Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, October 31, 2014

An Austenprose Halloween treat and some Devilish Disney sing-a-longs!

Happy Halloween, folks and it's a special one for me as Laurel Ann Nattress from the blog Austenprose very kindly treated me to a special post with an excerpt from my current e-book Fanny Price, Slayer of Vampires today!

This frightful feature is paired with a great depiction of Mr. Darcy in monster mash mode by Bonnie Carrasso(I adore Frankenstein, so FrankenDarcy is the perfect peanut butter cup for the occasion). Much thanks to Laurel Ann for giving my take on Fanny center stage this Halloween and as an extra treat for the rest of you, I'm extending my half price sale on the book.

Just use the coupon code UE59E when purchasing a copy at Smashwords from now until November 5(give yourself something to read while waiting to vote next week!) and the book is listed at Good Reads and Library Thing, so any feedback you can give at either site would be much appreciated.

The excerpt that I chose for Austenprose's Halloween edition should be suitably scary, as Fanny relates to her brother William how she first discovered the true vampire nature of Henry Crawford(and his particular interest in Maria Bertram during their rehearsals for Lovers' Vows).

To me, Henry and Mary Crawford seem to have a very vampire like air about them, with their somewhat sinister allure to the Bertram family and all too agreeable charms. Especially Henry, with his looks that at first appeared "dark and plain" to the Bertram sisters yet they wind up fighting over him something fierce.

Mary's spell over Edmund,who is quick to excuse any of her witty rudeness, also further establishes my case but I think that many ladies(and perhaps a few gents) might enjoy a Henry Crawford with fangs stopping by to pay a call:

For more spirited holiday fun, I have a set of Devilish Disney musical numbers to play at your haunted house gathering tonight.

First up is a Disney Villianess sing-a-long, with Maleficent herself front and center(this is her year, no doubt about it) sharing her bad girl blues with a few of her misunderstood evil girlfriends:

Nest is a take on One Republic's hit song as both bad guys and girls in the Disney Villain pantheon join together to salute their favorite evil doer in their midst.

While I do agree that he's one of the worst, I'm not sure that this usurper would be my first pick for that scary slot there. Alas, I am not the one to be "counting Scars":

These days, no Halloween would be complete without a visit from the trio of witchy Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus,as they put a spell on some unsuspecting party goers.

This movie has become a regular holiday classic these days, which is wonderful as they really don't make them like this anymore. Frankly, I'm surprised that this hasn't become a Broadway musical by now(who knows, it might happen sooner than we think!):

We close this out with Nightmare Before Christmas' salute to the season and I sincerely wish everyone a fun and safe Halloween whether you're out on the town or curled up on the couch with your favorite scary movie(or book) to enjoy:

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Penguin makes a timely appearance on Gotham, a cold chill for The Flash and choosing between two Thursday night thrillers

 On Gotham this week, we got a little more insight into Harvey Bullock, as he and Gordon hunted down a killer from the city's past. It was good to see some nuance to the jaded cop persona that he's been affecting so far and hopefully, his former partner Dix makes another appearance.

Seeing Harvey in a new light will be helpful to Gordon, who got an even bigger shock as Montoya and Allen came in to arrest him for the murder of Oswald Cobblepot.

Personally, I thought they had pretty flimsy evidence there. Other than Cobblepot's mom(who got a visit from her boy on this episode) reporting him missing and a rather unreliable witness found on the docks, how did they ever get an arrest warrant?

The point became quickly moot, as Oswald showed up in person at police headquarters and was not shy about making his presence known. This big reveal may get Gordon out of one jam but is tossing him(and a whole bunch of other folks) into a boiling pot of mess indeed. This seems to be the start of some serious plot movement and it's about time. A lot of setting up has been done already, so let the forward momentum begin:

The Flash received his first major foe this week, as Captain Cold  was introduced .Professional thief Leonard Snart(Wentworth Miller) decided to obtain a cold laser gun in order to keep pace with Barry's super hero speed.

What upset Barry almost as much as facing this new threat was the fact that the gun was created by his Star Labs buddy Cisco, as a preventive measure in case Barry turned out to be evil.

I can understand why he was less than thrilled about that but it's a bit early on here to have complete and unwavering trust at this point between The Flash(I hope they finally start calling him because The Streak is sounding tired already). Besides, the real danger is from Captain Cold, who is one cool customer when it comes to crime.

 On the bright side, Felicity from Arrow came to town to visit and that small crossover subplot was a nice touch. I know I'm behind a season on Arrow but not totally surprised that Felicity wishes to be Oliver's true Queen, so to speak.

Nevertheless, I think she and Barry make for fine friends who share smarts and unrequited love for close personal connections there. Perhaps somewhere down the line, a more action based crossover could happen but in the mean time, it's good enough to have Felicity feel welcome in Central City:

I have a slight quandary regarding the ten o'clock slot on my Thursday night schedule, as Elementary is returning and I do want to see it, yet How To Get Away with Murder really has me hooked.

It's not that big of a dilemma, since the option to see one show later this weekend is available, but part of me wishes that such riveting programs are on against each other. Nature of the beast and all of that, as Sherlock would no doubt say:

Granted, both are typical of their genres(with HTGAWM being a little more soap opera-ish) but they are well done and with good casts ably talented enough to pull off the dramatics required.

Although in the case of HTGAWM, Viola Davis is the strong solid lead who is carrying most of the load. Nothing against the rest of her team mates but except for Liza Weil(who I am partial to due to her Gilmore Girls cred), those kids are just alright for the most part. Compared to the quick energy and chemistry between Lucy and Liu and Jonny Lee Miller, Viola Davis is not as evenly matched  with her acting counterparts but it's still early in the game at this point.

When all is said and done, HTGAWM is a definite must-see tonight. For one, you don't find many instances when the phrase "Your husband is Mr. Darcy" is not a good thing for a wife to hear:


DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY: Speaking of Mr. Darcy, Part two of this Jane Austen meets P.D. James miniseries airs this Sunday and I am most anxious to watch. While some may find this take on Lizzy and Darcy to be more somber than they are usually depicted, I think it's rather well suited to the story.

After all, murder and family scandal does call for more buttoned up behavior from those expected to make a good face about it to the world and such trials can test anyone's spirits, even a perfectly matched pair such as the Darcys:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Some November and December literary goodies to add to your holiday gift basket

As Halloween approaches, so does the rest of the holiday season and while it's become a tad overwhelming with the rush to deck the halls during your turkey dinner as we ring in the new year, books do allow us to slow things down a little.

There are plenty of blockbuster titles due to hit the shelves that will fill your gift giving needs(and to put your wish list as well) but a few of these upcoming books that I have chosen to highlight for November and December might also do the trick. At the very least, one or two of them should make the soon to be cold nights the perfect time for some page turning warmth:


 Brock Clarke's latest novel, The Happiest People In The World, has it's leading man on the run but, despite changing countries, not far enough away from trouble.

Henry Larsen,aka Jens Baedrup, had to leave his native Denmark due to a controversial cartoon of his and is now living in upstate New York working as a high school guidance counselor. His hopes for his new life are high and there is even a potential new love in his life.

Unfortunately, that new relationship has a few downsides, such as his new lady love Ellen being married to Matty,the local school principal that Henry's former CIA contact Locs is desperately in love with. Oh, and by the way, Henry left behind a wife in Denmark, who's not too happy with him right about now. As Henry goes forth into the brave new world he's now in, a wake of unintended chaos is trailing behind him and getting closer all the while.

I happily recall discovering Clarke's engaging eccentric realm with An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England and this new book from him appears to be another wild ride worth reading. A satirical look at our current worries about security with a dash of lovelorn drama and the perils of hiding in plain sight, The Happiest People In The World should be a real joy (November):


Iconic comedian Martin Short takes a semi-serious look at his life in his memoir I Must Say, but not too serious as the book's subtitle, "My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend" shows.

Short talks about his career from his days as a member of Second City to SCTV and Saturday Night Live, plus his movie making adventures. He also delves into his personal side, including the loss of his beloved wife to cancer and how he has learned to cope with such sorrows over the years.

For fans of Short, a extra treat here is that many of his classic characters such as Jiminy Glick, Jackie Rodgers Jr. and of course, Ed Grimley are given their turn at the mike to share their side of this story of the man many consider to be "the comedian's comedian". A thoughtfully smart and smile worthy peek into one man's life and art(November):

 In Scot Saul's biography Becoming Richard Pryor,  the comedic legend's life and times are thoroughly examined, as extensive research into not only his childhood but his turbulent road to fame as well.

Based upon numerous interviews, previously unpublished journals and other sources, Saul paints a full portrait of Pryor as a man who lived his art on his sleeve and broke new ground in both the world of entertainment and race relations. His rises and falls over the years have made Richard Pryor an amazing man to watch as well as a major force for change.

This is the second book to come out about Richard Pryor within the last couple of years and I hope that many more will follow, as he was a true comedic genius that each new generation should get to know(December):


I have signed up for a couple of blog tours this season, featuring paperback editions of a pair of novels that ought to be suitable for stocking stuffers or bedside reading.

At the moment, I'm in the midst of While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell, which takes a very different approach to the tale of Sleeping Beauty. Our narrator is Elise, a young woman who rises from a serving girl at the palace to the position of lady's maid to Queen Lenore.

Lenore's desire to have a child leads her to a less than divine alliance with her domineering aunt Millicent and when her husband the king banishes Millicent from his court, fear for their newborn daughter Rose becomes the order of the day. Meanwhile, Elise has ambitions of her own that slowly yet surely interfere with her own personal happiness.

Blackwell gives this well known fairy tale a nifty tweak and so far, it's quite the engaging read. I'll have a full review of the book soon and all I will say is that it's not very Disney, not in the traditional sense at least(November):

My other blog tour read is Stephanie Thornton's The Tiger Queens, a fictional focus on the women behind the throne of Genghis Khan's empire.

One of the major ladies here is Borte, destined at birth to be part of a sweeping change which comes in the form of Temujin, a warlord whose blood brother she falls in love with. Regardless of her heart's desire, she is made into his queen and their daughter Alaqai becomes a warrior maiden in her own right.

Other formidable women make their mark here, such as ambitious widow Sorkhokhtani and prisoner turned loyalist Fatima. This should be an interesting look at the unacknowledged female power and influence of one of history's best known dynasties and I look forward to sharing my thoughts on it this season with all of you(November).


Sherlock Holmes never seems to die, despite even his creator's attempt to take him out over Reichenbach Falls at the hands of his arch nemesis, who was also said to perish. That deadly meeting is the headliner of Anthony Horowitz's new thriller, a follow-up to the author's previous Holmesian tale House of Silk.

Moriarty has a Pinkerton operative named Frederick Chase seeking the truth behind the the supposedly fatal encounter. Teamed up with Scotland Yard investigator Athelney Jones, Chase is in pursuit of any criminal contenders to the now vacant throne held in the underworld by the Napoleon of Crime.

Their quest takes many turns, with a good number of candidates but one particular target in mind, a devious American counterpart to Moriarty that may be eager to expand his considerable horizons. Even if you're not a big Sherlock Holmes fan, this novel sounds like a smart and snappy journey into that classic detective wonderland(December):

Priya Parmar takes a fresh look at two of the central members of the Bloomsbury Group with her novel Vanessa and Her Sister that gives painter Vanessa Bell her own voice.

She and her siblings, including the moody Virginia , decide to make a new home in the neighborhood of Bloomsbury in 1905, where their artistic friends find a welcome haven from the critical eye of  their personal and professional elders. Both Vanessa and Virginia struggle with their muses yet it is when Vanessa falls in love with Clive Bell that their harmony is truly threatened.

Forced to chose between being Virginia's mainstay and a loving wife and mother, Vanessa makes choices that offer a less than best situation for all concerned. This should be an interesting read for more than just English Lit lovers as this tale of two sisters resonates with heartfelt spirit through time(December):

Whether or not you're gift giving, I hope some of these books make their way to you before the time for new calendars approaches. Even if you are, just remember that it is the thought that counts, although it wouldn't hurt to know a little about that special book you're planning to give to someone special(especially the title!):

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Penguin's slip-up on Gotham, some marriage counseling for Sleepy Hollow and Death Comes to Pemberley on PBS

A lot of scheming is going on in Gotham right now, with our good buddy Oswald Cobblepot making his moves to get in the good graces of Don Mancini by suggesting a way to make a certain casino robbery happen.

However, Oswald came this close to blowing his big chance by willingly confessing to Mancini his past ties to Fish Mooney(and by extension, the Falcones,his new boss' rivals). That nearly cost him more than his fancy new job but fortunately, Jim Gordon backed him up with the Don when called upon to do so.

Penguin, my man, you're doing so well here-don't be so trusting with your secrets, especially to a crime boss! I know, they really wouldn't take him out at this point yet it's hard not to root for this creepy cutthroat and yeah, I do want to see him face off with Fish Mooney by the end of this season:

Things are tense enough as it is on Sleepy Hollow, with the whole preventing the End of Days deal, for Ichabod and Abbie to handle without the bond between Crane and Katrina(currently playing double agent with the Headless Horseman) getting a bit more shattered.

The main menace of the week was "The Weeping Lady", a local ghost story come to life who had a strong interest in drowning ladies who appeared to have "Crane on the brain".

 Sadly, that proved to be fatal for one nice person(can't somebody hire Laura Spencer on a permanent basis for one series already?) which lead to Ichabod rushing to save Katrina and finding out she was more complaisant in the creation of this haunted spirit. Seems that in life, her name was Mary and she was Ichabod's former girlfriend who came to America to bring him home but after a confrontation with Katrina, just happened to fall to her death.

Katrina then hid the body and sent Ichabod a Dear John letter from Mary, which lead him to believe that she went back to England and no longer considered them an item.

That didn't go over well with Ichabod as he pointed out that Katrina has this bad habit of not telling him things(being a witch, knowing he was destined to be a Witness and casting that spell which bound him to the Horseman for starters) and her staying with the enemy, who was also her ex-fiance doesn't help matters much.

Then again, Ichabod did romance his best friend's girl, which lead to Brom selling his soul in the first place, so perhaps him being judgmental and jealous is part of the problem as well. Just trying to be fair, altho I do think that Katrina has been a little too "I'm doing this for your own good and can't tell you right now" for way too long here. Maybe when the Cranes get some down time, they should chat up a marriage counselor(not Dr. Phil!) but hopefully, their issues can be worked out before the Horseman decides to take his renewed connection with Katrina to the next level:

Jane Austen fans and mystery lovers will be sharing the remote this weekend as part on of Death Comes to Pemberley premieres on PBS this weekend.

Based on the P.D. James novel, this miniseries has Elizabeth and  Mr. Darcy dealing with a murder as her sister Lydia makes a dramatic entrance, proclaiming that her scoundrel of a husband Wickam may have killed one of their mutual friends. Darcy takes a search party out on the grounds and they discover Wickam crying over the body of his old Army companion Denny and confessing to his murder.

Yet, the case may not be as cut and dried as that, compelling Darcy to look into the matter on his own. A few of the secrets he unearths casts a different light on Wickam, not to mention a few other folks in the bargain.

Some Austen fans were less than thrilled with the book, yet I found myself enjoying it more than I had originally thought I would. Yes, this is a more somber take on Elizabeth but she is a bit older(the story takes place a few years after the events of P&P) and she does have a serious situation on her hands here.  All I'm saying is give this a chance; we don't always get Jane Austen themed mysteries on the small screen and this will certainly liven up a couple of quiet Sunday nights indeed:


OLIVE KITTERIDGE: More miniseries goodness coming our way, as HBO will be airing this two parter(based on Elizabeth Stout's award winning novel) on November 2 and 3. The book was wonderful and this adaptation is well cast, with the likes of Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins and yes, Bill Murray himself at the helm:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A pair of fine ladies from my fall reading

I'm making some progress with my fall reading(have yet to crack open one of my James Ellroy picks, however) and much to my surprise, have seen something in common with two of the heroines on my list.

 Both of them are in very different places in time and history, yet they share an independent spirit and feel burdened by the roles that society insists that they assume. Granted, they each handle their particular set of circumstances in completely different ways but if these two got a chance to chat, they would have plenty to compare and contrast.

The heroine of I Shall Be Near to You(a debut novel by Erin Lindsay McCabe that I received from Blogging for Books) is Rosetta, a native of New York State during the Civil War. When her beloved Jeremiah announces his intention to join the Union army, in order to earn enough money to take the two of them out West to start their own farm, she demands that they get married right away. He's happy to do so and for a brief time, they enjoy some wedded bliss.

Eventually, Jeremiah leaves with his regiment and Rosetta finds it hard to stay behind. She's a rough and tumble kind of girl, used to working on the farm with her father rather than sitting inside and sewing with the ladies. Her mother-in-law expects her to fall in line but that ,and a violent encounter with a childhood bully, convinces Rosetta that her true place is with her husband.

She takes off on her own, cutting her hair short and enlisting as "Ross Stone", Jeremiah's cousin. Upon seeing her join his troop, Jeremiah is furious but reluctantly accepts the fact that she's not going anywhere without him, at least for now. As the approach of true battle draws near, Rosetta must do her best to not only protect her husband and herself but to honor the trust of the troop as well.

This novel is one of those books that you know right off of the first page is going to be a good read. Erin Lindsay McCabe has based this story on the numerous accounts of women who did disguise themselves as men during the Civil War to fight for their country and this fictional tale gets right into the heart of Rosetta, who is a fine example of what these courageous warrior maidens must have been like.

 Rosetta's struggles to fit in with the troop(some of whom know her secret, due to being boys from back home) as well as with civilian life that demands a girl remain in her place(by both men and women of the time) is well portrayed and realistic. I Shall Be Near to You was sent to me in hardcover but it is available in paperback and should certainly be on the top of many reading group lists out there. What is most touching about this story is Rosetta's deep down to the bone love for Jeremiah, a devotion that is sweetly epic to see:

Joan Aiken's look at the "second heroine of Jane Austen's Emma", entitled Jane Fairfax gives much more of a backbone to the character than some might give her credit for. We met Jane as a child, when she tries to be a friend to the high and mighty young Miss Woodhouse but the latter's jealousy shuts that down just as Jane goes off to live with Colonel Campbell's family.

There, Jane is keenly aware that she is expected to become a governess when she grows up and is willing to accept that fate, even though as the time goes near, the Campbells are not quick to send her off just yet.

Jane does find the path that society has laid out for her and Rachel Campbell(who longs to be an artist) very trying and wishes that she had the rank and financial independence of Emma to do more with her life.

 Being practical about her situation does not prevent her from falling in love with Matthew Dixon, who Rachel also has her heart set upon. By standing aside in that romance, Jane finds to her surprise that long time friend Frank Churchill has declared his love and wants to marry her but must keep their engagement secret from his disagreeable aunt.

Austen fans are well aware of how this story goes and yet, Aiken brings a freshness to this character along with some depth into her relationship with Frank Churchill. Her rankling at the constraints of her situation in life fits well into the Austen mold and allows her intelligence to shine though. While Frank's actions during their secret keeping in Highbury do have extra meaning behind them, he is not completely let off the hook here either.

Emma herself is not the true villain of this piece(several characters, both old and new, can claim that distinction) but her self centered nature is properly displayed. Overall, this take on Emma is a worth while read that does justice to it's inspiration. It is nice to see Jane Fairfax get her fair share of the romantic spotlight without compromising her full value as a smart and capable woman. Frank should certainly endeavor to deserve her,indeed:

 Well, I have some ways to go with my fall reading(which may extend into winter) and I do plan to take part in a couple of blog tours this season, which should be fun. So much to read, so little time as they say and yet, I can't help but be all about the books:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Azar Nafisi gives us a passport to The Republic of Imagination

Meeting a fellow reader is always a charming experience, especially in print form, and I eagerly recall when I first came across one of the true champions of promoting love of literature that we have today, Azar Nafisi.

 Her 2003 memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, chronicles her struggles to teach Western Literature at the University of Tehran which lead to her setting up a secret reading group for several of her female students. Having a private space where they could relax and be themselves, along with being able to discuss the works of Nabokov, F. Scot Fitzgerald and Jane Austen without fear of reprisal, was a both a blessing and a risk, although one worth taking.

Now, she is about to release another literary themed memoir entitled The Republic of Imagination, whose theme is best described in it's subtitle" America in Three Books".

 As a citizen of the United States since 2008, Professor Nafisi was determined to express both her admiration and critiques of her new country via some of it's finer examples in fiction. Her only problem was similar to that of a kid in a candy store; too much goodness to choose from.

One book that she definitely knew she wanted to start with was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain's most controversial classic. Her love of that book is based upon the determined independence of Huck, who became willing to defy social conventions in order to aid Jim in the enslaved man's quest for freedom. In her opinion, one of the biggest villains of the story is Tom Sawyer, whose antics serve to hinder both Huck and Jim for his own personal amusement(and I do believe she has a point there).

Despite the efforts of many to ban this book and/or censor it's language, Professor Nafisi feels that Twain's way with words is what makes this novel a true hallmark of American literature that blazed the path that many others have followed, making it an essential must read for all:

Next on her list is Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, where it's title character is a man who devotes himself to being as ordinary as possible, believing that the pursuit of money and middle class values is the key to happiness.

However, disillusionment falls upon Babbitt and his loved ones, to the degree that his supposedly idyllic life in the town of Zenith is revealing itself to be a mirage of material bliss. Frankly, I haven't read this book but Professor Nafisi's vivid description of the book's theme of resisting the temptations of conformity to be intriguing and well worth checking out.

 In many ways, Babbitt still rings true today, as we embrace many a false reality and must strive even more to prevent being just the star of our own media show:

The third book of Professor Nafisi's focus is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers' debut novel that showcases an unlikely quartet of folks who all share the same emotional touchstone.

 From young Mick to the gruff John Blount as well as the aloof Dr. Copeland and quiet observer Biff  Brannon, these offbeat residents of a small Southern town confine in John Singer, a deaf mute man, their lonely hopes and dreams.

When Singer gives into his own despair, the others must find their own way towards dealing with life for good or ill. In discussing this book, along with McCullers' biographical history, Professor Nafisi displays the need for connection that this story represents and perhaps a more nuanced approach to how we deal with loneliness and desolation in our own lives as well as present society:

She rounds this all off with an epilogue that honors James Baldwin and what his work means to the spirit of America, a most fitting ending indeed.

What makes The Republic of Imagination more than a scholarly look at significant books in our culture are her blend of personal reminiscences and observations regarding reading and education, with a strong critical eye on the debate around the Common Core curriculum.

Regardless of how you may feel about that particular subject, Professor Nafisi gives the casual reader a true understanding of what is objectionable about this program and sound reasons for better solutions for the challenges facing both teachers and students. Beyond all of that, The Republic of Imagination is a salute to the beauty of freedom of thought that our nation should ardently cherish and develop for the generations to come.

The book will be released this week and book lovers everywhere ought to add it to their must read piles as quickly as possible. The Republic of Imagination is a heartfelt ode to the art of literature that enhances achievement for society rather than distracts from it as some would claim and gives us all real food for thought:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Penguin gets a promotion on Gotham,Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. having a May-velous time and the rise of Cutthroat Kitchen

Things are still not perfect on Gotham(yet it was good that Barbara finally told Gordon about her past with Montoya) but watching the sinister moves of Oswald Cobblepot more than makes up for that.

After he reconnected with Gordon,who is not a happy camper about Oswald being back in town, our future Penguin managed to get a foot up the new mob ladder he's on by making himself useful during a armed heist at the restaurant he's been washing dishes for. By saving some of the cash from the counting room in the back, Oswald further cemented trust with Don Maroni, who gave him a promotion to manager, now that the position is gruesomely open.

Of course, our bad boy was behind that caper and his unassuming manner made it simple for him to poison his partners in crime(those cannoli did look to die for). Between that and giving his new buddy Jim some helpful hints about who is out to fix the vote on the property known as Arkham, Oswald is smartly playing both sides of the fence but who knows how long his cleverness will last:

Melinda May was given a good share of the spotlight this week on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as a field mission with Coulson lead to a total Face/Off battle between herself and a Hydra double.

 I sincerely echoed Coulson's sentiments when he said "I can't believe I'm the only one seeing this!"-my inner child was shouting for joy during that bout. Seeing May not only in throwdown mode but in strong emotional form(as she kept refusing Coulson's wish to put him down if his alien enhanced mental state lead to dangerous waters) was a firm level up both for the character and the audience to boot.

May will still be snarky at time and that's always welcome yet allowing her to develop some in depth personality tones is important. Melinda May should be more than just an action figure here but seeing her kick ass when necessary is fun,too:

I think it's safe to say at this point that Cutthroat Kitchen has become the new Chopped, especially now that the show is doing holiday themed episodes and is in the midst of a celebrity tournament along with it's regular run.

The concept may be wacky(four chefs take on harsh cooking challenges that are bid on by each other) but Alton Brown does make it work. I will admit that he wasn't always a Food Network favorite of mine but the man has grown on me.

 He's basically a culinary geek in the best sense; smart and funny,plus a great sense of humor that he's not afraid to aim at himself Plus, the inventiveness of the sabotages is amazing to behold.

They don't always repeat them(a few returning ones like the kid sized kitchen are worth the wait) and it's great to see just how creative the chefs really are when faced with lack of utensils and less than refined ingredients.  Often is the case that the chef who doesn't have any sabotages is the one who screws up the most(overconfidence, not a good thing!).

So, if you're in the mood for watching weirdness with food, Cutthroat Kitchen is the place to be. Chopped is still going strong but it's fun to have such a deviously delightful culinary sporting arena such as this:


TOP CHEF:  Speaking of cooking competitions, the queen mother of them all is back for a new season in Boston with a few fresh changes. Between the Sudden Death Quickfire(which I think is a way for them to keep Last Chance Kitchen well stocked with contenders) and former TC-All Stars champ Richard Blais as a regular judge, the frying pan should be hot enough to make the latest set of culinary contenders want to stay out of the fire:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Checking out the Oscar bait set out at the Movie Trailer Park

As we get closer to the end of the year, the good folks in Hollywood rush to release as many "quality" films as they can in order to qualify for the big awards season that begins in mid-winter.

While plenty of these movies are respectable in both content and entertainment value, one can't help being slightly cynical about the timing of their theatrical runs. However, it's not the fault of any of these flicks about such obvious preening for prizes so let's take a look at a few trailers that are definitely being earmarked for Oscar consideration and give them a fair shake there:

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Eddie Redmayne stars as a young Stephen Hawking, whose keen intellect is already winning him acclaim and whose romance with Jane Wilde(Felicity Jones) is a huge plus in the emotional column there. His rising star becomes threatened as the rare physical illness that drastically changed his health and life begins to take over. With the support of Jane and others, Hawking manages to make his considerable mark on the scientific world.

There are a lot of reasons for this to be seen as prime Oscar material; based on a true story(for the early part of Hawking's life at least) overcoming physical challenge and most of all, British. The film is already getting some good word on the film festival circuit and should earn more praise upon it's worldwide release.

However, there is more to this than meets the eye.  Redmayne is an excellent actor who has been seen in mostly supporting roles, even in My Week with Marilyn which earned his leading lady Michelle Williams an Oscar nom.  Felicity Jones is also a wonderful actress who American audiences may soon see as Black Cat in the next Amazing Spider man movie(plus, has played a Jane Austen heroine which gives her double bonus point in my opinion) and this movie could be a major break out moment for them both. Jones and Redmayne are truly talented and it would be nice for them to get the acclaim they deserve:

THE IMITATION GAME:  This look at the team that cracked the Nazi's Enigma Code during WWII focuses on group leader Alan Turing(Benedict Cumberbatch), whose cool demeanor made it difficult for others to work with him.

Despite his temperament, Alan bonded with his crew of off beat brainiacs and helped out the war cause tremendously with their work. His reward for that was a ruthless prosecution for "gross indecency," due to his admission of being gay which was once a capitol offense in Great Britian.

As with Theory of Everything, this film also has similar favorable qualities in gaining Academy Award preference what with  it's true story setting and dealing with prejudice of a bygone age(which in some respects is sadly still with us today). The cast is made up of a strong amount of prime British talent such as Keira Knightley, Charles Dance and Mark Strong. Yet, many of Cumberbatch's fans will be fervently hoping that this role gets him a Best Actor nod and who knows, it may very well do that:

WILD: Reese Witherspoon is already receiving Best Actress buzz as the lead in this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir of her solo trek across the Pacific Crest Trail. This soul searching quest to clear her mind and spirit was a widely heralded best seller and with Nick Hornby as the screenwriter, it should translate very nicely to the big screen.

Witherspoon is also the executive producer,so this being a star vehicle for her is no big surprise. While I'm not drawn to stories about folks going on a walkabout, I do give her credit for taking on a role that promises to test her real limits as an actress there. Witherspoon does want to be taken seriously and if this film helps to achieve that goal, more power to her there:

BIRDMAN: Michael Keaton is not claiming that this movie is a comeback but plenty of people are,nonetheless. Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a former star of a comic book film franchise who is preparing to return to the limelight as the lead in a Broadway show.

The story is filmed in numerous long takes and made up of a stellar supporting cast that includes Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts. While Keaton says that none of his Batman experience drew him to this part(and I do believe him on that), comparisons will be made and Best Actor talk is going on as we speak.

Birdman does look like an interesting movie with it's own weird sense of style, something that frankly mainstream films could use right about now. In addition to Keaton being considered for Oscar honors, writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu should also reap some of the benefits of this indie crossover film's potential success as well:

There will be other films that get Oscar talk going but I would be greatly surprised if any of these four are not in major contention. This doesn't mean that movies released earlier this year will be ignored completely but cinematic followers know all too well the impact of recent exposure for possible award nominees.

I do also hope that certain smaller movies don't get lost in the shuffle such as Belle(which I saw recently on DVD and it was marvelous) and To Be Takei, a heartfelt documentary about cult actor George Takei.

His journey from unjust internment during WWII here in the States to science fiction icon and outspoken defender of LGBT rights is a fine example of American spirit and to see him on stage with an Oscar would be a grand moment in entertainment history. Oscar does favor the underdog at times and for a film like this to be nominated and win would be the ultimate Hollywood happy ending:

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Gotham needs to get into gear,The Flash is off to a running start and American Horror Story sets up it's Freak Show

It's only three episodes in and already folks are less than impressed with Gotham but I'm still willing to give it a chance.

Granted, the show is rather wobbly on it's feet and needs to build up some serious momentum yet part of the impatience is due to this being a Batman series without the Caped Crusader being able to man the helm.

 However, I think they may be able to over come that within a few episodes yet I do have a major complaint; what is up with that long angle lens approach to Montoya's brief kiss with Barbara Kean?

If you haven't been watching, Barbara is Jim Gordon's girlfriend and Officer Montoya appears to be a former lover of hers who,due to her position in the police department, is hearing bad things about Gordon and passing on those doubts to her exe.

The ladies had a major scene this week and when Montoya went into for a kiss, we went from close up view to all the way across the room. Look,behind the scenes people, I'm happy to see that Montoya's sexuality(and yes, it did happen in the comics) is being incorporated into the series but don't be so hesitant about it. I can handle the whole "old lover bad mouthing the current lover" trope but pulling away like that breaks the intensity of the scene and intensity is something that this show is in dire need of at the moment.

Truth be told, I'm sticking around Gotham for Oswald Cobblepot, our potential Penguin, who has made his way back to the city and is slipping back into bad society. His showing up at Gordon's door in the last moment of this past episode was a sit and take notice ending there.

In a weird way, Oswald's story line reminds me of Miller's Crossing, a Coen brothers movie where a mobster spared the life of a snitch out of pity and both of them wound up regretting it in the end. I'm not saying that this sub plot is award winning stuff but the actor playing Oswald brings a solid mix of smarmy toadying with true deadly menace that makes you wonder what he'll do next and for a predictable villain to become so unpredictable is no easy feat:

Meanwhile, the opening episode of The Flash this week has made a nice first impression as both ratings and reviews agree on it's promising merits. The tone is lighter than Arrow but just as cleverly done and yes, we already had a brief crossover.

I like how well Barry Allen's back story(a blend of classic canon and a recent reboot) has been developed here, plus his band of high tech supporters are an intriguing bunch. The typical love triangle between Barry, his childhood friend Iris and her current beau Eddie was to be expected but I hope that doesn't completely overwhelm the show's upcoming plot points.

As I am still a season behind with Arrow(finally finished S1 on DVD!), it's good to jump into this series at it's very beginning and it does pair well with Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.(really good season over there, especially now that Simmons is a double agent embedded into Hydra) on Tuesday nights. The Flash so far is a lot of fun and worth keeping up with:

American Horror Story put up it's tents for a fourth season last night, with the theme of Freak Show being placed center stage in Florida of 1952.  The main ring of the story line had conjoined twins Dot and Bette recruited for Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities, a traveling show hoping to set down roots.

 The long hidden from the world girls happen to be on the run from the law, due to the untimely death of their mother, another complication that owner Elsa is more than ready to deal with. There's a lot going here, with a murderous clown on the loose and several of the sideshow performers tired of being treated as second class citizens looking to dispense some street justice of their own.

The initial set-up is interesting but since Coven went on and off the rails last time, I do hope that Freak Show is better equipped to stay on solid ground. Whimsey is fine and dandy but gets old really fast. Still, plenty of engaging strangeness to tune into here:


PROJECT RUNWAY: We've got some diva action from last week spilling over into tonight's episode as eliminated designers are asked to return in order to assist the remaining ones in a challenge involving the outfits that gave them the boot in the first place. Korina was sent packing, not only for her lousy work but her cattiness and disparaging of her fellow competitors during the judging, in my opinion.

Korina was given a second chance and lost out to Char(who she resents due to Char being saved earlier on by Tim Gunn from an elim) who she is now asked to work with. I have never liked Korina, due to her "why can't they see how wonderful I am?" attitude and her whole demeanor last week was terrible to say the least. Apparently, for this challenge, she's throwing another tantrum and all I can say is that if she wants to leave so badly, then by all means,Tim, show her the door!:

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Have a Happy Halloween with Fanny Price,Slayer of Vampires!

With October mainly being a countdown to Halloween, it's only fitting that I offer a little treat to horror fans and Jane Austen admirers alike with a special sale on my latest e-book,Fanny Price: Slayer of Vampires.

This Mansfield Park mash-up is told through a series of letters(found by a modern day descendant) that our heroine Fanny wrote to her seafaring brother William but never sent, chronicling the strange behavior of new neighbors Mary and Henry Crawford.

With their sharp wit and sharp sets of fangs, this sinister brother and sister act cast a spell of amiability that leaves the Bertram family,particularly Fanny's beloved Edmund, most vulnerable to their deadly charms. Can Fanny use the odd items left in her care by her late Uncle Norris in order to save her Mansfield kin or will keeping Lady Bertram awake during tea time be too much of a distraction?

As you can guess, there is some humorous peanut butter mixed into the chocolatey goodness of vampire lore and Jane Austen, which is a flavor combination most suited for this season.

 If you'd like to add this eerie Austen themed book to your e-reader goodie bag, just go to Smashwords and use the coupon code UE59E during your purchase to get a 50% discount off of the regular price. The sale ends on Oct.31, so don't be tricked into missing out on this fearsome Fanny treat!

This book is listed at Goodreads and Library Thing and if anyone would like to post a review of it by Halloween, I do have some Fanny Price pins to give away. I'm only able to ship in the US(sorry, limited resources!) and your write-up doesn't have to be a rave, some good honest feedback will be appreciated.

 With 2014 being the 200th anniversary of MP, I hope that many fans of this underrated Austen novel will find some fun to be had here. Especially those of you who find  Henry Crawford's devilish ways most delightful(he and Buffy's former beau Angelus would certainly be quite the pair of lady killers indeed):

If you would prefer a less gruesome yet still fanciful Austenesque story, my earlier foray into this field, The Austen Avenger, is available for free downloads not only at Smashwords but Barnes & Noble, ITunes and Scribd as well.

This novella follows around Andy, a guy more familiar with Wonder Woman than Elizabeth Bennet, who believes he has discovered a new superhero in our midst. Granted, she talks a bit like Emma Thompson and instead of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, uses her sense of sensibility to defuse retail rage and put rude persons in their place.

However, she is most helpful in giving Andy a much desired introduction to the girl of his dreams and that alone makes him determined to be her potential sidekick, if need be. The Austen Avenger may not have her own movie franchise just yet but it is nice to see a heroine who strives to be a champion of universal truth, polite justice and the Austen way:

Halloween may not be seen as an ideal time for Jane Austen but even that good lady enjoyed a little Gothic thrill now and then, as Northanger Abbey proves in abundance. Even a few of the novels referenced in that book such as The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Monk have plenty of spine chilling moments to keep you turning pages late into the night, as Catherine Morland was want to do.

So, whether your seasonal reading is in penny dreadful print or eerie electronic format, literary scares are readily at hand for your treat bag of books to devour on All Hallows Eve. Just don't skimp on the mood lighting, candle or otherwise: