Beth Cato
Published by: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: August 15th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A resourceful young heroine must protect the world from her enemies—and her own power—in this thrilling sequel to the acclaimed Breath of Earth, an imaginative blend of alternative history, fantasy, science, magic, and adventure.

When an earthquake devastates San Francisco in an alternate 1906, the influx of geomantic energy nearly consumes Ingrid Carmichael. Bruised but alive, the young geomancer flees the city with her friends, Cy, Lee, and Fenris. She is desperate to escape Ambassador Blum, the cunning and dangerous bureaucrat who wants to use Ingrid’s formidable powers to help the Unified Pacific—the confederation of the United States and Japan—achieve world domination. To stop them, Ingrid must learn more about the god-like magic she inherited from her estranged father—the man who set off the quake that obliterated San Francisco.

When Lee and Fenris are kidnapped in Portland, Ingrid and Cy are forced to ally themselves with another ambassador from the Unified Pacific: the powerful and mysterious Theodore Roosevelt. But even TR’s influence may not be enough to save them when they reach Seattle, where the magnificent peak of Mount Rainier looms. Discovering more about herself and her abilities, Ingrid is all too aware that she may prove to be the fuse to light the long-dormant volcano . . . and a war that will sweep the world."

And here it was San Francisco...

The Stone Sky by M.K. Jemisin
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: August 15th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother's mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed."

Whereas here it's just Jemisin...

Friday, August 11, 2017

Movie Review - Austenland

Based on the book by Shannon Hale
Release Date: August 16th, 2013
Starring: Keri Russell, J.J. Feild, Bret McKenzie, James Callis, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, Ricky Whittle, Rupert Vansittart and Jane Seymour
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Jane Hayes has had it with her modern life of lewd men who lack manners. She wants to go back to the time of her favorite author, Jane Austen. Luckily for her, if not her bank account, there's Austenland, which caters to those who have a similar inclination, one might say fervor. She puts all her money on this last ditch attempt to find some happiness, or, as her friend Molly says, as a way to cure her of her obsession once and for all. She is greeted by the discovery that all her savings only bought her the copper package and her fellow female guests are given better rooms, better clothes, and better options. Jane becomes Miss Erstwhile and is soon turning away from the cold glances of Mr. Nobly and the other men whom are assigned to others and is cavorting with the servants, mainly the rather easy on the eyes Martin, who also has a taste in easy listening music. But Jane realizes that this "relationship" with Martin is just another way to step away from her life and she makes a decision. Austenland will cure her of happily ever afters and she is going to take control of her narrative. She decides that before she leaves she will become "engaged" to the man of her dreams, her own assigned Mr. Darcy, and move on. But what if her Mr. Darcy wasn't acting? What if she has bewitched Mr. Nobly and instead of a drastic cure she could come away from Austenland with her very own happily ever after?

If given half a chance I don't think there's any Janeite out there who wouldn't jump at the chance to vacation in the world of her novels. It's like Westworld but with parasols instead of pistols, unless you're watching the season seven Austen inspired episode of Red Dwarf "Beyond a Joke" and then it's both! Yet despite my love of Shannon Hale when I first read her book from which this movie is adapted I wasn't in love. Austenland was all right book wrong time and it just rubbed me the wrong way. I was like a dissatisfied cat. The joy at finding the book on my local Barnes and Noble shelves days before it's release was quickly overshadowed by my feelings after devouring it in one sitting. Like bad food it left an aftertaste I couldn't shake. I had been waiting so long for the book that I had certain expectations that couldn't possibly have been met and my dislike was almost a foregone conclusion. Luckily I was nudged into re-reading Austenland due to a well placed recommendation and the fact that a sequel was looming on the horizon. So I eventually embraced both Austenland and it's sequel Midnight in Austenland for what they were, chick lit that was subtly thumbing their noses at the Jane Austen Mafia, aka JASNA (an organization whom I have no doubt Jane wouldn't have just hated but is peopled by those she would have mercilessly parodied.)

With this new-found appreciation you can imagine that the announcement of a film adaptation was a pleasant surprise. Then when James Callis was announced, well, I started actually counting down the days to filming, then post production, then release. Once J.J. Feild was announced, I knew I was a goner. Ah J.J., you made me come to love Northanger Abbey. You and you alone! OK, the fact it's an awesome book making fun of the Gothic Genre is very important, but don't tell Jane it was really you. With each cast announcement and my mounting excitement you'd think that I was once again raising my expectations to have them shattered but that wasn't the case here! Austenland lived up to and exceeded my expectations. This movie is near perfection, but more than that it celebrates all that is Jane and is one of the funniest love letters to her you'll ever see. If Clueless and Bridget Jones's Diary had a baby who was then handed off to Monty Python for their education you'd arrive at Austenland. Even years later I can honestly say it's one of the funniest films I've ever seen and that first viewing in the theater was the hardest I'd laughed in a long time. The entire script is a goldmine of hilarious and memorable quotes. But it's not just the dialogue! The physical comedy, the subtle expressions of the actors, the sets, little things happening in every frame in the foreground and background that make repeat viewing not just a treat but a necessity to grasp the totality of not just James Callis and his constant murmurs, but of the love and talent that went into this production.

Let me break it down for you as to why this movie is just full of win. The perfect casting. Keri Russell is able to not only be the perfect surrogate, for me, the Austen loving audience member, but the chemistry with both the male leads makes for a believable and funny love triangle. Also, can we say genius casting with Bret 'Flight of the Conchords' McKenzie? But if it wasn't for the fact that every character was cast perfectly and every actor and actress seemed to be having so much fun, the three leads would not have been able to sustain the film. Then there's in-jokes of calling Bret a Hobbit reject, when everyone knows he's in ALL of The Lord of the Rings films, and Keri having hair Felicity hair in the opening flashback! As for Jennifer Coolidge, she is beyond charming, she is divine. In fact it's my firm belief that only she could be Miss Charming, and I have a sneaking suspicion that even in writing the book Shannon Hale was picturing her. And James Callis, what can I say, but I've always admired you, Bridget Jones, Battlestar, you made me want "evil" to win... you have some serious comedic talents, so while I love you in period pieces, do more movies like this! In fact, why aren't there more movies like this? With Georgia King skipping out of rooms or Ricky Whittle finding yet another way to strip off his clothing? But I must say, the casting of Mr. Wattlesbrook was by far the best. Because Mr. Wattlesbrook, aka Rupert Vansittart, aka Fatty Fat Buckle, is none other then Mr. Hurst from the 1995 Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice! Say what? Yes, he has cornered the market on laying about in unattractive positions proudly displaying his paunch.

Yet Mr. Wattlesbrook is also the one flaw of the film. The thing is he's a little to rapey. He's always drunk and more then handsy. He attempts to force himself on Jane thinking she's a little more lax in her morals due predominately to her piano performance and cavorting with the "staff." This is also an apparently recurring problem from what Colonel Andrews says. Yet nothing has been done about it!?! This is a thorn in the side of the movie. Why have this creepy aspect? You could say it's to get the two men to fight over Jane at the airport and to have her doubt Mr. Nobley's intentions when he shows up at her door, but I'm sure that all the people behind this clever production could have thought of a way around this. Because as it stands it trivializes a predator and for a film that is produced, written, and directed by women by not focusing on the danger this man poses it condones rape culture. Which, when you think more about it is so odd because Austenland is about female wish fulfillment, with all the men being beefcakes verging on male prostitutes, and yet there's a snake in the garden with Mr. Wattlesbrook. If there was some dire need to keep him in the narrative maybe make him a lesson in what life was like? A throwback to the times when men used their droit de seigneur? Because as it is if this aspect of him would somehow just disappear this could easily be up there with Clue and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Bridget Jones's Diary as one of my favorite films ever. I mean, as is it's so close. It's just the width of Mr. Wattlesbrook away... 

But what I found most interesting in this re-watching of Austenland was that until I was swept away by the happily ever after I found myself thinking how happy I would be just to be there in the clothes, staying in that house, and just pretending I was in Regency England. That would literally be enough for me. I don't need overly muscled men and fake fantasies, I just need the historical element. It's a lesser wish fulfillment, but a far more realistic one. In fact I'd say the stages of Jane Austen wish fulfillment would be reading all the books, then seeing all the movies, then visiting all the sights, then dressing up in costume, then finding your own Mr. Darcy would be the ultimate stage that I think many of us are grounded enough in reality to know that that is not very likely to happen. But when Jane is complaining to her friend Molly about how she thought it would be different... I think the non-deluded fan would say that Jane is getting just what they want. Which makes it interesting when Jane decides to view the whole experience as immersion therapy to get over her obsession. Yes, perhaps she did take it a little too far with the wooden letters over her bed, but what's wrong with some teacups? And I truly think a cut-out of Colin Firth could provide some much needed support in case of a burglary. I think anyone would think twice seeing his manly silhouette in a dark apartment. What all this comes down to is why hasn't someone made Austenland a real thing and how soon can I go? As you can see I, unlike some, have realistic expectations, I don't need a proposal at the ball! Though J.J. Feild would be nice...

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Playing the Tourist: In Real Life

Austen wrote what she knew, therefore in playing the tourist for her books we've covered a lot of places she went to. Yet this journey would be incomplete without the three most important places to her life; where she was born, where she lived, and where she died. Jane Austen was born in Steventon in Hampshire where her father served as rector. Many times when looking into the past it's about looking at where buildings used to be and that is sadly the case with the parsonage. Though the new parsonage which still stands was actually built by Jane's brother Edward some time after Jane's death. But the place of prime interest is the church, St. Nicholas's, where Jane went for twenty-six years of her life with her family to hear her father preach. A spire has been added since Austen’s lifetime, bearing a wind vane in the shape of a pen in her honor. Though that is probably small comfort to Jane who expected to live her entire life in this small community and instead ended up moving to the odious Bath when her father retired, making way for her brother James at the rectory. It must have been bittersweet to visit him in what was once her home. 

Though thankfully after time spent in Bath and various family homes Jane found her own home in Chawton where she resided for the last eight years of her life, which is now Jane Austen's House Museum. The cottage was part of Jane's brother Edward's nearby estate, Chawton House, but we'll get to Chawton House in a minute. It's eerie visiting a place where a revered author lived. A place that was their everything has become a point of pilgrimage to others. When I went to Orchard House it was a little hard to connect it to Louisa May Alcott. I'd been to house museums, but somehow knowing who lived there adds another layer. You're wandering the rooms they wandering. This structure housed their mind and gave birth to their creations. I look back fondly of that trip to Orchard House despite the searing heat and I am jealous to all who have been to Austen's house. Because there is the little table Jane wrote on. Here's a quilt she and her sister labored over. She revised and wrote in this building and strolled through the gardens. And if the cottage wasn't enough, nearby Chawton House is now a library that is The Centre for the Study of Early Women's Writing, 1600-1830! 

As for the sad conclusion to Jane's life... she was ill with what, we can not know for certain, but she was brought to Winchester by her sister and brother Henry for treatment. She died there on July 18th, 1817, at the age of 41 and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. She was much too young to die and could have given us so much more than just six novels. Thankfully Winchester Cathedral is a building she admired, because can you imagine how annoyed her ghost would be to be in a place she disliked? If she had died in Bath she'd be haunting the heck out of it! Her grave marker in the cathedral doesn't mention that she was a writer, so over the years through family and fans she now has a brass plaque and a memorial window. While in Winchester you can also see the house she died in on College Street, but I think that's a little morbid. Instead sit in quiet contemplation in the cathedral, look to her window and watch the light shine through. And perhaps think of Mr. Collins and have a good laugh because she, like Lizzy Bennet, was never one to take life too seriously.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory
Published by: Touchstone
Publication Date: August 8th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The latest novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory features one of the most famous girls in history, Lady Jane Grey, and her two sisters, each of whom dared to defy her queen.

Seventeen-year-old Jane Grey was queen of England for nine days. Her father and his allies crowned her instead of the dead king’s half-sister Mary Tudor, who quickly mustered an army, claimed her throne, and locked Jane in the Tower of London. When Jane refused to betray her Protestant faith, Mary sent her to the executioner’s block, where Jane transformed her father’s greedy power-grab into tragic martyrdom.

“Learn you to die,” was the advice Jane wrote to her younger sister Katherine, who has no intention of dying. She intends to enjoy her beauty and her youth and fall in love. But she is heir to the insecure and infertile Queen Mary and then to her sister Queen Elizabeth, who will never allow Katherine to marry and produce a Tudor son. When Katherine’s pregnancy betrays her secret marriage she faces imprisonment in the Tower, only yards from her sister’s scaffold.

“Farewell, my sister,” writes Katherine to the youngest Grey sister, Mary. A beautiful dwarf, disregarded by the court, Mary keeps family secrets, especially her own, while avoiding Elizabeth’s suspicious glare. After seeing her sisters defy the queen, Mary is acutely aware of her own danger, but determined to command her own life. What will happen when the last Tudor defies her ruthless and unforgiving cousin Queen Elizabeth?"

For anyone else suffering from The White Princess withdrawal... even if it was nowhere near as good as The White Queen. 

The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
Published by: Bantam
Publication Date: August 8th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"American-born spy and code-breaker extraordinaire Maggie Hope secretly navigates Nazi-occupied France to find two brave women during the darkest days of World War II in the latest novel in this New York Times bestselling series—“a treat for WWII buffs and mystery lovers alike” (Booklist, on The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent).

Maggie Hope has come a long way since serving as a typist for Winston Churchill. Now she’s working undercover for the Special Operations Executive in the elegant but eerily silent city of Paris, where SS officers prowl the streets in their Mercedes and the Ritz is draped with swastika banners. Walking among the enemy is tense and terrifying, and even though she’s disguised in chic Chanel, Maggie can’t help longing for home.

But her missions come first. Maggie’s half sister, Elise, has disappeared after being saved from a concentration camp, and Maggie is desperate to find her—that is, if Elise even wants to be found. Equally urgent, Churchill is planning the Allied invasion of France, and SOE agent Erica Calvert has been captured, the whereabouts of her vital research regarding Normandy unknown. Maggie must risk her life to penetrate powerful circles and employ all her talents for deception and spycraft to root out a traitor, find her sister, and locate the reports crucial to planning D-Day in a deadly game of wits with the Nazi intelligence elite."

Is this the first in the series to be released as hardcover? I think it is, so bravo to Susan Elia MacNeal for reaching the "making it" category. 

Emma in the Nights by Wendy Walker
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: August 8th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn't add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister's return might just be the beginning of the crime."

I mean, seriously, does anyone reading that description say no to picking up this book?

Serenity: No Power in the 'Verse by Chris Roberson and Georges Jeanty
Published by: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: August 8th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 152 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Tough times haven't ended for Mal Reynolds and his crew aboard the Serenity. When a call for help to find a missing friend takes them to an Alliance post on the Outer Rim, they encounter a new force building strength to fight the battle of the Browncoats--soon leading the crewmembers to question their individual values . . . Discovering that their friend is in Alliance custody and that an Alliance Operative is on the way, Mal concentrates his energy on the problem at hand and strikes an uneasy partnership for a daring rescue. But this is only the beginning of the story. Success will be when the Serenity's crew makes it off this planet alive and all accounted for..."

This is THE FIRST Firefly comic that I actually felt captured, for the most part, the feeling of the show. Though a whole run it only is really the length of an episode... 

Friday, August 4, 2017

I Go Uncertain of My Fate

"I Go Uncertain of My Fate" is a piece that is different than all the rest I've done and is actually my most recent. The difference isn't just medium here. This piece starts a shift of the entire series which I hope to continue in future pieces by actually mixing and matching vintage illustrations by the brothers Brock from different sources. While this piece might take it's title and the female figure from Persuasion the little feline companion is actually from Sense and Sensibility. My idea is to use the brothers Brock's consistent style and illustrate new scenes from the works of Austen by interchanging figures from different Austen books but also other books the brothers illustrated. This way I'd not only be bringing my own interpretation of the scene not just through medium choice and omissions, but through new and unique compositions. Stepping even further out of their shadow and trying to make this art even more my own instead of a one-sided collaboration. And while I could say that the reason I chose Anne looking back over her shoulder at a cat instead of at the letter Captain Wentworth is imploring her to read is so she can meditate on her past and the cat is just a friend this would be only half the truth. Because the whole truth is I totally made this piece to showcase the cat and everything else just fit into that narrative. As for the medium? Yes, you're not imagining it, I did embroider it. Well, cross-stitch with some alterations. The hardest aspect of this was actually scaling the piece. I wanted the figure to be the same size as all the figures that came before so this took some time and then I translated that into cross-stitch squares. Only the image was a little blocky, almost pixelated at the edges. So I went over the squares pulling them into a more linear shape. So for those people who have asked me for a pattern... yeah, it's a pattern that only worked to an extent and then my artistic nature and experimentation took over. Sorry.

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