Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Checking in on GOT's Stark sisters, a game changer for The Flash and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D have an unexpected reunion

Well, it turns out that the Sansa rumors are true for this season of Game of Thrones, as Littlefinger plans to marry her off to Ramsey Bolton. This doesn't happen in the books(*spoiler alert* he marries a girl who is supposed to be Arya but is actually a former Stark maidservent named Jeyne) but I can understand the need to compress these story lines together.

Still, it is hard to see Sansa walk into another marital trap, especially with someone whose taste for torment rivaled even Joffrey's. However, since Brienne of Tarth has also been worked into this sub plot(another change from the source material), we might get a nice bit of payback surprise out of all this.

Since G.R.R. Martin has signed off on these new developments, I am willing to trust the writers on this but they better not screw this up. It's not just The North who remembers, it's also the fans both old and new:

Meanwhile, Arya's training at the House of Black and White is going along true to form. Giving up her identity is a vital part of become one of the Faceless Men and with her name being the only true thing Arya has left in this world, that's a pretty tall order.

 This is sort of her version of "the cruel tutelage of Pei Mei" that a certain Ms. Kiddo had to go through in order to become an assassin, so don't expect her to have a safe and sweet ride here. However, this is all going to pay off as she finally gets back on the road to revenge that she is destined to paint a bright blood red:

On The Flash, Barry and friends have a real sticky situation on their hands as proof of Harrison Wells' time travel origins were made tangible. Not to mention Barry finding out that a) he's destined to make a disappearance by April 25,2024(which happens to be my birthday!) and b) Iris will eventually become his wife.

All of that is put aside as getting a taped admission of guilt in the death of Nora Allen,in order to free Barry's dad from prison, is placed on the front burner. Yet, trying to get him to confess to the murder of Barry's mother was harder than they expected, as Wells was more than one step ahead of them all.

The only good thing that came out of that failed attempt was that now everyone is on the same page here. Wells,aka Ebord Thawne, has declared his true villainy and as we head down to the first season finale, things will get way more serious in consequence and that should be well worth waiting for:

An reunion of sorts was held for the original Coulson crew on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as a mission to rescue Deathlok and Lincoln from the clutches of Hydra was reluctantly approved by Gonzalez, the current head of the so-called "real Shield."

 I'm sorry but that bunch just seems like more of a splinter group than the authentic Shield, with their self righteous attitude towards anyone formerly associated with Nick Fury. I know that in the comics, they become a group called "A.I.M." and perhaps that is where this sub plot will lead them but for now, they're more of a hindrance than a help.

I was happy to see Skye rejoin them,thanks to Raina's persuasive predictions(she is going to be so much trouble for the rest of the Inhumans, I can already see it). How long that will last, it's hard to say as the remainder of the season will be impacted by the new Avengers movie coming out this weekend. I sincerely hope that Nick Fury does drop in there to at least settle the question of who should be in charge-we'll see soon, I guess!:


GOTHAM: The season one finale is due next week and it promises to be a big blowout, as The Penguin has gotten the main mobsters to turn against each other for an all out street war.

While this initial outing has had it's ups and downs(a lot of downs, to be honest), there are some great bits of story telling here worth pursuing and hopefully season two will be able to narrow that focus and give us the Batman and Rogues' Gallery that we deserve:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dracula, My Love helps me Spring Into Horror this season

As part of my participation into Seasons of Reading's Spring Into Horror readathon last week, I took the opportunity to revive my love of vampire lore with Syrie James' novel Dracula, My Love.

The classic tale is retold through the eyes of Mina Murray, beginning with her visit to the seaside town of Whitby with her best friend Lucy Westerna. Both girls have known each other since their boarding school days and are now happy to be engaged to young men who happen to be far away from them at the moment.

While Mina feels blessed to have Jonathan Harker as her future husband, she does have a few lingering doubts. For one, she has never felt complete due to being left at an orphanage(where she grew up with Jonathan,whose mother worked there) in her infancy and wonders about who her parents truly were. Also, her intellectual curiosity is something that most women of her time are taught to curb as they become wives.

While Jonathan is on a distant journey for business reasons, Mina wants to avoid any social outings but Lucy insists that they deserve a little flirty fun. Even before she gives into her friend's desire to attend local dances, Mina meets an intriguing stranger who calls himself Maximilian Wagner, a man who is tall,dark and handsome along with being very appreciative of her love of literature and the arts. Mr. Wagner almost seems too good to be true and oh, how sadly true that becomes as Mina gets more and more involved with him:

Fortunately for Mina, word of Jonathan needing her to be by his side in a Budapest hospital gives her cause to break off with Mr. Wagner before things get too far. As Jonathan makes his recovery, the two of them marry and Mina vows to be a good wife, never to think of that brief romance again.

However, Mr. Wagner does not become simply a distant memory as he,unbeknownst to them all, plays a part in the demise of Lucy, who slowly withers away under the care of her fiance Arthur (along with two of her former beaus)and Dr. Van Helsing, who suspects a sinister influence behind the constant lack of blood in her veins:

As Mina and Jonathan are brought into the circle of vampire hunters out to take down Count Dracula, the man who nearly drove Harker to madness, she realizes that this unholy menace and her mysterious admirer Mr. Wagner are one and the same.

Despite her anger about his actions, Dracula persuades her of his true love for her and offers Mina a world of delights, including intimate pleasures that involve the mutual drinking of blood. Mina longs to resist but can not be charmed by the deep passions that Dracula stirs within her and is willing to risk having a life of eternal darkness to be with him:

Mina becomes a double agent,aiding her vampire lover as his enemies grow closer. However, she soon finds herself questioning Dracula's motivations and his true intentions. Ultimately, Mina must become the heroine of her own story and make some hard choices about where her path of destiny should lead her.

Not only is the romance between Mina and Dracula(nicely contrasted with the relationship between her and Jonathan) a strong attraction to this fresh take on the iconic vampire tale, having Mina Murray-Harker as a full fledged woman in her own right makes this book a joy to read.

With her search to find her parents, doubts about being more than a traditional meek and mild helpmate to Jonathan and wanting to be respected for her mind and talents, Mina rises above the role of innocent victim of blood lust to become a smart yet emotionally vulnerable person who uses her own inner resources to stake her claim to the life she wants and deserves.

Syrie James not only honors Bram Stoker's Dracula but gives female readers a vibrant heroine who could easily stand beside a certain vampire slayer and hold her own. Plus, a romantic depiction of Dracula never really goes out of style.

My thanks to Michelle Miller for another great readathon and in particular for having my e-book,Fanny Price: Slayer of Vampires, as one of the prizes to be awarded(along with some FP buttons!). If you haven't read Dracula, My Love, do treat yourself, I implore you. This book is a seductively sweet read that entices every vampire lover to crave more Dark Prince goodness with every page turn:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gotham residents get in a cutting mood, Outlander's witch trial and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deal with a familar devil

The plot lines in Gotham have become extremely busy lately, as the end of season one is up ahead. Between Bruce and Selina doing a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew act and Edward Nygma taking his first step into serious violence, I thought it would be best to narrow my focus to just The Penguin and Gordon's new nemesis, The Ogre.

As Oswald sets up the stage for his ultimate payback on Don Maroni, the gangster in question stops by the club for a drink and some one on one time with Mama Oswald(who is pretty much a barfly at this point). Gertrude's delight in Maroni's attentions as her sinister son squirms in his seat really explains a whole lot about why Oswald is the way he is.

However, when Maroni turns the dating game into a personal attack, the Cobblepot clan is put even more off kilter than they already are. While I'm not sure if Maroni will live to see season two, he has certainly delivered on the menace factor and for Oswald to have a better rival in this arena will be a challenge,that's for sure:

Meanwhile, the Ogre story is getting all kinds of crazy. True to form, our sinister serial killer targets Barbara(not knowing that she and Gordon are no longer an item) but holds off on killing her.

Turns out, her addiction to wild behavior appeals to him and her statement that "Whenever people see the real me, they run screaming" clicks into his psychotic need for hard earned feminine approval.

It does fit into his backstory, as the facially deformed son of a butler who was emotionally manipulated by his father's employer, a woman who built up him and then rejected him cruelly. Since Barbara happens to be the typical spoiled little rich girl, she is so right up his alley and a truly bad romance appears to be underway. By the end of the episode, he was introducing her to his American Psycho/50 Shades of Grey hidden room and she seemed rather taken with it.

I know that Gordon is going to run in and save the day by some point but how freaky is this going to get? *Shudder* Well, it's one reason to watch,anyway, I guess:

On Outlander, Claire was caught in the cross-hairs of a witch trial that had her and Gellis(who is pregnant with another man's child and just recently poisoned her husband) as prime candidates for a stake burning.

Having read the books, I knew what was coming as Gellis revealed that she,like Claire, was a time traveler too, coming from a more distant time period(1968, to be exact).

Once she realized that Claire had no intentions of interfering with her own plans to alter fate, Gellis made quite the sacrifice to save her friend and what a marvelous performance it was. Lotte Verbeek does a hell of a job with this character and the Emmy folks should keep an eye on her come nomination time.

I really need to finish Book Two(still in the midst of Dragonfly in Amber) to find out more, as I don't think this is the last we'll see of Gellis,at least I hope so!:

On Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson and his now dwindled in number crew reached out to Ward in order to get his help in infiltrating Hydra for info about where Skye might be.

Naturally, Hunter and Fitz(who thankfully managed to reconnect with Coulson and friends,including Deathlok who I am happy to see back on the show) are less than thrilled with this but willing to play along for now.

Of course, things went awry as Coulson's new crew, Hydra and Skye with her father Cal(who the Inhumans planned to simply drop off in Milwaukee and avoid like the plague) collided together in a bout that left Deathlok and Skye's new buddy Lincoln prisoners of Hydra, among other troubles.

That left Coulson to surrender to the "real Shield" while Ward and the others got away(without Skye and Cal, who were taken back to the Inhumans' secret camp). This is all intended to tie into the new Avengers movie coming out next week and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Nick Fury to show up and kick some much needed ass, especially Ward, who I don't trust at all nor his new gal pal Agent 33:


GAME OF THRONES: With Arya now at the House of Black and White, things ought to get intense but Sansa's new adventures(which are going in a different direction than the books) could be just as scary if the rumors are true. I'm not going to speculate right now, but rather wait and see how this all plays out(I do hope the Sansa spoilers are false,though):

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why can't DC deliver a decent Wonder Woman movie?

Despite the mixed reception being given to the upcoming Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice film(with the release of it's first major trailer this past weekend not being reassuring), many of us were happy to see that Wonder Woman was going to be part of the film,as well as get her own movie out by 2017.

Hope for this project grew strong as it was announced that a female director,Michelle Maclaren, was hired yet just the other week, she left the film due to that old standby excuse "creative differences" and was quickly replaced by Patty Jenkins.

Now, changing directors is not a new thing and considering that it was done before filming even began, you might reasonably think "What's the big deal?" Well, I'm here to tell you,folks, that this is only the beginning of the bad news. It turns out that the creative differences were a lot more than just Maclaren wanting a talking tiger in the film(which I'm highly doubting is true at this point):

The big creative gap between Maclaren and the studio executives was the scale of the story. She wanted to do an epic origin story,complete with major battle scenes, while the head honchos are looking for a "character driven story" with very little action. They also claimed that Maclaren was "too inexperienced" to  make a big screen action packed piece, due to her TV work.

Since that TV work in question includes Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, both of which have had huge action sequences and pretty good sized budgets, that talking point is rather moot. What they're really saying is "Hey, honey, we want the credit for having a woman director but we don't want to give you the kind of budget that man directing a movie about a male superhero would have. Can't you just play ball?'

This is so ridiculous on so many levels, the biggest one for me is that Wonder Woman is AN AMAZON WARRIOR PRINCESS, for Minerva's sake! Her origin story should have incredible battle scenes, that's what her fans expect! Not some moody whiner drama, come on! Why do you have to make a Wonder Woman movie on the cheap, DC? Yes, I'm holding you just as responsible as Warner Bros, if not more so,because this is your creative property and it's high time that you treat Wonder Woman with the respect she deserves:

Why is it,DC, when it comes to live action versions of Wonder Woman that your brains suddenly turn off? Maybe the people who work on the animated versions need to take over here.

You had Joss Whedon on board at one time to make a WW movie and you drove him away(which given the Avengers films alone was the ultimate in bad ideas) with nonsense.

 Then, you attempt to bring her back to TV but between the awful new costume and a set-up that would make Diana Prince a Bruce Wayne type, the ball was monumentally dropped. Wonder Woman is not Batman for girls, okay? For one, we have Batgirl and Batwoman and for another, being a CEO means most of your time has to be accounted for and Bruce Wayne only gets away with that due to his "millionaire playboy" image.

Diana Prince is not like that at all. When she was on TV back in the day, she was a government agent who could slip off to be a superhero as her duties involved undercover work. This is pretty basic stuff,guys, you need to be on your game here. Granted, the 1970s show was rather hokey and silly at times but Lynda Carter played Wonder Woman with a sincerity that won audiences over and you need to get some of that back:

A good start would be listening to the fans. Yes, they can be a contentious lot at times but plenty of them are experts when it comes to the character.

It would be in your best interest, since they're the ones you want to buy those movie tickets and other tie-in merchandise, and they are also the ones who can get people who are not into/sick of superheroes movies to join in the fun.

As for the script, maybe consult with some of the writers who have turned out the best Wonder Woman comics. Good examples would be Paul Dini(who did Wonder Woman; Spirit of Truth), Greg Rucka(who wrote Down to Earth) or Gail Simone, whose writing is legendary for the Wonder Woman books. Pair them with a Hollywood screenwriter if you must, but tap that resource,seriously!

Look,DC, we're not asking for much. Just get your act together and don't flick this up. Enough with the shoddy treatment and sexist assumptions towards a live action Wonder Woman. If you want us to shell out our hard earned dollars to reserve tickets for summer 2017, you need to make this worth our while. Not to mention that Wonder Woman deserves,nay, demands to be honored in her big screen debut like the regal champion that she is-make it so,people!:

Monday, April 20, 2015

A shower of new books that will bloom in May and June

Today as I write this, a major rain storm is going on outside my window, bringing that old saying about "April showers bring May flowers that bloom in June" to mind.  Corny yet classic for a reason.

Late spring into summer tends to stir up some of the more potent pop culture releases, from blockbuster movies to Netflix series(haven't seen Daredevil but the buzz is strong with this one) and even books.

While there are bigger books to come, the titles that I'm showcasing here for your spring perusal should be sweet choices for any season of reading:

A SLICE OF STORY TELLING CAKE: Cookbook author Judith Fertig makes her debut into the fiction section with The Cake Therapist, where Claire, a successful pastry chef, learns how to express her feelings beyond her flavor profile.

What makes her cakes so special is her knack for selecting edible expressions of emotion-for example, cinnamon revives memories and orange is a wake up call. Such detailed focus and energy makes certain culinary items like Claire's signature Rainbow Cake come alive for everyone's palate.

Yet when Claire finds herself at an impasse in her life, she goes back to her hometown of Milcreek Valley to open a small bakery. Food and feelings are firmly entwined for Claire but perhaps unraveling that knot might make her more whole as a person.

A guest post by Ms. Fertig should be here at LRG by next month, so watch this space!  In the meanwhile, prepare your plate for her special brand of story teller sweetness(and maybe even a rainbow cake recipe) to savor(June):

The world of competitive baking shows is the first layer in Sarah Vaughn's upcoming novel,The Art of Baking Blind, where five people hope to achieve their dreams of being a culinary star.

Competing to be crowned the new queen or king of pastry by Kathleen Eaden,whose 1966 book entitled The Art of Baking launched her edible empire, are Jenny, a mother with little to do now that her children have all left home, Mike, a widower and now single dad, Claire who is trying to reclaim what she gave up for her daughter, Vicki a stay-at-home mother for her son and Karen, the die hard perfectionist.

As the competition goes on, unusual alliances are made as not so sweet secrets come bubbling up to the surface. Nonetheless, a winner will be named but will their world become a pastry palace or a crumble of broken crust dreams? Anyone who enjoys rooting for their favorite amateur chef to rise to the top of a baking show challenge ought to find this a very special literary snack indeed(May):

A WARRIOR QUEEN RISES: The second installment in Erika Johansen's fantasy saga,The Invasion of the Tearling, finds new queen Kelsea preparing to do battle with her nearby enemy, The Red Queen of Mortmesne,whose army is almost at her doorstep.

An unexpected perspective is given to Kelsea as visions of a woman from the past,Lily Mayhew, may offer a way to go forward with this struggle to maintain her power on the throne as well as the power that her mystical sapphires are granting her.

Since the first book in this series,Queen of the Tearling, was one of my favorite reads of 2014, I'm looking forward to this next chapter as eagerly as I am to see Daenerys Stormborn finally reach the Iron Throne(and yes, I do think these gals would get along great).

While this is not meant to be Game of Thrones, Johansen's Tearling tales do share some of the delights of seeing powerful women come into their own as that series does and should be a must-read for impatient GOT readers and admirers of strong heroines alike(June):

HISTORICAL SIGHTS TO SEE: Author Dolen Perkins-Valdez follows up her insightful novel Wench with a look at three people dealing with the aftermath of the Civil War in Balm.

All of them meet in Chicago, with Madge,a freeborn black woman, at first not telling her new employer Sadie, a white widow, about her talents for making healing ointments and herbal potions. It turns out that Sadie is no stranger to otherworldly outlets as she possesses the ability to communicate with the dead.

Hemp, a former slave, finds himself drawn to Madge but is determined to be reunited with the wife who was sold away from him just before the war.  All of their emotional struggles are challenged,however, when a threat to their new community forces them to put aside their secrets for the greater good. I remember how amazing a read Wench was, but even if you haven't read that book, Balm is something that you should find soothing in it's own special way(May).

In Erika Robuck's The House of Hawthorne, the Hawthorne in question is American author Nathaniel, who gave us The Scarlet Letter and House of Seven Gables.

His marriage to Sophia Peabody,a painter whose ill health hinders her art, was based on love which held them together even through some rather rough times. With money troubles, family woes and one of them sacrificing their artistic talents for the other, Nathaniel and Sophia made a true art out of their romance which aided in creating literary treasures to cherish for the ages.

I'm currently reading this now as part of the blog tour for the book(my review is due on May 8th) and so far, this is a very engaging read. Hawthorne's works are American classics that I truly enjoyed reading and having this fictional insight into his life is quite the unexpected blessing indeed.

 I'll have more to say about THOH next month yet feel safe in recommending this book to historical fiction fans and Hawthorne enthusiasts who are eager to see the foundations of his literary household alike(May):

LOVE STINKS AND THEN SOME: Matthew Quick's latest novel Love May Fail has quite the quirky cast of characters, headed up by Portia, who reconsiders shooting her cheating rich husband and sets forth to New Jersey to visit her hoarder mom.

Along her journey, Portia connects with Mr. Vernon, her former high school English teacher rendered despondent after a violent attack by a student, and vows to save him from suicidal despair. Her allies in this quest include Chuck,who shares her love of Motley Crue, and Sister Maeve, a feisty nun that Portia meets on her plane ride home.

Quick's novels are a mix of sour and sweet emotions that resonate well and while they may be a heady cup of tea to take, his writing is heartfelt and easily relatable. One thing is for certain in all of them, that love in all of it's forms can stink but with patience and fortitude, can sing out true(June):

I hope some of these titles whet your appetite for the big summer books to come or be additions to your beach bag of books. Not all of your reading picks have to be good food for thought, of course, and don't be ashamed of devouring a trashy novel or two. Even the most unlikely collection of printed pages can offer a little insight into the human condition there:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Paging through a pair of Oprah Book Club 2.0 Picks

Back in my bookseller days, the selections from the Oprah Book Club were both a blessing and a curse; about as many people would come in looking for those books only as there were those who reacted like a vampire to a cross laced with garlic.

The main benefit of Oprah Winfrey's reading program was to make literature a mainstream topic,which I and many other literary lovers appreciated. Maybe not every book she chose or theme that she went with was a favorite(I was bummed when she stopped selecting novels by present day authors) yet her club made the need to read a positive and popular one.

Most recently, I have been checking two of the books that Oprah has chosen for the "2.0" version of her club, now showcased on her TV channel,OWN. Just as she did in the past, Oprah has put her personal seal of approval on novels that highlight some of our saddest history yet also provides the saving grace of art and humanity on every page:

THE INVENTION OF WINGS: I first encountered Sue Monk Kidd through her earlier novels,The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, and with this book, I truly think that she has gone next level in the best sense of the term.

The narrative of the story is shared by Sarah Grimke, the daughter of a wealthy Charleston family in the pre-Civil era, and Hetty,aka Handful, the girl given to her as a "gift" on her eleventh birthday. Sarah finds the whole practice of slavery to be repulsive and at first refuses to accept Handful as her personal servant but her fiercely determined mother won't hear of it.

Meanwhile, Hetty finds the separation from her mother Charlotte, a skilled seamstress who grows more and more determined to seek freedom for them both, to be hard. As the girls grow up together, the reluctant early bond between them is severely tested over time. Sarah's longing to be allowed to seek a true purpose in life and her varying degrees of rebellion at society's limitations regarding the role of women pulls her far and away from the preferred path that her family wishes her to take.

This chafing at the restraints placed upon Sarah at nearly every turn extends to her younger sister Angelina, who becomes just as passionate an advocate for abolition and women's rights as Sarah is:

Hetty, on the other hand, is still trapped within the prism of slavery and not only watches her mother undergo brutal punishments for her acts of defiance, becomes a victim of them herself.

Nonetheless, she clings to the hope of a time when she can be free even when her mother disappears for a while and the promise of a revolt lead by Denmark Vesey goes off the rails.

One thing that helps both Sarah and Handful in their separate struggles is their friendship, which alters as time goes on yet is never completely broken. Sue Monk Kidd does weave some fictional threads into this story quilt yet the depiction of what Handful and many African-Americans suffered during the horror of slavery rings with a resounding truth.

Sarah Grimke(along with her sister Angelina) was an actual abolitionist/feminist who challenged the precepts of her day and if this book helps to bring her part in that history to light, it is an extra special benefit of reading this emotionally gripping story. The Invention of Wings will be out in paperback this May and I hope that many folks who waited until it was so(much like readers did back in the Oprah Book Club heyday) will make haste to experience this amazing duet of women seeking freedom in both their outer and inner worlds:

RUBY: I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of Cynthia Bond's debut novel,which is the current OBC selection, from Blogging for Books and am reading it right now. This is not a story you want to rush through,believe you me.

The basic plot is about Ephram, a man who has lived his whole life with his sister Celia in the small town of Liberty,TX, and Ruby Bell, the girl that left town many years ago and who has returned in a shattered state.

The story is told with a powerful blend of poetry and prose, as Ephram's desire to reconnect with Ruby stirs up a flurry of emotions that he never knew that he had. Both his and Ruby's past are fraught with tragedy entwined with racial and sexual violence, along with a touch of magic as Ruby is seen by a local spiritualist at a young age to be a "doorway" for departed souls. It's as if Toni Morrison and William Faulkner joined forces to create the ultimate in modern Gothic lit:

 While I do agree with many readers that this is a tremendously sad story, it is also a beautifully told one as well. It took Cynthia Bond ten years to write this book and her time was truly well spent as her talent pours forth like bitter sweet icing over an angel food cake on every page.

I am glad that Oprah has returned to shining the spotlight on debut novels once again. It's hard enough being a new author with a story that might find a hard time gaining an audience as it is these days.

Thanks to Oprah leading the chorus of praise for this wonderful book, Cynthia Bond is getting the attention she deserves and I truly hope that is only the beginning of literary greatness for her:

While many things go in and out of style, reading never does and it's great that Oprah has brought back her club for the next generation of reading groups. Looking back, her focus on books helped to bring a nation of readers together and literary unity is a good a place as any to strengthen our society's fractured bonds as we head on into the future:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Gotham returns with a new villain, GOT's prophecy blues and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a ladies' night

After quite a long wait, Gotham has returned to finish up their first season-what is with shows this past year and a half that keep taking mini-breaks? I can understand taking time off during the holidays or certain sporting events, but come on!

Every two or three weeks, we've been getting an unnecessary hiatus for all sorts of shows, from dramas to sitcoms, and that's really disruptive to the steady viewer. Networks, I know you want to stall until those sweeps but you're ticking your audiences off, which will affect your ratings during those crucial time frames! Think about it, that's all I'm asking.

Okay, back to business. While Fish Mooney was making her escape plans from Doll Maker Island(and since Jada Pinkett-Smith is insisting that she's a one year contract gal for this series, not sure how her character is going to tie back into the finale there) and The Penguin preparing to take down Don Maroni, a new menace to society has crossed Jim Gordon's path.

He's a serial killer known as The Ogre, who is a literal lady killer(with a very 50 Shades of Gray lifestyle combined with an American Psycho like stash of deadly items) that's not afraid to go after the loved ones of law enforcement. Gordon was deliberately set on the path to hunt him down by his enemies on the force and despite the danger to the new love of his life Leslie Thompkins, is determined to stop this secretive reign of terror.

Personally, I'm happy to see Milo Ventimiglia back on TV, even in a less than heroic role, and hope that this sinister smooth talker is not just a one season wonder:

Game of Thrones debuted it's season five premiere episode and as there are numerous plot threads going on there, I thought it would be best to focus on just of the big developments.

Cersei's hold upon the Iron Throne is in serious slippage mode, as her father's dead, Tyrion is on the run and Jaime not much help, plus her boy Tommen is little more than a figurehead for her incoming daughter-in-law Margery to step on as she plots to push Cersei aside. All in all, Our Lady Lannister is not in as prime a position as she could be.

I'm going to get slightly spoilery here, as a key scene that explains some of Cersei's past has been somewhat tweaked. In a flashback, we see young Cersei receiving a prophecy regarding her future from a local witch. She is told that,yes she will be queen but destined to be replaced by a younger woman, that her future husband is a king who will bear twenty children while she only has three and that all of them will die before her.

In the book Feast of Crows,which I believe is being combined with Dance of Dragons for this run, Cersei was also told that "a brother's hand" would play a part in her own death. That's a big thing to leave out, as it explains her determination to take down Tyrion.

 Perhaps that nugget of information will appear later on,altho I personally think that the brother's hand refers to Jaime in some way. After all, he did lose that particular limb and considering the twisted relationship between those two(and I don't just mean the sexual one!), it's not inconceivable that the one person she loves the most would be the one to end her time on this particular mortal coil.

I know the show is going to have to take a few side roads, due to the time lapse between book releases, but I do hope that this tidbit is not tossed into the trash bin for good:

This week on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, the story line was strongly female focused, as we learned the reason for Melinda May's nickname,"The Calvary."

The flashbacks revealed that May was the one to head into a house in Bahrain where a potential Index candidate was holding folks hostage, including a little girl and an attack squad of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Turns out the real threat was from the young girl, an Inhuman who was transformed way too soon and went mad with her mind control powers.

That portion of the story was well told, with such a solid performance by Ming-Na Wen that, in my opinion,deserves Emmy consideration. Not only did it explain the current emotional arch of the character, that horrifying incident also showed what her next course of action would be.

 Upon learning that Coulson is putting together some kind of secret superhuman training facility, May is getting suspicious about her allegiance to him yet not willing to go along with the so-called "real S.H.I.E.L.D" gang just yet. If Coulson's smart, he'll find a way to regain her trust and fast, when they meet up again, that is:

Meanwhile, Skye received some more training from her Inhuman mentor,who revealed that she's her birth mother as well. That info has to be kept secret from the others, as Melinda May's Bahrain experience is tied to one of their kind breaking protocol.

It looks as if a big showdown between Raina and Skye is coming, as the former is jealous of the latter's still human appearance. It's understandable but pointing out to Raina that no one forced her to undergo transformation wouldn't help, as willfully evil people are quick to rewrite history for themselves.

As Skye is gaining control over her new abilities, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that she'll manage to learn the same kind of control over her emotions before the next shoe drops on her. Then again, she is a fast learner in more way than one:


ARROW/THE FLASH: We had another crossover episode this week, bringing the newest DC small screen hero The Atom long for the ride(how awesome is it that he's played by former Superman Brandon Routh?). The episode was good, not great yet it did set up some of the end game for this first season of The Flash as nearly everyone is on board the "Harrison Wells=bad guy" train.

While I'm way behind on Arrow(which is having some story stumbles, from what my good buddy here tells us), both it and The Flash seem to be carrying the continuity torch for the DC adaptation universe and if the big screen version were made with the same care and craftsmanship, they would be giving the gang at Marvel a run for their box office money:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Springing Into Horror with Syrie James, Stephen King and a very special vampire slayer

Next week, I will be taking part in Seasons of Reading's Spring Into Horror readathon(and yes, there is still time to sign up). The basic requirements are to pick something within the horror genre to dive into for a week and then talk about it online.

My theme is vampires, since it's been awhile since I sunk my teeth into that particular literary blood pudding, with one new title and one reread,plus a bonus of my own to offer my fellow readalongs:

I've been saving Dracula, My Love by Syrie James for just such an occasion as this. Syrie is best known to Jane Austen fans for her books such as The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen,The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte and most recently, Jane Austen's First Love, yet she also enjoys a good vampire tale as well.

In this novel, we see Mina Harker's side of the story, as she falls for the mysterious Count and finds herself torn between her beloved husband Jonathan and this tall,dark and deadly man. Getting a feminine perspective on this iconic tale sounds wonderful, not to mention the gorgeous gothic romance between our two leads:

If I have time enough,  Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot is a place that I will happy to visit once again. The setting and time period may be somewhat dated but King's premise of "how would Dracula set up shop in modern day America?" holds up rather well.

To my great disappointment, there hasn't been a decent adaptation of this story given to either readers or general fans. The 1970s miniseries was stiff and beyond hokey(plus, Barlow was presented as a Nosferatu knock-off) while the TNT miniseries from 2004 was smart enough to cast Rutger Hauer as Barlow yet quickly sunk into cheesiness, not to mention underused Hauer greatly.

I still think it could be a viable mini, provided that someone take the time to do it right. My suggestion would be to keep the original story line in the seventies, with a now older version of Mark Petrie passing the torch to a younger generation of hunters that keep the terror of the town from spreading to the outside world. Just my opinion,folks-it certainly would be better than that Return to Salem's Lot mess, that's for sure!:

The Seasons of Reading readathons offer prizes to their participants and this time out, one of those will be an e-book of my own. Fanny Price, Slayer of Vampires seem to be quite suitable for this particular one and a hopefully happy reader will be able to get a free copy, courtesy of Smashwords.

For those of you unfamiliar with the book, the story of Mansfield Park is retold via secret letters that Fanny writes to her sailor brother William about the growing danger from the double trouble duo of Mary and Henry Crawford.

Yes, the Crawfords are both sharp witted and sharp fanged here, with Fanny having knowledge of their deadly ways thanks to her keen eye and a set of books about supernatural lore that her departed Uncle Norris asked her to hold for Edmund. Can she save her Mansfield family from the Crawfords' clutches and still be able to keep Aunt Bertram awake during tea time?

I do try to mix a little humor with the horror here,as well as show a stronger side of Fanny Price who I believe is a vastly underrated Austen heroine. Alas, Mary Crawford does have many of the good lines and more than her fair share of the spotlight:

The Spring Into Horror Readathon begins on April 20th and ends on the 26th(the day after my birthday,an additional bonus for me!) and I hope many of you will join in the fun. You don't have to pick a vampire book,of course, but I do so recommend at least one of your choosing as they are my favorite flavor of evil:

Monday, April 13, 2015

Seeing the latest bright lights on Broadway

Despite living near New York City, attending the theater is not something that I can do on even a semi-regular basis. The expense, the distance and the fact that many of the shows on Broadway can be just as crass and commercial as any cinematic offering at a multiplex can be, all add up to keeping live theater out of my pop culture routine.

However, that doesn't mean that I wouldn't check out a show that looks promising or at least a good time to be had by all, if given the chance.

 Not to mention that Broadway can provide perhaps even more opportunities for original productions than their flashy sister Hollywood can. Let's look at a few of the more engaging shows out there that could truly be worth their weight in box office gold:

FUN HOME: This adaptation of Alison Bechdel's autobiographical graphic novel began as an Off-Broadway musical, winning critical acclaim and several awards such as Best Musical from the New York Drama Critics Circle and an Obie award for one of it's young stars, Sydney Lucas, playing the childhood version of Bechdel.

The story line is not linear, as Bechdel goes through her memories of growing up and discovering her sexual identity, one that her father struggled with himself all his life and which lead to his death not long after she outed herself. Having read Fun Home recently, I find it wonderful that this touching heartfelt and yes, even humorous at time, tale is now reaching new audiences and breaking through some of those sad stereotypes about what constitutes a relatable heroine these days:

HAND TO GOD: There's a bevvy of buzz about this play that has a hand puppet as one of the main attractions. That puppet is Tyrone, who is the hidden persona of Jason, a shy teenager trying to cope with the death of his dad by joining a Christian puppeteer club.

Tyrone, however, tends to talk dirtier than a sewer and his brutal mix of vulgarity and truth telling causes Jason's small circle of family and friends to believe that he's possessed.

I am a sucker for puppets of all sorts, especially the rude and crude types, and it's no surprise that one of it's creators also put Avenue Q on stage. Tyrone sounds like he could throw down with even the harshest of Muppets and give a few of those Charlie McCarthy types a real run for their money:

THE VISIT: The revival of this classic Kander and Ebb musical has a fresh script by Terence McNally and stars one of the true divas of the stage as it's leading lady. Chita Rivera plays wealthy widow Claire, who returns to her home town with the promise of reviving the ailing village with her funds.

The price to be paid for that is the demise of Anton, a former lover whose past crimes she can not forgive. Just hearing the dulcet tones of Chita Rivera alone is enough to make this a must-see but the poignancy of seeing Claire interact with her younger memory version of herself in many scenes should be taken as the richest icing on this decadently divine cake:

THE AUDIENCE: Speaking of divas, Helen Mirren takes her Oscar winning film role as the now reigning Queen of England and expands upon it in a show that covers several administrations of British Prime Ministers.

Focusing on the weekly meetings between Elizabeth II and the current PM of the day, the show takes us from her early days in power through many ups and downs that she and the country faced. Granted, this show appeals to my Anglophile side but I'm not the only one who finds few remnants of the British monarchy that remain to be fascinating food for thought:

 Oh,well, even if the theatrical experience isn't something that I can personally savor, I am glad that it's still a viable option out there for artists and audiences alike.  Besides, a couple of these shows might become movies someday, so I might see them on screen one way or the other.

 Theater is one of the those time honored endeavors that seem so out of reach yet still manage to connect with the wider pop culture world.  It's sort of funny how even a small expose to the magic of Broadway can bring folks together to appreciate the beauty of live art, sometimes when least expected:

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Outlander returns,Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deal with change and Mad Men begins it's final descent

So many of us were happy to have Outlander back to liven up our Saturday nights and this episode took several unusual turns, starting with letting Jamie take over the narrative reins.

For this section of the story, it made sense to do that, as Claire couldn't be present for certain things such as the inner political struggle within the Mackenzie clan or how Jamie and his friends  were able to sneak into the castle to rescue her.

 The whole opening sequence was breathtaking in it's swift yet steady movement that all lead to Jamie aiming that gun  at Black Jack Randalland saying "I'll thank you to take your hands off my wife"(that line makes me shiver!):

Once that was over, Claire and Jamie got into a truly vicious verbal fight,with words that practically drew blood, which lead to later on having that tussle over her "punishment" for not staying where she was left, causing a considerable risk for the men to go after her.

Having read the first book, I knew this scene was coming up and as distasteful as the concept is of a grown woman being spanked by her husband is, it is historically accurate and in order to keep to some semblance of reality within the story line, that was a necessary evil.

It did take some time for the two of them to mend fences after that(I did like that Claire took her chance to let Jamie know that she wouldn't take that mess again at sword point!) and it's good that they did make up, as a whole sea of troubles is heading their way. I won't say any more but believe you me, the worst is yet to come for our pair of Highland honeys:

On Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., folks were dealing with new situations such as Skye waking up in the hidden Inhumans camp called Afterlife.

As she started to learn more about her people( with many of them not having had their powers activated), Skye was cautiously accepting of this strange new path she's on yet once she realized that Raina was there as well, wasn't too thrilled with her Inhuman companions there.

Also, Skye was concerned by what's happening to Coulson and friends but her handler buddy Lincoln was right in pointing out that S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn't the best place for her right now. With things seriously up in the air there, Skye is just as much of a target of the splinter faction as her friends are:

Speaking of that splinter group, they certainly have a lot to worry about as Coulson and Hunter are on the move(with Deathlok joining them as an ally,yes!), Melinda May being held under lock and key and Fitzsimmons being coerced into opening that black box to gain Fury's secret info.

I did like the way Fitz and Simmons managed to pull a fast one by that slight of hand that lead one of them to being discharged with the correct black box(plus a tasty sandwich). Also wondering if Nick Fury will make his presence known as those of us who watched the Winter Soldier know he's not dead(and he will be seen in the upcoming Avengers movie).

That could seriously up this game between Gonzalez and Coulson, with Bobbi and Mack having to reconsider their allegiances. Bobbi, for one, seems to have her doubts regarding the direction that Gonzalez is taking but will she act on that in time? Well, at least Fitz and Simmons know where they're at in this long game:

Mad Men started their run of the last few episodes of the series, jumping right into the 1970s with plenty of those awkward fashion choices making their debut(Roger's mustache is beyond hideous,in my opinion).

Don is a seemingly happy bachelor on the prowl yet quickly cast into despair upon learning of the death of former lover Rachel. Meanwhile, Peggy and Joan have success and money but a serious lack of respect from their male counterparts(Joan in particular) and lonely personal lives.

A lot of this is tried and true material for the show but with the upcoming finale, the main line of interest is in seeing how these characters will or won't resolve their issues as the world changes all around them.

Ultimately, the show will center it's major conclusion on Don and while that's emotionally right, I still want to have Peggy, Joan and even that creep Pete reach the end of their roads in a satisfying way. Well, we do have some time before that happens, so let's sit back and see what comes next:


THE VAMPIRE DIARIES: It's official; Nina Dobrev will leave the show by the end of this season and since next year will be the last one for the residents of Mystic Falls, it's just as well.  Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed the antics of Elena but she's had her fair share of freeze,die, come to life on this series and perhaps a shot at a major motion picture is the reason for her need to say goodbye at this point in time.

Also, while many feel that Elena is the heart of the show, the main focus has always been the Salvatore brothers and maybe with the woman they both loved out of the picture, those boys can truly reconnect. So, fare thee well Nina and thanks for being such a fun date on Thursday nights:

Monday, April 06, 2015

Checking out some Summer Blockbuster contenders at the Movie Trailer Park

I know that it's only April but since the summer movie season begins in May these days, there's no time like the present to start looking at the upcoming crop of big bang for your bucks flicks.

There are a number of genres to consider, from animated features to early Oscar nominee fare, but in the interest of brevity I thought that it would be best to narrow it down to three of the major commercial categories.

So, grab your popcorn bucket and let's what will be shaking the box office at your favorite multiplex this summer:


At this point, Marvel movies are their own category, especially since there are no other superhero films in play until next year. While DC is still twiddling their thumbs, Marvel has three movies ready to go this summer, starting with Avengers: Age of Ultron.

This sequel(which thankfully still has Joss Whedon behind the scenes) has our superhero team facing a threat that was inadvertently created by one of their own. Yep, Tony Stark's brainchild turns on humanity and is joined by a pair of twins( soon to be known as Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch) with extraordinary abilities.

The quality of this film looks to be as good as it's predecessor, which doesn't always happen, and due to the consistent continuity thread of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, should be the standard bearer for all other superhero sagas to follow, regardless of the comic book/graphic novel series they originated from:

After that, Ant Man is set to arrive in July and that film looks to me to be the weak link in the Marvel chain. Sorry, Paul Rudd, but I find it hard to get into such a hokey character even if the F/X looks pretty awesome there.

August is usually not a good month for quality releases but sometimes it can be a nice place to let a smaller scale surprise slip in. The reboot of The Fantastic Four has the same opportunity as last year's Guardians of the Galaxy did to wow blockbuster weary audiences at the end of the summer season and I hope it does just that.

Mind you, I am one of the few folks that enjoyed the earlier FF films with their fun Saturday Matinee vibe(plus, Michael Chiklis was excellent as The Thing). This revamp appears to be a bit more serious in tone, with a much younger cast and slightly different origin story(instead of a spaceship accident, this quartet gets their powers from a teleporter experience).

I'm willing to give this a try as perhaps a better focus on the source material might elevate the easily dismissive campy cartoon elements of prior adaptations and allow a more mature yet still action adventure entertainment to emerge for fans and newcomers alike:


Funny ladies will be making their presence known on screen, with Melissa McCarthy returning to the summer movie race with Spy, which gives her not only her Bridemaids director Paul Feig but action movie vets like Jude Law and Jason Stratham on board.

The plot has McCarthy's character, a smart yet mild mannered CIA office worker,go out into the field to take down some enemy agents due to her James Bond/Jason Bourne like co-workers having their covers blown. McCarthy's skills as a comedic actress who's not afraid to battle with the big boys was proven in her team-up with Sandra Bullock in The Heat and this looks to be as solid a laugh fest as that action movie comedy was.

McCarthy has a lot riding here, as last year's Tammy did extremely poorly with critics and movie goers alike. Yet, I truly believe that she can overcome that minor setback and be seen as the amazing movie diva that she's meant to be:

Making her big screen debut, Amy Schumer has Judd Apatow at her side for Trainwreck, along with the likes of Tilda Swinton and Bill Hader co-starring as well.

The story line(written by Schumer) has her determined to be single party gal finding herself in a serious romantic relationship with a more down to earth guy. The advance buzz has been good so far and with Schumer's Comedy Central series,Inside Amy Schumer, doing so well, her coronation as the new
reigning queen of comedy is pretty much a done deal.

I'm fine with that but I'm just not a fan of hers. Maybe it's my age bracket or threshold for raunchy humor but the whole "look at me, I'm as gross as the guys!" schtick doesn't impress me much. It's not only Schumer, it's also the likes of Chelsea Handler and the double trouble duo on Broad City. Why is drunken humor suddenly okay for women? It wasn't great when men did it either yet that persona has been rightly ditched for a long time now and I honestly don't think that it's enpowering for women to take up that mantle.

Sorry for the mini-rant; Schumer will no doubt make her mark on the pop culture world with this film but I really prefer Melissa McCarthy to come out a head in this cinematic bout. Not that they are or should be competing yet we all know that comparisons will made between them nonetheless:


Going without a remake of a science fiction blast from the past must be harder than quitting smoking for Hollywood as another round of remakeitis is set to infect the silver screen.

Terminator:Genisys is not just the fifth installment in this series, it's supposed to be a "retcon" that flips the already worn out script. As John Connor sends back Kyle Reese to save his mother Sarah from being killed by the title killer robot, a somewhat new scenario is about to be played out.

*Sigh* How many damn times do we have to expand upon this story yet again? By this point, I think babies coming out of the womb have been imprinted with this franchise's DNA. Each generation since the original film can recite chapter and verse about Skynet and Judgement Day, as well as debate which Terminator was best, Arnold Schwarzenegger's(and yes, he's back!) or the many T-1000s that followed him.

In my opinion, the first two movies were great but the rest are pointless spinning of the cinematic wheels(Terminator Salvation had some decent material, I grant you). This one could either rake in the cash or crash and burn; I'm hoping for the latter. Nothing against the folks who worked hard on this film(except Arnie,of course) but if it doesn't do well, perhaps an original concept or script might get a chance to dazzle us with creative wonder next time around:

Speaking of cinematic dinosaurs, Jurassic World is openly embracing their marketing and merchandising might as the ultimate in interactive theme parks is finally allowing the tourists in.

Chris Pratt stars as the resident Indiana Jones, who sees trouble a-foot as one of his fellow scientists decides to experiment with of that ancient DNA and makes a hybrid monster that's a danger to humans and newly created dinos alike. Yep, Frankenstein and dinosaurs, that goes together like crunchy peanut butter and cheap chocolate.

To be fair, it has been awhile since we've seen a Jurassic Park sequel and dinosaurs are a classic movie menace that can age like fine wine. Kids will love this sight unseen(it helps that a young visitor to the park is one of the major characters) and that first opening weekend ought to please the money men greatly. As for me, I'll sit this one out:

All in all, this is not a bad year for summer movies. Sure, it would be nice to have something truly fresh and imaginative splash across the screens but there's nothing wrong with some well done genre fare giving us our time and money's worth. Even on that level, putting your best foot forward should be a major priority as even the most jaded of audiences want to be honestly entertained or at the very least, properly amused: