Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, February 29, 2016

My Year With Hemingway sets sail for The Old Man and The Sea

Having started this Year With Hemingway project off by reading one of his first major books, it only seemed fitting that my next selection would tackle one of his later titles, particularly the one that earned him a Nobel Prize.

The Old Man and the Sea also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction a year after it's initial release and it's still assigned reading for most high school students. Part of the reason for that may be due to it's page count(short classics are popular required reading there) but mainly for it's seemingly simple prose.

The tale of Santiago(who is referred to for the majority of the book as "the old man"), a fisherman with a bad string of luck who faces the challenge of his life alone on open waters, is pretty much a straightforward narrative. However, there's a Zen like quality to the writing and this central character that showcases the true complexity of Hemingway's style.

Santiago is a man seemingly content with what little he does have; his boat and equipment along with a small house with a bed lined with newspapers, plus the occasional company of Manolin, his former fishing student.

The most he hopes for in life is to see how well his favorite baseball player Joe DiMaggio is doing and to break his unlucky streak of  coming back from his fishing with nothing to show for it. Even though Manolin is forced by economic necessity to work on a "lucky" boat , the old man is happy to see the boy leave his side, thanks to the skills that he taught him.

Yet when he snags a huge fish that fights long and hard to escape him, Santiago doesn't hesitate in giving his all to that battle. Sure, at some point it would have been sensible to just cut and run, big fish or not but the old man's true goal is not merely to change his luck or show off a big prize to his fellow fishermen.

What he ultimately gains from all of his grit and determination is a revitalized sense of self. Using what little he has on board and even losing or breaking the few tools at his disposal, Santiago proves mainly to himself that his inner core as a man is still intact. His hands may be aching,along with his back, but his spirit for life is as strong as it ever was.

You could see this as sort of a midlife crisis story, especially since many readers look upon TOMATS as Hemingway's commentary on old age, but I think it's more than than. The Old Man and The Sea shows us that it's ultimately about the journey rather than the destination that makes life, even with all of it's hardships, so worth while:

I've also been reading Paula Huntley's The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo, a memoir of her time in that country along side her husband in the year 2000. He went over to use his legal skills to help bring a proper judicial system to that war torn country and Paula became a teacher of English, helping a set of determined young people try to better their situation via education.

The book club of the title uses The Old Man and The Sea, with the lone edition that Huntley found in an English language book store being copied enough for her entire class to read. While I have finished TOMATS, I'm still almost half way with this story and it's quite a moving one.

Huntley encounters many all too true stories of violence and destruction from the prior regime, which serves to make her more determined to do what she can for her students, who find Hemingway's story rather relevant to their lives. One of the critiques of this book that I saw frequently online was that there was more focus on the horrors of Kosovo and not enough about Hemingway. While I can see what some of those complaints mean, I don't think they're getting the point.

 Ernest Hemingway was also a journalist who covered many international battle fields and war zones, even serving in both world wars and being a reporter on the ground during the Spanish Civil War. Kosovo during this time period(and possibly even now) is the exact sort of turbulent situation that Hemingway would've been at himself, so in that sense, this entire book is in the spirit of his writing:

Having completed The Old Man and The Sea, my next book to read for this project is Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood, a novel that gives each of Hemingway's four wives a spotlight for her to shine in.

I'll be pairing that review with a write-up of the 2012 made for HBO film Hemingway and Gellhorn, which stars Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman as Ernest Hemingway and wife number three, Martha Gellhorn. She was a journalist who met him while they were both covering the Spanish Civil War and For Whom The Bell Tolls is dedicated to her.

I can see Clive Owen quite easily as Hemingway and Gellhorn sounds like quite a woman, so that ought to be engagingly fun.  In the mean time, just as I did with The Sun Also Rises, I've chosen a theme song for The Old Man and The Sea and, no, it's not "Sitting on the Dock(Of The Bay)", much to my own surprise.

Since Santiago has reoccurring dreams about lions in Africa, I went with Toto's ode to that country. Sounds strange but hear me out: while a sea faring song seems like the obvious choice, "Sitting on The Dock" is much too passive and easy going to suit the true nature of the book. The Toto tune expresses the joy of pursuing your dreams and going after your heart's desire way better. Give it a listen and think of Santiago as you do so-he does miss the rains down in" Africa" there, don't you think?:

Friday, February 26, 2016

Gearing up for Oscar Night 2016

For once, the hype surrounding the Academy Awards might actually lead to more viewers as the #OscarsSoWhite discussions have become way more interesting than most of the nominees.

Yes, some will be boycotting and that's fine because in order to really change anything about how nominees in all of the categories are featured and selected, tough measures have to be taken.

I will still be watching since this is my cinematic Super Bowl and hoping to see not only a few surprise wins but to hear plenty of (hopefully positive and/or hard hitting)commentary from the presenters about the diversity in entertainment issue,especially host Chris Rock.

However, this still is an awards show all about the movies, so a little look into what to expect from the potential winners of these trophies is sort of a must, so let us begin:

LEO GETS HIS GOLD: The only safe bet on Oscar Night is that at long last, Leonardo DiCaprio will win Best Actor for The Revenant. This victory has been a long time coming for DiCaprio, with this being his fifth nomination and his having done a steady stream of solid performances.

Personally, I have no qualms about him getting the award-I haven't seen the movie but his talents are hard to deny. I just hope that after finally reaching this career high point, DiCaprio doesn't fall back on his laurels and walk through a number of well paying yet meaningless parts in mediocre films(yes, Robert DeNiro, I'm looking at you).

 There's nothing wrong with doing a movie for the sheer fun of it and goodness knows, DiCaprio could use a less intense part or two. The last lighthearted role I've seen him in lately was as one of the villains in Django Unchained. However, this Oscar should turn into another artistic stepping stone for him and not a plateau. Good luck, Leo and try to have a good time with your future work, now that you can cross this off of your to-do list:

SOME SMALL SURPRISES: Another nearly safe bet for an Oscar win is Brie Larson as Best Actress for Room, a story about keeping hope alive in a captive situation as a young woman kept prisoner by a predator makes escape plans with her born in captivity son.

As a fan of the Emma Donaghue novel upon which this was based(Donaghue is also up for Best Adapted Screenplay), I have a keen interest in seeing this film do well here and was pleasantly surprised to hear of a slight chance for Room to win Best Picture.

According to a recent article in the NYT, the Best Picture race has divided loyalties, with one guild favoring The Revenant, another going for The Big Short and a third group for Spotlight. With such a split vote, a little movie like Room might be able to upset the big boys and take the win. I certainly would love to see that. True, Mad Max:Fury Road is another possible alternate win and I'd be pleased with that as well. However, it would be more of a Cinderella victory for such a solid female focused film like Room to be called to the stage:

I finally caught up to Straight Outta Compton and it really deserved more nominations, particularly F. Gary Gray as Best Director and acting nods for O'Shea Jackson,Jr and Cory Hawkins as Ice Cube and Doctor Dre.

One of the best things about this movie was the straight forward honesty in presenting the rags to riches story of N.W.A.-granted, Ice Cube was one of the producers but he certainly didn't downplay any of his past behavior or hide his former flaws and to have his son portray him, warts and all, shows what a stand-up guy he ultimately is.

The movie only has one nomination in the Best Original Screenplay section and perhaps some of the Oscar diversity talk might gain it a win. While that would be ironic,since the screenwriters happen to be white, this was a good script worth being honored and it's an extreme shame that it wasn't backed up with other just as deserving nominations.

More than likely,Spotlight will get the Oscar but I do think that SOC has a real chance. It does possess a universal appeal for writers here in that it's all about misunderstood artists who are struggling against the system in order to get their message heard,plus share their creative inspiration with others:

...AND THE REST: I also caught up to The Martian and while it was a smart engaging film, the good will that it generated with audiences and industry folk was burnt up faster than rocket fumes. A quality entertainment to be sure but I'm not seeing any big wins for it on the way.

In the Best Song category, it galls me that one of the tunes from Fifty Shades of Grey is included(nothing against The Weeknd there) and while the Sam Smith number from Spectre seems like an easy win, buzz is swarming about Lady Gaga's "Til It Happens to You" from the documentary The Hunting Ground, so that might be another upset win there.

Sly Stallone is no doubt going home with a Best Supporting Actor trophy for Creed but it's an out and out shame that leading actor Michael B. Jordan wasn't a fellow nominee(even if he lost to DiCaprio, Jordan should have been given that chance). When it comes to Best Supporting Actress, it appears that Alicia Vikander will be getting that golden boy. Her career star is on the rise right now and with any luck, it will be a guiding star towards more good roles.

I would like to check out some more of the big films here such as The Danish Girl,Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies and of course,Room.Some of the other Best Picture hopefuls, I'm not in a big hurry for(The Big Short looks like condescending crap to me) but time will tell, I suppose. For now, may we all have a good Oscar time and be prepared with popcorn to see what golden goodies will be in our Academy Award basket:

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A sister showdown on Downton Abbey, Agent Carter's musical moment and the welcome return of Last Week Tonight

As we get closer to the very last episode of Downton Abbey, a lot of major character issues are being dealt with and one of the biggest ones is Mary's constant scorn towards her sister Edith.

True, way back in Season One, Edith did do her sister a wrong turn by letting the cat out of the bag regarding a certain deceased Turkish visitor but that never lead to any serious trouble for Mary, not to mention she paid Edith back by thwarting her then current chance at love.

Since then, Mary and Edith have been on the warpath but Edith did ask for a truce when their younger sister Sybil died. Mary pretty much shrugged and said "Nah" to that.

For the most part, she has turned a blind eye towards anything to do with Edith but Mary recently figured out the truth regarding Marigold(a daughter that Edith has passed off as a ward of the family) and used that viciously against her.

Being upset over her own relationship troubles(not wanting to become a "crash widow" yet again), Mary took the worst possible opportunity to let Edith's beau Bertie, who has now become a marquess, that his soon-to-be fiancee was keeping a secret from him. Edith admitted the truth to Bertie, who was more upset about her not telling him about Marigold than anything else, and that proposal was quickly withdrawn.

That was the last straw for both Edith and newly returned Tom, who each gave Mary a right royal smack in the face for her nasty snobbish ways. Edith's wrath was most effective as she knows her sister all too well and wasn't putting up with any more of her highhandedness:

That wasn't the only shocker on this episode(poor Barrow's despair leading him to attempt to take his life) yet Edith's plight did over shadow the other quite a bit.

Well, I am Team Edith all the way and never did care much for Mary, who finally did fix her love situation and married her "mechanic"(a rather well to-do one there) by the end of the episode.

Edith showed her true colors by taking the high road and attending Mary's wedding, even telling her that their connection as sisters was more important than holding grudges. As grateful as I am that the series finale will be shown on March 6(allowing many of us to watch the Oscars without having to choose between them), Edith better have her happy ending,too, or we riot:

Agent Carter had an unexpected lighthearted moment as Peggy was knocked out long enough to have a musical dream sequence.

The whole number was about her indecision to choose between doomed scientist Jason Wilkes and her SSR cohort Sousa, whose fiancee has broken up with him due to his unrequited love for Peggy. I know that a certain recapper will be happy to see that Peggy's gal pal Angie made an appearance here and has not been forgotten.

 What with all of the intense action going on to stop dark matter diva Whitney Frost, defeat the sinister Council and Jarvis's lovely wife Ana being caught in the crossfire, this musical break was a nice plot point palate cleanser and maybe a prelude to more of this in Season Three, I hope?:

It was great to see Last Week Tonight return to HBO on Sunday, just in time to skewer Hollywood for their #OscarsSoWhite traditions with their "How Is This Still A Thing" segment a week before the Academy Awards.

I feel the same way about the Oscars that John Oliver feels about the World Cup-I acknowledge the corruption and agree that it seriously needs to change yet will still be watching the show and rooting for certain people to win. I'll talk more about the Oscars tomorrow but in the meantime, if you haven't seen this on point takedown on Hollywood casting choices(shaking my head at Gods of Egypt, not to mention Emma Stone in Aloha), please enjoy:


DC's LEGENDS OF TOMORROW: After a couple of blasts in the past, the gang take an off road into the future and discover a very different Star City with a new Green Arrow at the helm. Should be a total treat and a half, with a scary surprise or two in store:

Monday, February 22, 2016

Honoring Harper Lee's literary legacy

It was sad indeed to hear of the passing of Harper Lee last week, especially since only last year she was once again thrust into the literary spotlight with the publication of Go Set a Watchman, an earlier take on the characters from her most famous work, To Kill a Mockingbird.

 I came to Mockingbird only recently, thanks to a wonderful documentary  about the ongoing inspiration that many readers of TKAM still have to this day, yet I do feel that we have lost a national treasure. Harper Lee's output as a writer may be small in number but it's the power of her words that makes it a true force to be reckoned with. It's influence among readers of more than one generation is astounding to behold.

One of the best ways to truly judge an author's impact is by seeing what their writing has inspired in other writers, so as my best attempt at a tribute, here are three book recommendations along the lines of "If You Like Harper Lee, Try This..."

THE HELP: Sure, this is almost an automatic go-to, particularly since TKAM is mentioned a few times within Kathryn Stockett's novel. Yet, do not be too quick to dismiss it as simply following in Harper Lee's footsteps.

For one, the story gives us the viewpoint of two African-American characters Aibileen and Minny, maids in Southern households during the early part of the 1960s, who are encouraged to share their work experiences with Skeeter, the young white back-home-from-college girl who feels out of place in her own section of that society.

That's something that TKAM wasn't able to do and understandably so, yet if not for that novel, The Help might not have created. Stockett's book brought up a lot of discussion both pro and con about it's depictions of those characters and that time period and yet, it also brought a lot of people closer by reading it. This is a book that I shared with my mother(who reminds me a lot of the outspoken Minny) and I know we're not the only mother-daughter to make this thoughtful novel our special book club for two selection.

The Help reawakened a look at race relations right in our homes, from all directions in America, and even it's author learned a few things about herself along the way. That alone make it worth taking up either for the first time or the second:

THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES: Sue Monk Kidd's first novel has a young girl named Lily Owens who, with the aid of housekeeper Rosaleen, flees her abusive home and takes refuge with a trip of bee keeping sisters, May,June and August Boatwright.

 Lily hopes to learn more about her mother's past, particularly since she herself bears an extra sense of guilt regarding her mother's death. Since the label on the jars of honey that the Boatwrights sell is similar to a picture found in her mother's things, she hopes that the sisters will have some of the answers that she seeks.

Monk Kidd has gone on to write other books such as The Invention of Wings, a historical fiction that was a headliner for Oprah's latest book club, yet this heartfelt tale that weaves in tragedy,love, race and regret is still a solid hallmark of her art. Like The Help, The Secret Lives of Bees was made into a movie but I still haven't seen it yet. Well, it's never too late to catch up on the good stuff and it'll give me another reason to enjoy the book again:

FOUR SPIRITS: The title spirits of Sena Jeter Naslund's novel set in the sixties refers to the four girls who died in the infamous church bombing in Birmingham and while story follows several characters, it's center is Stella Silver, a college student awakened by that tragedy to take part in the growing civil rights movement.

I haven't read this one yet but it's been sitting on my shelf long enough and I intend to add it to my active reading list this year. Naslund grew up in Birmingham, which gives her look at this moment in time a personal connection and having read a couple of her other books, I think this one should be interesting to explore.

In 2001, Sena Jeter Naslund won the Harper Lee Award from the University of Alabama's writing program for her body of work up to that point, which was two years before Four Spirits came out. That's more than enough reason to suggest this book but considering the current sociopolitical struggles that we're dealing with these days that hearken back to that particular decade of social change, Four Spirits may have found it's right place in literary time to be discovered:

Well, that's my list of Harper Lee-esque selections and I hope that at least one of them is new to you. I would also suggest that if you haven't read Go Set a Watchman yet, this might be a good time to do so.

If not, that's okay but if you are curious about what the fuss was all about, I do promise you an interesting read. You may not like it, for many reasons, but the book certainly offers a good amount of food for thought.

Something to keep in mind about Go Set a Watchman is that it was the starting point for Scout and Atticus, so perhaps if it were not for GSAW, TKAM might not have been written and that would have been an enormously great loss to us all, as much as the loss of Harper Lee feels to many of us right now:

Friday, February 19, 2016

Setting up some spring reading with these March and April book releases

 With the move from Groundhog's Day to Easter Bunny season getting faster, there's one thing that readers long to see as the start of spring time, even more than blooming flowers and that first sight of a robin; brand new books.

Sure, summer is a big book season but don't count out spring. Despite the shorter time span for that window to be open these days, those early stirrings of warm yet not sweltering hot weather are perfectly suited to encourage outdoor reading, not to mention being able to concentrate better on the words across the pages.

This set of March and April new titles should offer a nice bouquet of literary posies that create a interesting scent of imagination and knowledge for the budding book gardener:

AUSTEN REPLANTED: The latest modern take on Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice comes from author Curtis Sittenfeld as part of the Austen Project yet I'm sure it will stand alone on it's own merits.

Eligible has Liz Bennet and her sister Jane living in New York but coming home to Cincinnati to check on their ailing father. With the family home in bad shape, their mother is eager to have all of her five girls line up for Chip Bingley's Bachelor-esque dating show in order to solve all of their problems.

Liz is not on board with that and also not happy to deal with Bingley's doctor buddy Darcy and his snobbish ways. Personally, I like the reality show element being added here as P&P has proven to be suitable for that style of story telling and Sittenfeld's new look at such a familiar story needs a sharp twist to be able to compete with the many retellings that are out there. This should be quite engaging to check out, indeed(April):

A TRIPLE PLAY OF LITERARY LADY POWER: I found at least three nonfiction titles due out this season that have to do with strongly solid creative women and while one of them happens to be fictional, each one brings a grounded in reality resonance to her legacy.

First up is Claire Harman's biography, Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart, that focuses on how Charlotte's upbringing with her rather close knit family helped to bring about the emotional depths that lead her to write such passionate novels as Jane Eyre and Villette.

Even though Charlotte supported her sisters Anne and Emily with their own writing efforts, her own talents were manifold and lead to a life of artistic independence that brought her equal shares of sorrow and joy. By revisiting this author on the 200th anniversary of her birth, Harman presents a vivid portrait of Bronte highlighted by the frame of her Haworth home(March):

 With the recent announcement of a new Little House on the Prairie movie in the works, there is sure to be a revival of interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder, the creator of that iconic children's series that lead to the memorable TV series that many of us grew up with.

The timing couldn't be better for The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder , which has both personal and professional letters that have only been available to scholars until now. Editor William Anderson includes among the bounty of letters some of the correspondence between Ingalls Wilder and her editor Ursula Nordstrom along with responses to the many fans of the books and contributions from her daughter(and later author/editor) Rose Wilder Lane.

Little House readers will find this immensely interesting but I do suspect that even newcomers to this bookish slice of Americana might see plenty to explore here as well(March):

Last but up,up and away from least, blogger Tim Hanley follows up his excellent examination of a DC Comics legend,Wonder Woman Unbound, with another take on an  iconic comic book heroine who is just as well known to the public and is just as underestimated.

Investigating Lois Lane traces the pioneering path of the woman that many simply write off as "Superman's girlfriend" and shows what an amazing character she truly is. Lois has had her unfair share of damsel in distress moments(not to mention bad romance times with the Man of Steel) yet she's also proven to be smart, brave and willing to take risks that are not backed up by super powers.

The book not only chronicles her ever changing image in the comic books, her live action and animated renditions of Lois are also included. Hanley's spotlight on Lois Lane promises to show what a true superhero this savvy lady is in her own right(March):

A DANCE HALL DEBUT: Short story writer Alison Love hits the dance floor with her first novel, The Girl From the Paradise Ballroom, that adds a new groove to a well worn routine.

Singer Antonio is surprised to realize that he has meet Olivia, the wife of his wealthy patron before. She instantly fears that her past as a dance hall hostess at the Paradise Ballroom will be revealed but with the approach of WWII, both she and Antonio find themselves drawn together for support in more ways than one.

 I received this book courtesy of Library Thing and even though the author is new to me,a good period romance is well worth the page turning. Love promises to provide a sweet steady beat with a few fresh steps that you can dance to(April):

 NOVEL LOOKS AT HISTORICAL LADIES: The life and times of birth control crusader Margaret Sanger are at the heart of Ellen Feldman's upcoming novel. Terrible Virtue follows Margaret from her days as a nurse seeking a solution for other women like her own mother, who was trapped by poverty and ill health from improper care during her many pregnancies.

Her struggles to begin a respectable women's health clinic in the early days of the twentieth century were met with various obstacles from religious figures and community leaders, forcing her at one point to leave the country. The toll on her personal and family life was harsh at times as well.

Nevertheless, Margaret persisted in her social justice work, with the aid of a few allies such as Emma Goldman, and her firm commitment paid off as her efforts resulted in the development of the birth control pill along with the foundation of Planned Parenthood. Granted, this is a novel but if you're looking for more backstory on the origins of the movement for a woman's right to choose, this book sounds like a fine introduction to me(March).

Allison Pataki continues her look at Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary that began in The Accidental Empress with Sisi:Empress on Her Own. Here, she is no longer the blushing young bride but a woman who is now ready and willing to take up what reins of power are at her disposal.

While her husband Franz Joseph is distracted by maintaining political alliances, Sisi soon realizes that her input in such matters proves to be of true value yet that power play doesn't give her the deep down  personal satisfaction that she longs for.  In keeping a balance between head and heart, Sisi has to choose which one is worth sacrificing.

I also received this from Library Thing but will probably read The Accidental Empress first. I'm sure that this book can be enjoyed without having read that one yet I did enjoy Pataki's The Traitor's Wife and would like to indulge in the full literary feast that the author has prepared(March):

I do hope that this spring selection helps any of you out there seeking a new read for the warm days to come. Out of all of the struggles that a reader has to deal with, picking the next on your book waiting list is a challenge that knows no season to skip over:

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Kitchen troubles on Downton Abbey, The Flash gets the chills from Killer Frost and more of How To Get Away With Murder

With all of the major plot lines on Downton Abbey this final season, it is nice to indulge in an amusing sub plot such as Mr. Carson getting his comeuppance for constantly fussing at his new wife about her cooking.

It's particularly galling of him since he knows full well that her household duties at Downton don't extend to food prep and it's bad form to keep comparing his wife's culinary skills to Mrs. Patmore's(one episode, Carson said "Mrs. Patmore" at dinner so many times that I was tempted to start up a drinking game!).

Fortunately, the former Mrs. Hughes is smart enough to find a way to subtly yet sharply put him in his place with a little ruse that had Carson find out what things were like on the other side of the kitchen table. She had a bit of an assist from Mrs. Patmore on that score, which was extremely suitable to the situation:

As engaged as I am in the main story lines(Will Edith marry Bertie and tell him the truth about Marigold? I certainly hope so and that Mary doesn't muck it up for her), light hearted bits like this are a welcome relief from the intensity of the drama.

Mrs. Patmore is still in sub plot land next week, as a secret regarding her is discovered  that causes some embarrassment or amusement, depending on who is talking about it. I just hope that it's not too bad for her sake:

The last couple of episodes of The Flash had Barry and Cisco heading up a rescue mission on Earth-Two, which allowed them to meet up with some very alarming alternate versions of their friends(and themselves).

The one deadly doppelganger that truly surprised them was Killer Frost, the E-2 take on Caitlin Snow. Here, the icy villainess was paired up with Deathstorm(the bad boy version of Firestorm) as lackeys for Zoom.

Her loyalty to Zoom was limited,however, once her lethal love interest was executed by the grim speedster, along with Cisco's bad ass evil twin Reverb(bet the actors had a lot of fun playing bad guys there!).

  I know that some people felt that having Killer Frost as an E-2 enemy was a bit of a cheat, since her character was originally part of Earth One but with character origins that change over the course of time due to reboots, you need to go with the flow sometimes. Besides, this may not be the last we see of Killer Frost as Barry did promise to rescue a certain iron masked captive of Zoom's. Also, Killer Frost is too much fiendish fun to have just once:

How To Get Away With Murder returned to the TV line-up last week, with Annalise still reeling after her near fatal gun shot wound as well as the legal mess of the Hapstall case. At least she has some seriously styling PJs to do that in.

The rest of her staff and students aren't faring any better, with Asher insisting that his father's death was due to murder, not suicide(a way of avoiding his guilt over mowing down that bitchy D.A., if you ask me) and Wes dealing with what he did to Annalise, plus wondering why she called him "Christophe". Yep, another mystery to be revealed!

One thing about this show that never fails, even as convoluted as it gets at times, is to keep your interest in these character going long enough to see them through to the end of their twisted story lines. So looking forward to seeing how the remainder of this second season unravels and keeping my fingers crossed for a sweet set-up for season three:


THE GRAMMYS: Congratulations to Alabama Shakes, Ghost(who received their award for "Cirice" in the pre-show section) and the Broadway musical Hamilton for their much deserved wins that night and while there may be questions regarding the many musical tributes given that evening(I did like Lady Gaga's Bowie salute), just about everyone agrees that seeing that opening number for Hamilton was one of the best moments:

Monday, February 15, 2016

Announcing my Year with Hemingway

It's funny how things turn out; originally, my year long blog project was going to be face-offs between books with similar themes(aka Book Bouts) but in the very first match-up, I still haven't finished the second book. I'll probably complete The Novel(yes, that's the actual title) at some point but even in short form, James Michener is rather slow going.

However, one of my general goals this year was to try some Ernest Hemingway and during the Winter's Respite readathon, I did just that, completing The Sun Also Rises with enough time to tackle another book before time was up. Since that went well, I figure why stop there?

So, my new yearly blog project is My Year with Hemingway, in which I will take on some more of the big man's works, plus a few additional choices that should fit in with the theme nicely.

I'm considering my Winter's Respite review of TSAR as the starting point and my next selection is The Old Man and The Sea, which will be read along side the nonfiction memoir The Hemingway Club of Kosovo by Paula Huntley that highlights TOMATS quite a bit.

I know the basic set-up of the bare bones plot, a lengthy battle of wills between aging fisherman Santiago and the huge marlin that he manages to catch after a long dry spell. However, there is much more to this tale than the seemingly simple man vs. nature challenge and I look forward to learning all about it:

Other titles from Hemingway that are on my list include his short stories(The Snows of Kilimanjaro and In Our Time) one of his memoirs( A Movable Feast) and two more of his major novels, For Whom The Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms.

Out of all his writings about wartime, A Farewell to Arms seems to be the one that many people consider his most autobiographical book. The story of ambulance driver Frederic Henry and nurse Catherine Barkley has strong resonance due to Hemingway's own experiences during WWI and also on a romance that didn't work out for him.

An air of dark romanticism surrounds the book,which should be interesting to explore and separating the true facts of Hemingway's time in Italy from the fictional version he gave the world promises to be quite a game of cards there:

Since Paula McLain's The Paris Wife got me started on this Hemingway kick, I will be including a pair of novels that also focus on him through the women in his life. It's interesting that women authors seem to be the ones who are intrigued enough by Hemingway to examine him through fiction these days.

Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood takes a gander at all four of his wives while Erika Robuck's Hemingway's Girl combines two possibly real life female figures into a fictional heroine. 19 year old  Mariella happens to run into Hemingway in Key West, where a desperate bet on a boxing match leads to an unlikely friendship.

Mariella becomes even more part of his life when his current wife Pauline hires her as their housemaid.  As she tries not to get too involved with the troubles of the Hemingway household, a romance with Gavin, WWI veteran working on the Overseas Highway, is severely dividing her loyalties. I read Robuck's The House of Hawthorne last year and that was a pretty engaging book so my hopes are high for this one:

I might throw in some movie watching, as most of these books have been adapted for film and there is even one about Hemingway's real life love story that helped to inspire A Farewell to Arms called In Love and War. Not sure how believable Chris O'Donnell is as a young Hemingway but if I can find on Netflix, it should be worth a shot.

Hemingway was never assigned to me at school and I have read a bit about him in the past, when I had a major jones for learning more about Sylvia Beach, who founded the original Shakespeare & Company book store in Paris. He was one of her patrons and even helped her out during the aftermath of WWII.

Mainly, I have had a small interest at best in writers during that whole Lost Generation period, so I never bothered to know more than I needed to before about Hemingway. Yet, as you get older, your world view hopefully expands and it's never too late to catch up on the classics. With my Year with Hemingway, I hope to know more about and perhaps appreciate better his literary legacy:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Jane and the Waterloo Map leads you to a true treasure of a mystery tale

In signing up for this blog tour for Stephanie Barron's latest entry in her Jane Austen mystery series, Jane and the Waterloo Map, I was a little concerned about how easily I could get into the story.

 After all, this is the thirteenth novel in a series that I've always been meaning to read at some point yet never have gotten beyond the first couple of pages with any of the prior books. Well, I'm happy to report that J&TWM was as comfortable to slip into as a pair of gloves, with a nice new lining that made it feel fresh and new.

It does help greatly if you're familiar with Jane Austen's bio, as our story begins in 1815 where Jane has gone to London to look after her brother Henry, who is experiencing some ill health and a bad run on his finances, due to the outcome of the recent war with Napoleon. Her visit is twofold, as preparations for her next novel Emma are underway and while she waits for the galleys for her editorial approval, an unusual invitation comes her way.

The Prince Regent's chaplain, James Stanier Clarke, extends an offer on the behalf of HRH(who happens to be a fan of her novels) to take a tour of Carlton House and even make use of the royal library to work in while she's in town. Despite her keen distaste for the Prince Regent, Jane is well aware of how beneficial to her book sales such a connection would be, so she accepts the invitation and endures the rattling company of Clarke, who has a lot more in common with a certain Mr. Collins that he realizes:

During her visit, Jane is encouraged to dedicate her new novel to the Prince Regent, which would certainly boost the profits to be earned from it.

 Before she can properly consider that idea, a shocking discovery in the library changes the course of the day quite completely In a corner, a dying man is discovered and as Clarke rushes off to get the court physician Matthew Baillie, Jane alone hears his last words:"Waterloo map!"

The victim turns out to be a military man, Colonel MacFarland, who  was one of the heroes of the battle of Waterloo. The map in question is soon found in a book and has a brief letter written in French on the back, urging it's intended reader to protect the map as it leads to something that Napoleon himself would be eager to claim upon the outcome of the battle:

While Jane is strongly encouraged not to look into the matter, she can't resist learning more about it, particularly when she comes across evidence that Col. MacFarland was poisoned.

In her quest to find the killer as well as discover the true purpose of the map, Jane enlists the aid of Raphael West, son of renowned artist Benjamin West, who happens to also be a government spy.

Even her visiting niece Fanny does a little undercover work, posing as a budding painter in order to draw out the actual artist who drew up the map and who also might be the murderer:

This investigation is not without risks, as Jane rather painfully discovers and while her injuries are slight, the real danger to her allies is all too heavy to bear. Can the Waterloo map lead them all to justice or to more horrible crimes yet to come?

Stephanie Barron has a sure and steady hand in creating this mystery realm for Jane Austen and her blend of fact and fiction(well assisted with a few historical footnotes) makes for a tempting tea cup of tension that is worth slowly sipping through page by page.

I do wish that I had taken on her books much sooner but regrets in reading can be quickly remedied by a good book or two and fortunately, the pleasure of catching with this engaging series is soon to be mine. Jane and the Waterloo Map may be a unlikely start for a newcomer but it's a very agreeable one and there is no doubt that regular fans of this series will be pleased with this current gem.

I hope that everyone is enjoying this delightful blog tour for Jane and the Waterloo Map and if you are interested in winning one of the prize packs from Stephanie Barron's website at the end of it, please leave a comment at this post as well as one at the review that Austenprose is posting today.

You can also leave comments at the other tour stops, such as the next stop at Mystery Fanfare on Monday and Laura's Reviews on the following Tuesday. The deadline is February 29 and the winners will be announced on March 3 at Stephanie Barron's official website, so make haste, I beg you!

And in the spirit of the day, I wish you all a very happy Valentine's Day with a special hope that Jane Austen's wonderful world of romance adds greatly to your happiness:

Friday, February 12, 2016

Sample some Jane Austen sweetness at Pemberley Digital on Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day weekend is upon us and while many of us on the East Coast will be seeking warmth for other than the heart, this is also a holiday that many Jane Austen fans take special delight in. After all, when it comes to her writing, love is always in the air for most of Austen's characters.

However, it can be a little overwhelming as well since there are so many Austen related pop culture venues to choose from. If you can't decide whether or not to reread the original novels or their post modern sequels, not to mention choose which movie version of Pride and Prejudice to watch, there might be a simple solution.

No doubt, most Austen admirers are familiar with Pemberley Digital, where modern day sensibilities meet with timeless story telling by creating web series out of several literary classics, namely the works of Our Dear Jane. With all of them being readily available online, they provide the perfect opportunity for holiday themed binge watching or could be your av version of a box of chocolates. You could devour them all at once or just nibble at a few of your favorite episodes. Either way, let's see what on display at this Austen-tatious candy shop:

EMMA APPROVED: With this year being the 200th anniversary of the book many consider to be Austen's masterpiece, this engaging web series truly captures the charismatic magic of Emma Woodhouse, who in this version runs an agency that offers life style coaching, plus a bit of match making on the side.

What's really great about this take on Emma is how well the story adjusts to such modern day settings and social media, not to mention the chemistry between the leads. Joanna Sotomura and Brent Bailey click together so well as the headstrong Emma and "snarky" Knightley, just about any scene with them is well worth watching(and they became a real life couple to boot!):

THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES: The series that started it all and gave rise to a wonderful revival of interest in Jane Austen's best known and well beloved tale, Pride and Prejudice.

 I also recommend checking out the companion novel The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet and it's sequel of sorts, The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet, the latter showing what happens to everyone after the LBD series has run.

The LBD is actually the longest of the three Austen adaptations that Pemberley Digital has done so far(not counting the spin-offs within the actual run of the series such as Collins and Collins), so sampling a few at a time might be the way to go here. Sure, you can go right for those delightful Darcy moments but it's just as fun to see Lizzy mock him in her home theater reenactments:

WELCOME TO SANDITON: Since this webseries is based on an unfinished novel of Austen's, this might be a lovely surprise for Austen fans looking for something new.

Also, the open narrative allows a lot of leeway in the story lines and character development as the struggling seaside town of the title deals with infighting as residents are feeling forced into changing their businesses in order to create a haven for the health conscious.

There's a bit of a crossover from LBD as Georgina "Gigi" Darcy arrives to beta test a new app for her brother's company, which aids a budding romance between Clara, the owner of the local ice cream shop that is being pressured to become a juice bar, and Edward, geeky minion of the Mayor who just wants to make everyone happy but neglects himself. If you're in the mood for a taste of summer loving, Sanditon Scoops should have the right flavor combination there:

Pemberley Digital offers non-Austen fare as well, such as Frankenstein M.D., if you're in a non-romantic mood, and The March Family Letters, with some episodes featuring love of family along with possible love connections. Which ever you choose, have a lovely Valentine's Day both on and off line, keeping in mind that Jane Austen was always in favor of true devotion in whatever form it came into her heroine's lives:

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Beyonce, Lady Gaga and why singing women scare some people

The headliner at this year's halftime show for the Super Bowl was Coldplay but all that anyone seems to want to talk about is the performance that Beyonce gave.

She mixed her new song "Formation"(the video being released the day before) with Bruno Mars doing his hit "Uptown Funk" and while it was certainly a show stopper, certain people are simply losing their minds over that number and not in appreciation.

One of the biggest complaints is  claiming that she was doing a tribute to the Black Panthers because of her mock military outfit(something that both Janet and Michael Jackson have done in their careers without that connotation being placed on them), that her dancers wore berets and they formed a letter X during the show-hello, the song is called "Formation" and they also formed an arrow as well!

Yes, the video does have a lot of sociopolitical visuals that reference Hurricane Katrina, Black Lives Matter, in particular "hands up, don't shoot" and the antebellum South. Beyonce's Super Bowl performance, however, was mostly focused on the entertainment elements of the song and used an edited version, due to it's adult content(particularly a reference to Red Lobster as a reward for love making). I suspect most of the protesters saw part or all of the official "Formation" video and are basing their anger about the number on that rather what actually was seen on TV that day:

Lady Gaga sang The National Anthem at the Super Bowl earlier that day and received a good amount of praise for her vocal range.

Yet a writer for the NYT decided to find fault with Gaga's overall career path in an article that compared her to Beyonce, based on their joint appearance in the video for Gaga's "Telephone" several years ago to where each of them is at in the pop music world right now.

He wondered why Gaga was doing "an opening act" when only a few years ago, she was a headliner and seems to be happy with a retro vibe. In his opinion, Lady Gaga has turned into an older ready for Vegas retirement version of herself :

"Her work now is like a long-term art project that’s put 50 years on her persona, and at 29, she’s five years younger than Beyoncé. She’s been cooing with Tony Bennett on their “Cheek to Cheek” tour; she’s wearing stuff that you’d find on Fanny Brice. Her Gucci pantsuit could have been from the Céline Dion collection or from Liza Minnelli’s closet. So, too, could the strength of her singing and chest thwaps. She’s given herself a coating of the geriatric, of respectability, of Vegas."

Well, first of all, singing the National Anthem at a major sporting event such as the Super Bowl is hardily an "opening act" and secondly, there is nothing wrong with any singer doing standards as a way to regain their inspiration. Linda Ronstandt did it and so did Natalie Cole. He also sees her singing the Sound of Music at the Oscars last year and winning a Golden Globe for her role on American Horror Story: Hotel as signs that she's decided to call it a day in terms of being a superstar unlike Beyonce.

The biggest problem with this entire line of thought is in comparing Gaga and Beyonce. Just because they did a song together once, that does not mean that they are on the same career track or should be. Gaga's experiences and goals are very different from Beyonce's and vice versa. While they are contemporaries, that doesn't have to mean one is gaining ground over the other.

 As to Gaga not doing her over the top entrances and outfits that helped launch her into the limelight anymore, she's not the only artist to have been there, done that and moved on. The late David Bowie(who Lady Gaga will be doing a tribute for at the upcoming Grammys) and the still with us Elton John eventually put away their costumes and set pieces as part of their artistic maturation. What all three have in common is that they were great singers to begin with and once the spotlight is steady on them, the need for masquerade is over:

In seeing both of these uproars about these talented ladies at the Super Bowl, my conclusion is that there are some folks(quite a few of them male) who have a problem with women who are completely capable of choosing to control their own careers. They don't like either one of them stepping outside of the pop culture boxes that they believe each female performer is in and would rather have them not express their opinions through their art or follow their own muse.

That's too bad for the dissenters because more and more female singers are bursting out of those pop culture confines and making a place for themselves, thanks to their talent and fans who appreciate what they're doing. It takes a long time for standards to change, even in the arts, but it does happen if you hold on long enough. You don't have to like every song or style but trying to tear them down just because you want to make your problems theirs is the wrong way to go.

With the Grammys next week, it'll be a good idea to see if you can spot the next new female singing sensation and while she's not scheduled to perform, Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes is one to watch. Her band is up for several awards and they really deserve to get a few of them.

 Who knows, maybe one day Brittany Howard will have Beyonce or Gaga do a song with her or maybe all three of them will form a power trio that brings the haters to their knees. Talent calls to talent and girl power is a force to be reckoned with, in the best sense of the term. So, critique fairly, my friends or you might find it hard to be part of the cool concert scenes to come: