Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, February 26, 2010

Shouldn't The Hurt Locker be too proud to beg for an Oscar?

Movie studio campaigns for Best Picture nominees at the Oscars are notoriously known for some down and dirty tactics over the decades which has brought about a number of strict guidelines from the Academy detailing just how far they can go.

A small scandal is currently rocking the Hollywood boat that may affect the status and votes for a film that's been a front runner in this year's race. One of the producers of The Hurt Locker sent out an e-mail that all but had the man on his hands and knees,urging Academy voters to support his movie and not so subtly slamming Avatar in the process. Read this for yourselves,folks:

I hope all is well with you. I just wanted to write you and say I hope you liked Hurt Locker and if you did and want us to win, please tell (name deleted) and your friends who vote for the Oscars, tell actors, directors, crew members, art directors, special effects people, if everyone tells one or two of their friends, we will win and not a $500M film, we need independent movies to win like the movies you and I do, so if you believe The Hurt Locker is the best movie of 2010, help us!

I'm sure you know plenty of people you've worked with who are academy members whether a publicist, a writer, a sound engineer, please take 5 minutes and contact them. Please call one or two persons, everything will help!

best regards,

Nicolas Chartier Voltage Pictures

The producer did send out an apology e-mail,claiming to be ignorant of the rules due to being a first time contender,but that seems to be as sincere as Tiger Woods' latest press conference.

With the deadline for Oscar voting being next Tuesday and the awards to be given out the following weekend,this quick burst of negative publicity does threaten to sink The Hurt Locker's chances for a win.

The weird thing about this whole mess is the completely unnecessary need for this plea. Forget about the rules for a moment;why in the world did this producer have so little faith in this film,which has garnered tons of critical accolades,several film festival honors,top spots on more than one influential Best Film of the Year lists and fans who fully support the movie both online and off?

Indie films have a great track record when it comes to winning Best Picture for quite a while now and Hollywood loves to pick films with Very Serious subject matters,another bonus for Hurt Locker here. Perhaps this was a case of nerves getting the best of this guy-after all,Oscar buzz is very heady stuff even for seasoned professionals:

True,Avatar is a big money machine but when it comes to Oscar,the voters don't always like to be reminded about the business side of things and as I mentioned earlier this week,Avatar's biggest setback is that it's a science fiction fantasy saga. Hollywood folks may financially support those films one way or another but they're about as appreciated as Twilight fans are by the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction selection committee.

Either way,is it fair to The Hurt Locker as a film to reap the bad harvest of what someone else sowed sadly on their behalf? I don't and I say this as someone who has not yet seen the movie(Netflix sent it to me this week but as of this writing,no one in my house has watched it so far).

Granted,I can easily understand why anyone would have cold feet about the movie's chances of winning-I'm still annoyed that Crash won over Brokeback Mountain in 2005- and what that producer did was beyond stupid,but it's really not right that the work of numerous artistic collaborators be undone by one man's desperate attempt to grab the brass ring here.

Of course,fair and right are subjective terms when it comes to things like this and while I may not even be impressed by The Hurt Locker after I do see it,the movie still deserves a shot at the big gold on March 7th.

It's earned a place on the ballot just as much as Precious,An Education or District 9 and while it may not be everyone's cup of tea(Avatar certainly isn't for some and neither is The Blind Side for others),it would be a real shame for such a heartfelt film to be given the shaft on such a well intentioned but badly done misstep. Good luck,Hurt Locker-looks like you may need it to get thru this award show minefield safely:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

TAR's cowboys have a good day,American Idol starts the singalong and Tabatha's sharp guest spot on Shear Genius

On Shear Genius this week,former S1 contender Tabatha Coffey(now the hostess of Tabatha's Salon Takeover on Bravo)stopped in to be the guest judge for the Elimination Challenge. Since Tabatha had lost out on a wedding related Elim,it was fitting that she joined the panel here as the goal was to remake a bridesmaid's hairstyle for the wedding reception.

It was a traditional Indian wedding,so some of the bridesmaids wanted a more relaxed hairdo for the party,which was understandable,but that threw a lot of people off their game such as Adee(who wound up going home)and Brig,who got into a tiff with Tabatha about the flat and less than flattering look her model received.

Brig is pretty much a nitwit(that chopped up prom dress she wore for the challenge was beyond campy)and while it was high time for Adee to leave,I think her days are numbered here. How I wish Tabatha was a regular part of Shear Genius-her no nonsense approach is quite the breath of fresh air:

On The Amazing Race,the cowboy team of Jet and Cord had an excellent run of luck on the second leg. Not only did they book a bus that reached the first Roadblock way ahead of the other teams,the fellas even got an extra head start on the teams that were right behind them,who got off at the wrong transfer station and had an even longer wait to boot.

While I was sad to see the grandmother/granddaughter team bow out(those two just never caught up to anyone during the whole leg), it was great to see a pair of nice guys finish first for once. With any luck,Jet and Cord might be able to go all the way to the Final Three at this rate:

American Idol started the official singing for votes portion of the show this week,with the Top 12 Girls going first. I have to say that both the guys and the gals performing in this first round had less than stellar starting points here. Some of it can be chalked up to nerves while others were doomed by their song choices(for these early rounds,everyone will be choosing from Billboard's Hot 100).

There were some standouts with the ladies,with Lilly Scott wisely picking a lesser known(to me,anyway)Beatles tune to work her magic with and Crystal Bowersox rocking the harmonica for her rendition of Alanis Morrissette's "Hand in My Pocket". The one that made me sit up and take notice that evening was Siobhan Magnus,doing "Wicked Game" and really doing justice to the haunting melody of the song:

The guys had a rough night,with very few of them able to make a major impression on the judges. Andrew Garcia and Michael Lynche had decent moments but the best of the bunch in terms of following through on a song choice was Casey James,with Bryan Adams' "Heaven". He seems to be more than just a pretty face and if Kara can calm down with her cougar antics(yes,honey,you are a cougar-deal with it!),he may do well for the next couple of rounds:

When I cover the A.I. official singing rounds,that's when I break out the Sanjaya awards,for the best of the worst performances. It was hard to pick only one winner for the first Sanjaya but Tyler Grady was both goofy and godawful enough to get that honor for his wishy-washy take on "American Woman". Dude,you need real power in your voice to pull this off and if you don't have it,there is no point in trying:




LEGEND OF THE SEEKER: A more lighthearted episode is coming our way this weekend,as Zed has to done some medieval drag to help rescue Kahlan from a pushy nobleman who has dared to lock her up in his dungeon. He's not the only one who gets to dress up pretty but he may be less dangerous than the other Cinderella at the ball here:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I want my Cake TV!

Food related shows are pretty popular in the best and worst of times,with cooking demos and competitions galore but the one edible item that tends to make all TV viewers happy to tune is cake. Elaborate cake making and decorating wasn't always considered a spectator sport but it's hard to avoid the sugary goodness of cake creation as you channel surf these days.

Since they do have specialized sports and home decorating channels,I don't see why there can't be an all-cake,all-the-time network. It's not for lack of talented sugar and pastry artists out there,that's for sure. Let's take a peek at a few of the tastiest cake themed TV samples out there:

ACE OF CAKES: This show is without a doubt the king of the cake castle and the one place where anyone who is anyone wants to go and have a special Duff Goldman creation-Harry Potter,The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall,Oprah-the list goes on and on.

What really drives the show,however,is not the big names that pop in but the interesting interaction between Duff and his buddies at Charm City Cakes who are like one big happy(and at times wacky)family. The wonderful work atmosphere lends itself to the lively inspiration needed to put their world renowned cakes together:

CAKE BOSS: Fast on AoC's heels is Cake Boss,which showcases Food Network Challenge contender Buddy Valastro's family owned and run bakery in Hoboken,NJ. The show is very much like Buddy himself,loud and good naturedly humorous with that street smart approach to cake design we've all come to know and love.

The show has just finished it's second season and should have a couple more to follow. One thing that will keep fans tuned in are the offbeat opportunities that Buddy gets to make a cake that suit even the most unusual(and for some, unappetizing) of events:

AMAZING WEDDING CAKES: This series features the work of several bakeries such as Cake Girls,Cake Alchemy, Christopher Garren's and Merci Beaucoup as they whip up personalized pastries for one of the most hectic yet happy occasions that occur one(or thrice)in a lifetime for folks.

WeTV puts this show on along side their Bridezillas and other wedding related fare but I'd rather watch AWC,where the focus of the tension is on getting a beautiful cake down flights of stairs safely than some spoiled bridal diva throwing another hissy fit. That's a worrisome wedding dilemma I can get behind and root for a successful outcome for:

FOOD NETWORK CHALLENGE: I know,I know,they're not all about cake and I love many of the other edible scenarios FNC focuses on like chocolate landscapes and cereal bridges.yet the cake episodes are my absolute favorites.

It's those cake creation challenges where I got to see many of the top people working in the pastry arts today(not to mention my favorite judge,Kerry Vincent,aka Professor McGonagall)and the pop culture based shows are the best. Even if you're not a big fan of The Simpsons or Disney or even Dr. Seuss,you can't help being enchanted by watching such familiar faces come to life via fondant:

No doubt there are some others that I haven't seen yet but surely these four clearly make the case that a cake channel would have a wide audience and plenty of mass appeal. Maybe some enterprising TV executive will swoop down on this idea and take it to the glorious heights it richly deserves. Until then,we'll just have to savor all the sweet cake samples that our networks have to offer and try to leave some for others to enjoy:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A nifty way to cut thru the Gordian knot of this year's Best Picture nominees

We're about a week or so away from Oscar Night and the stakes are getting high for the Big Ten lined up in the Best Picture category. It's been a long time since the cinematic playing field was this crowded,which makes placing a bet in your local Oscar pool a tad trickier than usual.

While I'm not in the big league Oscar gambling game,I have participated in amateur pools in the past and personally challenge myself to see just how many winners I can predict every year. With these lofty credentials,I thought it would be helpful to those of you out there picking the winners for fun(and perhaps a small profit)to narrow down at least five of the main contenders.

In order to make this relatively simple,I've focused on winning trends for Best Picture over the past forty years(like a pop culture version of Dr. Sam Beckett,I'm traveling through Oscar history within my own lifetime)and set up some specialized genre sieves to shift the current crop of nominees through. Granted,I'm not a film historian but there is a method to my movie madness,folks-bear with me:

MIDDLE CLASS MELODRAMA: The woes of well to do but not quite rich folk have always been appealing to Oscar voters,which explains why not only Up in the Air is listed amongst the Big Ten but also A Simple Man and An Education as well. One of the last major dramatic looks at the agony of suburban life was Ordinary People back in 1980.

Having Robert Redford as the director boosted the film's chances for victory,yet over the years it's hardly been a flick that many people look back on and feel great about it getting the top honor,especially over Raging Bull(a stronger film in every sense of the word). In many ways,Ordinary People was a safe choice instead of a memorable one:

The taste for sympathy towards suburbanites has changed,with preference for a darker flair and stinging social satire in the presentation of the subject. The best example of that was American Beauty in 1999. However,with the economic spiral the country's been going through lately,even dark sarcasm won't be enough to give Up in the Air a shot at the final gold of the night. It'll have to make do with a Best Screenplay award and be happy about that:

SOCIAL ISSUES IN THE SOCIAL CIRCLE: Stories that highlight social issues by using an ensemble cast are a time honored tradition in Hollywood,with films like The Best Years of Our Lives and From Here to Eternity that touched upon dark subjects but reached for positive conclusions just before the end credits started to roll.

By the 1970s,the light at the end of the tunnel approach was no longer in vogue and films like Midnight Cowboy and The Deer Hunter chose to not shy away from the harshness of the world as it laid the hammer down on it's leading men and women.

This gives a movie like The Hurt Locker a strong advantage in getting those much needed Academy member votes,since it evokes some of that old school seventies vibe towards it's subject and it's a war related movie to boot,with a cast of not yet well known actors like The Deer Hunter which still sets the bar high in this genre:

You could also add in Precious,but I think it's strengths lie in another area(more on that in a moment). The best thing that The Hurt Locker has going for it is the authentic nature of both the cast and the screenplay ,which is something that is often imitated but never truly duplicated. The movie Crash back in 2005 may have gotten Best Picture,yet time will tell just how deserving that win was. While it did have a couple of genuine moments,the majority of the film was as artificial as a saccharin coffee sweetener(and left just as bad of an aftertaste):

STRONG WOMAN SAGA: While this genre tends to award ladies with Best lead and Best Supporting Actress awards rather than film of the year,fierce female films do get a shot at the big show every now and then.

The best loved one of recent decades past was Terms of Endearment,which did boast a couple of feisty heroines in Debra Winger and Shirley McClaine even with all of the typical tear jerker plot points(overcoming a bad marriage,looking for love in old age and the topper,terminal illness) thrown in their path:

Precious is ,of course,far from being a sentimental family drama such as Terms of Endearment but the story of a woman facing off against the dark side of life has it's charms for Academy voters,too. Silence of the Lambs showed that by taking a new twist on the regularly ignored thriller flick in having a tough as nails yet tenderhearted when need be heroine hold her own with cold blooded psycho killers and those who would hunt them down:

HIGH TECH HUMAN EPICS:Films that combine both the latest in special effects and heartbreaking stories of flesh and blood beings searching for love are the ultimate catnip for Oscar nomination selections. It also helps if the movie is a nice big money maker at the box office with loads of popular acclaim like Forrest Gump was in 1994.

Tom Hanks' forays into serious acting have proven to be a mixed bag of results(he never impressed me much in Philadelphia)but he has made some very smart choices over the years when it comes to picking roles that suit his dramatic talents and Gump was one that played off on his humor and charm rather well.

His onscreen presence was vivid enough to make the slipping into big points in history bits that his character needed to do in the story be just part of the background and not take center stage:

A major setback for Avatar is that while it does have both high tech and human interest,it's set in a science fiction story line. Sci-fi and fantasy films tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to the Oscars(which will probably hold back District 9 and most likely took Star Trek out of the running).

Many may think that James Cameron has another Titanic on his hands but that movie had the advantage of being based on an actual historical event that gave it enough clout for Academy voters to mark their ballots for it without any shame. The same may not hold true for Avatar,I fear:

TRUE TALES OF TRIUMPH: This is a genre that has been in hiding for awhile and has occasionally attached itself to another subgenre as a survival tactic. The Blind Side is not a critical darling by any means but it does hold sway with movie goers and Hollywood trend setters alike(there were plenty of cheers when it was named as a Best Picture nominee at the official announcement ceremony a few weeks ago).

In addition to the "based on a true story' angle,The Blind Side does have the success in sports thing going for it as well. Hollywood tends to be more generous towards fictional sports movies(Rocky,Million Dollar Baby)than the real deal but they do let one reach the finish line once in a while like Chariots of Fire did in 1981:

There are those who will point out the inconsistencies in the onscreen version vs. the real life facts but such distinctions never really bother the voters much. If it didn't deter them from giving the golden boy to A Beautiful Mind(which had a truckload of them),it certainly won't matter for The Blind Side here:

So,in conclusion,the films that have the best shot at winning Best Picture this year are The Hurt Locker and The Blind Side,with a slim chance left open for Avatar(after all,they did give LOTR:Return of the King one). This is all purely my opinion but I do have a decent track record when it comes to these things-my personal predictions were slightly over 50-50 last year.

Hopefully,the film that does win is one that truly deserves to be named with the greats of the past and worth watching by future generations of film goers. Nothing is perfect in life and especially art yet it never hurts to keep your fingers crossed and wish for the best:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Join the literary choir to win a copy of Angelology

Danielle Trussoni's debut novel,Angelology, sets up an age old conflict between humanity and divinity by having all too mortal and immortal beings clash as they both seek answers and clues towards finding a lost artifact that may change the balance of power between the two races.

When Sister Evangeline,a young woman who has resided at St. Rose's convent since her father placed her there at age twelve,receives a request for access to the sisterhood's archives in order to seek a connection between the late mother superior and Abigail Rockefeller,the standard response is an official refusal.

Yet,something about this letter of inquiry compels Evangeline to do a little investigating of her own and she soon discovers a whole host of intrigues which leads her to a society of angelologists,who have been studying the ways and means of the Nephilim,a species of part human and part angel beings that are determined to claim dominion over the human race.

The book is due out on March 9 and the good folks at Viking are allowing me to give away a copy of Angelology to one of my readers. Since the theme of the novel is a tad dark and mysterious, I thought it would be fun to lighten things up by choosing a cheery theme for this contest-angel songs! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment at this post and name your favorite angel related tune.

The song can be contemporary or classic,and as a consolation offering,I will try to find as many videos of your top choices to display when the winner is announced on March 1st. There seem to be as many angelic themed songs as there are stars in the night sky and a good number of them are romantic such as the beloved "Earth Angel":

Angel songs are so popular that quite a few of them have been covered by several artists over time. A personal favorite of mine is "Angel of the Morning",which I first heard sung by Juice Newton. Merilee Rush,Olivia Newton-John and Dusty Springfield are some of the other ladies who have tackled this tune but for me,Juice hits all the right notes now and forever:

Plenty of new songs about angels are written as well and with the growing trend of angels becoming the new vampires in paranormal pop culture lore,the demand for them is bound to grow(especially for the movie soundtracks,when the books go from script to screen):

Back to the contest details: please leave a comment with the e-mail address you'd prefer to be contacted at,along with your choice of angel song by midnight on Friday,February 26(if we get enough demand for this,I'll extend the deadline to Saturday the 27th). The winner will be announced here on this blog on Monday,March 1 and also sent an e-mail as well,so please make sure the addy you leave is active,folks! That way,I will be able to pass on your shipping info to the PR folks at Viking,who will be mailing the book out to you,as quick as possible.

Looking forward to seeing some of your song suggestions and delighted to be able to share this riveting new novel with others. I'm reading it myself right now and it's a real page turner. Angelology has a rich blend of inspired and original notions that should inspire many readers to spread their creative wings and fly off into more wonderful flights of literary fancy. Let us hope that it's arrival onto a bookshelf near you has just a successful run as an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pop culture goodies to look forward to at the Toy Fair

The 2010 Toy Fair laid out their wares in NYC this week,causing retailers to start taking orders and fanboys and girls to count their pennies(not to mention make extra space in their home displays)for some of the upcoming movie/TV tie-in merchandise that will be on sale later this year.

While this is a tough time for many to even consider the luxury of owning a few of these items, you can't completely cut yourself off from the joy that comes from having a special object or two that makes you happy. Just be prudent in your purchases,folks,beside it never hurts to look. Here are a handful of collectible items that might be worth spending that spare cash for:

TRUE BLOOD: A set of busts featuring Bill,Sookie and Eric are due to be released by DC Direct in July. Also in the works is a Tru Blood bar sign,along with a Fangtasia and a Merlotte's which might be available by the fall.

Some of this stuff will probably be available at the HBO Tru Blood store. I've never gotten anything from there but am curious about what the Tru Blood drink that they do sell is like(they use blood oranges as the basic ingredient). It may not taste great,but then again,even the vamps on the show aren't exactly crazy about the flavor either:

IRON MAN 2: No surprise that a massive truckload of action figures and accessories for the eagerly awaited sequel are ready to hit a chain store near you. Hasbro has an interesting variety pack of IM2 toys,including a radio controlled Iron Man figure that walks and shoots weapons,IM helmets,a Mr. Potato Head version of "Tony Starch" and a special IM2 edition of the classic game,Operation.

To me,the action figures are going to be the real hot ticket items,especially the villains. I already have a couple of Mickey Rourke Sin City figures and it would be cool to have one of him as Whiplash,too:

JONAH HEX: The cold blooded cowboy hero is getting the big screen treatment this summer,with the likes of Josh Brolin,Megan Fox and John Malkovich as the film's stars and NECA Toys have the rights to put out the official dolls and prop replicas along with it.

While there's no doubt that the market for a large size Megan Fox doll will be there,regardless of the movie's success,it may be best to wait and see before grabbing up the tie-in products for this one.

Jonah Hex deserves to have a wider introduction to mainstream mass audiences but the jury's still out on whether or not this movie will make a good first impression for that to happen(casting Megan Fox is not a strong sign of quality,in my opinion). He's a cult comic book legend whose fans will not be shy about their disappointments with the final product:

THE LAST AIRBENDER: The much touted manga series has been turned into a live action film due out in June and Nickelodeon Consumer Products have an entire army of dolls of various sizes and other fun trinkets for fans to play with.

To be honest,I'm not very familiar with TLAB or it's mythos,but since the movie is both written and directed by M. Knight Shyamalan,it might be something worth checking at the theaters. Should be interesting to see what M. Knight does with an all-out fantasy piece not originally conceived by him like this:

There are many more toy delights out there waiting to be discovered and some that ought never see the light of day. With the horrifying news that Twilight's Taylor Lauter is set to star in a big budget flick based on the old school toy Stretch Armstrong,I fear the worst for future pop culture toy tie-ins.

Stretch Armstrong,really,Hollywood,really? Is this the best you can come up? If that's the case,the entertainment brain trust at the studios is worse off than we thought:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Amazing Race gets off to a midwinter start,American Idol's Top 24 and a double dose of Kahlan on LOTS

The Amazing Race set off a new season by adding yet another twist to their starting off point. The eleven teams had to use public transportation to get to the airport(no easy task in L.A.)in order to snag the first three spots on the first flight out to Chile a good hour ahead of the rest. Turns out that everyone wound up on the same flight,due to technical troubles on the first plane,so the wind went out of those sails pretty quick.

A couple of the teams have some celebrity status,like Jordan and Jeff who hooked up on Big Brother and Caite Upton,the infamous Miss Teen South Carolina who stammered her way through a geography question during the Miss Teen USA pagent.

However,the really interesting people on TAR are the regular folks that sign up like Jet and Cord(cowboy buddies who are champion bullriders),Jodi and Shannon(grandmother and granddaughter who have done triathlons together) and married couple Dana and Adrian who had a hair raising turn on the first Detour challenge.

The Detour was to cable walk between two buildings and Adrian came close to falling off(fortunately,the security experts on hand were able to reel him back in). Adrian tried twice,but he couldn't get past that hurdle. He and Dana had to wait for Phil to come to them and let them know that this was their last leg. Sad,but at least no one was hurt and they seemed to take the whole thing in stride:

Hollywood week finally ended on American Idol and the Top 24 have been chosen. It really felt like they just dragged this out for all it was worth and maybe I'm wrong about this but AI used to wrap this part of the show much quicker in the past.

It's great to see the smiling faces of those who made the cut and my best wishes to them,however the misery of those told "no,sorry,not this time" is hard to bear. A word of advice to people who may find themselves in this situation next year-it's completely understandable that your emotions may get the best of you when faced with such a huge disappointment but try to hold back from begging for a second chance. The cameras are ruthless when it comes to sharing your pain with millions of viewers and the last thing you want to leave them with is fuel for the fire:

On the latest episode of Legend of the Seeker, Kahlan was literally torn in two as a transportation spell combined with an amulet caused her to divide into separate physical beings-one all emo girl,the other pure Confessor.

It reminded of a Buffy episode from Season Five where the same thing happened to Xander,only he wasn't the intended target. The division spell was meant for Buffy,separating her Slayer self from her more vulnerable mortal side in order to kill her. Part of me always wondered what a total Slayer doppelganger of Buffy would be like and some of that was answered as we saw All Confessor Kahlan in action. Get out of her chair,indeed!:

The new episode coming up this weekend is Cara centered,as the mighty Mord Sith takes an unexpected trip into the underworld and must accept the bargain of Darken Rahl and the Keeper to return to earth as a Baneling(a living dead person who must kill others to stay out of the netherworld). Something tells me that becoming a one woman killing machine isn't going to be that much of a hard transition for her:


THE VAMPIRE DIARIES: This first season is being stretched longer than chewing gum left on a bedpost overnight,as we have another long hiatus to wait through before a new episode. March 25 is not that far off,I know,but you can only watch reruns for so long there,seriously:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Get ready to March into some April fresh reading

With all of the intense snowstorms hitting the country lately,it's getting harder and harder to feel that spring will soon be upon us,but fear not folks,the warm weather will return and amongst the promising new blooms of the season will be some great books.

I know how distracting everyday life is,not to mention the Olympics and American Idol vying for some serious steady TV watching,yet that's one of the blessings of books that they can help to ease the flow of day-to-day frenzy. To further encourage you to pick up a good read this spring,one of the titles that will be mentioned in this post will be the prize for the first LRG book giveaway of the year,so keep your eyes peeled,people!


First up,we have a trio of tales with heroines in period settings and the first one is a literary favorite of mine. In The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott,author Kelly O'Connor Mcnees imagines a suitor for the well known writer of Little Women years before that book is ever even thought of.

Louisa is twenty two years old in the summer of 1855 and due to the languishing fortunes of her family,moves with them to an old abandoned house of an uncle's in Walpole,NH,where she meets Joseph Singer. Joseph holds no charms for her at first but over the course of time,Louisa finds herself drawn to him yet there may be an unknown obstacle in the way of their being happy together.

In real life,Alcott had several crushes and a few small affairs of the heart,which many feel inspired the fictional romances of her characters. McNees' novel sounds like a lovely version of what being in love for and by such an amazing woman might have been like(April):

Queens have always been interesting subjects for both fiction and nonfiction and Vanora Bennett introduces us to a lady who ruled more than one country and heart in The Queen's Lover. French princess Catherine de Valois was made to marry King Henry V of England as a token of peace between the two realms but after two years,she was widowed and faced with the overthrow of her inherited thrones by her brother back in France.

In order to keep herself and her infant son safe,Catherine forms an alliance as well as a romance with Owain Tudor,who has been a devoted friend since childhood. Plenty of hard choices lie before her,the outcome of which will determine not only Catherine's personal fate but that of a nation or two.

Most people are best familiar with Catherine de Valois via Shakespeare's Henry V but it seems that she was more just a supporting player on the regal chessboard there(March):

Last but not least,as they say,is The Heretic's Wife by Brenda Rickman Vantrease that places it's book selling protagonists into turbulent Tudor England.

Kate Gough and her brother John have been smuggling Protestant Bibles into the country for translation,the timing of which is ill indeed due to the growing religious schism rising from Henry the Eighth's desire to wed Anne Boleyn with or without the support of the Catholic church.

Even after brother John is jailed and recants his faith,Kate carries their mission and winds up marrying John Frith,the translator who adds in her quest. They may be hiding in exile but the long reach of those opposed to the changes within England is close to snatching their loving union away. Intriguingly sad how one royal romance can affect the loves of so many other's lives(April):


Kim Harrison brings her faithful fans another addition to the Rachel Morgan saga with Black Magic Sanction that has our bounty hunter witch dealing with shunning from a coven that wants to contain her one way or another for her demon connections.

Rachel's choices are grim and while she may have to team up with her enemies for assistance,an old love pops up on the scene who may not having been intending to make matters worse but yet he does.

The Rachel Morgan books all have titles that are loosely based on Clint Eastwood films and a few of them share similar themes with those flicks as well. This newest volume seems to do that rather handily here,which might make it a fun book and movie night combo(late Feb/March):

Danielle Trussoni follows up her memoir,Falling Through the Earth,with a debut novel that takes the growing trend of angels as the new vampires into a more adult playing field.

Angelology brings young Sister Evangeline,the library secretary for an isolated convent in upstate New York,into contact with the outside world and into some deadly waters as a member of the Nephilim(half human,half angel)seeks access to archives which may lead the way towards finding a source of power that will give his kind dominion over humanity.

I'm reading this book right now and so far,it is quite a compelling read. The good folks at Viking are letting me give a copy away to one lucky reader and that contest will take place early next week,so watch this space! In the meantime,get ready for a new set of rules for a brave new world of imagination(March):


Another Jane Austen zombie delight awaits us with Dawn of the Dreadfuls,the anticipated sequel to the surprising bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This new classic monster mash up has a new author,Steve Hockensmith,and is actually a prequel that reveals how the plague of the unmentionables first arises and sets the Bennett sisters down a path of martial arts training in order to protect their lives and country.

I answered the call for blogger reviews by the gang at Quirk Classics,so look for a fuller write-up of DOD by March 3. What I can safely say until then is that there are some love interests on the horizon for Elizabeth and Jane,one of whom is about as subtle and suave about his prospects as a certain supporting character from Disney's Beauty and the Beast,in my humble opinion. Wait til you get a load of him,folks!(March 23):

Speaking of PPZ, writer Seth Grahame-Smith tackles a new breed of history and horror hook-up with Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter. Here,for the first time,the secret double life of the man who lead our nation during the Civil War is revealed,as his mother's premature demise at the hands of the undead drives him to destroy all vampires preying on hapless folks within our borders.

While Abraham Lincoln may seem like a rather unlikely choice as a vampire slayer,so was a certain cheerleader at Sunnydale High back in the modern day,as some of my fellow Buffy followers may recall. Lincoln's legacy is well known but this amusing avenger side of him certainly promises to have some bite(March 3):


Tawni O'Dell chronicles more family ties of an offbeat sort in Fragile Beasts that has troubled teen brothers Kyle and Klint Hayes needing sanctuary after the violent death of their father and return of their wayward mother threatens to uproot them from the only place where they both feel at home.

Local eccentric and wealthy matriarch Candace Jack takes the boys in,despite her less than maternal instincts and the three of them form an emotional bond fraught with sad secrets from each one's past and present. O'Dell is an earthy storyteller who brings to life characters all too real but not without touches of grace and inner beauty that makes them worth rooting for. If you haven't read her yet,this may be a good place to start(March).

Connie May Fowler explores a day in the life of a woman needing to decide her future in How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly. The leading lady of the title has a vicious husband whose artistic career is going nowhere and resents her success as a writer and on a summer solstice day,she is haunted by restless spirits,both real and imagined,who drive her closer and closer to choosing what road to head down for both of their futures.

Fowler is best known for her thoughtful looks at troubled souls that have become book clubs favorites and this latest one should fit the bill rather nicely on that front as well as those who chose to read alone(April).

Well,I hope this preview has planted a few flourishing thoughts about the upcoming crop of new books coming our way. Stay tuned for the Angelology giveaway next week and please keep in mind some of these titles as you make your reading group suggestions to your friends and neighbors. Perhaps a couple of them may not be to everyone's liking but it doesn't hurt to try and expand a few new horizons or let others feel welcome to express themselves(plus get equal speaking time):

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A spoonful of pop culture sugar makes the documentary go down

Checking my Netflix queue today,I found to my delight that my next film on the list is Good Hair,the Chris Rock documentary about African American hair and how the idealized concept of "good hair" relates to social and self esteem issues within that community.

My sister studied cosmetology in high school and practiced it professionally for a brief time(I can still get a free haircut out of her these days),so that industry holds some interest for me. Plus,with shows like Sheer Genius and Tabatha's Salon Takeover,hair styling has been given more pop culture prominence lately which is catnip to a media watcher like me. Chris Rock's down to earth approach to the subject is one that I'm looking forward to seeing:

In reflection,most of the documentaries that I've enjoyed or have any interest in usually come with a connection to pop culture and/or the arts. Perhaps that's a bit shallow,but hey,I like what I like. Here are a few of them that readily come to mind and while many of these films are probably all too familiar to you,maybe I can introduce you to one that's not ,which will rock your socks off.

I meant to see Darkon when it premiered on IFC,but it slipped my mind at the time. Fortunately,a good friend of mine passed a copy onto me and I took time out to watch it in full. The film follows a group of live action role players(LARP,for short)out in Baltimore who battle each other in a set of medieval style war games based on a mythical kingdom that they're created and maintained over time.

People like this usually get mocked for their passion that at times may be misplaced,but their devotion to developing a sense of authenticity and working to live up to the code of honor that this fantasy world strives for has it's merits as well. For some,Darkon is a great way to battle their inner demons while a few choose to use as a hideout from their personal obstacles in life. There's more that meets the eye,even in an out and out fantasy realm:

Another group of folks used to being the butt of many jokes are Star Trek fans,who were showcased in the 1999 film Trekkies, hosted by Star Trek:The Next Generation alumna Denise Crosby.

While some of the people featured here are on the verge of fandom overkill(the Spiner femme,for one),most of them are just marchers to their own sci-fi drum who build up lasting friendships and even form happy families via their mutual love for the original show and the follow-up set of TV series that it spawned. Trekkies was so popular that it even got it's own sequel,which proves the power of fan based love is not to be taken lightly:

A real expose on Hollywood hypocrisy,This Film is Not Yet Rated takes a cold hard look at the MPAA(the fine folks who decide the ratings for films)and why it's so determined to be secretive about it's members. Director Kirby Dick goes over the history of film ratings in America and the struggles that filmmakers have in figuring out the vague hints about what will and won't pass muster in order to receive a rating that allows their work to get a decent distribution deal.

Interestingly enough,most of the objections come from sex scenes(especially those of gay couples or "unconventional" practices)rather than violence. In other words,you would have a better shot at getting an R or even a PG-13 rating by blowing up a school bus full of nuns and orphans than showing some intimate love making in the back of a car,even if it's truly integral to the plot:

While I still have not seen The King of Kong,the movie retains a spot on my Netflix list that will someday bring that flick to my home for viewing. The subtitle of the film is "A Fistful of Quarters",which is what video game players had to use back in the day to master such challenges as the highest level of Pac Man,Space Invaders or Donkey Kong.

The focus here is on two men,one of whom clutches to his world record high score on Donkey Kong like Linus does to his trusty blanket(only not as nice)and another who rises up to challenge him and take that glory for himself. I never could get the hang of video games myself but understand some of that urgent need to win even at something that's just intended to be fun and nothing more than that:

While it's good to expand your horizons by more serious minded fare that most documentaries have to offer,it's also a bonus to see the lighter side of life that way,too. A documentary can be a great teacher but sometimes the best lesson is seeing some of yourself reflected in others via film. Knowledge sinks in deeper when you have a personal investment in it:

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dolen Perkins-Valdez's Wench is a heartwrenching debut

Lizzie,Reenie and Sweet have been meeting for summer vacation at Tawawa House for quite a few years,accompanying their men to this resort out in Ohio during the 1850s as a retreat from their day-to-day lives at their Southern homes. However,this is no pleasure trip;all three ladies are slaves and not so secret mistresses of their male companions ,who take advantage of the time away and the seclusion of Tawawa House to be with them openly.

All of them support each other emotionally,bound by their sadly common link but one summer a newcomer arrives into their midst to shake things up. Her name is Mawu and she is not only defiant about her enforced sexual servitude to Tip,the crude man who owns her,but is determined to use this opportunity in free territory to find a way to escape from slavery altogether.

The others are tempted to join her,but are hesitate for numerous reason like Lizzie who hopes that her children fathered by Drayle, her married master, may be set free one day if she stays compliant to him. Mawu makes her attempts anyway and pays a harsh price in pain and humiliation in front of them all:

Even with such harsh examples of what might happen if they are caught,Reenie and Sweet become more invested in the idea of fleeing to freedom. Lizzie soon enough joins them in spirit if not action.

She does have strong affectionate feelings for Drayle,who taught her to read,but growing concerns about her children's future,especially when they are made emotional pawns in control games played by both Drayle and his childless wife. As tragic events mount up all around her,Lizzie must decide when and how she should make her stand.

Wench is Dolen Perkins-Valdez's first novel and while it has a slow start,the narrative quickly gains momentum mainly due to focusing on Lizzie's inner struggles. Perkins-Valdez clearly did some great research that adds to her moving impressionist portrait of enslaved women that many through out history pointedly chose to ignore,preferring to sweep their suffering under the rug.

The author does more than just thrust her based on history fictional heroines out into the spotlight;she gradually fleshes out their characters and reveals their divided loyalties towards their mutual situation and each other. She creates vivid voices of women on both sides of the racial divide during that time period whose turmoil over their cruel and thoughtless treatment by many of the men in their lives resounds loudly today.

Wench is a stunning original book,one that will no doubt entice the reading group circuit but also introduces us to a fabulous new writer,previously known for her short stories,who I hope we will hear more from in the future. Dolen Perkins-Valdez has a lovely way with words that bring beautiful yet sad visions of a world thankfully gone by yet should be remembered to life within the reader's imagination.

While this novel does hold up some ugly truths to the light of day,it also showcases the beauty of hope and the glory of women reaching to reclaim their power over their bodies and lives,regardless of what will come their way. Wench takes a hard road but it's definitely one worth traveling:

Friday, February 12, 2010

I'll take a sad set of literary lovers for Valentine's Day,Alex

Valentine's Day is best known for the happiness of hearts and flowers,right along side the sheer misery of those either unlinked in love or going through what Lady Gaga would musically deem a bad romance.

Let's talk about tormented love for a moment;as Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Bennett would drolly remark,a girl likes to be vexed in love every now and then and as the Sisters Bronte knew all too well,passion and pain go together like peanut butter and jelly,especially in literature.

Of course,every good romance story must have some sort of obstacle to over come in order to increase the love between the two leads via suspense,yet for a few of these tragic couples,the hurdles are not just potholes in the road,they're chasms about the width of the Grand Canyon. As an offbeat alternative to the usual upbeat Valentine's Day reading recommendations,here are a few suggestions for some sweetly sorrowful romances to curl up with this weekend:

LABOR DAY/JOYCE MAYNARD:This heartfelt novel is told from the p.o.v of Henry,a thirteen year old boy whose lonely and somewhat unstable divorced mother Adele starts to come out of her self imposed stupor when a handsome stranger named Frank unexpectedly enters their lives.

Frank seeks refuge in their home mainly due to being the subject of a local manhunt by the police upon an impromptu escape from prison during his recovery from an appendectomy on Labor Day weekend. Henry has no desire to see his mother unhappy(and really likes Frank to boot) but is torn about accepting Frank's presence in their sadly routine lives. While this may sound like the plot of a cheesy made for Lifetime TV movie,this book is a thoughtful and beautifully emotive look at taking love when and wherever you find it:

THE MERMAID CHAIR/SUE MONK KIDD: Speaking of Lifetime channel movies,Sue Monk Kidd's second novel was turned into one that actually got some decent reviews. The dramatic tensions in this book are a real handful,as not only does Jessie Sullivan return to the island community where she grew up to deal with her mother's dementia that's tied in with a long held family secret,it's also the perfect excuse to go off and reconsider her failing marriage as well.

Her love life takes an extra twist when Jessie meets Brother Thomas,a novice monk on the verge of taking his final vows. Both of them must decide if their new found love for each other is worth disturbing the set pattern of their lives. Truly an engaging story that keeps you turning pages and holding your breath as it draws you under it's sea of emotional turmoil:


No doubt many of you are all too familiar with this flight of fanciful tale about Henry and Clare,whose long time romance is literally suspended in time due to Henry's odd biological quirk that forces him to spontaneously go back and forth through time and space within his own lifetime. If you haven't yet or know someone who hasn't,this book is a treasure chest of marvels just waiting to be opened.

Some of you may be daunted by the negative feedback given to the recent film adaptation of TTTW over the summer,but many a good book has been ill served on the silver screen and still stands the test of literary time. Some stories work better in your imagination than acted out and besides,it also has a librarian as the romantic leading man,a nice combo of smart and sexy. What more could a gal ask for?:

THE GIRL WITH GLASS FEET/ALI SHAW: If you want something new along the lines of TTTW for a marvelous melancholy read,look no further than Ali Shaw's dazzling debut novel.

This doomed romance between Ida Maclaird,a young woman who travels back to an isolated archipelago settlement to find the cure for her strange ailment and Midas Crook,a local loner with an overwhelming passion for photography,is a sadly sweet story of two unlikely people who manage to connect even when one of them is about to be permanently disconnected from life.

I'm reading this book right now and while this is clearly a modern day story,the atmosphere created by the author is one skillfully blended with an old fashioned sense of style and more than a touch of fairytale nuance into the bargain:

Even with these rather gloomy reading suggestions,I do wish everyone out there a happy Valentine's Day and hope that you take heart from this set of literary love examples. After all,the course of true love never did run smooth,plus it's good to keep in mind that while your path to romance may cause you to take a tumble on occasion,at least you haven't fallen off the ultimate deep end like Romeo and Juliet there: