Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The latest Lex Luthor shows the importance of proper supervillainy

Despite the overwhelming amount of bad critical reviews, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice did very well at the box office on it's opening weekend. How long that will last remains to be seen but it's not the heroes of the film that I want to talk about here.

While I have not seen the movie yet(most likely will wait until it's available at Netflix), there's one thing that kept popping in both the professional and the fan reviews,even among those who did like the movie and that is the off kilter performance of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

Many felt that he was playing a more manic version of Mark Zuckerberg(due to his leading man role in The Social Network) or as one review put it, a "cokehead millennial" . That's pretty bad when an iconic villain like Lex Luthor sounds like he should in the cast of Wolf of Wall Street there. Like I said, I haven't seen the movie but Eisenberg's Luthor was the main cause of my doubts about BvS, based upon most of the trailers that I saw his strange twitchy self in:

Another critique that's truly troubling is that many people found Eisenberg's Luthor to be a lot like the Joker, which could turn into a huge problem for the DC cinematic universe later on.

A newer version of the Joker is set to appear in this summer's Suicide Squad(played by Jared Leto) and while those characters could conceivably team up in a future film, having two off the wall types is going to be both confusing and off putting.

The personas of each bad guy or girl in the traditional comic book world are meant to mirror the dark side of the hero/heroine that they're facing off against, which is why the chaotic and colorfully dressed Joker works so well when paired with the grimly serious and somberly clad Batman.

 Lex Luthor's keen intellect and sleek designs to dominate humanity are set up as a contrast to Superman's physical strength and homespun values. They are two distinctive villains for very good reasons and playing mix and match with their character traits is just sloppy storytelling, in my opinion:

Yes, past live action versions of Lex Luthor have gone over to the campy side but even those prior performances managed to showcase the deadly intelligence of Superman's ultimate nemesis.

The Lex before this one happened to be Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns(which is not as bad as everyone made it out to be back then)and yes, there was a touch of Gene Hackman's camp in his performance but it worked to his advantage.

While Kevin Spacey's take on the character did generate a ton of "WRONG!!!" one liners, he was a good casting choice and did succeed in keeping the menacing nature of Lex fully present even when he went off on a mocking riff or two . His Lex was humorous but never clownish and that makes all the difference:

I'm sure that some would say this BvS rendition of Lex Luthor is much younger than his former big screen incarnations and therefore, not meant to be as evilly steady on his feet.

Sorry, but I don't buy that argument. Smallville proved that even a twenty-something Lex could be just as dangerous as a middle aged one. Michael Rosenbaum's performance as the frenemy of small town boy Clark Kent was a huge draw for me to the show in the first place and a big reason why I did watch it for as long as I did.

Even in those episodes where Lex got into over the top mode, he was still a compelling character capable of being a real threat to Clark and the people he loved. Also, he maintained a sturdy sense of poise and power that made it easy to see the future potential of a full fledged adult Lex Luthor in full control of his fate and fortune:

I think that one of the big lessons that needs to be taken from the dubious results of BvS is that developing your villain is equally as important as establishing your hero and I hope that DC takes these criticisms of this Lex Luthor to heart as they go forward with their film franchises.

If, as I suspect, Suicide Squad does better with critics and fans than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has so far, there will be a demand for a Legion of Doom movie to go along side a Justice League film. In that case, building up a formidable base of bad guys is crucial here. After all, we've seen just how pitifully punishing it became for Batman's gallery of rogues on screen and as much as I don't wish to bring Marvel into this, Loki has become a sinister superstar, thanks to his smashing success in their various films.

So, hopefully, the next time we see a major DC villain on film, he or she will be a fearsome force to be reckoned with. That doesn't mean they can't serve up some injustice with a smile but they also should have fans and newcomers alike bear witness to the awesome strength of supervillainy:

Monday, March 28, 2016

My Year with Hemingway arranges a four course feast of love for Mrs. Hemingway

Part of my reading list for this Year with Hemingway project includes books written about Ernest Hemingway along with those written by him; after all ,the one that started me on this literary trek was Paula McLain's novel The Paris Wife that shows first wife Hadley's version of their lives together.

Naomi Wood gives each of Hemingway's wives their say upon that relationship both with him and each other in her novel Mrs. Hemingway. The story is divided into four parts,beginning with Hadley towards the end of her marriage as she,Ernest and Pauline "Fife" Pfeiffer are sharing a beach house together in France.

Part of the reason for their close quarters is due to Hadley and Ernest's son Bumby needing to be quarantined after a bout of illness.  Fife arrived to offer Hadley some much needed companionship,since Ernest intends to join them a little later, but all too soon, it becomes clear that Fife's devotions are meant for Ernest first and foremost.

As much as Hadley wished that it was not so, the mutual romance between her husband and her friend is virtually impossible to ignore. Even their circle of friends that includes Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald(along with Gerald and Sara Murphy) can barely turn a blind eye to that affair.

 Fife's driven desire to have Hemingway as her husband is successful yet several years into that marriage, she finds herself in Hadley's position as his eye turns to Martha Gellhorn, the bold and beautiful journalist who enjoys sharing wartime reporting with him. Unlike his previous brides, Ernest had to talk Martha into marrying him. The two of them were better as lovers than partners in marriage, with Hemingway wanting more of a stay-at-home wife than a fellow writer towards their inevitable end.

By the time Martha was ready to leave Ernest, she was almost happy to hand him off to Mary Welsh, who left her husband and magazine writing career for him.

Mary was with him to the last, as her section of the book deals with her mourning Ernest's death not long after his suicide(which she insisted upon calling an accident). Her grief is tender torture, as she struggles to decide what to do with the papers and other things that Hemingway left behind him.

Over the course of reading this book, I was planning to find the right theme song for this story(it's something that I've been doing for this series) and to my surprise, there are actually two songs that suit this novel well. The first half of the book, in both the Hadley and Fife segments, Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" felt like the solid click of ice cubes in a warm  glass of gin that perfectly expressed the bittersweet pain that each woman went through as Hemingway wanted to have his proverbial cake and eat it too:

 In the later portions with Martha and Mary, however, Wood's stirring depictions of those relationships lead to me to take a more sympathetic look at Hemingway's affairs of the heart.

While Ernest's failings as a husband are clearly shown, Naomi Wood also gives each of the women in his life opportunity to reflect on the good along with the bad moments of their relationship. Hemingway seemed to go all in emotionally when it came to love,no matter how fleeting his central focus was, and that vibrant combination of talent,charisma and chaos is what made him both hard to love and hard to resist.

Wood elegantly captures the voice of each woman,as well as draws engaging portraits of the other people in their lives such as the Murphys(the scene where Martha and Ernest show up to a dinner party very late and Sara seems ready to throw her now cold soup at them is darkly amusing).

 Her ultimate take on Hemingway's wives is that despite their different approaches, the one tie that binds them all together is missing Ernest when he leaves. With that in mind, the other song for Mrs. Hemingway is appropriately titled "Mrs. Hemingway" sung by Mary Chapin Carpenter as a tribute to Hadley. For both Ernest and his other love interests, Hadley was the standard that they all felt they had to live up to and it does bookend the novel quite nicely:

As another bookend to Mrs. Hemingway, I watched the 2012 made for HBO movie Hemingway and Gellhorn, starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman as the title characters.

The film begins with their meeting up in Florida during his marriage to Fife(Molly Parker) and continues through their budding romance covering the Spanish Civil War right through to the end of their marriage as Mary Welsh(Parker Posey) enters the picture.

 The movie does cover some of Hemingway's last years and looks in on Martha in her later years as she's giving an interview about her life and times. What really engaged me was Kidman as Gellhorn, both in her younger days and as a strong older woman reflecting on her experiences. She  gave a riveting performance that made you see what Hemingway must have seen in the real life Gellhorn, a smart,determined woman who was eager to live and love on her own terms:

I know the movie received mixed reviews and to be sure, it does have it's flaws(the running time alone needed a good trim) and yes, I could have done without seeing Robert Duvall ham it up as a Russian general ready to have a bar fight with Hemingway over Martha.

However, the movie always held my interest, even during the slow parts towards the end, and while the offbeat artistic choices made here like certain scenes turning from color to sepia tones, not to mention having Martha and Ernest consummating their love in a hotel room during a bombing raid, the performances truly made this all work. The connection between Owen and Kidman onscreen really brings the figures of the past that they're playing come to vivid life, making you understand them a bit more as real people in love yet at odds with each other:

Speaking of movies that didn't get a lot of critical love, I'm going to be viewing the 1996 film In Love and War, starring Chris O'Donnell and Sandra Bullock, that showcases the WWI romance that Hemingway had with a Red Cross nurse named Agnes.

That brief romance was the inspiration for one of Hemingway's iconic novels, A Farewell to Arms, which I will be reading as well. There are about three adaptations of AFTA(one of which was made for TV) but I think that checking out In Love and War might be a more interesting compare and contrast there.

Not sure how convincing Chris O'Donnell is going to be as a young Hemingway, especially after the robust energy of Clive Owen in H&G, but willing to give both him and A Farewell to Arms a fair shot. No doubt one will be truly better than the other but you have to admit, the movie does sound like old school romantic fun:

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Epic Pop Culture Fights that raise the bar for Batman V. Superman

Finally, after all of the hype and hoopla, we will get to see the big blow out between two of the most iconic superhero legends in pop culture history, thanks to Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice which will be in theaters this week.

Sure, there will also be other heroes such as Wonder Woman and Aquaman on board but their names aren't on the marquee(at least not now) and despite whatever story lines are in play, the main reason for this movie is to see these two DC Comics powerhouses duke it out. That's a lot to live up, especially since the trailers have shown us quite a bit of fisticuffs already. Also, this isn't the first time we've witnessed some major superhero/fantasy fighting between those meant to be allies and wind up slugging it out as enemies instead.

So, let's take a look at a few other legendary showdowns and see just what the Man of Steel and The Dark Knight are up against:

WORLD'S FINEST: Batman and Superman have squared off against each other in various crossover comics as well as on the small screen in animated form. In Superman:The Animated Series, a two-part episode entitled "World's Finest" had the Joker steal a "jade" statue(it was actually made of kyptonite) and head off to Metropolis in order to sell it to Lex Luthor.

Naturally, Batman followed his clownish enemy but upon running into Superman, the two of them immediately had a disagreement regarding each other's method of crime fighting. Things got more complicated as Supermans's ex-ray vision revealed just who he really was up against.

Not one to be out done, Batman used his wits to get the upper hand, plus a date with Lois Lane. While their first fight didn't have a lot of action packed punches, both heroes stayed true to themselves and made their points fully in character. Hopefully their live action counterparts will be able to say the same:

OF GODS AND MEN: Marvel will soon have it's turn at bat in this throw down game as Captain America: Civil War is due out in May. However, you could say that we've seen a preview of that in the very first Avengers movie, when Thor insisted upon taking Loki away to answer for his crimes in Asgard.

Iron Man wasn't having any of that to and naturally, both super powered egos clashed with each other,allowing Loki to escape and forcing Captain America to step in and stop them both. I have a feeling that Wonder Woman is going to be put in Cap's position in BvS, she does have a shield of her own here! If that's the case, those boys better be ready because it was Captain America who had the last word in that fight, so to speak:

SLAYER SMACKDOWN: Such fights are not limited to comic book fare as the sixth season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer had it's most personal showdown between The Chosen One and her best friend Willow.

 Fueled by dark magic and the desire to avenge the death of her beloved Tara, Willow's spell casting streak stalled for a moment due to a protection spell placed on her targets.

However, she quickly found a way around that as a self casting gave her super strength that was equal to Buffy's. Thrilled to have the physical upper hand, Willow went after Buffy, who was from reluctant to show her former ally the true meaning of being a slayer.

Judging from the BvS trailers I've seen, Batman is determined to go after Superman due to the chaos unleashed in the wake of the battle with Zod(in the Man of Steel movie) that endangered Gotham City as well as Metropolis. Such a personal vendetta could cloud his judgment during a fight and that could be just as dangerous as a blast of magical might there:

WHEN TWO SIDES GO TO WAR: While the match-up between Brienne of Tarth and The Hound never happened in the books that the HBO series Game of Thrones is based on(they don't even meet under pleasanter circumstances), this is a case of two warriors that could have easily joined forces but chose to fight each instead.

Most of that is due to mistrust on each side, along with mutual misunderstandings of the other's motives. No doubt BvS is going to have a lot of that when it comes to their face off and most likely, the outcome won't be as bad for either one of them as it was for The Hound in the end. Nevertheless, it would be wise for at least one of them to get over their innate suspicions and try to team up before things become truly out of hand:

Even when all is said and done with Batman V. Superman, there will still be debates over who really won and lost. I just hope that the ultimate loser is not the audience, whose attendance will decide the fate of the upcoming DC Comics films yet to come.  At the very least, fans ought to be given a big screen battle that holds up well for many viewings and not create laughs for the wrong reasons. If Cable Guy can still be well remembered for that Medieval Times bout, I think the folks at DC should be able to do something a little better there:

Monday, March 21, 2016

Relishing my Winter's Respite readathon prizes

I don't take part in many readathons,due to the massive amount of books that I'm usually reading at any given time, but the ones at Seasons of Reading have proven to be well worth the time. The folks are always friendly and the books discussed pretty fun, not to mention literary prizes handed out for the participants.

At the end of the latest one,A Winter's Respite, I snagged the Better World Books prize of choosing three titles from their vast collection(with each purchase benefiting a reading charity). My trio of winter time goodies arrived this St. Patrick's Day, which made for a lovely holiday surprise for this American of Irish descent.

The first book in the bunch I started reading right away, Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani. I've read many of Trigiani's novels before(even have an autographed poster of her most recent,All the Stars in the Heavens) but have not tried her best known series of stories set in the title town in the mountains of Virginia.

This first book takes place in the late 1970s and chronicles a crucial time in the life of Ave Maria Mulligan, the local pharmacist who is still not over the death of her mother who, as it turns out, was keeping a huge secret from her daughter regarding her biological father. That may sound like a real downer but trust me, there's plenty of good times to come.

Ave Maria's circle of friends and neighbors do keep her going,such as Fleeta, her never shy with words store assistant, Iva Lou, the local bookmobile driver with a passion for life and love and Pearl Grimes, a young high school girl who blossoms under Ave Maria's guidance.

While deciding what to do about finding her true father, Ave also has to consider a pair of marriage proposals,handle a financial dispute with a cranky aunt and help the town get ready for a visit from a local senator and his celebrity wife. Like most of Trigiani's writing, BSG is a heartwarming blend of humor and pathos that makes a reader feel right at home.

Once I finish Big Stone Gap, I'll check out the other books in the series as well as watch the big screen adaptation that Trigiani wrote and directed herself, even filming it in that small Virginia town to boot. If that's not a labor of love, I don't know what is:

The other two books are quite different from Big Stone Gap and yet are rather similar in subject and style to each other. For a Downton Abby fan such as myself, it is truly amiss of me not to have read Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited before but there is no time like the present to remedy that situation.

The leading man of this story is Charles Ryder, who becomes friends with Lord Sebastian Flyte during their days at college in Oxford . Lord Sebastian eventually introduces Charles to his aristocratic family, the Marchmains, and their way of life which makes some allowances for their outsider status as Roman Catholics.

The friendship between Charles, Sebastian and the rest of the Marchmains grows strained over time yet their initial connection is never completely severed. Waugh's novel has been turned into a made for TV miniseries and a feature film(along with a serialized radio drama) and while it seems as if the TV version is considered the best of the bunch, I'll probably read the book first. 

With all of the complex themes in Brideshead, the most persistent appears to be that early friendship between Charles and Sebastian, which  may or may not have romantic overtones and the best way to judge that will be by seeing it begin in print:

A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett is a bit more soap opera than Brideshead but it also concerns itself with the trials and tribulations of a wealthy English family. I adore having the British edition of this book(my copy of BSG is also a Brit one) with it's gorgeously glowing with amber hues cover art.

 As to the story, it's all about the Pilaster clan who have made their fortune in banking, with two cousins battling over control of their family's mutual empire, clever Hugh in love with Maisie,who is married to another man and Edward, whose past involvement in the death of a schoolmate could mar all of their futures.

Follett does know how to give us a fun historical drama and since this is one of his stand alone novels, the pleasure should be quite compact here. It may not be big time Masterpiece Theater fare but I do believe that ADF will be as engagingly addictive as any one of those productions and then some:

My thanks to Michelle Miller of Seasons of Reading for these wonderful books and I am looking forward to the next readathon which is scheduled for later this April.

That one is called Spring Into Horror, which I've taken part in before (as well as FrightFall)and have chosen Stephen King titles to revisit in the past. While I do have one in mind, there's also another fearful novel to consider for this readathon.

My Stephen King selection would be IT, which is about to be adapted as a feature film that will be divided into two parts. Unlike it's prior TV miniseries version, both movies are intended to be R rated, which could make for quite the gruesome retelling. Frankly, I was surprised back in the day that they even tried to make this one for network television, given the whole killer monster clown that eats kids set-up.

However, I'm about to receive a review copy of Scott Hawkins' The Library at Mount Char, which does have a supernatural story line that is just as suitable for this readathon. An otherworldly library run by a mysterious Father whose disappearance forces his "children" to descend into the mortal world to find him certainly sounds eerily promising to me.

Yes, I could read both for SIH but the Stephen King is a big page packed book that might make the space for TLAMC a tad tiny there. Still, there is plenty of time to decide between the two and who knows, they might make for an interesting compare and contrast.

So, will it be a visit to the frightening familiar sights of Derry,Maine or discovering a realm of fresh new terrors at Mount Char? Either way, this choice won't be as epic as most book battles are yet with everything else going on in the world right now, this is one fight I'm happy to have:

Friday, March 18, 2016

Checking out some reading recommendations from BookTube

As a reader, finding out how good(or bad) any book is can be quite the exhaustive search these days, between the standard newspaper/magazine reviews to numerous websites and online social media arenas, it's a huge stack of information to look over.

Yet, finding a couple of reviewers that you truly feel you can trust is still a very viable option. One way of doing so is through YouTube with their "BookTube" of friendly folks who are eager to spread the good word about what they're reading, be it old,new or yet to be discovered.

At the moment, I have on my TBR and Current Reading lists a pair of books that have been highly recommended by YouTube channels that I subscribe to. Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia I first heard about from Rincey of Rincey Reads(more about that in a moment) and recently, another rave review of this debut novel came from The Poptimist motivated me to seek it out.

The story is set in two different points in time but in one place: Mexico City in 1988, where fifteen year old Mercedes "Meche" discovers that the music on her records can be used to cast magic spells. Along with her friends Sebastian and Daniela, she sets out to change her life for the better while not heeding the warnings of her grandmother that magic often commands a high price.

Twenty years later, Meche returns home for her father's funeral and runs into her now former friends, going over what went wrong between them in the past and dealing with consequences of their mystical methods. I was able to borrow Signal to Noise from Booksfree and started reading it as soon as it arrived.

The flow of the writing is crisp and compelling, with characters that feel true to life and full of energy. It's a short novel but I'm taking my time with it in order to slowly savor the rich goodness of the story line. Thanks to both Rincey and The Poptimist, I have been introduced to a wonderful novel and a great writer to watch for(she has a second book coming out in October called Certain Dark Things and yes, it has vampires!), which is more than enough reason to be happy here:

Rincey's reviews, I've been following for awhile now and one of the books she raved about,Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown, became one of the best books that I read last year.

So, to accompany Signal to Noise, I had Booksfree loan to me a title that I know she loved, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus. Ever since her novel Americanah received such major acclaim back in 2013, I have been curious about Adichie's work but held back on checking it out. Perhaps the abundance of praise intimidated me.

Rincey's enthusiasm convinced me that I should give it a try. This novel also has a teen protagonist, a girl named Kambili who lives in postcolonial Nigeria and while her family is reasonably well off, her father's religious strictness with both of his children makes their home a harsh place to live at times.

When Kambili and her brother Jaja are given an opportunity to experience life outside of their household(thanks to a visit with their Aunty Ifeoma), Kambili in particular starts to question her way of life and grow up emotionally. From what I've heard, this story has a tapestry of complex characters and feelings that heralds the beginning of great things from this author so I'm pleased to have this book awaiting me once I am done with Signal to Noise:

At the moment, I am waiting for another book that has gotten some Booktube love as well, The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. Not only did Rincey read it and found it interesting enough, there was a great review of the book at The Reading Outlaw, a YouTube channel that I recently began subscribing to.

The library in question exists slightly outside of our regular reality and is governed by the mysterious Father, who has his adopted children specialize in certain arcane subjects in order to maintain the order of the books and possibly the wider world.

When Father disappears, Carolyn decides to search for him on her own yet with the help of a few reluctant mortals. Finding Father may have more than one set of consequences,especially for Carolyn and her various siblings.

 Blogging for Books will be sending me a review copy and I hope it arrives soon, as I may want to read it during the Spring Into Horror readathon coming up in April. The Library at Mount Char seems to fall into more than one category but that shouldn't be a problem for the readathon. Even if it shows up later on, I'm still intrigued to see what this wonderfully weird book is all about:

Having BookTube reviewers to check in with does help a lot in finding great books to read as well as discussing literary topics and current reading trends. It's almost like being a part of more than one book club, only without having to be on the spot with an opinion of the newest selection.

 No doubt some people look to these reviews as the best of both worlds, getting to share a love of books while avoiding the pressure to read more. I think it's not an either/or and yet, find true delight in seeing a new review up on my feed. It's almost like saying hi to a friend while you're book shopping:

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Supergirl sees red, The Penguin's Strange days in Gotham and waiting for a second serving of Outlander

When it comes to Superman stories, certain plot points are expected to be touched on(evil genius enemy, love interest who works in journalism, deadly green rocks) and Supergirl is certainly not immune from hitting those buttons as well.

This week, Kara came into contact with red kryptonite , which tends to make folks like her turn bad to the bone. Red K outings do tend to be wicked fun in the Superman world as it allows our good as gold hero to cut loose and show off the potential damage he/she could do if not for being on our side.

Kara was quite amusing in bad girl mode as she played office politics(that resulted in getting her catty co-worker fired), dressed sophisticated sexy and made some serious moves on the newly single James. However, the fear factor came roaring in as Supergirl got sick of Cat Grant's lectures and tossed her boss over the side of that high rise building of hers.

Sure, Cat survived but was serious shaken up, causing her to warn the public about how dangerous Supergirl now was. Another consequence of Kara's brief reign of terror was that Hank had no choice but to reveal his true identity as the Martian Manhunter, surrendering himself to the authorities once Supergirl was no longer a threat to herself and others.

 As entertaining as it was to see Kara get her dark side of the force on, it's good that the show isn't simply treating this as a one time only-everything's back to normal event. Watching Kara learn from this close encounter with Red K and having everyone else deal with the aftermath as well is good story telling. Although, it was a little scary fun to see Cat take that high dive:

Times have been tough for our fiendish friend The Penguin on Gotham lately, as he has been spending time in Arkham Asylum in order to avoid a prison sentence for killing Theo Galavan.

What he thought would be a smooth ride became extremely bumpy as Dr. Hugo Strange(perfectly played by B.D.Wong) took an interest in "curing" Oswald with his gruesome techniques that make the ones in Clockwork Orange look meek and mild.

 Eventually, Penguin figured out how to play Strange's game but not without a new set of psychological scars to bear. Oswald did try to get some help from Jim Gordon(who barely escaped being charged with Galavan's murder) but was quickly refused. That's going to come back and bite Jim for sure, as Ed Nygma is revving up his Riddler engines to take Gordon down before he looks more into Kristen Kringle's disappearance.

With Oswald now released, it looks like he and his pal Nygma are planning to pay back Gordon together and that should be something to keep an eye on there. Of course, the big story line coming up for Penquin is being reunited with his long lost father(yay, Paul Reubens!) and his new family but I can't help wondering if Dr. Strange is somehow connected with that upcoming development.

Strange did say to his assistant Miss Peabody that he's not done with Oswald yet and still wouldn't tell her anymore than that. Hope that this engaging set-up will lead to something game changing here as Gotham does tend to not finish what they start with certain sub plots:

With some of my current shows taking mini-breaks at the moment, it's hard not to long for the quick return of Outlander, which is scheduled to begin it's second season on April 9th.

I've been reading Dragonfly in Amber(book two in Diana Gabaldon's epic series) and know so far that the main thrust of the plot here has Claire and Jamie stay in France for awhile, doing their best to prevent the Scottish uprising that will historically end in defeat. They make some new friends and allies,plus run into a couple of former acquaintances that they hoped to never meet again.

More than that,I will not say and not just because I haven't finished the book yet(it's a really long one,folks, like all of these books!). I am looking forward to seeing Claire in fabulous ball gowns while being the same sharp tongued kick ass lady that we all know and love her to be, not to mention checking out Jamie in French formal wear:


HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER: The season finale airs tonight and if I were Laurel, I would watch out. Not only did she inadvertently spill the beans on Frank to Annalise about his part in last year's major murder but her attention towards Wes seems to be pushing a few of his jealousy buttons:

Monday, March 14, 2016

Investigating Lois Lane gets the real scoop on an unsung heroine

With DC Comics revving up their engines for the upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie later this month,  part of that super spotlight these days is due to fall upon a new book that highlights one of the most important characters in that fictional universe, a lady of great might and no, it's not Wonder Woman this time.

Following up his excellent take on the Amazonian Princess in Wonder Woman Unbound, blogger and author Tim Hanley gives us the literary results of his research into the main woman in Superman's life.

 Investigating Lois Lane has a rather telling subtitle,The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet's Ace Reporter, that gives you a heads-up regarding the ups and downs of this leading lady's life and times. Lois has been a major player in the Superman universe since the beginning and yet, she's more than just the token girlfriend.

Hanley starts with the origins of the character as conceived by Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster, with both men having romantic involvements with the woman who modeled for the first sketches of Lois Lane(she wound up marrying Siegal).

Lois' tough talking reporter persona was inspired by many of the silver screen figures of the day, such as Bette Davis in  Front Page Woman. The true muse for Lois,however, was Torchy Blane, played by Gloria Russell in a series of movies that always had this eager for the scoop dame looking to join in any crime story that came her way:

While Lois was usually depicted as a smart and savvy woman who often competed with Clark Kent to get the big story, many times over during the various runs of the Superman titles, her intelligence was knocked down several pegs.

The worst of these attempts to dumb her down came during the Silver Age of comics, where numerous story lines had Superman tricking Lois into thinking she was a threat to him and others due to her curious nature. Quite often, his "lessons" were exercises in cruelty that even had some of the fans urging for more harsher punishments!

Fortunately, the early TV adaptations didn't go this route, although the Adventures of Superman show did like to turn Lois around in another direction whenever she came too close to discovering the link between Clark Kent and Superman:

Hanley also chronicles the cinematic versions of Lois that have appeared over the years,along with her live action and animated television depictions as well. I do agree with him that so far, the most lively big screen take on Lois belongs to Margot Kidder, particularly in the first two Superman movies during the late seventies and early eighties.

While Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns and Amy Adams in Man of Steel(and the upcoming  Dawn of Justice movie) did well enough, their performances are lackluster when compared to the vibrant energy and quirky vibe that Kidder gave to the character:

I've been reading this book all weekend and am in the midst of the chapter that focuses on Lucy Lane, Lois' younger sister who pops up every now and then in the Superman universe.

While Lucy does serve a general purpose as a concern for her big sister(not to mention a love interest for Jimmy Olson), she also enjoys the freedom of tapping into the youth culture of the moment,such as the riot grrl movement in the 1990s. Since Lucy is now a supporting player on the  prime time series Supergirl, getting a deeper look into her past history is a nifty bonus:

 As with his prior book about Wonder Woman, Hanley tells the evolving story of Lois Lane in a knowledgeable as well as engaging manner. His research and thoughtful presentation make the pages fly faster than a speeding bullet at times.

 From her start as a "sob sister" in the 1930s to today's more independent journalist who can rescue herself from the clutches of super villains when need be, the  journey of Lois Lane throughout pop culture is just as iconic and inspirational as the Man of Steel at her side.

I intend to finish this delightful book very soon and urge others to pick it up at once. The adventures of Lois Lane make for quite a thought provoking read and it's no wonder that this character has resonated so much with women of all ages from one generation to the next and beyond:

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

A pair of historical women get a fictional focus for Women's History Month

Since March happens to be Women's History Month, many of the books that are being promoted and/or sought after are nonfiction, which is a good source for learning more,of course.

However, if you're more of a novel reader like me, historical fiction can make it easier to check those knowledge boxes while still giving you a bit of entertainment along the way. Granted, they are not meant to be substitutes for the real thing yet they do at least make a fine introduction to these real world heroines there.

 I have a couple of books on my current reading list that I think fit the bill rather nicely in this category. One of them is The Accidental Empress by Alison Pataki, that begins in 1853 with fifteen year old Elizabeth,"Sisi", a duchess of Batvaria whose elder sister Helene is to be engaged to the young Hapsburg emperor Franz Joseph.

 Helene,however, is extremely reluctant to step into this seat of power, let alone, marriage,leaving Sisi to do her best to bring the couple together.However, a mutual attraction between Sisi and Franz is sparked that is hard to ignore and it's not long before the notion of exchanging one sister for the other in the bridal position is obvious to all.

I started reading this book due to winning an ARC of it's recently released sequel Sisi:Empress on her Own, which follows the later years of this legendary lady of the Hapsburg dynasty, plus I also enjoyed Pataki's first novel about the wife of Benedict Arnold, The Traitor's Wife.

Pataki's enthusiasm for her leading lady is evident on the pages and she has a real knack at creating a narrative thread that draws you into the the full tapestry of her story. So far, this tale of Sisi is a lovely ride but I do know that there will be some hard times ahead for this soon-to be queen. Nevertheless, this is a journey of the heart that I want to take with this passionate princess:

The other novel is Sarah McCoy's The Mapmaker's Children, which sets it's story line between the past and the present. As Eden Anderson is trying to fix up her new house along with fixing up her troubled marriage, the discovery of a doll's head in the root cellar leads her to learn more about mapmaker Sarah Brown.

Sarah was one of the daughters of John Brown, the abolitionist who lead the ill fated raid at Harper's Ferry. Little did most people know that Sarah was one of the best artists the Underground Railroad had at their disposal for drawing up escape maps for slave seeking freedom to follow.

As Eden finds out more about Sarah's work for the Underground Railroad, she gets a better perspective on her own problems, some of which they happen to share even across the boundaries of time.  McCoy's writing style has a smooth and steady flow that gently but firmly pulls you in and makes it hard to not turn the page.

This title came from Blogging for Books and I'm glad to have found a new writer to enjoy as I will check out McCoy's other works once my time with this engaging story is over and done with:

Don't get me wrong, I'm not discouraging anyone from reading the many wonderful true stories about women in history. It's just that I'm not qualified to recommend any particular ones and believe me, there are a good number of smart and savvy readers who will be delighted to aid you in that quest. I will,however, look up some of the facts behind the fiction that I'm reading, which should be nearly just as good:

Monday, March 07, 2016

The passing of a true prince of literature,Pat Conroy

It's hard to hear about the loss of another fine contributor to the wider world of pop culture but no doubt it's much more difficult for those who knew and loved that person the best.

Last month, author Pat Conroy announced that he had pancreatic cancer and this past weekend, the disease took him from us. He was only seventy years old, which may seem like a good long life yet that time span feels way too brief.

Many of the novels that Conroy wrote were based upon his life, such as the one that made him a household name. The Great Santini told the tale of Bull Meecham, a lieutenant colonel in the Marines who had trouble keeping his military style out of his home life.

Conroy himself was one of many siblings of a similar father and the 1979 film adaptation,which starred Robert Duvall in the title role, highlighted that troubled father and son relationship so well that it earned both Duvall and supporting actor Michael O'Keefe Oscar nominations:

Another story related to the military connections in his family was The Lords of Discipline, chronicling the four year term of Cadet Will McLean in a prestigious military school. During his time there, he does what he can to prevent a mysterious group known as The Ten from forcing out students who they deem "unworthy" to wear the school ring.

Conroy said that he didn't base the book directly on his experiences as a student at The Citadel(from which he graduated) yet many of the military schools in South Carolina were less than thrilled with his portrait of the corruption within those institutions and didn't allow the filmmakers of the 1983 adaptation to use their facilities in any way.

While he may not have taken directly from life, clearly Conroy's fictional look at how these young men were trained and treated hit home rather strongly:

The book and film version that Pat Conroy's work became best known for was the 1986 novel The Prince of Tides, which became a movie in 1991 that was directed by Barbra Streisand, who also cast herself in the pivotal role of Susan Lowenstein.

The leading man of the story is Tom Wingo(played by Nick Nolte in the film), a man from South Carolina who travels to New York in order to aid his suicidal poet sister Savannah. Dr. Lowenstein,Savannah's therapist, insists on talking with Tom about the childhood traumas that have a steady grip on all of the Wingo family as a means of helping both him and his sister emotionally survive.

Many of the book readers found fault with the film, since it cut down a lot on the family backstory in order to focus more on the romance that develops between Tom and Dr. Lowenstein. I do agree with that as it's really the family issues that are the heart of the novel more than that love affair. However, the film did earn several Oscar nominations that year and Conroy did sound happy to have Streisand make the movie, so I guess it all worked out in the end:

Conroy also wrote several memoirs, including one about the passing of his father(The Death of Santini) and a few other novels(Beach Music, South of Bend). He had a deep interest in helping out others who grew up in military families cope with the emotional toll that life took on them as adults and contributed to the 2006 documentary Brats:Our Journey Home.

I've read several of Conroy's novels but sadly haven't read his renowned memoir The Water is Wide, which talks about his year of teaching disadvantaged students in the remote South Carolinian community of Daufuskie Island back in the early seventies.

 The book was made into two films(one was a big screen version starring Jon Voight called Conrack) and is considered a hallmark of his humanitarian spirit. Perhaps I might take that one up as a tribute to his innate talents both as a writer and a person. Granted, no one is perfect yet it does say something about the man that so many mourn his loss and still have nothing but good things to say about his time on earth:

Friday, March 04, 2016

Preparing to see the last of my Downton Abbey fictional friends

Well, we are truly at the end of the road with Downton Abbey as the final episode of the final season will be airing this upcoming Sunday night. I know that I will not be alone in seeing the Crawleys and their staff take their leave of us, far from it.

With any parting from such longtime companions, there are a few faces that will be missed more than most and to that end, I have pulled together a small tribute to a handful of my favorite folk from Downton whom I shall be quite sad to no longer see on a regular basis:

MRS. PATMORE: This tough talking cook wasn't always a favorite of mine as she rode poor Daisy quite harshly during the first couple of seasons. Over time,however, her tender heart showed and frankly, Daisy's demeanor has lost it's charms for me(I do wish her well, of course).

While not as prone to scandalous subplots as most of the characters, Mrs. Patmore has had her fair share of story line woes. From needing a pair of eyeglasses in order to keep up with her work to trying to get her nephew the recognition he deserved for his part in war and most recently, being accused of running a "house of ill repute", this strong willed lady does her very best to meet those non-culinary challenges thrown her way.

One of the things that made me and other fans grow to love her are those sharp slices of wisdom that she handed out with the daily meals, not to mention those unexpected moments when Mrs. Patmore revealed a heartwarming humorous side, as tasty as any fine five course dinner she's made over the years:

ANNA AND MR. BATES: While the Mary and Matthew romance gained a lot of attention, the love between housemaid Anna and valet Mr. Bates has run a close second with fans the world over.

Personally, I was always more invested in these two as the feelings between them felt much more sincere. True, Anna and Bates have incurred a heaping amount of obstacles that rival the romantic turmoil of their employers, what with murder accusations for each of them, plus a horrific sexual assault to be dealt with both separately and together and now anxiety over Anna's ability to carry a child to full term.

Yet, no matter what, the two of them manage to renew their spirits and their love. While I have no idea how their last plot line will turn out, there is no doubt that Anna and her beloved Bates will stay true to each other long after the end credits run:

LADY EDITH: Of the three Crawley sisters, Edith was set up as the Jan Brady of the bunch, only with "Mary,Mary,Mary" to deal with as her rival. True, she did rat on her elder sister in season one but that attempt blew up in her face rather quickly there.

Over the seasons, Edith has made strides towards being her own person and doing far better than her own family has been willing to give her credit for. From doing volunteer work during the war to running a magazine in London, she's shown herself to be clever and courageous when need be.

Her love life has certainly required courage, from that wedding she was practically pulled away from at the altar to a doomed love affair with a not yet divorced man who died before Edith could tell him of their upcoming baby. Her prospects for true love have been dashed yet again(most cruelly by Mary, no surprise) but there is still a chance for Edith to get her happy ending. If not, we riot:

 COUNTESS VIOLET:  Last but most decidedly far from least, I and countless others will dearly miss that sharper than a sword blade tongue of our dear dowager, who had us right from the start with her query, "what is a weekend?"

Time and time again, Countess Violet has livened up many a plot point or key discussion with her forthright manner and steadfast hold on old school ways. Her battles with many a friend and foe alike(especially cousin Isobel, who is as close to her equal in determination as they come) have given audiences a great amount of delight.

Of course, Countess Violet is not merely the deliverer of amusing one liners and bon mots. She's had a few sad secrets in her past, including an affair with a Russian nobleman that drew her close to causing serious scandal. However, she has come to terms with those lost moments and while her latest campaign over control of the local hospital appears to be in retreat, chances are that Her Ladyship will find something in the aftermath to hold up as a win.

So, as we say farewell to Downton Abbey and it's inhabitants, let our last looks at everyone assembled be happy ones and with any luck, the final words we hear be a final parting shot from our indomitable Countess of Grantham, who certainly does deserve the last word indeed: