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...

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Du Maurier December

Yes, I know, Daphne Du Maurier is my go to for December, but this year I have even more reason to embrace her. This year marks the eightieth year since Rebecca first graced the world. Which means Du Maurier December is going to get even more oddly specific in that this month I am not just doing Du Maurier, I'm doing just Du Maurier's Rebecca! How can I make Rebecca last an entire month? Well I'm glad you asked! Between all the adaptations, and no I will not comment on the new Netflix one in production because Armie Hammer, add to the adaptations the book sequels and prequels and well, it's not surprising that I can fill an entire month. Plus, it's an excuse to read Rebecca again. Not that I ever need an excuse... But to think that before 1938 there wasn't a Rebecca to read? Perish the thought! I am just so grateful to have this book in my life that devoting a month on my blog is the least I can do. Figuring out how to stop Netflix, now that will be the next thing on my to do list... 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's Uneasy Lies the Crown

Uneasy Lies the Crown by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 30th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

The Queen is dead, long live Bertie? No matter how indomitable Emily thought the Queen or how hard the Queen fought against the inevitable by keeping her son out of politics, somehow Emily has to grasp the fact that Bertie is Bertie no more but Edward VII. But that is the least of Emily's worries at the moment and scandalizing her mother at the Queen's funeral is the one bright spot in her day. Colin was called away from the funeral luncheon to the Tower of London due to a murder and Emily, as is her wont, followed. A body had been found in the room where Henry VI was murdered. The dead man staged to look like the long dead king with a sword run through him and the costume to match. Colin thinks this is a threat to the new king and that the king's mother new it was coming. On her deathbed Queen Victoria gave Colin a letter with instructions, the last she would give him: Une sanz pluis. Sapere aude. "One and no more. Dare to know." He didn't even show Emily the note until after what they found in the Tower. Colin didn't want to betray the Queen's trust. But with the Queen dead and her son possibly in danger he knows he needs Emily's help.

There has also been another letter. And as much as Emily loves the idea of the Queen sending her husband mail from beyond the grave Colin assures Emily this isn't the case as neither note was written in the Queen's hand. The second note contained a map of the Tower of London and the drawing of a medieval lance. Was this note hinting at the murder? Is it a clue to another murder yet to come? When the body of a second victim turns up in Berkley Square murdered in the manner of Edward II, poker and all, it is clear that someone is sending a message, only Colin and Emily don't agree what that message is. Colin is convinced it is a clear and present danger to Bertie, while the more Emily digs into the lives of the victims themselves and not the way they were murdered she sees an entirely different picture. She thinks they are revenge killings. The first victim beat his wife, the second victim was a pimp who killed one of his girls who happened to have known the first victim's wife. All the couple know is that thanks to a local costume shop there are at least two more murders to come. Yet Colin's notes seem to have less and less to do with the murders and more to do with Henry V... could they be dealing with two disparate cases? And is Bertie even in danger?

There are as many different types of authors as there are book genres. There are the decent authors, you can enjoy their work but will probably never pick up another one of theirs. There are the bad authors, those whose books you want to fling across the room and are consumed by rage as you force yourself to finish. There are the really bad authors who make you so depressed you never want to read again and end up in the land of book melancholia. On the other end of the spectrum you have the good authors, the ones who you will always seek out their new book and make sure to read everything they have ever written. But then there is the rarest category of all, the great writers. Writers who you not only want to devour every word they have ever written but who inspire you. They make you want to read everything. They make you curious to know more. They make you have a voracious appetite that will never be satisfied to read and read. They open the world to you and you dive right in. I have always considered Tasha a good writer, but over her last few volumes, starting around The Adventuress and A Terrible Beauty I started to notice a shift. Tasha was bound for greatness and she has confirmed this with Uneasy Lies the Crown.

This volume just spoke to me on so many levels, but in particular I really connected to the glimpse of Colin's family history and how it connected to Henry V and Agincourt. I was so connected to Cecily Hargrave and her husband William that anyone that stood in their way I wanted to psychically harm. Especially the mean girl Cecily was staying with while her husband was off fighting in France. Right here, this shows Tasha's greatness. Not just in creating characters I love but in bringing history to life. My British history is pretty sketchy prior to the Wars of the Roses. It just happened that in undergrad the way they structured the British History classes meant that the first class was the Wars of the Roses up to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and then the Glorious Revolution up to the present day, but my teacher was sick a lot so we only got to the Boer War. What I knew about medieval England was what I gleaned from Art History and my own personal studies. Therefore this little slice of medieval life had me wanting to read anything I could on Henry V. I wanted to pull down all my Philippa Gregory books and go on a binge. Then I wanted to watch all the miniseries I could, from adaptations of The White Queen to watching Edward the King with Timothy West. I wanted to take everything British and ingest it via osmosis. I haven't felt this invigorated as a reader in years.

But for how British I feel there is one thing I will NEVER get about England, and that is their obsession with controlling France. In fact when did they finally stop calling the British Monarch the King/Queen of England and France? I think I have some studying to do on that... Trying to see this ongoing conflict from the English point of view you can see, they're a tiny island, they want all the land they can get, how else do you think they became an empire? But from the logical point of view, France is a different country just leave them alone. Back to the British POV, yes, they did control many countries in their Empire... but I just don't get it. I guess my thinking is just too modern. A country should be it's own thing. They can have connections and allegiances, but they shouldn't be controlled or governed by any outside force. I believe in autonomy. This is oddly still very relevant as England and Spain have just started negotiations about Gibraltar. And here's my opinion on that, why they hell does England even still have Gibraltar? That's just crazy. Gibraltar should either be it's own entity or part of Spain. I don't get that there should be any confusion over this. But then England has been holding onto the Falkland Islands forever with an iron grip. And this folks is why I never play Risk. I don't want world domination.

Though we are here in the waning days of the British Empire and their world domination in that we are no longer in the Victorian Age, we are now in the Edwardian Era. An era that captured the heart of us Americans because of Upstairs, Downstairs, as well as other PBS shows from the aforementioned Edward the King to the spin off series featuring Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry, Lillie, and even The Duchess of Duke Street. Americans, me included, became enamored with this era. But what I am most excited about currently is what this means for Emily. Queen Victoria, despite being a woman in power didn't believe in women having power. The most powerful hypocrite in the land, that's our Vicky! So while a man may be in charge of the country we are moving towards women's suffrage, we are moving towards more equality, we are moving towards Emily possibly being on more of an even footing with her husband as an agent of the crown in her own right. Possibly. What I love about Colin is while his work and society have never viewed his wife as his equal when it comes to his work, he has never taken that stance. He's always let Emily accompany him wherever his case might lead, from palaces to slums. But now with Bertie in charge? Those like this book's loathsome chauvinist Gale of Scotland Yard might have to eat their hat.

Yet for me, personally, such loyalty to a monarch is a little baffling. I think this has a lot to do with my disillusionment living in the United States at this moment in history. The whole "Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'" Yeah, that's not me. Yet it is Colin. The journey Colin takes through this narrative is fascinating. He was very devoted to Queen Victoria and has never had much of a favorable option of Bertie. But Bertie lived the life he was allowed to have so he will obviously be undergoing a seismic shift with the changing of the guard. Seeing him wonder if he even wants to stick around and continue as an agent of the crown is an interesting crisis of faith. Especially if Gale of Scotland Yard is in the mix. Comparing this crisis to his ancestor William who was a literal knight in shining armor on the battlefields of France is interesting. There's a connection down through the generations that doesn't just show the family's loyalty to the crown, but the chivalric instincts that make Colin such a good man and make him want to make his country, his world a better place. Colin is literally a modern day night. And you know what the thing is? We might all dream of a better world, a happily ever after with the person of our dreams, but the world, at this moment, needs men and women like Colin. Where's the armor when you need it?

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Story Review - Tasha Alexander's Amid the Winter's Snow

That Silent Night by Tasha Alexander
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Kindle, 71 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Colin has returned to Anglemore Park to spend the holidays with his family and eat his weight in mince pies. Of course nothing in Colin and Emily's life ever goes to plan, as is evidenced by the torch wielding villagers that have arrived at their door. Thankfully they are not about to be plunged into a Gothic drama as their butler Davis worried, because they are without pitchforks and have come for their liege's help. A dozen of the residents of Dunsford Vale, one of Anglemore Park's estate villages, are awkwardly seated in the cinnamon drawing room when they reveal that their problem is the arrival of a beast born out of local legend. Dunsford Vale is being plagued by a barghest. Emily almost laughs at the suggestion of the mythical monstrous black dog that folklore says heralds death and can be warded off with coffin nails. Seeing as she's only lived in Derbyshire for eight years her stance on the barghest is expected by the locals. What Emily doesn't expect is for Colin to believe them! He's an agent of the crown, a sensible man who has thrown all sense out the window. Could Colin be appeasing the villagers while planning on doing a proper investigation under the guise of a barghest hunt? As Emily and Colin dig deeper into the sightings, the missing food, the dead sheep, one person in the village seems more troubled by the beast than any other, the unfortunate Miss Fletcher. What could the beast have to do with Miss Fletcher? And can they solve the riddle of the barghest before Christmas so that things can get back to normal?

The second Davis asked if Emily and Colin were about to be plunged into a Gothic drama my first reaction was to snort with laughter, my second was to hope it was true. AND IT WAS! Not the ghostly Gothic in a foreign land, but the monstrous Gothic complete with a fainting heroine! It was Lady Emily does The Hound of the Baskervilles! Seeing as I revel in anything the slightest bit Gothic and I had literally just re-read The Hound of the Baskervilles for book club this mash-up was right up my alley! I can't believe I'd never heard of a barghest before as it fits neatly under the black spectral dog haunting that covers everything from the grim, made famous in my mind by Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, to the ghostly huntsman and his hounds who inspired Arthur Conan Doyle, to Yeth Hounds, a possibility that Emily's most astute son points out when no one has died from seeing the barghest. While I love all Emily's adventures I have become really invested in these Christmas tales. Tasha seems to free herself of all constraints and it's go big or go home time. The more absurd, the more fantastical the idea, the more humor, the more heart, the more holiday she is able to infuse it with. Missing jewels and Sebastian the gentleman thief baiting Emily's mother, a true ghost story, and now a spectral hound!?! When are these tales going to be collected in one volume that I can place on my bookshelf? I seriously need to know because these tales are the perfect concentration of everything I love most about Tasha's writing.

Though the true test of Tasha's writing is that she is able to create these characters we never want to let go. Every time I start one of her stories I hope my favorites will appear. I know it doesn't make sense to have Jeremy, Cecile, Margaret, Ivy, Davis, Nanny, the boys, and everyone else ever featured in every story, but that doesn't mean I don't hope for the revolving cast of characters to all appear at once. This attention to character is what makes Amid the Winter's Snow standout for me. The best stories, the best mysteries, in my mind are the ones where you could just hang out with the characters forever. Who cares if the culprit is caught so long as you are entertained by the inhabitants of the pages. This is why my most favorite British TV show of all time is Midsomer Murders. Yes, it strains credulity that they still have any population after all the murders and murderers in their midst. But all these quaintly named little towns are peopled with the most eccentric folks. That is how I felt about Dunsford Vale! This was like a turn of the century Badger's Drift haunted by a hound! The little old lady who cursed the hound away, the young girl who lost her fiance but still found solace in baking for the town, the sheep farmer who was willing to admit his sheep might have just wandered away instead of falling victim to a barghest, the shopkeeper who is viewed as an outsider because he moved to town at three months old. I felt intrigued and invested in each and every one of these characters. Of course now I'm going to want them to come back... damn, it's a double-edged sword falling in love with Tasha's characters...

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