Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Setting sail with Melville's Moby Dick

Like many book lovers, the urge to read certain books can come at odd times. Despite my ongoing Hemingway project and being on the edge of starting a science fiction readathon this week, I found myself ordering a copy of Moby Dick online yesterday.

I have tried to tackle this mammoth of a novel before and wound up giving the book away(to charity) because of the massive whaling lore that the story is jam packed with at points. Yet, for some reason, my desire to take on Herman Melville's obsessive opus is strong and can not be denied, at least not now.

Part of this urge may be due to some of my recently started reads,both of which have connections to Melville's iconic book. One is a book about reading fifty "great" books(where Moby Dick is compared and contrasted with The Da Vinci Code) and an upcoming novel by Mark Beauregard called The Whale,A Love Story.

In that one, Herman Melville has just completed his first draft of Moby Dick and is extremely uncertain of it's quality. Due to his friendship with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Melville is introduced to Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose success with The Scarlet Letter makes him a virtual literary superstar in their shared social circles.

Melville and Hawthorne form a friendship that allows the two of them to encourage each other's writing, with Hawthorne's influence upon his new friend becoming stronger than either man realizes due to an unexpected love arising between them. Sounds intriguing and Beauregard's style is readily engaging, so I'm eager to read on:

However, that can't be the whole reason for this. Moby Dick did just have a big publishing anniversary(it's 165th) and that didn't affect me. Granted, the copy I bought happens to the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary edition but I don't think this is a delayed reaction to that literary milestone.

I know the basic story of Moby Dick, due to it being an indelible part of American pop culture, well enough to enjoy Sena Jeter Naslund fictional take on it with Ahab's Wife many years ago. Not to mention the spoofs and homages to it that crop up every so often.

I fondly recall reading an adapted-for-kids version of Moby Dick in my childhood, the kind of illustrated flip book style that could be found in department stores and supermarkets back in ye olde days before online shopping and big box stores. It may have left certain details out,I'm sure, but at least you did get a sense of the plot points there:

Knowing the story isn't the same as reading it and experiencing it for yourself. True, it's a long book but I have tackled bigger books before and managed to tame their wild page counts,plus get a good idea of what the author intended.

What keeps Moby Dick still relevant after all this time,in my opinion, is Ahab's battle with the powers that be and his dogged determination to settle the score he has in his own way.

 That fight doesn't come without a price or causalities, which may not matter to Ahab but can be seen as a cautionary tale for those in positions of authority who have to choose to lead their people either according to what's best for all or their own best interest. When you consider the chaos that we've already seen in this election year, maybe I'm not the only one who needs to read this book right now :

Maybe it's better not to think too much about the why and just do it(when the book finally shows up in my mail box,that is). My other reading projects will continue as planned and it never hurts to add an extra challenge or two, just to keep things interesting.

Since my edition does have an introduction by Nathaniel Philbrick,the author of In The Heart of the Sea which is about a whaling expedition that may have inspired Moby Dick, I might take up his thoughts on the subject in Why Read Moby Dick? but other than the previous books I mentioned at the start of this post, that should be enough to get me going.

Moby Dick may not be the best book that I'll ever read or like even, yet it should be quite the serious story telling adventure to take. Hopefully, my time aboard the Peqoud will be less daunting than Ismael's yet just as emotionally educational:

Friday, May 27, 2016

Dealing with the Captain America situation

I've been an admirer of Marvel's ability to successfully adapt their superhero sagas into major league movies that have garnered both critical and audience love,much more so than their rivals have of late.

That surefooted strategy didn't develop overnight or without any missteps along the way and the same could be said for the print versions of such comic book icons as Spiderman,Thor and the X-Men. However, a new story line was announced this week that clearly has not gone over the way that the creative crew at Marvel expected it would.

In the first issue of a new Captain America series, it was revealed that Steve Rogers is a secret Hydra agent(he even says "Hail Hydra" after taking out one of his allies) and may have always been since his childhood. The editors at Marvel insisted that this is not "an impostor, a clone" or even mind control, that this is really the true face of Captain America:

The reaction online and elsewhere has been extremely negative and for good reason. Unlike other surprise twists given to liven up a comic book franchise(and yes, this is a gimmick, despite the persistent denials by the powers that be), the anger is not "This isn't the way I want my hero!", it's more "How could you do THAT to him?"

Captain America has been showcased as the best of our patriotic intentions since his beginnings when the original creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had him fighting Nazi forces and their Hydra contingent in the 1940s. Over the decades, Captain America's stance on certain things has changed with the times but he's always been a consistent fighter of the good fight there.

To strip away what is the very essence of the character seemingly without any good reason is rightfully taken as a betrayal by long time fans and newcomers alike and for once, I can't blame them for their righteous fury here:

  That being said, I am not endorsing making threats to anyone about this. There are more productive ways of making your feelings known to the folks involved with this series and there needs to be more than anger in your argument to be taken seriously here.

 The choice to make such a dramatic turn like this with such a well known character is more than just a shock and awe deal to boost sales,in my opinion. In reading an interview with one of Marvel's editors about this story arch, I noticed a few things such as it being pointed out that  the head writer of this particular Captain America series is "politically active" and a "Capitol Hill head" which allows them to "talk about political issues in a metaphorical way".

This particular response(to the question about Captain America espousing such beliefs) rang out as a deeper motive for this plot line:

 Again, I don’t want to say anything too definitively because we’re laying out the story. But we want to push that button. There should be a feeling of horror or unsettledness at the idea that somebody like this can secretly be part of this organization. There are perfectly normal people in the world who you would interact with on a professional level or personal level, and they seem like the salt of the earth but then it turns out they have some horrible secret — whether it’s that they don’t like a certain group of people or have bodies buried in their basement.
You should feel uneasy about the fact that everything you know and love about Steve Rogers can be upended. 

In other words, "we're worried about the way this election cycle is going and this could be a wake-up call for folks to vote the right way this November!" I could be wrong but this is what my storytelling sense is saying to me. Using this medium to get a sociopolitical message across is a time honored tradition in comics and done the right way, can be very effective in helping to create real social change. However, in this case, I think that they're preaching to the choir.

Blowback is inevitable for any major shake-up in a fictional world, especially in comics. Even the now classic Death of Superman story line had some fan fallout to deal with but in this case, I don't think that Marvel expected the backlash to arrive as quickly as it did:

Also, the timing for this story was not great,particularly given the sociopolitical climate right now. In times of turmoil, people hold on fast to their fictional heroes in order to renew their faith in the best that life and humanity has to offer.  Not calling for censorship at all, just saying that maybe this particular plot line could've waited a little while longer to appear.

In the end, this Captain America adventure will end with some sort of resolution that will give us the Steve Rogers that we know and love. If you want to follow that series to see how it turns out, go for it. If not, that's understandable but please don't get riled up at anyone else who does.

Instead, take heart that at least the cinematic Captain America is not at all affected by this dark descent(Chris Evans, the actor who plays Cap was just as shocked as the rest of us about this) and if you need to revive your spirits,just press play and watch Steve Rogers fight that good fight as he was truly meant to do:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

My Year with Hemingway welcomes A Farewell to Arms

While my list of books for My Year with Hemingway project isn't set up as a one-per-month deal, I did find myself wondering why a relatively short book like A Farewell To Arms was taking so long of a time to finish.

The edition that I own is about three hundred and thirty two pages, which for a major novel is a moderate page number. Other personal factors(including a readathon break) came into play but my ultimate conclusion upon turning that last page this morning was that this was a story that worked best when taking a good amount of time to fully absorb it.

On the surface,AFTA seems like your typical war time romance; boy meets girl, boy goes off to war, boy seeks girl out after the battle is done. However, when it comes to Hemingway, things are never that simple despite his style of simply laid out sentences.

  Lt.Frederic Henry and Catherine Barker are thrown together by chance but also by choice. Henry is an American who chose to join the Italian forces during WWI as an ambulance driver while Catherine is a British nurse who volunteered as well. Their connection is intense, made more so by the ever present war fare nipping at their heels.

Henry's emotional and physical journey truly takes off when during a retreat from battle, he is separated from his men and forced to flee, due to officers being executed by those seeking a scapegoat for their military loss. His main motive for survival is Catherine,who is pregnant with his child, but also the sheer determination to get as far away from the collapsing battle front as possible:

 While A Farewell to Arms is a solid enough love story, the most vivid parts of the book are between Lt. Henry and his fellow soldiers in those calm before the storm scenes during meals or sharing a drink as well as the long trek that he and his men go on after the retreat has begun.

You can feel the mud beneath your feet or that tang of frustration in the air as Henry and company are trying to figure out which move is the right one to take next. Don't get me wrong, his romantic reunion with Catherine is great and their time spent together in Switzerland is an oasis of relief in the narrative.

However, when it comes to love and war in this novel, it's the war that wins out in the end. There's a bit more depth of feeling in Henry's friendships with the men he meets such as Rinaldi(who he even brings up briefly to Catherine once they're reunited),the priest that he encounters from time to time and even Count Greffi, a mentor of sorts who he spends one afternoon with.

There is a solid spark between Lt. Henry and Catherine yet it has a steam pressured energy to it that is destined to fizzle out once they hit the shores of conventional life.  In my opinion, their entire relationship is firmly cemented by the time and place they're in, which is not to say that their love wasn't true. It's just that like many romances that spring up during times of tension due to greater outside forces, Catherine and Henry's long term chances weren't the best.

I suspect that Hemingway sort of knew that(he probably wouldn't admit it) when he wrote the tragic ending there. Granted, the real life love affair that he had which inspired this book didn't end the same way but I have no doubt that he felt it was just as harshly painful. The ending does have an abruptness to it,which does suit the whole tone of the story but I can see some people not being happy with that. Well, if you're looking for a happy ending, Hemingway is definitely not your man:

Speaking of Hemingway's inspiration for AFTA, I also watched the 1996 film based on that story entitled In Love and War.  I had my doubts about Chris O'Donnell playing a young Ernest but he did reasonably well. However, he and Sandra Bullock(as American nurse Agnes von Kurowsky) didn't really have much onscreen chemistry there.

The two of them do their best but there's a very stagey vibe to the whole film that they can't quite shake off. Frankly, it might have been better to turn this production into a made for TV movie, as the style of acting and story telling is far too small for such a vastly arrayed cinematic canvas that director Richard Attenborough provides. Visually, it's  lovely looking but there is a hollowness that even he is unable to fill.

The screenplay is based upon a nonfiction account of the romance between Hemingway and von Kurowsky but with several screenwriters attached, it clearly shows that there was some debate over how the overall story line should go. The reviews were not great as many pointed out that the true facts of the story were changed(for example, Hemingway and Agnes never met again after their time in Italy) in order to make a more "romantic" film.

That sound valid but I'm sure that some people like it anyway because of the romance and that's valid,too. It reminds me in a way of the Anne Hathaway Jane Austen biopic Becoming Jane; while far from the most accurate retelling of an author's life and times, it does have enough pleasing elements to make it watchable there:

Well, I am glad that I took my time with A Farewell to Arms. Some meals taste better when slowly savored rather than rushed down in one gulp. I don't know if I will reread it at some point in the future but then again, I might enjoy it more the next time around.

My next read for My Year with Hemingway will be Erika Robuck's Hemingway's Girl, set in Key West,Florida where Hemingway resided with second wife Pauline but the leading lady here is Mariella, a maid in the Hemingway household who finds herself influenced by the author in more ways than one.

I'll most likely pair this with a look at Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure, which does make a stop in Key West. Should be a good way to start my summer off nicely. To wrap up this time with AFTA, I have chosen yet another song that I think is a suitable theme for the story. Yes, this also happens to be the theme song for the popular cable drama Outlander but the passionate power of this melody speaks to the epic nature of the book to me:

Monday, May 23, 2016

A frenzy of fall TV trailers hits our start of summertime shores

With so many shows wrapping up this spring, you would think that a leisurely pace for summer television was about to begin.  Instead, the networks are already flooding us with promos and trailers for their upcoming fall shows. Slow down, you're moving too fast there, people!

Well, since the buzz is now out of the bag, we might as well tune in to see if there's anything worth waiting for. Top on my list is the news that Supergirl will be having a second season on the CW network. It only makes sense, since it's being produced by the same team that has The Flash(which gave some crossover props to Supergirl on S1), Arrow and DC's Legends of Tomorrow on the same roster and doing rather well over there.

There is some concern that Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant may not be as prominently featured on season two, due to the show shifting from L.A. to Vancouver for their shooting schedules. Since Cat Grant has become a fan favorite, I do think that they'll find a way to keep her around somehow. The CW is promising that there will be a four part crossover event next season, now that Supergirl is on board, and I'm so thrilled to have the Maiden of Steel get a well deserved second shot:

Sadly, another super gal was grounded as ABC cancelled Agent Carter yet offers us a consultation prize by giving leading lady Hayley Atwell a brand new series called Conviction. Set in modern times, Atwell plays Hayes Morrison, a former first daughter with a bad girl rep who is given an offer she can't refuse.

The choice between going to jail for her latest escapade or using her lawyer skills to lead a new task force devoted to overturning wrongful convictions seems to be an easy one yet not without it's challenges and emotional conflicts.

I may give this a chance, although I feel that Agent Carter really earned another season there. Still, Hayley is a marvelous actress with or without being part of a superhero team and she does need to be seen in more than one type of role. Hopeful, this series will give her more of the spotlight that she deserves:

Meanwhile, the big sci-fi concept for next fall seems to be time travel, with two of the Big Three networks having new shows with that nifty feature in them.

 Perhaps part of the reason for that is due to the success of Starz's Outlander(not to mention DC's Legends of Tomorrow) or maybe someone re-watched Time Cop and thought "hey, why don't we do something like this?" Since both series have time travelers hunting down criminals, that last idea makes way too much sense.

First up, NBC has Timeless, which stars Abigail Breslin as a history professor recruited to lead a team to track down big bad Garcia Flynn(that name just sounds giggleworthy, I swear), who has stolen a time machine and is out to change history for the worst. This might be fun but it does feel a little too eager to please here. With any luck, this could be a fun time had by all but let's wait and see on this one:

ABC,however, is giving us Time After Time, which may prove to be the stronger show. This series,based upon a novel by Karl Alexander, has a solid set-up as H.G. Wells(Freddie Stroma) uses his newly invented time machine to follow former friend John Stevenson(Josh Bowman) into the future.

Turns out, his buddy happens to be notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper who at first is simply out to flee justice but soon finds the twenty first century much to his liking. Wells manages to team up with a modern day woman in order to stop Stevenson's planned murder spree yet there may be more consequences to his time hopping than he realizes.

Time After Time was originally made into a film in 1979,starring Malcolm McDowell, and it has a nice cult movie status without being an overexposed media item. Kevin Williamson is in the producer's seat here and he does know a thing or two about getting fantasy fare to work on the small screen. It might be tricky to expand the story line in order to be more than a one season wonder but then again, I didn't think that Once Upon A Time would last long,so all signs are pointing to "yes" on this series being a hit:

There's more TV trailers of the fall out there but for now, I think that sticking to the summer season ahead of us is best. At the very least, I do have my cooking shows to fall back on for some warm weather relaxation but even that serene pop culture kitchen can heat up quicker than expected:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Family reunions and fiery displays on GOT,Outlander's time travel issues and a doozy of a finale for Daisy on Agents of Shield

I have to say that I do actually like not knowing what will happen next on Game of Thrones, now that readers and non readers are on the same page, show wise.

 Just this last episode, we had the amazing surprise of three family reunions with Theon arriving home in time to help his sister claim the Greyjoy throne and Margery doing her best to encourage her broken brother Loras during their mutual imprisonment.

Of course, the major reunion was between Stark siblings Sansa and a freshly raised from the dead Jon Snow. After so many near misses for these kids to find each other(or at least some family that wasn't dead), this was a wonderful moment to cherish indeed. Especially since Sansa is now showing a stronger, more mature side and with Rickon now in peril as a prisoner of Ramsey Bolton. I think we will see some Starks in Winterfell yet again:

Meanwhile, as Tyrion is working on stabilizing Meereen, Dany made her power play with the Dothraki khals, thanks to a bit of help from Jorah and Daario. Using her invulnerability to fire, she not only took out the entire male driven leadership in one hell of a patriarchal pyre but regained an army of devoted followers to boot.

I do hope that this soon leads to Dany reclaiming her dragons and heading out to Westeros sooner rather than later. With the White Walkers making their way North, some serious fire power is going to be needed, not to mention that it's time for King's Landing to become Queen's Landing:

On Outlander, things are getting more hopelessly complicated as Claire and Jamie keep trying to thwart the seemingly inevitable Scottish rebellion but their plots appear to be no match for the forward march of history.

Their most personal time line predicament is the one where their mutual enemy Black Jack Randall has to stay alive long enough to sire a child in order to keep his bloodline going,so that Claire's future husband Frank can exist. I'll try not to get too book spoilery here but this does need to be gone over in some detail.

For Claire to have gone back in time in the first place, she must be in Scotland during the right time in modern history and the only reason she was there to begin with was due to Frank. If she meets someone else, then her whole romance with Jamie,along with any children they might have, would not have happened at all. With Black Jack and his future descendant Frank practically being doppelgangers, this is an absolute certainty.

Claire getting Jamie to reluctantly agree to hold off on his well earned vengeance was not an easy thing to do and it's a vow that Jamie winds up breaking for a very good reason,which is leading to some painful moments for all involved. However, that's the price of time travel as well as attempting to alter fate, a task that only the strong hearted can survive:

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had their two hour finale this week and quite a toll was taken on Daisy, who was suffering severe withdrawal from the parasite clutches of Hive.

Wracked with massive guilt over the things she did while under Hive's sway, at one point, Daisy begged Hive to put her back under his control. That proved to be impossible, since Lash's power made her immune to any reattempts there. So, she did the next best thing, which was to have an awesome throwdown with the ultimate Inhuman there:

Daisy had plans to redeem herself by being the one to take the huge sacrificial death seat in order to stop Hive's scheme but Lincoln,her Inhuman boyfriend, was tapped for that honor instead.

Her emotional devastation over that is understandable, given that she was shown this particular demise via a vision from another Inhuman,who died to save her. We do get a "six months later" ending where Daisy is on the run and apparently using her powers for possibly good in a bad way purposes(plus, ramping up her abilities there).

I am looking forward to next season yet concerned that the network may not be feeling the same way. Between canceling Agent Carter(glad to see Hayley Atwell get a new series but still,...), calling off the Shield spin-off series before it even started filming and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. being pushed back to a later time slot this fall, it looks as if the powers that be are losing interest here. I hope that's not the case, as this show has really come a long way from where it began and has a lot more good times to give us in the future, if they only keep this game going strong:


EUROVISION: For the first time ever, this international musical competition was aired in the US and audiophiles as well as new viewers rejoiced upon watching the amazing talent and showmanship of these singing sensations. My whole family spent that Saturday watching this show unfold in all of it's glory and we applauded when the winner was announced.

 Congratulations to Jamala of Ukraine for her heartrending tribute to the plight of her grandmother back in "1944" and we all salute your musical strength in bringing this song to life:

Monday, May 16, 2016

Making some sizzling and sassy selections for my Summer Reading List

I know that we're still midway into May but the summer season does start earlier and earlier and setting up a reading list should be done in reasonable advance.

Mind you, this is only a partial list of what I plan to read this summer and my starting point is going to be the Sci-Fi Summer readathon in June(not to mention My Year of Hemingway project, for which I will have an update soon). However, I thought it would be fun to share some of my literary mental vacation spots for the upcoming warm weather days:

A FINE IMITATION: Thanks to Blogging for Books, I have a chance to check out Amber Brock's debut novel which is set in New York during the decadent days of the Roaring Twenties. Vera Bellingham has the seemingly perfect life that many in her social circle would desire but her joyful,carefree lifestyle is just a hollow shell that conceals her boredom and loneliness.

When a French artist named Emil Hallan is commissioned for a mural to be painted above her fabulous underground pool, Vera finds herself not only in love but involved in a web of secrets and lies about more than one person's past that could change her life forever.

The story sounds intriguingly stylish and a good blast from the past with mystery and romance feels like a great recipe for a cool and classy literary cocktail:

HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK: Speaking of a blast from the past, I decided to take up this previous work by Terry McMillan due to currently reading an ARC of her upcoming novel,I Almost Forgot About You, which also deals with a mature woman looking for a fresh change to her dull daily routine.

Now I know that the real life romance that the author had which helped to inspire this story didn't turn out too well(to put it mildly) yet seeing how well this tale of May-December romance holds up today ought to be interesting. Not to mention that some old dance steps never do go out of style:

THE BRIDGE LADIES: For something a bit more Golden Girls, I plan to engage with Betsy Lerner's memoir about the time she spent with her mother's bridge group. Upon moving back to her home town of  New Haven,Conn in order to aid her widowed mom, Betsy slowly became a part of that inner circle of card playing women who she thought were simply outdated in their ways.

However, she soon learned that there was more to this group than sharing a game together. Upon interviewing each of the members, Betsy heard their stories of life,love and how women learned to cope with many of the situations that the younger generations are still facing today, only with much different methods and means.

Betsy does learn how to play bridge(something I've never done,although I can play some poker) and learns so much more about her own mother and her generation of women. This may sound like a rather sedate summer read but I think it can just as compelling as any fast paced fiction,even more so perhaps:

THE YEAR OF READING DANGEROUSLY: One of my favorite nonfiction genres is books that talk about books and Andy Miller's reading journey sounds like my cup of quirky tea.

Miller is an author and editor who ,upon turning forty, decided to tackle some of the titles that he had neglected in the past. He didn't set up a strict timetable but did intend to read fifty books within a year. Some of his reads included Middlemarch, War and Peace and Moby Dick, which he found could be rather well compared and contrasted with The Da Vinci Code.

Books like this often have inspiring recommendations and while I don't know if TYORD will get me to try Moby Dick again or something completely different like The Master and Margarita,I am eager to look over his reading shoulder for a little while there:

I have several more books set aside for the summer(my list is a bit work in progress at the moment) and am happy to be on the look out for more. The best thing about summer reading,in my opinion, is that it's a great excuse to stay indoors. I know,I know, reading outside is considered the best by many but what with the heat, bugs and limited comfy seating, sitting by the fan with a cool drink and a good book is my ideal arrangement for summertime reading:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Catching a Chicago breeze to some promising BEA books

Back in my bookseller past, attending BEA(Book Expo America) was one of the best experiences in my reading life. Being around all of those authors,publishers and other literary folk as we gather together to preview some of the upcoming books for the rest of the year was a joy like no other.

While that pleasure is beyond me for now, especially with BEA taking place in Chicago this year, it's still a fun time to be had by all of us who adore books and thanks to social media, we can get an inside look at what's going on there as well as take a peek at a few of the new books they're talking. So here are a quartet of new novels that are set for a special highlight at BEA this week:

CITY OF MIRRORS: Justin Cronin completes his trilogy of post apocalyptic vampire novels,as the world is on the brink of being reclaimed by humanity now that the last of the Virals,those who started carrying the deadly infection, have been destroyed.

However, there is still one remaining threat to be found. Zero, considered the "Father" of the original Twelve is unaccounted for and his only reason for continuing to exist is the desire to eliminate Amy, the legendary "Girl From Nowhere" who has more to give her human friends in order for them to truly restart society.

As much as I loved The Passage,the first novel in this series, I'm ashamed to say that I haven't read the second installment,The Twelve, yet. Clearly I have some catching up to do here as Cronin's amazing prose is something not to miss out on:

THE GIRLS: Emma Cline's debut novel takes place in California during the latter edge of the '60s, when fourteen year old Evie finds herself drawn to gain the friendship of Suzanne, a seemingly free spirit hippie girl.

At first, Evie is tolerated by Suzanne and her much older group, including Russell, their acknowledged leader, but soon she becomes a part of their new "family"-a bond that is destined to lead to a gruesome end that will make horrifying headlines.

While this book does appear to be inspired by the Manson family, Cline's take on that national tragedy focuses on the emotional impact felt by the young women lured into such a deep thrall that would allow them to do the unspeakable and deal with the aftermath for years to come. That shift in narrative sounds like an intriguing fictional road to take here and one that I think many will want to explore as well:

EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN: Chris Cleave's new novel follows three Londoners who are seeking a way to useful as WWII arrives on their doorsteps. Eighteen year old Mary leaves her posh finishing school to join the War Office, who assigns her to teach school children about to be evacuated.

Through that position, she meets Tom,a young man who feels that the war effort is better served by him staying behind to keep things organized. His roommate Alistair enlists, partly due to his eagerness to fight and partly due to his interest in Mary, who shares his feelings and also the desire not to unduly hurt Tom.

Cleave based some of this story upon his own grandparents' experiences during the London Blitz and he really went the distance with his research, even switching to a diet of rations much like the one English citizens had to survive on at the time. I must confess that I haven't read any of Cleave's previous work, including the highly acclaimed Little Bee, but apparently it is I who is the poorer for that and hope to make up for that literary lack soon:

THE TRAP: Debut novels are like catnip to me and this first time thriller by Melanie Raabe has quite the enticing premise. Bestselling author Linda Conrads has been living like a recluse for over ten years, haunted by the unsolved murder of her beloved sister Anna.

While watching the news one day, Linda spots the man who she believes in her heart is Anna's killer and decides to use her literary talents to expose him to the world. She writes a novel based on Anna's demise, with special hints placed within the book to get the murderer to come out into the open, using the keen public interest in her story to set out even more snares for her suspect.

This really sounds like a good old fashioned nail biter of a tale and one that I will be looking forward to hearing more about this summer:

I do hope that BEA is still plenty of fun for the book community and wish all of the attendees a wonderful time in Chicago. From what I hear, it's a true haven for book lovers and a place filled with excellent literary stops to explore:

Monday, May 09, 2016

Bookmarking some film adaptations at The Movie Trailer Park

This past weekend, Captain America: Civil War did very well at the box office as well as with critics and audiences, clearly showing a certain other comic book company the right way to set up a major shift from page to screen.

However, we do have a few other book-to-film features coming up this summer season and whether you're more inclined to sit in the shade with a good read or need something to flip through while waiting for the next Star Wars movie at the multiplex, one or two of these coming soon flicks might make those entertainment choices a little bit easier.

First up is Me Before You, based on Jojo Moyes' bestselling novel. Emilia Clarke(yes, the Mother of Dragons from Game of Thrones) stars as Louisa, a young woman who drifts from one job to next until she is hired to be the companion of Will(Sam Claflin), a wealthy banker who has grown bitter due to his paralysis due to a car accident two years ago.

Sam's outlook on life starts to change from Louisa's cheerful influence and a deeper connection is formed yet the future for them both may not be as happily ever after as it could be. Moyes wrote the screenplay,so fans of the book should expect this story to turn out as well as it does on the page:

For a younger crowd,either age wise or young at heart, there's a new Roald Dahl adaptation that's been a long time in the making. Recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance plays the title role in The BFG(Big Friendly Giant), one of the smaller beings of his kind who recruits orphan girl Sophie(Ruby Barnhill) for a mission that could help both giants and humans alike.

Steven Spielberg is at the director's helm here, with a script by ET scribe Melissa Matheson, and this is a project that his company has been trying to get off the ground since 1991. There was an animated version of this beloved children's book made for TV back in the late 1980s but I think that readers will be extremely delighted to see this charming tale in vivid live action form:

Someone is hoping that the third time is the charm for another version of Ben-Hur, complete with the now iconic chariot race scene. However, this recent remake,written by Keith Clarke and rewritten by John Ridley, is said to be going in a different direction from previous adaptations of the Lew Wallace novel.

The basic set-up is the same, as Judah Ben-Hur(Jack Huston) is framed by his adoptive brother Messala(Toby Kebbell) for treason and serves a lengthy sentence of slavery.  To gain the revenge that he seeks, Judah undergoes training by Sheik llderim(Morgan Freeman) in order to become a champion charioteer.

 Since this is a late summer entry, I'm not sure that the studio is fully behind this one but perhaps it might be an entertaining surprise. At the very least, it should revive interest in the source material and/or the old school Charlton Heston movie, which is quite the classic to live up to:

There are more book based movies to come before the year is out but I suspect a good number of them will be released in the fall, the better to attract that Academy Award seasonal buzz.

A very much talked about thriller scheduled for October seems to be following the footsteps of Gone Girl there as The Girl On The Train, based on Paula Hawkins' highly praised novel, has that same sense of in depth mystery.

Emily Blunt stars as Rachel Watson, who copes with the pain of her divorce by taking the train down to where her former husband Tom lives with his new family. During those daily trips, she spies upon one of Tom's new neighbors as sort of a delusional hobby but one day, Rachel sees something that shatters that secretive fantasy and turns her into a possible real world suspect.

That sounds a movie worth seeing right now but as they say, good things come to those who wait and besides, that also gives us plenty of time to check out the book. When it comes to books made into movies, I find the popcorn pleasure of both to be the ultimate double feature:

Friday, May 06, 2016

Setting up my Sci-Fi Summer reads

No sooner than I have finished up with the last book in my Spring Into Horror readathon, Michelle at Seasons of Reading announces a brand new addition to her readathon roster.

 The Sci-Fi Summer readathon, which begins on June 1st and ends on the 7th, is slightly different from most of the other reading challenges at SOR in that it's more genre focused. For that week, you have to read either science fiction or fantasy, unlike some of the others that allow books from other categories. Now, I'm not a big sci-fi reader myself but in looking around my vast stacks of reading material, there are at least three that I think qualify for this special event:

STATION ELEVEN: This is one of my recent birthday presents and since it does take place in a post apocalyptic world, I think that this book will do nicely for this challenge.

The story follows a traveling band of actors touring about the remnants of a society struggling to make do after a vicious plague. They offer what comfort they can by performing the plays of Shakespeare, using the motto "survival is insufficient" but even so, some are opposed to this gesture of artistic good will.

The book has won heaps of praise from readers and critics alike, as well as awards including the Arthur C. Clarke last year. I'm glad to have such a great opportunity to indulge myself with such a beloved modern classic in the making here:

THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION: I'm sure some of you are reading the title alone and thinking "How is this science fiction?" Well, it happens to be set in an alternate time line, which is one of the numerous themes to be found with the genre and Michael Chabon is no stranger to flights of fancy in his writing there.

In this universe, Sitka,Alaska has become the refuge for Jewish citizens fleeing Nazi oppression during WWII and homicide detective Meyer Landsman has landed a murder case that could have worldwide implications as it links to a plot beyond their borders.

This novel has won a slew of awards in this category, including the Nebula,the Locus and the Hugo, and I've liked Michael Chabon's style ever since I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It's been languishing on my TBR pile for far too long and this Sci Fi Summer is high time that I get into gear with this one:

THE TOMMYKNOCKERS: When it comes to these readathons, I have a hard time resisting a Stephen King reread but it has been a very long while since I opened up this one. The book begins with Roberta,aka "Bobbi", a writer of Western stories who stumbles upon the edge of a spaceship out in the woods near her rural home in the small town of Haven,Maine.

As she begins to dig up the ship, the energy coming off of the vessel begins to change Bobbi and the rest of the town in ways that seem both good and bad. Only a visiting writer pal of Bobbi's is seemingly immune to these affects,with him alone having to lead the charge against the deadly alien influence growing all about them.

Granted, this is not one of King's better books(he's not a fan of it himself) but it does make for interesting reading and is certainly less goofy than the made-for-TV miniseries adaptation that aired in 1993:

Those are my picks for Sci-Fi Summer but I do have a few suggestions for folks not sure about what other types of science fiction are out there, with a brief list of authors to check out:

Margaret Atwood: She does tend to genre jump but her sci-fi works are solid reads. While she does have a trilogy of novels set in a futuristic world ravaged by genetic experimentation(Onyx and Crake, Year of the Floor and Maddam), if you haven't read The Handmaid's Tale, that is the place where you should start.

This tale of a woman forced into biological servitude due to the rise of a staunchly religious dictatorship has become a true classic and with Hulu now in the works to adapt it into a ten part miniseries, interest in this book will be higher than ever. Atwood claims that she doesn't write sci-fi but this certainly fits the bill and then some:

Ernest Cline: If you like old school pop culture, movies and video games, then you should adore the works of Ernest Cline. His first novel, Ready Player One, hit the ground running and is currently being made into a Stephen Spielberg flick.

The hero of the book is Wade, one of the many members of a trampled down society who plug into the available to all massive video game OASIS, where devoted players are in search of a set of keys left by it's creator that will lead him or her to find a vast fortune.

Wade happens to find one of these keys, much to his surprise, and his adventures in both the virtual and the real world begin. It's an amazing journey that references Back to the Future, War Games and Blade Runner among other cinematic gems and so much more. Cline's latest book Armada also has a video game theme(this time with space aliens) but if you haven't read RPO, that is the place to start especially before the movie comes out:

Dean Koontz: While many of his books fall into the horror category, there are several that have science fiction themes such as Watchers, Strangers, Lightning and so many more. He's a great developer of characters who you can't help rooting for or hoping to see them defeated in their twisted schemes.

One of the first Koontz novels I read was Watchers,which was made into a terrible film, and one that I strongly recommend. However, Phantoms does have it's merits and Ben Affleck was the bomb in the movie version. Personally, I think it's shame that Koontz hasn't had a truly decent film adaptation of his books on either the big screen or the small but that's a topic for another day:

There's plenty of time to sign up for Sci-Summer and you can check in at Facebook or follow the Twitter tag #SciFiSummerJune for more details. This sounds like a fun way to start off the summer reading season and certainly offers up a break from the usual rock-em-sock-em sci-fi fare that we get at the movies that doesn't always pack a popcorn worthy punch:

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Winter and Snow are coming to GOT,secrets and spies on Outlander and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a deadly Daisy to deal with

Before I get into the big "OMG" moment on Game of Thrones this week, I want to take a quick look at Arya. Her blind beggar status seems to have earned her a reprieve from the bad graces of the Faceless Men and re-admittance back into the House of Black and White for more training.

I hate to get into book spoilers but I need to slightly do so here. In the last GOT book I read, Arya's blinding was part of her initial training although her teacher had doubts about her ability to fully commit to giving up her identity completely. On the show, they seem to be making this part training and part punishment for her past disobedience, which does fit in well with Arya's character growth. Since the series is tweaking things a bit different from the source material, I just hope that they keep Arya on this warrior woman path and allow her some sweet revenge at a future point in the long game:

While the big headline is all about Jon Snow being revived from the dead, let's not forget that Bran Stark is reemerging as a player on the field.

 Being trained in visions from the Three Eyed Raven(having Max Von Syndow on board here is amazing!), particularly in looking into the past lives of his family, Bran may prove to be a truly key figure in how the coming war in the North may be waged.

They're going to need all the help they can get out there, as Ramsey Bolton is becoming even bolder than usual in death dealing these days and even with Jon Snow returning to the land of the living, the Night's Watch is far from being the united front they promised to be.

As not surprised as I am that Jon Snow is back, I just hope that he truly becomes the hero that we all want him to be, especially with Westeros falling apart at the seams there:

Things are much trickier on Outlander this season than the last, as Claire and Jamie must use a very different set of skills in order to achieve their goal of preventing the destined to fail Scottish uprising.

Being placed in high society, playing the social games of French society in those pre-Revolutionary times requires a bit of patience and restraint, something that neither Claire or Jamie are complete masters of. Yet, they are making the right sort of friends,such as Louise de Rohan, whose royal connections are vast indeed, but also gaining them the wrong sort of enemy like the Comte St. Germain, who still holds a grudge about his ship's cargo being destroyed due to Claire warning the authorities about the plague on board.

Claire manages to find unique allies everywhere she goes, as her hospital volunteer work gains her an insightful nun and a mysterious healer who are aiding her(a bit unknowingly) in her quest.

Jamie is not bad at diplomacy either, particularly when he has to broker deals in brothels with Bonny Prince Charlie, not to mention find a young helper named Fergus to run a few spy errands for him. So far, so good but history does seem to find a way to go the way it wants to, which makes the Fraser's mission all the more harder:

As Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D gets closer to their seasonal finish line, the plot points are growing even tighter as it's clear that prying Daisy away from the clutches of Hive could prove to be impossible and/or lethal to all concerned.

With Daisy being more than willing to go the dark distance with her devotion to Hive's agenda, seeing her hesitate to fully take down her former allies at Shield gives me hope that she will find a way to stop this ultimate Big Bad herself. However, that struggle is going to need a bit of an assist there and I suspect that Coulson may have a few ideas about how to offer that help that he's not sharing with the others at the moment.

Daisy's vision of some near to her dying soon(a remnant from contact with a psychic Inhuman) is probably going to come true but I have the feeling that it might not be one of her friends that bites the dust but we shall see soon, I'm sure:


 RIP,DORIS ROBERTS: With Mother's Day coming up this weekend, I wanted to pay tribute to one of best known modern day TV moms,Marie Barone,played by the talented Doris Roberts who recently passed away.

Roberts won five Emmy awards, three of which were for her role as the passionately passive-aggressive matriarch who insisted that all of her meddling was due to "love and only love!" Roberts was an accomplished stage actress before taking her turn on television and in film, giving all of that artistic knowledge to her role that added layers of depth to what could have easily become a one note character.

I've only watched Everybody Loves Raymond in syndication but it has grown on me and while I wouldn't wish a mother-in-law like Marie on anyone, she did have good intentions towards her daughter-in-law Debra even if she showed it in a very Bizzaro way. In some ways, they were more like mother and daughter than in-laws,making that twisted love the heart of the series: