Friday, October 31, 2014

Trick or Treat: Happy Halloween!

Last week I began watching movies on DVD about writers/authors that had been recommended by one of the websites that I subscribe to on Facebook, like Book Riot or Shelf Awareness or Buzzfeed or Goodwill Librarian. I had assumed that out of the five that I chose off of a list, that at least one of them would rock my world and provide insight into the writing life, if not via journalism, at least via general wordsmithing.
Turns out, all of the movies were bizarre, depressing or just plain bad in one way or another. 
Starting Out in the Evening with Frank Langella was a movie about an old man (I assume they meant for the author Leonard Schiller to be somewhere in his mid 70s, but Langella looked about 85) who is trying to complete his final novel while dealing with the life of his daughter Ariel and dealing with a rude, arrogant young woman who is ostensibly doing her master's thesis on his previous 4 novels. Heather shows up at Schiller's door and will not take no for an answer, insisting on interviewing him and foisting her own ideas and thoughts on him about his own work, while also needling him about his life and how it effects his writing. Schiller is an old-school gentleman, somewhat introverted, who lives a lot inside his head, so when this redhead starts rudely challenging him at every turn, he gets upset and angry but eventually gives in and tells her what she wants to know about his life, even when it is something he'd rather keep private. Also, she seems to have a crush on him, and repeatedly hits on the man, though it is obvious that he's at least 50 years older than she is. So when, after a couple of failed attempts at luring him into bed with her, she finally manages to get him to have sex with her, it's rather grotesque to watch, even though they cut away before Langella gets all his clothing off (thank heavens...shudder. Who wants to see his wrinkly thighs and wiener? Not me). Heather is basically using Schiller, and when she finishes her thesis and gives it to him to read, he edits it and rewrites part of it to make it an even harsher critique of his latter works, which Heather doesn't like because they aren't as romantic as his first two books. If all that were not odd enough, Ariel is carrying on a second affair with a guy who she broke up with years ago because he didn't want children, and she does. So now she's compromising what she wants, again, to be with him. She eventually realizes that he usually gets whatever he wants in their relationship while she doesn't, so she breaks it off, only to have him come crawling back, saying that he will change and, one assumes, have a child with her. Meanwhile, her father has a massive stroke, and her boyfriend is the only person around who can help him, which he does quite tenderly, though Ariel is too busy blaming Heather for her father's ill health to notice. Again, oddly enough, Ariel does an about-face not 5 minutes later in the film and asks Heather to come and visit her father, who has recovered slowly but well from his stroke. Heather sits down to tea and tells Schiller that she's sure the book he's finishing will be his best, which Schiller takes as completely condescending, and slaps her face. This apparently signals the end of their relationship, as Schiller tells her she was a nice distraction for an old man. Ouch. He then gives his manuscript to Ariel's boyfriend, and notes that he needs to start a new novel to say what he really wants to say. So the last shot is of Schiller at his typewriter. What a wretched portrayal of the writing life. I felt like the only person who didn't get what he wanted was Schiller, while everyone else gets to happily go on with their lives. And Frank Langella needs to stop doing love scenes. Like right now. I'd give this movie a B, and I am being generous because I used to think Frank Langella was a real hottie in the 80s when he played Dracula. I also love his voice. It's beautiful and soothing.

An Angel at my Table with a New Zealand actress (4 of them) with really bad red bozo hair about Janet Frame, a famed NZ poet/author. This poor woman grew up in an impoverished family, lost three siblings to drowning, and lost her parents as well, yet somehow managed to have a writing career in the midst of all the madness, both literally and figuratively. For some reason, because she was a shy and not very confident person, she was told that she needed to enter a mental hospital, where they cavalierly diagnosed her with schizophrenia and gave her shock treatments that she didn't really need. They were about to lobotomize her when a nice young doctor saved her by noticing that she really was sane, just scared, and he tells her that he will let her go as soon as she gains some self confidence. She also has all of her teeth removed, which is gruesome (why were there no dentists in NZ, or no one to tell the child to brush her teeth, ever? The point is made that she needed to bathe as a child, but everyone in the film looks grubby, so I assumed that bathing wasn't a priority during and after WW2 in NZ). My main problem with this movie was that Janet had so little self confidence and felt so little of herself as a writer or a woman that she did whatever anyone told her to do, especially any man. Men told her to write more, so she did, an American had an affair with her and then just left her, and so on, with her doing whatever anyone said and sculking around like a terrified child the rest of the time. I found myself wondering if her father had abused her, but we didn't see that in the film, so I don't know if that was the reason she was such a scared bunny rabbit of a person. Her writing seems to have been brilliant, though we don't see a lot of her actually doing that. As a writing movie, there are great swathes of this film that are just boring as all get out, where nothing happens except for the author staring out over the ocean or swimming in a lagoon or taking a bath. So I would give the movie a C, and I'd not recommend it to anyone who doesn't have loads of patience.
 Marjorie Morningstar with Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly. I am a huge fan of Herman Wouk, who wrote the novel Marjorie Morningstar. So I had assumed this movie would be a delight. Instead, it seemed to be a vehicle for a very young and lovely Natalie Wood to play a conflicted Jewish girl, and an aging Gene Kelly to play a man who never really grew up and who is completely unsuccessful as a playwright, though he obviously has the talent to write this one song, which is played over and over throughout the film (enough so that you will hear it in your sleep for at least a week). Marjorie falls for old Gene while he's teaching at a fancy resort that is across the lake from a camp for I think Jewish kids, where Marjorie is a teacher. Her parents keep trying to marry her off to various wealthy doctors and lawyers, but Marjorie has dreams! She wants to be an actress!Though her parents disapprove, Marjorie goes off to teach summer camp with a "wild" friend (played by a young Caroline Jones in screaming red hair, which is so different from her long dark hair as Morticia Addams in the Addam's Family TV show that I grew up watching, that if you didn't know it was her, you'd never recognize her as a brash, loud girl) who is eager to meet men, especially wealthy older Jewish men who can take care of her. This is all too pedestrian for our young heroine, though, who is at once a wide-eyed innocent and yet determined to fulfill her DESTINY. That is, until she meets wastrel and ne'er do well Gene Kelly, who, as an immature older man who has thrown his life away, is of course drawn to the bright optimism of our Marjorie. He sees her as so bright he tells her she should be called "Morningstar" instead of  "Morgenstern" which she of course adores and adopts right away, because, she's really not like all these money-grubbing Jewish people she grew up with and is surrounded by...she's an ARTIST, which means she is ABOVE such things! To be fair, Gene Kelly's character, Noel Airman (he has anglicized the spelling of his last name to appear less Jewish) tells Marjorie, repeatedly, that he's never going to be the wealthy provider who marries her and settles down to have a bunch of kids. He tells her he's a serial philanderer, and that he drinks too much and can't seem to finish his musical play. Marjorie ignores his warnings and gets involved with him, even after he sleeps with other women and fails at working at a "real" job at his father's advertising firm. She keeps going back for more abuse, and when he finally manages to complain that she's not putting out, and that he "needs" her, she of course starts sleeping with him, and he finishes his play. Martin Milner, who would later become a cop on a TV show that my family watched religiously called Adam 12, plays a young playwright who grew up under Noel's tutelage, but is a real go-getter, and keeps telling Marjorie that she should date him instead, because he's going places, and he's in love with her. Of course, Marjorie tells him it's too late, she's too in love with Noel, but that doesn't stop her from asking for a part in Martin's successful play (one of many that he seems to have) and then quitting the minute she feels he's giving her the part not because of her talent but because he loves her and wants to hang around with her. Meanwhile Caroline Jones has landed a whale, an old wealthy Jewish producer whom she reluctantly marries because of course he can take care of her financially. This guy is the first to put money behind Noel's play, and he brings along a bunch of his wealthy old Jewish guy friends to also invest. There follows a scene in which Gene Kelly throws a temper tantrum, telling all these bourgeois  people that they have no right to judge him, he's an artist, something fine that they, money-grubbers that they are, will never understand! Despite this insult, they still fund his musical play, and unsurprisingly, it flops and is roasted by the critics. So he goes on a bender, yells at Marjorie that it is all her fault, and the two break up, only to not see each other for quite awhile when Noel flees to parts unknown. In that time, it would seem that Marjorie becomes established as an actress, but we are never sure, as she's sent to Europe, where she supposedly is looking for Noel, but instead becomes quite the finished, fashionable young woman. She runs into Martin Milner's character, who is taking Europe by storm with his plays, and he tells her that Noel is back at the summer resort teaching theater, just as he was when he first met her. Martin tries to tell her that this is as high as Noel can reach with his talent, and that he's happy there because he's not tied down by expectations (mainly hers), so she should leave him be, but of course she doesn't, she goes back to her old stomping grounds and sees Gene Kelly making the young girls swoon by singing at the piano and teaching them to dance, and it finally occurs to her that she and Noel weren't good for each other, since they've been doing so well apart, and when someone mentions that she's all grown up, she has an epiphany, and realizes that he will never grow up and be what she wants him to be. So she leaves without seeing Noel, and when she gets on the bus, there's Martin Milner, sitting on the bus waiting for her, and as the music swells, I think we're meant to realize that she will marry the successful playwright and live happily ever after. First of all, yes, Natalie Wood was a beautiful gal when she was young (and she grew to be even lovelier as she got older) but I honestly don't see why everyone in this film acted like she was the most luscious creature they'd ever laid eyes on. She's no Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor. Secondly, Gene Kelly looked like an old gay man in this film, and I don't know whether it was the makeup or the fleshiness of his face or the wrinkles that were highlighted by eye makeup, but instead of looking like the age he was, 45, he looked like he was nearing 65. He had never come across as effeminate in any of his other movies that I've watched and adored (who doesn't love Singing in the Rain? Or the Pirate? Or An American in Paris? I mean "le time step?" Come on!) so I struggled to figure out what it was about this film that made him seem like an aging queen. He was married three times and had three children, so if he was gay or bisexual, he hid it well. I would give this movie a C, because it was riddled with cliches about Jewish people and actors/playwrights and other "artists." It was also eye-rollingly slow and annoying, with that stupid song playing over and over.
Bright Star with Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish about John Keats as a hottie poet who falls in love with a young woman who is tormented by love of him and his inability to marry or commit to her. This film is, like An Angel at My Table, directed by Jane Campion, who seems to have a thing for making movies that move at a snail's pace, and have scenes that show the main characters staring into space, or walking by the water, or taking a bath but doing nothing to move the plot forward or enlighten the audience as to their character's motivations. The theme of innocent but tortured artist is continued here, with Keats seemingly stricken with "consumption" (the old term for tuberculosis)  and poetic genius simultaineously. He is also poor and dependent on others for food and shelter, so for much of the film he is rooming with a cad called Brown, who appears to be a cross between his agent, his rival and his mother. Brown doesn't approve of Fanny and her fervent love of Keats, but since all he seems to do is make horribly rude and snide comments to her, their affair of the heart continues unabated.When he's not trying to force Keats to write or rest, he's busy forcing himself on the servant girl, whom he gets pregnant, and has to be scorned into doing the right thing and marrying her before she has the child. Meanwhile, though, Keats and Fanny are above that sort of sordid sexual stuff, being all cerebral, and while they kiss a lot and send one another touching letters and notes, you get the feeling that Keats, especially, is not healthy enough for sexual activity, as it says in the Viagra ads, though he's played by the toothsome Ben Whishaw (who was delicious on The Hour, which was a miniseries on BBC America). A moody, sad and overwrought film, I'd give this one a B, though I can't imagine why anyone would want to watch this unless they are huge fans of romantic poetry and weepy Abbie Cornish.
Young Adult with a thoroughly UGLY Charlize Theron was a great surprise to me.If you've ever seen Theron, she's this amazingly gorgeous woman who looks like a cross between Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, with the best features of both. Though she's nearing 40, she looks about 25, and the South African actress has beautiful glowing skin and a perfect, tall and shapely model's body. Which is why I can't figure out how the people that made this movie managed to make her look so strung out, dull-skinned and hideous.Her normally lush blonde locks were greasy and limp, and her complexion sallow, while the clothing that was supposed to make her look vampish and sultry made her look skinny and shapeless. Perhaps that was intentional, as the character she plays during the film, Mavis, is a real creep, a young adult fiction author who is basically ghost writing a series of formulaic books for female teenagers. Mavis is from a small town in Minnesota called Mercury, which is apparently such a horrible place that you can't wait to leave it. So she moved to Minneapolis and got a job as a writer, and though she now considers herself a success, and better off out of podunk Mercury, when she gets an email photo of her high school boyfriend's brand new baby, she is suddenly consumed with the idea that she has to "save" him from his boring and horrible life in Mercury and make him get back together with her, though the two haven't spoken in at least 15 years. Once she hits town, she starts drinking in a local pub and meets up with the class scapegoat, a nerdy guy we'll call Bob, because I can't remember his name. He was bullied so badly in high school that he is now crippled for life. Turns out that Mavis is actually to blame for this, as the popular prom queen spread a rumor about him being gay that set the football players to beating him with a baseball bat until both of his legs were smashed in multiple places, his pelvis broken and his genitals pulped, until now he notes that he can only "pee sideways." (Eww). Theron tells him of her plan to reunite with her high school sweetheart, and Bob, who is smart enough to see a train wreak coming down the tracks, tells her that she's wasting her time, because her ex-beau is happily married and thrilled to have started a family. Theron's Mavis can't believe this, because she's so delusional, vain and arrogant that she can't imagine anyone preferring life in Mercury to life with her in the big city without responsibilities (like children, whom Theron's character seems to loathe in this movie). Theron goes out with her ex, several times, and somehow believes he's still in love with her, though there is no indication of that at all from him. She runs into her mother at the store, and after an awkward dinner with her parents, who make it plain that her ex is happy with his life now, she goes back to seeing Bob, who muses with her about life. Bob has a creepy sister whom we'll call Mary, who has had a crush on Mavis since her early years, and she creeps around trying to help, but only looking pathetic. Mavis meets Ex's family, and treats everyone but the Ex with thinly veiled contempt. When she's invited to Ex's baby's christening, she tries to make her move on Ex, who spurns her and explains that he's happily married and loves his child, and when Theron screams at him for inviting her, he says "I didn't invite you, my wife did, because she feels sorry for you." Mavis goes into meltdown mode, screaming at everyone at the christening party, and somehow they all end up on the lawn of the house watching her throw a huge tantrum. She tells them that she was pregnant by the ex back when, but apparently had an abortion, but somehow she believes that they would have gotten married anyway and that they should have, but for his insistence on staying in a backwater like Mercury. Of course she's drunk and of course someone has spilled wine on her supposedly couture outfit (it looked like something you'd buy off the rack at Sears). So now that all her delusions and dreams have come to naught, Mavis goes running to Bob, (who still has to use two crutches to walk, for heavens sake) and because she's feeling bad about herself, she drops her clothing and cries that she's unlovable, which prompts Bob to say "Guys like me were born to love women like you." In other words, you're so horrible a person that only a cynical crippled guy could love you (and one gets the feeling that he only "loves" her for her exterior beauty, because guys like him aren't getting laid very often, if they ever were). so she and Bob have sex, which would make anyone with half a brain wonder HOW they were going to accomplish such a feat with Bob's penis being bent sideways. But while Hollywood deems it okay for women to show their breasts and genitals all the time, rarely do women get to see shots of male genitals on screen. So viewers get to see Bobs scarred up legs (and she never does tell him that his savage beating was partially her fault) and portly belly moving between her long pretty legs, we don't actually get to see their nether regions fit together. Following this night of what we can only assume is pity sex, Bob's creepy sister meets Mavis in the kitchen the next morning, and when Mavis whines about what a terrible, unlovable person she is, again, Mary goes into a monologue extorting Mavis's virtues, from her beauty to her authoring of real books to getting out of Mercury. "Everyone here is just ugly and fat and stupid. You aren't, you are amazing..." So Mavis soaks in all the ego strokes, and then says she's heading back to Minneapolis, when Mary bleats "Take me with you!" Of course, replenished Mavis can't have some hick like Mary stuck around her neck like an albatross, so she says "No, you have to stay here, this is where you belong." Because, what is unsaid there is "You are one of these dumb, ugly fat small town people, you're not beautiful and accomplished and urban-dwelling, like me." So now that Mavis is free of all this, she makes her way back to Minneapolis, fade to black. Frankly, I was hoping that the movie would end with Mavis dying in a car crash on her way out of Mercury, but no such luck.  What a reprehensible film about horrible people! And it was filled with stereotypes and cliches. I would give this film a D, and that is only for the character of Bob, who finally got laid, which was at least slight payback for what Mavis did to him back in high school. I can't recommend this film to anyone because I can't think of anyone shallow enough that it would appeal to.

If I were ever to visit France, this would be my first stop!

Shakespeare and Company
"arguably the most famous independent bookstore in the world, occupies a
prime piece of real estate facing the Seine in Paris, not far from the
Latin Quarter, Place Saint-Michel, and Boulevard Saint-Germain. The
river is just a stone's throw from the front door," wrote Bruce Handy in
his detailed exploration for Vanity Fair of the history and cultural
impact of the legendary bookshop that "is a destination, far from Amazon

"It is definitely Dionysus's favorite bookstore," observed actor and
author Ethan Hawke, who "has been a fan since he turned up in Paris
alone at the age of 16 and crashed at the store for five or six nights
after wandering over, curious, from Notre Dame," Handy noted. The first
impression of Dave Eggers, who first visited as a backpacker in his 20s,
was of "an absurd place--almost down to the last crooked corner and
narrow staircase, [it was] the bookstore of my dreams." (Check out Jess
Levitz's illustrated map of the bookshop

Even Frank Sinatra was a fan, offering this advice to a former pit boss
at the Sands in Las Vegas, "Eddie you must travel and when you do, go to
Paris, go to the Shakespeare bookstore. I know the guy there.... Go see
the guy George [Whitman]--he's a guy that lives with the books."

Handy observed that Shakespeare and Company "remains a singular place,"
where Whitman's daughter, Sylvia, and her partner, David Delannet, "have
done a remarkable job of preserving the store's DNA while modernizing
around the edges and adding revitalizing touches of their own, such as
an irregular series of literary and arts festivals, a 10,000-euro prize
for unpublished writers (financed in part by friends of the store), and
a vital, ongoing series of readings, panels, plays, and other events,
including an annual summer reading series with N.Y.U.'s Writers in Paris
program. A publishing venture is in the works, to be launched with the
aforementioned store history, as is a Shakespeare and Company
café, a longtime dream of George's, possibly in a commercial
space around the corner the store is buying. (His other longtime dream,
of stocking the wishing well with baby seals, has been abandoned for
now.) A new website will be rolled out this fall, and the paid staff--who now number 22, up from 7 when
George died--have some witty ideas about curation and customizing books
as a way to compete, on Shakespeare's terms, with Amazon."

Being a fan of Hugh Laurie, I can hardly wait to see this!

In a new clip from Mr. Pip
adapted from the novel by Hugh Jones, Hugh Laurie (House) "shows a
softer side," Indiewire noted. The film, directed by Andrew Adamson (The
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, Shrek), "tells
the story of Mr. Watts, an Englishman in the tropical village in
Bougainville, who reads Great Expectations by Charles Dickens to the
children of the island, transporting their imaginations to a different
world, all while a civil war draws closer." Mr. Pip opens in limited
release and VOD on November 7.

I just watched a movie about Dylan Thomas, who died way too young (at age 39) from what everyone assumes was pneumonia, but he seemed to have breathing problems his whole life. He smoked, and drank to excess, which didn't help, but I would bet he had emphysema and asthma. Anyway, he was a great, spooky Welshman and poet, and I think he would have be thrilled that his work has lived on and garnered a place in history and literature. Here are two of his famed poems about death, appropriate to Halloween.

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
“Dylan Thomas “ From "And death shall have no dominion"

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

RIP Ben Bradlee, The Red Tent Series, Destined, by Aprilynne Pike, Buster Midnight's Cafe by Sandra Dallas, the End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe and The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato.

I am deeply envious of the people who live in London, England and have a change to win a sleepover at this iconic bookstore. I can only imagine the joys of spending the night with treats and reading and browsing and sipping tea and reading and talking about books and reading...

Fancy a Bookstore Sleepover at Waterstones?
 That was fast. After an American tourist was accidently locked in
Waterstones branch in Trafalgar Square in London last week--he was
rescued after several hours, many tweets and much publicity--the
Piccadilly Waterstones is offering an overnight stay
for up to 20 people this Friday.

Waterstones was struck by the many people who tweeted that being locked
in a store after hours would be a dream, according to the Evening

Interested book lovers can apply via an Airbnb listing
bring a friend). The listing reads, in part:

"With Waterstones Piccadilly all to yourself, saunter up and down our
beautiful central staircase, from our Ground Floor Bestsellers to our
Fourth Floor's Russian Bookshop, and let your imagination loose. Settle
down on the comfy airbeds and sleeping bags provided and drift off
surrounded by the fantastical tales, incredible true stories and
beautiful books of all shapes and sizes that are packed into the more
than eight and a half miles of book shelves.

"That's not all though--there's plenty of treats and surprises in store.
Food (Grazebox and Weetabix to name a few), entertainment, bedding--we
got you covered! The only thing you need to worry about is what to read
next. And if someone will let you out in the morning... But that
wouldn't be a problem would it?

"House Rules: Only serious book lovers need apply. Be considerate--other
guests may be trying to read. And why wouldn't they, they're in a
bookshop after all?"

A Waterstones bookseller will give a tour of the store at 9 p.m.

Bookstore overnights seem to be the new international trend. On November
1, Japanese bookstore chain Junkudo will host six people overnight
company's store in the Chiyoda section of Tokyo--with the proviso that
they buy at least one book by the time they leave. Depending on the
experience, Junkudo may hold more bookstore overnight events.

I'm reading Ben Bradlee's autobio, A Good Life, and I was stunned to read that he died last week, as he was one of the last "great" reporters and editors. My friend Alex Johnson also worked at the Washington Post, and knew Bradlee, and said that the portrayal of him in All the President's Men movie was spot on.

Ben Bradlee
"who presided over the Washington Post's exposure of the Watergate
scandal that led to the fall of President Richard M. Nixon and that
stamped him in American culture as the quintessential newspaper editor
of his era--gruff, charming and tenacious," died Tuesday, the New York
Times reported. He was 93. His books included A Good Life: Newspapering
and Other Adventures, A Life's Work: Fathers and Sons (written with son
Quinn Bradlee) and Conversations with Kennedy.

I totally agree with Buzzfeed, that if you are in Portland, you HAVE to stop at Powell's City of Books. It is my favorite mecca in Portland, and I get happily lost there twice a year.

Find a book and get lost in the maze that is Powell's Books," Buzzfeed advised in featuring "21 awesome things to do when you go to Oregon

"Powell's Books is truly a destination bookstore, and the perfect place
to get lost (mentally and physically) on a rainy Northwest day,"
Buzzfeed noted, adding: "Don't miss the Rare Books Section at Powell's.
Exploring the hundreds of tattered old volumes, you can easily pretend
you're sneaking around the Restricted Section of the Hogwarts Library. I
was pretty sure Harry Potter himself was there, hiding under his
invisibility cloak, the whole time."

This was a ground-breaking book when it came out almost twenty years ago. I loved it, and I hope that the mini series will do it justice. I plan on tuning in to find out!
Lifetime has released a trailer for The Red Tent
adapted from the 1997 bestselling novel by Anita Diamant, that offers
"glimpses of a bloody Dinah (Rebecca Ferguson, The White Queen), Minnie
Driver as Leah, Morena Baccarin as Rachel and Game of Thrones star Iain
Glen as Jacob," Yahoo TV reported. The Red Tent airs December 7 and 8.

I've finally finished four books on my TBR, one that I've been trying to finish for the past 16 months, and one the end of a YA series. Destined, by Aprilynne Pike, Buster Midnight's Cafe by Sandra Dallas, the End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe and The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato.
Destined is Pike's final novel in the YA series that began with Wings. Though I enjoyed each of the four books of the series, this last one was quite a roller coaster ride, right up until the end. Here's the blurb: Laurel used to think she was an ordinary girl from Crescent City, California. She never would have believed she was truly a faerie from a realm called Avalon.

Now Laurel must risk her life to save Avalon from destruction by Yuki—a rare and powerful Winter faerie—and troll-hunter Klea. But Laurel won’t have to fight alone; David and Tamani, two boys she loves in different ways, will be by her side, along with her best friend, Chelsea.

Readers of the Need and Graceling series will want to follow Laurel’s story from its beginning in Wings to its heart-stopping end in

I thought that all the twists and turns that Pike added to Destined were intense and powerful, but some of them seemed like they were just "piling on" to an already dire situation. For example, Klea, the outcast fall fae, had already sent in hundreds of trolls to do her dirty work, but then she also burned down the Academy and then sent in poisonous smoke to kill off even more fairies. Then she uses a poison dagger on Tam and gets cut herself, refusing to give Laurel the antidote until her ridiculous ransom demands are met. All this while Laurel's mentor is struck down, she's afraid her beloved is going to die, and she thinks her best fairy friend is already dead. Oh, and she has to find the formula for the antidote or the whole realm will perish. Then, at the end, the author has a final coda to the story that she tells the reader not to read if they want an HEA. Seriously? Kind of a bum thing to do to your readers, if you ask me. Plus, the author states that she feels the stories have always been about David's journey, so as Laurel's human boyfriend, he gets the final say. Again, really? The protagonist was always clearly Laurel the fairy raised in the human world, and her reactions to coming into her fae heritage and falling in love with Tam and David, two guys from different worlds. While I realize that this quote from Fredrick Engels bio is true, "Behind every great person there is someone who enabled his or her ascension. These friends, relatives, partners, muses, colleagues, coaches, assistants, lovers, teachers, and caretakers deserve some credit..."  And that Laurel had a lot of help from everyone, parents and David and Chelsea included, I still think hers was the emphasized journey. I also find it hard to believe that David didn't make a go of it with Chelsea, and that he doesn't want to retain his memories of Avalon. That seems somewhat cowardly for a young man who wielded Excaliber. Despite these problems with the ending and the character's choices, I'd still give the whole series a B+, and recommend it to those who enjoyed Carrie Jone's Pixie series or Graceling series.
I've now read three of Sandra Dallas' books, Prayers for Sale, which I read with my Tuesday Book Group at the library (and I adored it), the Persian Pickle Club, and now Buster Midnight's Cafe. I have the fourth book on my TBR, Alice's Tulips, so that one is next up. Dallas has an almost uncanny sense of dialog and place, leading her characters to seem so authentic and real that they almost leap from the page. Buster Midnight is no exception. It's the story of a group of friends who grow up in Butte, Montana during the depression when it was a mining town. Whippy Bird, Effa Commander and May Anna are friends who are called "the Unholy Trio" and who have adventures with four guys, Buster, Pink, Chick and Toney, who is Buster's brother and fight manager. Here's the blurb:
May Anna Kovacks was discovered on the dusty streets of Butte, Montana and went on to become a Hollywood star. War, fame, marriage, love, and heartbreak came and went. What never changed was the bond she shared with her two best friends, Effa Commander and Whippy Bird. When scandal, murder, and betrayal made a legend of May Anna, only Effa and Whippy Bird could set the record straight.
 The rise of May Anna from dirt poor child of a prostitute to a prostitute and then a Hollywood star sounds suspiciously like the story of many stars of the 40s and 50s, like Marilyn Monroe. Still, I doubt that Marilyn actually had two friends as down to earth and funny as Whippy Bird and Effa Commander. Their loves and lives are just as entertaining and fascinating as Buster's rise as a boxer and May Anna's as a star.The language of the book, as Effa and Whippy tell the story of what really happened, is earthy and wonderful fun, and it moves the story and plot along at a clipped pace. The ending is just a bit convenient, but still nicely done, especially the final graph. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to those who enjoy stories of the Greatest Generation and how they actually lived and loved. 
The Clockwork Dagger is a steampunk fantasy, set in the 19th century and yet somewhat of an alternate universe where certain events of history didn't happen or happened differently. Octavia Leander is a magically-gifted healer who, after graduating from Miss Percival's Academy is taking an 'airship' which I assume is actually a zepplin, to another part of her war-torn country to help heal the people there. Unfortunately, while on her journey, she meets up with an elderly matron who turns out to be a lost princess, and an assasin-spy called a "Clockwork Dagger" who works for the current monarchy, but appears to be more interested in helping Octavia survive her journey. Here's the blurb:
Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.
Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen's spies and assassins—and her cabinmate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy may reach the crown itself.
 I enjoyed the relationship of Alonzo Garrett and Mrs Stout with Octavia, because the three of them relied on each other, but I felt that often Octavia was a bit of a damsel in distress, and I wasn't terribly fond of how terrified and wimpy that Mrs Stout/the princess became in the face of adversity. Still, the revelations of who was behind all the killing and who had sold them out was a surprise and the events that occurred afterwards were swift and sure in the telling. I will look forward to the next book in this series, and I'd give this one a B, and recommend it to those who enjoy steampunk fantasy and adventure.
I tried to read The End of Your Life Book Club last year, and I had trouble getting past the first 50 pages. The author of this non fiction book, Will, is the son of a woman who is burnished to sainthood on nearly every page, and though I imagine she was quite forceful and altruistic and smart, I can't imagine that she didn't have faults enough to be a real human being. Also, the author himself seems quite whiny and smug, and overly attached to his mother, which gets kind of creepy and cliched for a gay man. Though I appreciate that pancreatic cancer is horrible, painful and an awful way to die, I would imagine that Will's mother Mary Anne had just as many side effects and just as much pain as anyone else, but I am sure she hid a lot of pain from her children, not wanting them to fuss over her. So I tried the book early last year, and then I put it down. I tried it again and then I sold my copy for credit at Powells, certain I'd never try again. Yet when my book group all got their copies, and I explained to one of the librarians that I just couldn't get into it, she asked me to try again and keep going past the first 100 pages. So this time I persevered, and I am glad that I did, though Will's narration was still annoying and irritating. Here's the blurb:
During her treatment for cancer, Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will spent many hours sitting in waiting rooms together. To pass the time, they would talk about the books they were reading. Once, by chance, they read the same book at the same time—and an informal book club of two was born. Through their wide-ranging reading, Will and Mary Anne—and we, their fellow readers—are reminded how books can be comforting, astonishing, and illuminating, changing the way that we feel about and interact with the world around us. A profoundly moving memoir of caregiving, mourning, and love—The End of Your Life Book Club is also about the joy of reading, and the ways that joy is multiplied when we share it with others.
I do not agree with the Schwalbes that the only books worth reading are the ones full of pain and suffering and depression. The two of them wanted to focus on books that told tales of suffering from the Middle East, and other places, and they seemed to enjoy books by authors from third world countries, and war novels, plus mysteries and books that deal with all sorts of bad behavior and ugliness. I prefer to read books that have a hopeful, uplifting message, and books that have characters who are heroic, intelligent and charming. Good storytelling is paramount, plus I dislike books about immigrants who whine on and on about how they don't fit in here in America, but of course they don't fit into the culture in their country of origin, either, so all they can do is suffer and complain and make continually negative comments on American people and society. Seriously, if you don't like it here, LEAVE. Go somewhere else and find happiness, for heaven's sake, but don't continually complain on paper. It's boring. Also, Will makes a statement that he is not really religious, and yet he reads a lot of the spiritual books (and quotes them) that his mother gives him in an effort to get him to somehow become a believer. Will says that the more detailed a book is, the better he likes it, even sacrificing story for clunky paragraphs full of trivial historical points or other things that bog down a plot to a standstill. I am the opposite, and details that do nothing but show off the author's research capabilities leaves me cold. So Will and I look at books in a very different way, and there are a number of books that he lists that I have tried to read but found stultifying and dull, or dry as dust. There were, however, a few that I agreed with, from Tolkien's fantasy to PG Wodehouse's comedy, so in the end I was able to finish the book with less difficulty than I'd thought. Though this book has won awards and is very popular, I can only give it a B, and I imagine that there are more than a few nit-picky types and those who enjoy depressing fiction who would recommend this book to family and friends, something that I can't do, as most of my family and friends would be as bored with Will's voice and choices as I was. I am glad that I finished it, though, and I appreciate that Will wrote this book as a tribute to his selfless mother.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The All Soul's Trilogy Boxed Set, Communal Reading, Lemony Snickett, JK Rowling and NPH, plus Aprilynne Pike's YA Paranormal Romance series

There's a lot of bad press going out of Texas these days, but here's a quote from a Texas bookstore that is spot on!

Brazos Bookstore 'Communal' Reading

"For a serious reader, discovering a new independent publisher is like
finding a new friend. You hold the book, study the cover design, inspect
the spine and read the author's bio. Next, you try the first few pages,
nod at a turn of phrase, sigh at a great insight (none of this takes
more than a minute or two), until something clicks, and you're
overwhelmed by the certainty of people you have never met, living in
other parts of the world, who somehow understand you. The word
'independent' almost isn't right, is it? After all, such discoveries
teach us that reading is--as readers know--a communal activity."

--Brazos Bookstore
Houston, Tex., which is profiling several of its favorite indie presses
this month

 Next, the kind folks at Viking have a boxed set of the Discovery of Witches trilogy by Deborah Harkness that comes out just before Halloween, appropriately enough!  They wanted me to post about it since I'd posted so much about the last book in the trilogy. 

The All Souls Trilogy box set is going on sale on October 30! The box set includes hardcover of all three volumes (The Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life) as well as a limited edition of Diana’s Commonplace Book. This is the only opportunity to purchase the overwhelmingly popular Commonplace Book, that until now has only been offered as a giveaway prize. The All Souls Trilogy box set is a wonderful gift for the holidays, to treat avid readers with the rare Commonplace Book and to introduce newcomers to Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont.

To celebrate its release, Deborah Harkness is hosting a giveaway of the box set on her Facebook page. US Residents may enter the contest until Halloween. Click here to view the post on the Deborah Harkness Facebook page and view additional details.
 Viking is incredibly excited to be able to offer such a wonderful gift package before the holidays hit!

If you are a fan of poetry, as I am, you've heard of Dylan Thomas, whose poetry reminds me of Yeats in its evocative beauty. Thankfully, they are making a movie about his life, whihc I can hardly wait to see. Sounds like they actually got a Welshman to play the lead role, too, which is marvelous.

A trailer has been released for Set Fire to the Stars
a biopic about Dylan Thomas directed by Andy Goddard. The Guardian
reported that the film "follows John Brinnin (Elijah Wood) as he takes a
week-long trek with the iconic Welsh poet (played by Celyn Jones)
through America in 1950." The movie, which also stars Shirley Henderson,
Steven Mackintosh and Kelly Reilly, releases in the U.K. next month,
though no U.S. date has been set.

 I've been a fan of The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare for the past few years, and I was somewhat disappointed with the film, as many were, but now I discover that they're making a TV series of the books, which I imagine will be much better because they will have more time to tell the tale and fill in the character's back story.
Constantin Film, the production company that controls the rights to Cassandra Clare's the Mortal Instruments book series
and produced the less-than-successful movie adaptation The Mortal
Instruments: City of Bones, is relaunching the series "as a high-end
drama series" for TV, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Ed Decter (Helix, Unforgettable, In Plain Sight, The Client List) will
be showrunner for the Mortal Instruments series, which "is currently in
development, with Constantin planning to begin production next year. No
broadcast partners are yet attached to the series," THR wrote.

"It actually makes sense to do (the novels) as a TV series," Constantin
film and TV head Martin Moszkowicz said. "There was so much from the
book that we had to leave out of the Mortal Instruments film. In the
series we'll be able to go deeper and explore this world in greater
detail and depth."

I loved Harry Potter, the books and the movies, so now I am thrilled that there will be more movies in that wonderful world that Rowling created.

Rowling to Script Fantastic Beasts Trilogy
 J.K. Rowling, "the little-known author of the Harry Potter series," will
write the screenplay for a film version of her spinoff title Fantastic
Beasts and Where to Find Them
which is being adapted by Warner Bros. as a trilogy, with scheduled
releases in 2016, 2018 and 2020, Electric Lit reported.

Announcing her continued creative partnership with the film company in a
press release, Rowling noted: "Although it will be set in the worldwide
community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for seventeen
years, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is neither a prequel nor
a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding
world. The laws and customs of the hidden magical society will be
familiar to anyone who has read the Harry Potter books or seen the
films, but Newt's story will start in New York, seventy years before
Harry's gets underway."

The project is being directed by Harry Potter franchise helmer David
Yates, while Rowling makes her screenwriting debut and will co-produce.

Neil Patrick Harris is one cool dude. Not only has he conqured state and screen, he's wrtten an autobiography that sounds awesome. Plus, he admits to being a bibliophile as a child, which is adorable and makes me want to hug him.

Neil Patrick Harris, Bookseller
 This Sunday, the New York Times Book Review's "By the Book
segment will feature actor Neil Patrick Harris, author of Choose Your
Own Autobiography (Crown Archetype). Our favorite exchange:

What kind of reader were you as a child?
I was a voracious reader as a kid. The first job I ever had was in a
wonderful small bookshop in Ruidoso, N.M., called the Aspen Tree, run by
an extraordinary woman named Jane Deyo. She took me under her wing and
showed me the joy and respect of all things literary. I would take
inventory, restock, organize, make displays, run the register. I was all
of 10 or 11. But I was treated like such an equal, given a healthy
amount of adult responsibility, and I'll never be able to thank Jane
Deyo enough for that. It also ignited a fire in me to read as much as
possible. We used to have contests at the elementary school--who could
read the most books in a week or a month. I'd power through 30, 50
books. I was unstoppable. Just loved the feel and the smell of the
pages. Loved immersing my brain into uncharted territories. Loved
turning that last page and closing the book, a changed man. Still do.

A Series of Unfortunate Events was a groundbreaking YA series that had all sorts of mayhem and magic to it. I have wondered about what Mr Handler was up to since then, and it seems he's been doing good things all over the place. 

Daniel “Lemony Snicket” Handler advised fellow authors to contact their local booksellers and sign books for them to sell and promote, "spreading the word not only about an exciting source of signed books to your readers anywhere in the
country, but about a program anyone can join.... Will Upstream rescue us
all from strife and worry? Of course not. But the hope is that it will
remind both authors and booksellers of their local, less monolithic
resources, and improve general esprit de corps at a disheartening time."

In a separate letter to independent booksellers
Handler wrote: "As you know, many authors lately feel as if they are
engulfed in a rather unpleasant flood--as if the fate of their books is
whirling dreadfully out of control, battered by the waters of some
enormous South American river, the name of which I cannot remember at
the moment. While all this fierce sword fighting rages on around them,
independent bookstores continue to struggle with a similar feeling that
it's some sort of jungle out there.

"As a tonic, allow me to share news of a program, cooked up by assorted
interested parties and named, after some tipsy debate, Upstream. The
idea is to connect authors with their local independent booksellers to
offer signed books as an alternative to, say, larger and more unnerving
corporate machinations.... How does it work? Easily, hopefully.
Especially when aligned with the growing Indies First

 I just finished two more books in Aprilynne Pike's Fairy series, which began with "Wings" and went on to "Spells" and "Illusions," and ends with "Destined" which I have on hold at the library but have yet to read. Blurbs:
"I can't just storm in and proclaim my intentions. I can't 'steal' you away. I just have to wait and hope that, someday, you'll ask," Tamani said.
"And if I don't?" Laurel said, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Then I guess I'll be waiting forever."
Although Laurel has come to accept her true identity as a faerie, she refuses to turn her back on her human life—and especially her boyfriend, David—to return to the faerie world.
But when she is summoned to Avalon, Laurel's feelings for the charismatic faerie sentry Tamani are undeniable. She is forced to make a choice—a choice that could break her heart.
"I don't do patrols, I don't go hunting, I just stick close to you. You live your life, I'll keep you safe," Tamani said, sweeping a lock of hair from her face. "Or die trying."
Laurel hasn't seen Tamani since she begged him to let her go last year. Though her heart still aches, Laurel is confident that David was the right choice.
But just as life returns to normal, Laurel realizes that a hidden enemy lies in wait. Once again, Laurel must turn to Tamani to protect and guide her, for the danger that now threatens Avalon is one that no faerie thought would ever be possible.
This is a review from a school librarian that says it better: "In Spells (2010), the sequel to Wings (2009, both HarperTeen), faerie Laurel chose her human boyfriend David over Tamani, her faerie guardian, who then disappeared. Now Laurel's thrown when Tamani unexpectedly shows up at the start of her senior year, posing as a Scottish exchange student. Klea, the mysterious female troll hunter who saved Laurel from her evil troll nemesis in the previous book, turns up in town, too. She asks Laurel to look after a shy Japanese exchange student who isn't "exactly…human." Suspecting that Yuki's a faerie, Laurel is wary of both Klea and Yuki's motives since Yuki doesn't respond to Laurel's efforts at friendship and might even hate her. When Tamani befriends Yuki to gather information, Laurel can't help feeling jealous. There have been signs of trolls in the vicinity, but no actual sightings until they attack Laurel and her friends and then disappear through an invisible barrier. After David and Tamani come to blows over her, Laurel breaks off with both of them—but can't deny her attraction for Tamani. Everything comes to a climax at the winter dance, when they discover what Yuki really is and what she's capable of. Readers are left hanging just as the action gets exciting, guaranteeing another book in this romantic paranormal series.—Sharon Rawlins, New Jersey State Library, Trenton" 
 So basically after three books worth of Laurel not being able to make up her mind about which guy to love, she will have flirted and made out with both David and Tam and left the reader still in limbo until the fourth book. Personally, after all the blathering about how beautiful and seductive Laurel is, how she's so much prettier than any of the human girls she goes to school with, I was beginning to get a whiff of the horrible stench of Bella the Boring from the horrible Twilight series, so I was going to beg off halfway through Illusions. However, the redoubtable Tam and his fascinating POV kept me going, and then the mystery of who, exactly is Yuki was also a page-turner. Turns out she's a bad seed, in more than one way, and that her guardian is also a bad fairy out for revenge against Avalon. Though the immaturity of the characters and their flighty and stupid dithering over boys can be a bit nauseating and annoying, I found the clean prose and the zippy plots to be refreshing and easy reading. Any good reader can finish one of these books in about 4-6 hours, so you can read the whole series in a day and night. I was glad that I read the books, but also glad that I didn't purchase them, as this wasn't a keeper of a YA series, in the sense that I'd want to keep them on my shelves for a re-read at some point in the future.Still, I'd give the first three books a B+ overall, and recommend them to those who liked Carrie Jones Pixie series.
The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy was something of an impulse buy, and I was surprised when it turned out to be a real page-turner that I could not put down. The stories seem so disjointed at first, but they all come together at the end, and the prose is very dreamy and mesmeric. Here's the blurb:The characters in Simon Van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness discover at their darkest moments of fear and isolation that they are not alone, that they were never alone, that every human being is a link in a chain we cannot see. This gripping novel—inspired by true events—tells the interwoven stories of a deformed German infantryman; a lonely British film director; a young, blind museum curator; two Jewish American newlyweds separated by war; and a caretaker at a retirement home for actors in Santa Monica. They move through the same world but fail to perceive their connections until, through seemingly random acts of selflessness, a veil is lifted to reveal the vital parts they have played in one another's lives, and the illusion of their separateness.
 This novel deserves an A, but it's not for everyone because the prose is so whisper-soft and strange. I would recommend it to fans of The Terrible Lightness of Being.