Monday, November 20, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Victoria and Albert: A Royal Love Affair by Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: November 21st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The official companion to the second season of the PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria by award-winning creator and screenwriter Daisy Goodwin.

More than 16 million viewers watched the first season of the Masterpiece presentation of Victoria, created and written by Daisy Goodwin―the highest-rated PBS drama in twenty years, second only to Downton Abbey. But what happened after the Queen married her handsome prince? Did they live happily ever after, or did their marriage, like so many royal marriages past and present, fizzle into a loveless round of duty?

This all-new companion book by Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan transports us to the private world of Victoria and Albert. Though first cousins, they could not have been more different: Victoria was impulsive, emotional, and capricious, Albert cautious, self-controlled, and logical. But together they forged a bond with each other and with their people that would change the world. Drawing on letters and diaries and fresh insights into royal history, this gorgeous book charts the constant ebb and flow of power within the couple’s surprisingly ardent and modern marriage.

Sumptuously illustrated and full of rich insider detail, Victoria and Albert takes us behind the scenes of the magnificent TV drama, including fascinating, in-depth information on the actors, the props, and the costumes – and bringing an extraordinary royal marriage even more fully to life."

YAS! I need my Victoria/Daisy Goodwin fix until the Christmas special!

Killer Fashion by Jennifer Wright
Published by: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Publication Date: November 21st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 56 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A beautifully illustrated book about deadly fashion—real historical stories of strangulation by scarves, neckbreaking high heels, and riot-causing top hats—from the author of the popular histories Get Well Soon and It Ended Badly.

Isadora Duncan was Red
Put on a scarf; popped off her head
Fashion is silly, thought Stein
It may tear your head from your spine

A darkly comic book about some surprisingly lethal garments. Featuring stories like the untimely demise of dancer Isadora Duncan caused by her signature red scarf and the bloody riot that greeted the appearance of the first top hat, among many others, these bite-size accounts will frighten and delight. Killer Fashion includes over twenty of these short tales along with beautiful full-page illustrations. Both morbid and humorous, this book will appeal to fans of Edward Gorey and dark historical trivia."

Edward Gorey meets high fashion? SOLD!

Secrets of Cavendon by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: November 21st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From #1 New York Times bestselling author Barbara Taylor Bradford, comes a striking, breathtaking saga featuring the aristocratic Inghams and the Swann family, who have loyally served them for generations.

It’s the summer of 1949, and things have run smoothly at Cavendon Hall for years, with very few quarrels, dramas, or upsets between the two families. But since the end of World War II, changes have arrived at Cavendon. A new generation is at the helm, and also at the forefront of new scandal and intrigue. With romance, betrayal, heartbreak, and possible murder threatening to tear them apart, the Inghams and Swanns will have to find a way to come together and protect each other in the face of threats they never could have predicted.

Told with Bradford’s inimitable deftness of prose and a beloved cast of characters, Secrets of Cavendon is a captivating novel that will draw readers in and grip them until the very last page."

Seriously, after the horrendous previous volume I'm actually shocked she wrote another one... 

Murder in the Manuscript Room by Con Lehane
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: November 21st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The second in Con Lehane's 42nd Street Library mystery series, Murder in the Manuscript Room is a smart, compelling mystery in which the characters themselves are at least as interesting as the striking sleuthing.

When a murder desecrates the somber, book-lined halls of New York City’s iconic 42nd Street Library, Raymond Ambler, the library’s curator of crime fiction, has a personal interest in solving the crime. His quest to solve the murder is complicated by personal entanglements involving his friend―or perhaps more-than-friend―Adele Morgan. Not only does Adele’s relationship with the young woman staffer who was murdered get in the way of Ambler’s investigation, more disturbing for him is Adele’s growing interest in a darkly handsome Islamic scholar.

Soon the Intelligence Division of the New York Police Department takes over the case from NYPD homicide detective Mike Cosgrove, Ambler’s friend and sometimes partner-in-crime solving. Ambler suspects that the murder of the young woman, who’d been working at the library under an assumed name and the curious intervention of NYPD’s intelligence division are connected. The trail of intrigue leads to a seemingly unrelated murder in an upstate prison and a long ago murder of a trade union reformer.

No one else sees the connections Ambler is sure are there―not an unusual state of affairs for Ambler. But with the city’s law enforcement establishment determined to stop his investigation, the inquisitive and intrepid librarian faces challenges that may put his very life at risk."

Murders and libraries always iconic books to me. 

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 21st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From award-winning actor, Neil Patrick Harris, comes the magical first book in a new series with plenty of tricks up its sleeve.

When street magician Carter runs away, he never expects to find friends and magic in a sleepy New England town. But like any good trick, things change instantly as greedy B.B. Bosso and his crew of crooked carnies arrive to steal anything and everything they can get their sticky fingers on.

After a fateful encounter with the local purveyor of illusion, Dante Vernon, Carter teams up with five other like-minded illusionists. Together, using both teamwork and magic, they'll set out to save the town of Mineral Wells from Bosso's villainous clutches. These six Magic Misfits will soon discover adventure, friendship, and their own self-worth in this delightful new series.

(Psst. Hey, you! Yes, you! Congratulations on reading this far. As a reward, I'll let you in on a little secret... This book isn't just a book. It's a treasure trove of secrets and ciphers and codes and even tricks. Keep your eyes peeled and you'll discover more than just a story--you'll learn how to make your own magic!)"

Um, it's Neil Patrick Harris, there isn't even a question about buying this book, gimme! 

The Complete Sookie Stackhouse Stories by Charlaine Harris
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: November 21st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For the first time together in one volume, the complete short story collection starring Sookie Stackhouse—with a new introduction from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the series, Charlaine Harris.

For the first time together in one volume, here is the complete short story collection starring Louisiana’s favorite telepathic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse—from #1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris. New fans can fill in the gaps in their Sookie lore while old friends can revisit some of their favorite moments and characters. From investigating the murder of a local fairy to learning that her cousin was a vampire, from remodeling her best friend’s house to attending a wedding with her shapeshifting boss, Sam, Sookie navigates the perils and pitfalls of the paranormal world.

Belly up to the bar at Bon Temps’s favorite watering hole and hear stories that will make you wish Sookie never left, including...

“Fairy Dust”
“One Word Answer”
“Dracula Night”
“Gift Wrap”
“Two Blondes”
“If I Had a Hammer”
“Small-Town Wedding”
“Playing Possum”
“In the Blue Hereafter”

This definitive collection is the perfect binge read for people who like their stories with bite!"

Is it really "complete" though? Does it have all the Sookie-verse stories without Sookie!?! Doesn't look like it...

Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra by Anne Rice
Published by: Anchor
Publication Date: November 21st, 2017
Format: Paperback, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the iconic and bestselling author of The Mummy and The Vampire Chronicles, a mesmerizing, glamorous new tale of ancient feuds and modern passions.

Ramses the Great, former pharaoh of Egypt, is reawakened by the elixir of life in Edwardian England. Now immortal with his bride-to-be, he is swept up in a fierce and deadly battle of wills and psyches against the once-great Queen Cleopatra. Ramses has reawakened Cleopatra with the same perilous elixir whose unworldly force brings the dead back to life. But as these ancient rulers defy one another in their quest to understand the powers of the strange elixir, they are haunted by a mysterious presence even older and more powerful than they, a figure drawn forth from the mists of history who possesses spectacular magical potions and tonics eight millennia old. This is a figure who ruled over an ancient kingdom stretching from the once-fertile earth of the Sahara to the far corners of the world, a queen with a supreme knowledge of the deepest origins of the elixir of life. She may be the only one who can make known to Ramses and Cleopatra the key to their immortality—and the secrets of the miraculous, unknowable, endless expanse of the universe."

Anyone else find it out that this blurb seems to be hinting that Anne Rice wrote The Mummy, when it was just The Mummy of Ramses the Damned NOT the iconic movie franchise. It's Egypt so I'll still read it... I just now have blurb issues...

Friday, November 17, 2017

Movie Review - High-Rise

Based on the book by J.G. Ballard
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Louis Suc, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, Jeremy Irons, Keeley Hawes, Sienna Guillory, Enzo Cilenti, James Purefoy, Dan Renton Skinner, Stacy Martin, Louis Suc, Toby Williams, Peter Ferdinando, Reece Shearsmith, Augustus Prew, Tony Way, Bill Paterson, Leila Mimmack, Neil Maskell, Julia Deakin, Dylan Edwards, and Fenella Woolgar
Release Date: September 13th, 2015
Rating: ★
To Buy

Following the death of his sister, Doctor Robert Laing moves into a 25th floor studio apartment in a luxurious modern 40 story high-rise. Every modern convenience is taken care of. You'd never actually have to leave the building, and soon that becomes the case, more out of need than necessity. Being in the middle of the building Laing is more open to befriend those both above and below him. He starts seeing an attractive single mother from the floor above, and befriends a family, the Wilders, from a lower floor. But Laing will ascend to the heights when he's invited to the penthouse, where the building's architect Anthony Royal lives. Laing comes to a party which he didn't know was fancy dress, humiliated and thrown out of the party with one of his own medical students looking on he becomes trapped in the elevator in a power outage that is to become commonplace, not a rarity. Due to a series of fortuitous circumstances Laing is able to get revenge on his uppity student, but that student's subsequent suicide seems to be the catalyst for the complete disintegration of law and order within the high-rise. The power outages have been followed by the water being shut off and garbage chutes overflowing. The infrastructure of the building is failing and Royal might just be keeping the authorities away as the building devolves into outright warfare. This isn't "growing pains" this is a microcosm of civilization tearing the class system to shreds. But there is one person who has a plan. Richard Wilder plans to take off the head of the beast. Anthony Royal will die at his hands, what happens next doesn't matter.  

Here is a sentence I never thought I'd write: There are some things that even Tom Hiddleston's bare ass can't fix. I know! This is a shocking revelation to me as well. But High-Rise is one of those high concept adaptations that has literally been in development since the book was written in the 1970s and never really found the right team to shepherd it to the big screen. And yes, I am including the team that actually made this movie, because seriously, it's two hours of my life I want back. A fairly straightforward book was made into a bizarre orgiastic incoherent mess that critics just gobbled up and audiences hated. It's more like a hedonistic verging on incomprehensible overly long music video than a film. There's no structure, just writhing bodies. And such bodies! I mean, the talent on board here is astonishing: Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Keeley Hawes, James Purefoy! I could go on and on because this is like a dream cast with the cream of the crop taken from British television and cinema but if High-Rise proves one point, you can get the best actors in the world and if the vision isn't there, if the writing doesn't shine, if the plot is nonexistent, they can in no way save the film. As I shockingly said before, not even Hiddlesbum could save this mess. Though perhaps we can throw a little blame at Elisabeth Moss? She's destroying dystopian adaptations left and right these days... 

What confused me most about this adaptation is why oh why did they decide to make it period? Yes, this is 100% enshrined in 70s glory. This was the biggest mistake they could have made. The reason the book actually works is that there is a universality to it, so while it was written in the 70s you can totally see it happening now. This specificity of period makes it dated and implausible. Yes, I say implausible. Because if this uprising had occurred, if this past had happened, then the future we live in would be different. There's a reason dystopian literature is either in an alternate timeline or in the near future. This makes it believable. The world we live in could take a turn into a giant dumpster fire and then we're there. We have reached dystopia. Having this horror happen in the past and then forgotten while Margaret Thatcher talks on the radio? Um, no. What's more is the era went on to inform the sets and the costumes. This leads to the audience having a disconnect. I kept thinking, oh look, there's something I vaguely remember from my childhood, or the Wilder's apartment has a vague Star Wars feel to it, Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen must have been called in to decorate. There was no immediacy to the story and the horrors within. I couldn't connect because this 70s framework was a distancing device. But the biggest flaw? Don't model your high-rise lobby off a set from the original Battlestar Galactica.  

The embracing of the 70s aesthetic goes deeper into destroying this film than you might think. As I've mentioned there's a disconnect by having the story take place in the past versus the present or near future, but more than that by having it set in the 70s the film isn't a commentary on the universality of human behavior but a commentary on human behavior during this specific time. Despite what may or may not have happened in the 70s it's come to mean certain things in popular culture. It's viewed as a time of excess, drugs, drinks, and swingers! Where cops didn't have to answer for killing the occasional criminal and justice was sometimes gotten in the most nefarious of ways. Therefore we already have these preconceptions of the 70s and to have this acted out on screen it just seems a product of the time, the 70s was the catalyst, not man's base nature. It's like the director and the writer, who happens to be the directors wife, just didn't get it. The book is a statement of human nature and the devolution of man, and the movie is just "wow, things were crazy in the 70s weren't they?" And in that last scene with Margaret Thatcher coming on the radio? Are they trying to make the film into a political statement of what Thatcher did to England? Because that's a cheap shot. Trying to tag your own message on when you couldn't even properly convey the author's message.

With this bizarre music video style the whole film contains there is one scene, and one scene only that I think captured the essence of the book while creating a new spin on it, letting the filmmakers leave their stamp on the classic book, all while still feeling like an homage to the Annie Lennox "Walking on Broken Glass" video. Doctor Laing is invited to a party in the penthouse. Anthony Royal and his wife are throwing a fancy dress party and the theme is the French court of Marie Antoinette, which of course they didn't bother to tell their guest from the lowly 25th floor. Why is this so perfect? Well the book, not the movie, is about the stratification of the classes within the high-rise and how those lower down are trying to topple those at the top. What happened in France as a result of the excesses of Marie Antoinette and her court was The French Revolution, off with their heads and all that. What is happening within the microcosm of the high-rise is what happened on a larger scale in France. The filmmakers are grounding what is happening in the high-rise with historical precedence, which I think is the only time in two hours of rubbish where I almost liked the film. For that brief instance they got it. Also with the cover of ABBA's "SOS" by Portishead we get a wonderful double meaning, triple if you really want to bother with the whole 70s of the thing. What we get with the song is a menacing warning to those decadent partiers that their time has come, but also a warning that what happens in the high-rise stays in the high-rise. There will be no one coming to save ANY of them. Now if only they burned the whole thing to the ground, film and all I might be satisfied.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review - J.G. Ballard's High-Rise

High-Rise by J.G. Ballard
Published by: Liveright
Publication Date: 1975
Format: Paperback, 208 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Two miles downriver from the City of London right on the Thames there's a new complex surrounding a small lake. On one side of the lake is a new medical school and television studio. On the other side there will be five identical high-rises reaching forty stories into the sky. The architecture by Anthony Royal may be brutal, creating a concrete landscape, but for Doctor Robert Laing moving from Chelsea into his 25th floor studio apartment in the first completed building, three floors above his sister Alice, he feels like he's traveled forward in time. He's now living in the future. The high-rise has a glut of conveniences, with a 10th floor concourse having a supermarket, bank, hair salon, as well as a swimming pool, and the 35th floor having fine dining, not to mention there's a school for the kids living in the high-rise. It's a small vertical city that has everything Laing needs. In fact with all the bored housewives and rumors of a brothel higher up the building is a sexual playground for the recently divorced Laing and his upstairs neighbor Charlotte Melville might just well be his first conquest. But when he arrives at Charlotte's he finds the unwelcome presence of Richard Wilder, a documentary filmmaker who lives down on the 2nd floor with his wife and two kids. While Laing and Wilder both work just across the compound soon they both feel reluctant to leave, a feeling which seems to be spreading. Soon there are breakdowns, garbage chutes not working, lights going off, elevators behaving erratically. Skirmishes arise between neighbors, whole floors band together to attack other floors further up the high-rise. Time becomes irrelevant as the violence escalates. Bodies start to pile up, canine, feline, human... Will anyone escape the lure of the high-rise and the desire to kill? As the first power outage hits the second building one wonders if the insanity will spread.

Usually I like a good rant. In fact back in high school when I first started writing reviews, though usually about art, I found that it was easier to write a negative review than a positive one. Because sometimes it's really hard to put your finger on what works but it's so much easier to know what doesn't work. Despite years and years of writing, let's not discuss how many years please, I do still find it easier to write a negative review, though I hope I've gotten better at communicating what makes something work for me, because I truly want to read only good books, but that is just a utopia that I fear will never exist unless I were to spend a year just re-reading my favorite books. All this brings me to High-Rise... this is a book that deserves the biggest longest rant I can give and yet, for the longest time, I just couldn't be bothered. It has been over a year and a half since I read this book and it has languished on my shelf for books I need to review. It's sitting there waiting. Waiting to be sold. Because that's right, the second this review is done off it goes to Half Price Books in the hopes that I can get something back for my time and energy. Such wasted energy. Even writing this now I'm like, why bother? I seriously don't know where this lassitude with regard to all things High-Rise comes from. I read this for my book club and most everyone really liked it. But I'm here just going, no. All the no for this book. Perhaps my differing opinion has led to me dragging my hells? Who knows. Yes, High-Rise has an interesting and plausible concept that is somehow timeless yet it just fails utterly in the execution. There are no characters likable or fascinating enough to be invested in. At no point did I relate to the situation or the people and therefore I just checked out.

A big turnoff is the treatment of animals. You know the website Does the Dog Die? where those who can't handle animal deaths go to vet (ha ha) a movie? Well, here it wouldn't just be one dead dog, it would be Laing roasting one on a spit for dinner. Yes, seeing as this flash forward happens on the first page I should have known what was to come. Yet somehow I thought that was just setting the apocalyptic tone and wasn't going to be something so graphically carried throughout the book. I was wrong. Reading so much of what happens in the high-rise actually made me physically sick. And it wasn't JUST the animals, women and homosexuals were treated just as badly. And I'd like to make it clear, I'm not saying the women and homosexuals are animals and should be treated that way, J.G. Ballard is. The women have two purposes, one is that the more women a man has in his harem, the more power he has. They are just a status symbol. The other purpose they serve is sexual release. Women are constantly being raped here. This book should just have a trigger warning placed on the cover. And while I see what Ballard is doing with showing what happens with the breakdown of a society, he seems to take glee in it. Violence just for the sake of violence making it impossible for the reader to become desensitized. While I should applaud Ballard for creating such a visceral book wherein violence never loses it's potency, I just can't because it made me sick. It's like that scene in A Clockwork Orange where Alex undergoes the Ludovico Technique, violence of this level just creates nausea in me.

And yet Ballard could have subverted this male dominated narrative and created a more balanced story. At the denouement of the book we learn that there's been a band of women roving the high-rise lead by a children's book writer. They have not only been protecting the children but meting out punishment on the men. Where is this in the rest of the book!?! Where is this story? Yes, it basically redacts what was happening in his narrative, but it's so quickly mentioned and pushed aside that you can't be 100% sure that this is what Ballard meant or what really happened. There's this "Blood Garden" (the title of the only chapter this is dealt with) and the women bring their victims there? Oh, and this is also when cannibalism makes its way into the story. I also forgot to mention the incest. Seriously, why would anyone read this book? But this little hint of female empowerment turns everything on it's head. Up until this point it's been a bit of a testosterone fueled slog to read the book, and I can't help thinking, what if this second plot line about the second sex been introduced earlier? What if the female narrative was parallel. Yes, you get a bit of a nice surprise to learn what else has been going on when the men were too busy with their conquests, both in turf and women, but it's too little too late. Yes, you could say that this opinion, in fact all my opinions of the book are based on me being a female, but that doesn't account for the fact that this book is badly paced, badly plotted, and could have been so much more.

Because the crux of the problem, the book's failing, isn't violence or women, no matter how much I have issues with that, it's in a sameness to the three main characters. So much of the book is a metaphor for the struggle between classes and this is born out in our leads, Richard Wilder, 2nd floor and working class, Doctor Robert Laing, 25th floor and upper middle class, and finally, Anthony Royal, penthouse and upper class. Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, each man lower down is trying to jockey for a position higher up in the building. In fact Richard Wilder's obsession to get to the 40th floor leads to his death in the blood garden. But what annoyed me was the sameness of all three men. They basically all behave the same and that's just stupid. Yes, you could say that this shows that despite class, rank, status, whatever, everything boils down to men and their mommy issues, but that literally makes this book too darn simplistic. This universality is a point that is made so quickly that it's constant repetition makes the book boring. In the end there is literally no way to tell these men apart. Sure, let's say that is what Ballard was going for, going back to my previous statement, this does not a compelling book make. Stereotypes, tropes, avatars for the everyman can not be at the center of a good story. They are a character without character. They give you nothing and therefore the book is nothing. A book needs a payoff, or at the very least a hook. Violent male archetypes/stereotypes aren't enough. Again, you could say all this was Ballard's point. He meant to make a statement with High-Rise. Well, you know what makes a better statement? A book you want to read and analyze and discuss, not torture porn.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Artemis by Andy Weir
Published by: Crown
Publication Date: November 14th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The bestselling author of The Martian returns with an irresistible new near-future thriller—a heist story set on the moon.

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first."

Anyone who has read The Martian I'm sure has been eagerly awaiting this book. 

Ice by Anna Kavan
Published by: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: November 14th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 208 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A dazzling and haunting vision of the end of the world, Ice is a masterpiece of literary science fiction now in a new 50th anniversary edition with a foreword by Jonathan Lethem.

In a frozen, apocalyptic landscape, destruction abounds: great walls of ice overrun the world and secretive governments vie for control. Against this surreal, yet eerily familiar broken world, an unnamed narrator embarks on a hallucinatory quest for a strange and elusive “glass-girl” with silver hair. He crosses icy seas and frozen plains, searching ruined towns and ransacked rooms, all to free her from the grips of a tyrant known only as the warden and save her before the ice closes all around. A novel unlike any other, Ice is at once a dystopian adventure shattering the conventions of science fiction, a prescient warning of climate change and totalitarianism, a feminist exploration of violence and trauma, a Kafkaesque literary dreamscape, and a brilliant allegory for its author’s struggles with addiction—all crystallized in prose glittering as the piling snow.

Acclaimed upon its publication as one of the best science fiction books of the year, Kavan’s 1967 novel has built a reputation as an extraordinary and innovative work of literature, garnering acclaim from China Miéville, Patti Smith, J. G. Ballard, Anaïs Nin, and Doris Lessing, among others. With echoes of dystopian classics like Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, and J. G. Ballard’s High Rise, Ice is a necessary and unforgettable addition to the canon of science fiction classics."

Seeing as I've read so many of these other authors I think I HAVE to read this dystopian classic.

Ours is the Winter by Laurie Ellingham
Published by: HQ Digital
Publication Date: November 14th, 2017
Format: Kindle, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Journeying across the Arctic, their pasts are about to catch up with them.

Erica, Molly and Noah are embarking on the challenge of a lifetime, driving Siberian huskies across the frozen wilderness of the Arctic. Cut off from the world and their loved ones and thrown together under gruelling conditions, it isn’t long before the cracks start to show.

Erica has it all. A loving husband, a successful career and the most adorable baby daughter. But Erica has been living a double life, and as she nears her fortieth birthday her lies threaten to come crashing down.

Molly was on her way to stardom. But when her brother died, so did her dreams of becoming an Olympic champion. Consumed by rage and grief, she has shut out everyone around her, but now she’s about to learn that comfort can come from the most unexpected places.

Noah has a darkness inside him and is hounded by nightmares from his past. Tortured, trapped and struggling to save his fractured relationship, he knows this journey is not going to help, but try telling his girlfriend that.

As their lives and lies become ever more entwined, it becomes clear that in the frozen wilds there is nowhere to hide."

Yeah, I'm a little arctic obsessed of late...

Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer
Published by: John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books
Publication Date: November 14th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Victorian London is a place of fluid social roles, vibrant arts culture, fin-de-siècle wonders . . . and dangerous underground diabolic cults. Fencer Evadne Gray cares for none of the former and knows nothing of the latter when she’s sent to London to chaperone her younger sister, aspiring art critic Dorina.

At loose ends after Dorina becomes enamored with their uncle’s friend, Lady Henrietta “Henry” Wotton, a local aristocrat and aesthete, Evadne enrolls in a fencing school. There, she meets George Cantrell, an experienced fencing master like she’s always dreamed of studying under. But soon, George shows her something more than fancy footwork—he reveals to Evadne a secret, hidden world of devilish demons and their obedient servants. George has dedicated himself to eradicating demons and diabolists alike, and now he needs Evadne’s help. But as she learns more, Evadne begins to believe that Lady Henry might actually be a diabolist . . . and even worse, she suspects Dorina might have become one too.

Combining swordplay, the supernatural, and Victorian high society, Creatures of Will and Temper reveals a familiar but strange London in a riff on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that readers won't soon forget."

But will it be a successful riff? 

The Wild Book by Juan Villoro
Published by: Restless Books
Publication Date: November 14th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From one of Mexico’s foremost authors comes a wondrous adventure story of a boy who goes to live with his kooky, book-obsessed uncle in a library where books have a supernatural power all their own.

“We walked toward the part of the library where the air smelled as if it had been interred for years….. Finally, we got to the hallway where the wooden floor was the creakiest, and we sensed a strange whiff of excitement and fear. It smelled like a creature from a bygone time. It smelled like a dragon.”

Thirteen-year-old Juan’s favorite things in the world are koalas, eating roast chicken, and the summer-time. This summer, though, is off to a terrible start. First, Juan’s parents separate and his dad goes to Paris. Then, as if that wasn’t horrible enough, Juan is sent away to his strange Uncle Tito’s house for the entire break! Uncle Tito is really odd: he has zigzag eyebrows; drinks ten cups of smoky tea a day; and lives inside a huge, mysterious library.

One day, while Juan is exploring the library, he notices something inexplicable and rushes to tell Uncle Tito. “The books moved!” His uncle drinks all his tea in one gulp and, sputtering, lets his nephew in on a secret: Juan is a Princeps Reader––which means books respond magically to him––and he’s the only person capable of finding the elusive, never-before-read Wild Book.

Juan teams up with his new friend Catalina and his little sister, and together they delve through books that scuttle from one shelf to the next, topple over unexpectedly, or even disappear altogether to find The Wild Book and discover its secret. But will they find it before the wicked, story-stealing Pirate Book does?"

Come on, it's books and adventure? You know you want to read it too! Also, is that a cat on the book cover!?!

Skavenger's Hunt by Mike Rich
Published by: Inkshares
Publication Date: November 14th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 300 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"After young Henry Babbitt tragically loses his father, he can’t help but remember the promises of the great adventures they would now never take. Then, on a snowy Christmas Eve, his grandfather reveals that he’s tracked down a series of mysterious century-old clues left by Hunter S. Skavenger, the eccentric magnate who launched the first and greatest scavenger hunt.

Hours later, on Christmas Day, Henry finds himself magically transported back to 1885, where he teams up with a ragtag band of youngsters in a quest to solve Skavenger’s elaborate puzzle. From New York to the Mississippi riverboats to the streets of old Paris, Henry and his new friends face off not only against brilliant competing teams, but also Skavenger’s own dark and elusive nemesis: Hiram Doubt."

Who doesn't like a bit of a puzzle? 

Friday, November 10, 2017

TV Series Review - The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
Based on the book by Margaret Atwood
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, O-T Fagbenle, Jordana Blake, Samira Wiley, Yvonne Strahovski, Joseph Fiennes, Amanda Brugel, Max Minghella, Ann Dowd, Madeline Brewer, Alexis Bledel, Tattiawna Jones, Nina Kiri, Jenessa Grant, Bahia Watson, Ever Carradine, Stephen Kunken, Zabryna Guevara, and Christian Barillas
Release Date: April 26th, 2017 - June 14th, 2017
Rating: ★
To Watch

Offred was once called June. She was married to Luke. They had a daughter called Hannah. When the Sons of Jacob felled the US government and established Gilead June and her family attempted to escape. She and Hannah were caught and she believes Luke was killed. Hannah is the proof that she is fertile in these times of sterility and therefore she was trained to become a handmaid. She was sent to a Commander's house, assumed his name, and once a month "participates" in the ceremony that will hopefully bring forth a child to his family. The ceremony is nothing more than sanctioned systematic rape. Yet Commander Waterford wants Offred to be happy, as does his wife Serena Joy. They think that this is not just an acceptable life but a good life for Offred. Yet Offred doesn't understand the game Commander Waterford is playing, and it is literally a game. He calls her into his study when his wife isn't around to play Scrabble. Such luxury to play with lettered tiles, to form words, to read when women are no longer allowed to. Yet who knows what Serena Joy would do if this aberrant behavior in her husband were discovered. The two of them literally helped write the rules of Gilead, yet Serena herself is willing to bend them a little if she could get a child, having Offred couple with her husband's driver, Nick. Yet she would never violate them outright no matter how stifled she feels now that she's nothing more than a Commander's wife dressed in blue. But if anyone is stifled, if anyone should be revolting, it's Offred. She makes contact through a fellow handmaid with the Mayday resistence group, but then her contact Ofglen is gone one day. But through her new daring Offred learns that Luke is alive, as is her best friend Moira. She now has even more reasons to fight. She is June and they will not destroy her.

I genuinely went into watching The Handmaid's Tale with high expectations. I mean it won ALL the Emmys so it had to be good right? Wrong! I think voting for The Handmaid's Tale was like a protest vote, it says the right things but in truth Westworld should have won. But I would have also taken The Crown or Strangers Things as acceptable substitutes. And the thing is, I'm not sure if I'm alone or not in this dislike. The people I know who liked the miniseries haven't read the book and those whose opinion I trust haven't watched it because they in turn trust my opinion. On paper the show sounds great, even if you're not a fan of Elizabeth Moss like I am. But the execution was just self-indulgent television that felt like it was done by a student filmmaker. While I can understand certain changes, moving all the big events that are excruciatingly paced throughout hundreds of pages of reminiscences into the first episode makes sense. You HAVE to hook the viewers right away. There can't be an entire episode with Offred deliberating about telling the Marthas about the arrival of oranges in the shops because no one would watch that and yet it's over fifty pages in the book. So I'm being generous here, I get these changes, even if it means you've wasted almost all the good plot points in the first episode, it was necessary. But there's the fact that with all the directors there is no fixed style. It's so varying that there is one episode that literally spends the entire hour with only Offred's eye in focus. What student level BS is this? But what I won't ever forgive is the annoyingly repetitious sound design. Low, ominous noises drawn out for what felt like eons. Or a musical cord or strident sound played over and over for entire blocks of the show. If this show wanted to go for sound design over music look to how David Lynch did the revival of Twin Peaks, that is masterful, this is shit. And yet the sound design is NOTHING compared to the music choices. Each episode had some classic used inappropriately or mashed up in some horrific way, WTF was that "Heart of Glass" remix? At the start of every episode I kept wondering, which classic song is going to be ruined in this hour? The answer is whatever song they used.    

Yet the use of the songs from "Don't You (Forget About Me)" to "You Don't Own Me" underscore a larger problem in the series. The book has a timelessness to it, and the soundtrack, no matter how "appropriate" the title or the lyrics date the show. In making this show NOW they made everything too definite. Yes, whatever time you make a series in dates it to an extent, but just because our political climate is so similar at the moment doesn't mean the series should be set in the moment. It might give it immediacy, but will it give it longevity? I don't think so. By giving such specifics, even down to making sure we know all the characters real names, there's a universality that has been taken away. Though oddly there is one thing that is less emphasized amongst all this specificity that further strips any meaning out of the narrative. This story is set in Cambridge and Boston. It's very clear in the book but it's not very clear in the show because they didn't film it on location, instead they took the benefits that Atwood's country gives in tax breaks and damn the consequences the show was filmed in Canada. The problem is NO town can be a substitute for the Boston area. It has a very specific look and use of red bricks that when gone, well, you notice it. What's more is that by having the story set in and around Harvard, there's symbolism attached to having the bodies of the traitors hung on the University's wall that can never have the same impact by just having some bodies on a wall next to a river. This is a MAJOR statement about how the current regime views education and betrayal and here it's just gone, entirely lost. What's more, Boston is the cradle of America! This is where the revolution started! This is where Paul Revere made his midnight ride! To have that which created us under the yoke of an evil regime? That is a statement that can only be said by seeing Boston on the screen! 

Going back to the specificity that this adaptation has embraced when it's convenient to them Offred herself is just too specific, she's too defined. Yes, Atwood's book gives us a lot of information about Offred's previous life, but at the same time she is generic enough, she can be the everywoman she's supposed to be. You can scarily see yourself in her shoes because she could be you! She's a passive vehicle for the atrocities of Gilead to flow through. Here with Elisabeth Moss's portrayal of Offred we see a woman who is not going to just lay back and take things, she's going to stand up and fight. She's going to hold onto her name, she's going to hold onto her memories, she's going to hold onto hope. She is going to be the rallying point for the rebellion. Offred here is not so much just one of the handmaids, she is front and center, punching and kicking during the punishment, helping in the birth, she's June goddammit and she's going to talk other handmaid's off the ledge and be a force for change. And THAT is a big change from the book. There suicide was an option because hope had run out, here hope never runs out. There is a far more optimistic bent here because Offred is willing to show when she's pissed off or sullen or sulky, she's not the blank vessel for her Commander. She doesn't always follow the rules, and while perhaps we can root her on, I don't think we can relate as much. I totally think there's a time when hope does run out, but for some reason this show was unwilling to embrace this fact. Yes, I know that all this makes sense when switching from one medium to another, but I think more than that this was done in an effort make this more than just an adaptation of the book and more an expansion of the story. This is just the beginning of the series, one that will be full of rebellion, whereas Offred's story in the book is just the beginning of the horrors of Gilead, her rebellion in that context would have meant nothing, would have had no impact, she was just the voice of the oppressed with no actual impact expect for historians.   

Yet as much as I don't like the changes to Offred I have to say they occasionally got it so right that I was, for the moment, happy. In fact I will begrudgingly admit that Elisabeth Moss is the perfect actress for this version of Offred, which is understandable given how much creative control she had in this instance. Therefore I have partially forgiven her for all the times I've hated her in the past, burn in hell Peggy Olson! OK, back to The Handmaid's Tale, in episode two "Birth Day" the handmaids attend the labor of Janine, Ofwarren. Offred goes downstairs to inform the wives of the commanders how things are progressing and one of them asks if she'd like a cookie. Of course this decision is in the hands of her mistress, Serena Joy. Serena asks Offred if she would like a cookie, in the way you'd ask a very small child. There's this big beautiful tower of macaroons and the range of emotions on Elisabeth Moss's face is exquisite. You can see how much she does want that cookie but simultaneously how much it pains her not only to have to ask but to ask it of these women. What's more, she's not even given a choice about asking, because once the suggestion is out there she must do as they say. All this is embodied in this one simple scene, and for once I thought, maybe they get it, maybe they get what Margaret Atwood's story was all about, but then Offred goes to the bathroom and I can see they didn't. Because what happens in the bathroom is that Offred spits out the cookie, but in the biggest act of rebellion she just leave it there, so that those women will know what she's done. Therefore I guess you could say this one scene embodied both what the book was about and likewise the rebellious nature this adaptation is going to take. Yet I have to say it, that at this point it's not the adaptation that is drawing me in no matter the level of acting, it's the expansion. I want to see where this goes. Offred so far has been too omnipresent, she needs to step back out of our faces and let the other characters have the spotlight for once.

Speaking of some other non-Offred characters, let's talk about Commander Fred Waterford and his wife, Serena Joy. In the book the Commander is a bit of a silver fox and Serena a washed up televangelist. In other words, 70s to 80s age range given the timeline. Here we have Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski, 47 and 35 respectively. In fact Elisabeth Moss is the same age as Yvonne Strahovski. Now there are two ways to take this change, one is good, one is bad. Let's start with the bad. The bad is that this is Hollywood and they couldn't have an unattractive elderly man raping Elisabeth Moss, so instead we have the beautiful though perfectly brooding Joseph Fiennes who is only a mere 12 years older than her. In an aside, am I the only one who wonders if the Fiennes brothers used to spend their time trying to see who could be more menacing? So vanity wins even in the darkest of stories in this interpretation. Perhaps Elisabeth Moss even insisted on a pretty face to act to? This is Hollywood, weird things are the norm. The unlikely "dark" yet infinitely better interpretation is that by making Offred's oppressors young and beautiful we can see the true horror of what they are doing. Because somehow it would be more understandable if the Commander and his wife had no way of having kids because of their age and an old guy barely getting it up isn't as much of a threat? Also here the crisis of infertility is also brought home by this beautiful couple. This really pushes the message on the inability to procreate which kind of gets lost in the horror of oppression and rape. But going beyond this, going back to the whole infertility crisis, one thing that I just don't get is this need of all the women to have children. I understand the biological imperative what with the fact that the world could end without procreation, I just don't understand this sickening need to have a baby. Is it because it's all that the men have left them? But that's something that needs to be thought on more... biological clocks and imperatives and parental desires can not be covered in a paragraph or two, you need a book, like The Handmaid's Tale, not just some series you can stream and be done with in a few hours.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review - Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Published by: Everyman's Library
Publication Date: 1985
Format: Hardcover, 350 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Offred once had a husband. She once had a daughter. She once had a different name. But the United States fell. It feel so fast that it's hard to remember what it was like. There was a constitution, there were rights, but they were suspended. Women who could reproduce became a valuable commodity. They were rounded up and distributed to the ruling elite. Offred is a handmaid to her Commander. Hopefully, God willing, she will provide him with an heir. It's best not to think what would happen if she's unable to conceive. She has her daily routine, shopping for the household as a way to be useful and keep herself healthy for reproductive purposes, and lots of time to think on all that she has lost and the little she has. The room with the bed and the desk and the window. The room with the carving from it's previous occupant, the previous Offred: "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum." Yet soon Offred's life starts to change. The Commander has a shrewish wife who used to be televangelist and now does nothing by garden and knit and long for the baby Offred will give her. This has distanced the couple and the Commander feels a void, a void he fills by inviting Offred to come into his study. At first they only play Scrabble, a wordy luxury to Offred. Soon she is given magazines and moisturizer. She knows she's playing a deadly game, if she were to be caught, if his wife were to find out... but "his wife" found out once before when she first met her husband Luke... But when the Commander invites Offred to a "special club" she can't help but notice the hypocrisy. Yet there is also hope. Yes, there is an easy way out, a way the other Offred took, but perhaps she can find another way...

If you're an avid book reader there are books that everyone just assumes you've read. Certain classics that make up the bedrock of the literary world. If you actually admit that the only Dickens you've dabbled in is a perfunctory reading of A Christmas Carol and that you prefer the movie version with Mickey the Mouse they might throw you out of the club. Of course it's not that I don't have these classics by the titans of the literary world, it's that I've just never gotten around to reading them. There are A LOT of books in the world and my "to be read" pile is so staggering it could possibly crush me to death if it was to fall on me, so I hope I'll be forgiven for slowly getting around to these classics. This is one of the reasons for my "theme months." They give me a focus. That month I'll tackle E.M. Forster and get around to reading all his work. Or those months I'll do nothing but indulge in Sherlock Holmes. This way I create content for my blog while getting myself to read the books that are de rigueur. One book that's been languishing was The Handmaid's Tale. Yes, yes, I know, it's been a long time coming, but see above! I can easily see why this book is a Classic with a capital "C." I read this book almost two months ago but it's still with me. I can't help thinking about it all the time. I think waiting to read The Handmaid's Tale until now gave the book more impact. In fact, at the moment reading any dystopian literature makes it seem eerily prescient and also, in some way, a rebellion. These books are a how to not end up in the same situation. You can see the correlations yet see how you can revolt! I can easily see the government oppressing women to this extent because every day there's some new and crazy legislation trying to take away our rights. But we have to fight. We have to keep ourselves informed. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!

What's interesting about The Handmaid's Tale is that our heroine Offred is unlikable. I know you might not agree with my opinion, she's oppressed, trapped, ritually raped, she is a sympathetic character in regard to her situation, but her situation and who she is are two separate things and I just don't like her. In the "present" tense I don't like her because she's very passive, she's willing to embrace the end if she can't take it anymore, she doesn't fight, she doesn't initiate change or outright rebellion. Yes, you could say to me that by surviving and getting her story, the story of all those like her, out into the world is a rebellion, but again, her escape wasn't of her own doing, she just took it. Likewise if the escape had never presented itself she would have just stayed put. But through her we do hear the stories of interesting and likeable characters, Ofglen, Moira, and others. Women who obviously didn't make it out and who, while they might have had more interesting lives, still, at the heart, lived the same life as Offred. But this is all the "present" it's Offred's past that I have issues with, that made me not like her. She was an adulterer who waited in hotel rooms for years waiting for Luke to divorce his wife and marry her. Yes, I know this situation takes two to tango, but I just can't like her because it makes me feel like condoning cheaters. And while yes, Luke and Offred might have been "meant to be" the way they got there just doesn't sit right with me and therefore makes me dislike Offred. Again, you might be saying what she's gone through should wipe the slate clean, but the thing is, who someone is deep down, what they do informs everything, and while I can pity her I can never like her. Like that bully at school who always picks on you, you might learn what made him that way but does it make it any better when he's still attacking you?

Then there's the odd narrative structure. Yes, it's first person and tends to flow backwards and forwards with Offred's memories and associations and her desire to escape her life into the story of one of her friends, but this inner monologue doesn't help you come to terms with the lack of forward momentum. The Handmaid's Tale is structured in such a way that it's one step forward and two steps back. Every time a plot development seems about to break Offred retreats into her reveries that just stops the narrative momentum in its tracks. At times you even forget what the next plot reveal you were waiting for was. She heavy-handedly keeps talking about the ceremony wherein she copulates with her Commander and yet we have to wait 109 pages until we learn what that ceremony is! And that ceremony is mentioned right at the start of the book! I couldn't help thinking over and over again "just get on with it!" I've said to a few people who were interested in what I thought of this book that I think it's a book that would be better the second time you read it. I stand by this statement. Because after you've read it once you know what happens next so the excruciating wait for certain reveals wouldn't annoy you. After awhile, knowing that the narrative was so drawn out I found myself less and less likely to pick up the book to grab a chapter or two before bed. Books take me, on average, about a week to read as I read at speaking pace. The Handmaid's Tale took me almost three weeks to read, which is almost unheard of for me. Because it's not a long book, and it's not a book I abjectly hated, it's just a book that is plotted in such a way that you become lackadaisical about when you pick it up.

Beyond pacing, there are lots of concepts and atrocities that I had problems with, yet these are problems that are what make the book the Classic that it is. These are the ideas and issues you keep dwelling on and that make the book leave a lasting impression. But what I had the biggest problem with stylistically was The Club that Offred's Commander takes her to. The Club is a brothel in a hotel which Offred visited with Luke before they were married and is there to tend to the "needs" of the high ranking officials of Gilead, whether those are personal or diplomatic needs it doesn't matter. Now it's not the hypocrisy that bothers me, because in a country enslaving women to the will of God it makes a sick kind of sense that those in power don't obey the laws, laws that they themselves have written. What bothers me is that for the first time in the book it felt dated. In the introduction written by Valerie Martin she says that the reason this book is a classic is that it becomes more relevant the more time has passed. This struck me as so very true. Yes we can play "what if" games and think about how certain technological advances, like the Internet, would have changed the outcome, but taken as it is there is a timelessness to The Handmaid's Tale in every instance EXCEPT The Club. For the first time you can feel that this book was written in the 80s. Yes, you've known this all along, you've caught glimpses here and there but Offred arrives at that Club and wham, it's the 80s right in your face. And the thing is I can't quite put my finger on why. Is it the hotel design with it's glass elevators that anyone growing up in the 80s stayed at at one time or another? Was it the weird dishabille feathered outfit Offred dons? Was it the makeup she applied? There's not one thing on it's own, but everything in total all of a sudden dates this novel and takes away it's timelessness.

The truth is with The Club monopolizing the final third of the book with Offred's story abruptly ending shortly thereafter if it wasn't for the epilogue of "historical notes" The Handmaid's Tale would have been a tale worth quickly forgetting. The Twelfth Symposium on Gileadean Studies gives the book a broader context. We get some indication of what happened to Offred, but more than that we learn a little about the cast of characters whom we've been spending so much time with. Hypotheses on who her Commander was, why she was called Offred (Of Fred) and so much more. Yet the "symposium" also gives a hint of what's to come in Offred's world, that it will become far harsher before it gets better. The times, the horrific times that Offred lived in are viewed by the academicians as rather lax, when having just spent all this time with Offred we know they are not. So one can draw some pretty horrific conclusions as to how much worse it got. What I also liked about this little end note was that it gave a stronger sense of reality and weight to Offred's story. She is the voice of the oppressed in Gilead. In a world where women weren't even allowed to read it's her story that survives. Her tale. Somehow these few pages made it all seem more real. I might have disliked Offred, I might have had issues in how she told her tale, but in the end the fact that her tale was told is viewed as a triumph because her voice got to be heard. This is oddly why I'm looking forward to the TV series so much. This epilogue opened up the world of Gilead more. Offred's world is so small, so cloistered, and yet there's this big world out there and I want to hear all the stories, I want to see all of this world, and then I want it burned to ash and stability and human equality returned.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Revolution of Marina M. by Janet Fitch
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: November 7th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 816 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the mega-bestselling author of White Oleander and Paint It Black, a sweeping historical saga of the Russian Revolution, as seen through the eyes of one young woman.

St. Petersburg, New Year's Eve, 1916. Marina Makarova is a young woman of privilege who aches to break free of the constraints of her genteel life, a life about to be violently upended by the vast forces of history. Swept up on these tides, Marina will join the marches for workers' rights, fall in love with a radical young poet, and betray everything she holds dear, before being betrayed in turn.

As her country goes through almost unimaginable upheaval, Marina's own coming-of-age unfolds, marked by deep passion and devastating loss, and the private heroism of an ordinary woman living through extraordinary times. This is the epic, mesmerizing story of one indomitable woman's journey through some of the most dramatic events of the last century."

With winter setting in who doesn't want to read a doorstop of a book about Russia?

Lord Edward's Mysterious Treasure by Lilian Marek
Published by: JOS
Publication Date: November 7th, 2017
Format: Kindle, 323 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Lord Edward Tremaine comes to the fog-shrouded Chateau Morvan on the coast of Brittany. In this ancient building, all the inhabitants have secrets. The old vicomte demands that his descendants find a lost treasure, but he offers only hints to help the three cousins in their search.

The charming Delphine seems to be a creature of gaiety and sunshine, but every now and then glimpses of something darker appear. Marguerite, the beautiful and brilliant pianist, is obviously afraid. What is it that threatens her? Antoine, who considers himself a modern man, ignores the swirling emotions, concentrating only on the money needed for him to build a steel factory. Lord Edward wants to help his friend Antoine--and more and more he wants to help Marguerite and protect her--but can he do so before tragedy strikes?"

Subtitled as "Victorian Adventures" that dress doesn't look very Victorian to me... 

Dark Asylum by E.S. Thomson
Published by: Pegasus Books
Publication Date: November 7th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Set in a crumbling Victorian asylum where a gruesome murder is committed, this sequel to Beloved Poison explores the early science of brain study while giving chilling insight into an asylum's workings.

1851, Angel Meadow Asylum. Dr. Rutherford, principal physician to the insane, is found dead, his head bashed in, his ears cut off, his lips and eyes stitched closed. The police direct their attention towards Angel Meadow's inmates, but to Jem Flockhart and Will Quartermain the crime is an act of calculated retribution, rather than of madness.

To discover the truth Jem and Will must pursue the story through the darkest corners of the city―from the depths of a notorious rookery, to the sordid rooms of London's brothels, the gallows, the graveyard, the convict fleet and then back to the asylum. In a world where guilt and innocence, crime and atonement, madness and reason, are bounded by hypocrisy, ambition and betrayal, Jem and Will soon find themselves caught up in a web of dark secrets and hidden identities."

Fog outside, a good Gothic read about an asylum? Yes please!

Unholy City by Carrie Smith
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: November 7th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 287 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Despite their rocky history, Detective Claire Codella and Precinct Detective Brian Haggerty come together when senior churchwarden Philip Graves’s bloody body is found lying in the herb garden of historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side just two days before Good Friday. Upon first glance, it looks like a random act of big city violence, but it soon becomes clear churchwarden Philip’s death was the result of a meticulously calculated ploy by someone who knew him.

There are five vestry members and a choir director in addition to the ten homeless men asleep in the church basement. Any one of them could have done it, but what did Philip Graves do to warrant such a merciless death? Struggling to share the case and salvage their personal relationship, Claire, Brian and trusted Detective Eduardo Muñoz work around the clock to uncloak the desires, secrets, and resentments that find home through the iron gates and into the hidden beauty of one historic Romanesque church in Unholy City, the haunting third installment in Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella mysteries."

A church, a murder, a certain time of year... yeah, it's must read. 

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter
Published by: Crown Archetype
Publication Date: November 7th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Can you ever outrun your past?

From actress, producer, and writer, Krysten Ritter, a psychological suspense novel about a woman forced to confront her past in the wake of small-town corruption.

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town's most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as she tries desperately to find out what really happened to Kaycee, troubling memories begin to resurface and she begins to doubt her own observations. And when she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” it will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of just five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of what happens when your past and present collide."

Yeah, I like Krysten Ritter as an actress, so I'll give her a shot as an author...

Renegades by Marissa Meyer
Published by: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: November 7th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 576 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From #1 New York Times-bestselling author Marissa Meyer, comes a high-stakes world of adventure, passion, danger, and betrayal.

Secret Identities.

Extraordinary Powers.

She wants vengeance. He wants justice.

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies―humans with extraordinary abilities―who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone...except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice―and in Nova. But Nova's allegiance is to the villains who have the power to end them both."

Where Marissa Meyer leads I follow.

Nanoshock by K.C. Alexander
Published by: Angry Robot
Publication Date: November 7th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Cyberpunk fallen angel Riko is back, in KC Alexander's outrageous sequel to the savage Necrotech.

Being a mercenary isn't all it's cracked up to be. Especially when Riko's hard-won reputation has taken a hard dive into fucked. Now she's fair game for every Tom, Dick and Blow looking to score some cred.

In this city, credibility means everything -- there's no room for excuses. She still doesn't know what she did to screw up so badly, and chasing every gone-cold lead is only making it worse. Without help and losing ground fast, Riko has a choice: break every rule of the street on her search for answers... or die trying."

No matter what name she's writing under, I'll follow her!

Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: November 7th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In his hilarious new sci-fi series, Jim C. Hines introduces the unlikely heroes that may just save the galaxy: a crew of space janitors.

The Krakau came to Earth to invite humanity into a growing alliance of sentient species. However, they happened to arrive after a mutated plague wiped out half the planet, turned the rest into shambling, near-unstoppable animals, and basically destroyed human civilization. You know—your standard apocalypse.

The Krakau’s first impulse was to turn around and go home. (After all, it’s hard to have diplomatic relations with mindless savages who eat your diplomats.) Their second impulse was to try to fix us. Now, a century later, human beings might not be what they once were, but at least they’re no longer trying to eat everyone. Mostly.

Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos is surprisingly bright (for a human). As a Lieutenant on the Earth Mercenary Corps Ship Pufferfish, she’s in charge of the Shipboard Hygiene and Sanitation team. When a bioweapon attack wipes out the Krakau command crew and reverts the rest of the humans to their feral state, only Mops and her team are left with their minds intact.

Escaping the attacking aliens—not to mention her shambling crewmates—is only the beginning. Sure, Mops and her team of space janitors and plumbers can clean the ship as well as anyone, but flying the damn thing is another matter.

As they struggle to keep the Pufferfish functioning and find a cure for their crew, they stumble onto a conspiracy that could threaten the entire alliance… a conspiracy born from the truth of what happened on Earth all those years ago.

Jim C. Hines has proven himself a master of humorous fantasy with his Jig the Goblin novels, and has turned the usual fantasy tropes sideways and upside down with his Princess and his Magic Ex Libris series. With Terminal Alliance, the debut novel in his humorous military science fiction series, Jim takes us into a brand-new universe of entertainment certain to appeal to fans of both Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett."

This sounds like Galaxy Quest meets Red Dwarf. I'm sold. 

A Spoonful of Magic by Irene Radford
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: November 7th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A delightful new urban fantasy about a kitchen witch and her magical family.

Daphne "Daffy" Rose Wallace Deschants has an ideal suburban life—three wonderful and talented children; a coffee shop and bakery, owned and run with her best friend; a nearly perfect husband, Gabriel, or "G" to his friends and family. Life could hardly be better.

But G's perfection hides dangerous secrets. When Daffy uncovers evidence of his infidelity, her perfect life seems to be in ruins. On their wedding anniversary, Daffy prepares to confront him, only to be stopped in her tracks when he foils a mugging attempt using wizard-level magic.

Suddenly, Daphne is part of a world she never imagined--where her husband is not a traveling troubleshooter for a software company, but the sheriff of the International Guild of Wizards, and her brilliant children are also budding magicians. Even she herself is not just a great baker and barista—she's actually a kitchen witch. And her discovery of her powers is only just beginning.

But even the midst of her chaotic new life, another problem is brewing. G's ex-wife, a dangerous witch, has escaped from her magical prison. Revenge-bent and blind, she needs the eyes of her son to restore her sight—the son Daffy has raised as her own since he was a year old. Now Daphne must find a way to harness her new powers and protect her family—or risk losing everything she holds dear."

Sounds like fun urban fantasy that is like Practical Magic! 

That Olde White Magick by Sharon Pape
Published by: Lyrical Underground
Publication Date: November 7th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
" It's time to work her crime-solving magic again...

Kailyn Wilde enjoys running her shop, Abracadabra, in the quaint New York hamlet of New Camel, where she lives with her six cats. Her family's been here for centuries, and she'd like to keep up the tradition. But the place may never be the same if a big hotel gets built, so she does her civic duty and attends a town meeting along with her aunt Tilly . . . and Merlin. Yes, that Merlin-though he gets introduced to folks as her "distant English cousin." The wizard is pretty grumpy about being transported here, but there are things about the modern world he doesn't mind-like pizza.

Kailyn was prepared for a heated debate about the hotel, but she wasn't expecting murder. When Tilly finds the body of a board member outside the schoolhouse, Kailyn doesn't want any suspicion cast on the wrong person. She plans to crack this case, even if she has to talk to every living soul in town-plus a few departed ones..."

Just look at that kitty on the cover! Look at it!!!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Movie Review - The Circle

The Circle
Based on the book by Dave Eggers
Starring: Emma Watson, Ellar Coltrane, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton, Karen Gillan, Nate Corddry, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Amie McCarthy Winn, Eve Gordon, Patton Oswalt, Smith Cho, Amir Talai, Elvy Yost, Ellen Wong, Poorna Jagannathan, Judy Reyes and Beck
Release Date: April 28th, 2017
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Mae's life isn't going well, her car breaking down and forcing her to call her ex Mercer to fix it is just the latest indignity. In fact her parents talk more about Mercer and all the help he's given around the house what with Mae's father having MS than they actually talk about Mae. But her luck is about to change. Her friend Annie has gotten her an interview at the groundbreaking tech company The Circle. Mae gets a job in Customer Experience, and it may not be the job to fulfill her fear of wasted potential, but it's where everyone starts at The Circle. Yet her start is rockier than most. She's not participating as much as the organization would like. She's not reaching out instead she's focusing inwards and escaping in a kayak whenever she can. Late one night after visiting her parents she snaps and takes a kayak out on the bay which she's "borrowed" from her regular rental place after they've closed. Ironically it's tech from The Circle that catches her malfeasance but also saves her life. She is brought before two of the three founders, Eamon Bailey and Tom Stenton who decide to not punish her but use her as an example. Make her the face of a new initiative. Mae is going transparent. Everything she does, every move she makes, can be watched by millions of people worldwide. Because sharing is caring and knowledge not shared is a crime. Yet as Mae is scaling to new heights in the company her friend Annie is spiraling downwards. Mae doesn't know the end game of The Circle or how transparency is another method of control blindly loving her fame. As she gets in deeper she will be forced to make hard decisions and witness horrors that could change everything. It's up to her to stop The Circle, but will she?

"They're Watching You!" With those simple, musical, almost whispered words while waiting for Tom Hiddleston in Kong: Skull Island in a darkened theater I was instantly sold on The Circle. Of course previews are designed specifically to get asses in seats so despite my love of the preview I waited for reviews and in the meantime picked up the book. For years I knew who Dave Eggers is, more for his founding of McSweeney's, the west coast's answer to The New Yorker, than for his book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but I'd never actually read his work. Ironically the book gave me more hope for the movie, until the abysmal reviews came in. I mean, 16% "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes is one of the worst scores I've seen in recent years, but on the bright side I hear the film will do well at The Razzies. So there's always a silver lining. Going into this movie with low, in fact almost no expectations was interesting. Yes, I was still frustrated when they got something so right only to follow it up with such a colossal misinterpretation of the text, but those were things I was able to laugh off. Sometimes knowing you're watching a dud gives you freedom to enjoy it for what it is. That's not to say I didn't have major issues, I still have criticisms aplenty, they're just from a more zen place. A place where Emma Watson seemingly single-handedly destroyed a film with an otherwise near-perfect cast. But it can't all be blamed on her, oh wait, it can, because all the changes, the taking a dark satire and spinning it into a thriller, all of that seemed in service of making the character of Mae more in line with Watson's values than as she was written. Because Watson is someone who would never drink the Kool-Aid. Do the people who made this film know about Jonestown?  

So let's go into Emma Watson's Razzie worthy performance. I really can't think of anyone more miscast than Watson as Mae. Mae is ambitious, manipulative, sexual, clever, and instead here she is atonal, flat, passionless, sexless. Look at how they clothe her! She's wearing all these sweaters that fully cover her body so that not an inch of skin is visible. For years now I've had friends who hate Watson's acting. I've always been indifferent to her. She's not how I see Hermione, but then the movies aren't how I see the world of Harry Potter at all. She has a funny cameo in This Is the End, but The Bling Ring was so boring I have tried to excise it from my mind, as for Beauty and the Beast, we are not going there. But I do respect her and I do follow what she does, especially with regards to not just her stance on feminism but on reading as well. So the fact that she plays Mae as someone with no charisma, someone who literally NO ONE would follow isn't just baffling to me, it takes the punch out of the whole movie. I don't know if I can accurately state how bad she is. The lines she delivers feel as if she's reading them off cue cards and is being forced to do so and is therefore coming off as harassed and with just the whiff of pissed off teenager being forced to say hi to company. Was there even a director? Because ANY sensible person in charge should have been like, "Hey Emma, can we get some emoting or acting here? You are an actress right?" Mae is stripped bare, but not literally because God forbid Emma shows some skin, and made boring. When Annie tells Mae she's perfect, I had the biggest laugh. Annie, that's the speed talking! 

Yet the biggest changes that were wrought happen in the movie's climax. When Mae does a presentation on how Circle technology can be used to find anyone on earth things spiral out of control and her ex Mercer dies. This is true in both the movie and the book. Only in the book, a dark dystopian comedy, Mae is the instigator, she's egging the Circlers on. She's releasing drones like flying monkeys and that's the moment in the book when you realize that Mae is one of them. But here, oh no, the sexless Emma Watson couldn't be seen as causing someone's death. So instead she's pushing against hunting down Mercer. She's hemming and hawing and Tom Hanks as Eamon Bailey steps out and drives Mercer literally to his death. Um, WTF is this? Bailey is the papa bear of The Circle, if anything Patton Oswalt should have been behind this brutal manslaughter. This moment is the moment, for me, that the book gelled and also the moment when I realized Holllywood just didn't get it. James Ponsoldt, a director and writer whom I've never heard of aside from his David Foster Wallace movie which I'm now probably never going to watch, just didn't get it. The Circle isn't about a near miss, a disaster avoided, this is about a technological Utopia being thrust on us with forced adaption to this secretly totalitarian regime, not something with a happily ever after. And again, I don't know if this was to preserve the "nice" imagine that Watson has built up or because they thought the ending was too bleak. Here's the thing, the bleak ending is more real. The reason the book drew me in is because at the end Mae wasn't the savior, she was Judas!

Though Ty turns out to be the character most changed. In fact, I'm surprised they actually got John Boyega at all with how minimal the role is. In the book "Ty" is a mysterious stranger who Mae is drawn to and has relations with only to eventually find out he is one of the three founders of the company. Yes, I do admit that drawing out that reveal, even in the book, pushes credulity, but to go the opposite way and have him just as exposition and then a deus ex machina is a waste of his talents. While I wasn't all on the Boyega train to begin with I've seen him enough now to know that he is criminally wasted here. He actually has no point other than to fill the plot holes. Plus, can we talk about that hasty ending? You're not going to watch this film, trust me, you're not, so here are some spoilers, in fact all the spoilers. Mae turns against the company and in a lecture she's giving during the talk, thanks to Ty, all the "secret" correspondence of the other two founders is leaked. In the book this is actually what Ty WANTS Mae to do but as I've said before, she goes deliciously Judas and that's the end of Ty. Instead the data destroys the founders yet somehow The Circle survives and Mae's out kayaking... about the only thing they got right is Mae and that stupid kayak. I just don't get it. I mean, just why!?! This book was a bestseller and then you go and do all these tweaks and twists and add a HEA and you think you're going to get a blockbuster movie? That's not how things work. Create a good adaptation OR a good reinterpretation. Don't give us muck. Audiences don't like it, as Rotten Tomatoes has clearly shown.

But the most nonsensical thing to me is something that probably I and only other graphic designers would notice, and that's The Circle's logo. The Circle's logo as seen on the right hand of the image above is ubiquitous in the film and is just plain boring and derivative. Like Apple redoes The Criterion Collection's logo. You might be wondering why this would bother me so much, and the answer is Jessica Hische. Jessica Hische is an amazing designer noted for her typography skills. Seriously, check her out and you'll realize you've been loving her stuff for years without even knowing it. As she said about The Circle on her website: "After working with Dave Eggers on Hologram for the King I was pumped to be brought on board to design his new book, The Circle. It was especially fun to design this cover, as I’ve spent the last two years living in San Francisco surrounded by the tech industry (my husband works for Facebook) and the story is set in an influential social media company. I also had to design a logo for the fictitious company, The Circle, and was inspired by the interweaving connectivity of social media sites and also knots that once tight are difficult to untie." The logo she designed is perfection. I don't know if Eggers' description or her design came first but it captures what the book is about 100%. But should I be surprised that a movie would trash the work of a talented designer and start over with something bland and unoriginal when that is what they did with the whole narrative? I guess not. But I can still grumble about it.

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