Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, March 30, 2015

Fear flicks spring forth at the Movie Trailer Park

While spring is taking it's time to arrive, the upcoming films for this season are right on track with one of the perennial genres to crop up being horror.

Much like flowers, horror comes in a vast variety of blooms with similar shades of color yet can be surprisingly distinctive. Let's take a gander at a handful of fright flicks set to make you cringe in your cinematic seat:

IT FOLLOWS: This low budget chiller has gotten so much buzz from it's film festival runs that it's now going to have a wide release in theaters instead of slipping to DVD/VOD country. The basic premise of the plot has a young woman named Jay(Maika Monroe) being informed by Hugh(Jake Weary),the guy she gave her virginity, to that their tryst has made her the target of a curse.

A shapeshifting wraith will now pursue her relentlessly and if it catches her, Hugh and everyone else trapped in this deadly daisy chain will be eliminated. The only way to rid yourself of this curse is to pass it on via another sexual encounter.  This might sound like the typical "sex equals death" trope that teenagers deal with in horror but the movie is much more atmospheric and scarily subtle than that from what I've heard from others:

UNFRIENDED: This latest attempt at the "ghost in the machine" subgenre has
a teen girl named Laura Barnes suffer so much humiliation from her peers, due to an online video and trolling taunts, that she ends her own life.

A year later, her so-called friends are chatting away via Skype when they receive an unexpected guest to their party who wants to share the pain. The story is mostly told via internet screens, which does allows for some moments of quiet horror yet I suspect that some gore is going to be splashed on more than one screen.

While I find the title a bit awkward sounding(the original one was Cybernatural,not that much better), the set-up reminds me of a couple of segments from the V/H/S anthology films, so it might have some potential for a good scare there:

POLTERGEIST: It wouldn't be a modern horror movie season without a pointless remake and for your possibly viewing pleasure, we have a new version of the 1982 Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg haunted house film.

This one stars Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt as the terrified parents looking to save their little girl(who is not named Carol Ann) from the vicious netherworld residents holding her captive.

Since this is supposed to be a reboot rather than a remake, the look and feel of the film is more in line with Insidious and Paranormal Activity than the glossy F/X laden appearance of the original. I don't want to jinx anybody but considering the terrible run of bad luck that affected the first three Poltergeist films, I just hope that any purification rituals in the film were done off screen for the cast and crew as well as on:

THE SISTERHOOD OF NIGHT: This is one of those films that Fangoria magazine would cover by saying "It's Not a Horror Movie..." but there is some menacing meat on these bones that makes it worth looking into.

When a group of four girls forms the title secret society, one of their classmates, motivated by jealousy at being left out, starts to spread rumors of dire occult practices being performed by TSHON. The girls refuse to talk about their woodland meetings, making the rest of their small town more determined to break them up.

Are the girls witches or just playacting? There's a nice Salem witch trials motif here, with the addition of social media, and a touch of Twilight Zone story telling vibe to boot. This film may not get a wide release yet it could become a sleeper hit, let's wait and see:

 Finally, I'm rounding this movie trailer post off with one film that's about to hit home video very soon and is definitely a must-see for vampire fans.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a sly twist on the bloodsucker genre, as a nameless female clad in a chador wanders the streets of a ghost town after dark, encountering possible friends and potential victims along her way.

The film is written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour(based on her graphic novel) and the noir style of b&w filming combined with a Spaghetti Western theme,plus a vampire mythos with an Iranian cultural setting, is truly that breath of fresh air so desperately needed in the mainstream media these days.

I already have this film reserved on my Netflix queue and any self respecting horror fan should make a concerted effort to check this one out, particularly after dark:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Judith Kinghorn shakes up quite a story with The Snow Globe

The joys of reading historical fiction can also tie into your TV viewing habits as certain books will offer you the solace of waiting for a favorite series set in the past to return.

For example, Judith Kinghorn's The Snow Globe is the perfect catnip to fans of Downton Abbey with it's emotionally distraught heroine facing hard choices in the wake of discovering some family secrets and lies.

At first, young Daisy Forbes is just as eager to enjoy her nineteenth Christmas at Eden Hall in 1926 as she was during her childhood. As the youngest of three daughters, she is the last to remain at home and apart from the aftermath of WWI, has seen little of the harshness of the world. For the present, the most exciting event in her life is the mysterious disappearance of acclaimed author Agatha Christie, a search that even Daisy does her best to take part in:

Even when Mrs. Christie does reemerge, Daisy is still secure in her belief that her family life is as serene as the house within the snow globe given to her by her father Howard so many years ago.

However, a serious crack in that facade is made when,during a get-together at home, Daisy learns that Howard has been cheating on her mother Mabel for years and particular with an actress named Margot Vincent.

The shock of that news is compounded by the arrival of Margot as a holiday guest, along with her son Valentine, an invitation given by Mabel who is perhaps more aware of her husband's infidelity than her youngest child realizes:

Disgusted with her father as well as Eden Hall, Daisy must make a choice regarding not only her future residence but the direction of her adult life.

That decision is further complicated by three possible love interests; Ben, a stable young man who is a bit domineering, Valentine, who is instantly attracted to her despite already being engaged to another woman and Stephen, the adopted son of the family's cook and shell shocked gardener.

Stephen's attachment to Daisy runs deep, as they've been friends since their childhood days when he was sent to live with the Forbes during the war time evacuations. While Daisy also has strong feelings for him, she is upset that,due to his chauffeur duties, Stephen was aware of her father's unfaithfulness for a long time and didn't tell her. Stephen desires to leave Eden Hall to make a better life for himself and wants Daisy to join him yet her recent discovery of such close range deception makes her rather distrustful at the moment:

Daisy does leave Eden Hall, but goes to London to stay with her carefree sister Iris while her mother takes a trip through Europe with her equally flighty sister in law Dosia, both of them looking to find new purpose in their lives.

As time goes on, the path to what lies ahead for each of them is made clear but the willingness to be bold is what may hold one or both of them back.

The Snow Globe is a well told tale with vivid emotional insights given to more than one character. I like how it's not all about Daisy, her mother Mabel and Stephen's adoptive mother Mrs. Jessop are also seen as struggling to figure out what's left to them to enjoy in life with the changes coming up in their respective worlds. The pace of the writing is leisurely yet brisk in all the right places.

I was much pleased to share my thoughts on The Snow Globe for the current blog tour for the paperback and look forward to reading Judith Kinghorn's earlier books as well. Even if you're not into Downton Abbey, there is much to cherish here and for my fellow DA lovers, this lovely book should make the blow of learning that the sixth season will indeed be the last a bit better to bear:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Flash hits the reset button,a couple of bad pennies turn up on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a taste of iZombie

The huge happenings on last week's episode of The Flash were reversed,as Barry quickly captured the Weather Wizard and altering the time line for both better and worse.

Those two elements went hand in hand,especially for Cisco as he avoided meeting a gruesome demise at the hands of his mentor yet was kidnapped by Captain Cold's crew and forced to make new weapons for them. The painful cherry on top of that suffering sundae was being made to reveal The Flash's true identity to Cold, due to Cisco's brother also being a hostage of The Rogues as well.

That group has a new member,by the way-Cold's sister Lisa, who has yet to be given a villain title(the one she had in the comics was Golden Glider, which explains why she had Cisco make her a gold ray gun, I guess) but she's pretty bad ass regardless of name:

Also, as predicted, Barry didn't get a declaration of love from Iris(but a punch in the face from Eddie for his trouble). All of this time rearranging might be seen as a bit of a letdown but I feel that it's setting the table for a more magnificent feast to come.

For one thing, Barry is a lot more suspicious of Dr. Wells(who eliminated a snoopy reporter on the sly) than he was before, a good sign indeed. Also glad that Cisco is still with us but I do wonder just how long his good natured self will last here.

 However, that will have to wait as next week, The Trickster(Mark Hamill, who also played that role in the 1990s TV version of The Flash) will be entering the arena to toss our hero a new brand of super villain hijinks:

Who should show up on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this week but Ward, who has a former enthralled follower of Whitehall's in tow.

 That new partner of his is Agent 33, who has a shape shifting "nanomask" fused to her face after a fight with Melinda May, is very grateful to him for providing her with some direction as well as a plan that involves capturing a former Hydra agent held by the government. How this will play into the bigger picture at the moment is yet to be seen but it should be interesting to see where this particular piece of the puzzle will fit in:

Meanwhile, Skye was sent to a remote location in order to figure out what to do next about her powers. Simmons made her a pair of gauntlets that might help but despite that bit of assistance, Simmons and Fitz are in serious disagreement about the potential for Skye's  new abilities.

Skye does need some time away from the tension but judging by next week's promo, she's not going to get it. The folks over at "the real Shield" are planning a takeover that will most likely be hostile. If I were them, I'd take a very calm approach to Skye as even the slightest debate tends to set her quake meter close to high:

I managed to catch up with the first two episodes of iZombie, the new CW series based loosely on the DC/Vertigo comic book series, and have to say that's not bad.

The premise is that former workaholic med student Liv Moore(yes, the names here are not too subtle) is trying to deal with her new half zombie state by using her brain eating need to help humanity.

Liv, who now works at the coroner's office, gets flashes of memory from the minds she feeds on that gives her and a police detective(who thinks she's psychic) clues to solve the murder of that particular person. In addition, she's broken off with her fiance Major,afraid of infecting him, and is somewhat disconnected from most of her family and friends.

The set-up is good so far and there's a lot of quirky humor between the characters(not surprising since Rob "Veronica Mars" Thomas is one of the brains behind this show). What really makes this show a must watch for me is the introduction of the true villain of the piece.

Liv was infected at a party by Blaine, a smarmy drug dealer who is also part zombie as well. Despite his attempts to convince her otherwise, Blaine does not share Liv's lingering respect for human life and is already planning to use his "raging" abilities to bad ends. It also helps that David Anders is in this role, as he is pretty much awesome in evil mode.

Blaine is quite the manipulate cad and could become a serious problem, which is good for a crime fighter show. Your hero is only as good as your adversary and if things keep going along like this, iZombie should have some new to offer the typical undead scene:


GOING CLEAR: HBO has been riding a strong wave of good PR due to the real world impact of their Robert Durst documentary and the fall out from the upcoming film that looks into Scientology ought to be just as engaging.

 Based on the nonfiction book by Lawrence Wright, the movie not only talks about the celebrity members of this cult but what has been done to their regular followers as well. Yep, water coolers should be a-buzzing this Monday morning:

Monday, March 23, 2015

Taking a Hardy turn into spring on The Road of Rereading

With spring being officially here(despite the snow storm that arrived in my neck of the woods on that day). it's time for me to walk a bit further down The Road of Rereading. For this season, I chose Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd, a book that was assigned to me in high school and yet I have very little memory of the actual text.

I do remember getting the book from the teacher and even watching a few scenes from the 1967 film version of FFTMC in class(that was a popular part of that English course. We also saw the entire film adaptation of The Good Earth as well). Beyond that, I don't think that I got too far with the actual book, a rarity for me back then.

 I was one of those kids who liked reading assignments and frequented the school library quite a bit. However when it came to this book and Lord Jim(assigned by a different teacher), I just couldn't get into them at all.

Perhaps Thomas Hardy and Joesph Conrad are not easy for any high school student to get into,which doesn't mean you shouldn't try, of course.However, due to my interest in English literature, I've never given up on tackling Hardy.

He's a rather moody fellow and his most famous works reflect that in abundance. Far From The Madding Crowd was his fourth novel and his first success with critics and readers alike. This book then lead to ten more, including such classics as The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D'ubervilles and Jude the Obscure.

In looking back on FFTMC now, this was a pretty controversial choice for my English class as it's themes of female empowerment and sharp sexual overtones make it juicy.  Guess it wasn't presented to us that way, which is too bad since we would've paid more attention to the story than we most likely did then.

The plot revolves around Bathsheba Everdene, a young woman who has inherited some family property and is determined to run the farm on her own. She also finds herself emotionally drawn to three different men; Gabriel, a young farmer seeking work, Boldwood, an older established farmer who falls in love for the first time in his life with her and Sgt. Troy, who excites her with his swordplay(it's an actual sword, folks, let's not get too in the gutter here!).

Of course, Bathsheba goes through some trials and tribulations with her menfolk and the farm which leads her down a tough path that teaches her some hard life lessons. Trust me, in that time period(it was first published in 1874), an independently minded woman had to pay a high price for such boldness according to the social norms of the day. Bathsheba,nonetheless, is certainly a fictional heroine who made some considerable strides and it should be a pleasure to get to know her better:

I do confess that part of my motivation for picking this book was the upcoming release of a new film adaptation this May. Carey Mulligan will be playing Bathsheba and her suitors will be portrayed by Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge and Matthias Schoenaerts.

In all likelihood, I won't be able to see this take on FFTMC in theaters but as part of my Page to Screen portion of this challenge, I will be watching the Julie Christie version in it's entirety(that film happens to be getting a re-release overseas right now).

I would love to see this latest version but due to budget restraints, it probably won't be possible. Judging from the trailer, this particular telling of the Hardy tale seems to be firmly planted in solid cinematic ground:

However, my film exploration of this story will extend to a rather modern re-telling as well.In the grand tradition of Clueless and Easy A, we do have a refitted to present times version of FFTMC.

 Tamara Drewe is based upon the graphic novel and comic strip by Posy Simmonds,with it's title heroine taking over the family homestead and wowing the locals with her improved appearance.

Stephen Friers directed the 2010 film, starring Gemma Atherton and Dominic Cooper. It looks to be a bit more satirical in tone than any of the other adaptations of the Hardy book, which should make this a lot of fun to watch. I'm planning a duel review of both this and the 1967 film and that ought to be interesting there:

Well, I'm off and running with Hardy's crowd and I just hope that this can be my ice breaking intro to his other works.

I did try The Mayor of Casterbridge but didn't get far(still have my copy,tho)with Tess and Jude the Obscure right next to each other in my Classic Lit TBR pile(yes, my TBRs have themes, that is how elaborate they've become).

My hopes are high, since my intake of time honored material has grown by leaps and bounds during the past couple of years. Plus, rediscovering this book promises to be rather engaging as no matter the time or place, love stories are always an incredible battlefield to behold:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Flash ends his time out, Skye has therapy on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.and Caroline gets her evil on at The Vampire Diaries

Finally, The Flash returns to Tuesday nights and what a game changer this episode turned out to be!

It might be enough for Barry and Iris to get with the program and declare their true love via a kiss just as a tsunami is about to strike the city(and her finding out his secret super hero identity to boot) but there was plenty more to come there.

We also had Cisco learning the truth behind Dr. Wells and the Reverse Flash, paying for that knowledge with his life, Joe West being hunted down by a new Weather Wizard seeking revenge for his brother's demise and Barry discovering that his super speed has time travel potential. Jam packed would be the understatement, to say the least.

 Yeah, that time travel bit is most important as it not only provides motive for the sinister actions of not so good doctor Harrison Wells/Ebord Thawne(partly,anyway-probably more to that back story!) but can also prevent many of the bad things that went on here, such as the police captain's grave injuries due to this new Weather Wizard attacking Joe at the station.

It will be a tough choice for Barry to make, as he'll lose out on Iris being his official lady love but no doubt, he will make the right call here. Have to say that this new Weather Wizard is certainly more skilled with his powers than his brother was and therefore, perhaps even more dangerous:

Regardless of that threat, the true Big Bad is, of course, Wells and while the conclusion of this mini-arch may rewind his reveal for awhile, I hope we don't have to wait much longer for a rematch between him and Barry.

From the upcoming promos, we have more evil doers a-foot, as Captain Cold will be back(along with a few new partners in crime) and Mark Hamil is set to appear as The Trickster. Looks like a ton of super hero fun that should lead to an amazing finale sometime this spring:

Meanwhile, Skye is trying to adjust to her new status on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as she is now on "The Index" where folks with potentially dangerous abilities are tracked.

Part of that deal involves a pysch evalue, for which she has no desire to take part in and you can't blame her for that. However, having Melinda May's ex-husband(the great and gorgeous Blair Underwood) running the session is an incentive that even Skye can't resist:

I do hope that Underwood's appearance is more than a one time deal, as seeing May slightly mellow out around is a nice change of pace for the character.

Back to Skye, her attempts to control her new found abilities were not helped by Cal, her maniac of a father, forming a band of super villains to expose S.H.I.E.L.D(as well as get payback on Coulson). That little reign of terror was put to a halt, mainly due to Cal being whisked off by the secretive Inhuman forces who are apparently biding their time. No doubt they will make their presence fully known by the time the finale airs:

There is always so much going on with The Vampire Diaries that it is hard to talk about just one plot line. However, the current Caroline Forbes situation seems to be the right place to focus on.

Caroline's decision to turn off her humanity(something that vamps can do in this mythology and it usually means going on a killing spree) in order to cope with the death of her mother was actually a debatable point.

She told her friends that she just needed a year of non humanity fun to skip over the painful struggle of handling the loss of her mother(an arch that was done just as good as the one Buffy had to deal with in S5) and if they left her be, she promised not to murder anyone. It even looked as she was going to be able to do just that.

 Of course, Stefan would hear none of it, since he was slow to declare his true feelings for her before Caroline switched off and persisted in being her "humanity trigger" to bring her back from that emotional void.

I have to say that I was impressed with her evil scheming, as Caroline used her compulsion ability to force Elena's former doctor-in-training beau to do impromptu surgery on Stefan's great-niece(that's a whole other long story, but, yeah, there is a remaining human member of the Salvatore clan). The only way she would call the whole thing off was to insist that Stefan turn off his humanity and by the end, it certainly looked as if he did just that.

Now, are we going to have the Mystic Falls version of Spike and Drusilla here or is Stefan faking her out in order to save Caroline from herself? Either way, it should be a blast to watch:


GAME OF THRONES: We're only a few weeks away from the new season and there are plenty of new delights to savor. Among the fresh sights to behold will be the kingdom of Dorne and the free city of Braavos, where a certain Stark girl is about to learn her lessons in the art of death. So hard to wait!:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A St. Patrick's Day Salute to some Feisty Irish Females of Fiction

As I am an American of Irish descent(on both sides of my family tree, I might add), it is my pop culture duty to highlight a fun aspect of my heritage on St. Patrick's Day.

I've done several themes in the past but this year's is less satirical than I usually get. Our focus today is on Fictional Irish Heroines, with a fine quartet of ladies who do both the Emerald Isle and many of the Erin Go Bragh enclaves in America proud.

Speaking of America, the first female on our list is rather iconic as she is the focal point of the biggest Civil War soap opera that literature and Hollywood has produced. Yes, Miss Scarlett O'Hara, that model of Southern belle hood, is at heart a fiercely determined sweet talker not afraid to get her dainty hands dirty to protect her family's land, much like her rowdy father Gerald(who she takes after more than she wants to admit).

Granted, her goals as well her means of achieving them are pretty subject to debate regarding the rights and wrongs of her situation. However, you have to admire the sheer nerve Scarlett has when faced with obstacles such as war, sudden poverty and extra responsibility for others. Not to mention that she always looks good in green, a fashionable plus in any circumstance:

 Next up is a more modern girl than Scarlett, yet she still has to deal with the social strictures that insist upon keeping a young woman in her "place."

 While Maeve Binchy's novel(and film) Circle of Friends has one than one heroine, our main attention goes to Bernadette/Benny Hogan, the only child of two devoted  small town parents who are willing to let her attend university in  1950'sDublin but only if she comes home every night.

Benny faces many changes while at school, including catching the eye of Jack Foley, a boy in a somewhat higher social class than herself(plus, rather good looking to boot). Nervous about her looks as well as fending off the unwanted advances of the slimey second in command of her father's business, Benny's relationship with Jack manages to get off on an even keel but soon enough, sudden events cause both of them to reconsider their emotional options.

Don't worry, this love story ends well. The struggles that Benny faces with Jack only serve to strengthen their bond but even without him, Benny finds herself to be much more capable of handling things than she or anyone else might have expected. It is nice, though, to see such a solid girl find a mate worth her while:

Meanwhile, in the U.S. around the same time period, another young woman has some harsh realities to deal with, starting with the death of her brother Joey.

 A key element in On The Waterfront is the influence that Edie Doyle has upon Terry Molloy, the washed up boxer who turns a blind eye to the brutal Mob dealings all around him.

His participation in the the event that lead to Joey Doyle's death sparked enough guilt that Edie, who he also felt guilty about being attracted to, used to encourage Terry to take a stand against the mob. While she was heartbroken about learning the truth behind his role in her brother's murder, Edie's core belief in the goodness of others made her eventually forgive Terry and stand by him when it counted. Of course, she was no push over either, demanding as much from him as she did from herself :

We now reach our present day, as TV gives us a smart and savvy lady lawyer who delivers a unique brand of justice. Erin Reagan-Boyle comes from a long line of police officers, as seen on the series Blue Bloods, with her father,grandfather and most of her brothers currently on or off the force.

By becoming an Assistant D.A., Erin often works with her family and usually butts heads with them as her by-the-book standards tend to clash with their rough and tumble approach. Regardless of that, the love and mutual interest in seeing justice done keeps those family ties tight.

Erin is no stranger to experiencing crime herself, having been on the receiving end of bad guy intentions at one time or another. That doesn't prevent her from going forth with her sworn duties, however, or encouraging others to do the same:

On that note, I'd like to wish all of the lads and lasses out there a very Happy St. Patrick's Day(as well as a sober and safe one!). While the wearing of the green is fun, it's also a good opportunity to check out what makes our Irish background set us off so prominantly.

I thought a good way to wrap up this post would be a tip of the hat to Maureen O'Hara, the most premier Irish actress of our age.

 Her work in such films as The Quiet Man, Miracle on 34th Street and How Green Was My Valley is legendary and despite her getting an honorary Oscar several years ago, it's clear that she should have received full Academy honors far sooner. Ms. O'Hara, we salute you and the fine example of Irish womanhood you have set, not to mention excellent acting and true decorum as befitting a fine lady as yourself:

Monday, March 16, 2015

Belinda Jones serves up a slice of sweet storytelling at The Traveling Tea Shop

I have never read Belinda Jones before her latest book, The Traveling Tea Shop, came my way due to the current blog tour for it's release. After turning the last page in it only this morning, I am quite hungry for more of her work.

Our leading lady here is Laurie, a transplanted Brit who is thriving in New York City yet still works with her best friend Krista long distance on their travel guide business. A huge new opportunity for Laurie to add her love of baked goods into her pleasure of travel arrangements comes from another woman from her homeland, celebrity baker Pamela Lambert-Leigh, who is in need of a personal assistant.

Upon passing the audition round(thanks to a trip to Lady M), Laurie is happy to learn that Pamela wants to embark upon a mini-tour of the U.S. in order to gather recipes for a new cook book. The goal is to exchange traditional English treats for American ones, such as Victoria Sponge and Red Velvet cake.

 The trip itinerary is set for the East Coast and is to be done via a red double-decker bus to be driven by Pamela's mother Gracie. Despite some of the unusual details, Laurie is eager to get started and is thrilled to be working for one of her favorite TV personalities:

 It turns out that Gracie is a rather lively lady and plenty capable of driving the bus around. However, Pamela's daughter Ravenna also shows up unexpectedly and she is less than thrilled to be included on the tour. Some of that is due to Pamela getting a divorce from her faithless husband.

Laurie manages to have a firm hand with Ravenna(her moodiness and ill manners remind her of the troubles with her own wayward sister Jessica) and keep things going at a good pace regardless of the family tension.

What drives Laurie to make the best of each awkward situation as it comes is the joy of seeing Pamela at work. Her love of cakes and enthusiasm to discover new pastry delights is a passion that they share and makes the two of them more like friends than boss and employee:

Just as things are starting to get somewhat better, Gracie gets into a slight accident with the bus that causes her to stay behind to recover. Finding a replacement driver turns out to be easy, as a long ago love of Pamela's life is not too far away to lend a helping hand.

As the trip goes on, Laurie has to deal with a number of new developments such as a family secret about to be revealed and the possibility of new romance for more than one person on tour. Will she be able to keep to the plans already made or she is about to change course in more ways than one?

The Traveling Tea Shop is a charming blend of female friendly plot, pastry demos and cultural history. Belinda Jones, from what I found out, often delves into travelogue motif for her stories and this book is the perfect armchair journey to take, complete with delicious food to enjoy. As the characters discover more about themselves as well as the recipes and background information about each location, your level of engaging entertainment grows. The parts about Newport alone could fill several books:

There are so many components in this story that appeal to a wide variety of readers, from cake connoisseurs to New England visitors to those who love the way British writers present warm hearted tales like this, and yet like any good recipe, it takes all of the ingredients to make this tasty treat delicious for all.

The Traveling Tea Shop is now available in paperback and if you're in the mood for a truly fun staycation, this is your one stop shopping destination, folks. Just sit down with this book and your slice of favorite cake to savor the simple joy of finding a familiar comfort from home anywhere in the world:

Friday, March 13, 2015

Cinderella loses an opportunity to break the glass slipper ceiling

One of the big film releases this weekend is Disney's live action version of Cinderella, starring Downton Abbey's Lily James in the title role with Cate Blanchett playing her wicked stepmother and Helena Bonham-Carter as her fairy godmother.

Top that off with Kenneth Branagh in the director's chair and this certainly sounds like a top notch production, based on the fancy sets and costumes alone. However, according to most of the reviews of this fairy tale flick, you could get more substance from a can of French vanilla frosting than from this lightweight revamp of an iconic princess story.

Apparently, Cate Blanchett's turn in the villainess chair borders on the campy(the NYT calls her acting here "near-vaudevillian" which is not  meant as a compliment, folks) but even with a dash of backstory added in, her character is as old hat as the rest of the cast.

 Cinderella gets an early "meet-cute" with the prince and some mild intrigue to stall the inevitable shoe fitting but otherwise, it's business as usual. Also, is it just me or is her dress way too blue there?

Before you wonder why I'm hating on Disney princess goodness, let me just say that my ire is mainly against the lack of creativity being taken here. I enjoyed the original Disney cartoon version and several of the reimagings of this story which crosses many cultural lines. Given the trend towards redefining fantasy heroines that the Big D has been on lately, this candy coated retread seems like a severe step back:

Just last year, we had Maleficent, which had the same amount of hype and hoopla(not to mention huge production budget and star power) and yet it managed to take a new tact with the tried and true material. The movie did very well at the box office and on home video, so there's proof that this does work, financially at least.

 That live action film came on the heels of animated successes Frozen and Brave, both of which had heroines who found their purpose through meaningful relationships with the women in their families rather than a handsome prince.

 Heck, even Tangled(the animated version of Rapunzel) delivered a leading lady with some sass who fought back against her captor. All of them also gave their audiences plenty of romance, laughs and fantasy fun when needed in their stories, so what gives here? Granted, some found objections to the dark tone brought about by these fictional re-fittings yet when seen in context, they do suit the story and give these old time tales a much needed modern twist:

It's not like anyone hasn't done a fresh take on the Cinderella story before. Since this story is public domain, many writers and film makers have this this tired old pumpkin into a dazzling coach of entertaining ideas.

 A few fine examples include Gregory Maquire's 1999 novel Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister(which was made into a TV movie in 2002), 1998's  Ever After with Drew Barrymore having Leonardo Da Vinci as her non-magical yet helpful godparent stand in and Marissa Meyer's Cinder, that turns our heroine into a cyborg freedom fighter.

One of my favorites is Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, which had it's main character trapped under a "gift of obedience" spell by a well meaning but deluded fairy godmother. Ella had to go through a series of adventures in order to find her way to personal freedom and yes, even had a prince for her to fall in love on her own terms as well. Sadly, the movie version went the goofy route but leading lady Anne Hathaway does sing beautifully in it and offers a little personality to the part:

Look, I'm sure that plenty of families will be taking their kids to see the new Cinderella this weekend and I hope they have a good time. There's nothing wrong with a little light entertainment every now and then.

I just wish that Disney had gone a different way on this. A classic story can be fun and socially forward thinking,too. It's like they felt the need to pander to certain voices who clamor for more "traditional" depictions of kid friendly fare. This applies to grown-up movies,too, since now we apparently have to have a "boy" version of Ghostbusters to counteract the new "girl" remake coming up soon.

Disney has been making small yet sure steps towards empowering their princess heroines over the years, from Ariel to Jasmine to Belle(plus non-fairy female leads like Pocahontas and Mulan) and for Cinderella to not be able to crack that glass ceiling with her glass slipper, is simply a shame. We need better,Disney, we deserve better, so get to stepping with this sad same old story:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lady Sif drops in on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, The Odd Couple's new groove and testing some Cutthroat Kitchen sabotages

We get a return of a very special guest star this week on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as Lady Sif reappears on earth. Her visit ties in with Skye's new set of super sonic skills as she hunts down a Kree warrior in search of the "abominations" that were triggered by a certain trip to an underground city.

Sif's quest is confused at first, due to an bout of memory loss caused by fighting that Kree fellow(his truncheon can mind wipe folks) but she does know that there is a job to do. Unfortunately, bitch slapping people who get in her way is a rather nasty side effect of Sif's temporary condition:

When Sif joins up with Coulson's crew and they track down the Kree, it turns out that the guy is sort of on their side. Skye,Raina and many of the other Inhumans out there are a result of ancient experiments meant to create warriors as weapons in an ongoing war.

Once the better natured faction of the Kree empire took over, these experiments stopped but with this new awakening, they could easily start up again, something that no one wants to happen. Naturally, Skye is freaked out as the game plan seems to be "kill all the Inhumans" and her brand new power spills forth. I hope that the S.H.I.E.L.D. folk take a page from Fitz and realize that treating Skye like a menace is not the way to handle this.

At least May and Coulson are willing to help her learn to control her seismic abilities and not give in to panic "murder/death/kill" mob mentality. There are plenty more Inhumans out there who could be a threat due to less than proper guidance and having one of them on your side is a smart move:

With so many show right now either on a mini-break, finished up for the season or about to return, there's prime opportunity to check out something new on your channel guide.

So far, I've seen three episodes of the newest version of The Odd Couple and I have to say that it's not bad. The show is more good than great but the cast does click together nicely and there is fun and some funnies to be had here:

When it comes to who's best in their main role, Thomas Lennon in his Felix mode is heads and shoulders above Matthew Perry as Oscar. Don't get me wrong, Perry is definitely in his comfort zone yet not phoning it but Lennon is perfectly suited to this part like a hand made glove and it shows.

 His scenes with just him and Perry are the ones most enjoyable in each episode and well worth waiting for. Granted, it does help that they have a strong lead-in with The Big Bang Theory but I do think that this Odd Couple could get along very nicely on their own at some point. It'll just take some time to get there:

One of the wicked pleasures of watching Cutthroat Kitchen is wondering what horrible sabotages will be visited upon the competing chefs.

 They range from having to cook in a child size kitchen to key ingredients replaced with lesser quality versions , unusual prep stations and bizarre items to use for cooking.

You may think that these culinary traps are near impossible to perform yet all of them are tested before being introduced to a fresh batch of chefs and have passed miserable muster. Let's look at a few of them in the early evil stages and see how well they work out:

POTATO CHIP GNOCCHI: This is a classic Italian potato and pasta dish, with one of the awful options being having to use crumbled up potato chips for the filling. Quite a challenge yet not completely undoable(or unappetizing):

LIFE IS NOT A BOX OF CHOCOLATES: Making molten lava cake is tricky enough as it is, without being made to create the batter in a plastic molded chocolate box container. Messy to be sure and getting the right consistency is crucial but as this test chef finds out, can result in a truly tasty cake:

CUPCAKE IN HAND: Okay, this one sounds completely sadistic as having nothing but your own cupped hand to mix cupcake batter in is sweet torture to say the least. This test chef had to have more than one try to get this bad boy right:

SHOPPING CART SIZZLE: Building your own work station/cooking source is a popular sabotage and having to turn a shopping cart into a makeshift enchilada maker is a tough one. Yet, the metal framework was more help than hindrance:

Yep, Cutthroat Kitchen is a tougher cakewalk than Chopped to take but I don't value one over the other based on that. Nighttime culinary shows need that extra bit of flair to gather an audience, plus pass along a little cooking info in the bargain. Bring it on, Alton, bring it on!:


iZombie: Not sure what to make of this upcoming series debuting next week. Zombies are not my go-to monster(not to mention being pretty tapped out at this point in the horror genre) yet this show does have three interesting factors going for it-a smart female lead, a new twist on the typical living dead deal as our leading lady uses her need for brains to solve crimes and Rob "Veronica Mars" Thomas is behind the wheel here.

Plus, it is based upon a DC Comics series(via Vertigo) and the CW has been having a nice run of luck with those adaptations lately. So, I may give it a try but no promises, folks. Keep your fingers crossed and your skulls secure for this one:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Checking in on a pair of Royal Reads

Like many readers, I have several books being read on my Currently Reading pile in various stages of page turning. Instead of waiting to finish before giving my opinion about some of them, I thought a mid progress report might be interesting to share.

Two of my midpoint reads have a theme in common besides being works of historical fiction; both deal with young women thrust into power plays between rising political forces of their time. For example, The Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones has an unlikely bond form between two very different women in Spain of 1748.

Caridad is a Cuban slave, freed by the death of her master aboard ship, and on her own in Seville with no friends or family to help her find her way. After a series of rough encounters and rejections, she is taken in by a gypsy elder,Melchor, who finds her singing voice beautiful and her skills as a cigar maker most profitable.

Melchor's granddaughter Milagros becomes her dearest friend and companion, whose compassion for the suffering that Caridad experienced from a local merchant leads her to encourage a few local youths to seek revenge on her behalf.

That attempt at retribution goes from bad to worse, forcing both of them to stay apart from one another for a time. Milagros takes up an apprenticeship as a medicine woman as part of the price she has to pay to make up for her instigating, something that troubles one of her admirers, Fray Joaquin:

  Eventually, the gypsies face hard times, as a royal edict backed by the Church makes them official outlaws. With Milagros marrying the boy of her dreams(whose family is in a rival clan) and Caridad standing by Melchor regardless of their circumstances, their bond of friendship is strained to say the least.

While Falcones does invoke the time period,as well as cultural struggles of the gypsies, very well, it does take some patience to follow this lengthy narrative along. It's not a dull read,although rather harsh at certain points to the main characters, yet the pace is a bit too slow and steady.

 I do intend to finish it, hopefully in time to pick up the author's earlier novel Cathedral by the Sea, before summer starts but The Barefoot Queen does have some considerable charms that make it worth taking your time with it. I just wish that the flow of the story was more unputdownable.

A more compelling page turner, Philippa Gregory's The White Princess is the second to last title in the author's series about The Cousin's War, which leads to the reign of Henry the Eighth.

The eldest daughter of the fallen House of York, Elizabeth is forced in more ways than one to take Henry Tudor as her king and husband. In fear of what may happen to her other siblings, such as her two brother taken into the Tower of London to never be seen again, she takes up her reluctant mantle of power, such as it is.

 Despite her forbidden love for the vanquished king Richard, her uncle, she makes herself endure all of the indignities that go along with being co-opted into the graces of the ruling Tudors, especially her vindictively mad mother-in-law:

Even as her own mother is plotting to reclaim the throne for a possible hidden son of York, Elizabeth finds some of her loyalties to be divided between her new family and her old one. Particularly since she is now the mother of two Tudor sons, Elizabeth must chose which way to turn for protection from what may come.

Gregory is a sure hand by now at depicting the difficulties of women made to be the power either behind or held up as trophies to the throne of England.

Her story telling style is quickly engaging and while she may be too pro-York for some history buffs, she knows how to make her leading ladies on either side of the fence equally as engaging in their stance to make their mark upon the monarchy.

 As this book will soon take us to her comfort zone of Henry VIII(The King's Curse is due in paperback in April), this set-up is one her devoted readers, such as myself, are bound to enjoy. I'm pretty sure that I'll be ready for the next book very soon:

Reading about women,fictional or otherwise, back in those days certainly makes you appreciate all of the hard earned freedoms our gender has won(and is still fighting for) over the decades.  While being a pretty princess does sound like fun, it's not as easy or as dress up party time as it seems to be. That doesn't mean we can't enjoy a good story about royal ladies but such things do need to be taken with a grain of salt as well as a well balanced book on top of your head: