Friday, December 8, 2017

Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee

Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: April 10th, 2007
Format: Paperback, 912 Pages
To Buy

"Born in 1862, Wharton is just a little bit older (but functionally of the same generation) as two of my main characters in The English Wife: Bayard Van Duyvil and his younger sister, Janie. Both grow up in Wharton’s world, the world of old brownstones gradually ceding way to new opulence, and the cultural clashes that come with that shift. Like the young Wharton, Janie Van Duyvil is too bookish for her mother’s taste. I found Lee’s evocation of Wharton’s childhood world—the locations, the customs, the assumptions—incredibly useful in understanding both Janie and Bay." - Lauren Willig

The official patter:
"From Hermione Lee, the internationally acclaimed, award-winning biographer of Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather, comes a superb reexamination of one of the most famous American women of letters. Delving into heretofore untapped sources, Lee does away with the image of the snobbish bluestocking and gives us a new Edith Wharton-tough, startlingly modern, as brilliant and complex as her fiction. Born into a wealthy family, Wharton left America as an adult and eventually chose to create a life in France. Her renowned novels and stories have become classics of American literature, but as Lee shows, Wharton's own life, filled with success and scandal, was as intriguing as those of her heroines. Bridging two centuries and two very different sensibilities, Wharton here comes to life in the skillful hands of one of the great literary biographers of our time."

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins

The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins
Published by: Broadway Books
Publication Date: June 1st, 2011
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

"No one expects a headless torso. (Well, hardly anyone?) When pieces of a body started popping up around New York in the hot summer of 1897, both police and reporters swung into action, in a competition to see who could solve the crime first. Aside from being fascinating in its own right as a) a murder mystery, and b) a look at the less-traveled immigrant corners of Gilded Age Manhattan, this book provided me with a great deal of color about the workings of the tabloid press in late 19th century New York. Of course, the murder in The English Wife doesn’t involve dismembering (just saying, just in case you were wondering), and it’s set among New York’s Knickerbocker elite rather than the German immigrant community, but this book was part of what inspired me to make one of my main characters, James Burke, a reporter at The World, drawn into an uneasy alliance with the sister of the murdered man as they both search for the truth." - Lauren Willig

The official patter:
"On Long Island, a farmer finds a duck pond turned red with blood. On the Lower East Side, two boys playing at a pier discover a floating human torso wrapped tightly in oilcloth. Blueberry pickers near Harlem stumble upon neatly severed limbs in an overgrown ditch. Clues to a horrifying crime are turning up all over New York, but the police are baffled: There are no witnesses, no motives, no suspects.

The grisly finds that began on the afternoon of June 26, 1897, plunged detectives headlong into the era's most baffling murder mystery. Seized upon by battling media moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, the case became a publicity circus. Reenactments of the murder were staged in Times Square, armed reporters lurked in the streets of Hell's Kitchen in pursuit of suspects, and an unlikely trio--a hard-luck cop, a cub reporter, and an eccentric professor--all raced to solve the crime.

What emerged was a sensational love triangle and an even more sensational trial: an unprecedented capital case hinging on circumstantial evidence around a victim whom the police couldn't identify with certainty, and who the defense claimed wasn't even dead. The Murder of the Century is a rollicking tale--a rich evocation of America during the Gilded Age and a colorful re-creation of the tabloid wars that have dominated media to this day."

Monday, December 4, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini
Published by: Dutton
Publication Date: December 5th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini illuminates the fascinating life of Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace—Lord Byron’s daughter, the world’s first computer programmer, and a woman whose exceptional contributions to science and technology have been too long unsung.

The only legitimate child of Lord Byron, the most brilliant, revered, and scandalous of the Romantic poets, Ada was destined for fame long before her birth. Estranged from Ada’s father, who was infamously “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Ada’s mathematician mother is determined to save her only child from her perilous Byron heritage. Banishing fairy tales and make-believe from the nursery, Ada’s mother provides her daughter with a rigorous education grounded in mathematics and science. Any troubling spark of imagination—or worse yet, passion or poetry—is promptly extinguished. Or so her mother believes.

When Ada is introduced into London society as a highly eligible young heiress, she at last discovers the intellectual and social circles she has craved all her life. Little does she realize that her delightful new friendship with inventor Charles Babbage—brilliant, charming, and occasionally curmudgeonly—will shape her destiny. Intrigued by the prototype of his first calculating machine, the Difference Engine, and enthralled by the plans for his even more advanced Analytical Engine, Ada resolves to help Babbage realize his extraordinary vision, unique in her understanding of how his invention could transform the world. All the while, she passionately studies mathematics—ignoring skeptics who consider it an unusual, even unhealthy pursuit for a woman—falls in love, discovers the shocking secrets behind her parents’ estrangement, and comes to terms with the unquenchable fire of her imagination.

In Enchantress of Numbers, New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini unveils the passions, dreams, and insatiable thirst for knowledge of a largely unheralded pioneer in computing—a young woman who stepped out of her father’s shadow to achieve her own laurels and champion the new technology that would shape the future."

Ada Lovelace is everywhere these days, even on this season of Victoria, so this is a must read, especially as the release day event is at my local Barnes and Noble!

Dark Dawn Over Steep House by M.R.C. Kasasian
Published by: Pegasus Books
Publication Date: December 5th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The latest mystery in the popular Victorian crime series featuring the ever-curmudgeonly private detective, Sidney Grice, and the charming March Middleton.

London, 1884.

125 Gower Street, the residence of Sidney Grice, London's foremost personal detective, and his ward March Middleton, is at peace.

Midnight discussions between the great man and his charge have led to a harmony unseen in these hallowed halls since the great frog disaster of 1878.

But harmony cannot last for long. A knock on the door brings mystery and murder once more to their home. A mystery that involves a Prussian Count, two damsels in distress, a Chinaman from Wales, a gangster looking for love, and the shadowy ruin of a once-loved family home, Steep House..."

I JUST recently found out about this series and I can not wait to dive fully in. 

Bryant and May: Wild Chamber by Christopher Fowler
Published by: Bantam
Publication Date: December 5th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are back on the case in this whip-smart and wildly twisting mystery, in which a killer in London’s parks is proving to be a most elusive quarry.

Helen Forester’s day starts like any other: Around seven in the morning, she takes her West Highland terrier for a walk in her street’s private garden. But by 7:20 she is dead, strangled yet peacefully laid out on the path, her dog nowhere to be found. The only other person in the locked space is the gardener, who finds the body and calls the police. He expects proper cops to arrive, but what he gets are Bryant, May, and the wily members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

Before the detectives can make any headway on the case, a second woman is discovered in a public park, murdered in nearly identical fashion. Bryant, recovering from a health scare, delves into the arcane history of London’s cherished green spaces, rife with class drama, violence, and illicit passions. But as a devious killer continues to strike, Bryant and May struggle to connect the clues, not quite seeing the forest for the trees. Now they have to think and act fast to save innocent lives, the fate of the city’s parks, and the very existence of the PCU.

An irresistibly witty, inventive blend of history and suspense, Bryant and May: Wild Chamber is Christopher Fowler in classic form."

Anyone else not liking the new cover look? The covers are what first drew me to this series, and if this had been the cover I would have NEVER picked them up.

Bel, Book and Scandal by Maggie McConnon
Published by: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Publication Date: December 5th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Maggie McConnon rings in Christmas in Bel, Book, and Scandal, the third adventure for everybody’s favorite Irish-American culinary artist turned amateur sleuth.

Bel McGrath tries her best to keep herself on the straight and narrow but she just has a taste for trouble. This time danger arrives in the form of a newspaper left behind by visitors to Shamrock Manor―and a photograph that jolts Bel out of the present and back into a dark chapter from her past. The person in the photo is Bel’s best friend Amy Mitchell, long gone from Foster’s Landing, at a commune in upstate New York shortly after her disappearance. The picture, and Bel’s burning desire to find out what happened to Amy―and whether she may still be alive―is the catalyst for a story in which old secrets are revealed, little by little…and certain characters are shown to not be as genuine as Bel once thought."

For a more holiday themed read, with murder of course. 

No Time To Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: December 5th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin, and with an introduction by Karen Joy Fowler, a collection of thoughts—always adroit, often acerbic—on aging, belief, the state of literature, and the state of the nation.

Ursula K. Le Guin has taken readers to imaginary worlds for decades. Now she’s in the last great frontier of life, old age, and exploring new literary territory: the blog, a forum where her voice—sharp, witty, as compassionate as it is critical—shines. No Time to Spare collects the best of Ursula’s blog, presenting perfectly crystallized dispatches on what matters to her now, her concerns with this world, and her wonder at it.

On the absurdity of denying your age, she says, “If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub.” On cultural perceptions of fantasy: “The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is ‘escapism’ an accusation of?” On her new cat: “He still won’t sit on a lap…I don’t know if he ever will. He just doesn’t accept the lap hypothesis.” On breakfast: “Eating an egg from the shell takes not only practice, but resolution, even courage, possibly willingness to commit crime.” And on all that is unknown, all that we discover as we muddle through life: “How rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn. Billionaires, all of us.”"

I have read so much Le Guin this year that I just HAVE to get my hands on more!

Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: December 5th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 560 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The seventh novel in James S. A. Corey's New York Times bestselling Expanse series--now a major television series.

AN OLD ENEMY RETURNS

In the thousand-sun network of humanity's expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity -- and of the Rocinante -- unexpectedly and forever..."

Do you know what I plan to do this winter? Read ALL THE EXPANSE! ALL OF THEM!!!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Willig Winter

The second time I went to New York it was more than just a rushed trip tacked onto a family vacation to Washington. The second time was magical, going to all the museums and looking at all the art I'd spent years reading about. During that trip I discovered The Frick Collection, which is located right on fifth avenue and was the home of Henry Clay Frick. It's not just the art that is amazing, though seriously you will be shocked by the number of pieces you recognize from Ingres to Renoir to Vermeer to Rembrandt, but the house itself is a work of art preserved in time. It's like really cheap time travel! You feel as if Edith Wharton were about to hold court over high tea in the luxurious indoor garden. Years later when I went back to New York I discovered the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, which is located in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion. Again I was walking in another era. These homes were built by the New York upper crust as they slowly started moving to the Upper East Side. I was so pleasantly surprised when I picked up Lauren Willig's latest book, The English Wife, to slip back into this world again. A world of excess and elegance, fortunes lost and gained, and secrets, but all contained within this other time. So whether you knew about Lauren Willig's new book yet or not, I think you can feel the theme month coming on right? The English Wife is Lauren's fourth stand-alone and therefore a fourth theme month was not just necessary but vital. It's in another time and another world, but one I hope you've been wanting to explore as much as I have over the years. 

But enough from me, let's hear from Lauren as we welcome in Willig Winter!

"When Miss Eliza asked me if I would recommend six or seven books I’d used in writing The English Wife for a companion read, I thought, easy peasy!

Then I looked at my bookshelf.

I’d forgotten just how much went into The English Wife. My research pile included book-length accounts of infamous murder cases in turn of the century New York (of which there were more than you would expect), oversized coffee table books with pictures of mansions and marquetry and jewels and gowns, extensive histories of Dutch New York, biographies of robber barons, sociological studies of nineteenth century women’s charitable organizations, memoirs of nineteenth century authors and socialites, unpublished dissertations about specific towns in the Hudson Valley in the mid to late nineteenth century, and books on topics that I can’t go into without giving plot twists away.

And that’s just the New York end of things. We won’t even get into all the Newport research, the gossipy accounts of past residents and glossy pictures of “cottages”. A chunk of the book takes place in England and a smaller chunk in France, so I also have shelves and shelves of books on topics like theatre in Victorian England, monographs about Paris in the Belle Epoque, and biographies of Proust. I may have gotten just a little carried away while reading up for this book....

So, in the interest of brevity, I’m sticking to the New York-centric books for this particular list and keeping it to non-fiction. With one exception at the end. You’ll see why.

At some point, I’ll try to put up a more comprehensive list on my website. If I don’t get crushed beneath a giant pile of research books along the way." - Lauren Willig

Literally the seven books Lauren has selected look beyond tempting, but in the interest of full disclosure, unlike Ashford April (The Asford Affair), This Summer (That Summer), and Jazzy July (The Other Daughter), I have been unable to read them all and write reviews because this year has been a personal as well as a global dumpster fire. But my guilt is your reward, because this means I feel obliged to do a giveaway!  

Giveaway Prize:
A copy of The English Wife personalized TO YOU from Lauren's tour stop at Murder by the Book in Houston on January 17th, 2018

The Rules:
1. Open to EVERYONE (for clarification, this means international too).

2. Please make sure I have a way to contact you if your name is drawn, either your blogger profile or a link to your website/blog or you could even include your email address with your comment(s) or email me.

3. Giveaway ends Sunday, December 31st at 11:59PM CST (Yes, that's New Year's Eve folks!)

4. How to enter: Just comment on this post for a chance to win!

5. And for those addicted to getting extra entries:

  • +1 for answering the question: What is your favorite house turned museum?
  • +2 for becoming a follower
  • +10 if you are already a follower
  • +10 for each time you advertise this contest - blog post, instagram (@miss.eliza), twitter (@eliza_lefebvre), etc. (but you only get credit for the first post in each platform, so tweet all you like, and I thank you for it, but you'll only get the +10 once from twitter). Also please leave a link! 
  • +10 for each comment you leave on other Willig Winter posts with something other than "I hope I win!" 
Good luck!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

TV Series Review - The Man in the High Castle Season 2

The Man in the High Castle Season 2
Based on the book by Philip K. Dick
Starring: Alexa Davalos, Conor Leslie, Tate Donovan, Valerie Mahaffey, Macall Gordon, Daniel Roebuck, Rufus Sewell, Chelah Horsdal, Quinn Lord, Gracyn Shinyei, Genea Charpentier, Emily Holmes, Jessie Fraser, Gillian Barber, Aaron Blakely, Ray Proscia, Luke Kleintank, Sebastian Roché, Wolf Muser, Kenneth Tigar, Bella Heathcote, Gabrielle Rose, Joel de la Fuente, Lee Shorten, Tzi Ma, Alex Zahara, Hiro Kanagawa, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Brennan Brown, DJ Qualls, Rupert Evans, Cara Mitsuko, Callum Keith Rennie, Rick Worthy, Michael Hogan, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Arnold Chun, Yukari Komatsu, Eddie Shin, and Stephen Root
Release Date: December 16th, 2016
Rating: ★★★★★
To Watch

Juliana Crain's actions have gotten her into trouble. Handing over the film to Joe, a known Nazi, has sparked the ire of the resistance and has led to her being brought before The Man in the High Castle himself. He won't answer her many question, including whether she appears in the countless films he has surrounding him, he only wants her to answer one question, did she recognize one specific man in the film she gave to Joe? She knows she's seen him before but not who he is. Now certain members of the resistance want her dead but little do they know she has remembered the man, he was a comrade of her father's and, as it turns out, her sister Trudy's real father. But George Dixon lives in New York, deep in the heart of the Reich. Knowing she isn't safe in San Francisco Juliana defects to the Nazis. The resistance had the wrong idea about why she gave Joe the film, so why not see if the Nazis will draw the same erroneous conclusion and let her infiltrate their ranks? All she planned on doing was finding George and getting some answers, but he's in the resistance as well and with Juliana being sponsored by Obergruppenführer John Smith she is placed to help like never before and wash the slate clean for the film debacle. Though giving the resistance information on people she's come to know, even if they're Nazis, is harder than she would have thought. Whereas back in San Francisco Frank is good with doing whatever the resistance wants, even blowing up the Kenpeitai headquarters if it comes to that.

Also in New York Joe's actions haven't gotten him in trouble at all. In fact he's being lauded for his work and has been called to Berlin to finally meet his father, Reichsminister Martin Heusmann. Joe learns that his entire life has been a lie. He was bred by the Nazis to be a part of their master race. A master race that is ready to finally take full control of the world and eliminate their allies, the Japanese. Yet from what The Man in the High Castle has seen, if all the pieces line up just right another world war can be averted. This all hinges on Trade Minister Tagomi. Tagomi has found a way out of this world. He has found his way into a world where the Axis powers lost and where is wife and son still live. In this world he also has a daughter-in-law, Juliana. The woman who was once in his employ in his world is here his daughter. But there is a distance with this family he longed to find again. He slowly starts to bridge the gap. Why would he want to return to his world when everything he could ever want is here? His son and Juliana belong to a group that hopes to "Ban the Bomb." The group watches video footage of what an H-bomb can do. Tagomi is shocked by the destruction, his world only has A-Bombs, which are actually used to detonate H-bombs. They are so much more deadly, so much more powerful, but the video just happens to have been shot in what is Japanese territory in his world. If Tagomi could take this film back there he could scare the Germans into believing that the Japanese could destroy them, therefore the delicate balance of world peace would be restored. Only Tagomi could lose his own chance at happiness in saving his world. 

I have spent a little over a week binging The Man in the High Castle's first two seasons and I am not exaggerating when I say I could literally go back to the first episode right now and start all over again. What's interesting about season two is that now that they are running out of narrative from the book they are expanding the universe but then linking it back to the original story when you least expect it. Small, throwaway lines have become fully developed into catalysts for world changing events. While in the book Hitler's death is important, it's almost part of the background noise. It's happening, but it was inevitable. Here, because we actually have characters embedded in the Reich we see the power struggle, we see the plays for control, we get a richer experience. Because so much of season two is taking the characters we loved and scattering them to the four corners of the earth and watching them interact with different characters we never thought they'd meet. This gulf between them makes them all have to survive more on their own but at the same time it makes you feel disconnected. They aren't all trying to get back to each other, they're just trying to survive and make it in the world they've created for themselves so sometimes, just for a second or two, you think, perhaps the series has lost it's way. Yet by the end I realized I should have never doubted anything. The Man in the High Castle was using his knowledge, threading the needle of possibilities to get the best outcome for his world, and that meant the strongest ending you could imagine with each and every character playing their part in order for that end to be achieved. Go team!

Of course for that ending to be possible some characters have fallen by the side of the road and some have just fallen. Frank for example. Frank has fallen. In the first season he was a sympathetic character. He'd just lost his sister and her two kids because of his heritage and his belief in Juliana. His attempt to assassinate the Prince of Japan was a reckless moment that he grew to strongly regret. But seeing his brains blown out in a possible future in one of the films bound for The Man in the High Castle unhinges him. It's like he knows his death is coming so instead of being just grief-stricken he becomes careless. He is reckless with his own life and out of nowhere he becomes an asshole. While I should be marveling in the fact that Rupert Evans is such a good actor that he can make me hate him so much after feeling so sorry for him instead I just want to punch him in the face. I mean it, I seriously NEED to punch him in the face. He's become a dick and he needs to die. Even his best friend Ed, who will literally take anything from anyone calls him out on it. That's how low you've fallen Frank! And yet without Frank I wouldn't get some of my favorite scenes in season two. In order to get Ed released from prison Frank formed an alliance with Robert Childan and the Yakuza to make forgeries of American antiques. This is a bit of a twist on the arrangement in the book where Ed and Frank make jewelry that Childan then sells in his shop. But it's the expansion of the friendship between Ed and Childan that is at the heart of the show. They're both underdogs who don't trust each other but realize they can use each other. In fact, can we just give these two an "Odd Couple" like spin-off right now set in the neutral zone?

Whereas on the other coast Juliana is living this weird Nazi filtered Leave it to Beaver life. In fact, does anyone else remember that horrible John Travolta movie The Experts about Russians trying to become Americans? I feel like it's a weird parallel world like that, they're trying so hard but something is just off. These ARE Americans, and yet they're Nazis! In a flashback we see Obergruppenführer John Smith on his way to Washington when the bomb went off. He WAS an American. He WAS in the army. And yet he's been totally indoctrinated. The insight into the American Reich is something entirely new that this adaptation did which the book never explored. While getting to see it last season through Joe we saw it at a distance. He was technically an insider and therefore the world didn't shock him. But for Juliana, well it is a foreign country. While her world is also foreign to us, the things she points out, the protection she gives the ailing Thomas, these are things we can relate to and therefore her eyes become our eyes. In fact when she tells Dixon that she feels sorry for them I totally agree. They might be people with different beliefs, some of them sick and demented calling for the killing of the ill, but they are still people. They still live and love and are worthy of our sympathy. And that's how you know if you're a good person, if you can find the good in anyone. If, on the other hand you just see people below you? Well, then you're a Nazi in your heart of hearts and are not a good person. 

Though the person who once again makes all the incredibly talented cast look like amateurs is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Tagomi. Everyone has seen him in something, from Big Trouble in Little China to Rising Sun to Mortal Komat to basically every TV show ever, he's always played larger than life characters like Edie Sakamura memorably belting out "Don't Fence Me In." Yet here his performance is subtle, nuanced, and he's finally getting the props he deserves for being such an amazing actor. He is the heart, he is the lifeblood of The Man in the High Castle, and he is perfection. It's not that his foresight saves his world and makes him a hero, it's the little moments that bring it all together. Watching his wife through the window as the blossoms fall from the tree. Carefully fixing a cup that was destroyed and resulted in a fissure developing between himself and his family. The subtle expressions of how he sees this new and strange world he has become a part of and trying to rectify his knowledge with this new knowledge. The joy of holding his grandchild for the first time. Plus finding out that the connection between him and Juliana, that protectiveness he felt in this world is the love for a daughter, it's heartbreaking. Each and every little moment adds up to an Emmy worthy role. But then, to have him turn his back on this happiness, turn away to save his world when he could just live here, that shows the worth of the man. He can't be happy if those he cares for are in danger. Seriously, is someone going to give him an Emmy and me something to wipe away my tears?

An interesting fact about this show is that despite being set in the 60s in San Francisco there has been little to no mention about the drug culture, which Philip K. Dick did somewhat include by the legal and copious use of marijuana in his book. But in season two this all changes! Not only do the marijuana cigarettes, Land O' Smiles, make an appearance, there's far more drug use and "free love." The importance of finally including the counter culture and the peaceful protests is that it gives the viewers something they can more directly relate to. It's more a history we know, with the Berkley protests, but what's more it's a history we're currently living through. What I found extremely interesting though are that those most embracing the love and drugs are the children of those in command in the Reich, the Lebensborn, the genetically engineered superior race of which Joe belongs. They're all about sex without boundaries and drug experimentation. It's like we've gone back in time to the Weimar Republic which Christopher Isherwood wrote about and became immortalized in Cabaret. One starts to wonder, as Joe's new lady friend Nicole says, if perhaps things would be different if the new, younger generation were in charge? Do the youth of Germany hold the same beliefs as their parents? We've seen in Obergruppenführer John Smith's son a certain Hitler Youth fanaticism, but what about those put into power? Joe quickly becomes his father's right hand man and doesn't hold the same beliefs... one wonders, with the death of Hitler, if enough time were to pass would the Nazis just go away? A thought for another season, which I wish was available right now!   

Monday, November 27, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Reveal: Robbie Williams by Chris Heath
Published by: Blink Publishing
Publication Date: November 28th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
""It's a diary of a very modern entertainer and his ever-changing thoughts, the story of somebody who escaped Butlins, and the tale of a pop star trying to find his feet again after coming out of early retirement. It's true, and funny, and occasionally sad, and well-written, and very entertaining. I hope people enjoy it." Robbie

More than twelve years ago, Robbie Williams and Chris Heath published a ground-breaking memoir, Feel, about Robert P. Williams' rise to fame; a book that was met with worldwide acclaim, from critics and fans alike. Since that time, Robbie has released six solo albums, reunited with his old band Take That and, in the wake of his twelfth UK number-one album, has returned to the stage with a sold-out run at Wembley Stadium. In Reveal, bestselling author Chris Heath has been working closely with Robbie for many years to create a personal and raw account of fame, fortune, family and music; a vivid and detailed story of the real highs and lows as Robbie has found his way forward, that is unprecedented in its intimacy and honesty. Long-awaited by millions, Reveal is the uncensored and compelling portrait of the man as you've never seen him before."

I have a vague recollection I read Feel and it revealed a little TMI... so yeah, I'll still read this and probably regret I did in the end, but I love me some Robbie. 

The Sabling Volume 2: Roots by George Mann
Published by: Titan Comics
Publication Date: November 28th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 112 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Doctor, Alice, and the Sapling – now growing further into adulthood – take on another selection of insane adventures!

Still missing many of their most treasured memories, the TARDIS team stumble across a Memory Ark, and their reality starts to fray further at the edges...

Can the Doctor and Alice stop the Sapling from growing into the genocidal creature of destruction it is doomed to be? Can they reclaim their missing memories without destroying this new being? And can they have amazing, brain-bending trips through time and space along the way?

To the last question – absolutely! For everything else, you’ll need to read on!"

Dammit George, you've had like a book a month out here, it's a little hard on the wallet of someone who has to have everything you do!

The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross by Lisa Tuttle
Published by: Random House LLC
Publication Date: November 28th, 2017
Format: Kindle
To Buy

The official patter:
"The paranormal answer to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Jesperson and Lane are turning the Victorian era upside down in this bewitching series from John W. Campbell Award winner Lisa Tuttle.

“Witch!” cries the young man after stumbling unexpectedly into the London address of the consulting-detective partnership of Mr. Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane. He makes the startling accusation while pointing toward Miss Lane . . . then he drops dead. Thus begins the strangest case yet to land—quite literally—on the doorstep of Jesperson and Lane.

According to the coroner, Charles Manning died of a heart attack—despite being in perfect health. Could he have been struck down by a witch’s spell? The late Mr. Manning’s address book leads Jesperson and Lane to the shrieking pits of Aylmerton, an ancient archaeological site reputed to be haunted by a vengeful ghost. There they sift through the local characters, each more suspicious than the last: Manning’s associate, Felix Ott, an English folklore enthusiast; Reverend Ringer, a fierce opponent of superstition; and the Bulstrode sisters, a trio of beauties with a reputation for witchcraft.

But when an innocent child goes missing, suddenly Jesperson and Lane aren’t merely trying to solve one murder—they’re racing to prevent another."

Yes, that atmospheric cover sold me on this book even before I read the blurb. 

Moonlight Over Manhattan by Sarah Moran
Published by: HQN
Publication Date: November 28th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Sarah Morgan is back with more love and laughter in her acclaimed series, From Manhattan With Love, which Publishers Weekly calls a “sweep-you-off-your-feet romantic experience.”

Determined to conquer a lifetime of shyness, Harriet Knight challenges herself to do one thing a day in December that scares her, including celebrating Christmas without her family. But when dog walker Harriet meets her newest client, exuberant spaniel Madi, she adds an extra challenge to her list—dealing with Madi’s temporary dog sitter, gruff doctor Ethan Black, and their very unexpected chemistry.

Ethan thought he was used to chaos, until he met Madi—how can one tiny dog cause such mayhem? To Ethan, the solution is simple—he will pay Harriet to share his New York apartment and provide twenty-four-hour care. But there’s nothing simple about how Harriet makes him feel.

Ethan’s kisses make Harriet shine brighter than the stars over moonlit Manhattan. But when his dog-sitting duties are over and Harriet returns to her own home, will she dare to take the biggest challenge of all—letting Ethan know he has her heart for life, not just for Christmas?"

Christmas in New York has always been something I want to experience. Until then I have books like this. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

TV Series Review - The Man in the High Castle Season 1

The Man in the High Castle Season 1
Based on the book by Philip K. Dick
Starring: Alexa Davalos, Conor Leslie, Macall Gordon, Daniel Roebuck, Rupert Evans, DJ Qualls, Michael Gaston, Christine Chatelain, Callum Seagram Airlie, Carmen Mikkelsen, Darren Dolynski, Brennan Brown, Joel de la Fuente, Lee Shorten, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Arnold Chun, Carsten Norgaard, Hiro Kanagawa, Mayumi Yoshida, Daisuke Tsuji, Amy Okuda, Luke Kleintank, Rufus Sewell, Chelah Horsdal, Quinn Lord, Gracyn Shinyei, Genea Charpentier, Ray Proscia, Wolf Muser, Rick Worthy, and Camille Sullivan
Release Date: November 20th, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★
To Watch

Juliana Crain's sister has gotten herself into trouble and it will change the whole course of Juliana's life. She sees Trudy shot by the Kenpeitai in the street. Reeling from this shock she stumbles home and notices that she's holding a film reel that Trudy handed her. She can't believe what the film shows. A world where the Allied forces won WWII. A world where San Francisco isn't occupied by the Japanese and the Reich doesn't control the East Coast. When her boyfriend Frank comes home he urges Juliana to go to the police. Tell the Kenpeitai everything to clear her name of treason. Instead Juliana decides to deliver the film to the neutral zone in Trudy's place. She leaves for Canon City Colorado and doesn't look back. In her absence Frank is implicated in Trudy's crimes. The fact that his grandfather was Jewish means that he and his family have no standing. Before the misunderstanding is cleared up Frank will lose those closest to him all while covering for the woman he loves, a woman who is currently at sea. She has no idea who her contact is or who she is supposed to give the film to. There's a young man from New York, Joe, who she's not sure if she can trust. Yet his help saves her life and she learns that he too is part of the resistance. He too knows of the films and that they are to be delivered to "The Man in the High Castle."

Only Joe isn't really a member of the resistance. He has infiltrated the resistance on the orders of his leader, Obergruppenführer John Smith. Joe is a Nazis. Only his mission in Canon City didn't go to plan because of the arrival of Juliana Crain. Therefore he needs to prove his loyalty to the Reich. Seeing as Juliana Crain went home to San Francisco, it makes sense that Joe will follow her there, uncover all her contacts and discover the new film that has appeared. Only Julia has changed drastically since her experiences. She doesn't want to make all the deaths of those she loved be in vain and she has taken a job as a hostess for the Trade Minister of the Pacific States, Nobusuke Tagomi. Little does she know that this man whom the resistance views as the enemy might have very similar goals to her. He's been working with a high ranking Nazi to undermine the Reich to give Japan parity to Germany. Because another World War is looming. One where there can be only one victor. The films showing a different world might just hold the key to the truth of what is really going on, but will it all be in vain? Is war inevitable?

The difference between a good adaptation and a bad adaptation is that at the end you can't believe it was ten hours long. As you gobbled the episodes up they just flew by. Whereas a bad adaptation, it feels like work to watch each excruciating episode and ten hours can feel like a lifetime. Yes, I'm looking at you The Handmaid's Tale! The Man in the High Castle was the exact opposite in almost every way to that atrocious Atwood adaptation. Constantly compelling, faithful when needed, expansive when called on, always building on the writing of Philip K. Dick while making sure to create a show that was bingeworthy. But that's what happens when your show is created by someone who had astronomical success with The X-Files, AKA Frank Spotnitz, versus someone who's more known for kitschy Canadian shows, though I will say here to Bruce Miller, LOVE Men in Trees! Also The X-Files had a sustained look and feel, and that really can't be said for any of Bruce Miller's many shows. The noir feel that imbues ever scene of The Man in the High Castle is just perfect. While there is spycraft I'd liken it more to the Cold War than WWII which makes sense being set in 1962. But it's just such a fully visualized representation of this alternate world that it's staggering how complete it is from the advertising to the clothing. I just want more and more and more of it!

What I found interesting in translating this book to the screen is that the Japanese are depicted far more bleakly perhaps even verging on evil. The book is so concerned with the Nazi threat, as was Philip K. Dick himself, that comparatively the Japanese are depicted benignly. His personal bias came through in his writing. Therefore I don't know if this was some way to level the playing field and show that both surviving Axis powers were equally evil or to just create more strife in the lives of our protagonists who predominately live under Japanese rule. Because a clearer statement of the evil of the Japanese couldn't be made than having the Kenpeitai accidentally kill Frank's sister and her two children. Nothing that horrific happens in the book, that's for sure. But it serves a purpose in that it makes Frank invested in the resistance. Juliana's sister's death and Frank's sister's death unite them in their desire to overthrow the world they have come to accept. But what's more by showing the Japanese as evil and then going further into their characters, learning more about Tagomi, seeing how the head of the Kenpeitai bristles under what he has to do, all this gives us a deeper, layered, nuanced show, where the villains aren't necessarily so because of their acts but because they have been forced into these roles over time.

Though what this adaptation did superbly was expand Philip K. Dick's world so that we weren't just seeing the American and Japanese side of things but it also ensconsced us firmly within the Reich and in particular the Reich in America. Yes, this is literally going to be all about the importance of Rufus Sewell. I should say Rufus Sewell as Obergruppenführer John Smith, but seriously, wherever Rufus goes I follow. Season two of Victoria just wasn't the same without him in every single episode. Oh Lord M, you're breaking my heart. THIS is the genius of casting Rufus! Most people have some sort of connection to him as an actor, I mean he's seriously amazing. By casting him as a dyed-in-the-wool Nazi you know he's the bad guy and you aren't rooting for him, because seriously, you NEVER root for Nazis, instead you are drawn into the mindset of the Reich. You get a glimpse into how calculating and cruel their world is where old friends can become enemies that you are to interrogate over a family dinner and your own child's life hangs in the balance because of a hereditary illness. You see the Nazis in all their evil and you understand that evil. To understand your enemy is the first step in destroying them.

One major change that makes total sense in the shift of mediums is that instead of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy being a book within the book it's a series of films that look like newsreels that where shown in cinemas during and right after WWII. In the book it made sense for this alternate outcome of WWII to be disseminated as a book, but for a TV show it makes sense for it to be a film. Like to like in the different media. Because think how boring it would be watching people read long sections out of the book on screen? It's been proven that people have only about a 15-20 minute attention span when being read to, so firstly, everyone would have tuned out, and secondly? Snoozeville. Whereas think how much information can be gleaned in a short film and watching the characters reactions to that film? What's more it's far more visceral for the viewers to see images, many of which the are familiar with. The films, for the most part, show the world that we are familiar with. What's more in the book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is being read by everyone everywhere in the Japanese territories, whereas having films that have to be secreted around the country, films that even Hitler wants to watch? This just adds to the noir spycraft of the series.

Yet one thing that hasn't been explained yet, though it might in season two, is where the films come from and why The Man in the High Castle wants them. Obviously they are interesting, even Hitler is obsessed with them, but there's a bigger secret here. In the book The Man in the High Castle is the one disseminating the information, yet in this adaptation he's collecting it. Why!?! One theory I have is that perhaps he's collecting the films to eventually write the book in order to achieve the outcome in the book, which is informing the masses through the publication of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. But then where are the films coming from? Are they slipping through rips in time and space like Tagomi in that cliffhanger seeing him in OUR 1962 San Francisco? Are they actually showing the truth and that everyone is under some kind of mass hypnosis? I have other theories but I don't want to start spoiling everything. Whatever the reason for this reversal it has kept me guessing and to take a book that I've read and loved and make it new and fresh? Well that's truly amazing in my mind. I literally can not wait to start season two (right now!) but I'm also worried that once I binge it what will happen to me while I wait for season three? Seriously, what will happen!?! 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book Review - Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Published by: Library of America
Publication Date: 1962
Format: Hardcover, 900 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

The Allied Troops failed. The Axis powers won and divided up the spoils. Nazi Germany claimed the eastern United States while Imperial Japan created the Pacific States of America from the western coast and the Rocky Mountain States became a neutral buffer zone. It has been fifteen years since the end of the war. Fifteen years living under new laws, adapting to new cultures. Fifteen years of trying to forget the freedom Americans once had. But everyone has handled the situation in a way unique to themselves. Robert Childan has flourished under Japanese domination. His shop, American Artistic Handcrafts Inc. deals with objects from America's past that the Japanese just love for their historicity. He has learned his trade well and understands the respect and protocol his clients demand. From Nobusuke Tagomi, a high ranking Japanese trade official dealing with a visiting Swedish industrialist, to the Kasouras, a young couple in love with Americana, Childan will go beyond what is necessary to please his customers. But soon his confidence in his life and his store will change forever when an item he has is accused of being a forgery.

Of course it is a forgery, there is no way that there are enough Colt .44s from the "wild west" to supply the demand for them, but Childan doesn't know he's just collateral damage from two disgruntled employees who work for his supplier, the Wyndam-Matson Corporation, trying to go out on their own making jewelry instead of forgeries. One of these two men is Frank Frink, a man desperately hoping no one ever finds out he's Jewish and daydreaming that his wife, Juliana, will return to him. But Juliana is in the Rocky Mountain States where she's gotten involved with a man, Joe, who's obsessed with a book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, written by Hawthorne Abendsen, The Man in the High Castle. Abendsen never forgot his freedom and his book is about an Allied victory in WWII. A past and present that could have been. As powers are at play trying to once again change history and divide alliances with the Germans wanting sole control of the world, one woman will learn the truth and perhaps it will set everyone free.

Back when I was more of a film buff than book geek I was very much aware of the controversy surrounding Blade Runner and which release of the film was the true vision of Ridley Scott, similar to the issues surrounding Terry Gilliam's Brazil which lead to me buying a cheap VHS transfer for the directors cut at a Doctor Who convention. This desire for truth lead me to seek out and read the source material, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. My introduction to his terse almost choppy writing style is forgotten in the fogs of time, or in this case a really long train trip to New York, but I still remember my film TA's awe that I bothered to go to the source. This has always kind of shocked me, an adaptation doesn't exist in a bubble and the original source material, be it book or play, is always worth reading. When The Library of America came out with a "four volumes of the 1960s" omnibus deluxe edition containing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I jumped at the chance to upgrade my tatty paperback movie tie-in. It wasn't until Rufus Sewell signed onto the adaptation of The Man in the High Castle that I noticed that it was one of the four books in this volume I'd bought.

From that moment I knew I needed to read this book and yet, as so often happens, time was against me but once again my blog's theme months came to the rescue. I would read The Man in the High Castle this November no matter what! As it turned out this book is tailor made for me. I have a love of historical fiction but I also have a love of Steampunk. And think about this, what is Steampunk but a more typical alt history in that it leans towards the fantastical? This book combines all this into a wonderful mashup that occasionally has some over-the-top science fiction elements. But being the type of author Philip K. Dick was I think we can forgive him Nazis colonizing Mars, all the ensuing space race jargon, and those super rockets that get you from Germany to San Francisco in a matter of minutes not hours because he uses them so sparingly. In fact his using these fantastical elements so sparingly makes them have a greater impact than if it was all about aliens. Because the truth is this book isn't heavy on the plot, it isn't about great world changing events, it's about a select few people and how they deal with the world around them and learning their truth. And a search for the truth is how I first found Philip K. Dick in a wonderful sense of synchronicity. The Man in the High Castle is a character study and I loved that.

The lead characters are Robert Childan, Nobusuke Tagomi, Frank Frink, and Juliana Frink, and none of them are fully sympathetic, which makes them human and therefore far more interesting. Childan is grasping and obsessed with his status, think of an Arnold Rimmer not in outer space but dealing antiques in an alternate San Francisco. Tagomi is I think the most fascinating, someone who the readers would see as an enemy, but is drawn so complexly, who is so multifaceted, that he instantly becomes the hero of the book. He's constantly being pushed outside his comfort zone, forced to face situations he could never have envisioned, and yet he rises admirably to all challenges. Childan and Tagomi represent the more Japanese side of the Axis powers, and what I connected to was this glimpse into a culture that is so dependant on status and behavior. This book gets you into another mindset, makes you question how you see the world around you. I couldn't help noticing parallels to Michael Crichton's Rising Sun and how that book also gave us this tantalizing acress. For me Frank was almost a non-character, because he was really just there to connect Juliana to the rest of the narrative. And while Philip K. Dick obviously suffers a bit from the objectification of women who are in thrall to men that was not only prevalent but expected at the time, the turn around at the very end put this trope in it's place.

One thing that runs through this character driven book as a unifying force is the voice of the oracle through the I Ching. While the characters constant reliance on this device of cleromancy might in clumsy hands have conceivably bogged down the narration, Philip K. Dick handles it in such a deft and skilled way that it becomes a character of it's own. He either really knows his stuff or is really good at making it look that way. This device is also where the biggest most thought-provoking elements of The Man in the High Castle arise. The idea that the oracle has access to alternate dimensions that can be achieved through higher thought and belief, that truth can be divined? Shivers up my spine. The scene where Tagomi is trying to come to grips with all that he has suffered and done over the course of the book as he sits on that park bench looking deep into a broach designed by Frank and reaches awareness because the Wu of the piece moved him and for an instant he comes into our world, not the alternate world he has always lived in, it's like the book transcended. In that moment The Man in the High Castle was no longer a character study, but a religious experience connecting all of the universes. This book became MORE than a book. It became an experience to never forget.     

An experience that relies heavily on Philip K. Dick being meta before meta was really a thing. The book that drives Juliana and much discussion about what-ifs and could-have-beens in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. A book that shows the Axis powers losing and the world becoming very much like the one we live in. Just think on that. From our POV we're reading a book about an alternate outcome to WWII while the characters in that book are reading a book about an alternate outcome to WWII that is similar to how our world actually is. So much fun is derived not in seeing the horror the world could have been in had the Allies lost, but in seeing how Abendsen wrote this other world. The subtle changes that still led to the same result. So much of this book is chaos theory in action. The world is a house of cards, change one thing, change so many things. Because the Allied Forces lost not because of anything that happened during the war but because of the assassination of FDR prior to the war. Change one thing change everything. And yet, somehow, the oracle sees the truth at the heart of it all. Perhaps the changes within Abendsen's book to our truth are inaccuracies on his part. As to why he would have inaccuracies in a book he'd written? Well, you'll just have to read this one to find out.

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