Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, June 29, 2015

Making mental vacation plans with some July & August reads

With the Fourth of July weekend heading our way, some serious summer reading is in order and yes, serious fun is definitely allowed. A good mix of sheer entertainment with smartly savvy subject matter makes for a most agreeable creative cocktail suited for any imaginative palate.

The books that I am highlighting for the months of July and August may not appear to be action packed fare but you should find at least a couple of them worthy of stimulating your entertainment senses. After all, even superheroes and action adventure types do need to take a break every now and then, so I wouldn't be surprised to see some of these upcoming titles in their hands:

THE SEASON OF THE FINCH: The most anticipated read of this summer is the rediscovery of Harper Lee's first novel, Go Set A Watchman, that follows an adult Scout back to her hometown of Maycomb as the civil rights movement is getting under way.

Revisiting these characters is a true delight for fans of the original book yet also sadly timely as well, due to the recent headlines regarding that subject that we've been seeing and experiencing this year.

Perhaps the finding of this thought to be lost forever manuscript was well timed in a way, as the lessons of To Kill A Mockingbird seem to be ripe for renewal(July 14):

LADIES ON THE EMOTIONAL MOVE: Author Lauren Baratz-Logsted showcases the true meaning of family ties in her upcoming novel,The Sisters Club, as the story revolves around four women who find the one thing they have in common is their troubling sibling relationships.

Diana first starts the group as a way to talk to someone about her marriage troubles as her own sister is literally an ocean away. She is joined by Cindy, Lise and Sylvia, who think they're joining a book club at first but their mutual connection forms as they all talk about their own sisters, some of whom are lost to chronic illness or just emotionally distant.

This may sound like a sad story but any tale that holds up the power of group support like this does offer a special brand of heartfelt joy that may be sorely needed now(August).

In The Woman Who Stole My Life, Marian Keyes introduces us to Stella Sweeney, a hairdresser recovering from a paralyzing illness who learns that her identity has been hijacked in a way.

Turns out her doctor has published a bestselling memoir about taking care of her, giving the public a very different idea of what Stella is truly like. While she struggles to straighten out the details of her real life and  see if this new version of her can help with that, Stella finds herself attracted to the one man she really should be angry with.

The novels of Marian Keyes do fit into beach reading fare but don't underestimate the clever nature of her heroines and the snappy attitudes they form while taking on personal challenges there(July):

 READING IS FUN-DAMENTAL: A good way to catch up on the classics is by taking Thug Notes with Professor Sparky Sweets, who offers up a street savvy twist on such titles as Hamlet, To Kill a Mockingbird and Pride & Prejudice.

Based on the popular web series, this book not only gives you a humorous breakdown of the plots,it also has witty insights into the themes of each work and thought provoking discussion on character motivation and symbolism. Yes, this is hilarious food for thought and a feast for the eyes as well with illustrations that capture the unique look of the videos.

The book will be out in time for back to schoolers and old school readers alike, so sign up for a course in Street Smart Scholarly Reading today! (August):

 HARDCORE HEROINES OF HISTORY: A rising name in historical fiction these days is Paula McLain, who follows up on her well received novel The Paris Wife with a look at independent spirit Beryl Markham in Circling The Sun.

Markham was an adventurer and aviator, whose circle of friends in British controlled Kenya in the 1920s included Karen Blixen(who she fell into a love triangle with), and despite the dictates of society, went about her life pursuits with an open zest and flair.

While not an actual biography, McLain's novel should have a hearty enough blend of fact and fiction to supply a satisfying brew of story telling tea(July):

With her Cousin's War series complete, Philippa Gregory heads back into Tudor country with The Taming of the Queen, the lady in question being the final bride of Henry the Eighth.

Kateryn Parr knows the risks of being Henry's queen, particularly since her predecessor barely lasted sixteen months and the one before her less than half a year. However, she can not refuse to marry him under true pain of death.

She does hope to use her new found position of power to help the Protestants, who are persecuted by the old guard power brokers. That comes with an even greater risk as a charge of heresy could easily lead to being burned at the stake. Kateryn must learn how to delicately make her way upon this treacherous ground without losing her determination to do what she believes is right.

Gregory is at her best when taking up her pen about the Tudors and this new addition to her body of work ought to be engagingly good(August):

AN UNLIKELY PARTNERSHIP: In Lissa Evans' Crooked Heart, a pair of mismatched schemers find a way to make things work out for them in the turbulent days of WWII London.

Ten year old Noel is placed with widow Vera, due to his grandmother Mattie no longer being able to care for him. Vera is willing to have him, as his limping gait could be useful in promoting her schemes to bilk as much charity money as possible from folks eager to aid war victims.

Noel, however, is no easy mark and is only willing to help if he is taken on as an equal partner. Vera resists but soon sees that the boy's ideas are pure gold and their profit margin grows. When an even more dangerous band of exploiters threaten their ill gotten gains, Noel and Vera must form an even stronger front to protect what little they do have.

This dark comedy is already being compared to the modern classic Paper Moon and if it's as half as smart and lively as that movie, we have a real literary treat in store for us this summer(July):

I hope everyone has a happy Independence Day and an agreeable summer, with plenty of time in the shade to enjoy a good book or two. There will be plenty of viable options for entertainment as the heat moves in but selecting just the right amount of relaxing reads should keep your TBR from becoming a riot of books:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Poldark begins, A Deadly Adoption amuses and Food Network Star tries to get trendy

The summer TV season started off well as the new edition of Poldark aired the first of it's seven part series on PBS. Our leading man Ross(played by Aidan Turner, who I fondly remember as the vampire from BBC's Being Human) has a lot on his plate as he arrives home in Cornwell after his soldiering duties are done.

Not only is his father dead, the estate is in huge debt and the land gone to rack and ruin. To top off that sundae of suffering, the woman he loves is set to marry his cousin Francis-yep, plenty to sing the blues about for our man Poldark!

However, he does some allies such as the former tenants of his father who are happy to lend a helping hand(or fist) as well as his cousin Verity(who I think has a little crush on him). Unlike his uncle, who would be happy to send Poldark to London or anywhere else and is a little too willing to pay for that privilege.

Despite his many good reasons to leave, he decides to stay with one of those motivating factors being Demelza, a young woman seeking a better life away from her abusive family, who he hires on as a kitchen maid. The set up is very promising and the visuals alone are enticing enough to tune in for yet it's the story that will keep us all coming back for more:

The big viewing party this past weekend was held in dubious honor of the Lifetime movie A Deadly Adoption starring Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig and yes, the two well known comedians played it straight for the most part.

It was the typical over the top "based on a true story" flick that this channel excels at, with a few extra special touches such as a financial advice author holding book signings in a bar surrounded by groupies,  a seemingly sweet schemer turning into an evil Hot Topic clad psycho in a blink of an eye and a grumpy boyfriend who takes the Willy Wonka approach to dealing with a diabetic hostage.

Yep, it was totally cray but a whole lot of melodramatic fun(too many commercials dragged out the running time there,Lifetime-what was up with that?) for all involved. You have to give credit to both Ferrell and Wiig there for daring to make their low budget/bad acting fantasy come true in such an entertaining way:

On Food Network Star this week, the theme was all about current food trends that involve intense flavor. The culinary contenders were split into two groups(guys vs. gals) to create a five course meal that showcased such tastes as slimy, stinky, fiery, burnt and raw.

While neither team was a clear winner, one person was definitely chosen to go home and that was Sita. She's a real sweetheart but her dish didn't have enough of the stank required for the challenge. Sita was sent to go last time but fortunately Matthew's smirk saved the day for her. Alas, not this time!:


CUTTHROAT KITCHEN: A new season is going strong and just when you think they can't do anything more crazy, Alton whips out something even more fiendish than before. This last episode, one chef had to make waffle batter in a saxophone while another had to cook over a kid's model of a volcano! What will they think of next, seriously?:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ana of California gives us a modern heroine in the grand Green Gables tradition

Andi Teran's debut novel, Ana of California, is intended to be a new spin on Lucy Maud Montgomery's iconic tale of feisty orphan Anne Shirley of Green Gables, a book and series that I know about yet have never read.

However, that didn't stop me from being fully engaged with her modern day incarnation. Ana Cortez has been in numerous foster homes,following the death of her parents and her grandmother, and has once again been kicked out of a home for all the wrong reasons.

To keep her out of a group home, her social worker suggests that Ana sign up for a trial period as a farm worker in the small town of Hadley. If she does get to stay beyond that initial try-out and do well enough there, Ana may be able to qualify for self emancipation as soon as she turns sixteen(which is not that far off). Despite being a city girl, Ana is more than willing to give a whole new situation like this a fair shot:

While Ana struggles to keep her outspoken nature in check, she can't help but connect to some of the new people in her life at Garber Farms, run by brother and sister Abbie and Emmett.

Despite Emmett's reluctance to open to anyone,let alone Ana, they do have something in common; an appreciation of music. Ana is able to both enjoy Neil Young along with Emmet and a band like The Hex, an all female rock group, with local girl Rye Moon, who is very much an outsider like Ana but in her own way.

Ana does her best at work and then later school yet a myriad of misunderstandings crop up at every other turn. One of those misunderstandings involves Cole, a guy near her age with a troubled past and complicated present. Despite their romantic reluctance, music is again another bond that draws them together:

Part of Ana's problem is that she doesn't know all of the back stories behind Cole's troubles as well as how they tie into Emmet's wife leaving him. At the same time, most of the others around her don't know all of the traumas of Ana's past, some of which threaten to haunt her future.

Nevertheless, Ana's innate generous spirit and artistic talents do open a number of doors to opportunity for her. The true question is, will she feel confident enough in her choices to find the ones right for her?

This book has an easy open charm to it, making you invest in Ana's world right off the bat. One of it's strengths is that the character canvas is spread wide enough to include most of the town of Hadley's residents, such as Will, the new restaurant owner who takes an interest in Abbie's cooking and Ms. Minerva Shaw, the owner of "Monarch Mansion" who gets off on the wrong foot with Ana rather quickly. The small town feel of Hadley is as just as much of a character as Ana or any of the other folks she encounters on this literary journey:

 The whole atmosphere that author Andi Teran creates here combines a snappy modern retelling with classic highlights  that blend harmoniously together in a scrumptious story telling soup that nourishes your soul.

The beauty of a new take on a familiar tale like is the creativity which invites both newcomers and diehard fans into the fold. I for one am definitely inspired to check out the original series as well as hope that this will not be the last we see of Ana Cortez and company.

Ana of California is available in paperback and will be released on June 30, in plenty of time to add to your growing beach bag of reading goodness.  I also hope that this version of Anne Shirley becomes a wonderful movie or TV adaptation, as such a lively young woman has a timeless appeal to readers of more than one generation:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Some GOT finale thoughts,a preview of Poldark and Food Network Star's smart choice

There were many folks upset by the events on the fifth season finale of Game of Thrones, mainly the departure of Jon Snow. While I did know that was coming, the question of whether or not he will be brought back to life via magic was left just as uncertain in the book as it was for the viewing audience.

Since Kit Harrington has said he's not returning to the show, this does look like the end and if so, we'll just carry on from there. After all, this is one show that holds true to the promise of "anyone can die at anytime."(as long as Dany,Tyrion and Arya,who *spoiler alert* will recover from her blindness, are still in play, I'm not leaving my Westeros post).

What I will get into is Cersei's walk of shame, her punishment at the hands of the High Sparrow and his Militant Faithful. Kudos to Lena Headey for turning this  harrowing scene into an award winning performance(hello,Emmy people, take notice!).

 The downfall of this most vicious of schemers in the Seven Kingdoms is one that many have been long waiting for and yet, some find this public humiliation to be another setback for female characters here. Yes, even someone like Cersei does deserve some modicum of dignity despite her various crimes but do keep in mind, folks, that the reason she put the High Sparrow in power to begin with was to take down her daughter in law Margery(who was arrested first).

Let's talk true here: if it was Margery who was sentenced to this "atonement", do you think that Cersei would feel an ounce of pity or try to help her in any way? Hell,no! She'd be smirking on the sidelines as the citizens of King's Landing jeered and pelted her with refuse. Therefore, Cersei took on a punishment that was intended for her enemy all along.  So, my sympathies are rather limited for her.

I have no doubt that this struggle for control between the remnants of the Lannister clan(RIP Myrcella) and the High Sparrow will carry on in both the show and the books and that Cersei will find a way to get her revenge for this incident, one way or another:

It's interesting to note that the book readers and TV-only viewers of GOT are both up to speed(and a little ahead of the story as well) here by now.

 That means all of us will have to wait and see what happens next as season sixth holds many questions such as "What happens now for Sansa and Reek?" and "What will Brienne of Tarth do now that she's had her revenge on Stannis?"(that was a good moment!) and best of all, "Will Dany have a Dothraki army to take back to Meereen to claim her other two dragons?" I so want to see that happen!:

Often on competition shows like Food Network Star, you get a contestant who loves to act the villain or the fool and in the case of Matthew, it was one and the same.

This arrogant culinary contender was quick to make a bad impression on everyone, with his rambling presentations, rude comments about others and childish pouting over judges' critiques.

It wasn't a surprise to see him up for elimination yet again on the second episode but it was a pleasant surprise to see Giada have a last minute change of heart and send him home. Both Bobby Flay and Alex Guarnacelli(who Matthew thought to compliment by calling her "a beast" to her face) wanted him out of there but Giada was willing to give him another chance.

The obvious smirk on Matthew's face as one of the other Bottom Three was about to be sent packing made her switch her vote and thank you, Giada, for that! Jerks do pop up in shows like this but we do not need to suffer them throughout an entire season:

As the Sunday night line-up is about to change, I'm happy to have Poldark to look forward to on PBS, starting this upcoming weekend. To whet our appetites, two scenes from episode one are now available for viewing and this one shows our hero returning home to a less than warm welcome from some of his nearest and dearest:

The next one has Ross Poldark chatting with his uncle, who is way too eager to encourage his nephew to seek his fortunes elsewhere.

I have to say that Aidan Turner(Poldark) is rather easy on the eyes and the whole look and feel of these scenes has that tasty authentic period vibe that invites my historical fiction sensibilities right in for a right good time. I plan to read the first two books in the Winston Groom series that this is based upon and which you will be hearing more about very soon. For now, let us delight in the company of such a fine fellow as Poldark seems to be:


BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: ABC Family will be airing reruns of the iconic series(and yes, Dawson's Creek as well) by next week and if you want to enjoy some old school fun while school is not in session, stop by Sunnydale High for a frightfully good time:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Taking a summer stroll with Daniel Deronda on The Road of Rereading

One of the goals of summer reading is to catch up on the classics,especially the lengthy ones. The next selection in my Road of Rereading line-up does meet that standard as George Eliot's Daniel Deronda is at least eight hundred pages(not counting the introduction and notes,of course) and is a notable novel in the author's body of work.

When I first read it, I didn't know that Deronda was the last completed novel by George Eliot who died in 1880, four years after the book's release. This isn't the first time I've began a writer's canon by starting at the end; my first Jane Austen read was Persuasion, who much like Daniel Deronda, was a title over looked for many years and shows the maturity of the author's style.

 Not every literary finale has that distinction but it's funny how George Eliot and Jane Austen were both able to engage my interest with their last words, so to speak:

The plot of Deronda is divided between the title character and a young woman he first sees at a gambling table, Gwendolen Harleth. As Gwendolen discovers the true price to be paid by marrying for money, Daniel's encounter with a suicidal singer leads him to the truth about his parentage and his Jewish ancestry.

That part of the book fascinated me, as the literature of the Victorian era rarely, if at all, talked about religions other than Christianity in a positive manner. The vast majority of Jewish characters were blatant stereotypes, the prime example being Fagin from Oliver Twist(for which Charles Dickens apologized for later in life).

It turns out that Eliot's goal was to do for Jewish people in Britain what Harriet Beecher Stowe did with Uncle Tom's Cabin in America(the two of them corresponded at one point), challenge the prejudices of society to advocate for change. Granted, some felt that the book promoted Zionism while others felt that  having two separate novels(one spotlighting Gwendolen, the other Deronda) would have been better.

Still, I give George Eliot credit for daring to take on the topic and offering at least a more well intentioned look at the lives of Jewish people during that time period, other than Fagin:

What will be a challenge for me is that I happen to be reading Middlemarch, Eliot's best known work, just as I'm about to start up with Deronda(and yes, I've read Silas Marner).

Middlemarch is part of my personal Morning Reads program, where  I read at least two pages of a classic book(sometimes more but never less) each morning without fail. This plan has helped me clear up some space on my classic books TBR pile, particularly Les Miserables, and yet reading two works by the same writer at the same time is a little unnerving there.

How will my appreciation of Eliot's work be affected by this double dip? Well, I am more than half way into Middlemarch by now, at the part where the consequences of the death of Dorothea's husband are starting to sink in(that guy was such a pompous jerk!) and since Deronda is a book that I can read at any time of the day and night, this might not be as tough going as I feared:

Before summer is over, I will also be viewing the 2002 adaptation written by Andrew Davies that stars Hugh Dancy, Romola Garai, Jodhi May and Hugh Bonneville(yep, Downton Abbey fans, Lord Grantham is in the building!).

I did see this mini series when it originally aired(even got to ask Andrew Davies about it during my trip to Jane Austen country the year before) and it's a great production. This happens to be the third adaptation of Deronda, with the first being a silent film in 1921 and the other a mini series that debuted on British TV in 1970.

Since those earlier films are hard to find, I will be happy to dive into Davies' version yet again. How Daniel Deronda will now look to me after all this time(and along side Middlemarch) is still uncertain but no doubt, my mental appetite should be keenly whetted by such an engaging feast of words and emotions this summer season:

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Road of Rereading stops for a Far From The Madding Crowd double feature

To finish up this section of my Road to Rereading that took me Far From The Madding Crowd with Thomas Hardy, I watched a pair of adaptations that do diverge on their pop culture paths from the original story.

First up was the 1967 John Schlesinger directed film, starring Julie Christie as Bathsheba with the likes of Alan Bates(Gabriel Oak), Peter Finch(Boldwood) and Terence Stamp(Sgt. Troy) as her would be lovers.

 The movie was shot in England and did very well financially over there yet it was a flop in the US. I suspect that audiences were expecting a hot and heavy roll in the hay kind of film(the movie posters certainly try to sell it that way) and what they got was a three hour story that doesn't flash even a little bit of skin(although that sword play scene is rather sexy in a strange scary way).

That's a good thing, as the plot does stick pretty close to the book although it does lean hard on it's picturesque setting at times. The visuals are excellent, making you feel as if you're peeking into an actual long ago world, with the rough and tumble grittiness of country life so real you can almost feel the dirt and rain.

Julie Christie does make a lively Bathsheba and you can see why so many men are willing to flock around her  for even the slightest chance at her affections. Her male co-stars are in fine form here as well, with Stamp making quite the sensual presence as Troy.

If you're only seen him as General Zod in Superman II, this performance will not only change your perception of him, it will impress you greatly indeed. Yes, Troy is an utter cad yet Stamp manages to make him more than just a slick charmer.

 For example, the depth of emotion that his character has to showcase during the demise of Fanny Robin comes across so well, with the sadly distant look in his eyes along with his body language saying all the things that Troy can't or won't say about his pain,  Stamp displays all of that inner turmoil so vibrantly, making this disreputable fellow sympathetic as well as a  brilliant sight to behold:

The worst that I can say about this version of FFTMC is that the pacing of the film does slog at times. The full weight of that running time bears down hard upon you around the midway mark, making this experience more of a struggle than it should be. Possibly another reason that the movie didn't do well in America but then again, US audiences were no strangers to lengthy cinematic story telling back then.

This version of Far From The Madding Crowd was recently re-released in England, due to a restoration that brings it's visual beauty back to full blooming life. I'm not sure if this newly retouched edition will be available in the US but the movie is definitely worth seeing in any form.

Just be prepared for a long haul with plenty of popcorn and allow yourself to savor this rich feast for the eyes and soul:

 Tamara Drewe is inspired by Far From The Madding Crowd via a graphic novel by Posey Simmonds(which first started as a comic strip) and was made into a 2010 film directed by Stephen Frears.

Gemma Atherton plays our leading lady, a young woman who returns to her remote home town in the English country side to unload the house she's inherited from her deceased mother. Due to a nose job, Tamara is nearly unrecognizable at first yet everyone is suddenly impressed with her charms.

During her time there, Tamara runs into three men very interested in her, Andy(Luke Evans), Nicholas Hardiment(Roger Allam) and Ben Sergeant(Dominic Cooper). Andy's family once owned the house that Tamara  now has claim to and they did have a brief fling during their teen years. Nicholas and his long suffering wife Beth(Tamsin Greig) run a writer's retreat and Ben is a disgruntled drummer recently kicked out of his band.

While there are obvious connections to the Hardy novel(one of the writers at the retreat is a Hardy scholar), the story is not constricted by that and takes several creative turns in the comedic zone here.

With a pair of local girls eagerly spying on rock star Ben and Tamara, a budding romance between the constantly cheated on Beth and her new friend Glen, the Hardy researcher(who is one of the most likable characters here) and Tamara making more than one wrong turn in love, one of which includes the obnoxious Nicholas as her temporary lover(in her eyes, at least), the film is an amusing comedy of errors.

Particularly if you enjoy English humor and yes, it can be broad at times yet your interest never drops from any of the intersecting story lines for a moment. I do like the chemistry between Atherton and Evans, as their characters are reluctant to connect and yet they can't help clashing at just the wrong times:

I haven't read the graphic novel but even if you haven't read that or Far From the Madding Crowd, I do think that this movie is still fine fun to watch.

 I did find it helpful to have at least read FFTMC in order to get why certain things happened the way they did(the shooting of a dog, for one) but that should not deter anyone with a taste for British comedy from checking this out.

Also, book lovers will enjoy this movie as it does have a lot of good zingers about literary affectations, with Nicholas as a commercially successful mystery writer sounding off advice that Glen quietly punches holes through.  In addition, the two bored teenage girls Jody and Casey(Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie) who cause more havoc than they realize are a delight. So much goodness abounds in Tamara Drewe, it's hard to contain my joy!:

 My time with Hardy was well spent but now I must focus on my summer outing on the Road to Rereading as George Eliot's Daniel Deronda is next in line. More about that soon, perhaps later this week as such an intriguing gentleman's company must be thoughtfully prepared for:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A deadly dance of dragons on GOT, iZombie fullthrottle finale and waiting for Poldark on PBS

Much happened on the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, including an event that was shocking even to book readers,  and the end piece was a great expectation fulfilled.

Dany flying off on the back of her dragon Drogon upon being sneak attacked by the Sons of the Harpy was a sight worth seeing, as well as Jorah and Tyrion teaming up with the rest of her crew to battle against the enemy within.

Yes, it was set up different from the books but not by much and having the Mother of Dragons reconnect with her out of the nest serpentine son was actually touching. Too bad certain other parents in this realm don't share her protective instincts:

Speaking of that, we get to the most horrific scene that shocked us all. The sacrifice by fire of Shireen is something that has not yet occurred in the books(apparently, it will happen in one of the next two volumes) and the sheer agony of that rocked many fans greatly indeed.

I know that some folks are saying that this depiction of Stannis's role here(due in part to an excerpt from The Winds of Winter) in this gruesome murder is unfair but I disagree for two reasons: 1) GRRM approved of this addition to the current story line and 2) Stannis has proven himself to be a ruthless son of a bitch empowered in his entitlement by the religious fervor and magic of Melisandre.

 Let's be honest,my fellow fans-this is the same man who had his younger brother murdered by magic in order to clear his own path towards the Iron Throne. Not to mention being willing to torture other relations in order to fuel Melisandre's fire(I so hate that witch and don't think that she's not angling to be Stannis' queen at some point).

 Granted, Renly knew what he was in for in making his own claims to the kingdoms there  but that still wasn't the right or the honorable way to deal with that.  This is all about Stannis' ego, particularly since it was his younger brother Robert who took the Iron Throne in the first place and his first born son privilege was pretty much revoked.

Stannis may feel sorry for doing what he believes is his "destiny" but if I was one of his soldiers, I would be forming a rebellion. Any leader that demands your loyalty ought to protect his people and lands the same way that he/she would protect their own family and if this is what Stannis does to his blood kin, why should anyone follow him anywhere? I never felt that he was the right person to take the Iron Throne and this certainly cements my conviction there as solid as a rock.

With the finale this upcoming Sunday, we should see what comes of this brutal sacrifice and I for one hope that Brienne of Tarth is able to have one good day by getting her chance at regal revenge:

The first season of iZombie wrapped up this week and there were more twists and turns than a roller coaster as the bad guys at Max Rager are looking to up their power drink game, Major finally getting to kick ass(nice touch, having "Der Commissar" as the back ground track for that!) and Liv having to make a lot of hard choices, particularly about Blaine and the cure.

That cure is pretty much the Holy Grail and the Siege Perilous for Liv, as she so wants to return to the land of the living yet the consequences of using it in such an untested and limited amount open up so many doors of dire decision making.

While she has tried to make the best of her extremely bad situation, Liv has to deal with the fact that this dilemma is far greater in scope than herself. She did,of course, see that by the end yet her final choice was a truly harsh one. However, it was the right call to make:

Overall, Liv is in for much more misery and maybe some moments of mirth when season two rolls around and I shall be definitely tuning in for that. If nothing else, this series proves that zombies can be something other than walking menaces and I might give the comics a try as well:

With so many show ending right now, it's good to have some fresh(or refreshed, in this case)fare to look forward to.

Starting on June 21, PBS will air a new mini series version of Poldark, based upon the novels of Winston Graham that were adapted for an earlier BBC/Masterpiece series during the 1970s.

The set-up of the story has our leading man(Aidan Turner) coming home to Cornwell in 1783 to find that his father's estate has fallen into disrepair and the woman he loves is about to marry another man.While trying to get his affairs in order, Poldark sees injustices all around him and steps in when need be, making a good number of friends and foes as he does so.

As someone new to the Poldark experience, this looks like a lot of fun and I think that fans of Jane Austen and Outlander will find this to be rather pleasing summer entertainment. Not to mention a whole new slew of books to explore(more on that soon, stay tuned!):


FOOD NETWORK STAR: One episode in and I already have a contender that I want to see gone. Matthew's obnoxious attitude raises arrogance to a new level and makes me want to hashtag him the hell out of here:

Monday, June 08, 2015

The Road of Rereading takes us Far From The Madding Crowd yet close to Jane Austen country

While getting reacquainted with Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd on my Road of Rereading this spring, I couldn't help but notice a few of the story sign posts that pointed towards some familiar fictional terrritory.

Namely, the work of Jane Austen, who preferred to focus on "three or four families in a country village" and while this tale of Bathsheba Everdene and the men who adore her is not quite what Miss Austen had in mind,  I think she would have appreciated the solid pastoral tones of FFTMC.

She also might have spotted a few of the characters that have a great deal in common with the ones she created,although not as lively in nature, and applauded Thomas Hardy for his keen eye and in depth descriptions of country life.  To show you what I mean by comparing Austen to Hardy, let's look at Hardy's  four main characters  here to see their counterparts from the pages of our dear Jane:

Gabriel Oak: He's the first man in the book to fall for Bathsheba and manages to take her refusal of marriage well. The two of them even form a friendship of sorts, with Gabriel not hesitating to give her advice when needed or at times, unasked for.

The part where Gabriel calls Bathsheba out for sending a valentine to Mr. Boldwood(who we'll get to soon) without any serious intention of a romantic relationship, I was reminded of how Mr. Knightley in Emma often felt the same need to do so with Miss Woodhouse. Particularly when Emma goes out of her way to insult poor chatty Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic. In both situations, the argument leads to a temporary parting of the ways until circumstances bring them together again.

While Knightley and Emma have a much more family oriented connection between them than Bathsheba and Gabriel do, the same urge to set a beloved one straight about their careless behavior towards others is a trait that both Knightley and Oak share. If those two did meet, each would find the other a man of good common sense worth listening to:

Mr. Boldwood: This gentleman farmer of means has long resigned himself to bachelor hood until the arrival of a valentine's day card(with a wax seal that says "Marry Me" to boot) changes his whole life.

While Bathsheba didn't have any ill intentions in sending that note to him. the consequences were great indeed. Even with her out and out reluctance to accept his hand, Boldwood clings hard to the possibility that Bathsheba might be his wife one day. even after she takes up with Sergeant Troy. His die hard devotion is unnerving at times and doesn't end well.

Persistent yet pitiful suitors are more humorous in Austen's work, with Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice being the best known. In some ways, he shares a sense of entitlement towards his intended bride similar to Boldwood in that they are both considered "good catches" and well able to provide for their lady in question. The fact that the lady is in no doubt of how unsuitable such a marriage would be isn't a concern either one agrees with:

Sergeant Troy: This charming military man has a way with the ladies that borders on the indecent and Bathsheba is far from the first woman to be swayed by his sword slicing ways.

Unfortunately, his affections are rather fickle and that combined with a selfish streak a mile wide, Troy is a heartbreaking menace that leaves a passionate pile of misery in his wake. Now, Austen ladies have had their fair share of devious men in red coats such as P&P's Wickam and Henry Tilney's disreputable brother in Northanger Abbey.

Yet, even non- enlisted men can cause trouble as Marianne Dashwood discovers in Sense and Sensibility.  Her near death due to heartbreak and exposure to the elements upon discovering that her darling Willoughby married another woman for money(much like Troy did with Bathsheba) is close to the suffering that Fanny Robin,an earlier love of Troy's, went though.

Fortunately for Marrianne, she was able to recover from that illness and despair unlike poor Fanny did. Both Troy and Willoughby did regret leaving behind those former loves but that remorse did nothing to alleviate the pain that others were subjected to because of their actions:

Bathsheba Everdene: This vibrant heroine has a great deal in common with many of Austen's leading ladies. Like Emma, she has a stable financial status that doesn't require her to marry for money yet even when she wasn't, as Lizzie Bennet was in P&P, refuses to jump at the first offer made to her.

While Bathsheba's impulsive nature does lead her to take on Troy with bad consequences, both of the Dashwood sisters would have been able to console her. True, Bathsheba should have seen through Troy much sooner(and before they got married in the first place) but headstrong and heart smart don't always go together.

Bathsheba is more blunt in her speech than Lizzy Bennet yet they both would enjoy taking a good long walk out of doors to discuss their romantic situations as well as appreciate the beauty of nature around them.  Overall, Bathsheba can be a tough nut to crack yet in the end, she does so on her own terms which is why she's one of the most admirable fictional females in English literature:

The last lap on this part of the Road to Rereading will be a double movie review of the 1967 adaptation of FFTMC and a somewhat modern day take on the story in Tamera Drewe. While I may never feel the strong attachment to Thomas Hardy that I do for Jane Austen, it was good to see that Hardy's creation of a memorable couple such as Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene is a solid counterpart to the iconic pairings, such Lizzy and Darcy or Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth, that Austen has remained famous for:

Friday, June 05, 2015

Going to Broadway at the movies

The 69th annual Tony Awards is coming up this Sunday and while we don't have Neil Patrick Harris on board as host again, having Alan Cummings and Kristen Chenowith instead is not too shabby.

This particular awards show does well enough in the ratings but a lot of folks either don't tune in because seeing a Broadway show is nigh on impossible for them or just stick around for the big opening number,then change the channel.

Now, I have to admit that due to certain other programs on that evening(Game of Thrones in particular), I might only watch part of the show. Yet, I do like the art of theater very much and admire it's persistence in this era of digital effects and online productions. There's just something about the whole live performance experience that really reveals an actor's/actress' true talents as a performer, not to mention the creative leaps and bounds made by all involved behind the scenes.

With that in mind, I've put together a small list of recommended films about Broadway that give the viewer a back stage pass into the hearts and minds of those who are in this business that we call show:

ALL ABOUT EVE: This iconic film is best known for Bette Davis' powerhouse performance as the established theater star Margo Channing, whose spotlight is being slowly stolen by the seemingly sweet Eve Harrington(Anne Baxter), yet it's real strength is in the ensemble cast.

From Celeste Holm as Karen, Margo's best friend and wife of  prominent playwright Lloyd Richards to Thelma Ritter as wisecracking assistant Birdie and George Sanders as Addison De Witt, the sly theater critic(my favorite character), the combination of talents that click and crackle at just the right moments is riveting to watch. Almost like seeing a tennis match at times, with verbal lobs being served right and left there.

If you haven't seen this movie yet and are interested in theatrical arts, All About Eve is mandatory viewing, my friends. Not to mention great fun:

BIRDMAN: The current Best Picture winner owes a tip of the hat to All About Eve,in my opinion, as it also benefits from a strong ensemble cast and insider story line with it's harried look at the turmoil that takes place as faded film star Riggan Thompson(Michael Keaton) attempts a comeback by taking on a triple role as producer,writer and star of a serious Broadway play.

As a good friend of mine pointed out recently, this is not a movie to casually watch as the pacing of the scenes(which are virtually non-stop) and dialogue insist upon your full and complete attention. There's also a dose of surrealism thrown into the mix, as you're not quite sure if Riggan's perceptions are based in reality.

Yet, it's a trip worth taking as the rollicking rhythms of the story and characters compels you forward, like being caught up on a carnival ride during a wind storm. Whether or not it deserved Best Picture is debatable(haven't seen all of the nominated movies myself yet) but one thing that all can agree upon is that Birdman is quite the show stopper in the best sense of the term:

ALL THAT JAZZ: Legendary director/choreographer Bob Fosse tells an autobiographical/fictional version of his life in this story of Joe Gideon(Roy Scheider), who runs himself ragged between staging a new musical and editing a Hollywood film.

That frantic pace is made worse by Joe's excessive drinking and drug use, which reeks havoc into his personal life as well. In addition to the main story, we see Joe's mental world inhabited by past memories and a muse who may also be an angel of death(charmingly played by Jessica Lange).

Some of the dance sequences in this film influenced future performers, most prominent being the video for Paula Adbul's "Cold Hearted Snake", a song that does describe Joe Gideon pretty well there. Bob Fosse's work made many more impacts on pop culture but All That Jazz was a definite high point in his career that makes the phrase "It's showtime!" mean more than the name of a cable network:

A CHORUS LINE: The reception for this adaptation of the long running Broadway show about the dancers in a lengthy and emotional audition was mixed to be kind about it.

Many felt that this show was only best served as a play, objecting to the changes in the song list(with certain ones being left out and replaced by newly written material) and the expansion of the love story between choreographer Zach(Michael Douglas) and Cassie(Alyson Reed), a former romantic partner.

I still think it's worth seeing, even in this version. I did see the stage version of A Chorus Line many years ago(a family member visiting the area had tickets) and it's a truly intimate story about the struggle that dancers have to climb the Broadway ladder. It has inspired plenty of other entertainers such as John Leguizamo and while it may not be as solid as the stage edition, the tales told here are still worthy hearing:

Well, my best hopes for all of the best nominees at the Tonys to break a leg that night and for the rest of us that we get a chance to enjoy some of the neon lights shining on Broadway come this weekend.

The musical numbers should be fun and hopefully memorable for all of the right reasons. For every Cats or Phantom, there is a Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark or Satan's Alley(Ok, that last one is from the Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive but it does look like a really bad show that might make it to Broadway) to cause some serious cringing in seats both at home and front row:

Thursday, June 04, 2015

A most promising meeting on GOT, Outlander wraps up it's first season and iZombie offers food for thought

A major change from the books that Game of Thrones is based upon is that Tyrion Lannister has finally met Dany and is now one of her advisers. Jorah has been banished once again, yet it looks like he will find his way back to his queen at some point.

 It's a connection that I hope is also made in the next volume but I have no doubt that it will be as smartly written as this first conference between these two pivotal players is.

 Tyrion does make a lot of good points about how hard it would be for her to rule Westeros without the support of any of the ruling classes(altho I suspect that her dragons will go over big in the North, especially if the White Walker army gets past the Wall) and that nerve and good will of the people aren't enough to hold down the Iron Throne.

 However, she does possess a strong will along with steely determination which might make all the difference in taking the Seven Kingdoms by storm, so to speak. As far as game changers go, this is a pretty good one that many of us,readers and TV only fans alike, will be happy to see where this new plot path takes us:

The first season of Outlander came to an end this past weekend and these last couple of episodes have been seriously tough viewing as Jamie's torture and sexual assault by Black Jack Randall wasn't sugarcoated at all.

As unnerving as it was to see that, you have to give true credit to the cast and crew for taking on such horrifying acts head on and allowing the emotional carnage of such violations to be showcased in a non exploitative manner. This may not be to everyone's taste and those who may be triggered by this should avoid the series but for others, this story proves that genre material can be more than just light hearted or campy fun.

It offers a change from the expected cliches of both historical fiction,time travel and romance by portraying strong women that rise to any occasion and vulnerable men who,despite what they have been taught, are not lesser beings for those moments of helplessness. These are lessons that should carry over to the real world as well and probably will in some way in part due to the success of a show like this. I look forward to next season(with any luck, I'll have finished Dragonfly in Amber by then!) with great expectations indeed:

iZombie is only one episode away from completing it's debut season and I have to say that it's been rather appetizing viewing.

The main reason that zombies have a limited appeal for me as a horror fan is that they truly have no personality, which I know is part of the reason that they're so scary yet for a long narrative, the living dead do wear out their welcome rather quickly.

This show,however, offers a lively protagonist with the puny name "Liv Moore"(plus, her ex boyfriend is "Major Lilywhite", eye rolling being perfectly reasonable in this case) who is actually more of an engaging person in her half zombie life than she was as a full human.

Liv was once an all work and no play kind of gal but with having to change her rigid pace due to her undead condition, winning the trust of her eager to help boss Ravi and adopting different personality traits from the brains of murder victims(she does this to solve their murders as well as stay relatively functional), Liv is truly a better person than she once was, in a weird kind of way:

That doesn't mean that this show is all good times and giggles, as Liv not only has to stop evil zombie Blaine(David Anders in fine villain mode) from his sinister food supply schemes but cope with her best friend Payton discovering her zombie nature.

 On top of that, she's going to have to rescue Major, whose investigations into some mysterious teen disappearances have made him a huge target and now a prisoner of Blaine's. While I didn't read the comic book series that this show is loosely based on, this adaptation certainly gives it's source full credit for creativity there.  If you haven't checked out iZombie yet, take some time this summer to get acquainted with as there will be a second season and being in this loop is a good place to be:


FOOD NETWORK STAR: Season 11 starts this Sunday and as far as food competition shows go, this one is a tasty treat to savor. Not quite the grand feast that Top Chef is at times but still worth sampling over the summer: