Friday, May 30, 2014

Book Review - Lauren Willig's That Summer

That Summer by Lauren Willig
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: June 3rd, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Julia Conley has inherited a house in England. A house on Herne Hill has been left to her by an unknown great-aunt. Julia and her father left England when she was six and her mother was killed in a car crash. Since her life in New York hasn't been going that well lately as one of the many unemployed, she decides to go to England and spend a few months sorting out the house and hopefully sorting out her life. For Julia who has viewed her family as just her and her father she finds it hard to come to gripes with the fact that this was where her mother came from and she still has family here with a few cousins, who of course feel slighted with great-aunt Regina's will. The more time Julia spends in the house the more she wishes she had been given the chance to know her great-aunt.

For Regina might have held the key to a lovely Pre-Raphaelite painting in one of the rooms of the house, which has a matching painting hidden deep at the back of one of the cupboards. Why was the one painting displayed and the other hidden? Who is this artist Gavin Thorne? Going back to 1849 we learn about the painter Gavin Thorne and his muse, Imogen Grantham, who happened to be the mistress of the house on Herne Hill and married to a wealthy and significantly older collector who was occasionally visited by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who doted on his historical relics. Yet why hide the painting? What connection does this painter and this wife have to Julia? More importantly, after 160 years can Julia find out?

Sometimes life is staggering in it's synchronicity. The very day that I received That Summer in the mail my Great-Aunt Vicki died. My family got the call that she had passed in her sleep and that the rest of the family was to descend on Madison to take care of her estate. My Great-Aunt was the last of the older generation, being preceded in death by all my Grandparents and even an Uncle. While sadly I have never been bequeathed a mysterious house, because she was the last of that generation I have gotten quite used to clearing out ancestral homes, my Grandparents farm having accumulated over a hundred years worth of ephemera, with sadly not a rare painting or a secret stash of cash in sight, but a random piano being used as a tool bench and much mouse effluvia. As I spent the following weeks sifting through the rooms of her house, picking what to keep and what to give away, I couldn't help but think of all the things I don't know about my family and where I come from. There is a strong ancestry bug that my family has, but I have not yet been bitten, and there's a part of me that keeps thinking, better now before it's too late.

The detritus is all we have left of our family's history. Random paintings around the house, Aunt so and so painted this, Cousin so and so did that one; just what if the painting was something more? What if the painting was a closely guarded secret that would unlock some mystery about yourself? The search for your own identity is caught up in the past, in where you come from. While Julia's search for what happened in her own past with her mother as well as to her ancestor's is something that might be uncommon, the search is something we can all identify with. Lauren has tapped into something deep within everyone, a longing to know where they're from in order to find out where they belong. This gives us a strong connection to the characters, we are on their journey with them and I wouldn't want it any other way.

While the time slip genre is nothing new, Lauren is able to create a more accessible story then some authors who mire their books in overly flowery details and descriptions that go on for so many pages you lose the thread of the story. This isn't to say the writing is sparse, it's exactly what it needs to be to conjure this world, no more and no less. Though there is a part of me that wishes at some time in the future Lauren would go all out and write a doorstop of a novel. Yet in Lauren's time slip she is able to capture the best of all worlds, with a little Kate Morton, a little Somewhere in Time, a nod to Du Maurier's Rebecca, a Keats Bridget Jones call out with a wink to Nancy Mitford's silly season. There are also echoes of Victorian literature, from Imogen's marriage mirroring Dorthea's in Middlemarch, to Gavin bringing a little of the John Thornton vibe from North and South. Yet these homages aren't derivative, they give us a touchstone for the time period but then become so distinctly their own story that while you remember the connections at the back of your mind they are inconsequential as the story takes on a life of it's own.

As for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, I will admit that this subject matter is what made me swoon when I heard over a year ago about Lauren's next planned stand alone. I think that I have adequately covered my love of them in previous posts and writings, but I will say that even in the BBC production of Desperate Romantics, they have always been a band apart. Outsiders who verged on Gods in their ways of self aggrandising each other and mythologizing their lives and works. They were Romantics in every sense of the word, demanding the capital letter "R". Yet Lauren brought them down off their pedestals. Packed into the snug sitting room on Herne Hill we see a human Rossetti with his schemes and ideas and his future spiraling out before him. The ways the Brotherhood sought out collectors of antiquities to give an authenticity to their paintings adds a realism to them and their works.

These men aren't Gods, no matter how many posters in English classrooms and dorm rooms might say otherwise, they are men. They have loved and lost and with Gavin we have a true romantic hero that is swoonworthy. And like all good writing, this one aspect of the book, the Brotherhood, it doesn't overpower the story, it compliments it, it strengthens and adds to it. You will fall into this book and even if you are just a fraction of a romantic the Pre-Raphaelite's were you will find yourself falling in love with both couples in the different time periods. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did, and if you're coming into this book from Lauren's Pink Carnation series, there are a few gems hidden in the book, but like these painters who would hide the Brotherhood's initials in their paintings, you might have to have a keen eye to spot them.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review - Suzanne Fagence Cooper's Effie

Effie: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais by Suzanne Fagence Cooper
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: May 1st, 2010
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

"Years and years ago, my grandmother took me to an off-off-Broadway play about Effie Ruskin’s love affair with John Everett Millais. It was rather odd viewing for a ten year old, but it stuck with me somehow. I can still remember the red plush seats of the theatre and the Victorian parlor set on stage.

I hadn’t realized quite how much it had stuck with me until my editor asked me, after The Ashford Affair, what the next book was going to be, and I found myself burbling, “I want to write a book about a love affair between an unhappily married Victorian woman and a Preraphaelite artist.” My heroine is very different from Effie—and my hero, Gavin Thorne, was based more on William Holman Hunt than on Millais—but Ruskin was certainly a major influence on the character of my heroine’s husband." - Lauren Willig

Effie Grey thought that in marrying the erudite author and art critic John Ruskin that she was entering a life of parties and soirees peopled by the elite of London. Instead this young Scotch girl entered a loveless marriage where she was repeatedly berated and belittled not just by her husband but by her in-laws as well. She suffered through six years of daily horrors but was willing to accept her fate because it was the life she had chosen. But then John Everett Millais showed up in her life. They had once met at a dance years ago, before their lives took different paths, a meeting Millais remembered well. Those paths would converge when Ruskin took Millais under his wing. The two men working together and even vacationing together meant the young Effie and Everett where often thrown together, perhaps by Ruskin's doing, and love soon stirred in their hearts. Effie had the grounds to do something unheard of in Victorian England. Effie could leave Ruskin because their marriage was unconsummated and therefore was not a real marriage at all. With Everett's encouragement, she took this unheard of step to reclaim her life. But in trading one man for another, was Effie able to get what she wanted or was she stifled yet again? 

There are two ways in which this biography could have worked. One would have been to write more in the style of Philippa Gregory and make it a fictionalized biography though as thoroughly based in fact as possible. The other would have been to go more scholarly and linger on details and events. Instead Effie is a book that leaves you wondering why you are reading a book obviously dumbed down for the masses. At times the writing style shifts into a conversational conspiratorial style only to be followed up with dull facts and figures. I just wanted to shake the author and tell her to pick a style, any style. This mishmash of styles gave me extreme dissatisfaction and at times annoyed me to the point of wanting to throw the book. I've read my fair share of art history books and biographies but I don't think I've ever been this bored and frustrated by a book that combines two passions of mine.

At a little over two hundred pages, minus all the appendices, Suzanne Fagence Cooper has written little more then a fleshed out outline for a book. I got no sense of the three people one who this book hinges. In fact, Ruskin, Millais, and Effie, seemed nothing more then cardboard cut outs that occasionally mimicked Victorian stereotypes, but usually remained two dimensional. I'm sorry but two dimensional characters can not, by definition, have passion, so right there the title of the book is wrong. There's a part of me that just wishes to rewrite this whole book. Cooper had unheard of access to documents that have never been seen and the soapy miniseries Desperate Romantics did a better job of making these people flesh and blood in their minimal screen time then a scholar whose life is the Pre-Raphaelites. The fact that the secondary family members and friends were far more interesting then the subjects of the book is a sign that your book isn't working, just so you know for future reference.

But it's not just the writing style that is irksome. The structure of the book is such that I have a feeling I plot out my book reviews more then the author did this book. She relied too much on the gimmickry of using Millais artwork as chapter headings, work that is not included in the book, but more on that later, then bothering to realize her timeline was fucked. There is no way to capture her structure then by saying it's wibbly wobbly timey wimey. I get why Cooper starts out with a little flash forward to Effie leaving Ruskin, because it gives the beginning of the book a thrust, an event, a crisis we are building to. We only cover twenty-seven years in the first eight chapters, most of those concentrating on the six to seven years of Ruskin and Effie together, leaving us five chapters to cover the remaining forty-two years of her life, of which two chapters don't even deal with Effie, the supposed topic of this book. And it's these remaining five chapters I have the most issue with. They jump around and go forwards and backwards over events from different points of view and at different times. I have no freakin' idea of a coherent timeline of events in Effie's life other then she had tons of children. If there was just some through line, some way to sort things out into order instead of writing in such a way that it feels like Cooper forgot to tell part of her story and instead of going back and adding it in in the appropriate spot, she just wrote it into the section of the book she was on even if it made no sense, then I might have at least come to grips with the book.

Adding to the issues of the book making no sense is the fact that Effie and Millais really had too many children, and Effie too many siblings, and couple that with the propensity for using the same names in different branches of the family and you are at sea. Not to mention all the children had nicknames and while Cooper claims she will use the same naming conventions throughout the book, she does not, not that this is a surprise given the grammatical errors and the abysmal mess that is the appendices. I hope she knows there are standards for appendices, you can't sight something differently each time... which ties back in with the naming issues. Effie's eldest daughter is Effie... yep, this wasn't fun, because Cooper would quite often forget to say Effie the younger and so, who knows which Effie was which. There reached a point pretty early on when I realized I didn't care. Also, the multiple Everetts, the eldest son's nickname being Evie, which, when you are reading fast, as you do with books you are growing more and more in hate with and longing for the time when you can write a scathing review, well, it too reads like Effie. But again, what does this all matter. All these people, all their lives, I couldn't care less about any of them as they are portrayed by Cooper.

Now I must finally vent on a personal pet peeve. Graphics! I'll first just state I hate this cover with a passion. You have one of the greatest painters of ALL TIME as your subject and he painted his wife quite often and you have a crappy stock photo of a girl with ill fitting gloves. If there's one thing I learned, Effie loved her clothes and those gloves wouldn't do. Are you trying to appeal to the common demographic who you might lure to see the upcoming movie by making it look not about art? Cause right there, you're pissing me off with underestimating me, but then again, the book was written at such a basic level, perhaps the people who this book appeals to will find it fascinating, ie, not me. Yet this little cover rant isn't my main issue. My main issue is that when you have a book about artwork you MUST include pictures of ALL THE WORK! Yes, there are some pieces featured, but Cooper goes into great detail annoyingly waxing her own views on Millais' work only to not have the work included in the book. You talk about it, we have the right to see it. You can't get printing rights or some other snafu that doesn't let you include the art, you omit that section wherein you tried to color my views of the work with yours. Here's an idea lady, you go off and write your bland pap for the unwashed masses who hope to seem educated in picking up this paltry tome, and I'll avoid you and read fascinating works by real scholars.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: May 27th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 752 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Shadowhunters and demons square off for the final showdown in the spellbinding, seductive conclusion to the #1 New York Times bestselling Mortal Instruments series.

Darkness has descended on the Shadowhunter world. Chaos and destruction overwhelm the Nephilim as Clary, Jace, Simon, and their friends band together to fight the greatest evil they have ever faced: Clary’s own brother. Nothing in this world can defeat Sebastian—but if they journey to the realm of demons, they just might have a chance…

Lives will be lost, love sacrificed, and the whole world will change. Who will survive the explosive sixth and final installment of the Mortal Instruments series?"

The end is here!

Skin Game by Jim Butcher
Published by: Roc Hardcover
Publication Date: May 27th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 446 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day…

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.

He doesn’t know the half of it…

Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town, so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.

It's a smash and grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he's dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

Dresden's always been tricky, but he's going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…"

Does Harry ever have good days?

The Given by Vicki Pettersson
Published by: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: May 27th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
" The dramatic conclusion to New York Times bestselling author Vicki Pettersson's critically acclaimed Celestial Blues trilogy—an inventive blend of paranormal romance, noir mystery, and urban fantasy—involving a fallen angel and a flesh-and-blood rockabilly reporter.

After learning that his wife, Evelyn, survived the attack that killed him fifty years earlier, angel/PI Griffin Shaw will risk everything to find her. But to do so, Grif has to forsake his new love, journalist Katherine "Kit" Craig—the woman who made his life worth living again.

Yet when Kit is attacked again, it becomes clear that there are forces in both the mortal and heavenly realms determined to protect secrets long buried in the past. To survive, Grif must convince Kit to put aside her personal hurt and help him discover the truth—a dangerous journey that will put them in the crosshairs of enemies old and new . . . and test the limits of what one angel will sacrifice for love."

Finale time!

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams
Published by: Putnam Adult
Publication Date: May 27th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Passion, redemption, and a battered suitcase full of secrets: the New York Times-bestselling author of A Hundred Summers returns with another engrossing tale.

Manhattan, 1964. Vivian Schuyler, newly graduated from Bryn Mawr College, has recently defied the privilege of her storied old Fifth Avenue family to do the unthinkable for a budding Kennedy-era socialite: break into the Madison Avenue world of razor-stylish Metropolitan magazine. But when she receives a bulky overseas parcel in the mail, the unexpected contents draw her inexorably back into her family’s past, and the hushed-over crime passionnel of an aunt she never knew, whose existence has been wiped from the record of history.

Berlin, 1914. Violet Schuyler Grant endures her marriage to the philandering and decades-older scientist Dr. Walter Grant for one reason: for all his faults, he provides the necessary support to her liminal position as a young American female physicist in prewar Germany. The arrival of Dr. Grant’s magnetic former student at the beginning of Europe’s fateful summer interrupts this delicate détente. Lionel Richardson, a captain in the British Army, challenges Violet to escape her husband’s perverse hold, and as the world edges into war and Lionel’s shocking true motives become evident, Violet is tempted to take the ultimate step to set herself free and seek a life of her own conviction with a man whose cause is as audacious as her own.

As the iridescent and fractured Vivian digs deeper into her aunt’s past and the mystery of her ultimate fate, Violet’s story of determination and desire unfolds, shedding light on the darkness of her years abroad . . . and teaching Vivian to reach forward with grace for the ambitious future––and the love––she wants most."

Um, yes please?

Dubliners by James Joyce
Published by: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: May 27th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For the centennial of its original publication, an irresistible Graphic Deluxe Edition of one of the most beloved books of the 20th century.

Perhaps the greatest short story collection in the English language, James Joyce’s Dubliners is a vivid and unflinching portrait of “dear dirty Dublin” at the turn of the twentieth century. These fifteen stories, including such unforgettable ones as “Araby,” “Grace,” and “The Dead,” delve into the heart of the city of Joyce’s birth, capturing the cadences of Dubliners’ speech and portraying with an almost brute realism their outer and inner lives. Dubliners is Joyce at his most accessible and most profound, and this edition is the definitive text, authorized by the Joyce estate."

Look at that cover and tell me you don't want to own this beautiful new edition!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

That Summer Spotlight: Richard Armitage as Gavin Thorne

Name: Richard Armitage

Dream Character Casting for the Lauren Willig Fantasy Movie Adaptation: Gavin Thorne

First Impression: Richard is a blessed actor in that this is the second time I have featured him. Interestingly enough I think that most of my opinions of his awesomeness have shifted over time. Though the first impression in North and South shall never waver. NEVER!

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Lauren Willig Dream Movie Adaptation: There is no way that the character of Gavin Thorne isn't based on Richard Armitage as John Thornton. The last names are even similar. Thone... Thornton... The description of him. The fact that he hails from the north of England so you can perfectly hear that richly accented voice in your ear. Everything leads me to believe that this is Gavin. Plus, look at Richard in The Impressionists playing a young Monet... he's so cute as a painter, coupled with his sexiness in North and South, there'd be no stopping him!

Lasting Impression: This is where I revise my opinion. It's North and South, hands down, forget Vicar of Dibley, forget everything else. This scene at the train station, this is what romance is!

What else you've seen them in: Well, despite being in the horrid Star Wars prequel, he's gone on to achieve lasting fame. Aside from that whole John Thornton obsession that's griped all I know, he's gone on to many mysteries, from Lynley to George Gently, Marple to Malice Aforethought. But his two most memorable roles prior to The Hobbit are probably Guy of Gisborne in the now defunct series Robin Hood and Lucas North on Spooks (MI-5 stateside).

Can't believe it's them: The Hobbit. And not because he's not perfect, but cause he makes dwarves kind of sexy... yep, I said it, sexy dwarves. Though Aidan Turner should have already alerted you to this trend. But that scene where he sings about his misty mountain home, heck yeah.

Wish they hadn't: Robin Hood. Because the more I think about this series the more pissed off I am that it was so crap. There's a thin camp/crap line and every time (except the notable Toby Stephens exception) was crap.

Bio: Sexy, tall, baritone voice, has his own army... need I say more?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Book Review - Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Published by: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 1848
Format: Hardcover, 486 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition then one reviewed)

"I have to confess: I loved this book as a teenager (an oppressed heroine fleeing from an abusive husband! A devoted hero who sees the good in the reclusive heroine! An adorable little moppet of a boy!), but when I was researching That Summer, I decided to watch the BBC version, since the costumes are exactly the right time period for me (and, yes, I may have a little weakness for BBC costume dramas). The heroine in the film version irked me. And now I can’t quite separate the two.

Anyhow, now that I’ve got that out of the way….

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was a seminal work for me on the way to That Summer because, like Mary Barton, it was published in 1848. Unlike Mary Barton, it deals with the propertied classes with which my heroine, Imogen, would have been familiar. Like my Imogen, the heroine of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Helen, fancies herself in love in her youth, marries unwisely and then is forced to live out the consequences.

This is a theme that fascinates me. Remember your crushes in your teens? Remember the unwise romantic choices you made? What if you’d married one of them? And found yourself owned by that man, his property under the law, with no legal identity, no independent means, no recourse?

Sends a chill down your spine, doesn’t it?" - Lauren Willig

Wildfell Hall has a new resident. A mysterious widow and her young son who want nothing to do with the outside world. The outside world disagrees. The nosey neighbors must know everything they can about the mysterious Mrs. Graham. Young Gilbert Markham wants to know everything but for a very different reason, he is inexorably drawn to the young widow and cannot understand why she remains aloof and detached, craving solitude over companionship and love. But soon Helen Graham realizes that her feelings for Gilbert mean that she must disclose her past so that he can move on and realize their love is doomed, and not just because her husband isn't dead.

Mrs. Helen Graham is really Mrs. Helen Huntington, the wife of a cruel man who has more vices then she could enumerate. She has fled her husband because he was trying to imprint their your son with his own dubious morals.  Helen could have suffered anything if it was just herself that was the target of Huntongton's malice, she stubornly married him after all, but their son is another matter. After years of feeling trapped and hunted in her own home, can she remake her life, or will the old one haunt her?

Sometimes I am a very contrary person, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a case in point. Instead of reading the book before watching the miniseries I decided to watch the miniseries first which then put me off the book. For some reason I view the steadfast rule of reading the book first not applying to the Brontes. I had seen so many adaptations of their books prior to ever picking one up that they are grandfathered into my weird reading habits with this clause. Yet I still question how an adaptation with Toby Stephens and James Purefoy, not to mention Rupert Graves, Pam Ferris, and Paloma Baeza, could be so bad. It was dull and lifeless and I remember barely being able to finish it.

The miniseries turned me off the book and because of this the book has languished for years waiting for the time when I would pick it up and love it. I seriously can not think of any reasonable excuse why it took me this long to read it. I was under so many misconceptions about this book that I should have just trusted to my gut which tells me that Anne Bronte is awesome. I am serious when I say that I think Anne might just be my favorite Bronte. This isn't just me routing for the underdog, though she is the least embraced of the sisters, this is totally to do with how awesome her books are.

There's a part of me that knows Anne's desire for "truth" in this novel comes from a desire to counter the pro bad boy image her sisters had created in their works. But there's a deeper part of me that wonders if she's not just messing with Charlotte and Emily a little. Who, given the chance, wouldn't try to mess with their siblings a little? Her sisters did everything to make this bad boy redeemable by love trope and then in comes Anne and blasts them out of the water. Huntington is a bad boy to equal Heathcliff and Rochester, but love is unable to sway him. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an opus to the irredeemable. I can just picture the sisters sitting around their fireplace on a cold night in Haworth talking about their dream men and Anne just looking askance at them and plotting how to prove them wrong, preferably in three volumes, she was, after all, a silent plotter. I don't think anyone has ever summed this up better then Kate Beaton in her "Hark, a Vagrant" comic, "Dude Watchin' with The Brontes" so I won't attempt to and move onto other things.

So, other things! What I find amazing in this book, and in fact all the work by the Brontes, is how they were able to capture an entire world from outside their cloistered lives and put it on the page. It just goes to show that sometimes writing what you know isn't the only answer, but writing what you feel is. Over a hundred and fifty years later this book pulses with life. It was criticized at the time for being too repulsive and scandalous, but that is why it resonates till this day. It is the truth of human nature and fallibility that Anne sought out to capture and did. Infidelity, adultery, drugs, drink, games of chance, everything not written about in literature of it's day that still causes so much heartbreak.

The degraded life that Helen lives made me connect to her because, not only did I pity her, I worried that she wouldn't make it out of this situation, ironic because having watched the miniseries I knew the outcome, but still I worried. But as to the debauchery, one problem I have always had and mentioned repeatedly in literature set during this time is the overuse of the Hellfire Club. It seems if you are debauched during the Regency or early Victorian eras you therefore have to belong to some incarnation of said Hellfire Club. But here I make an exception. Usually the Hellfire Club is just a trope used by modern writers, as in those still currently writing. Think of the spunk it took for a little ex governess to allude to the Hellfire Club in a book written in 1848! You Anne Bronte are the exception that proves the rule! When you wrote those few lines alluding to fire and brimstone it was not yet hackneyed, it was controversial. I wish I could tell you how much you mean to me and literature, this poorly written review will have to suffice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review - Gay Daly's Pre-Raphaelites in Love

Pre-Raphaelites in Love by Gay Daly
Published by: Quality Paperback Book Club
Publication Date: 1989
Format: Paperback, 468 Pages
Out of Print

"Who hasn’t been in love with the Preraphaelites? Back in Upper School, my two best friends and I were a wee bit obsessed with the Preraphs—we decorated our notebooks with La Belle Dame San Merci and William Morris prints and recited Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market to one another. (There’s a lot of clucking and clacking and mopping and mowing.) Let’s not even talk about the summer the Burne-Jones exhibit came to New York. We practically lived at the Met, and I still have the commemorative trivet.

What I loved about Gay Daly’s Preraphalites in Love is the way she situates the Preraphs in their context, looking beneath dashing legend to the individual men and their ups and downs. The period I visit in my book is the very early days of the Preraphaelite Brotherhood, back when they’re still signing their pictures PRB, before Burne-Jones, before William Morris, back when the nucleus was still John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Preraphaelites in Love captures, simultaneously, the newness of what these men were doing, and how deeply rooted they are in their culture.

Oh, yes, and those love affairs...." - Lauren Willig

Well, I knew life would catch up with me this month at sometime and one of the books would probably be unread. With an average of 556 pages for each book and most of them being Victorian, my reading speed isn't that fast... so sadly, Pre-Raphaelites in Love will be unread for awhile by me. Yet I couldn't forsake giving you Lauren's insights! So here's Lauren until I can finally finish the book and get my review up. So view this as a hopefully temporary placeholder!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Dangerous Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 20th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the world of Beautiful Creatures-a dangerous new tale of love and magic.

Ridley Duchannes is nobody's heroine. She's a Dark Caster, a Siren. She can make you do things. Anything. You can't trust her, or yourself when she's around. And she'll be the first to tell you to stay away-especially if you're going to do something as stupid as fall in love with her.

Lucky for Ridley, her wannabe rocker boyfriend, Wesley "Link" Lincoln, never listens to anyone. Link doesn't care if Rid's no good for him, and he takes her along when he leaves small-town Gatlin to follow his rock-star dream. He teams up with a ragtag group of Dark Casters, and when the band scores a gig at a hot Underground club, it looks like all of Link's dreams are about to come true.

But New York City is a dangerous place for both Casters and Mortals, and soon Ridley realizes that Link's bandmates are keeping secrets. With bad-boy club owner Lennox Gates on her heels, Rid is determined to find out the truth. What she discovers is worse than she could have imagined: Link has a price on his head that no Caster or Mortal can ever pay. With their lives on the line, what's a Siren to do?

Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, the #1 New York Times bestselling coauthors of the Beautiful Creatures novels, are back to cast another magical spell. Their signature blend of mystery, suspense, and romance, with a healthy dose of wit and danger, will pull fans in and leave them begging for more."

Because obviously we want more, right?

Ghouls Rush In by H.P. Mallory
Published by: Montlake Romance
Publication Date: May 20th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 282 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Do you believe in love after life?

Looking for a fresh start, Peyton Clark becomes the proud owner of a piece of New Orleans history: an Antebellum-era two-story house in the Garden District. It’s going to take time and a fat wallet to restore the fixer-upper to its former glory, but after her recent divorce, Peyton could use the distraction.

It’s not long before Peyton discovers she’s moved into the haunted home of a flirtatious paranormal prankster. She’s receiving kisses from unseen lips and caresses from a ghostly hand, and soon she begins to have vivid dreams, bringing her face-to-face with the incomparably handsome ghost of Drake Montague.

When Peyton grows closer to her general contractor, Ryan Kelly—who is as charming as he is alive—the chill in the air could only suggest Drake’s jealousy from beyond the grave. But even though she’s definitely attracted to and interested in Ryan, Peyton also can’t get Drake out of her dreams, or her heart, as she begins to uncover the frightening truth behind his death a century ago…"

Kind of tacky looking, but it might fill the cheesy gap left over from the departure of Sookie Stackhouse.

Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien
Published by: Adult
Publication Date: May 20th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The translation of Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien was an early work, very distinctive in its mode, completed in 1926: he returned to it later to make hasty corrections, but seems never to have considered its publication. This edition is twofold, for there exists an illuminating commentary on the text of the poem by the translator himself, in the written form of a series of lectures given at Oxford in the 1930s; and from these lectures a substantial selection has been made, to form also a commentary on the translation in this book."

And geeks the world over cheered with glee, and maybe wept a little.

The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell
Published by: Harper Design
Publication Date: May 20th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"With unprecedented access to Neil Gaiman’s personal archives, author Hayley Campbell gives an insider’s glimpse into the artistic inspirations and musings of one of the world’s most visionary writers.

Over the last twenty-five years, Neil Gaiman has mapped out a territory in the popular imagination that is uniquely his own. A master of several genres, including, but not limited to, bestselling novels, children’s books, groundbreaking comics, and graphic novels, it’s no wonder Gaiman has been called a rock star of the literary world. Now, for the first time, Gaiman reveals the inspiration behind his signature artistic motifs, giving author Hayley Campbell a rare, in-depth look at the contents of his personal notebooks and early work, even some of his abandoned projects. The result is a startling, intimate glimpse into the life and mind of one of the world’s most creative visionaries. The book is the first comprehensive, full-color examination of Gaiman’s work to date, tracing the genesis of his creative life as a starving journalist in the UK to his life as a successful comic book writer and, ultimately, a bestselling novelist.

Complete with running commentary, interview text, and annotated material that contextualizes the visual material, this deluxe compendium contains never-before-seen material and promises to be every bit as inspired as Gaiman is himself."

I have no reason not to buy this, none at all.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

That Summer Spotlight: Tom Hiddleston as Nicholas "Nick" Dorrington

Name: Tom Hiddleston

Dream Character Casting for the Lauren Willig Fantasy Movie Adaptation: Nicholas "Nick" Dorrington

First Impression: I don't really have a first impression of Tom. He was kind of in the background of so many things for so long and then wham, superstar, that I can't quite figure what left the first memory in my brain. Perhaps Return to Cranford, though I had seen him in many things prior to this.

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Lauren Willig Dream Movie Adaptation: Because why not really? He's everywhere, so why can't he be here? Also he has the right sexiness to bookishness needed to pull of the role of Nick. Plus, he feels to me like he'd be a Dorrington descendant (aka, great whatever of these two, Henrietta and Miles). Can't you tell he'd love a ginger biscuit right about now?

Lasting Impression: Is there really anything else to choose from? If given a choice we would willingly surrender the world to Loki.

What else you've seen them in: Um... he's everywhere! He started in smaller British shows like Return to Cranford and an obligatory Dickens adaptation. Wallander though I think is what brought him into another tier of stardom. Working with Kenneth Branagh made him and introduced him to other big name directors like Woody Allen who perfectly cast him as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris. Also, his ability to do Shakespeare, swoon worthy.

Can't believe it's them: I really can't believe that he was in Suburban Shootout, because I watched all that was available stateside and only vaguely remember him. Same but worse with Miss Austen Regrets and A Waste of Shame, no memory of him at all. At least I'll watch Miss Austen Regrets again, A Waste of Shame... I don't think you could pay me to watch that again...

Wish they hadn't: Quit Wallander! Seriously, bring him back. Damn you Branagh for making him a star and then having to eliminate him from your own series! On the other end of "wish they hadn't" is Return to Cranford. Oh how I hate this miniseries. It destroyed Cranford! All the characters went against type and they crammed in all these other short stories of Elizabeth Gaskell's to be filler, just, gaw. No.

Bio: Tall, handsome, went to Cambridge and got a double first in Classics, had his big break worldwide when he dyed his hair darker... seems to be really likable and tends to randomly sing and dance in interviews. Did a spot for Sesame Street about delayed gratification... mmm, just so many things right and wrong with that...

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review - Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
Published by: Everyman's Library
Publication Date: 1848
Format: Hardcover, 390 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

"In my research phase, I like to get my hands on anything my characters might have read, both to pick up on the slang and physical details of the day, but also so I know what my characters’ cultural landscape is like. Mary Barton created a huge stir when it came out in 1848, detailing, as it did, the life of the poor in Manchester. My historical heroine scandalizes her staid sister-in-law by reading Mary Barton.

It also provided me with inspiration for the background of my hero, Gavin Thorne, who grew up poor on the streets of Manchester and begged and stole his way to the Royal Academy.

Even after all this time, Mary Barton is still a multi-hanky read. (Or a box of tissues, if we’re being modern about it.)

Of course, you could always just skip straight to North and South…." - Lauren Willig

Mary Barton's life isn't easy. Even before she lost her mother and her unborn sibling, she had lost a brother and her aunt had run off. Mary's life is just her and her father and a few close friends like the Wilsons. The Wilsons have had their fair share of loses as well, if not more then the Bartons. Young Mary works hard at a seamstresses, supplementing her father's income from the mills, and when he's laid off, being the only source of income, and a meagre one at that. Most days the only thought is whether to spend money on food that will barely stave off the hunger, or spend it on opium to take away the pain. But the father and daughter still have reasons to live. John Barton is heavily active in the local unions trying to get fair wages for his fellow workers, while Mary is for a time happily the center of a love triangle, where one of her suitors is the son of a mill owner. But as the times get harder and John is out of work longer and longer, the thought of rivals in love does little to comfort Mary when she realizes she has been playing a fool with other's hearts. Her own heart might just break when a shocking murder happens in Manchester and she might just be the cause of it.

For 19th century women writers you can't do better then Jane Austen and the Brontes. There's a reason why all their books are still classics to this day. Yet sometimes Austen is too perfect with her happily ever afters, which Charlotte Bronte dissed as lacking passion, the feel of blood being pumped through a beating heart. Whereas the Brontes, Emily in particular, could be a bit bleak. That's where Elizabeth Gaskell enters in. When I first read Wives and Daughters I thought to myself how it was such a happy blend of the two extremes of these other popular authors. With Elizabeth Gaskell, the romance of Austen is tempered with the bleakness of the Brontes. What results is a happy, yet realistic, middle. The harshness and horrors of the world aren't covered up or hidden behind lacy curtains while the heroine sits and daintily sips tea in a parlor. Life isn't extremes, it's not all roses and it's not all bleak moors. Elizabeth Gaskell's work feels more relatable, more real by her having the good mixed equally with the bad.

But I was sorely tried when starting Mary Barton to find the balance Gaskell is known for. For much of the book you aren't just inundated with the depressive lives and the horrors of Manchester, you are drowning in it. If, at any time in your life, you're feeling a little too happy and content, pick up Mary Barton and I guarantee that you will be in a nice depressive state in minutes flat. The sorrow of the book is so overwhelming that at times I wondered if I could go on, with the book that is. There's stillbirths, typhus, drug addiction, prostitution, destitution, stalking, murder, starvation, delirium, blindness, strokes, and this is just off the top of my head! Death, death and more death, spiraling ever downward.

But what shocked me is, when you think about it, these struggles are still ongoing. People are still starving, still dying. There are constant arguments about raising the minimum wage, of what to do with the homeless. So many of us live in a bubble that we just don't see. We don't dwell on the starving children because they are easy to forget in our daily lives filled with immaterial concerns. I can't imagine the sensation this book caused in it's day by not sugar coating life. Did this book provide a wake up call for Victorians? Because if it did we sorely need a reminder in this day and age. We need a modern Gaskell or Dickens to come along and shake the tree. You can see why they were friends because they believed in showing the real underbelly of the world that most don't see everyday, if ever. If you do get severely depressed at least it's eyeopening.

But the genius of Gaskell is, despite the fact that she's taking you on a personally guided tour of hell, she weaves in characters and stories of such eloquence and romance that you must keep reading, if just to see if there's a happily ever after. The point in which Mary Barton really connected for me was when the murder was committed. This is referred to in the introduction as the "crisis point" in the book. Before this the book didn't have much plot. We were just wallowing in the filth, sadness, and despair of Manchester life. Yes there's a little love triangle and comings and goings, worries about where the money for dinner was coming from, but nothing that really declared itself to be the spine of the book. The all of a sudden, out of nowhere, murder!

Now I love me a murder mystery, I can't deny that, but here it galvanized the loosely assembled coterie of characters into a driving force that made the last half of the book fly by where previously I had been laboring through it. I was there with Mary as she worried about the accused, as she made herself physically ill hunting down an alibi, as she took to the witness stand resulting in her losing her grip over her mind. I mean, yes, I was somewhat involved in Mary's life previously, but, wow, Gaskell just stepped it up a notch and took a book that I thought would be nothing but me crying and made it something more. She made it a classic worthy of those other authors of her time...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Review - A.S. Byatt's Possession

Possession by A.S. Byatt
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: 1990
Format: Paperback, 555 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

"What can you say about Possession? It was a phenomenon when I was in my teens. The lush prose, the poetry, the meticulously detailed academic mystery as two scholars dig down into the past of two—previously unconnected—Victorian poets. All I can say is, don’t watch the movie. Read the book.

I didn’t consciously think of Possession when I started writing That Summer, but it was there with me anyway, there in the unpicking of a historical mystery and there in the cultural context. Possession is about poetry and That Summer about paintings, but when one is talking about the Preraphaelites, it’s very hard to extricate the one from the other: Dante Gabriel Rossetti nearly dropped his art to become a poet, while his sister Christina’s poetry is, for me, the epitome of that cultural moment.

The cover of my old copy of Possession boasts a painting by Burne-Jones, The Beguiling of Merlin. I suggested to my publisher that we name my book The Beguiling of Imogen, but they were not amused.

It does kind of have a ring to it, though, doesn’t it?" -
Lauren Willig

Roland Michell is an academic with very limited options. He's toiling away researching the Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash while living off his girlfriend, who he doesn't much care for, in a cat pee soaked apartment, when everything changes. Roland finds an unknown letter that Ash wrote to a female that might just be Roland's lucky break. He traces the correspondence to a Christabel LaMotte, who was an almost unknown female poet at the same time as Ash, and who is the darling of feminist academia. Roland approaches the preeminent scholar on LaMotte, Maud Bailey, directly, circumventing his own department in some odd impulse to keep his discovery to himself. What the two of them find is rather interesting and will change the presumed histories of the two poets drastically. Everyone has always assumed that Ash was happily married, though sadly childless, and that LaMotte was a lesbian living with the painter Blanche Glover. But their letters to each other prove that this is anything but the case. Slowly unravelling the past while trying to keep the present at bay, Roland and Maud are gripped by a fever to find the truth of what really happened to two people over a hundred years ago.

Most people who know me now are shocked to discover that I wasn't always a reader. I didn't read much, I didn't like school and was a bad student, and I mainly watched movies. Somewhere along the way that completely reversed itself. This has had the effect that I always feel like I'm playing catchup. I'm always trying to read what others consider "standard" or "classic" books. In fact I only heard about A.S. Byatt because of the movie version of Possession. While I have said before that I have this inbuilt need to read the book before seeing the movie, in the early days of my discovering authors, a movie adaptation would help to introduce me to authors I might never have found on my own. Hence me and Possession. I too have the copy with The Beguiling of Merlin by Burne-Jones on the cover but with that lovely "Soon to be a Major Motion Picture" sticker firmly planted above Merlin's head.

I had no expectations going into this book the first time, but I was sorely disappointed. I've never been the biggest fan of poetry, and that is a bit of an issue when reading a book about poets. To paraphrase Possessions own words, poetry is a love of words where prose is a love of story, of narration. I have always loved stories, if the words are well chosen, then it adds something more, but I do not rhapsodize or wax nostalgic over the rhythm and flow of words. The epic poems of Ash and LaMotte where just sections to be read hastily for clues before the plot resumed. All this and more meant I just didn't connect and was left dissatisfied. I remember finishing the book on a warm Sunday in May and feeling this need to do something to alleviate this want in me. I met my friend Sara and we went to a movie, but all the while I was thinking about how Possession had let me down. I had that itch under my skin when you've spent so much time on something and it just doesn't work out in the end. It's a dissatisfaction on such a huge scale that it's almost like having a panic attack. Later that summer after seeing the disastrous movie adaptation with my most hated of actors, Aaron Eckhart, I knew the book could have been far worse, in the way that I knew I would come back one day to this book and try to find the connection that I had felt wanting the first time.

Possession the second time around was a far better read. I understood more what Byatt was trying to do and more of her literary allusions weren't over my head. But more importantly, I feel like I now possess the language to say why it was the book left me cold in the first place. I can now identify and name that itch under my skin and relieve it through critique. Possession starts with a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne's preface to his book The House of Seven Gables asking for clemency for his book's adherence to the standards and tropes of the Romance genre. He begs the reader to allow latitude in his predictability and lack of realism. By using this quote Byatt is also asking us to forgive her using the same tropes of the Romance genre, with a capital "R". There are two problems inherent in this "confession". Firstly, as an artist I was taught that you never make excuses or apologize for your work. As far as the viewer, or reader in Byatt's case, is concerned, this is the best freakin' thing that has ever been done and you need to sell it as such. If you start out with an apology you are basically telling someone that there is a flaw in the work and it is human nature to search out that flaw.

This is a flawed book, it is by no means perfect. The predictability of the story with the absurd ending that you could see a mile off was my second and main problem with Possession. Going back to the Hawthorne quote I wonder if Byatt chose this quote not to give a historic literary connection between her and Hawthorne, but to apologize for her work, by writing the quote Hawthorne himself has thankfully already apologized for the abysmal The House of Seven Gables. As I've said before, no excuses, no apology, even if you really need to make one, giving one makes you look weak. You can't justify your work being subpar by saying it's the genre that made me do it. Was it the genre that made the book have unlikable passionless characters was connection and attraction is initially based on the mind but devolves into a physical passion that still has this weird cold and unfeeling vibe? No, that was you who did that. That was your writing, not the genre. As for the rapidity of time making things obsolete... well, that's no one's fault. This book feels dated, more so then when I read it twelve years ago, and it's not just the lack of computers and the prevalence of copy machines, but the very change in the nature and meaning of language. Glory Holes have a far far different universal connotation now... I'm hoping Byatt was aware of this then lesser used definition when she was writing the book in the eighties...

But for everything that this book does wrong, it does get things right. I love the Victorian time period, and in specific I love seances. I like both the idea that they could possibly be real, but also the intricacies of chicanery that the false mediums created in order to fool their marks. I even went to a photography exhibition years ago at the MET that was supposed proof from the time of the veracity of spirits... let's but it this way, they had the original Cottingley Fairies, so, that's the level of truth in these photographs. But what interested me in Possession was that it was posited that these seances are in some way a replacement for storytelling. The beginning of the beloved television show The Storyteller was right in that "people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, [and] foretold the future with stories." Stories were a faith. Mythology and folktales are part of us. But in Victorian England, so much advancement in such a little time was stripping away the foundations of faith. Such searching and questioning changed the world. People needed a new way to search for the meaning of life, and for some that came in the form of seances. They needed to know that life had meaning and they were searching for it beyond the vale. Ash and LaMotte are both curious and questioning individuals, it makes sense that they, as artists, would not only embrace the old ways but also the new. These two ways, through language and planchette, unite the very human needs across the generations to quench the thirst for knowledge, a thirst that is then taken up in the "present" by Roland and Maud and unifies the book not only in it's own narratives but to our own lives.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson
Published by: Howard Books
Publication Date: May 13th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A courageous young noblewoman risks her life to hide French resistance fighters; seventy years later, her granddaughter visits the family’s abandoned chateau and uncovers shocking secrets from the past.

Gisèle Duchant guards a secret that could cost her life. Tunnels snake through the hill under her family’s medieval chateau in Normandy. Now, with Hitler’s army bearing down, her brother and several friends are hiding in the tunnels, resisting the German occupation of France.

But when German soldiers take over the family’s château, Gisèle is forced to host them as well—while harboring the resistance fighters right below their feet. Taking in a Jewish friend’s baby, she convinces the Nazis that it is her child, ultimately risking everything for the future of the child. When the German officers begin to suspect her deception, an unlikely hero rescues both her and the child.

A present day story weaves through the past one as Chloe Sauver, Gisèle’s granddaughter, arrives in Normandy. After calling off her engagement with a political candidate, Chloe pays a visit to the chateau to escape publicity and work with a documentary filmmaker, Riley, who has uncovered a fascinating story about Jews serving in Hitler’s army. Riley wants to research Chloe’s family history and the lives that were saved in the tunnels under their house in Normandy. Chloe is floored—her family isn’t Jewish, for one thing, and she doesn’t know anything about tunnels or the history of the house. But as she begins to explore the dark and winding passageways beneath the chateau, nothing can prepare her for the shock of what she and Riley discover…"

Totally on Time Slip novels with WWII right now.

Murder at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: May 13th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Kat Stanford is just days away from starting her dream antique business with her newly widowed mother Iris when she gets a huge shock. Iris has recklessly purchased a dilapidated carriage house at Honeychurch Hall, an isolated country estate located several hundred miles from London.

Yet it seems that Iris isn’t the only one with surprises at Honeychurch Hall. Behind the crumbling façade, the inhabitants of the stately mansion are a lively group of eccentrics to be sure—both upstairs and downstairs —and they all have more than their fair share of skeletons in the closet.

When the nanny goes missing, and Vera, the loyal housekeeper ends up dead in the grotto, suspicions abound. Throw in a feisty, octogenarian countess, a precocious seven year old who is obsessed with the famous fighter pilot called Biggles, and a treasure trove of antiques, and there is more than one motive for murder.

As Iris’s past comes back to haunt her, Kat realizes she hardly knows her mother at all. A when the bodies start piling up, it is up to Kat to unravel the tangled truth behind the murders at Honeychurch Hall."

Like Midsomer Murders and Gosford Park in one!

Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: May 13th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Brimming with wit, atmosphere, and unforgettable characters, FATAL ENQUIRY reintroduces private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewellyn, and their unforgettable world of Victorian London.

Some years ago, Cyrus Barker matched wits with Sebastian Nightwine, an aristocrat and sociopath, and in exposing his evil, sent Nightwine fleeing to hide from justice somewhere in the far corners of the earth. The last thing Barker ever expected was to encounter Nightwine again—but the British government, believing they need Nightwine’s help, has granted him immunity for his past crimes, and brought him back to London. Nightwine, however, has more on his mind than redemption—and as Barker and Llewellyn set out to uncover and thwart Nightwine’s real scheme, they find themselves in the gravest danger of their lives."

I have the other books in this series... I think perhaps it's time to read them!

Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne
Published by: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 13th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In nineteenth-century England, a boy is about to discover a mysterious mechanical world he may never escape.

Ten-year-old Jack Foster has stepped through a doorway and into quite a different London.

Londinium is a smoky, dark, and dangerous place, home to mischievous metal fairies and fearsome clockwork dragons that breathe scalding steam. The people wear goggles to protect their eyes, brass grill insets in their nostrils to filter air, or mechanical limbs to replace missing ones.

Over it all rules the Lady, and the Lady has demanded a new son—a perfect flesh-and-blood child. She has chosen Jack. His only hope of escape lies with a legendary clockwork bird.

The Gearwing grants wishes—or it did, before it was broken—before it was killed. But some things don’t stay dead forever.

Fans of books like Splendors and Glooms and Goblin Secrets will find Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times irresistible!"

19th Century and Steampunk for kids? Why wouldn't I get this?

Wild Storm by Richard Castle
Published by: Kingswell
Publication Date: May 13th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Derrick Storm, the guy the CIA calls on when it wants something investigated domestically, is thirty-three thousand feet in the air, returning from a rock climbing vacation in the Swiss Alps, when the plane spirals into anose-dive. Storm uses his climbing gear to tether himself to the wing and heroically save the plane and all the people on board. Sadly, Storm isnot available to come to the aid of the three other planes that have crashed under similar circumstances, killing everyone on board. Interestingly, many of the victims are powerful people in politics, business and religious groups.

The always elusive Jedidiah Jones, leader of the National Clandestine Service that has no name, calls on Storm to investigate. Storm determines that an unknown extremist has secured enough of the rare earth element promethium to create a laser with the power to shoot down planes from the ground. The problem swiftly becomes a global one as four more planes crash in the Arabia Desert. Details, intuition and courage lead Storm to Monaco, Panama Cityand Egypt as he meets beautiful women, rides angry camels and rescues innocent victims in his valiant effort to track down the maniacal mind behind the terrorism."

It's a Castle book in Egypt!?! YES!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

That Summer Spotlight: Jessica De Gouw as Imogen Grantham

Name: Jessica De Gouw

Dream Character Casting for the Lauren Willig Fantasy Movie Adaptation: Imogen Grantham

First Impression: Dracula, the new campy over the top tv series that is oddly but amusing done by the people who do Downton Abbey. She was not only the perfect independent Mina, but she has real chemistry with Jonathan Rhys Meyers and got to be engaged to sexy Neville Longbottom.

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Lauren Willig Dream Movie Adaptation: Just look at her! She is the dream model for any Pre-Raphaelite painter. She has the hair, the jawline and chin, plus look at the "Dresden Triptych" from Dracula, it screams Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood! Plus she is able to do a nice transition from naivete to shattered expectations.

Lasting Impression: I've actually only seen Jessica in Dracula... so, lasting impression in one.

What else you've seen them in: Jessica hasn't been in much yet, but I'm sure she will be a big presence in film and television in years to come. Though she was in The Mystery of the Hansom Cab that I've been wanting to watch...

Can't believe it's them: Arrow! She went from supernatural to superhero pretty quickly.

Wish they hadn't: Again, Arrow. This has nothing to do with her, this has everything to do with my hatred of Arrow. Yes, I should love it, yes there are tons of good actors from John Barrowman to Alex Kingston to Jessica De Gouw. But I can't and won't get past the fact that just a year after Smallville ended here they are making a Green Arrow series when Smallville did such an amazing job with Oliver Queen's journey. Oh, and I did watch the first few episode so I could have informed hate here.

Bio: Here's something interesting... she's not English but Australian. One of the many Australians sneaking into our shows. I think there is truly an Australian power elite, Simon Baker is the treasurer. Also, there doesn't seem to be much else out there on her, I'm surprised she doesn't have more fan pages yet... ah, it will only be a matter of time.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Book Review - George Eliot's Middlemarch

Middlemarch by George Eliot
Published by: Modern Library
Publication Date: 1871
Format: Hardcover, 799 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition then one reviewed)

"When I told my much-beloved little sister that I was going to write a book about a young Victorian woman who married a much older antiquarian and then finds him not at all who she thought him to be, there was a pause, followed by, “So, basically, you’re writing Middlemarch.”

Have I mentioned how much I love my little sister?

I will admit, I did have Dorothea and Casaubon on the brain, as well as Effie and Ruskin, when Imogen and her husband Arthur popped into my head. (That’s what my characters do: they pop. I don’t make them up piece by piece. They come to me fully formed, and then I have to figure them out as I’m writing about them.) But that’s pretty much the extent of the overlap between the two stories.

If you’re going to read Middlemarch, parcel out a long period of time and make a big pot of tea. Because you’re not going to want to stop once you start. Dorothea’s unhappy marriage to Casaubon is just the beginning…." - Lauren Willig

Ah, to be young and idealistic. Dorothea Brooke longs for nothing more then to marry an intelligent man and help him in his great work, like Milton's daughters, but with less complaining. She thinks she finds that man in the much older Edward Casaubon and they are wed. Tertius Lydgate is a young doctor who has bought a practice in Middlemarch and has such visions for the new fever hospital and a life of study and medical advancement. Instead he is beguiled by the young Rosamund Vincy and they are wed. Rosamund's brother Fred has hopes of a large inheritance and the hand of the humble Mary Garth, despite his family's objections to Mary, though they all cling to the thought of the inheritance because Fred doesn't seem that interested in a career. Another young idealist uncertain of where life will take him is Will Ladislaw, the cousin of Casaubon. But after meeting his cousin's young wife he feels that his life will take him wherever Dorothea is. All these young idealists, all these young hearts with dreams and ambitions shall be tried by fire and be thwarted in one way or another as they try to live their lives in Middlemarch.

Back in 1996 a costume drama made the biggest splash stateside since Upstairs, Downstairs. I'm of course talking about Pride and Prejudice. While a wet shirt might have changed the fusty notions that are attached to period pieces, it also made a household name of the show's writer, Andrew Davies. Andrew Davies became the go-to screenwriter to adapt 19th century novels into miniseries. Emma, Vanity Fair, Wives and Daughters, The Way We Live Now, Daniel Deronda, He Knew He Was Right, Bleak House, The Diary of a Nobody, Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Little Dorrit, have all been adapted by his fair pen. But the fact is Colin Firth isn't the first Firth to brood sexily and shoot pool in an Andrew Davies adaptation. That honor belongs to Colin's younger brother Jonathan, as the gambling Fred Vincy in Middlemarch. We often forget how hard it was to see shows that had previously aired in this current age of streaming and YouTube. Even in the early days of DVDs you had to wait months after they were available to rent in order for them to be affordable to buy. Pride and Prejudice had stoked my interest in costume drama and Andrew Davies was the go-to guy, so obviously I had to get my hands on Middlemarch. With a region free DVD player and an Amazon UK account I was able to achieve my ends.

The adaptation was long and it didn't satisfy any need in me and actually made me want to read the book more. Of course with the length of my to be read pile it isn't any wonder that it took me almost two decades to get to it. I can see what frustrated me in the miniseries because it frustrated me in the book. Middlemarch has an almost unwieldy cast and Eliot has a way of overwriting that makes it very hard to connect. But unlike a miniseries which only has six hours to win us over, with almost 800 pages Eliot is able to build her narrative so that by the end you are so invested in the characters lives that if she hadn't written that little "finale" you would have wept tears of frustration. As for her overwriting and meandering habits to pad chapters with so much information that doesn't build on the plot to insane degrees, I can actually forgive her. The reason being that every once in awhile there is such an insightful line or comment that gives you a clear beam of light shining down from on high that you just want to shout "Yes, a million times yes!" There is also the fact that over time Eliot tends to pontificate less and less focusing more on the plot and the interaction of the characters. I also wonder if the fact that the novel was published in serialized form might have something do to with this shift. By writing in this way I'm sure she was able to gauge what her readers wanted and tweak the novel more to their tastes, and to mine.

What struck me most forcefully about Middlemarch is that while this book was written 142 years ago it is still so relevant in it's issues that it's eerie. With this "study of provincial life" Eliot taps into the universality of people everywhere. Jealousy, money problems, medical advancement, xenophobia, misunderstandings, misconceptions, thwarted ambitions, atonement, all these issues and more are handled in such a way that you, as the reader, connect with a similar incident in your life. The one thing I really connected with was an interesting aspect of Lydgate's practice which caused much stir in the town among his prospective patients. Unlike other Doctors, Lydgate didn't deal with prescriptions for medication cutting out the middle man. It is unclear among the villagers if this is from a lack of knowledge or a lack of self interest, because Doctors could make more money if they cut out the pharmacist, as it were. But it seems to me more that Lydgate, with his newfangled ideology and research believed more in the idea that under most circumstances the body can heal itself and therefore doesn't need drugs. This rang so true to what Doctors say nowadays. Of course, when you now go to the Doctor it's more they're worried that if they proscribe something when they don't need to that you will develop an immunity to the drug that will later cause problems when you truly do need drugs. How many times have I been on the losing end of that argument that I needed drugs for a sinus infection and they told me no? The answer is too many to count... so I have a feeling that if I did reside in Middlemarch, Lydgate just might not be my Doctor because of how many times I then ended up in Urgent Care getting the meds my Doctor was hesitant to proscribe.

But this little meditation of Lydgate's habits only touches on one aspect of one character in a book with enough characters to almost give George R.R. Martin a run for his money. With this many characters, of course you are going to have your favorites, those you love, those you hate, and of course, those you love to hate. But what I found so interesting is that I had sympathy for all the characters, even those I didn't like. In books I usually never root for the antihero. If a character is unlikeable, that's it, we're done, the book and me will not be able to reconcile our differences. But the way in how this community was made up and how each life touched and influenced the other it's like a house of cards or a train of dominoes, you can't pick and choose, everyone is in it together and everyone is therefore needing of our sympathy. While Dorothea is the most obvious character to have feelings for, with her thwarted ambitions in her marriage and then the impositions placed on her by her husband's will, I was even worried about Bulstrode. I worried about a man who, in his past, had dubious dealings which came back to haunt him and I was perfectly happy for him to get away with murder if he could. The lives that Middlemarch is teaming with all need each other and form a perfect view of what provincial life was and how aspects of human nature transcend the generations. This is a must human novel indeed.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review - John Ruskin's On Art and Life

On Art and Life by John Ruskin
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: September 2nd, 2004
Format: Paperback, 97 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
Out of Print

"Oh, Ruskin. So groundbreaking in his aesthetic. Such a nightmare in his personal life. One of the things I love about this time period—and the Preraphaelites in particular—is their revolutionary ideas of beauty. Flinging aside the constraints of classicism, they (to misuse Shakespeare) found tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.

Ruskin laid the groundwork for their upheaval in aesthetics and was one of their key champions. Even if, in his home life, he was a complete mama’s boy who took to his bed with a sniffle—and couldn’t consummate his marriage with his young wife. But that’s next week’s book….

Ruskin pops up in cameo appearances in That Summer, a tall, thin man in his signature blue coat. I took the liberty of borrowing his childhood home on Herne Hill (which he describes quite eloquently in his autobiography Praetorita) and using it as the basis for my heroine’s house.

Thanks, John Ruskin!" - Lauren Willig

The world around us should be our inspiration for art. There is a reason why art and architecture varies by climate. The materials available and the surrounding environment should feed art and make it of it's place, not attempting and hence forcing it to being something it's not. Yet if the labourer who is to create these masterpieces doesn't have any artistic freedom his work is just that of another cog in the industrial revolution. Man can either be a tool or a man. To make a truly great society there needs to be expression allowed in each and every man's work, otherwise society is failing. There needs to be heart in work. Hand, heart, material working in harmony will bring about the artistic revolution that is needed to offset the industrial revolution.

This slim volume contains the chapter "The Nature of Gothic" from Ruskin's The Stones of Venice and a talk he gave on "The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art, and Policy" in Tunbridge Wells in 1858. This book is part of the Penguin Books series of "Great Ideas." Penguin has always been an innovator when it comes to reissuing books of note. As the blurb on the back says "Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves - and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives - and destroyed them." With the way Ruskin's writing fed the Pre-Raphaelites and their Brotherhood, I think we can safely say that this is one of the books that have enlightened and enriched our lives. Given that art is a difficult and nebulous topic to write on, Ruskin's clarity of vision shines through in such a way that anyone interested in art should pick this up if they can... the Brotherhood certainly did, in more ways then one. Who knows if without Ruskin's vocalization of his beliefs if the Brotherhood would have been able to settle on a cohesive ideology and change the face of art. But more then that, his support of them gave the movement credibility.

Ruskin has such a way with words you can see why the Pre-Raphaelites took him and his writing to heart. He has a way of illuminating the everyday and rising it above the mundane. Through his words you can see a Utopian society for the betterment of man is possible. Yes, these ideals might be romantic, but that is what the Pre-Raphaelites where all about. Ruskin easily breaks down what is wrong with Victorian society. Art and craft are moving towards the mass produced, cookie cutter houses where the decoration in the homes are done by rote, not by feeling, one wonders what he would make of today's subdivisions. A society enslaved by their industrialized homes with the same wallpaper and the identical rosettes lining the walls and ceilings. That is why Ruskin embraces Gothic Architecture. In the Gothic he sees aspects that show the originality of the craftsman. He believes that there is a Gothic Heart that needs whimsy and naturalism among other things in order succeed. Of course the Utopian aspect (ie unrealistic) is where he believes that a society would move away from convenience and back to this time of buying custom objects wherein the maker was able to express themselves and therefore break free of being just a tool, a slave of modern industrialization.

Ruskin's beliefs are impractical but worthy. Ruskin needed the Pre-Raphaelites as much as they needed him. Without someone to latch onto his treatises there was no way to see if they were feasible, even on a small scale. The early doctrine of the Brotherhood believed in genuine ideas, naturalism, empathy, and quality. This tailors so well to all that Ruskin has written. In his talk at Tunbridge Wells he said that hand, heart, and material needed to work together in harmony. Add in Ruskin's belief in this Gothic (literally Northern from "Goths") Heart that believes in changeableness and naturalism and truth, ie, truth to nature, and it's a perfect fit. This naturalism/truth to nature of listening to ourselves as well as our abilities that feeds into our choice of medium aligns the man and the Brotherhood into one.

The nature of your location and the environment creates how you express yourself, but some things can only be done in certain materials. Don't ever try to use a material in a way that is not conducive to what you want to do. If something is light and airy, don't use marble. Each man must believe in truth and beauty. Truth to the world, the materials, the subject, and himself. Each to his own means and own thoughts, the master to perfection, the average man to imperfection, but take joy in both and look for nothing less. The artist shall use his skill to make everything to the best of his abilities, even down to making his own paint. You read these tenets and everything clicks. This is what the Pre-Raphaelites believed. This was their code like the Musketeers, "One for all and all for one." Ruskin was the chronicler and inspiration for them... a little bit ironic though when you realize that Ruskin thought all art should be of it's time, whereas the Pre-Raphaelites loved to paint classic allegorical subjects using real artifacts... but not everyone can agree all the time.

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