Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, May 29, 2017

Setting up some speculative fiction for my Sci-Fi Summer

First off, I hope everyone is enjoying the first big holiday weekend of summer with some good food,friends and family and of course, a good book.

Part of my Memorial Day plans include getting ready for the next Seasons of Reading readathon which starts on June 1. Sign-ups are still available and I'll be adding my name just as soon as I finish this post.

This is the second year for the Sci-Fi Summer Readathon, which highlights that well known yet easily taken for granted genre and my theme for this literary event is Speculative Fiction. The basic definition of that term means that the story has science fiction/fantasy elements but is more focused on the characters than the technical details of the world they're in.

 At least two out of the three books that I have lined up for this readathon fall into that category, starting with Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. It's the first in a trilogy that is set in a perhaps not too distant future where humanity has nearly been wiped out, due to excessive gene splicing and corporate medicine that caused a major pandemic.

The one remaining human who is still able to tell the tale is known as Snowman, whose only companions are beings he calls "Crakers", hybrid creations of his former friend Jimmy, whose talents may have lead to the destruction of society.

While searching for what supplies there are left at the lab Jimmy used to work at, Snowman goes through his memories to try and figure out how things went as wrong as they did. Atwood seems to have a love-hate relationship with technology, which many of us do, and this opening act ought to make her complete Maddam trio quite the thought provoking show indeed:

Since fantasy is allowed for Sci-Fi Summer, another first in a series book that I'm going to tackle is A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.

This book has a bit of a Beauty and the Beast vibe, as huntress Feyre pays her debt for killing a shapeshifter wolf by living at a mysterious estate owned by Tamlin, a faerie lord who is not as brutal as he initially appears to be.

 Over time, she becomes more attracted to her new home and when a danger than threatens both mortals and fae attacks, Feyre joins the battle to save not only her people but her new friend as well. I've heard a lot about how great Sarah J. Maas' books are from many readers and Booktubers, so this should be a fine introduction to her creative world:

 The last title on my list may be a tricky read, as the main character tells her story in a rather specialized language.

Sandra Newman's The Country of Ice Cream Star is set in a post-apocalyptic America run mostly by children, since a disease that wiped out the adult population doesn't let them live past twenty years old.

Ice Cream Star is fifteen and her older brother Driver is beginning to show signs of "the posies" that will kill him off soon. Upon capturing a stranger named Pasha, who claims to be thirty and says that there is a cure, she leads their small band of followers on a quest to save Driver's life and perhaps all of theirs as well.

 Our leading lady narrates in a mix of made-up slang and other terms from standard English that are loosely adapted. Sure, this does sound a bit like Mad Max:Thunderdome meets Huck Finn there but it's a pretty bold concept to try and pull off. From what I've heard about this book, this may be a difficult journey that's well worth the taking:

Chances are that I will be able to finish two of my three picks(my standard, plus The Country of Ice Cream Star is nearly 600 pages long) but it's not about the destination, as they say. Seeing what everyone else reads is part of the fun and might inspire a few more books to appear on my TBR in the near future.

Thanks in advance to Michelle Stockard Miller, who arranges so many amazing readathons like this, and best of luck to my fellow Sci-Fi Summer readers. The readathon ends on June 7 and the Twitter hashtag is #SciFiSummerJune, so keep an eye out for it.

 Summer is a great time for science fiction and not just at the movies, although it lands at many theaters near us with plenty of fun flaws for real life science folk to point out to us(still going to love those space monster movies anyway,dude):

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sharing my Summer Reading list

With the first official holiday weekend of the summer season coming up, now is the time to talk about my reading goals for this time of year.

In the past, I've tried to be very structured about what I be able to finish by Labor Day and my success rate has been in the fifty-fifty range. So, this time out, my list is small in scale but large in ambition as I hope to complete most of it before autumn strikes back.

Mind you, the books that I'm mentioning in this post are not part of the readathons that I plan to partake in(with Sci-Fi Summer starting June 1 and my TBR for that will be in a future post) or my yearlong Series-ous Reading challenge. These are just a handful of inviting titles that ought to make my summer reading party a fun place to be:

PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee: This is one of my birthday gift books and I really want to dive into this novel over the summer. Every summer reading list has at least one serious book on it and Pachinko is definitely serious as well as smartly written.

 The reviews and word of mouth have been wonderful, not to mention that I was lucky enough to meet the author many years ago at BEA upon the publication of her first book, Free Food for Millionaires, and her charming kindness towards me was one of the highlights of that occasion.

The story takes place in Japan, as a Korean family's fortunes rise through the generations, making the best out of a life they never expected to have. Secrets, lies and prejudices abound, making this a classically themed tale that resonates with modern day life:

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY by Matt Ruff: I've had this book around for quite some time on my TBR and recently was thrilled to find it as there are plans to turn this novel into an HBO series with Jordan Peele as the executive producer.

The plot is set in 1954, as twenty-two year old war vet Atticus Turner and his uncle George leave Chicago and go searching for his father Montrose,who has been missing for some time and believed to be somewhere in New England.

 During their travels, in which George uses this time to update his latest edition of the safety guidebook he writes for African Americans, Atticus starts to wonder why many of the encounters he's had lately are way too similar to the fantasy fiction that he likes to read. Things get even stranger when Atticus discovers that his father is the prisoner of a cabal run by a sinister father and son who plan to gain even further control of their twisted group by using Atticus in an ancient ritual.

This blend of socio-political horror and old school Lovecraftian lit certainly sounds like one hell of a ride and if Jordan Peele plans to add in his own take on this story, Lovecraft Country could do for the small screen what Get Out did to the silver screen earlier this year. With that in mind, I am so reading this book well before the show is ready to air:

YOUNG JANE YOUNG by Gabrielle Zevin: I managed to get an ARC of this upcoming August release, which sounds rather timely in more ways than one.

 Our leading lady is Aviva Grossman, who had to change her name and move to a small town in Maine after she blogged about her affair with a prominent Congressman during her internship days. Said affair turned her into a national joke and that seemed to be the only way out.

Many years later, she's raising her daughter Ruby without any knowledge of that past and doing well otherwise in life. However, the prospect of running for public office threatens to expose that secret not only to Ruby but the rest of the world once again. From what I've heard so far, this story promises to be both humorous and heartfelt, a winning combination indeed:

AUSTEN THEMED REREADS:  With all of the new books out there and yet to be read classics, you can feel a little guilty about rereading something, especially if it's strictly for fun.

Well, I'm giving myself permission to do a little rereading this summer and most of that will be Jane Austen related, such as Jane Austen in Boca(Golden Girls meet Pride and Prejudice), All Roads Lead to Austen(a traveling Jane Austen book club) and The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, based on the popular web series.

I may re-watch some of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries episodes,too. That series was a blast and while they did make a version of Emma and Sandition, I do hope that another Jane Austen web adaptation is in the works. We could certainly use some of Austen's lively wit these days as a most delightful distraction:

I may add on a few more titles as time goes by,we shall see. For now, I feel rather well set up for summer time reading and hope all of you are,too. Please let me know what's on your summer TBR and any goals you may have, reading wise, this season. Reading may be a solo activity but sharing your literary joy with others is truly the perfect topping on your page turning sundae:

Monday, May 22, 2017

Flipping ahead to some fun fall TV

I know, the regular TV season is just ending and the summer shows have barely started yet there's already buzz about new TV for the fall.

 Granted, I'm still adjusting my pop culture meter for the warm weather days ahead of us but there are a few upcoming series set to air after Labor Day that might be worth being on the look out for:

BLACK LIGHTNING: Yes, the CW and Greg Berlanti are launching another DC themed superhero show and this time, the hero is not a twenty-something.

Jefferson Pierce(Cress Williams) has retired from the crime fighting scene in order to provide a stable life for his daughters Jennifer(China Anne McClain)  and Anissa(Nafessa Williams). Becoming a high school principal has allowed him to do just that but the threat of gang violence is pulling Jennifer into dangerous territory when she shows signs of having similar abilities as her dad.

Having no choice to not only protect his daughter but other students as well, Jefferson brings out his old power suit and goes back into action. I really like this concept of an older superhero, a fresh change from the mainstream norm, and even though this show is intended to be separate from the Arrowverse, I wouldn't completely rule out a crossover as Supergirl is in her own dimension as well there and we know that Kara and Barry Allen have teamed up on occasion.

And yes, I fondly recall Black Lightning from the classic cartoon Super Friends and happy to see this character get the fully fleshed out live action treatment that he deserves:

S.W.A.T: Along with superheroes, reboots of old school TV shows have become the norm and cop related series in particular seem to be the current flavor of the fall season.

One of those happens to have former Criminal Minds lead Shermar Moore, as Daniel "Hondo" Harrelson, a newly appointed leader of his S.W.A.T. unit, due to a tragic shooting of an innocent bystander.

Faced with pressures from the department to restore public confidence in his team and resistance from the community, Hondo has a lot on his plate and then some. This show is based more on the 2003 film version than the original 1970s TV drama, with updates reflecting the current state of affairs and that's going to be a tricky line to walk on for this series to survive.

However, Moore has a strong fan following,plus a good amount of natural talent and charisma(yes, I'm a fan girl) and that may go a long way towards keeping this ship afloat:

THE GIFTED: Marvel is expanding their small screen presence with a new series for Fox that seems to be set in a post X-Men world.

Parents Reed and Kate(Stephen Moyer and Amy Acker) realize that their kids have mutant powers which makes them a target for government internment. In order to stay free, the family goes on the run, joining up with an underground movement made up of mutants trying to figure out their place in the world among other concerns.

This seems more in line with the recent movie Logan than the FX series Legion, which sounds good to me. I haven't seen Legion but the need to revamp the X Men franchise in this format is a solid idea and having genre friendly actors like Moyer and Acker on board is a sign of good things to come:

DYNASTY: The ultimate 80s soap opera is going to be reborn on the CW and yes, there is a cat fight scene right in the first trailer and probably the first episode.

 For this take on the iconic show, rich girl Fallon(Elizabeth Gillies) is less than thrilled with her father's choice of new wife, Cristal(Nathalie Kelley) and ready to declare war for control of the Carrington financial empire. Hoping to play her own power games, Fallon finds herself met with opposition and unexpected compromises that include her own brother Steven.

While the show is set into the usual CW mold of drama happy young people paired with seasoned genre pros(Grant Show plays the dad), there's plenty of callbacks to the original series that ought to engage the old school fanbase(did I mention the cat fight?) enough to give it a try:

More fall TV talk is sure to come but for now, I'm satisfied with this set to focus on. After all, we do have a wave of summer time TV goodness to enjoy and if current events get any stranger than they already have, we're going to need as much stress relief TV as we can get.

Oh, one last highlight of the fall to come-Shondaland may have only one season left of Scandal but there's a shiny new series on the way called For The People, which should secure future T.G.I.T. viewings with it's blend of How To Get Away With Murder meets Law and Order for event night fun:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Some more fictional flowers to bloom in June

I know that I did a preview for new June titles already,but as it turns out, there are a few upcoming novels that caught my eye just after that post. So, here's a little extra bonus guide for those looking ahead for beach book buying and borrowing next month.

We begin with Adriana Trigiani's Kiss Carlo, set in South Philadelphia during 1949. Nicky Castone has a good job as a cab driver for his uncle's taxi and telegraph company and a lovely fiancee to boot. However, he's looking for something more fulfilling in his life and when he joins a local Shakespeare theater group, Nicky is in for changes that he never expected.

During a production of Twelfth Night, Nicky has to take the stage, along with Calla Borelli, who inherited the acting troupe from her father and is determined to make a go of it. As the two of them perform on stage, sparks of a more intimate nature start to fly, leading them both to a place they never intended to be at, especially not together.

Trigiani's old fashioned story telling skills and sly wit do suit a Shakespearean background, combined with some modern flair and page turning charm that should make for an enchanting summer read:

Next up is The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green and yes, Sunshine is the actual name of the family. Mother Ronni thought that leaving London for Hollywood would lead to her big break but the best that she ever did in movies only put her on the B list.

Now that she's seriously ill, her three daughters have found their way back to her.  Nell is a strong single mother who was able to find the maternal affection she never received from someone else while middle sister Meredith still plays the peace maker.

Little sister Lizzy had her share of wild times but is now doing well in a more steady job as a pop-up restaurateur, Will this trio of siblings be able to work together to help their mother in her final days or can their relationship get even worse than before?

I'll be doing a full review of this book by next month but I can say that Jane Green is a thoughtful writer who knows how to make characters connect well with each other as well as the reader. This story of off beat women learning to love each other completely has a timeless theme that should resonate wonderfully for more than one generation:

For something sinister, Christopher Bollen's The Destroyers should be chilling enough for the summer heat.

 After Ian Bledsoe realizes that the fortune that his father was supposed to leave him is nonexistent, he takes off for Greece and runs into Charlie, an old friend who is quick to offer him a place to stay on his island retreat. Things are going well for Ian as Charlie gets him a job at his yacht company and the party time never seems to end.

 Yet, he can't help noticing the dubious companions that his old buddy has around him and when Charlie vanishes into thin air, Ian is the one searching for him in order not to be considered a suspect in his disappearance. What worries him the most is the nagging suspicion that Charlie may be playing a game from their childhood and using Ian as a pawn who could really be disposed of for good.

This premise does sound intriguing and I'm seeing a lot of comparisons to Patricia Highsmith in advance reviews for the book, so this may be the one to read before the movie comes out by next summer, folks:

 For the dessert course, we have Nina George serving up some story telling sweetness with The Little French Bistro.

Marianne has been in a miserable marriage for forty years and during a trip to Paris, decides to take a drastic measure to escape once and for all.

Upon fleeing Paris, she winds up at the title bistro in Brittany and instead of going through with her initial plan, becomes involved with the lives of the residents, including a young chef in love, a fisherman who introduces her to the flavor of fresh oysters and an artist seeking inspiration.

While Marianne rediscovers the joys of life, her past is threatening to catch up to her and than means making a firm decision to set her course for the future. George's previous novel, The Little Paris Bookshop, was quite the charmer and this new arrival seems to following in those delightful footsteps:

I hope this additional list of literary summer treats will offer more goodies to savor as the warm weather days approach. Granted, I'm not a beach goer but even I know that any extra source of shade from the sun is useful and why not have it be entertaining as well?:

Monday, May 15, 2017

A passel of period films to unpack in the Movie Trailer Park

In the midst of the big summer movie season we have before, with it's focus on sci-fi spectaculars, contemporary comedies and all out action, it's good to take note of those few films set back a bit further in time and place.

 They seem like old fashioned fare but good story telling in any setting is never out of style.

First up is The Beguiled, a remake of a 1971 movie starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. Here, those roles are taken over by Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, the latter playing the mistress of a girl's school in Mississippi during the Civil War.

When a Union soldier(Farrell) is found injured on their property, the ladies take him in, rather reluctantly, and tend to his wounds. During his stay, a seduction of more than one of the students leads to some very dire consequences indeed.  Director Sophia Coppola also wrote the screenplay, which is an adaptation of a novel by Thomas P. Cullinan and I suspect she might stick more to the source material than the prior version did, we shall see:

Next up is My Cousin Rachel, which is also a remake based on a novel. In this case, we have Rachel Weisz as the title character who is related by marriage to Phillip(Sam Clafin), a well to do young man willing to let his recently widowed relative visit with him.

Naturally, a lot of gossip and suspicion about the mysterious Rachel and her intentions are relayed to Phillip but he would rather judge for himself whether or not she is a dangerous lady. Trouble is, that judgement about her true character may arrive too late.

Roger Mitchell is the director here and as he directed one of my favorite Jane Austen adaptations,Persuasion(not to mention Notting Hill), I have no doubt about the period feel of the film being just right but do wonder how he'll handle a thriller like this:

Speaking of thrillers, Lady Macbeth offers a unique take on the classic Shakespearean character(and yes, it's based on a book). Florence Plugh plays Catherine, a young woman made to marry a much older man whose family keeps her on a tight leash.

During a business trip by the men, Catherine is able to experience a moment of freedom and meets Sebastian(Cosmo Jarvis), a local work man. The two of them start an affair, which leads to discovery and then to murder with more complications than any one involved could imagine.

This movie has been making the rounds on the film festival circuit and set to arrive in the US this summer. I hope that it doesn't become quickly overshadowed by bigger films as it certainly sounds like wickedly good entertainment:

 What may also be a late summer surprise is Tulip Fever, starring Alicia Vikander and Dane DeHaan as a pair of young lovers in 17th century Holland during the height of frenzy for the title flower.

Alicia plays Spohia, trapped in an arranged marriage whose portrait is being painted by DeHaan's Jan, a young artist hoping to make a substantial profit in the tulip marketplace in order to finance a better life for them both.

With such fine actors as Judi Dench and Christoph Waltz in the cast, along with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard(adapting Deborah Moggach's novel), this ought to be a grand story. No guarantees on that, of course, but perhaps by summer's end, this might be a welcome cinematic retreat:

You don't have to wait for summer to find a good period film, although you might have to search the smaller theaters near you for one.

 At the moment, A Quiet Passion is making a limited theatrical run and based on the excellent reviews, it's well worth looking out for. Cynthia Nixon stars as Emily Dickinson, the iconic poet who lived nearly in seclusion in order to focus on her amazing work.

 With a supporting cast made up of such marvelous folk as Jodhi May, Keith Carradine and Jennifer Ehle, not to mention being written and directed by Terence Davies(who gave us a beautiful version of The House of Mirth with Gillian Anderson back in 2000), this is a Classic Lit fan's delight.

Movies like this are gentle reminders that period placed stories are not merely an excuse to wear fancy costumes and have elaborate settings to film in. Instead, they are meant to give us a view of what life was like for fictional characters and real people in times that far from our own yet closer to us than we think, a good lesson that can be entertainingly taught:

Friday, May 12, 2017

Misunderstood moms have their moment for Mother's Day

 Mother's Day weekend tends to bring out the sentimental in folks, particularly in TV and film, and rightful so, considering all any mother or mother figure does for their loved ones.

 Of course, there are those maternal types who are less than ideal and those ladies are widely represented in the pop culture realm as well. However, a few of those love-to-hate moms are not as bad as you think. Granted, some will never be truly redeemable(Cersei, Norman Bates' mom, the Queen of Daxam on Supergirl right now), others are honestly misunderstood.

Yes, they can be overbearing and critical and make many mistakes in trying to steer their offspring towards what she thinks is the right path for them to take. However, every once in a while, their true intentions shine though and showcase their well meaning selves. With that in mind, here are a handful of moms whose wrath can be useful when focused on the proper target:

 MARIE THROWS DOWN: On Everybody Loves Raymond, Marie Barone was the classic helicopter mother, hovering about nearly aspect of her boy Ray's life.

Not even his marriage to Debra and setting up his own family made her pause in her tracks for an instant(especially she and husband Frank lived right across the street from them). Marie's constant presence often made her clashes with Debra even that more intense than the usual mother-in-law/daughter-in-law debates.

However, every now and then, Marie took Debra's side on things, even against her beloved Raymond. One time in particular had her slap her darling boy for insisting that Debra keep her PMS to herself:

EMILY READS THE RIOT ACT: One of the most formidable mothers in TV history, Emily Gilmore and her battles with both her daughter and granddaughter on Gilmore Girls have been epic occasions indeed.

Emily's need for control and rigid standards often made her hard to deal with at times and since she was the source of sharp wit for Lorelai and Rory, verbal bouts with Emily were not something to hastily enter into there.

Yet, one of Emily's best weapons was the element of surprise, which she also used to protect her girls as well. Upon realizing the full extent that the Huntzberger family disrespected Rory, Emily did not hesitate to confront mother Shira right then and there at a charity function, mounting a direct assault with all of the full Gilmore forces at the tip of her tongue:

MRS. BENNET IS NO JOKE:  When it comes to the matriarch of the Bennet clan from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the lines are clearly drawn among the fans. Many see her less than subtle attempts to get her numerous daughters married to rich men and flair for the dramatic to be understandingly off-putting.

Yet, Mrs. Bennet does have her defenders, who insist that she is at least looking out for the best interest of her girls due to the nature of the inheritance laws of that day,which would have impoverished any still single female of the household upon their father's demise.

With that in mind, the series Lost in Austen shows the steel in Mrs. Bennet's velvet gloves as she puts unexpected guest Amanda Price on notice regarding getting involved with her daughter's potential romance:

CHARLOTTE CLEANS OFF THE PORCH: In the story The Help,  one of the least positive female relationships was between Skeeter and her mother Charlotte.

Not only did they have extremely opposite viewpoints about life and how to treat others, Charlotte's resentment of how her daughter felt more connected to their maid Constantine was a factor in severing that bond most cruelly.

Perhaps Charlotte's illness made her see that Skeeter was in need of more support than she was able to give, which is why when the awful Hilly Holbrook came over to threaten her girl, her motherly instincts rose to the occasion:

 So, whether your mom reminds you of Marie, Emily or even one of the tough talking grand dames of Mike & Molly, do keep in mind that they do mean well if they don't display that motherly concern in the standard sweetheart style.

After all, there is something to be said about a take-charge woman, who should be allowed to have the same flaws as any dad in these situations and as much latitude for error in that regard.

Happy Mother's Day to all moms, aunts and grandmothers and to all of the mother types in our lives who do their level best for their families. Sure, they don't use a spoonful of sugar when dishing out advice but when you need serious back-up, they're the ones you want to call:

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A batch of bookish treats to serve up on Mother's Day

As Mother's Day weekend grows near, the choice of presents to buy for this occasion may feel way too standard. Sure, your mom will be happy to receive the usual card/flowers/candy combo but for that gift that keeps on giving, there is nothing like a book.

With that in mind, I have a few suggestions that might help making your holiday shopping a bit easier and maybe you can get an extra copy for your own reading pleasure. First up is a biography of one of the most prominent women in Hollywood who did her best work behind the scenes.

Stephen Galloway's Leading Lady profiles the life and career of Sherry Lansing, who became the first female head of a major film studio in 1980 and her influence brought us such game changing movies as Fatal Attraction, Forrest Gump and The Hours.

 From her childhood days in Chicago to a brief acting stint that landed her a script reader job with producer and future mentor Ray Wagner, Lansing's path through the murky corporate pitfalls and sexist setbacks is well documented. There's plenty of insight into dealing with major stars like Meryl Streep, Michael Douglas and Dustin Hoffman(who was difficult, to say the least) as well as what lead Lansing to leave Hollywood in order to create a cancer research foundation.

You always hear a lot of talk about women in Hollywood but not always their side of the story and this biography is smartly showcasing one of the sharpest ladies that Tinsel Town has ever seen:

Next, we have a salute to those colorful ladies of comic book lore. The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson does more than highlight the mainstream heroines from superhero stories and cartoon friendly creations, it also showcases throughout the decades many of the unsung female leads who paved the way for others to follow.

From Torchy Brown in the 1930s to the likes of Miss Fury during the '40s, we get an introduction to a variety of women and girls with super powers or just super smarts and attitude such as Tomboy, Amanda Waller, Ramona Flowers and the current Ms. Marvel, who make their mark on the times and inspire the next generation of readers along the way.

One of the best aspects of the book is a note for each entry that tells you the availability(or lack thereof) of these characters, some of whom will be hard to find. Based on the amazing backstories that Nicholson provides in this beautifully styled book, these fine ladies will definitely be worth the time and effort to discover their amazing adventures:

For some fictional fare, I wholeheartedly recommend My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman.

The story is told through the eyes of Elsa, a smarter than average almost-eight-year-old girl with a vivid imagination and no other friends than her Granny, who tells her elaborate fairy tales and is willing to do anything to help her granddaughter cheer up after a bad day at school, including breaking into a zoo at night.

Upon her grandmother's passing away, Elsa discovers that she is meant to carry out her Granny's last wishes, namely apology letters for their neighbors whose ties to her family are deeper than she knows. Using her forthright nature and aided by a dog she refers to as a "wurse"(one of the creatures from Granny's stories), Elsa learns a lot about life and how to deal with the hard times that come with it, along with the many grown-ups she encounters along the way.

Yes, the book is sad at times but it's also funny and sweet at unexpected moments. Elsa is an amazing character who comes across as charming,annoying and realistic all at once, not an easy thing to do there. With her love of Harry Potter and knack for seeing the truth in fiction, she's a heroine of epic emotional portions whose journey is as harrowing at times as her favorite literary character is yet uses a very different sort of magic indeed:

If you have a historical fiction fan in your mom, aunt or grandmother, she may enjoy one of  the newest Philippa Gregory sagas. Three Sisters,Three Queens shows the ties that bind and divide among a trio of Tudor ladies, starting with Margaret who becomes the Queen of Scotland and Katherine of Aragon, her sister in law.

Margaret's younger sister Mary becomes a pawn between them as the power plays made by both realms pit them and their children against one another. Even when Mary becomes a queen herself, the royal rivalries only get worse until these ladies realize that they may need each other to survive.

Gregory is a marvel at highlighting the women behind the throne or beside one as they learn to fight on a much crueler battlefield than the men in their lives ever had to. In times like ours, some of those lessons may have to be relearned and hopefully for the better:

 I do hope that this list is helpful for your Mother's Day or spring book buying and if your maternal figure has more books than she can handle at the moment, just get her a nifty new book bag to carry around with her instead. A book bag is always a good gift, especially if you can find one that is truly big enough for all of those necessary reads:

Monday, May 08, 2017

Preparing to take on Stephen King's Dark Tower

With all of the summer movie hype going on at the moment, there is one film that many of us were eager to hear more about and fortunately, we were blessed with a trailer for The Dark Tower.

The movie is set for August, not always a good release time yet there have been breakout hits such as Guardians of the Galaxy(which just launched it's sequel this past weekend) that have arrived in late summer so that date is not an instant cinematic death knell there.

 For those not in the know, The Dark Tower is based upon a fantasy series written by Stephen King that spans seven books,plus a prequel, and there are plans to also have a TV series as well.

For this first film, Idris Elba stars as Roland, the last of the Gunslingers of Mid-World who finds an unlikely ally in a young boy named Jake(Tom Taylor), a resident of modern day New York. Both of them have a common enemy in The Man in Black(Matthew McConaughey), an ancient wizard determined to destroy the Tower which is a source of power that upholds numerous worlds.

 Roland's ultimate goal is to save all realms of reality but that end point keeps getting harder and harder to reach, especially when any help he has along the way is usually rewarded with death:

The trailer looks amazing and if the movie is as half as good, I hope that we get another big screen sequel along with the upcoming TV show. Truth be told, I've only read the first three books in the DT series but now, I feel the time is right to re-invest in this saga.

Not just because of the movie, although it's a huge incentive-I am a long time Stephen King fan and this has become a major work of his, which means that I shouldn't hold off on it, particularly now that it's complete. Also, I did receive a sign from the literary gods and definitely shouldn't be ignored.

As some of you may know, I do some book buying at a local rummage sale at a nearby church during the fall and spring. Well, a week ago, what I do find at the book table but a plethora of Stephen King titles and several of those being illustrated editions of the Dark Tower series. A find like that is pretty rare for a sale like this and one that I knew I would regret not taking advantage of.

 Since I have the first two volumes in my home library, I managed to stock up on Parts 3,4,5 and 7(number six, Song of Susannah I had to pick up elsewhere and the prequel, The Wind in the Keyhole, I'll check out from the library perhaps ).

 Such a thing tells me that my reading project for next year ought to be exploring The Dark Tower books, so that will be one of my book challenges for 2018. It's good to have something like that to look forward to,along with the movie.

Like many fantasy series, The Dark Tower has it's devotees but this isn't the usual epic quest saga there. For one, TDT is a hybrid of several genres with the western being a major influence.

 That steady spoke in the Dark Tower wheel has caused a few folks to grumble about Idris Elba being cast as Roland instead of a Clint Eastwood type, which I find ridiculous. While King has said that movies like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly did inspire the character, he is elated about Elba and if the author is happy, that is more than good enough for me:

Another big influence for The Dark Tower is the King Arthur legend, a story that has been retold and reinvented more times than I can count.

 Granted, many fantasy series have used King Arthur as the root of their story telling tree, however, it's never worn out it's welcome and for good reason.

I don't know which particular version, other than the original source material, that King has as his favorite but I do hope that, movie wise, 1981's Excalibur offered some creative choices to this series.

 I've always enjoyed that bizarrely operatic take on King Arthur with it's gorgeous settings and costumes, along with the grand mythic tone that most of the actors embraced during their performances, especially Helen Mirren as Morgana. Not sure if there's an equivalent character to that wicked witch in TDT yet I'll be on the lookout for one, yes indeed:

For now, it's best to wait for my reading time to begin on(still have a challenge to finish up for this year after all) and even if the Dark Tower movie doesn't do well at the box office, the interest stirred up for established and new readers alike makes it all worth while. As things in the regular world go on, I get the feeling that we'll need to be reminded that there are other worlds that this and who better than Stephen King to be our guide?:

Friday, May 05, 2017

My Series-ous Reading takes me to Green Gables

As part of my Series-ous Reading challenge, I intend to try out some new book series as well as catch up with some of them and to that end, it was high time that I read Anne of Green Gables.

Lucy Maud Montgomery's classic set of Avonlea novels begins with this enchanting introduction to Anne Shirley, a Canadian orphan girl who is sent to the title farm by mistake, as brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert asked for a boy instead.

Their reasons for that preference were practical not personal, as Matthew is getting on in years and could use some help around Green Gables from a younger person. However, when talkative, red haired Anne arrives at the train station, her reception by the Cuthberts is mixed to say the least. While Matthew takes to Anne's winning ways right from the start, Marilla is a much harder sell:

Anne's temporary stay soon becomes permanent, as everyone around her begins to forget how life was without her. Granted, she has a fiery temper and an overactive imagination yet Anne's heart is always in the right place even if her timing proves to be off on occasion.

From various mishaps such as accidentally getting her good friend Diana Barry drunk(due to a mislabeled bottle), buying hair dye that turns her reddish locks green and baking a cake with a flavor that is definitely not vanilla(again, due to mislabeling, which I hardly think is her fault!), Anne struggles to be worthy of life with the Cuthberts and despite Marilla's constant criticisms, she does very well indeed.

Of course, Marilla adores Anne but her natural inclination for plain speaking and humble living makes her express that affection rather reluctantly. Over time, she warms up to Anne and with some encouragement from her shy yet determined to do right by the girl brother, they form quite the little family there.

 Anne's circle of influence reaches beyond the boundaries of Green Gables, not only with her school friends but adults such as the well meaning yet interfering Mrs. Lynde, who gets off on the wrong foot with Anne in the beginning but soon becomes one of her champions:

I feel like one of her champions as well, despite having only recently made Anne with an "e" acquaintance. This was one of those books that passed me by in childhood(I was into Laura Ingalls Wilder back then) and having seen the most recent adaptation on PBS made me want to know her better.

The way that L.M. Montgomery not only develops Anne's character but those of the adults around,particularly Marilla(who I adore), is solid writing for readers of any age and worth noting. Anne's rough ends are smoothed down as she grows up but her passion for living and vivid imagination never dissolves, only matures as they should. Even her long standing feud with Gilbert Blythe resolves itself by the end of the book and you do want to see what happens to the two of them once the last page is turned.

So, will I read more of Anne Shirley's adventures? I think that the answer to that query is yes, although not right away as my TBR cup is running over quite a bit there.

 Even if I don't pick up the next book soon, Anne's influence is still easily found in the pop culture realm, from the new adaptation due soon from Netflix to characters such as Elsa in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You That She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman(which I'm reading right now and trust me, she and Anne would get along like gangbusters) and even Disney's Moana.

 A young woman on an island longing to comfortably fit in but can't resist the impulse to follow her heart and natural inclinations? That is so Anne Shirley and the story of Moana would enchant her immensely as we are enchanted by Anne's heartfelt joy of living:

In the meanwhile, I'll be catching up the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig with the next volume intriguingly titled The Seduction of The Crimson Rose. Here, the sister of the previous book's heroine,Letty Alsworthy, gets her own adventure in the Regency era spy game.

Since Mary Alsworthy would prefer to finance her next season of husband hunting in London on her own terms, she accepts a commission from the snarky Lord Vaughn to infiltrate the French spy ring run by the mysterious Black Tulip.

 Should be a lot of fun and I suspect that Vaughn and Mary will get along like Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara when it comes to making first impressions, that is:

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Rounding out my thoughts about The Circle

 Having a bit of birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, I went out to the movies last weekend and checked out The Circle, which stars Emma Watson as Mae Holland, a young woman eager to start a new job at a big league tech company.

Thanks to an assist from her friend Annie(Karen Gillan), Mae scores an interview and lands a customer service spot in The Circle's vast headquarters, a step up from her rather similar job at a humdrum collection agency.

This new position, however, offers her a variety of perks, from health care that can add her parents struggling with medical costs on to better salary and onsite entertainment such as concerts on the weekends. The Circle appears to be a dream come true but is it really?:

For one thing, more and more peer pressure is put on Mae to stay involved with The Circle,even during her off-hours, and Annie grows increasingly frazzled as her work load gets bigger just about every moment.

A strong note of caution regarding the company's motives comes from a new acquaintance,Ty Lafitte(John Boyega), who was once part of the inner circle, so to speak, and nowadays, is sort of a ghost as he keeps a wary eye on the business he helped to create. Showing Mae a few of the places where The Circle stows it's massive data mining, Ty asks her to not get caught up in the company hype:

Yet Mae does just that, particularly after being recruited by the charming and charismatic head of the company, Eamon Bailey(Tom Hanks) into becoming "transparent", meaning that she live her life with a body cam that uploads instantly online for millions of viewers.

Mae even has her parents involved, which leads to a rather embarrassing incident and inadvertently causes an old friend(Ellar Coltane) to be shamed and harassed on and off line. Her willingness to accept the corporate double speak, with such slogans as "Secrets are Lies" and "Knowing is Good but Knowing Everything is Better", gets to the point where Mae forgets that her actions have real world consequences, which troubles a few of her friends but not her bosses:

I know that this movie didn't do well at the box office or with most critics yet I have to say that I did like it. Yes, it has it's flaws(which I'll expand upon shortly) but I was never bored by the story and part of the reason for that was Emma Watson's performance.

She really drew you into her character and made Mae compelling to watch, even when she made stupid mistakes like stealing a kayak late at night(you have to see the movie to understand). Watson was adept at making Mae very believable, which added much to the overall plot.

I did like that there wasn't any overt "I plan to rule the world!" scheme presented as the company's goal since that trope has been done to death in many movies in this genre. It felt more like the guys running The Circle wanted to see just how much they could get away with and having an employee base of mostly twenty-somethings who are eager to soak up any pseudo-logic to justify notions such as eliminating personal privacy is a clear bonus to that end.

Yet, the movie seemed to be too subtle for it's own good in hindsight, not to mention making little use of John Boyega's character, who would seem to be a pivotal player but was kept on the sidelines too much.

Tom Hanks was picture perfect in his role as the smooth talking man with a plan and even managed to make some of the awkward dialogue that cropped up at times sound elegant. The vast majority of the performances were good(except for Coltrane, he was pretty sore thumb like at times) and visually, the movie looked great. Yet, it does have a glossy feel to it that I can see putting off a lot of folks watching it who expected more of a fast paced thriller due to the trailers.

I haven't read the Dave Eggers novel that the film is based on and since Eggers worked on the screenplay with director James Ponsoldt here, I have to assume that this is what he wanted. However, from what I have heard, the book is more of a social satire with a much darker ending. Maybe someone else should have adapted the script since quite a bit of that got lost in translation.

All in all, I was entertained by The Circle and there's a lot of interesting ideas being showcased here. Perhaps it's another case of "the book was better" or behind the scenes drama in the editing room that we don't know about. I would recommend The Circle for a matinee viewing(which is where I saw it) or for a future rental. It may not live up to it's full potential but there is some food for thought being served up that's worth tasting and talking about:

Monday, May 01, 2017

Spending my readathon time in The Dead Zone and with Miss Treadway in The Field of Stars

This year's Spring Into Horror readathon(hosted by Michelle at Seasons of Reading) ended yesterday and my standard goal of completing two out of three books was met.

Part of that challenge for me was a Stephen King reread, with The Dead Zone being tapped for that dubious honor. For those unfamiliar with the book, the story is set during early to mid 1970s, when Johnny Smith, a happy go lucky schoolteacher, winds up in an auto accident that lands him in a coma for nearly five years.

Once he awakens from that deep sleep, Johnny finds that the world has changed quite a bit, as the woman he loved,Sarah, is now married to another man and is the mother of a little boy. In addition to that, Johnny's mother has gone full deep into her religious mania while waiting for her son to wake up, convinced that God has special plans for him.

Most troubling of all,however, is the minor psychic talent that Johnny had(starting from a childhood incident) which let him have a lucky streak at a carnival game the night of the car crash is now a full blown phenomenon. With one touch, he can see future events such as a house fire happening to one of the nurses taking care of him and past experiences, particular when a rude reporter questions his ability rather harshly.

All Johnny wants to do is recover from his injuries and live a regular life but time and again, that psychic gift(which is more of a curse, in his opinion) brings him into situations that he can help with but at a terrible cost. One of the more gruesome circumstances that Johnny is brought into is the hunt for a small town serial killer, who happens to be a lot closer than local law enforcement thinks:

While that episode is concluded in a sad yet brutal manner, it's a simple handshake that puts Johnny into what could be the most crucial decision in his life as well as the world.

 During a political rally, he makes contact with showboating candidate Greg Stillson and not only realizes that this man is destined to be a future President of the United States but the cause of WWIII to boot. Upon considering all of the options, Johnny takes the course of action that he knows will not go well for him yet to live with the consequences of not doing anything is unthinkable.

Mind you, Stephen King published this book in 1979, long before a certain reality show/real estate tycoon even considered taking that top spot but some of the similarities between him and Stillson are the scariest parts of this novel. Of course, there's no excuse for anyone to copy the actions of Johnny Smith in real life but I can imagine the chills that Stephen King got from watching last year's election.

Other than that eerie aspect, what really makes this book stand out from most of King's writing during this period is that it's a slow motion tragedy for Johnny Smith, a Job-like figure if there ever was one. He's such a likable guy, the kind of person who would make an excellent teacher, a good friend and a great husband/father.

To see those opportunities slip through his fingers, mainly through no fault of his own, really gets you there. It's a beautifully sad book and I'm not surprised that it was well adapted for a feature film in 1983 as well as became a TV series in the mid 2000s that ran for six seasons.

 Johnny Smith is the classic reluctant hero we all can relate to and hopefully, learn to be better people ourselves from without the need for psychic powers or drastic measures. In a weird way, The Dead Zone can make you more appreciative of what life has to offer:

After that, I tackled Miss Treadway and The Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson, a debut novel set in London during the 1960s. The plot sounds like your average mystery story yet there's much more going on beneath the surface.

As American actress Iolanthe "Lanny" Green remains missing from the world and newspaper headlines, her theatrical dresser Anna Treadway decides to take matters in her own hands and go about searching for Lanny on her own. Along the way, she picks up a few allies and finds herself in murkier waters than she expected.

 However basic that sounds, things are far from what they seem. Iolanthe's troubles come from hiding her true identity and family connections while the Irish police detective in charge of the investigation has changed his name from Brennan to Barnaby in order to fit with his British co-workers.

 Aloysius, a mild mannered accountant who joins in the search is a Jamaican immigrant who wishes to be the perfect English gentleman but a random encounter with the police viciously alters that goal in life.

 Anna herself is concealing a dark time in her past that Lanny's situation is strongly reminding her of and even her former coffee house boss and his Turkish family are caught up in the far from accepting social mores of the time that come into play here. While I do wish that the resolution of the story was a bit more concrete, Miranda Emmerson creates an engaging and realistic set of characters who you long to know more of and a story that resonates very well in our current times.

This book puts me in mind of the movie The Crying Game, with it's social commentary and heartfelt situations being brilliantly displayed on a standard genre background. While there are vast differences between the two, I do think that Miss Treadway's story would make for a wonderful film that would be extremely suitable as a double feature with that movie:

I did get a start on Louisa May Alcott's A Long Fatal Love Chase,the third book on my TBR here, and so far, it's pretty melodramatic. That's to be expected, given the Gothic flair that many of LMA's "blood and thunder" tales had, and I'll keep up with it.

Meanwhile, much thanks to Michelle for hosting yet another great Spring Into Horror and a warm hello to many of the newcomers who signed on for the frightful fun. I hope that many of you will join us in June when Seasons of Reading has it's  Sci-Fi Summer readathon, which already has me waiting with an-tic-a-pation!: