Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ballroom drama for Poldark, Food Network Star takes a holiday and Face Off returns to the make-up table

The Warleggan ball was the setting for many a showdown on Poldark this week, as Ross was in a foul mood well before he and Demelza arrived. His ire was due to the sad death of poor Jim, who died of a fever caught during his prison sentence for poaching.

While Ross was moody and drinking as well as playing at cards, Demelza was doing her best to make a good impression at her first society party. She was doing well, thanks to her good manners and lovely dress, yet the catty comments of the other ladies there caused Ross to pick a fight with her.

Demelza,to her credit, didn't take any of his nonsense, pointing out the shortcomings in his personal pity party. Even when he snapped at her "Maybe this is the last time I take you to a ball", she sharply replied "If this is how you act at one, maybe I won't want to go!"

Meanwhile, Verity was having a crisis of her own as Captain Blamey showed up and she did her best to keep him away from her jerk of a brother,Francis. Of course, they ran into one another and Francis tried to fight Blamey but it was clear which of them was the better equipped to throw down.

*Sigh* Poor Verity! She so needs to get out from under Francis' thumb. As her Aunt Agatha wisely said, the trouble with the women in the Poldark family is their men(except Ross, most of the time):

Sadly, Poldark season will soon be coming to an end,as the two hour finale airs this upcoming Sunday. I did hear that there will be a second season,which is wonderful, but waiting until next summer could be quite a trial. Then again, awaiting more Poldark does sound like a burden worth the bearing:

The main challenge for the fellas remaining on Food Network Star was to create a special holiday themed dish and then do a video presentation(with help from former FNS winner Damaris) that embraced the spirit of the day.

While Alex did well enough with his Fourth of July showcase, Arnold charmed everyone right off the bat with his Valentine's Day dessert offering. Unfortunately, he didn't offer any insight into the French based recipes that were the core of his dish.

Out of all of them, Jay did the best with his Thanksgiving quail tale and won this round. I did feel bad for Eddie, who tried to make Halloween work for him but mentioning an upset stomach isn't very appetizing there.

I was glad to see Dom go, for his lackluster take on Christmas. Dude, you had the Feast of the Seven Fishes to work with and you could even make that interesting, come on!

 Bobby and Giada wanted to keep on trying with Dom but his on camera skills are just terrible so I was with the network bigwigs on this one. He did survive his first round on Star Salvation but I want Rue to get that spot, not Dom! We'll soon see on that front but for now, this is still an all guy game:

Syfy's Face Off returned for an ninth season of special effect/ make up artist competition and yet no one was eliminated in the first challenge.

That was due to this being a extremely difficult opener, as everyone had to work in teams of two to create creatures for an "intergalactic zoo" using two model to make up one being. Also, their inspiration had to be either animal or mineral based.

While there were a lot of interesting takes on the subject, we also saw quite a few misfires. For example, the guys who had a clam as their inspiration were a tad too literal with their interpretation. One of the judges said it reminded her of Little Shop of Horrors and that was not meant as a compliment!

I don't always watch Face Off but this time around, I may give it more of a chance. The incredible artistry on display is always fun to look at, plus the make up contenders are often very driven to excel in their field and that kind of dedication is great to see:


Disney's Descendants: If you're a fan of Disney style villains, this made for Disney channel movie is your sinister sweet spot this weekend. The plot has the wicked offspring of some of the classic Big Bads(Jafar, Cruella De Vil and Maleficent) being allowed to enter the high school realm of the kids from the good side of the magical kingdom.  Should be some fine funky fun and yes, we have musical numbers!:

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Road of Rereading decides to head East of Eden with John Steinbeck

I know that for my summer selection on my Road of Rereading series, my initial choice was George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, which I confess that I made very little headway in. Therefore, I've decided to make a change in course by rereading East of Eden by John Steinbeck instead.

 Perhaps reading both Deronda and Middlemarch at the same time was too daunting, along with some family health issues concerning my mother(she's in need of surgery) that is hindering my interest in that book right now. Regardless of why, my lack of progress with Daniel Deronda was a sign that a new fictional footpath needed to be taken.

While rearranging one of my bookshelves recently (in order to make room for that new Harper Lee), East of Eden came to the forefront in more ways than one. It's been a long time since I read that late in life novel, first published in 1952, well before it received renewed interest as an Oprah Book Club pick back in 2003.

The story is pretty much Steinbeck's take on the generational saga, with a pair of families in California's Salinas Valley, the Hamiltons and the Trasks, whose fates become intertwined. The Trask family in particular takes over a huge portion of the story as the tale of Cain and Abel plays a major role in the lives of more than one generation of Trask brothers, along with other themes about fate and free will:

Many of the literary critics back then found EOE to be rather heavy-handed yet readers out and out loved it, which is probably why the book was turned into a Hollywood movie by 1955.

That film made James Dean a star, thanks not only to his performance but to the directing talents of Elia Kazan as well. The adaptation only deals with the latter half of the book that focuses on the sons of Adam Trask, Aron and Cal(played by Dean) and yet when it came to Academy award wins, it was supporting actress Jo Van Fleet who took home an Oscar here.

Her role as Kate is a pivotal key to unlocking many of the dark secrets of the Trask family and just as important as Dean's part, if not more so:

In 1981, ABC did a three part miniseries version that stays closer to the book and starred Jane Seymour as Kate, with Sam Bottoms as Cal. The rest of the cast includes such TV friendly favorites as Bruce Boxleitner and Timothy Bottoms along with former movie matinee idols as Raymond Massey and Anne Baxter.

I'll be seeing both adaptations(well after that batch of bad movies that I need to view for August), since thankfully, Netflix has them available in DVD and for an interesting compare and contrast.

 Will the longer, more faithful rendition of EOE be a marked improvement over the 1955 cut to the chase classic? Perhaps less will be truly more, as they say. Either way, my food for thought should be much more filling than the usual bucket of buttery popcorn here:

Already, I can tell that I made the right decision as the flow of the writing has me firmly hooked into this story and while it's far from a happy story, the rhythm of the novel is soothing nonetheless.

Granted, this isn't the biggest decision of my life right now but having some sort of focus that helps me cope with the current situations that I'm dealing with is a good thing. Sometimes, you have to make a change in order to get back on track or be prepared to take some new turns. Reading is a small part of that yet every little bit helps there.

Maybe sometime in the future, I'll give Deronda another try but for now, East of Eden is the right road to return to. Steinbeck's stark yet poetic story weaving has a great down to earth tone that is as comfortable as a pair of reliable old shoes, which is a bonus as it's best to walk down a rough road with as much ease as possible. Plus, this is a road that many have already traveled upon and have left some significant sign posts upon the path, offering their finer points of interest which makes this trip a lot less lonely to be on:

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Taking delight in the adventures of Demelza on the Poldark Express

On this second half of the Poldark blog tour, we get more of a scenic view of Cornwall life as Ross's new bride Demelza becomes more of a main player than a supporting one in the novel that bears her name.

As we begin, Demelza is now stepping more firmly into her role as lady of the household, despite the whispers and doubts about her class line crossing, and a good deal of that added responsibility includes becoming a mother.

While Ross and Demelza may have their problems in dealing with the neighbors, such as the sneaky Warleggans or helping the good natured Mark Daniels win a wife whose tastes run more to generous amounts of money rather than a generous heart, having their first child is an emotional milestone that helps to cement their bond:

 Demelza is very keen on what it is her duty to do and part of that extends to cousin Verity, whose heart is still with Captain Blamey. Knowing that Ross would not approve of her interference, she seeks out the captain to make certain that he still has feelings for Verity in secret.

Once she has confirmation from Blamey, who was reluctant at first, Demelza arranges for a chance meeting between the two of them on a seemingly casual shopping trip into the nearby town of Truro. That plan has a number of twists and turns, as Verity is caught severely off guard and flees the scene, heading right into a riot that's breaking out all around them. As Blamey manages to get both women to safety, Demelza is both anxious and pleased to help Verity receive a another shot at love(even though his persistence in pledging his suit is a tad ill timed there):

There are other worries on Demelza's plate, as Ross is dismayed by an unexpected death and takes out his rage during a party that is also meant to give his new wife her grand entrance into society. Adding onto that are concerns over the copper company Ross has helped to set up and been made head man of, something that the Warleggan family finds to be a threat worth taking down.

What is great about this book is that much more dimension is added not only to Demelza's character but Ross and other newcomers like Mark and his bride Kerin who has an eye for the new doctor in town,Dwight Enys(Poldark stories seem to thrive on love triangles!). Stirrings of historical changes in the air,such as notions of prison reform and unrest amongst the have and have nots in society, are serious cards laid upon the plot table that form a hand for more than one character to play.

 Since this novel is named Demelza, you do want to focus more on her and the writing delivers on that promise. Our leading lady's desire to fit in with her new station in life while keeping true to where she comes from is well balanced and sincere.

In some ways, she reminds me of Elizabeth Bennet, as the story has a bit of a "what came next in Pride and Prejudice?" feel to it at times. While Miss Bennet would be a little more familiar with the social demands of the class she married into than our girl Demelza, both ladies share a good sense of family loyalty and keen insight of right and wrong despite what others might say, which would make them very good friends indeed. Plus, they would both help out poor Verity there, I just know it!

Demelza may not seem like the typical Austen heroine but she certainly is the equal of any of them and should be as inspiring as Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennet, especially since she's a bit more relatable with her down to earth sensibilities:

I'd like to thank Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose(as well as the good people at Sourcebooks) for making me part of this blog tour. Having both the Winston Graham novels and the charming new PBS Masterpiece series to engage in this summer has made this season all the more sweeter to savor.

I do hope that these books are being brought back into reading fashion, as they are many more of them(I do believe that the third title, Joshua Poldark, is about to be republished) and perhaps, we'll get another Poldark TV series based upon those sometime soon.

 There are more stops on the Poldark blog tour, which ends on August 3, so do check those out to see and hear more, plus enter the giveaway for a special prize pack that includes the first two books in the series.

 *UPDATE: the giveaway deadline has been extended to August 10, plus an additional prize has been included in the Grand Prize pack, a DVD of Poldark Season One! You can leave a comment here or at one of the other Poldark blog tour stops for your chance to win.

 Above all, this Poldark renaissance has returned to us one of the most romantic couples I've ever had the pleasure to meet on the page. Ross and Demelza are honestly a pair that truly appear to be meant to be, in the best sense of that term:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Verity gets another shot at love on Poldark, Food Network Star goes food truckin' and vintage moments on Antiques Roadshow

Love and family were important themes on Poldark this week, as Demelza had her baby(a lovely little girl named Julia Grace) and a local miner named Mark managed to woo a traveling actress into marrying him.

All of that is fine but the big news belongs to Verity, as Demelza plays a serious round of matchmaker there. Upon visiting Captain Blamey in secret to determine if he still cares for Verity(which he does), Demelza arranged for the two of them to "accidently" meet while shopping in town.

Not a bad notion but not only did Verity freak out and then ran out, fearful of having her heart broken again, a full scale riot of starving locals broke out all around them. Blamey did get them to safety yet was persistent in pursuing his suit for Verity. Dude, time and place consideration, seriously!

However, it looks as if that relationship is well on it's way to being rekindled, which is a good thing as Verity's home situation is about to change for the worse. With Francis losing the mine(and most of his fortune on gambling and a mistress), it's nice to know that Verity does at least have something positive to plan for:

 The main challenge for the six remaining contenders on Food Network Star was to pair up for a food truck showdown. Each team had a particular theme(tacos, burgers and grilled cheese) and had to make a promo video to attract customers to their truck.

Richard Blais was the guest judge here and his favorite, along with the rest of the panel and most of the crowd, was Arnold and Jay's "Asian-Cajun Burger Boys!" concept. Service was a bit slow but the results were happily tasty.

Amongst the losing teams, it did look as if Alex(his "Hot Slap" taco truck menu with Dom was just too spicy for everyone) but to much surprise, Michelle announced that she was quitting the competition.

I could see this coming, as her heart wasn't really in the challenge(her tomato soup for Eddie's pulled pork grilled cheese was rather bland) and she kept saying how much she missed her kids.

I've seen enough competition shows to know that when someone is all "I really want to be with my children!" that they're ready to pack up and go. Apparently, this was the first time that something like happened on FNS, which clearly took Giada aback there. Michelle was serious about leaving as she did not make an appearance on Star Salvation, a blessing in disguise as #horrible Matthew finally lost his shot at returning! Hey, I'm not trying to be mean but the guy needs to grow up a hell of a lot more before he tackles something like this again.

So, getting back to Michelle-you did what you had to, hon. Don't feel bad, you gave it your level best and I'm sure there will be a next time somewhere down the road:

For their summer season, Antiques Roadshow has been airing some new "vintage" episodes. That's when they take a show from about ten to fifteen years ago and reevaluate the estimates originally given to current day prices.

For example, this nifty old school beer poster was first valued at 2 to 3 grand back in 2000 but sadly the price is now between 1,500 and 2000 dollars. That doesn't take away from the beauty of the piece or it's place in advertising history but it is a shame that the market place for it has declined somewhat:

 While it might seem as if this is just another way to recycle an old series, there's a lot of fun to be had in guessing which items went up,down or stayed the same in price.

Plus, you get to watch episodes that you might not have seen the first time around as well as hear the interesting stories about how certain objects made to the hands of the folks who now own them. Also, there are some nice surprises for those lucky few whose items have proved to be a great long term investment(especially if they paid next to nothing or nothing at all for them!), so Vintage Antiques Roadshow is well worth watching indeed:


THE NIGHTLY SHOW: Thank the comedy gods that this show(along with the Daily Show and @Midnight) has returned to the summer schedule. We were in much need of Larry Wilmore and friends over the past couple of weeks, what with all of the wacky real world goings-on, and now we can truly get a grip on the current craziness of the moment. Not to mention give a certain sweater loving TV dad the proper dressing down that he deserves:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Checking out some Comic Con highlights at the Movie Trailer Park

There were plenty of fan sighs of joy as well as a few groans upon the multimedia hype released during the San Diego Comic Con the other week, with the merits of each upcoming film or TV series being endlessly debated and discussed.

While I didn't see every new trailer that came forth from the Con, the ones that I did catch online were certainly worthy of a little conversation. So, let's start with the big league elephant in the room, the official trailer for DC's Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

In this preview, we get more of an idea about the plot. The world is fearful of Superman, due to the mass destruction that occurred in Man of Steel(which also affected nearby Gotham City), yet some are willing to believe that his intentions are good. Bruce Wayne, however, is not one of the hopeful and plans to take him down, with perhaps some dubious assistance from Lex Luthor.

I know that many people are still not willing to accept "Batffleck" but I think that we should give Ben Afflick a fighting chance here. What I'm not crazy about is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex(what is with the full head of hair deal?),especially with his lame "the red capes are coming" line. Say what you will about Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns, at least his "WRONG!" was memorable in a good way.

All in all, BvsS:DoJ(that title is rather unwieldy) will either kick ass or be a spectacular fail when it is released next summer. Personally, I'm hoping for something in the middle there, as this film is the launching pad for Wonder Woman(who we needed to see more of here!) and her solo movie, so don't screw this up, folks!:

There were movies being touted at Comic Con that are actually arriving in theaters this year, such as Air, starring Norman Reedus and Djimon Hounsou as caretakers of the last remaining humans in a post apocalyptic world.

When an accident in the underground station where the select few are having a frozen sleep drastically reduces the remaining oxygen levels, the two men have to make some hard and fast choices, some of which could decide if humanity survives at all.

Granted, this is an August release(which looks like it may have been pushed back from a spring date) which is not always a good sign of quality. However, the trailer does look interesting, with the promise of a riveting two character(for the most part) drama and having two great character actors like Reedus and Hounsou as leads should be a blast:

TV shows had their moment in the sun at Comic Con as well and amongst the small screen offerings was the promo for Heroes Reborn, reviving the much beleaguered series with a mix of old and new characters.

The set-up has our "ordinary people with extraordinary powers" either in hiding or thought to be long gone after a tragic incident has made them public enemy number one. Among those returning to HRB are Noah Bennet(Jack Coleman), Mohinder Suresh(Sendhil Ramamurthy) and Micah(Noah Gray-Cabey), plus a certain master of time and space.

Yes, I did watch every season of Heroes and despite the flaws, it was such a fun ride that I will not hesitate to get on board again. I would have liked Sylar to return as well but there will probably be a new Big Bad introduced here of considerable merit, so I can deal:

The biggest surprise reaction of Comic Con(apart from the Deadpool trailer) was the instant shine that fans took to Suicide Squad, which is set to premiere next August.

If you're not familiar with this DC Comics series, here's a quick rundown: the title wild bunch are made up of second string villains employed by devious government agent Amanda Waller(Viola Davis) as the ideal wet work crew. If things go wrong, the authorities already have someone to blame.

Membership in this predatory pack has changed over time but regulars such as Deadshot(Will Smith), Captain Boomarang(Jai Courtney) and Harley Quinn(Margo Robbie) will be headlining here. Actually, Harley Quinn is being showcased strongly in this trailer along with a new Joker(Jared Leto) and I have to say she comes across as wickedly wonderful so far.

I was surprised to see Katana(Karen Fukuhara) included here, as I remember her from Batman and the Outsiders, where she was more of  a hero. Turns out she has worked with the Suicide Squad in the comics(plus was added to the cast of Arrow recently), so having her as part of this movie is consistent with the source material somewhat. Plus, she's pretty fricking awesome!

With Suicide Squad awaiting us next summer, I think DC has a better chance in gaining a foothold on Marvel's movie success than BvS. While I'm not thrilled with Leto as the Joker(he seems to be trying to channel Heath Ledger rather fiercely in his performance), everyone else looks and sounds incredible and yes, as a Harley Quinn fangirl, I am most pleased to see her get such a delicious debut on the big screen. Here's hoping for a solo Harley Quinn film in the future!:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Love is a battlefield for Poldark, Food Network Star improvs and Comic Con love for Gotham

Reactions to the wedding of Ross and Demelza on Poldark were less than happy, with only cousin Verity being considerate enough to write a congratulatory note to the new couple.

Demelza has her doubts, too, mainly about fitting in with her husband's family and social peers. Again, Verity to the rescue as she spends some much needed quality time with the newlyweds and gives Demelza a few lessons in fancy living. Seeing those two become fast friends is a real joy!

Demelza manages to get up enough courage to visit the rest of the Poldarks at Christmas, making a better impression than she thought she would.

Of course, the real threat on that horizon is Elizabeth, who still wants Ross to think only of her. Fortunately, Ross is able to keep those lingering affections at bay while coming around slowly to just how much he loves Demelza. Trouble is still going to abound on that front,especially with Francis being such a jerk(he is beyond annoying at times) and Elizabeth keeping her torch for Ross burning a little bit there:

The main challenge on Food Network Star this week was all about improvisation as special guest David Allen Grier came in to set up the culinary contenders with their unusual food combos.

First, each chef was given a tricky trio made up of odd foods with a signature color(such as chicken livers and caramel squares with blue),along with a specific time of day meal to cook for and then make a presentation in front of an audience lasting four minutes.

The extra curve ball was that the audience got to chose two topics for each presenter to work into their spiel. Most of them did alright, with Eddie acing this round just as well as he did the pizza challenge earlier on. The guy's on fire!

Unfortunately, Emilia's attempt to be interesting was a severe misfire as she decided to crack several bad jokes about her fellow contestants. Not only was that not something asked of her from the audience(her add-ins were to talk about plating and watching Food Network), she came off extremely negative and off putting there. I was glad to see her gone but as Emilia managed to survive her first time at Star Salavation(along with #horrible Matthew), she might come back! I hope that she doesn't as her sorry stand-up was truly tasteless:

The cast of Gotham received a very warm reception at the San Diego Comic Con the other week, with plenty of fan love on display. I know quite a few Robin Lord Taylor devotees were thrilled to see their Penguin there!

It's nice to see that despite the ups and downs of the show's first season that a good number of folks are willing to stick with the series and offer a ton of support. A fun surprise occurred during the Q & A as a certain clown prince of crime grabbed the mike(rumors are that the Joker will be more prominently featured next year). Too bad Cameron Donaghan isn't playing that part in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie but at least we have his sinister doings to look forward to this September:


THE NIGHTLY SHOW: New episodes are expected soon and they will be welcome indeed. Funny how when the good comedy shows go on vacation that real world wackiness ensues big time. At least there will be plenty to talk about:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The things we talk about when we talk about Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman

When it was announced earlier this year that a new novel by Harper Lee,whose previously one and only novel To Kill a Mockingbird became an instant classic, would be published by this July, a flurry of excitement both for and against it followed.

As many eager readers made their pre-orders, others were suspicious about the whole thing; did the reclusive Ms. Lee really want this book out there or was she being exploited by unscrupulous handlers? Another huge cloud of doubt being floated about was concern that this new book, which was written before TKAM and featured older versions of Scout and Atticus Finch, might somehow "taint" the original masterpiece.

Well, Go Set a Watchman was released yesterday and sadly, many of the latter doubters are in "I told you so!" mode as advance previews (which gave away way too much of the story before any of us had a chance to read it, beyond a first chapter excerpt, that is), disclosed a major plot twist.

In this book, Scout is shocked to discover that her beloved father,who once defended an unjustly accused African-American in court, is firmly against desegregation and is even a member of the local "Citizens' Council" ,which is basically a KKK themed group. Since many readers and viewers of the iconic film adaptation revere Atticus as much as his daughter does, this was quite a blow:

This has caused not only the naysayers to gloat but turn away those who intended to read GSAW, due to their dismay at this revelation. While I'm all for free choice when it comes to reading, I do think that refusing to read something because it's not giving you what you want isn't a good reason to do so.

Go Set a Watchman was the first book Harper Lee completed and sent off to publishers, whereupon an editor encouraged her to rewrite it from Scout's childhood memories, perhaps thinking that seeing Atticus in that early light would make more of an impact on the dark turn in that later father-daughter revelation.

That's just my guess but keeping in mind that this is an early version of  these characters, who many generations have come to know and love from TKAM, is key to giving this book a fair chance. The time period of that first book was the 1930s while GSAW is in the fifties, where racial attitudes even amongst the liberal minded were rather condescending towards non-whites at best.

 Another thing to keep in mind here is that the leading character in both stories is Scout, who  as a young woman in her mid-twenties is still being challenged by the social norms of her day. Pressured to stay home with her ailing father instead of pursuing a career in New York as well as to be on the look out for a husband,Scout may be called Jean Louise more often here but she's still that rebellious tomboy at heart:

What really irks me is the notion that Harper Lee doesn't know her own mind or wishes regarding her work. Would a white male author be given this same treatment?

 Maybe but it's much more likely the opposite response, in my opinion. For example, if  J.D. Salinger had added a codicil to his will that permitted the publication of a long hidden sequel to Catcher in the Rye, any misgivings about such a request would be quickly shouted down by his unwavering supporters.

Of course, no one wants an older person to be used and abused in such a manner but this has been looked into by the authorities(along with Ms. Lee's closest friends) and  all agree that this is what she wants.  Have some respect for the lady and her work. If you really appreciate her talents, allow her to share them with the world in her own way.

For those of you who are crying "This is not my Atticus!", you're right. Atticus Finch doesn't belong to you, he belongs to Harper Lee just as much as Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling or Huckleberry Finn does to Mark Twain.

That doesn't mean you can't appreciate the good he did in TKAM or be disappointed in this later turn in his character development. The whole point of Go Set a Watchman is how Scout feels about her father now that she's seen the worst in him and that's a journey worth taking there.

Allowing him to be a fully fleshed out human being is what makes a writer like Harper Lee the amazing talent that she is. Art is not just a "good guy/bad guy" puppet show. Every now and then, it lets you into the mind of someone whose entire outlook on life is vastly different from yours, and at times justifiably repulsive, and seeing what made them the person they are. It's not always a pretty picture but like they say, the truth isn't meant to be pretty:

As you have have surmised, I am reading Go Set a Watchman right now and am about half way through the book. Is is a good read? Yes. Is it as great a book as TKAM? Maybe not, but time will truly tell on that one.

If you don't want to bother with GSAW, that's fine. However, don't rag on those who do or cast aspersions on Harper Lee for sending this story out into the wider world. You're not the only ones who have been disappointed by a fictional father figure this year, the main difference being that at least Atticus Finch doesn't have a trail of real life victims to account for.

What any reader of Go Set a Watchman ought to focus on is Scout and her emotional journey. Regardless of how her mentors behaved, Miss Jean Louise Finch took the best they had to give and staid true to the best within herself. She's not perfect but perfection is not as relatable as heartfelt truth and the truth is, Scout is the real heroine of our hearts:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Having my blog tour ticket Ross ready to board the Poldark Express

With the warm summer winds driving us into the cooling shades of indoor entertainment, having both the PBS Masterpiece series and the books upon which they're based of Poldark is truly a double dose of delight.

As part of the blog tour for the first two titles in the series written by Winston Graham, I began with Ross Poldark which was originally published in 1945. There, we met our leading man on his way home to Cornwall after serving a stint in the British army, fighting in the American Revolutionary war.

What awaits him back home is just as difficult to safely maneuver as any of the battlefield he left behind. His father is dead, leaving an estate loaded with debt and a house falling into disrepair, thanks to the two remaining servants Jud and Prudie who take less than attentive care of the place. Reuniting with family and friends(who thought he had died) seems to be a promising start but there are startling new developments there as well:

The biggest shock to Ross is learning that the woman he loves, Elizabeth, is about to marry another man. What's worse, that man is his cousin Francis. While both Elizabeth and Francis did believe that Ross was dead, neither of them are completely thrilled to see him back home again.

The wedding does take place and Ross does his best to bear it with a good grace. Yet, there is still a romantic tension between him and Elizabeth with Francis being too quick to fall into jealous snits at times. Personally, I think that whole love triangle could've been avoided if Elizabeth had been bold enough to commit to Ross. Yes, Ross might have tried harder to win her back but he chose to be a gentleman by not coming between his cousin and his now former love, a hard yet mature decision.

 Elizabeth didn't want to make such a hard choice, being very much like Maria Bertram of Mansfield Park, who only married her dull suitor after Henry Crawford backed away from their illicit romance. I suspect that the diminished fortunes of Ross played a big part in Elizabeth's decision to stick with Francis, a decision that caused them all much regret and remorse:

After a good amount of brooding, Ross decides to take charge of his life starting with rebuilding his family home and farm. Along the way, he takes in Demelza, a ragged girl with only a equally ragged dog as company, as a much needed kitchen maid.

Over time, Ross is able to improve his situation and even takes on the daunting challenge of reopening one of his family's old copper mines. Demelza also benefits from her improved circumstances, away from her abusive father and impoverished home overcrowded with siblings,  yet her lively energy and straightforward way of talking isn't fully blunted by these changes in her life.

Between Ross and Demelza, an attraction grows slowly but surely. Gossip about the two of them grows just as quickly, catching both of them off guard at times and leading to a decision of the heart that will change their lives forever:

 While the world of Ross Poldark is set within the time frame of Jane Austen's works, this realm is a bit more rough and tumble than hers was. She would recognize a great deal of it as class distinctions and prejudices do abound, along with cock fights, the perils of copper mining and financial wheeling-dealing.

Ross is an engaging lead, whose faults share a bit of haughtiness with a certain Mr. Darcy but he's much more a man of the people than that gentleman could or would be. Nevertheless, I think  that those two fictional fellows would find plenty of common ground as will their many fans.

One of the charms of the book is it's rich portrayals of supporting characters such as the crude yet loyal Jud, Jim and Jinny Carter, a young couple whose struggles are championed by Ross and Verity, Francis' sister who is forced out of a possible romance due to her family's desire to keep her a spinster more so than any concerns about her intended's background. Verity is an out and out favorite of mine, along with Demelza, a strong willed girl who is nervous about the social advancements she's making in life.

 I will be seeing much more of her, as the second volume in the series, Demelza, promises to highlight her considerably.

 My review of that book will appear later this month. In the meanwhile, I highly recommend reading Ross Poldark(along with watching the new PBS series). It's an old fashioned treat that offers readers a taste of love and life that blends the bitter with the sweet exceptionally well.

*UPDATE: The deadline for the Poldark blog tour giveaway has been extended to August 10, with the addition of a Season One Poldark DVD in the Grand Prize Pack! Just leave a comment at either one of my Poldark book review posts or any other stop on the blog tour for a chance to win:

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Poldark has a happily hasty wedding, Food Network Star's Salvation series and a shallow speed round with John Oliver

We're up to episode three of Poldark but already things are moving fast as Elizabeth has her baby, Uncle Charles takes ill, Francis is in a jealous snit(so sick of that by now!) and Ross has opened his copper mine.

What's moving even faster is the gossip surrounding Ross and Demelza, as most of the neighborhood believes that they're lovers. Even Demelza's reformed reprobate of a father has the nerve to demand that she return home, due to the scandalous talk. However, both Ross and Demelza are somewhat innocently unaware of such rumors yet clearly do have serious feelings for each other:

Eventually, the two of them do get romantically involved(with some help from a certain blue dress) and it's not long before they end up in a chapel exchanging vows.

While they do say "marry in haste, repent at leisure", I do hope that the honeymoon isn't too bumpy for the new Mr. & Mrs. Poldark. True, they will have to face plenty of socially awkward moments but Ross and Demelza are a true love match here. With any luck, maybe Elizabeth will finally get the hint and back off(she so needs to!):

Food Network Star has their own version of Top Chef's Last Chance Kitchen called Star Salvation, which gives eliminated contenders another shot at re-entering the game.

Joining them this week was Rue, a person that I really like on the show yet she still has trouble conveying her focus on South African cuisine. For this round, the chefs had to make a dish that made them "fall in love" with food.

This was meant to tie into the theme of the episode that Rue was just a part of, edible speed dating for a Match.com crowd. Fortunately, she did much better here and is still the running for FNS's second chance. Sadly, hashtag horrible Matthew is also here and despite the quality of his food, he still has smirky jerk syndrome(meaning that he can't shut up or resist making faces during the critiques).  I really, really hope that he gets dropped out of this competition because once was more than enough to deal with him.

And finally, with so many comedy shows taking some much needed time off during the summer, let us be grateful to John Oliver of Last Week Tonight for leaving us with a web exclusive video of humorous quick looks.

Without further ado, delight in the "shallow dives" of John Oliver's incredibly witty mind until the new episode airs this upcoming Sunday(another thing to thank him for!):


LAST WEEK TONIGHT: Oh, what the hell-here's more web exclusive goodness to snicker along with:


Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Erika Johansen makes another literary conquest with The Invasion of the Tearling

Last year, debut author Erika Johansen introduced us to an amazing heroine in Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, the heir to a most troubled throne in The Queen of the Tearling. In the second book of this three part series, we return to Kelsea's world in The Invasion of the Tearling, as now Queen Kelsea faces an even more greater threat at her front door.

The Red Queen of Mortsmense has sent her army to conquer New London, the capital city of the Tearling nation, due to the halt of slave shipments as tribute.  The Tearling military does manage to hold off the Mort forces for a while, yet the need for better armaments and protection for the civilian population is dire.

Kelsea attempts to find aid and seek alliances from the nobility, the church(which now has a most vicious new leader) and the neighboring country of Cabrese, all to no avail. As much as she and her people are willing to deal with others, Kelsea will brook no compromises that allow any potential allies a disproportionate advantage over her in the bargain:

As she does her best to plan and prepare for what's to come, Kelsea starts to realize that there is one change she can't get a hold on.

The magic from her family sapphires is not as dormant as she was beginning to believe as her appearance slowly but surely is transforming her into a beauty. Other abilities also emerge, granting her powers that may be a real benefit in this time of need but also run the risk of becoming just as dangerous as the Red Queen, if not more so:

One of the more mysterious developments in her magical skill set are the visions that Kelsea has been having of another woman's life in the past. That woman is Lily Mayhew, an abused wife of a government agent in the last days of America, who finds herself caught up with a revolutionary group that wants to take others like them to "the better world".

 The leader of that group happens to be William Tear, the man who began the Tearling nation, and as Lily gets deeper into a situation that is reaching the point of no return, Kelsea follows suit. Is this meeting of the minds a strange coincidence or a journey that holds answers for both of them?:

 As in the first book of the Tearling trilogy, Erika Johansen creates a compelling narrative that brings this vividly imagined world to life, breathing some of that life into supporting characters as well as her leads.

The duel thrust of Kelsea's current circumstances with Lily's narrative is a suspenseful counterpoint to their seemingly separate stories that pays off quite nicely. A good number of questions from the first book are answered with a whole crop of new ones put on the table to add more anticipation for the next book.

I saved this book for the Fourth of July holiday weekend but this is more than just a good summer read. The Invasion of the Tearling is a solid story telling bridge that gives the reader steady passage towards a page turning adventure yet to come. The book is now available everywhere and definitely worth adding to your library of dreams:

Monday, July 06, 2015

Tuning into some bad girls of pop music

While I'm far from being a true audiophile, I can't help noticing a rising trend in pop diva songs. Showing off your wild side has come back into vogue for the current crop of leading ladies on the mike and some pull that off better than others, in my opinion.

An example of the latter is Taylor Swift with her latest big video for "Bad Blood".  Her Sin City meets Michael Bay approach to this song about a personal feud(allegedly about her and Katy Perry) is practically a walking, talking parody of itself.

With a deluge of actress/model types posing as super warriors sporting names like Mother Chucker and Slay-Z(which sound like the reject name pile from Kick Ass 2) and lyrics such as "Band-Aids don't fix bullet holes", it's really hard to take any of this seriously, which would be fine if anyone involved here looked as if they were in on the joke. However, I don't quite think that's the case here:

Rihanna, on the other hand, at least sounds like she means business with "Bitch Better Have My Money".  The song does have a sharp thumping beat to it and listening to the smooth sense of control that she has with the lyrics make this a fine tune to hit the dance floor with.

However, folks are already complaining about the full on grindhouse style of the official video and as much as I appreciate that genre, it can be off putting at times.

 I felt the same way about Lady Gaga's "Telephone" when it took a similar approach. Sometimes, shock value adds no value to the end game. On the other hand, Rihanna has several great performance videos of BBHMM that provide a more subtle noir touch to the song. My favorite is the SNL finale one that introduced me to the song and took me by pleasant surprise in a kickass way:

At least there's one thing we can agree on with Rihanna and Taylor Swift; they're acting their age which is something that Madonna has given up on a long,long time ago.

Look, I'm not saying that Madonna has to be some prim and proper Downton Abby diva, far from it. It's just that her music of late comes across as stale disco leftovers rather than the typical refresh that she's best known for.

"Bitch, I'm Madonna" should sound like a victory call but instead it hits your ears and eyes like a wail of desperation as she surrounds herself with pointless celebrity cameos, bright colors, sock puppets(so not kidding about that) and her co-singer Nicki Minaj relegated to a hand held screen(what's up with that?).  Sorry, darling, but you look more like an Ab Fab skit than the queen of pop here:

Apart from Rihanna, I think my best bet for a real taste of bad girl bounce is in the Princess Rap Battle series, put out by Whitney Avalon and friends. Not only are the musical insults well aimed, there's no doubt about either the humor or the bad ass ladies who throw down with truly wicked glee here. Besides, who doesn't want to see fantasy maidens fighting?: