Monday, December 31, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm by Christopher Paolini
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 1st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The internationally bestselling fantasy sensation is back, with brand-new stories set in the world of Eragon and the Inheritance Cycle!

A wanderer and a cursed child. Spells and magic. And dragons, of course. Welcome back to the world of Alagaësia.

It's been a year since Eragon departed Alagaësia in search of the perfect home to train a new generation of Dragon Riders. Now he is struggling with an endless sea of tasks: constructing a vast dragonhold, wrangling with suppliers, guarding dragon eggs, and dealing with belligerent Urgals and haughty elves. Then a vision from the Eldunarí, unexpected visitors, and an exciting Urgal legend offer a much-needed distraction and a new perspective.

This volume features three original stories set in Alagaësia, interspersed with scenes from Eragon's own unfolding adventure. Included is an excerpt from the memoir of the unforgettable witch and fortune-teller Angela the herbalist...penned by Angela Paolini, the inspiration for the character, herself!

Relish the incomparable imagination of Christopher Paolini in this thrilling new collection of stories based in the world of the Inheritance Cycle. Includes four new pieces of original art by the author."

I've been wanting to re-read the Inheritance Cycle, perhaps this new book will be just the push I need!

The Secrets of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson
Published by: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: January 1st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Bookish puzzles, phantom mysteries, and evil curses await as Elizabeth returns to Winterhouse in Book 2 of this magical series.

Back at the Winterhouse hotel for another holiday season, Elizabeth and Freddy dig deeper into the mystery surrounding Riley S. Granger, a hotel guest who left behind odd artifacts―one being a magical book that the evil Gracella Winters once attempted to use to gain destructive power over the entire Falls lineage. The two friends follow a trail of clues, inadvertently attracting the attention of a suspicious new hotel guest: Elana Vesper. The clock is ticking as Elizabeth and Freddy struggle to figure out whether Elana is merely a pawn or a player in the plot to revive the spirit of Gracella. If that wasn’t enough, Elizabeth suspects she is coming into her own special powers―and she’s fearful it might lead her right into Gracella’s vicious web. Mystery, adventure, and a winning friendship combine in this much anticipated sequel."

For my friend Marie who saw the first book at Barnes and noble the other day and was delighted by the cover. 

Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant
Published by: Subterranean
Publication Date: January 1st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 128 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"We live in an age of wonders. Modern medicine has conquered or contained many of the diseases that used to carry children away before their time, reducing mortality and improving health. Vaccination and treatment are widely available, not held in reserve for the chosen few. There are still monsters left to fight, but the old ones, the simple ones, trouble us no more. Or so we thought. For with the reduction in danger comes the erosion of memory, as pandemics fade from memory into story into fairy tale. Those old diseases can't have been so bad, people say, or we wouldn't be here to talk about them. They don't matter. They're never coming back. How wrong we could be. It begins with a fever. By the time the spots appear, it's too late: Morris's disease is loose on the world, and the bodies of the dead begin to pile high in the streets. When its terrible side consequences for the survivors become clear, something must be done, or the dying will never stop. For Dr. Isabella Gauley, whose niece was the first confirmed victim, the route forward is neither clear nor strictly ethical, but it may be the only way to save a world already in crisis. It may be the only way to atone for her part in everything that s happened. She will never be forgiven, not by herself, and not by anyone else. But she can, perhaps, do the right thing. We live in an age of monsters."

It's hard enough keeping up with reading all of Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire's work, imagine being her?

In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: January 1st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Rebus' retirement is disrupted once again when skeletal remains are identified as a private investigator who went missing over a decade earlier. The remains, found in a rusted car in the East Lothian woods, not far from Edinburgh, quickly turn into a cold case murder investigation. Rebus' old friend, Siobhan Clarke is assigned to the case, but neither of them could have predicted what buried secrets the investigation will uncover.

Rebus remembers the original case - a shady land deal--all too well. After the investigation stalled, the family of the missing man complained that there was a police cover-up. As Clarke and her team investigate the cold case murder, she soon learns a different side of her mentor, a side he would prefer to keep in the past.

A gripping story of corruption and consequences, this new novel demonstrates that Rankin and Rebus are still at the top of their game."

Rebus! I love a good cop whose retirement just can't stick. 

Book Love by Debbie Tung
Published by: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Publication Date: January 1st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 144 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Bookworms rejoice! These charming comics capture exactly what it feels like to be head-over-heels for hardcovers. And paperbacks! And ebooks! And bookstores! And libraries!

Book Love is a gift book of comics tailor-made for tea-sipping, spine-sniffing, book-hoarding bibliophiles. Debbie Tung’s comics are humorous and instantly recognizable—making readers laugh while precisely conveying the thoughts and habits of book nerds. Book Love is the ideal gift to let a book lover know they’re understood and appreciated."

Books!!! Yes, that might be my doppelganger on the cover... 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Book Review - Sally Beauman's Rebecca's Tale

Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman
Published by: HarperCollins e-books
Publication Date: 2000
Format: Kindle, 466 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Colonel Julyan has always wondered if he did wrong by Rebecca. He was her only real friend when she was the mistress of Manderley and he never looked too closely at the verdict of suicide once it was revealed she was dying of cancer. Could her husband, Maxim, have killed her in a jealous rage without ever realizing she was using him to end her life? Ever since that day in London, before Manderley burnt to the ground, the Colonel has had questions and has never searched for the answers. Almost twenty years have passed, Maxim is now dead, but the sensational tales of Rebecca de Winter and Manderley are still dredged up by the press every few years. There are even a few books circulating about. But the Colonel thinks that he has put the past behind him. That is until Terence Gray appears asking questions and giving the Colonel nightmares. The Colonel has always kept his suspicions close to his chest. Never even telling his daughter about his misgivings. But his health is failing and perhaps the last thing he needs to do before he dies is settle his score with Rebecca and that might just begin with letting Terence Gray in. Because Terence knows that the Colonel holds all the cards, the village gossips have given him tons of hearsay, but he needs the truth. He needs the truth about Rebecca, because it might just be his truth as well.

For years I have staunchly refused to read Rebecca's Tale. Having had a bad experience reading Susan Hill's Mrs. de Winter I swore off all books that were prequels, sequels, or retellings of Rebecca vowing to cling only to the words of the great Daphne Du Maurier. And then I waivered. Why did I waiver? Why couldn't I have been steadfast? Why couldn't I have found some other something, anything, to fill this last day of Du Maurier December instead of forcing myself to slog through this book? Because Rebecca's Tale is way longer than you'd think, the almost 500 pages are set in eight point font if you buy the book and then return it to Amazon realizing your eyes can't take eight point font and instead read it on your Kindle. But my main problem is the hubris to think that you can write a sequel to Rebecca and even use Daphne Du Maurier's famous opening line slightly tweaked as if you had the genius to come up with it on your own? Oh Sally Beauman, shame, shame, shame. There's a reason there are so few reimaginings of Rebecca versus the work of Jane Austen. Everyone else knew better! Everyone knows not to randomly take plot points from other characters and make then apply to Rebecca. Everyone knows not to purposefully defecate on a classic with reinterpreting every little thing and hating on that which Du Maurier held dear. Everyone but you that is.

Yet if this book is any indication of Sally Beauman's ability as a writer she's just not that good. She doesn't go in for subtly or nuance, instead using a blunt instrument to hammer home every point a thousand times over. While Du Maurier might have lacked nuance in her earlier writing or some of her dramatic reveals, she was unparalleled in using the nuance of language to covey her story. So Beauman couldn't have been a worse choice to carry on Du Maurier's legacy, a writer like her isn't humble enough to understand there are some things you just can't improve on. Instead she used heavy-handed narration. Repeating ad nauseum that a narrator has a bias, thus casting aspersions on Du Maurier's own writing! As for her own? She shows bias by making Colonel Julyan a misogynist who doesn't get the irony of his repeatedly telling Terence to beware bias. Remember bias, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, and here's a bat over your head if you haven't grasped the concept of unreliable narrators. But with all the heavy-handed foreshadowing you might just have missed the neon warning sign of bias. Between all the "no inkling then of the revelations that were to come today" and "I...wasn’t to understand its significance for several days" or "and it was then that she gave me information that would prove crucial, though I didn’t realize that immediately" you might have started a drinking game to pass the time and passed out in the process.

As for what drives Rebecca's Tale? There really aren't unanswered questions or loose ends to tie up from Du Maurier's story so the majority of this book is laboriously rehashing the details of Rebecca over and over and over. Big reveals being things we already knew but these characters didn't, like Rebecca's inability to have children. Did we need two hundred pages leading up to this reveal that shocked Terence to his core? NO! Because Du Maurier had done and dusted it before. What loose ends Du Maurier did leave are not answered here at all. Because the only wise move Sally Beauman makes is to know that she is ill equipped to answer those things which are better left unanswered. So we have a book with hundreds of pages devoted to revealing that what we knew and then when she does start to diverge, when she does start to create her own story she decides to purposefully leave everything open-ended. Excuse me? So this book is basically the characters from Rebecca analyzing their own story and then coming to no solid conclusions? But not in a fun Jasper Ffordian way, in a horrible, stodgy, dissertation sort of way? Why would anyone want to write this book let alone read it? Sally Beauman purposefully not filling in the blanks from Maxim's father's will to what really happened with Rebecca and her father filled me with such rage that I almost threw my Kindle across the room until I remembered it wasn't the Kindle's fault. It was Sally Beauman's.

Though by far the most frustrating section of this book is when we finally read "Rebecca's Tale." Here's the first person narration of Rebecca we've been waiting for all along and boy does it disappoint. Because ironically, the characters searching for answers we already knew at least had a bit of mystery, a bit of a forward momentum. Here Rebecca elliptically lays everything out. And while she omits a lot it's too straightforward. There's no way to connect to the story. There's no element of the hunt anymore so these revelations don't feel earned by the writer or the reader. Plus the misogynistic tone of Colonel Julyan starts to spill into Rebecca's own story. If I didn't know for a fact that Sally Beauman is a women I'd say she was a man who really hates women. Maybe she's just a woman who hates other women? Because how else can I account for the victim blaming which oozes off these pages? Rebecca was raped as a seven year old child in France by a fourteen year old boy. She isn't just blamed by her mother and all the locals, Max blames her and even starts to identify with her rapist. What. The. Fuck? If this was a gimmick to tar Maxim, it doesn't work, instead it tars the author. She comes across as someone who wouldn't support the #MeToo movement and in fact might go on television and claim he sexual assault was all her fault. Yes, Du Maurier did write a story about the destruction of a strong willed woman. But she would not have written her ever as a victim.

The biggest problem though with Rebecca's Tale is that while Sally Beauman obviously knows her Du Maurier she doesn't understand it. She can throw out as many hints to her life and work from J.M. Barrie to The Birds, but she doesn't understand the true underpinnings of Rebecca. Instead she tries to force a statement about women and marriage and subservience that doesn't connect to her source material at all. Rebecca had it's roots in Jane Eyre, and both stories deal with the roles women have in society and what that means. Yet both the second Mrs. de Winter and Jane in the end are the ones with power. They love and care for their husbands but they are in complete and total control. By entering a state of wedded bliss they didn't give up their power they eventually found it. Therefore to have Colonel Julyan's daughter throw away her past as a caretaker and deny herself marriage for freedom shows just how ignorant Sally Beauman is, she doesn't understand the power shifts. The whole point of Du Maurier's book is that women can have power in traditional roles that you wouldn't think would give them power. As much as I have mixed feelings over Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea at least she understood her source material. She GOT Jane Eyre and therefore made a classic in her own right. She understood women and power and wasn't about distorting the original but about giving it an even deeper meaning instead of victim blaming and sweeping the ashes under the carpet.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

2019/2020 Netflix Movie or Miniseries - Rebecca

If you follow me on social media you might have heard some rather declarative statements on November 14th when Netflix announced they were doing a new version of Rebecca starring Lily James and Armie Hammer. It's not that I object to their being a new Rebecca, I just happen to object to almost everything we know so far about this project. Let's start with Armie Hammer... um, he's not British. Not that I'll hold that against him... what I hold against him is that he's only three years older than Lily James. Maxim de Winter is about twenty-five years older than his twenty-one year old bride, not three! Lily could work, I honestly have liked her in everything she's been in, she just needs a different leading man. Because of all the actors out there, you need a certain something to BE Maxim de Winter, something indefinable. For example I was just watching The Addams Family last night and Raúl Juliá, he would have been an amazing Maxim. Armie, not so much.

Now let's break down the other aspects of the production. The book is being adapted by Jane Goldman, best known for two of the worst X-Men films and the Kingsman franchise, big budget superhero blockbusters don't exactly mesh well with Daphne Du Maurier unless you're keeping maybe two ideas and scrapping the rest of the story like Hitchcock did with The Birds. Yes, Goldman also adapted Stardust, which I liked, but she also did The Woman in Black, which I hated, making her hit-and-miss with adaptions. As for the director Ben Wheatley, having two episode of Doctor Who I disliked AND that horrid adaptation of High-Rise on his resume aren't endearing him to me in the least. Then I have questions for the team, is it going to be a jam-packed two hour production or a lavish four hour miniseries, because there's more chance in doing justice to the book if it's four hours. But with Netflix it could go either way... Here's hoping they salvage something good out of this star-crossed crew instead of making me hate it more than I hate the Charles Dance version.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

'The Christmas Tree' by Mark E. Lefebvre (My Dad)

My father had only one rule for Christmas—it had to be snowing when we went for the tree. Snow had to be in the air. My father had a reverence for seasons. He also believed in magic. This was, after all, the man who in late October would sit at dawn in his duck skiff waiting for the Mallards to rise in the morning mist. It was all about reverence and magic.

So, I would sit anxiously looking out my bedroom window at the grey, smudged sky waiting for it to open, waiting for God to make our neighborhood a gently shaken snow globe. My father expected patience. In the tradition of his own boyhood, the tree would not be put up and decorated until Christmas Eve. We had time.

Then it happened. It always happened. The heavens began to sift snow down on our little town of De Pere. The wind coming off the Fox River blew it up between the houses and the adventure would begin. Sherpas in search of our destiny! We bundled into the car and headed for the Hockers Farm on the outskirts of town, a little way beyond the city limits, just past the Mile-Away Tavern.

It was a working farm that was transformed each December. Snow fencing was run around the barnyard and Christmas lights were strung on poles. The Hockers brothers had harvested the trees and they were set against the fencing and leaned against the barn. The lights, the trees, the smells from the warm barn, the snow swirling about awakened our imaginations to the possibilities of the days ahead. If I had fretted by my bedroom window in anticipation, I was now a dizzy snow angel.

It was always a time of ritual when Doc Lefebvre arrived at Hockers. Large of heart, but with little means, the brothers relied on my father’s kindness throughout the year. There were, of course, the eggs that would appear on the porch in an old wire basket and the occasional plucked chicken arrived in time for Sunday dinner, but it was the ritual of the tree where the Hockers expressed their deepest appreciation to my father. Their affection was real and even as a boy, I could feel it though my fingers and toes were numb, numb from waiting in the snow for the adventure to unfold.

It seemed to me that we inspected every tree in the yard, discussed its merits and then, ultimately, heard the brothers’ verdict—it was not good enough. Then, finally, frostbitten and tired, we would come upon the tree, the tree that the brothers had hand selected much earlier. It was hidden for that special moment of discovery and revelation. The procession of carrying the tree and tying it to the car was done with the greatest reverence—it outdid the celebration of Midnight Mass. As always, it was a gift, no payment could be negotiated despite my father’s protests.

This was the way we celebrated the choosing of the Christmas tree during the first half of the 1950s. It was a time of joy when simple friendship and kindness guided us to the perfect tree.

My father had been ill for a long time. Diagnosed with cancer in 1946, he struggled to live until the autumn of 1956. He died two weeks after my eighth birthday on a clear October day when the ducks were flying out over Green Bay. I was bewildered and lost.

My mother had never gone to get the Christmas tree with us. I heard her on the telephone talking to one of the Hockers brothers telling him that we would be by. When we arrived on a late, cold, snowless afternoon, the brothers were standing in the yard holding a perfect tree. They tied it on the car without saying a word. My mother did not say anything either. As we drove off, I could see these big men in their overalls and huge coats wiping tears from their eyes with their red kerchiefs.

It was the last year that my mother and I would ever have a tree. In the years that followed, we would pack ourselves up and visit family elsewhere. We never talked about the Christmas tree or the Hockers. We never talked about my father.

I keep a snow globe on my desk and when Christmas approaches, I gently shake it and I look closely to see if a small boy and his father make it to the barnyard illuminated with lights, the barnyard that lives on in my memory.

I tell this story now, years later, to honor my father and to remind myself of the lessons I learned from him. I hope that they hold meaning for you—this is my prayer in the close and holy darkness of Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Reckoning by Joss Whedon
Published by: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: December 24th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 112 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Joss Whedon's Buffy and crew are confronted by a future Big Bad who has traveled to the present, intent on stealing the power of the Slayers, becoming all-powerful, and destroying the world as we know it!

The lives of Buffy and the Scoobies haven't been too eventful for a while - at least as far as fighting demons and the forces of darkness are concerned. But that all changes when Angel brings news of an amassing a force that must be reckoned with: Wolfram and Hart, a legion of demons, and Harth, vampire from the future. Buffy knows Harth and his twin sister - the Slayer, Fray - from her meeting with them and Dark Willow in the future. But this army that has been gathered is more than she and her crew were expecting...Narrowly escaping an initial encounter, the gang travels to the future to recruit Fray and learn of their dismal fate should they fail to defeat this legion that has invaded the present. Harth is after the power of the Slayers, and being in possession of all their memories, he knows how to rewrite the outcome of this ultimate battle before it occurs. This is the reckoning...and it could be the end of Buffy, Fray, and all the Slayers, forever."

Not many books are released on Christmas Eve... but here's some Buffy. I'm not saying it's good. It's the end of the comics though. Clunky, just like the rest of the run. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

1997 TV Movie Review - Rebecca

Based on the Book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring: Emilia Fox, Charles Dance, Faye Dunaway, John Horsley, Jonathan Stokes, Diana Rigg, Tom Chadbon, Geraldine James, Denis Lill, John Branwell, Jonathan Cake, Kelly Reilly, Anthony Bate, Ian McDiarmid, Timothy West, and Lucy Cohu
Release Date: April 13th, 1997
Rating: ★
To Buy

The gregarious Mrs. Van Hopper has hired herself a mousy little companion to accompany her to Monte Carlo. Yet she's put out that the old crowd aren't around and then laid up with a sniffle. Her young companion uses this time to become close to the one person in Monte Mrs. Van Hopper is fascinated with, Maxim de Winter, the inconsolable widow and owner of the great house Manderley. When Mrs. Van Hopper decides to decamp Maxim gives the little mouse a choice, go to New York with her employer or come to Manderley with him as his wife. It isn't a hard choice to embrace being the second Mrs. de Winter, a choice that even Mrs. Van Hopper approves, because at least someone bagged him. Back at his luxurious estate in England Maxim's young new wife feels that the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, looms large. But even despite the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, and her doom and gloom, nothing can stop the newlyweds love for each other. That is unless Maxim is still in love with Rebecca... the discovery of Rebecca's scuttled boat in the bay will try their relationship, destroying everything or bringing them closer together.

The 1996-1997 season of Masterpiece Theatre was rare for me in that I caught it entirely. I was taking a year off before college and therefore had time to luxuriate in my much loved passions of reading and watching miniseries. The adaptation of Nostromo starring Colin Firth and A Royal Scandal starring Richard E. Grant were highlights that year. In fact when I recently learned A Royal Scandal was an extra on The Queen's Sister I instantly bought the DVD, despite my dislike of The Queen's Sister. Now if they'd just release Nostromo on anything other than VHS I'd be set because I'm seriously dying with only my old taped copy. But what I wasn't looking forward to was the season ending remake of Rebecca. This was at the height of my Hitchcock fanaticism, having taken film classes in high school and planning on taking more in college, and I couldn't comprehend why anyone would remake a classic.

Yes, Hitchcock didn't get it 100% right, but you can not deny that Laurence Olivier IS Maxim de Winter. It won best picture at the Oscars! So I planned to boycott the remake. The problem when living with your parents is that they have their own opinions on what they want to watch and seeing some of Rebecca turned out to be unavoidable. What little I saw made me instantly withdraw from the television room. My mom didn't last very long either, despite her love of Diana Rigg. For almost twenty years I have shunned this adaptation shuddering from the memory of those few glimpses. So I thought perhaps I should give it a second chance. Maybe Diana Rigg could be a superior Mrs. Danvers? Perhaps the beauty of Manderley would be done more justice in color with it's lush abundant floral growth? Or perhaps I should have trusted my gut reaction and avoided this piece of crap entirely.

What is striking about this adaptation is they have assembled some of the most talented actors in the British Isles and beyond and somehow sucked the life out of them. If it weren't for Faye Dunaway and Jonathan Cake I don't think a single line would have been uttered above a dull monotone. Rebecca is full of emotion and passion, both repressed and on full display, and yet here it comes across as the most flat and emotionless story ever. It should be turbulent and forceful like the sea, not fake and false like that shitty shack that was slapped together on the beach. After the first episode my dislike became more and more audible. Three hours and nothing went right. I was visibly cringing at all that they got wrong. The second Mrs. de Winter isn't just shy with a can do attitude but meek! Oh the rage! But even if I hadn't been comparing it to the book, it was awful. I kept making myself step back and think, if I hadn't read the book would I enjoy this? The answer was no time and time again.

While the heavy-handed foreshadowing might have been driving me loopy, if Du Maurier was still alive I know what she'd hate most... they made this adaptation into a romance. Yes, there are romantic elements in Rebecca, but that is NOT what the book is. The moniker of "Romance Writer" hung around Du Maurier's neck like a millstone her entire life. To have her greatest novel reduced to being nothing more than a romance? No. She would have snapped. Plus, I like Charles Dance very much, don't get me wrong, his performance of himself in Jam and Jerusalem, Clatterford stateside, is one of my favorite cameos on TV ever; but to see him groping and pawing awkwardly at Emilia Fox's cheek and sucking her face so that it looks like he's eating her. Eww. The book STRONGLY hints that the de Winters had a sexless marriage and yet here the demonstrative affection is overwhelming. It's the exact opposite of the book, yet oddly passionless. And that lame excuse made for their lack of children? Like Maxim would run into a burning building to save Mrs. Danvers? NO!

Yet, I have to give props where props are due. These go to Diana Rigg and Jonathan Cake, Mrs. Danvers and Jack Favell, Rebecca's maid and blackmailing cousin, respectively. I think these two actually read the source material, which Arthur Hopcraft obviously didn't when adapting this because who would purposefully change the famous introductory chapter and slap it into an upbeat coda? But enough about Arthur Hopcraft because this obviously ended his career if you check out IMDB. As for Hitchcock he proves that even the greats can get it wrong and he just didn't get Mrs. Danvers, and went camp and over the top. Diana Rigg nails it. The sadness that is behind that stiff facade. As for Cake, I don't think I can pay him a higher compliment than saying I really thought he WAS Favell. Rigg and Cake got the menacing down perfectly. Yet they also had the depth Du Maurier demanded of these characters. While they had the menace, they also had the vulnerability, and ultimately the patheticness of these two and how hollow their last act, destroying Manderley, really is.

But in the end, seeing as this miniseries was called Rebecca, you'd think they'd at least get her right? Yet they didn't. It's almost as if Rebecca is an afterthought. She should be front and center, there, oppressing Maxim and his new wife every single second of their time at Manderley, but she's oddly not there. It's like Mrs. Danvers and Jack Favell are the only ones who remember and it's only when they are around that Rebecca still lives. Otherwise it's as if she's long dead and long gone, not "haunting" them as should be the case. But this couldn't very well have been a romance if they concentrated on the Gothic nature of the book with Rebecca haunting Manderley now could it? As for when Rebecca actually appears... she's impressionistic and the camera is just too fucking close to her face. I wouldn't know it was Lucy Cohu, an actress I quite like who stared in the aforementioned movie The Queen's Sister, if it wasn't for the credits. Therefore we can say that like the book, there's a problem with Rebecca. Here it's her irrelevancy, there it's her possession of you body and soul. Let the book possess you and avoid this catastrophe. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

1979 TV Miniseries Review - Rebecca

Based on the book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring: Joanna David, Elspeth March, Jeremy Brett, Hugh Morton, Richard Willis, Anna Massey, Terrence Hardiman, Vivian Pickles, Leon Sinden, William Morgan Sheppard, Julian Holloway, Virginia Denham, Sylvia Coleridge, Harriet Walter, Neville Hughes, Victor Lucas, Richardson Morgan, Robert Flemyng, and John Saunders
Release Date: 1979
Rating: ★★★★
Out of Print

Mrs. Van Hopper has her own friend of the bosom. Paid to be her companion, but really acting as her dogsbody. When Mrs. Van Hopper falls ill her friend catches the attention of widower Maxim de Winter and when Mrs. Van Hopper decides to head home to New York Maxim gives the young girl a choice; New York with Mrs. Van Hopper or Manderely with him. As his wife. She hastily marries Maxim and becomes the second Mrs. de Winter. Though she worries and frets that she won't be up to the job, especially once she sees Manderely in person and meets the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. She feels overwhelmed and Mrs. Danvers does everything in her power to make things worse for her new mistress. It doesn't help that Rebecca has left her imprint everywhere, not just physically, but emotionally. She is in the hearts and minds of the staff, the locals, and even Maxim and his family. So much is expected of the new bride, even a lavish costume ball, just like Rebecca used to host. How is she to continue when Maxim is obviously questioning the wisdom of returning to Manderely? But is it the place or the new bride he regrets more? Only the revelation of a horrible secret will show the truth to the young bride. 

If you are looking for the most accurate adaptation of Rebecca you couldn't do better than this version made by the BBC in the late seventies if you tried, and oh how I've tried. While my heart will always belong to Alfred Hitchcock's version as the obsession of my youth, this one is now my favorite, in spite of the whole last episode being out of sync. This was just chock-a-block with 1970s BBC goodness. If shows like The Pallisers, The Duchess of Duke Street, and Upstairs, Downstairs are your idea of what quality TV should be, then this one's for you! There's a nostalgic quality to shows that went for acting chops over everything else. The sets might be recycled and familiar, yes, that is the window from the maid's garret in Upstairs, Downstairs in a dowdy room in Monte Carlo, and that is the drawing room from The Pallisers transplanted to Manderley with a desk hiding a certain broken cupid, but that just gives you the familiarity that makes this adaptation feel like coming home. While I had never seen this adaptation before, Jeremy Brett and Joanna David surrounded by so many actors I have seen for years and years on the small screen just made me giddy that for once I'd found a Rebecca with less to complain about that made me feel like I was visiting an old friend.

Though, this is me, so you know I will have something to complain about; and that complaint is Joanna David, though it's through no fault of her own. Or maybe a little because I didn't like how they bracketed the show with how she was telling someone about her dream about Manderley while wearing pearls, but that was the director's fault. So the reason I had issues with Joanna David was because of the 1997 adaptation of Rebecca staring Emilia Fox and Charles Dance. Emilia Fox not only played the second Mrs. de Winter, a role here played by Joanna David, but she happens to be Joanna David's daughter. I've never really thought of them looking too much alike, but watching this adaptation from the seventies, I'd occasionally catch a similarity, the way Joanna tilted her head or pursed her lips and I wouldn't be seeing her anymore I'd be seeing her daughter and seeing the same expressions flit across her face was almost unnerving. Oh, how I wish I had seen this adaptation first. Because to constantly remind me of the atrocity that was the 1997 adaptation is a sin. Yet it's a sin that, logically, I shouldn't hold against them because this other adaptation was almost twenty years in the future. But then again I am fickle. Thankfully Jeremy Brett is no Charles Dance.

Yet then there's the perfection of Anna Massey as Mrs. Danvers to make you forget your woes. If I were to gather up all the Mrs. Danvers she would win hands down. She is perfection without ever veering too far into the crazy skid. She's not self-immolating like Judith Anderson or the only bright, yet undeniably unhinged, spot in a horrid production like Diana Rigg. She's simply perfection. Because the truth is Mrs. Danvers is a real human, not a caricature, and despite all her actions, they are rooted in her connection and love for Rebecca, no matter how obsessive that love was. I first fell in love with Anna Massey's acting when I watched He Knew He Was Right. This is a pitch perfect adaptation of Anthony Trollope's book that I love so much I even mentioned it to David Tennant that time I met him. Anna Massey stands in the way of a marriage but will break your heart when she relents to the match. After this I started searching out her work and realized I'd seen her for years in everything from Midsomer Murders to The Darling Buds of May. Yet it's the scene in Rebecca's bedroom when she shows it off to the second Mrs. de Winter that she will destroy you with her range. Going from triumph to boasting to melancholy all in the blink of an eye. Grief as restrained madness. Perfection! 

You'd think with all this superb talent that everyone is perfection in the cast. Well, you'd be wrong because there's Jack Favell... Jack is usually the character that is always gotten right even in the worst of productions. But here? Julian Holloway isn't Jack. Not. One. Bit. Jack is a slimy character, a smooth operator who has no moral compass and you could easily see as jumping into bed with his cousin. Therefore he needs to be equally repellent and alluring. Here he's just repellant. He's a "good old boy" who you'd expect to see wandering around the grounds in plus fours! Rebecca wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole! Oddly enough there's a modern equivalent acting today, Rory Kinnear. This Jack IS 100% like all the characters Rory Kinnear played for years. I have spent years bemoaning him being everywhere, especially in National Theatre Live productions. Two years ago I swear he was in every single production so I avoided that season like the plague. But for as much as I dislike him, annoying me to no end with his profuse body of work, he at least has range, and a few productions I actually liked him in. This proto-Kinnear? He has the range of a teaspoon.

There is one thing though, besides giving this version a proper release, that would easily upgrade it in my opinion, and that is if the music were fixed. The score of this adaptation is literally all over the place. At the beginning of the third part for about three minutes I thought they might have finally gotten it right and then it slid back into a mish-mash of styles. You will catch glimpses of Debussy, which might have occasionally worked, especially as it sounds like, according to my brother, that they might have been using "La Mer" which would be appropriate, but then as the happy couple approaches Manderely the music goes all old school cinema. You feel like you're watching an old reel where the dastardly villain is twirling his mustache while he ties the maiden to the tracks and waits for the train to arrive. I assume the train in this musicians mind is Mrs. Danvers, but who knows. It's almost comical in it's appearance. But for how much that music might have been too old school and inappropriate, don't worry, here are some synths thrown in to make it modern or to, I don't know, remind you it's the seventies despite the fact Rebecca doesn't take place in the seventies? Seriously, the music needs an overhaul.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

My Thoughts Exactly by Lily Allen
Published by: Blink Publishing
Publication Date: December 18th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"I'm strong. I can be tough. I've been broken. I'm opinionated. I'm a people-pleaser. I'm spoilt. I'm needy. I contradict myself. I try to do good. I want to do good. I'm impassioned. I'm observant. Most importantly, I tell the truth. And this is my story."

My thoughts are exactly this: Get a better cover.

Not the Duke's Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt
Published by: Forever
Publication Date: December 18th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 496 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt brings us the first book in her sexy and sensual Greycourt Series!

Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe, the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family, appears at the country house party she's attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: she starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognizes Freya, masquerading among the party revelers, and realizes his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins-sins he'd much rather forget. But she's also fiery, bold, and sensuous-a temptation he can't resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he'll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, he will have to earn Freya's whatever means necessary."

Isn't it lovely to have a new series to start for the holidays? And there aren't any other books of equal quality coming out this week either!

Friday, December 14, 2018

1962 Theatre '62 TV Episode Review - Rebecca

Based on the movie based on the book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring: Joan Hackett, James Mason, Murray Matheson, Joan Croydon, Spencer Davis, Franklyn Fox, Byron Russell, Lloyd Bochner, and Nina Foch
Release Date: 1962
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

The second Mrs. de Winter is speeding back to England with her new husband after a whirlwind romance. They are returning to his home in Cornwall, Manderley, which he abandoned a year ago on the death of his first wife, Rebecca. As they get closer to England Maxim is moody and volatile, but his young bride hopes that she will make him happy, no matter the shoes she has to fill. The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, has gathered the staff to welcome their master home, despite having orders to do no such thing. But Mrs. Danvers goes her own way, so much so that she keeps Rebecca's room in the west wing as a shrine to her late mistress, which the second Mrs. de Winter finds more than a little unnerving. After all, she is the mistress of the manor now, no matter what everyone else might think of her. Yet everywhere she goes, from the morning room to the beach she is reminded of Rebecca, and Maxim's rage on the subject can only mean he still dearly loves his first wife. Perhaps it would be best if she just left. It would please Mrs. Danvers to no end, and perhaps Maxim would be happier. But then there is a discovering after a shipwreck, Rebecca has returned and she might destroy everyone and everything.

This adaptation of Rebecca might be the most interesting I've watched to date due to it's restrictions. Aired in 1962 it was broadcast live and had only an hour, with commercials, to tell the doomed story of Rebecca's life. Therefore what you get is the book told in shorthand with just the high points of the story being hit. Here's the broken cupid statue, here's Rebecca's sleazy cousin, here's Mrs. Danvers's shrine to her mistress, here's the party, and here's Rebecca, dead at the bottom of the ocean from her husband's hands, but seeing as she was dying of Cancer a verdict of suicide is easily confirmed. What with the more copious use of narration, which makes sense due to the first person structure of the book, I actually couldn't find much fault with this production. Sure, the transfer hasn't aged well and there's lens distortion, but somehow they were able to work around their limitations and give what I think is a very solid adaptation. Because they stripped the story to it's barest elements and then added back in some of Du Maurier's own lyricism what they ended up with might actually be my favorite adaptation I've seen so far.

The true reason this adaptation succeeds is because of Joan Hackett's acting. As the second Mrs. de Winter she oozed naivete. While I'm a huge fan of Joan Fontaine, in Hitchcock's version of Rebecca she has a tendency to overact with her eyes that sometimes borders on the absurd. Here Joan Hackett brought a more natural feel to the roll, something I'm sure Du Maurier herself would approve of as she time and time again claims that her father, the late "great" Gerald Du Maurier, created natural acting. With each and every movement and gesture Joan Hackett WAS the second Mrs. de Winter to me. The way she plays with her fingers and nibbles on her cuticles just felt so right, whereas when Joan Fonatine would just be scolded by Laurence Olivier to leave her hands alone after broadly signalling she was about to bring her fingers toward her mouth. But to me it all came down to a scene in the beginning. The first morning she's at Manderley the second Mrs. de Winter comes down to breakfast with her very large purse in tow. I don't know if Fontaine did this, but to do this in your own home? It felt so gauche and so right!

When I first heard of this adaptation the number one thing that intrigued me was that Maxim de Winter is played by James Mason. I never think of James Mason as the leading man, more the leading villain. Yes, I know this isn't the case, but his voice lends itself so well to villainy! Yet it turns out that James Mason is underused in this adaptation. Yes, this helps in the fact that he doesn't overshadow his new bride, whose story this really is, but having James Mason and then not really using him seems kind of a waste. As it is James Mason and therefore Maxim de Winter instead of being a well-rounded character is rather one-dimensional. All he is here for is heavy-handed foreshadowing. They are on the boat home from France, his young bride mentions swimming and drowning, he blows up. His young bride mentions the beach, "WE NEVER TALK ABOUT THE BEACH!" He finds her at the beach, "NEVER COME HERE AGAIN!" It would almost be funny if it wasn't such a waste of a good actor. And even if you'd never read Rebecca or watched Hitchcock's adaptation I'm sure you could have quickly put the pieces together that Rebecca drowned off the beach... so yeah, real subtle foreshadowing...

The one thing that really bothered me though was that unlike the book this adaptation HAD to have Mrs. Danvers burn with Manderley, just like Hitchcock. Just because Hitchcock deviated in such a drastic way from the book to absurd heights of melodrama doesn't mean every adaptation after his has to do the same. But in this case it did, if you bothered to watch the credits. Because this isn't actually an adaptation of the book by Du Maurier, it's an adaptation of the Hitchcock film. WTF!?! I mean, that's weird right? To abridge a movie and redo it for TV? In fact looking at the Theatre '62 season, of the seven episodes at least five of them were Hitchcock movies first! Really, was this normal? Instead of just showing the movie show their shortened version of it with different famous actors? In fact several of the other episodes star actors Hitchcock has worked with like Joseph Cotton! Yet while they claim it's an adaptation of an adaptation the screenplay writer obviously went back to the source, Du Maurier's own words. Because I think Ellen M. Violett's choice to include more narration, thus being more inside our heroine's head, led to a more lyrical adaptation in tune with the book. Whereas Hitchock was notorious for changing things to fit his needs, here it feels more like Du Maurier is speaking to us not cursing Hitchcock from the stalls.

Now, I admit I'm going to diverge from topic here, but I can not NOT mention the ads that are on this adaptation. Who was the genius who decided not to edit them out? I want to shake their hand! The ads are all sponsored by the gas board, better living through gas! I adored the wonderful vintage of these ads. But I also have a lot of questions. Who thought that naming the gas cooktop on the range the "surface of flame" a good idea. All I can think of is conflagrations. And how is gas flame "cool?" Isn't calling a flame cool an oxymoron? Where is Don Draper when you need some better copy? From stoves to dryers, gas lighting which didn't go out of fashion in the gilded age like any logical person might have thought, to whole house heating and cooling, I now know more then I ever could about gas options for your home in the early sixties! And I think that is wonderful. This was a real slice of life and by keeping it in the show it shows where the ad cuts had to be for costume changes and set changes, this was ALL LIVE you must remember. This literally took my viewing experience to the next level but also makes me question the wisdom of the ad executives. You are advertising gas, aka fire, on an adaptation of Rebecca? You do know it ends with the house in flames right? Not the best message to send. As for the ad from the American Cancer Society? Rebecca, the villain of the piece, was diagnosed with terminal Cancer... um... awkward much?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

1940 Movie Review - Rebecca

Based on the book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, Leo G. Carroll, and Alfred Hitchcock
Release Date: 1940
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Maxim de Winter has taken a new bride. After a hasty proposal followed by a hasty marriage in a registrar office in the south of France, the newlyweds are off to England and his great estate of Manderley. The second Mrs. de Winter feels lost and out of place there. She feels as if everything she does is being compared to Maxim's first wife, Rebecca. Rebecca whose initials are strewn all over the stationary, Rebecca whose room is keep as a shrine by the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca who could pull off class and wear a black dress and pearls without anyone batting an eyelash. And finally, Rebecca, whose memory sends her new husband into sulks and fits of rage. Will Rebecca be the end of them? 

My entire life I have had a little bit of a Hitchcock obsession. It could be that I'm drawn to great filmmaking with a darker edge, or it could be that I have embraced him because we share the same birthday, either way his films are the pinnacle of what cinema is about for me. For years I went back and forth between Rebecca and Rear Window as to which was my favorite of his films, that was until I saw Vertigo and it can now never be shifted in my heart as his true masterpiece. In recent years I've taken to watching Hitchcock movies on the big screen and only resorting to watching my DVDs if I can't help it.

For some reason Rebecca is never shown in these retrospectives at the various art house cinemas. This means I haven't seen Rebecca in many years now. It was an odd and jarring experience rewatching the movie. I've revisited my other two favorite Hitchcock films so many times that they have changed and grown with me, but Rebecca feels as if it belongs to a different me. I can still see the reasons I loved it back in high school, I can picture myself begging my parents for a copy of the movie poster for my room, and yet... and yet I see the flaws more clearly.

Of course, ideally you shouldn't finish the book, set it down and reach for the remote, that can never end well. And yet I did just that. Yes, despite knowing that this couldn't end well, I did it anyway. All that was wrong jumped out at me with more force then ever before, I wasn't charmed by the old film, I was baffled that I ever saw anything but a bad miniature as Joan Fontaine narrates the opening lines of the book. This isn't to say that the movie is a train wreck, far from it, this is the best adaptation of Rebecca out there. It just doesn't compare to the depth you get in the book.

The truth is that this is a perfectly cast movie that suffers from not having enough time to do the story justice and not having the technology needed. You can see why they have mistakenly tried to remake it so many times, I'm warily eyeing you Netflix, because the movie has the potential but falls short. But all these other wannabes, they don't realize they can never ever match the greatness of Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Seriously, Charles Dance as Maxim de Winter? NO! Whomever thought that, just no. They deserve to die with a bolt through the gut, if you know what I mean. In fact if you look at the scenes that are almost directly lifted word for word from the book, I'm thinking particularly of the scene where Maxim confesses to his new bride in the cottage in the cove, it enraptures you. The spark between the characters and the way it's shot, with "Rebecca" rising from the daybed. Some of the best cinema you will ever see.

But it's not just the spark between the leads that makes it perfectly cast. Fontaine has that wonderful bewildered look that she has mastered to perfection, but also she has such a gaucheness that you wonder at times if it's inexperienced acting, but when you get to the end of the movie you realize that it was a purposeful naivety, it's no wonder she was nominated for an Oscar for this role. As for Olivier? He is Maxim. There is no other actor that can ever do this role justice which again makes the flaws that much more obvious. As for Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers? The way she's able to keep that severe yet distanced look in her eyes that goes into crazy overload when she shows off Rebecca's room. I defy you to find someone who could do that as well!

One aspect of the movie that I had the biggest problem with though was something that they really couldn't control and that is that the movie is in black and white. Yes it did come out a year after The Wizard of Oz premiered in glorious Technicolor, but Hitchcock was never swayed by what he could do instead doing what he thought worked with the movie. Why else was Psycho in black and white? He must have thought that color was untried and that black and white adhered to the Gothic nature of the story. But that's what makes the book so unique. It is a Gothic story but there is riotous color in the book. The red flowers being a bloody reminder of Rebecca, the bluebells and the hydranga flowering in the woods and along the drive. There is such colorful life flowing from every page that it jars you to see this bleak world on screen. Yet another reason to space out your reading and your watching of Rebecca.

But hands down, the biggest issue I had was with the music. A lot of people I think don't take music into consideration in films and movies. It's just something there in the background that fuels the mood. Yet if it's done badly it jars discordantly and pulls you out of the moment. I am probably more aware then most people of this because my brother is a music nut and I've spent enough time around him that I am aware of music more often then not. I was overjoyed recently when I was able to successfully "hear" that Grantchester was scored by the same person who does Downton Abbey.

If you really want a shock, go back and watch some of your favorite movies from the 80s and you'll be in for a musical surprise, as your eardrums bleed. Rebecca's music is like a pendulum, either overly cheerful like you're skipping through a woods on a summer morning, or bizarrely ominous. There is no middle ground. The music is very bi-polar in this regard. You can see why later Hitchcock stuck to using composers like Bernard Herrmann, who were able to create memorable music that fit the movie and elevated it to another level. The very least Rebecca could do to improve itself is get a new score.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

Lost in Space: Countdown to Danger by Richard Dinnick and Brian Buccellato
Published by: Legendary Comics
Publication Date: December 11th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 56 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The smash-hit rebirth of the beloved sci-fi classic Lost In Space continues in this thrilling graphic novel expansion to the series which will take the Jupiter 2 where it has never been before.

30 years in the future, en route to a distant colony, the Robinson family finds itself thrown off-course when their ship crash-lands on a mysterious and dangerous planet. On this strange new world, they encounter a hostile environment and an enigmatic alien robot. In order to survive, the Robinson family must rely on their training, and they'll discover that no matter how lost they are, their family is their home.

These all-new, untold adventures features the full crew of the hit Netflix show: the Robinsons, the Robot, Doctor Smith and Don West. These are the missions you didn’t see on TV, as our heroes struggle to survive in an unknown world full of new creatures, unexpected visitors, and new danger."

Seeing as how this was one of my favorite new shows this year, I'm really excited to see how it translates into a new medium.

A Moment in Crime by Amanda Allen
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: December 11th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Fans of Rhys Bowen will be abuzz over Amanda Allen’s second installment in her bold Santa Fe Revival mysteries.

The on-set murder of a famous Jazz Age film director unearths a hornet’s nest of passion, duplicity, naked ambition, and bitter revenge.

The golden age of cinema is dawning, and Santa Fe is in the grip of movie fever when director Luther Bishop arrives for the filming of his new cowboy flick. Maddie Vaughn-Alwin’s cousin Gwen Astor is in town with a bit part in the movie - but Gwen finds herself caught in a whirlwind of mischief before shooting even begins. But the plot only thickens when the detestable director is found hanging in his office.

When it comes to light that Gwen was having a torrid affair with Luther, she gets pegged as the prime suspect, much to Maddie’s dismay. But Maddie, quick on her feet with ever the keen eye knows that Luther had his fair share of enemies, and there’s no shortage of contenders. Luther’s widowed wife Bridget finally assumes her late husband’s most-coveted director’s chair, head of wardrobe Lorelei Fontaine is bitterly denied a role by Luther she was once promised, and original leading man Harry Kelly was summarily fired by Luther just upon arriving at Santa Fe.

Desperate to prove Gwen’s innocence, Maddie begins an investigation, but every clue reveals another motive - and could point to another murder - in A Moment in Crime, the second engaging whodunit in Amanda Allen’s enchanting Santa Fe Revival mysteries."

I love any book that looks at the seedy underbelly of Hollywood during the golden age of cinema! 

The Earl Ruined by Scarlett Peckham
Published by: NYLA
Publication Date: December 11th, 2018
Format: Kindle, 314 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"She’s beautiful, rich, and reckless...

When Lady Constance Stonewell accidentally ruins the Earl of Apthorp’s entire future with her gossip column, she does what any honorable young lady must: offer her hand in marriage. Or, at the very least, stage a whirlwind fake engagement to repair his reputation. Never mind that it means spending a month with the dullest man in England. Or the fact that he disapproves of everything she holds dear.

He’s supposedly the most boring politician in the House of Lords...

Julian Haywood, the Earl of Apthorp, is on the cusp of finally proving himself to be the man he’s always wanted to be when his future is destroyed in a single afternoon. When the woman he’s secretly in love with confesses she’s at fault, it isn’t just his life that is shattered: it’s his heart.

They have a month to clear his name and convince society they are madly in love...

But when Constance discovers her faux-intended is decidedly more than meets the eye - not to mention adept at shocking forms of wickedness - she finds herself falling for him.

There’s only one problem: he can’t forgive her for breaking his heart."

I love a good opposites attract story, throw in the fact that the Lady is the one ruining reputations and I'm sold.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Book Review - Daphne Du Maurier's The Rebecca Notebook

The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1981
Format: Paperback, 180 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

From first hearing of the abandoned estate to several failed attempts to finally glimpse the house, Menabilly captured Daphne's imagination. She would eventually sit for hours on the lawn, gazing at the boarded up house imagining what once was and what ghosts might lurk there still. The seeds for Rebecca were thus planted and came to fruition years later while stationed with her husband in Cairo. She mapped out her story, staring an unnamed heroine and her husband Henry and the ghost of his dead wife haunting them still. Du Maurier was inspired by Cornwall and Menabilly, but her inspiration came from her family as well. The lauded author and grandfather she never knew, George Du Maurier, to her father, the famous stage actor, Sir Gerald Du Maurier, to her "uncle" J.M. Barrie. She was surrounded by artistic genius and it almost seemed predestined that she would make a name for herself in her own right. But seeing her name in lights? That was a humbling experience for the author. She longed for the days when authors would disappear behind their work and let it speak for itself. Yet, if called upon to give her opinion, despite her caustic wit tearing other authors to shreds for doing so, she would give it, without censor. Daphne Du Maurier might be remembered most for Rebecca, but that's not all she was.

Years ago, when I rediscovered Daphne Du Maurier by stumbling on a hoard of books at my local used bookstore I took to the Internet to see what other works she had written that were no longer in wide release, especially in the United States. That is when I first heard of The Rebecca Notebook. Not only is Rebecca the seminal work of Du Maurier, but one of my most favorite books ever. Therefore I needed The Rebecca Notebook to get further insight into Du Maurier's masterpiece and was willing to pay the exorbitant shipping from England in order to learn more about one of my favorite books. So was it worth it? Yes and no. There are insights to be learned but with the "other memories" there is a lot of filler, which is saying something as this slim volume is only 180 pages. I felt that seeing as Du Maurier cherry-picked essays from her back catalog she should have stuck with pieces relating to Cornwall and the house that inspired Manderley, as "The House of Secrets" is a wonderful little piece showing the genesis of Rebecca and has the lyricism of her fiction, which is sadly absent in her non-fiction, making it clunky and often painful to read.

As for "The Rebecca Notebook" itself? It's interesting to see how she plotted her writing chapter by chapter, showing what big reveals needed to happen when with snatches of dialogue she had hoped to use. Yet at the same time I feel this only truly interesting to writers or lawyers. Why lawyers? Because Rebecca was at the heart of a plagiarism case and "The Rebecca Notebook" was brought forward as evidence for the defense. This fact makes me leery of the veracity of the notebook. I don't doubt that Du Maurier wrote Rebecca and it was all her own creation, but I do doubt the notebook... it's a bit too convenient to have a chapter by chapter breakdown of the book being questioned. Yes, it could be real, but it could also be fabricated. I know this might seem very cynical of me, but Du Maurier was talented but also, as evidenced in her writing, she was devious. So it's more a compliment then a criticism to say that she fabricated this entire notebook just to win a court case. As for the book that supposedly was similar to Rebecca? Edwina L. MacDonald's Blind Windows? I'd really like to get my hands on a copy to see for myself the similarities but the book is lost to the mists of time.

Yet for how technical "The Rebecca Notebook" is and how depressing Rebecca's original "Epilogue" with the second Mrs. de Winter and Maxim, originally called Henry, were disfigured by a car accident, there was a very interesting reveal. Between these two pieces you see that Du Maurier had originally planned Mrs. Danvers to be insignificant. She is almost irrelevant until they need her to dig out Rebecca's planner and show that Rebecca had an appointment in London on the day she died leading to the reveal that Rebecca was dying and her greatest fear was pain. While this is very important to the resolution of the story not having Mrs. Danvers looming over the second Mrs. de Winter the whole time makes Rebecca an entirely different book! That this mousy second wife would just accidentally choose the same portrait Rebecca did to emulate at the masquerade? That seems unlikely. To have Mrs. Danvers push here to do it? Evil genius! There's a reason Hitchcock took Mrs. Danvers even further to her fiery end, it's because he knew that she is the linchpin that holds Rebecca together. Of course I disagree with what he did, but that doesn't mean he wasn't right in the significance of this one character.

As for the filler that makes up the rest of The Rebecca Notebook? In my mind it's best avoided. It's not just the fact that Du Maurier isn't the best writer when it comes to nonfiction, it's that she sometimes reveals things you really didn't want to know. A theme she keeps returning to is her family, from the more direct tales about her grandfather and father, "The Young George du Maurier" and "The Matinee Idol" respectively, to her ideas on love and the importance of family in "Romantic Love" and even to what it is like to lose love in "Death and Widowhood." While she tries to paint it as a lovely family unit, it's really a fucked up family unit. Seeing as she views Emily Bronte dying months after her brother Branwell from a cold she caught at his funeral romantic and just, because obviously Emily couldn't live without her "genius" brother, an opinion only held by Du Maurier I might add, gives you a hint at where she's going. And yes, she's going straight towards incest. And it's interesting to point out here that the only time she refers to it directly and not obliquely she refers to it as something "denied to us." Like we'd all be clamoring like Lannisters if it wasn't a sin? Eww. Just no.

Even putting aside the whole yeah incest, she has a lot of politically incorrect views. Yes, you could say she's a product of her time, but her stance against religion would have been viewed divisive even in it's day. As for comparing the stigma of widowhood as similar to the oppression suffered by people of color, I'm going to pretend I never read that. It's just SO offensive I can't even and that's why I've now categorized her as one of my favorite authors with reservations. I have many authors on this list, Lewis Carroll is one because he was a pedophile. J.M. Barrie, interestingly enough the adoptive father of Daphne's cousins, is another pedophile. Daphne's cousin Michael Llewelyn Davies, the favorite of Barrie's, committed suicide, which should easily prove the whole pedophile charge to any doubters. But my problem is I had already read and fallen in love with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Rebecca long before I learned anything of these authors personal lives. And unlike authors like Orson Scott Card and the dog whistles peppered in his writing, these authors work stands apart. You wouldn't know anything about the ick factor of their lives unless you read up on them, or in the case of Du Maurier, read their non-fiction. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. But I prefer in the end to be an informed reader.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Book Review - Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1938
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and chain upon the gate... Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done."

As she looks back on the twists and turns that brought her to Manderley, the second Mrs. de Winter can't help but wonder how her life ended up as it did. She had resigned herself to an existence as a paid companion trailing behind whomever had hired her, the reprehensible Mrs. Van Hoppper being her employer at the beginning of her story. That all changed when Maxim de Winter entered her life in his fast car. He was in the south of France fleeing the memories of his dead wife Rebecca and the one thing that blotted her out was the young girl who would become his second wife. Yet perhaps their union was foolish, or Maxim's dream to return to Manderley was unwise. Because back in England their life is haunted by the memories of his first wife, Rebecca. The specter that is hallowed by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, and is a constant comparative presence for the new wife. Could Rebecca destroy their happiness from beyond the grave? Or will Rebecca need a little assistance from Mrs. Danvers?

When I was young my mother subscribed to The Franklin Library Mystery Masterpieces. Each month a new book would arrive and we'd set it in pride of place on our console bookshelf that housed our most prized possessions, this being the eighties it mainly housed records and our record player. The little nine year old that I was loved that each month another volume would come and expand the display on that orangey wood that just glowed with an inner light. Then one day The Franklin Library sent us the biggest box I had ever seen. They were discontinuing the Mystery Masterpieces and they sent us the remaining volumes all at once. At this time we probably had only ten volumes, so forty-two books showed up one day to our great astonishment and delight.

Until recently these books have been packed away as self space was scare; all but a few choice volumes which I had secreted away. When I was young I loved to spend time reading the spines and looking at the pictures and wondering what the books were about and making up my own stories, especially about The Thirty-Nine Steps, which really disappointed me when I found out what it was truly about. When they first arrived I was too young to read most of the titles, and when I was older I was too into movies to bother with books. That all changed. Obviously. But Rebecca, the movie, was like a gateway drug. I adored the film and then I looked on our shelf. There was Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, one of the first books we'd gotten in this series, after the obligatory Agatha Christie volume that is. This particular edition would make it's way into my library and my heart.

Rebecca is that rare book that cries out to be read and re-read over and over again, each time a different interpretation and meaning unearthed. The opening line that transports you, like a dream, to Manderley. You can get lost in the happy valley among the flowers and never want to return from those magical pages. But I don't think that you truly get the book's greatness without knowing the context of Du Maurier's world, mainly her obsession with the Brontes. This is much in the vein of why people don't realize the genius of Northanger Abbey, which is a parody of the Gothic genre, not "serious" like Austen's other books! Du Maurier's first book, The Loving Spirit, takes it's name from a poem by Emily Bronte. More then twenty years after writing Rebecca her misguided biography on Branwell Bronte was published and forever secured her connection to them. Therefore the echoes of Jane Eyre that haunt Rebecca should not be thought a surprise or the least bit unintentional. Du Maurier was writing a new classic that would pay homage to and reflect Jane Eyre. A Jane Eyre for modern sensibilities, if you will.

Just as Jamaica Inn is to Wuthering Heights, so is Rebecca to Jane Eyre, just look at the similarities. The naive young girl ready for love, the misanthropic hero, the crazy wife, the destructive fire. What amazes me is that if you look at just the building blocks of these two books they should be eerily similar, yet they aren't. Each book is a classic in it's own right, but the ghost of Jane Eyre isn't the only ghost that Rebecca tackles, after all there is Rebecca herself. While there is that chilling line delivered by Mrs. Danvers "Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?" What we think of as ghosts can take many forms. There are no spectral apparitions here, no things that go bump in the night, but that doesn't mean Rebecca doesn't haunt Manderley.

Rebecca recurs persistently in the consciousness of the second Mrs. de Winter causing her distress and anxiety, but she was also the bosom friend of Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers, more then anyone, works to keep Rebecca alive and in doing so makes her specter part of the foundation of Manderley itself. This is an interesting conceit on Du Maurier's part, because really, this is a ghost story without a ghost. The memory and emotion left behind is what haunts us, and if anyone could do this, it's Rebecca. As Captain Jack Harkness said on Torchwood, "Human emotion is energy. You can't always see it or hear it, but you can feel it. Ever had deja vu? Felt someone walk over your grave? Ever felt someone behind you in an empty room? Well there was. There always is."

Yet Rebecca isn't the only ghost. There's another person who haunts Manderley, she is always there, ever present, but in the shadow of Rebecca. I am of course talking about the second Mrs. de Winter. She is but mere shadow, a trace, a semblance of a person. She in fact has no name but that which Rebecca had, Mrs. de Winter. This is the most fascinating aspect of the book and many others have discussed it's importance, that the heroine has no name. One result of this namlessness is that she is a ghost, a cipher, a way to tell Rebecca's story through new eyes but without complicating the matter by creating a character with backbone.

Of course this is a two edged sword, on the one hand Du Maurier is pushing the second Mrs. de Winter into the background, but on the other hand by creating a blank slate, a character who has no real "character" we are able to put ourselves more easily into her shoes. This literary trick, I mean, really, I want to stand and applaud Du Maurier. By giving us this conduit there are so many ramifications to the narrative. By being one with the second Mrs. de Winter you therefore embrace Maxim, her husband, and therefore condone his actions. The genius of Rebecca is that Daphne Du Maurier has made you complicit in murder and you loved every second of it.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash
Published by: Ecco
Publication Date: December 4th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An evocative and wildly absorbing novel about the Winters, a family living in New York City’s famed Dakota apartment building in the year leading up to John Lennon’s assassination

It’s the fall of 1979 in New York City when twenty-three-year-old Anton Winter, back from the Peace Corps and on the mend from a nasty bout of malaria, returns to his childhood home in the Dakota. Anton’s father, the famous late-night host Buddy Winter, is there to greet him, himself recovering from a breakdown. Before long, Anton is swept up in an effort to reignite Buddy’s stalled career, a mission that takes him from the gritty streets of New York, to the slopes of the Lake Placid Olympics, to the Hollywood Hills, to the blue waters of the Bermuda Triangle, and brings him into close quarters with the likes of Johnny Carson, Ted and Joan Kennedy, and a seagoing John Lennon.

But the more Anton finds himself enmeshed in his father’s professional and spiritual reinvention, the more he questions his own path, and fissures in the Winter family begin to threaten their close bond. By turns hilarious and poignant, The Dakota Winters is a family saga, a page-turning social novel, and a tale of a critical moment in the history of New York City and the country at large."

I have been disappointed by so many "family sagas" this year that I'm banking on this book to reverse the trend!

Broken Ground by Val McDermid
Published by: Atlantic Monthly Press
Publication Date: December 4th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Internationally bestselling author Val McDermid is one of our finest crime writers, and her gripping, masterfully plotted novels have garnered millions of readers from around the globe. In Broken Ground, cold case detective Karen Pirie faces her hardest challenge yet.

Six feet under in a Highland peat bog lies Alice Somerville’s inheritance, buried by her grandfather at the end of World War II. But when Alice finally uncovers it, she finds an unwanted surprise―a body with a bullet hole between the eyes. Meanwhile, DCI Pirie is called in to unravel a case where nothing is quite as it seems. And as she gets closer to the truth, it becomes clear that not everyone shares her desire for justice. Or even the idea of what justice is.

An engrossing, twisty thriller, Broken Ground reaffirms Val McDermid’s place as one of the best crime writers of her generation."

Did we really need this book to reaffirm the awesomeness of Val McDermid? Personally I say no, but I like other people saying how awesome she is.

Murder at the Mill by M.B. Shaw
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: December 4th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A picture hides a thousand lies... And only Iris Grey can uncover the truth.

Iris Grey rents a quaint cottage in a picture-perfect Hampshire village, looking to escape from her crumbling marriage. She is drawn to the neighboring Wetherby family, and is commissioned to paint a portrait of Dominic Wetherby, a celebrated crime writer.

At the Wetherby's Christmas Eve party, the mulled wine is in full flow - but so are tensions and rivalries among the guests. On Christmas Day, the youngest member of the Wetherby family, Lorcan, finds a body in the water. A tragic accident? Or a deadly crime?

With the snow falling, Iris enters a world of village gossip, romantic intrigue, buried secrets, and murder."

Murder at the Mill is on point to be my favorite book this holiday season.

Bryant and May: Hall of Mirrors by Christopher Fowler
Published by: Bantam
Publication Date: December 4th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"London, 1969. With the Swinging Sixties under way, Detectives Arthur Bryant and John May find themselves caught in the middle of a good, old-fashioned manor house murder mystery.

Hard to believe, but even positively ancient sleuths like Bryant and May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit were young once...or at least younger. Flashback to London 1969: mods and dolly birds, sunburst minidresses - but how long would the party last?

After accidentally sinking a barge painted like the Yellow Submarine, Bryant and May are relegated to babysitting one Monty Hatton-Jones, the star prosecution witness in the trial of a disreputable developer whose prefabs are prone to collapse. The job for the demoted detectives? Keep the whistle-blower safe for one weekend.

The task proves unexpectedly challenging when their unruly charge insists on attending a party at the vast estate Tavistock Hall. With falling stone gryphons, secret passageways, rumors of a mythical beast, and an all-too-real dismembered corpse, the bedeviled policemen soon find themselves with “a proper country house murder” on their hands.

Trapped for the weekend, Bryant and May must sort the victims from the suspects, including a hippie heir, a blond nightclub singer, and Monty himself - and nobody is quite who he or she seems to be."

Yeah to a new Bryant and May! Boo to that cover. Seriously, this series used to have the best covers.

Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: December 4th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 912 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Dark secrets and forbidden love threaten the very survival of the Shadowhunters in Cassandra Clare’s Queen of Air and Darkness, the final novel in the #1 New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling The Dark Artifices trilogy. Queen of Air and Darkness is a Shadowhunters novel.

What if damnation is the price of true love?

Innocent blood has been spilled on the steps of the Council Hall, the sacred stronghold of the Shadowhunters. In the wake of the tragic death of Livia Blackthorn, the Clave teeters on the brink of civil war. One fragment of the Blackthorn family flees to Los Angeles, seeking to discover the source of the disease that is destroying the race of warlocks. Meanwhile, Julian and Emma take desperate measures to put their forbidden love aside and undertake a perilous mission to Faerie to retrieve the Black Volume of the Dead. What they find in the Courts is a secret that may tear the Shadow World asunder and open a dark path into a future they could never have imagined. Caught in a race against time, Emma and Julian must save the world of Shadowhunters before the deadly power of the parabatai curse destroys them and everyone they love."

Yes, I'm still rage reading this hack.

Death of an Eye by Dana Stabenow
Published by: Head of Zeus
Publication Date: December 4th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Alexandria, 47BCE: Cleopatra shares the throne with her brother Ptolemy under the auspices of Julius Caesar, by whom Cleopatra is heavily pregnant with child. A shipment of new coin meant to reset the shaky Egyptian economy has been stolen, the Queen’s Eye has been murdered and Queen Cleopatra turns to childhood friend Tetisheri to find the missing shipment and bring the murderer to justice."

Egyptian mystery? Can we say yas queen? 

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
Published by: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Publication Date: December 4th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? These questions have many answers, some of them quite dark indeed.

Those who dwell on the river bank apply all their ingenuity to solving the puzzle of the girl who died and lived again, yet as the days pass the mystery only deepens. The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? And to whom does she belong? But answers proliferate nonetheless.

Three families are keen to claim her. A wealthy young mother knows the girl is her kidnapped daughter, missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret liaison, stand ready to welcome their granddaughter. The parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees in the child the image of her younger sister. But the return of a lost child is not without complications and no matter how heartbreaking the past losses, no matter how precious the child herself, this girl cannot be everyone’s. Each family has mysteries of its own, and many secrets must be revealed before the girl’s identity can be known.

Once Upon a River is a glorious tapestry of a book that combines folklore and science, magic and myth. Suspenseful, romantic, and richly atmospheric, the beginning of this novel will sweep you away on a powerful current of storytelling, transporting you through worlds both real and imagined, to the triumphant conclusion whose depths will continue to give up their treasures long after the last page is turned."

I don't know why I keep reading Diane Setterfield her books usually induce rage in me, either by obvious plot twists or nothing ever happening...

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