Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Review - Jane Austen's Persuasion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Do Not Quite Despair Yet

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 14, 2017

Playing the Tourist: Bath

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

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

TV Movie Review - Northanger Abbey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey Kathy Reichs has written a standalone! 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Book Review - Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I Am Sure They Were Talking of Me

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

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