Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, May 29, 2009

Spending Saturday at BEA 2009

Book Expo America is back in New York(and will stay there for the next couple of years,from what I've heard)this weekend and yes,I will be attending tomorrow. Due to the economy,I'm only able to go for one day and since Saturday is smack dab in the middle of the festivities,that seemed to be the best choice.

This year,I won't be on my own-my sister Stephanie will be accompanying me,due to her status as an author(her first collection of The Original Nutty Funsters strips,A List of Grievances,is available in print and online form)and she has a new comic book out that features another set of characters from her series Cookie Bear(which is not kid friendly despite the cuteness there, but surrealistically funny stuff for grown ups). Getting the chance to share this experience with her is truly priceless.

Many of the talks planned for BEA this year are focusing on the growing digital market for books and how to capitalize on it(ironically enough,the internet and wifi connections at the Javits center are far from top notch,according to a few early reports).

There's also going to be "book blogger signings"-a chance for folks in the industry to meet and greet some of the big lit bloggers out there. I'm hoping to say hello to Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches,Trashy Books,who will be there along side Jessica Kennedy from Book Reviews by Jess. With any luck,maybe Sarah will sign my copy of Beyond Heaving Bosoms(written with her fellow SB Candy Tan)-we'll see.

The main reason that I attend BEA is for the new book buzz;discovering those up and coming titles that not only can I read and enjoy,but also review and promote here for everyone who checks out this blog. Even with all of the shiny new gadgets and techno bells and whistles being cranked out by the minute,word of mouth is still the strongest seller of books in any format.

Don't get me wrong,I think that embracing the new media is a good thing yet it's too soon to completely overhaul the system. Not everyone can afford Kindles or any other E-Book reader on the market(plus,some prefer not to)or want to read only from their computers. There is still a place on the shelves for the regular old fashioned paperback/hardcover book and while things do need a bit of a spruce,let's not toss the baby out with the bathwater prematurely.

Here are a few glimpses at some of the books that will be talked about at BEA this weekend-first up is Katherine Weber with her tasty sounding novel True Confections due out this December:

Next is A.J. Jacobs,who will have another interesting experimental chronicle in bookstores this September called The Guinea Pig Diaries. Not only was I happy to interview him awhile ago,he's been one of the featured "Ask The Expert" folks on the daytime version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire-pretty cool!:

Mary Higgins Clark(along with her daughter Carol)will be showcasing her new release Just Take My Heart. I've had the pleasure of working at author signings with her and she is a true lady at heart:

Last but far from least is Elizabeth Noble,whose new novel The Girl Next Door is set for a December release. I read one of her earlier titles,The Reading Group,and it was very entertaining,which makes me look forward to this one:

In the end,that's what this is all about,the books. Regardless of genre,language,culture or even form,the written word holds steady in both good times and bad. For some of us,the need to read is as vital as having food,air and water to live on. Hopefully at BEA tomorrow,I'll find that there is more feast than famine available for all of us bookworms out there:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Legend of the Seeker finale,plus a look at some sweet new summer series

Legend of the Seeker wrapped up it's first season and props must be given to the writers of this episode for putting in several bits of business in(time travel,an evil male Confessor destroying the Midlands,an unlikely alliance between Richard and Mistress Cara-that man has a weakness for Mord Sith chicks,seriously!-and Kahlan trying to send Richard help thru time via a horrible compromise)that most other shows would stretch over an entire season and keeping it short and sweet.

The time travel plot point allowed Richard and Kahlan a chance to act on their own without their usual allies,quite the challenge. It was a great opportunity for both characters to rely on their strengths and show how much they've grown on their journey.

They passed with flying colors(a few points off of Kahlan's score,since she relied a little too much on the power of good rather than setting down a more solid plan of action)and their love was increased tenfold.

LOTS will have a second season(no word yet on when it will start)and I can hardly wait for that to begin. Too bad about Darken Rahl,he was a rather nasty villain and deliciously evil to boot but on the bright side,how many times do you get to see the bad guy vanquished twice?(spoiler-sorry!). If you haven't seen this show,there's plenty of time to catch up,thanks to Hulu and repeats on your local syndicated station. Follow the adventure,it's worth the trip!:


With the regular season winding down,it's time to start looking to summer TV programming. To get the ball rolling,let us look at three new foodie focused shows that should add some much needed seasoning to your viewing menu.

First up is Top Chef Masters,courtesy of Bravo. This cooking competition is hosted by Kelly Choi and will have both Quickfire and Elimination rounds that Top Chef is known for.

The catch is that the contenders are master chefs in the field who will be going head to head with one another in order to win $100,000 for their favorite charity. Some of these chefs have been guest judges for TC in the past and it'll be interesting to see how they do under similar pressure(June 10):

A new season of The Next Food Network Star starts up on June 7, with Bobby Flay strutting his stuff as head judge and host again. This is only my second time checking this one out but this race to see who can be a shiny new culinary celeb does have just as much spice at times as TC,with a smaller dose of drama tossed in to keep the flavors on track:

TLC is launching a new reality series called Cake Boss,which follows the trials and tasty tribulations of Buddy Valastro who runs a family owned bakery in Hoboken,NJ. I've seen Buddy on several Food Network Challenges and the man knows how to make amazingly elaborate cakes. Watching him manage both his business and his family could be very entertaining indeed( Mondays at 10):




MANEATER: Lifetime takes a page out of USA Network's playbook and adapts another Gigi Levangie Grazer novel,with this one being about a Hollywood honey who wants to orchestrate a relationship that will lead straight to marriage with a well to do man. Sarah Chalke is the leading lady here and seems rather charming in the part,so this may be a fun little weekend miniseries fling:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Chris Farley Show gets you to pay attention to the man behind the fame curtain

As someone who grew up watching Saturday Night Live during it's heyday,it's all too easy to get blinded by the glow of celebrity that surrounded those Not Ready for Prime Time Players,especially John Belushi.

That was the first death of a celebrity that really hit home to me;for years,I kept a file with clippings about his demise,plus a special memorial issue of People and a newspaper that had his tragic overdose as the front page story.

I suspect that many people will want to check out The Chris Farley Show expecting to read a Belushi:The Next Generation tabloid tale. They will be surely disappointed,since this is a candid and thoughtful look at the life and times of a talented comedian who was never able to see his true worth as a human being.

Co-authored by Tom Farley,Jr(Chris' older brother)and Tanner Colby,the book is mostly an oral biography that uses interviews from Farley's family and friends as well as the actors and writers he worked with over the years. It begins with his childhood days in Wisconsin,where Chris first developed his humor skills but didn't take to the stage until his college days.

At one point,he did try his hand at working in the family business but it soon became clear that his boisterous nature and comedic skills would be better served outside the corporate world:

Chris moved on to Second City and then Saturday Night Live,along with other up and coming funny men like Adam Sandler,Chris Rock and David Spade(who teamed up with him onscreen for Tommy Boy and Black Sheep). He wound up turning into one of the show's best loved stars,growing in stature from popular ensemble skits like The Super Fans to creating memorable characters of his own:

A fan favorite character was Motivational Speaker Matt Foley,named after a real life friend of Chris' who entered the priesthood. Fr. Foley is one of interview contributors to the book and was truly flattered by Chris honoring their relationship in this way:

The Chris Farley Show does more than chronicle the rise and fall of an SNL gone Hollywood star;it shows the reader the other side to Farley's funny man facade,the devout Catholic who worked hard on staying connected to his faith as well as the charitable acts of volunteerism that he did,some of which was unknown to even his closest friends.

While Farley's open generosity to just about everyone he met is highlighted,there is no sugar coating about his struggles with food,drug and alcohol addiction. As much as Chris sought out help at various treatment centers and received plenty of encouragement to do so(along with tough love) from those around him,it was his denial of his true inner demons that lead down the similar sad path towards the fate of John Belushi,who he admired greatly.

The Chris Farley Show is an openly loving look at a man who never got the chance to achieve his real artistic potential,despite all of the fame and accolades given to him. It gives a warts and all impression of Farley,tempered by the sorrow that he is not with us any more and great respect must be paid to his brothers,Tom in particular,for having the emotional strength to make their sibling's turbulent times known,along with his kindness and compassion for others.

The book is now available in paperback and is definitely worth checking out,not for morbid purposes but to truly mourn a bright light in the comedy world that shines no longer,in order to fully appreciate the loss:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sad songs do say so much about a person's heart

Another Susan Boyle performance is now making it's way around the web,with her choice of song being "Memories" from Cats. While some people may think that she's overrated at this point,I have to tell you folks that I was just as moved by this rendition as I was for the one that started the ball rolling for her.

I haven't written about this before,mainly because everyone else out there already said plenty as it is,but to those who doubt her talent,let me say this. I've seen Cats twice on Broadway,plus heard numerous singers perform this song. It's pretty much become a standard go-to song to get those tears a-jerkin'.

Yet,none of those versions has made me actually need a box of tissues on hand until now. Susan Boyle sings with true heartfelt emotion,a skill that can't be taught. You either have it or you don't. So,don't hate her because her soul is beautiful,folks:

With that having been said,here are a few of my personal favorite sad songs. What they say about me,you can judge for yourself(especially if a couple of them are on your hit parade as well). It's not good to play too many sorrowful tunes but once in a while, your blue mood can be best offset by a great heartrending number:

AND I AM TELLING YOU: Jennifer Hudson's Oscar winning performance is still amazing,no matter how many times you hear or see it. No disrespect to Jennifer Holliday intended, but Hudson set the bar up for this song on such a high level that any other singer needs a fireman's ladder to reach beyond it to excellence:

LIKE WE NEVER LOVED AT ALL: Country music is the all time champion of sad songs,but this duet by Faith Hill and Tim McGraw has enough empathy embedded in it to stretch over to fans on the pop music side of the table. In my opinion,this lyrical ode to the loss of a loved one can also apply to non romantic situations as well(with a few lines taken out,that is):

MISTER CELLOPHANE: While the ladies of Chicago(not to mention Richard Gere's sleazy lawyer character)took up much of the acclaim,John C. Reilly's work as the neglected simpleton husband Amos was somewhat lost in the shuffle. He does give the most sincere musical performance in the film,being the only character who is truly sincere throughout the whole media song and dance:

OUT HERE ON MY OWN: Irene Cara is best known for singing the theme song to Fame,but I always was touched by this tune,particularly the refrain. It's hauntingly beautiful and yet not self pitying in the least:

THE ROSE: Bette Midler was a major diva influence in my youth and the power of this song,even today,is proof positive that some standards never go stale:

Sad songs are a necessary evil,they provide those who can't find the right words or way to express their true feelings to do so. They may be sneered at or mocked mercilessly for their sentiment but they sure do come in handy when a certain time or person in your life is in serious need of closure. Sap may be sticky however it has real strength and holding power:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Drag Me To Hell offers up another slice of sinister social scares

Coming to a theater near you next weekend is Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell,which is a return to the horror genre for him only this movie appears to be more of a hardcore fear fest without those wacky bits of whimsy that he's known for(as in the Evil Dead movies and even Dark Man).

An interesting allure for me to this movie is the sharp social commentary that the plot has,rather all too timely. The story's heroine(played by Allison Lohman)is a loan officer who refuses to extend a mortgage for an old woman in order to get a promotion at work. The old lady decides to take revenge by making the phrase "go to hell!" take on a more literal meaning:

Now this isn't the first horror movie to take on a sociopolitical edge or even to get all metaphorical about what the monsters really mean. It is,however,purposely unsubtle about this, which is a nice change of pace that the genre really needs right now.

In that spirit,let's take a look at a few other examples of in-your-face scary films intent on slashing away at social boundaries. Wes Craven occasionally hits a nerve or two that's not just for gore purposes as in 1991's People Under The Stairs.

The villains of that piece are a twisted brother and sister act(who call each other "Mommy" and "Daddy")that gouge the urban neighborhood they dwell in with high rentals,torment children and horde their ill gotten gains(along with their mutilated brood)in the basement. Their Ron and Nancy Reagan resemblance is no coincidence,to be sure:

Abel Ferrara's take on vampires in 1995's The Addiction has a double dose of biting commentary as it twists the chic of being a junkie along with the pseudo intellectual preenings of over privileged college students on the New York scene.

At one point in the story, the newly made collegiate vampire(Lili Taylor)seeks guidance from a mysterious stranger(Christopher Walken)who claims to have a strong handle on their shared condition.

After awhile,it becomes clear that he's just as much of an intellectual con man as any of the sleazy professor types that our blood craving heroine(no pun intended)would run into on campus:

Clive Barker's short story about a legendary boogieman coming to life in the midst of London slums translated well to film in Candyman and didn't suffer in the least by being reset in America. Director Bernard Rose elegantly wove in both visceral terrors and chilling culture clash by having his nightmare creation be a victim of long ago racism about to be discounted as a threat due to the findings of an upper class white woman.

Despite the sorry sequels made to this(which only focused on the gut ripping part of the story),the original film makes a very strong argument to those who dare to assume that they can keep far above the fray of lives less fortunate than their own and profit from their pain without any payback-you know what happens when you assume,right?:

No discussion on this subject would be complete without a tip of the hat to George Romero. The postmodern granddaddy of the zombie as metaphor genre is still fighting the good fight there,by keeping those brain eating menaces up to date for our times.

While Land of the Dead seemed to be the last word from him,Romero couldn't resist taking aim at the YouTube/MySpace generation with Diary of the Dead. The movie didn't get as much fanfare as Land,but certainly seems to have used the video diary format more effectively than the overrated Cloverfield:

Drag Me to Hell may have a tough time climbing to the top of the box office charts,with all of the big blockbuster flicks and family friendly films pushing and shoving their way up,but I do hope that audiences seek it out in large numbers. No matter how hokey or incredibly obvious the special effects and characters may seem,horror movies can still make a stronger impact and more lasting impression on viewers about the state of things than any high minded cinematic sounding board can:

Friday, May 22, 2009

My Top Five List of Iconic Villians

A recent thread at the Smart Bitches,Trashy Books site got me to thinking about one of my favorite fictional subjects,villains. It's no secret that I adore those bad guys and gals who you love to hate and hate to love.

However,there are a few foes that leave a strong impression on the pop culture scene which lasts beyond their original debut. The kind that are imitated but never truly duplicated via other works and also brought back to life more often than zombies.

In other words,they are Iconic Villains,templates for evil doers in books,film and TV series. In choosing a Top Five of the best of the worst,I took into consideration both long lasting influence,plus having more than one actor portray this person and their rate of revival. So,without further delay,here is the official LRG Top Five picks for Iconic Villainy:


The good doctor is the youngest of the bunch here,which makes him the first of the last to be profiled. Lector has haunted both books and film,thanks to the deviously clever writing by Thomas Harris and Anthony Hopkins' memorable performances in Silence of the Lambs and it's controversial follow-up,Hannibal.

Lector has become the go-to basis for sinisterly smart serial killers in the thriller genre,with even women being just as fiendish formidable. Chelsea Cain's Gretchen Lowell is one of the more recent literary mind and body hunters who can be fairly called a direct descendant.

Hopkins is seen as the ultimate incarnation of the character so much that a remake of an earlier Harris adaptation-Red Dragon,in which Lector was a minor character-was done and even expanded Hopkin's role in order to appease his fans. In my opinion,Brian Cox did a very good job as Lector in the first crack at the story(Manhunter)and it's the superior of the two:




Batman's number one menace has reinforced the fear of clowns better than any showboating children's party entertainer. From his first appearance in comic books to various TV show versions(animated and live action),the Clown Prince of Crime has reigned supreme on the costumed character crime scene.

It's been the major motion picture takes on the character,however,which have kept his legacy of lethal laughs going strong. Not to dismiss the excellent graphic novel revivals of him(which the screenwriters have used as inspiration),but Hollywood has given this funny fear master a throne on which to cheer from:




Another DC creation,Luthor has changed jobs as much as anyone else out there with a resume on Monster or Career Builder,but he's still bad to the bone. From mad scientist to corporate tycoon to politician,Lex's main agenda is take down Superman in order to rule the world.

Even when Lex has been featured in a buffoonish fashion,he's smart enough to trick Kal-El into facing off against green kryptonite. Brains over brawn can be a good thing but not when it's literally in the wrong hands:




There's been legions of witchy women stirring up all kinds of trouble for heroes and heroines over time,yet all of them have to step back and let Morgan Le Fay do her strut on the catwalk.

This half sister of King Arthur and vengeful nemesis of Merlin has inspired plenty of bad girls as well become the template for the ultimate stage mother. She's even been revised as a misunderstood heroine and become a comic book force of evil to be reckoned with,for both DC and Marvel. Any legendary lady who can work on either side of the major league comic art realm is someone who shouldn't be ignored,Dan!:




If you have any doubts about immortality of vampires,just take a look around your local bookstore,movie theater or latest DVD releases to see what Bram Stroker have wrought. Not only has the pop culture love for bloodsuckers grown and spawned several different retakes on the genre,the one who started it all gets his fair share of fresh acclaim again and again.

No matter how many men seek to defeat him,Dracula always has a invitation from the fair sex to come in and have a bite. Say what you want about Vlad,he certainly knows how to sweep a girl off her feet and into his power(rather willingly at times):



So,any up and coming villains looking to make their mark on the pop culture scene,take note and study up on these fiendish five. You can't go too far off course by emulating one or more of these determined followers of chaos. Even Bad Horse would respect the well earned reputations of these Evil League of Evil hall of famers:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A disappointing A.I. finale,giddy for Glee and Janet sets off some sparks on Rescue Me

Well,we all know who won American Idol-congrats to Kris Allen-and I'm sure that I am not the only one feeling a tad let down there. Adam will have a great career due to all of the exposure he got out of this(most of the success stories about American Idol contestants are from those who didn't make it to the finale)but it would've been nice to see someone who truly deserved to win,WIN.

On the bright side,at least Adam isn't stuck with singing that maudlin finale song for months on end(Kara,for all of her boasts about her musical prowess and bizarre need to upstage Bikini Girl,is no Carole King)and there's always next year. Thank you,Adam,for giving us something to talk about this season and looking forward to hearing more from you in the future:




After the A.I. performance show on Tuesday,the pilot episode for the much touted musical drama Glee aired on Fox. The show is a Ryan Murphy creation(Nip/Tuck,Popular)so this is not High School Musical,more like Freaks and Geeks with a few song and dance routines tossed in with the snark.

The center of the plot swirls around the misfits of McKinley High's Glee Choir and their determined new mentor,Spanish teacher Will Schuester,who wants to bring the club back to it's former glory days. That road is definitely going to be a rocky one,with Will's materialistic wife(Jessalyn Gilsig,aka Claire's birth mom on Heroes)and the cold hearted cheerleader coach(Jane Lynch)in his way.

Amongst the Glee club's allies are quirky guidance counselor Emma(Jayma Mays),talented but overly ambitious Rachel Berry(Lea Michele) and reluctant star quarterback Finn(Cory Monteith). It's too bad that Fox wants to make us wait until the fall to see more of Glee;it certainly would make a great summer series. With any luck,the wait will be worth our while:

Rescue Me has had plenty of serious overtones lately,with various characters going over their memories of 9/11 due to a French journalist's research interviews for a book on the subject. That hasn't totally killed off the comedy portions of the show,however.

This week,Tommy and his ex-wife Janet went to visit their daughter Katie,who is attending a snooty boarding school in Connecticut and making up a yuppified past for her family. Janet lectured him about not messing things up for Katie but she turned out to be the one who let her freak flag fly.

While attending dinner with a few of the parents of Katie's classmates,Janet was verbally assaulted by the clearly jealous and smug wives at the table,which lead to her drinking more than she should and showing those bitches what a real tongue lashing feels like. Good on her and glad to see Tommy not be the bad guy in a social situation for once(also kudos to him for the backup he gave her there):


LEGEND OF THE SEEKER: The season finale is upon us this weekend(no mistakes about that this time from me)and it looks bad for Kahlan,as she falls into Darken Rahl's clutches. On the other hand,Rahl is very sinister sexy(yes,I'm bad)so this might not be the worst that can happen here:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How do you solve a probelm like Uhura? Maybe by reexamining the question.

The latest big screen version of Star Trek was bound to cause some controversy,especially amongst the fans,but one point in particular has been sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb to me and caused me to recheck some of my childhood TV memories.

It seems that some folks think the depiction of Lt. Uhura(played by Zoe Saldana in the new film)is an unflattering throwback to the original character from the first TV series(portrayed by Nichelle Nichols). To better show you what I mean,here's a couple of qoutes from an online review(keeping this as spoiler free as possible but slightly plot revealing-you have been warned) by Ed Champion to start with:

"She’s a character composite of Nurse Chapel and the Nichelle Nichols incarnation. This is not a character who is permitted to think or offer solutions. Sure, she intercepts and translates a vital radio transmission. But it is Kirk who seizes this information and uses this to advance up the ranks of command without crediting Uhura. Again, if Kirk embodies the ugly capitalist who keeps utopia’s engine running, there’s some promise in the suggestion. But the writers simply don’t have the chops to think along these lines and make this interesting. Indeed, with Uhura so exploited, it’s evident that the writers barely grasp feminism’s second wave."

And this is from author Jennifer Weiner's take on the film at the Huffington Post:

"Finally, there's Uhura...and what Abrams and company do with the Enterprise's communications officer will not be warming the cockles of any feminist hearts.

We first meet her at a bar, all ponytail, miniskirt, and long legs. Kirk hits on her. She brushes him off. He persists, prompting Uhura's fellow cadets to mop the floor with him (couldn't she have kicked his ass herself? Probably. So why didn't the movie let her?)

We are told, rather than shown, that Uhura is an extraordinarily capable linguist. We are told, rather than shown, that she's intercepted an important transmission, the plot device that jump-starts the film's action...as soon as Kirk tells Captain Pike about it. But Uhura's primary function isn't professional. Her job, in this brave new universe, is to look cute in a red dress, and to humanize (and by "humanize" I mean "mack on") her coolly logical, eminently reasonable mate. "

Both reviews complain about the depiction of women throughout the movie,with Weiner's impression being " that every single lady on screen was either a mother, a ho, or an intergalactic hood ornament. "

Granted,I have not yet seen the new movie(I plan to do so later this month)and can not call myself a Trekkie/Trekker,yet something about this insistence on a politically correct version of Uhura doesn't sit right with me.

I grew up watching the old school Trek with my family-my brother and I even had Kirk and Spock dolls at one point-and from what I remember about the character and the few clips available from the current ST film,she appears to be the same cool as a cucumber communications officer to me.

Since video speaks louder than words,let's take a gander at Uhura and Kirk's first meeting from the film:


SETTLING THE TAB(the sound's a bit low on this one,sorry!)

To compare and contrast,here are some scenes from the original Trek with Uhura front and center. The first one is a conversation between her and Spock during a time when Kirk is off the ship:

And this is from an episode where several members of the Enterprise crew were trapped in an evil alternate universe and she plays a key role in saving the day:

Since the new movie is intended to showcase the original set of characters during their younger years,it only seems fitting that respecting the template in which they were first created would be the right artistic choice. From the handful of scenes I've shown here,Uhura is the type of person who uses her brains(and occasionally some feminine wiles)rather than brawn to handle tricky situations and she's still doing that now.

There is more than one way to be a strong woman,both in fictional and the real world,and I don't see anything wrong with showing that. While you can make an argument for presenting a more socially advanced version of a character,it should be done in order to enhance the story and the character,not just a way to get some P.C. kudos. Uhura has always been a solid supporting player in the Star Trek boy's club and should be recognized as such:

While Star Trek was a ground breaking series,it was also chock full of typical sci-fi cliches of the time period. Even the notion of having a black female character in such a setting was innovative enough to encourage young women to embrace the genre and give them hope for the future.

That doesn't mean that depictions of women or any other group of not ready for prime time folk can't be more in touch with the current state of affairs,but it's not right from a storytelling point of view to ignore the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the character as first written. Making Uhura into a Xena/Ellen Ripley type of gal is as wrong as having Scotty speak with a Greek accent or Mr. Spock being a Klingon.

I may have a different opinion about this after seeing the movie,but it does urk me when people want to rewrite a character according to their own agenda( this has happened to poor Fanny Price one time too many)instead of appreciating her for her own merits. However,something tells me that Zoe Saldana has done Uhura justice here and will do so in any future follow-ups. May she live long and prosper,onscreen and off:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Santa Olivia packs a powerful paranormal punch

Loup Garron was born in the border town of Santa Olivia,long after it became isolated from both America and Mexico by the army due to the outbreak of an unstoppable disease and threats from a mysterious band of militant agitators. Renamed Outpost,the town has become a haven for soldiers at the nearby base and it's few remaining citizens wind up making due with whatever is on hand.

Loup's father was thought to be a deserter,but he was more of an escapee. One of the "Lost Boys" taken from an experimental group of children near Haiti,he had a set of genetically enhanced skills that made him(along with others like him)of interest to the powers that be. Loup's mother and older brother both tried to keep her unusual abilities from catching the eyes of the wrong people who would be glad to find out what made her tick.

When Loup's mother died,her brother Tom had no choice but to send her to live with the orphans of Santa Olivia church,one of the few safe places in town for young people with nowhere to go. Loup managed to make new friends,who also were let in on her secret powers of super strength,speed and not being able to feel fear.

Her fighting prowess was hard to hold back as she got older and her outlet for that started as an impromptu vigilante avenger who took on the persona of Outpost's former namesake saint. At first,Santa Olivia was a Zorro type that gave many of the desperate locals something to believe in,but when Loup lost a loved one due to a rigged boxing match run by the army,with false promises of freedom from Outpost as a reward,her quest for justice went to a higher level:

While Santa Olivia doesn't have the epic scope of Jaqueline Carey's Kushiel titles,it is a compulsively engaging read. Part of the appeal of the book is the uncanny touches on current concerns happening in the news right now,but that only makes the setting and situations the characters find themselves in that much more relevant to the reader.

Santa Olivia does share with Carey's other works her strong character development and wonderful knack for creating solid imaginary realities. The paranormal part of the story is more in the vein of X Men rather than Buffy,yet there's a sensitive feminine warrior edge to Loup that makes her as hardy as any Joss Whedon developed leading lady. This is not the first stand alone novel that Jacqueline Carey has written,however it may have the power to not only bring in long time Kushiel fans but draw new readers into the Carey fold as well.

Santa Olivia is due out in paperback at a bookstore near you,and it's as entertainingly tasty as any big summer popcorn movie heading to the multiplex this season. Even if you prefer to wait for Naamah's Kiss in June for your Carey fix,it would be a wise move to have this book on hand for your vacation reading.

I don't know if there are any plans for a sequel but one would be most welcome. Santa Olivia is satisfyingly complete yet,there does seem to be more story to tell. Hopefully,this will not be the last we hear of this nearly futuristic fantasy fighter:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Finding my way thru Lost In Austen

No doubt a number of Jane Austen fans here in the U.S. have discovered the delights of the 2008 British mini series Lost In Austen and know that plans are in the works for a Hollywood remake. For those who haven't seen the original just yet,I implore you most heartily to add it to your Netflix queue straight away to savor this offbeat beauty of a film for yourself.

Lost In Austen stars Jemina Rooper as Amanda Price,a modern day Londoner who escapes from the dreariness of her life by constantly rereading Pride and Prejudice. Her friends and family often chide her for overindulging in such literary daydreams and Amanda starts to wonder if they're right when Elizabeth Bennett starts showing up in her bathroom:

Amanda winds up changing places with Elizabeth(who thoughtfully arranged for her family to receive an unexpected visitor)and while spending time in a Jane Austen novel appears to be a dream come true,Amanda's presence causes quite a bit of chaos in the story line.

She does her best to try and keep the plot essentials on track,even to the point of being engaged to Mr. Collins briefly(as a means of ensuring that Jane and Mr.Bingley get together)but Amanda can't help being the unintentional fly in the ointment or occurring the dislike of Mr. Darcy(Elliot Cowan):

Of course,some of her interference is rather warranted at certain key moments and amusing,despite being ill timed:

Things become even more desperate when the wrong people wind up together and other radical developments cause the original mold that the P&P plot was in to be broken in so many ways that Amanda fears it can never be properly prepared. To make matters worse,she finds herself falling in love with Darcy. That definitely puts a kink in her plans to keep him at arm's length until Elizabeth comes back.

This whole film puts a major league metafiction spin on P&P and much to my surprise,it works brilliantly. A good part of that is due to the apparent love of Austen's books,that the screenwriter Guy Andrews has in abundance and the snappy yet sentimental when needed direction given by Dan Zeff.

Despite the twists and turns torn at the characters(both the "real" and the Austen created ones),everyone brings a true sense of themselves to the situation at hand. You can readily believe that these representations of the well known folks from P&P are authentic and possess more layers of personal intrigue than Jane Austen ever intended to reveal.

The chemistry between the actors is just as lively,with Rooper and Cowan making such a compelling couple that even a determined Lizzie and Darcy fan would root for their love to succeed. While they may not replace Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the hearts of diehard P&P lovers,these two surely make quite a splash of their own:

Other great casting coups include Alex Kingston and Hugh Bonneville as Mr. and Mrs. Bennett,Gemma Arteron as Elizabeth and Tom Riley as Wickam(who is not as caddish here as his literary reputation makes him out to be). There are plenty of wonderful novels that have blurred the lines between Austen's world and our own for the postmodern pleasures of readers and with any luck,a few of them may get the good fortune to be brought to life on film as lovingly and lively as Lost In Austen was for viewers.

I truly dread any attempt at an Americanized retelling,since this miniseries is available on DVD and can be enjoyed by Jane Austen fans in the U.S.A. in it's original form. If you're in of an Austen fix or simply wondering what all the fuss is about,let yourself be Lost In Austen. It's a humorously romantic journey of the heart and mind:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Why some sequels are just a bad idea

There's been some buzz lately about a book due to arrive this fall called "60 Years Later: Coming through the rye" by John David California which is supposed to be a follow up to Catcher In The Rye. It's unauthorized,of course,and the plot has to do with an aging Holden Caulfield sneaking out of a nursing home.

It sounds like a parody,which many people seem to think it is,which may help both the publisher and author out if a lawsuit comes about,but I for one have no real interest in reading such a thing even if Salinger himself wrote it. Why? Because I think there just is no more story to tell.

Now,I'm not against doing a sequel and/or a re imaging of a literary classic(or non classic for that matter) if someone can add an interesting twist or two. Some books just lend themselves to wondering about what happened to that couple who got married by the end or what about that friend of theirs on the sidelines? Others I feel have said all they had to say and any attempt to do more is like stretching out a piece of gum long after the flavor has gone.

One book that has had it's share of sorry sequels is Gone With The Wind. Margaret Mitchell never intended any sort of follow-up(when asked by Louis B. Mayer for another book,she replied "And what do I call it,Back With the Breeze?")but folks keep on trying.

I gave Alexandra Ripley's Scarlett a couple of tries-in hardcover and paperback-but just couldn't get into it at all. Still,the book had enough admirers to get a made for TV miniseries on the air,with a cast that certainly can't compare to the original actors in any way,shape or form:

Part of the reason for my dislike of certain sequels may be due to the length of the original;GWTW was certainly long enough and Anne Rice's The Witching Hour had a similar epic scope as well. I did try to read Lasher but the first chapter felt as flat and contrived as any of those cheesy slasher movie sequels from the eighties.

But you can't blame it all on "well,the first one was long enough". The reason that The Godfather Part II was a good idea and Part III wasn't had nothing to do with how long but rather how soon. Some sequels require immediacy to not only keep the creative juices flowing but the interest of the audiences as well. The difference between waiting a year for the next entry in a series and waiting over a decade is wider than the Grand Canyon.

Some of the better sequels have taken the tack of imaging the original story from the viewpoint of a minor character,preferably one who was offstage most of the time. Wide Sargasso Sea is a modern classic example of that with my personal favorite being Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund.

It's not a perfect formula by any means,but it does give a writer a stronger chance of both paying tribute to the original work of art as well as stake their own claim upon the material.

A key element,in my opinion,is choosing a bit player to center the work around. As much it may be enticing to get the He Said or the She Said version of a story from a lead character,that can easily lead to just a another retelling of the same old plot(Rhett Butler and Edward Cullen,for example, also risk losing the main ingredient to their charm,that air of mystery about their inner selves).

Another approach is to go directly for the funny bone. Most folks are more forgiving of parodies than straight faced sequels. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is more of a "What would a Jane Austen novel be like with brain eating corpses all over the place?" deal but the sheer folly of such a notion is what makes it work.

The most important question to ask about whether or not a sequel is necessary is "Was there one meant to be in the first place?" In other words,did the writer plan on keeping this story going along for much longer or did they wrap everything up as they intended to? You can argue that many books and movies don't tie things up in a neat little bow at the end but maybe that wasn't needed to make the underlying point of the story made.

Ultimately,the best sequels are the intentional ones. Whether it's part of a trilogy, a mini series or just a plain old Part Two,a sequel that was prepared ahead of time and whose main goal is to advance more of the story and increase the emotional growth of the characters (rather than increase someone's bank account)is the truly satisfying conclusion that every fan wants.

To paraphrase Kenny Rodgers,you got to know when to walk away and when to run from a meaningless sequel,whether it's on page or screen. For readers,it may be harder to pull back from a tempting follow up to an all time favorite but the time you save from doing so can be spent on much better things in life. Some hours just can't be given back to you,even with a team of attorneys at your command:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Idol's Top Two contenders,TAR's winners and The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency wraps up it's first season

This year's American Idol finalists have now been chosen and the finale should be rather entertaining there. Congrats to Adam and Kris for being the big boys at the showdown this season.

Frankly,I was surprised that Danny was the one sent home. He's not been my favorite(neither has Kris but I get his appeal somewhat)but the guy is a very talented singer. His major drawback is that he just doesn't have the charisma and striking vocal skills that Adam possesses in abundance-one listen to Danny's attempt at Aerosmith and Adam's rendition of "Cryin'" clearly shows that up.

And,yes,I definitely want Adam to win. The guy is amazingly talented and daring on stage,not to mention one of the few contestants I've ever seen on this show who is that ready for a major musical career to begin. It's like one of the old school movie cliches where the understudy gets a chance to take over the lead of the play and is instantly a superstar. Adam is superstar material,folks.

No more Sanjaya awards from me-instead,here's a brief tribute to Adam Lambert that includes a special song that his fans should be using to root for him next week:




Congratulations are also in order for Tammy and Victor,the winners of The Amazing Race's Season 14. It was pretty much down to the wire in Hawaii,with the teams working side by side on those last couple of challenges.

The memory challenge is usually the one that makes or breaks a team towards the end and it did the charm here. Luke was going full steam ahead on that one but got flustered on the last couple of surfboards and while Jamie was nice enough to give him an assist,it was too late for both teams.

While Tammy and Victor haven't always been on their best behavior,they did improve their teamwork with each other so I'm happy for them. Luke and Margie were good racers as well,despite their issues on the road,and maybe Jamie will learn to be more courteous to cab drivers in the future. Good going,Tammy and Victor and best wishes to you both:

The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency finished up it's first season on HBO last Sunday and it was an excellent run,in my humble opinion. From the great cast to the lively story telling style with it's finely blended mix of humor and heartbreak and the visual delights of Botswana,every episode made you feel as if you had stepped right into one of the books it was based upon.

There will be another round of No.1 Ladies' and while I'm most anxious to see the new season of True Blood,the fine folks of Gaborone will be also be missed. Many of us will keep a warm pot of bush tea available for the second season:





TRUE BLOOD: Speaking of that sexy hot mess of goodness,Season Two starts on Sunday June 14. It's been hard waiting for more but some things are well worth the pain:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Angels & Demons make their mark on the holy mystery beat

The next potential blockbuster movie to come out of the gate is Angels & Demons,the prequel to the hugely popular Da Vinci Code. Tom Hanks is back as Robert Langdon,who is sort of a cross between Indy Jones and Sherlock Holmes as he's called in to solve yet another mystery dealing with the secrets of the Catholic church.

Ewan McGregor joins the party,sort of a Dr. Watson type while Langdon teams up with the daughter of a murdered physicist(he certainly seems to have a knack for hooking up with females related to the recently deceased there)to find the Illuminati before their intended revenge plans literally tear the world apart. Pretty exciting stuff,sounds like a great popcorn movie to me:

While Angels & Demons isn't causing as much controversy as DVC did(both book and movie),it does confirm my opinion that Dan Brown's Langdon titles are the latest entry in the holy mystery genre. Holy mysteries either have religious figures solving crimes or happen to have a mystical theme that ties into the big revelation towards the end of the story.

A prime example of this is The Name of the Rose,an Umberto Eco novel about a series of murders at a 14th century Italian abbey. A elder monk and his young apprentice are sent to investigate and uncover a bizarre yet literary motive for the deaths of the monks.

The book was adapted into a movie in 1986 with Sean Connery,Christian Slater(yeah,hard to picture him as a monk,isn't it?)and F. Murray Abraham. The film version of NOTR wasn't a big money maker at the box office,partly due to the fact that Eco's novel didn't hold the same sway over mainstream audiences that DVC has:

Holy mysteries tend to do better on the small screen than the big;one of the more popular PBS Mystery! series was the Brother Cadfael films,based on the Ellis Peters novels. Derek Jacobi starred as Cadfael,a 12th century Benedictine monk who solved local murders around his adopted home town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire,England.

Cadfael was not only a clever man,he was also very human. He became a monk late in life and one of his tools of detection was his vast life experience which could cut both ways at times:

No discussion on this topic would be complete without a tip of the hat to Father Dowling Mysteries show back in late eighties and early 1990s. The series began on NBC and then finished up on ABC,having only three seasons in total. Father Dowling Mysteries still has quite a few fans out there,but I couldn't get into it. Tom Bosley as a priest I can believe,but Tracy Nelson as a streetwise nun is a little hard to swallow there:

With a new Dan Brown book featuring Robert Langdon due out this fall(The Lost Symbol on September 15th)and the possible success of Angels & Demons at the boxoffice this weekend,it looks like the holy mystery genre is going to stay around for quite some time.

I know that there are a few folks out there who are less than thrilled with the mainstreaming of religion into the realm of fictional crime,but if you think about it,it's really a match made in heaven. After all,what greater mystery is there than wondering about life after death? Food for thought can be entertaining as well as educational.

Regardless of what faith you do or don't have,the question of what may be above us requires just as much intelligence and attention to detail as solving the building mysteries of the world around us: