Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Turn of the Century Salon

turn of the century salon

I just heard this morning from Becca at Lost In Books about a Turn of the Century Salon (kind of like The Sunday Salon, but about novels published between 1880-1930) hosted at November's Autumn. Naturally I can't pass up the opportunity to participate and I hope you will, too. Not pass on it, I mean.

ANYwhoooo, the opening month of January has some questions for participants to use to introduce themselves. Hi, my name is Tasha and...

What Classics have you read from the 1880s-1930s? What did you think of them?

I manage a classics book blog (called The Project Gutenberg Project), so a lot. Listing every book I've read from the turn of the century would be too much, but here are some highlights from last year:

  • The Man Who Thursday by GK Chesterton (1910)-Definitely recommend! One of my favorite reads of the year.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum (1900)-Delightful story. Not as streamlined as the movie, but very much worth the read.
  • The Circular Study by Anna Katharine Green (1900)-AKG is crazy, y'all. I would say she was the Dan Brown of her time, but I don't want to insult Dan Brown.
  • Mystery at Geneva: An Improbable Tale of Singular Happenings by Dame Rose Macaulay (1922)-This is a really odd book that at first seems like a mystery/spy thriller, but is actually a pretext for Macaulay to make fun politics, the news media, and gender roles. It's 80% total irony and has a really strange twist at the end that totally blindsided me. I actually enjoyed it, though I can see why it's a "forgotten classic."
  • Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini (1921)-Another one of my favorite reads of 2012. I love everything about this book. French Revolution! Sword fights! Theater people! Twisty twists! I really don't know what to say if you haven't read this book.
  • The Fortieth Door by Mary Hastings Bradley (1920)-This is an adventure/love story set in Egypt starring the dashing American archaeologist Jack Ryder and a Turkish virgin named Aimée. So just to recap: adventure, Egypt, archaeology, forbidden romance. It's a must-read.
  • Beasts, Men, and Gods by Ferdinand Ossendowski (1922)-The memoir of a man during the Bolshevik Revolution who tries to escape to American by traveling through Siberia and China, only to be forced to detour through Mongolia. I'm not a huge fan of memoirs as a rule, but this one was incredible and amazing. This is one of the books I keep telling people to read and they never do. Missing out!
  • A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder by James De Mille (1888)-This is a very strange book, probably the strangest book I read all year--and I read some pretty odd books, let me tell you. Anyway, I hated it. Much better to go with The Land That Time Forgot.
  • The Mary Frances Cookbook by Jane Eayre Fryer (1912)-This is a children's cookbook that combines recipes with a story. IT IS THE CUTEST THING EVER. Seriously, the illustrations are precious and the story is really heartwarming. Plus now I know how to cook a steak, Edwardian-style! Yeehaw! Let me just get my wood-burning stove started up...
  • The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1906)-This is another one of my favorite reads last year. It's a mystery about a man suspected of murder, but he didn't do it. So he has to find out who did! I loved all the characters and had a blast reading this book. It's soooo much fun.
  • The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers (1903)-A spy novel set in the Frisian Island (north coast of Germany). Totally awesome characters, slightly claustrophobic atmosphere, and a really fun, fast read. Fun fact: Winston Churchill used this book as a model for actual British military actions.
  • The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (1894)-Okay, I didn't read this last year, but I have to include it because it's one of my favorite books of all time. There's romance, adventure, a great villain, mistaken identity and a castle. Definitely another must-read, only must-readier than any of these other books, mkay?

Wow, that's way too many novels. Sorry, went a little overboard there. Let's move on to another question, shall we?

Which authors do you love?

So far my favorite turn-of-the century authors are Mary Roberts Rinehart, Rafael Sabatini, and Anthony Hope. And I guess Anna Katharine Green, since I keep reading her even though I think her books are CRAZY. If you have recommendations based on that, let me know!

Which authors do you hope to learn more about?

This year I'm planning to read Joseph Vance by William de Morgan (on Melody's recommendation), and I'd like to read more classic mysteries (that's my thing). I'd really like to learn more about/read more books by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Rafael Sabatini, Anthony Hope, and I'd like to read books by more female writers in general.

I am definitely looking forward to this salon and learning more from the other bloggers participating!

Further reading:

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, or in the comments below.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What's Your Favorite Shakespeare Play?

This week Shakespeare Uncovered started on PBS (thanks to Robyn for the heads up), and it was AWESOME. If you have any interest at all in Shakespeare, I highly recommend this series. There are four episodes left and David Tenant hosts the one about Hamlet! (Fun fact: did you know Shakespeare named his son Hamlet?) I'm excited.

ellen terry as lady macbeth
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent. 1889. Tate Britain.

The first episode was about Macbeth, which incidentally is my favorite Shakespeare play of all time. I know you're probably thinking I'd prefer one of his comedies, such as As You Like It or Much Ado About Nothing, and I do enjoy those--but Macbeth totally fascinates me. For one thing, it has witches and magic and destiny, which are three of my absolute favorite things to see in a story. For another thing, it's really about the relationship between Macbeth and his wife, and their marriage is actually kind of sweet. They're a team! At least until Macbeth starts killing people.

I was blown away by Macbeth when I first read it in high school, and since I've learned more about the history of play, I've come to appreciate it even more. Macbeth is a work of art that bites back; it doesn't stay safely on the page or in the theater. That's why actors are superstitious about calling it "the Scottish play;" one doesn't want to invite it into one's home. It's close enough to actual history and human nature to be completely plausible.*

What I love about Shakespeare's tragedies so much is that you spend the entire play going, "Ooh, if they just hadn't done that, everything would have turned out okay." There's something comforting about looking at a series of mistakes that happen to other people in the hopes you might avoid the same. A great example of this is Romeo and Juliet, which could arguably be retitled A Series Of Dumb Decisions. But with Macbeth, you sympathize with him so much and feel his downfall is so unavoidable, you can't help but finish the play with the sense that it's more of a cautionary tale about ambition and moral weakness than a tragedy per se.

Anyway, that's just a few of the reasons why Macbeth is my favorite Shakespeare play. What's yours?

*Incidentally, if you're interested in Shakespeare, I can't recommend Jennifer Lee Carrell's Interred with Their Bones and Haunt Me Still enough.

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, or in the comments below.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Review: CAT'S CRADLE by Julia Golding

cat's cradle cover

After traveling through the British colonies in America and the Caribbean, orphan Cat Royal has returned to London only to discover that her long-lost family wants to get in touch with her. But are they looking for her, or for money? Cat decides to travel to Scotland to find out.

I'm beginning to think the quality of any Cat Royal book can be immediately ascertained by the cleverness of the "The Critics" section in the front matter of each book. For example, I loved loved LOVED Cat Among the Pigeons and Black Heart of Jamaica, and in both of those novels "The Critics" sections were so cute and hilarious I could barely contain myself. In Cat O' Nine Tails, however, "The Critics" section was really blah and uninteresting, kind of like that book! The same was true for Cat's Cradle, and therefor I had a sneaking suspicion it wouldn't be the best Julia Golding novel I'd ever read when I started it. I was right.

Cat's Cradle was basically really boring and felt episodic. I was glad Cat got to find her family, and I thought some of the locations she went to in this book were interesting (a fabric mill, for example); but it didn't feel like there was a central challenge or antagonist for her to overcome, and as a result the whole things felt really blah. Don't get me wrong, Cat's Cradle was still enjoyable, but as soon as I put it down I had NO desire to pick it back up again. Not even when I was bored out of my mind and actually in the mood to read something.

Another thing that was kind of disappointing about Cat's Cradle was the lack of Billy Boil. Billy, if you haven't read the series, is Cat's archnemesis who insists that they belong together. He's my FAVORITE character, and he's not involved in the story of Cat's Cradle at all. Frank (son of a duke who's super-fun and nice) and Syd (leader of the Covent Garden gang and Cat's bestie) are in the novel quite a bit, and they're great; but Cat just isn't Cat withouy Billy pushing her buttons. He's like the Fred to her Ginger! Now that I think of it, all of the books I've really liked in this series have featured Billy prominently.

I'm not ready to give up on the Cat Royal books, but Cat's Cradle was REALLY disappointing. About halfway through I realized I'd either have to DNF it or skim through it. Since I didn't want to DNF it, I skimmed, and it was still really hard to finish. I DO want the series to keep going, just because I love the characters so much--but I hope the next book is better, especially since I have to special order them from the UK.

Further Reading:

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, or in the comments below.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Novel Conspiracies

 photo conspiracy.gif

I heard about this article on Conspiracy Theories About Classic Characters at Bookarama and immediately got sucked in. They aren't really "conspiracy theories," more like reinterpretations--for example, Nick from The Great Gatsby is gay. Actually every character in the article is gay. Anyway, I immediately started thinking of my own "conspiracy theories," as you do.

Theory 1: Snape is Harry's father figure, not Dumbledore. I already wrote about this extensively in For the Love of Severus Snape, so I'm just going to leave it at that and let the original post stand.

Theory 2: Elinor Dashwood is in love with Willoughby. "ELINOR Dashwood?!" you're no doubt thinking. "But it's Marianne who's supposed to have fallen in love with Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility." You're right, voluble reader, Marianne did fall in love with wandering Willoughby. But I think Elinor did, too. I'm sure we can all agree that there is nothing attractive about Edward, and it's a well-known law of romance novels that opposites attract. Wouldn't it be natural for uptight, logical Elinor to develop a tendre for the romantic and brooding Willoughby, especially after learning Edward was already engaged? Who better to serve as Mr. Rebound than him? No wonder she didn't tell Marianne to pull herself together and stop acting pathetic after they learned Willoughby was engaged--she was glad her sister wasn't going to get him! And since it turns out he's really a beta male anyway (totally Sophia's bitch), Willoughby and Elinor are actually kind of perfect together.

Theory 3: Doctor Seward is actually mental. I find it very weird that Doctor Seward from Dracula lives in the asylum where he's a doctor. Who does that? You'd think he'd want to get away from his job... IF IT REALLY IS A JOB. How do we know he doesn't just THINK he's a doctor there and that the real doctors are humoring him to see if his delusion runs its course? After all, it seems like the only "work" he does is to natter into his phonograph, and he can take off whenever he wants. Very suspicious. His "mentor," Van Helsing, is probably Seward's psychiatrist, and he encourages the people at the asylum to accommodate Seward's illness by giving him employment. The whole thing with Lucy being a vampire and Arthur "thrusting his stake" into her was a delusion brought on by her rejection of Seward's marriage proposal.

Further Reading:

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, or in the comments below.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


harry potter page to screen cover

Once upon a time there were people who loved books, and made movies from them. One day they received a magical manuscript and read it, not expecting very much. But soon they realized they were reading the greatest book of all time! Thus the people who loved books made a movie from the book, and also seven more movies, all of which brought the world of the magical manuscript "to life." And everyone lived happily ever after.

Harry Potter Page to Screen is basically the story of how the Harry Potter movies were made. Surprisingly, I loved the hell out of it. I say surprisingly because usually these types of books are either complete fluff or eye-searingly boring, with a lot of mutual reach-around commentary from the people involved. I'm not saying there's not some self-congratulation going on in Harry Potter Page to Screen, but what's there is palatable because the text is really well-written and informative. Bob McCabe did an amazing job of condensing tons of interviews and material into something that was honestly entertaining and interesting to read.

Any movie being made is a small miracle--there are so many things that can go wrong to stop production, and often do. Creating a film is a HUGE undertaking; now imagine creating eight of them with the majority of the cast and crew remaining consistent over the course of a decade! I agree that the Harry Potter films are incredible just for that, and that the set design is top-notch. I'm also interested in how involved JK Rowling was in the films (the answer is very: she had final veto on ANY aspect of the movies, and David Hayman, the producer, said Rowling was the only person in the audience he cared about pleasing) and how they inform the world of the books, and Harry Potter Page to Screen is definitely illuminating when it comes to that.

For some reason I found the story of the creation of the Potter films really moving. Like I started crying on page one of the introduction (note that I am a sap; your mileage may vary). Maybe it was just remembering the books first coming out and reading about the enthusiasm the filmmakers felt for them. There's no doubt that nearly everyone on the project, from the producer to the crew, was dedicated to bringing the novels to life, not just wanting to make a movie. Apparently I get all sentimental when people love books! There's also that the majority of the cast DID basically spend their school years at "Hogwarts" and that the last film was a graduation from their childhood life and into their adult careers. Life did weirdly imitate art in a lot ways.

Finally, the visuals in Harry Potter Page to Screen are amazing. I loved the photographs of the kids when they were auditioning for their roles (so cute!), and the concept sketches by Stuart Craig were fantastic. A good portion of the book is dedicated to art direction; and although the text for this section isn't as interesting to read, the pictures of details from the costumes and set design are really great. Tea pot earrings for Mrs. Weasley! How perfect is that idea? I want a pair. And the Death Eater masks were incredible and scary.

Harry Potter Page to Screen is a huge, gorgeous, really expensive book (thank god for libraries, huh?) that's totally worth checking out if you're a fan. I liked it.

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, or in the comments below.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review: ASHER'S DILEMMA by Coleen Kwan

asher's dilemma cover

Asher Quigley is a scientist who has created a time machine--I'm sorry, "chronometrical conveyance." After he drops something on it, he's accidentally transported back eight months, where he realizes his true love's existence is about to be erased! Can Future Asher convince Past Asher to destroy the chronometrical conveyance and save Minerva's life?

Even though I'm about to complain about it, Asher's Dilemma was okay. Someone who wasn't me might enjoy it more than I did; but then again, maybe Future Me would dislike it more than I did, especially after reading this review. You just never know! In any case, it started off as funny, although I have my doubts the parts I found funny were meant to be so. Then it turned into a slog and I HATED the ending.

The steampunk element was definitely there--not just in the inventions but also in the descriptions and the characters. For example, Mrs. Nemo (there's a subtle reference for you) was described as having "tuberose" perfume and a boneless way of moving. Um, ew. This would be cool if Mrs. Nemo had something else going on for her, but instead she came off as kind of cartoonish.

I was also expecting more wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. As the Doctor says, time is non-linear and non-subjective, and Asher's Dilemma was too little of both. Plus I found the interactions between Future Asher and Past Asher very unrealistic. If I met myself, I would probably find myself really annoying. I agree with Seinfeld on that one. Instead, Future Asher seemed to almost be crushing on Past Asher, which was SUPER awkward.

As for Minerva--UHG. At first she seemed kind of cool because her job was creating artificial limbs, but as Asher's Dilemma went on, I wondered if the "dilemma" was what do with Minerva, as she was definitely becoming TSTL. And isn't it kind of suspicious both her parents are crazy pants? By the end I didn't care if she was erased from existence or not. Actually I didn't care if ANY of these characters were erased from existence.

Still, I would have been more forgiving of all of this if Asher's Dilemma was a quick read (at less than 100 pages, one would think it would be), but instead it felt like it went on and on and ON. I think the denouement takes up twenty percent of the book; that's what it felt like, anyway. It either needed to be a lot shorter to speed up the pace of the story, or a lot longer to build a more complicated storyline and deeper attachment to the characters.

In any case, as I stated earlier, it was okay. I heard there was a prequel to Asher's Dilemma; maybe if I'd read that I'd have been more invested in the outcome.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Disqualifications for Being Agreeable (According to Jane Austen)

See more on Know Your Meme

In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen enumerates the many ways by which a person can lose Elinor Dashwood's approval. I know you're thinking breathing has got to be on the list, but no! Her standards are slightly higher than that. To be specific, people are not good company if they have:

  • Want of sense, either natural or improved [why would someone without sense improve their sense?]
  • Want of elegance
  • Want of spirits [I hope this refers to spirits of the liquor variety]
  • Want of temper

As an illustrative example, we're told that after a dinner party, the women in the group get into a long conversation about who is taller, Harry Dashwood or Lady Middleton's son, William. Mmkay. Not to be disagreeable or anything, but if you want to talk about something more interesting, Elinor, you can bring up a topic yourself. You don't have to listen to that cow Fanny talk. Maybe Sense and Sensibility should be retitled How to Be Agreeable While Screaming on the Inside.

In any event, I thought it would be appropriate to list my own disqualifications for being agreeable, should I ever find myself in Elinor's company.

  • Hungry. I am not in a good mood when I'm hungry.
  • I wanted to write that day, but for some reason I didn't, or what I did write was crap. This will make me VERY disagreeable.
  • It was too cold to go outside. Grrr.
  • Too much pressure.
  • There was a want of coffee. HULKSMASH

Apparently I have a want of temper. But on the plus side I do have lots of spirits.

What do you guys think of Elinor's disqualifications for being agreeable? And why do we have to be agreeable, anyway?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: THE BLOGGER ABIDES by Chris Higgins

the blogger abides cover

I came across The Blogger Abides entirely by chance on Twitter when Ransom Riggs tweeted about it (apparently he and Chris Higgins are friends, and Riggs wrote the intro to the book). I wasn't planning to review The Blogger Abides here, but after reading it, I realized it's a book a lot of my fellow bloggers and writers will want to read. And definitely should.

Chris Higgins is a freelance writer for Mental Floss as well as some other publications (Wired was mentioned frequently). You've probably read his posts or at least seen them posted on Twitter. In The Blogger Abides, he shares what he knows about freelance blogging: getting jobs, keeping track of payments and taxes, drinking hours, horrible grammar mistakes, dealing with editors, comments, and publicists; how to say no, trading up, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Basically, there's a shit ton of information here, and whether you're paid to blog or not, if you write you'll probably find at least some of it useful.

There was a lot I found really enlightening about The Blogger Abides, for one how a professional approaches blog posts, and writing in general. We're all familiar with posts that mine nostalgia or highlight "This day in history" topics, but I never would have come across one of them and labeled it as such before reading this book. Basically Higgins uses the same strategies most bloggers do as a far as finding topics and writing out posts, but at an increased volume and more professional level, which was something I found really interesting. After starting The Blogger Abides, I decided to challenge myself to write one post every day for the rest of the year just to see if I can meet that expectation of producing content constantly. So far it's been really fun!

Another thing that was really eye-opening for me was the concept of trading up: using blog posts as a springboard for magazine articles, books, and movie deals. Prior to reading The Blogger Abides, I knew that this happened occasionally (The Bloggess, anyone? Fed Up with Lunch?), but I only had a vague idea how. Now I'm thinking, "Hm, which of these blog posts can I turn into a book?" (Answer: probably none.)

Higgins does a great job of giving the reader a better idea of what the life of a professional freelancer entails. I can see someone thinking about going into freelancing and then deciding, after reading The Blogger Abides, that it's not for them. Not that Higgins is discouraging, but he does make it clear it's not easy (but then, is anything worth doing easy?--I felt like the woman in the Dewar's commercial for an instant, there). Do you want to have to keep track of your own taxes, your own retirement, "live small"--i.e., don't spend money on anything, because you won't have it--or worry about contracts and whether or not you get paid? If not, then you should probably just stick to writing for yourself.

As far as specific sections of The Blogger Abides are concerned, the chapter on how to get a job is probably the least helpful, since the answer is you basically have to know people. Fair enough. The chapter called "Business, Blah Blah Blah," about taxes and contracts and retirement savings and all that good stuff, was the most difficult to get through--not because it was confusing or tedious; Higgins actually breaks it down with admirable clarity and brevity--but because that's really not something I want to think about until I absolutely have to. And the part at the end about grammar was hilarious. I literally laughed until I cried over "Hard Road to Hoe." Too funny.

I've honestly only scratched the surface of the material found in The Blogger Abides. There is A LOT (plagiarism, linking, HTML, how to pitch to magazines, research--I want to write Higgins a thank-you note just for saying Wikipedia is NOT a valid source), and it's all really useful and relevant if you're interested in freelancing or just looking to improve your blog. I'm glad I took a chance on this and foresee referencing The Blogger Abides for a long time to come.

Monday, January 14, 2013

When Series Jump the Shark

jumping the shark

Some series end too soon and never fulfill their potential. Other series go on so long at some point they just go overboard and you have to dump them.

In US parlance (and maybe other places as well?), "jumping the shark" means a series has completely lost you. It comes from Happy Days where Fonzie literally jumps a shark. I guess this was lame; Happy Days was way before my time. Point is, I think we've all come across a series where we were kind of teetering on the edge of giving up (or not), and then something happened and we were DONE. Toss that book on the floor and move on to something else.

Behold! A short list of scenes where long-running series jumped the shark for me:

  • When Anita Blake and Richard slept together in Blue Moon. I was never that into Richard, but the way Anita and Richard hooked up in Blue Moon totally put me off. It was like the Anita Blake series was just becoming an agent for vicarious sexual thrills... OH WAIT, it was.
  • We find out Yuki Cross and Kaname Kuran are brother and sister in Vampire Knight. Incest is one of those things that's guaranteed to make me lose interest in a story, even if I'm enjoying said story, which was the case here. I just can't buy into it. And it's too icky.
  • Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Kenyon stated that she foresaw Acheron's book as being the last of the Dark Hunters series, but moved it up because fans wanted his story soooo much. Um, who's the writer here, Kenyon or "the fans"? Anyway, I liked Ash's book, and after I finished it I had no more questions about the series. So I guess it was a good ending (even though the Dark Hunter series and its plethora of spin-off continues).

What scenes jumped the shark for you in a series?

Saturday, January 12, 2013


importance of being wicked cover
Look, kids, another great cover from Miranda Neville! Joke. Just ignore it.

Although the Duke of Castleton and Caroline Townsend are of completely opposite dispositions--he, being proper and conventional; she, determined to live with no regard for society's rules--they both find themselves in similar financial straights due to the irresponsible behavior of other people. When Castleton sets out to court Caro's wealthy cousin, he finds himself attracted to the bohemian widow and is quickly drawn into her misadventures.

The Importance of Being Wicked has a lot of problems, but I ended up enjoying it anyway. Problem the first is some pretty dodgy history. If you're the type of person who's driven crazy by historical inaccuracies, just walk away right now. I already discussed the novel's questionable use of art here, but honestly that's the just the tip of the iceberg. Castleton is alternately addressed as "Your Grace" and "Duke" by the same people, sometimes within the same sentence (only social equals addressed dukes as "Duke," everyone else used "Your Grace;" it wasn't interchangeable); and the characters say things like, "Uhg," and "true blue" (which referred to one's political leanings, not the nature of one's character). Honestly I was a bit taken aback by the careless use of terms and disregard of historical context in this novel, considering that Miranda Neville's last two books were impressively researched--as far as I noticed, anyway--but fortunately I'm not one of those people who demand historical accuracy in order to enjoy a work of fiction. All right, I'll admit the whole Duke/Your Grace thing was a bit crazy-making, but not so much that I couldn't still enjoy the story.

Problem the second was the plot, if one can call it that. It was really thin and not enough to hold the book together. As a result The Importance of Being Wicked felt episodic, especially in the second half. There were a lot of threads going on in this story--the painting by Titian, financial hardship, the whole thing with Castleton's mother, Caro's pregnancy, etc.--that just sort of waved around in the wind and then ended without ever being tied together. The pacing of the story also slows way the heck down in the second half of the book; but then I'm of the once-they-get-married-let's-wrap-the-book-up school of thought.

Those problems aside, however, I really enjoyed The Importance of Being Wicked. I liked it a whole heck of a lot more than Confessions from an Arranged Marriage (post here), and I think the main reason was that I loved the two main characters. Was Caro a bit unbelievable as an eighteenth-century daughter of an earl? Yeah, but I still liked reading about her adventures and sympathized with her actions throughout the book. Castleton was also a fun character because he was so easily shocked by everything and, though he prided himself on being level-headed, spent an awful lot of time threatening to punch people in the face. He had me at the first K-O.

punch in the face gif

Also, I can forgive a lot in a romance novel as long as the hero and heroine have chemistry, and that was totally the case in The Importance of Being Wicked. I loved Castleton and Caro together and thought the way they fell in love was really delightful (I am, incidentally, a complete sucker for opposites attract romances, so that was basically a sure bet for me from the beginning). I also really appreciated the fact that neither Castleton nor Caro were ridiculously wealthy: usually in romance novels (I'm tempted to say ALL THE TIME WITHOUT ANY EXCEPTION, but I won't) the hero is rich. He can be ugly, he can be socially awkward, he can be a dishonest asshole, he can even smack the heroine around a bit or be not-a-peer, but he's ALWAYS rich. Not in this case! The fact that Castleton, who as a duke had huge financial responsibilities, was willing to marry Caro and take on her additional debt made The Importance of Being Wicked very unusual and added a sweetness and believability to their romance that I fell for completely.

Would I recommend The Importance of Being Wicked? Yes, although I can see where it might disappoint some people or just not be their cuppa. It's not a perfect book by any means, but I think if you're partial to romance there are enough things to like that outweigh the negatives. For the most part I had a great time reading it. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy to review! And in the future please give Miranda Neville better covers.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Austentatious Bad Boys

george wickham
Consider yourself smirked. Among other things.

Alfred Hitchcock once said "The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture," an axiom that is equally true for many books. Jane Austen, on the other hand, never really had any Hitchcockian-style villains in her novels; but she did write several bad boy characters who make the books they're in that much better.

stay away from teenage girls gif

Personally, my two favorites are Wickham and Willoughby. If you're a fan of bad boys, Wickham has many laudable qualities: one, he's an officer. That means he wears a fancy uniform (hot), he's automatically dashing, and he moves around a lot--the perfect answer to any woman's escapist fantasies. He's also super-smirky, and as we all know from reading Fifty Shades of Grey, women can't resist The Smirk. Oh no. If only he'd stop running off with teenage girls and plying them with his wicked ways.

dominic cooper as willoughby
Is it hot in here suddenly? *fans self*

Right now I'm reading Sense & Sensibility for Reading with Analysis' Jane Austen January, and I have to say that I LOVE Willoughby. Unlike Wickham, Willoughby is über-romantic, like Heathcliff come to life! Who would blame Marianne for falling for his I'm-so-into-you schtick? Not me. His OKCupid profile probably reads, "I like long walks, collecting locks of your hair, and I'll write you a song." I'd be all over that. I bet he even quotes poetry. *swoon*

Even his name sounds romantic, like a sigh of longing echoing across the moors. "Willoughby! Caw, caw!" Honestly, the fact that he's a playa playa doesn't really cut down on the appeal that much. I mean, is he really that different from the sainted Edward, other than the fact that Edward is not at all charming or interesting? They both snatch locks of hair, mislead the Dashwood sisters, form secret engagements, cause a scandal, and lose all their money. Taken from that perspective, Willoughby is really the better bet. Right? Right, guys?

Who's your favorite Austen bad boy?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Books Characters from Downton Abbey Should Read

ethel reading

Lady Mary--Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
Mary should have no problem connecting to the story of sisters who need to marry or find themselves penniless and homeless. She could also stand to think a bit about being too proud.

Mr. Bates--Psycho by Robert Bloch
If nothing else he'll finally figure out why The Bates Motel is a really bad idea.

Thomas--The Prince by Machiavelli
He's going to need all the help he can get if he keeps up the feud he has going with O'Brien.

Edith--Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
Hopefully Edith would find this ugly duckling story inspiring--as long as she doesn't take it too far (she totally would). Alternate read would be Stranger In My Arms by Lisa Kleypas if that Canadian "Patrick" guy comes back.

Carson--The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
You know Carson's really a romantic at heart, but his sense of social hierarchy and propriety probably makes him a bit of pessimist. Enter Edith Wharton!

What books would you recommend for Downton characters?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Harry Potter and the Grand Tour

cover of harry potter and the deathly hallows
US cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with Roman arches and columns.

It's been a while since I wrote a Harry Potter post, and something must be done about that! Actually I was watching part one of The Deathly Hallows during Christmas, and I realized that Harry's, Hermione's, and Ron's last year of education is similar to the English tradition of the Grand Tour.

The Grand Tour started in the mid-17th century and, by the 19th, was considered a necessary part of every young man's education (at least if you were part of the upper-class). After studying the classics, the civilizations of Greece and Rome, and reading about the art of Michelangelo and Raphael, the best way to conclude one's schooling was by seeing the art and the ruins of these civilizations for oneself. Obvs, since they didn't have the intrawebs or photography back then, the only way to do this was to travel.

Like Ron, Hermione, and Harry, travelers on the Grand Tour would take EVERYTHING with them. I don't know about you guys, but when I go somewhere, even for a really long time, I pack ONE bag. If I need more clothes, I can buy them when I get there. For travelers on the Grand Tour, though, they packed like they were going to the moon and included every single thing they could possibly need, in quantities to last them the years it would take before they returned to England. Unlike the Harry Potter People, however, they didn't have a bottomless purse to stuff everything in, so they had to hire carriages and porters to carry it all. Not to mention guards to keep from being robbed by unscrupulous highwaymen!

More importantly, people on the Grand Tour had a typical set of destinations that defined it as "the" tour. They went in search of specific objects, places, and knowledge. Like, you HAD to visit Paris and sleep with a prostitute, or else what was the point? Haha. They also typically visited the Vatican, saw the Sistine Ceiling and paintings by Raphael, saw an opera, and sketched the Roman Forum. The itinerary for the Grand Tour wasn't too different from the typical modern tourist's to-do list in Italy, actually.

Of course, Harry, Ron, and Hermione don't go to Italy, but they do take a "tour" of sorts of the British Isles, and this is further emphasized in the locations of the films. They visit the Giant's Causeway, Buckinghamshire, Yorkshire, Suffolk, and Wales, among other locations. Also, although Harry isn't technically traveling to "finish" his education, he does learn a lot about himself and the past--especially the past of his hero, Dumbledore. He also collects objects (the Deathly Hallows), similarly to how people on the Grand Tour collected souvenirs.

What would a Grand Tour look like for you?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Manet's OLYMPIA in Books and TV

manet's olympia
Olympia, Edouard Manet, 1863, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Ahoy, mateys! Major rant ahead...

Edouard Manet is one of my favorite historical crushes. Just check out the interview I did with him if you don't believe me. A nineteenth-century avant-garde artist, Manet inspired the Impressionists and was one of the first modern artists. But he's definitely not as famous as any of the Impressionists, including his bestest frenemy, Edgar Degas. And that's perfectly fine with me. Manet is my historical crush; get your own!

It's kind of weird that in the past few months, I've seen Manet's Olympia given the art history shout-out treatment twice: once on TV and once in a book. And both times it was totally anachronistic. The first instance was on the BBC America series Copper, which is about the NYC police department during the Civil War. On the show, the wealthy Elizabeth Haverford has Olympia hanging in her drawing room. Okay, it's not the ACTUAL Olympia (I can just imagine what they'd have to pay the Musée d'Orsay to get away with that), it's just "very reminiscent of" Olympia according to the show's own blog.

elizabeth haverford's painting from copper
Screenshot of Elizabeth Haverford's painting. C/o BBC America blog.

I don't have a problem with a TV show creating its own version of a famous painting, but I do have a problem with Copper using Olympia. It's horribly anachronistic and drove me crazy. Yes, Copper is set in 1864 and Olympia was painted in 1863, but:

  1. Manet didn't exhibit it--in Paris--until 1865, so how would Elizabeth have gotten her hands on it, hm?
  2. Even ignoring the whole exhibition thing, seeing how the painting isn't "really" Olympia, in order to get a painting like it, Elizabeth would have had to travel to Paris. In the middle of the Civil War? I don't think so.
  3. When Olympia was first exhibited it was WAY avante-garde. It took the French public nearly 30 years to accept Olympia as a masterpiece. The US was generally about twenty years behind Paris in the visual arts (at least in the 19th century), so by my calculations there is no way an American would have anything resembling Olympia until the 1910s at the earliest. BUT...
  4. When I say "Americans" I actually mean American men, since if you haven't noticed there's a naked prostitute in that there picture (that's what made the painting scandalous, by the way--also, it's pretty badly painted). Not the sort of thing a respectable woman would own, let alone have hanging in her drawing room. Even William Bouguereau's Nymphs and Satyr was considered too risque for women to look at, for heaven's sakes!

For the above reasons, although I of course love Manet, I found the presence of Olympia on Copper very annoying. Whenever I saw the painting in Elizabeth's house I was thrown out of the story. Fortunately Corky got pissed off and slashed the painting near the end of the first season, so I won't have to look at it in season two. Yay!

The second instance was in The Importance of Being Wicked by Miranda Neville, which I'm currently reading. Naturally one cannot see paintings in a novel, but I'm pretty sure the portrait described at the beginning of the book is Olympia. It's of an "almost naked [later "stark naked"] woman, reclining on a satin-draped divan." The figure has short, red hair and a bold, direct gaze. Also: Caro wears a ribbon around her neck like Olympia. But most of all, the painting is modeled after a Titian. A Titian like this, for example?

the venus of urbino
The Venus of Urbino, Titian, 1538, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

BOOM. Manet totally modeled Olympia after The Venus of Urbino. This is the only Titian where the subject is 1. a female nude who is 2. lying down, 3. a ginger, and 4. looking at viewer, so it must be the Titian Caro's husband bought and her friend Oliver later copied, using her as a model.

Again, while I enjoy art history shout-outs, this is pretty anachronistic. The Importance of Being Wicked takes place in 1811 at the latest (likely earlier), and again there's no way a woman of the time would have a painting like that hanging in her drawing room, no matter how daring she was.

What I wonder is, why Olympia? It's a pretty famous painting--even if you don't have an art history degree you've probably seen it--so it's not as if no one would recognize it. I get it, Elizabeth Haverford's a whore (like every single other female character on Copper) and that's why there's this ugly painting of her in the drawing room; but I'm pretty sure there's only about a bazillion paintings out there that could convey that fact more cleverly and effectively than Olympia AND be historically appropriate. Even a Madame X type of portrait would make more sense than Olympia.

With The Importance of Being Wicked, I don't have to look at the painting while I'm reading, so that makes it less annoying than Copper. But the characters show an anachronistic tendency towards "modern art" (term actually used in the book) by reviling the dramatic poses and allegorical works that were popular at the time. That just doesn't shake out in the context of the time period: what we consider "natural posing" doesn't make sense without photography. Not to mention, since the novel IS set in the late 18th century, that London was the Scandalous Portrait Capital of the World! For realz, it's not as if the most famous women in English history at the time had their portraits painted when they either wanted to become famous or shock their family, or both. OH WAIT they all did that, my bad. Modeling a portrait off one of the (many) paintings of Kitty Fischer, Sarah Siddons, Lady Sarah Lennox, or Lady Hamilton would make much more sense. It's not as if there isn't a lot of options to chose from.

Art is a reflection of its place and time, and thus is a great tool for writers and filmmakers to enhance the setting of their story and add depth to their characters (a great example is the use of the Bird Lady on True Blood). But not if the art used is inappropriate! In that case all one winds up with is a sad mess that doesn't mean anything to anyone, least of all to the people who might appreciate the reference the most (such as myself).

Further Reading:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: ICED by Karen Marie Moning

iced cover

It's the Ryodan Show! Welcome to the Ryodan Show, where the world revolves around Ryodan, the most interesting man in the world. Ryodan knows mostly everything, but there's one thing he doesn't know: who, how, what, and why is freezing Unseelie in his club. For some reason he thinks Dani Mega O'Malley, a fourteen-year-old who fancies herself a superhero[ine], will be able to help him figure it out.

I was kind of excited about Iced, the first novel in a new series that takes place in the same world as the Fever series, Karen Marie Moning's über-successful PNR novels about a post-Apocalyptic world in Dublin. I loved the Fever series, which concluded last year. Dani, supposedly the main character in Iced and a supporting player in the Fever books, wasn't the most interesting person, but I wasn't opposed to her getting her own book.

Guys, I had so many problems with this novel. Whereas the Fever series felt like it knew exactly where it was going, and I could relate to the characters, Iced seemed like Moning was making it up as she went along. And I could not connect to Dani at all. Let's break it down a little, shall we?

  • Dani--First and foremost, Iced does not feel like Dani's story. I'm honestly not sure whose story it is (Moning switches points of view a lot), but even though Dani gets most of the page time, I never got the sense I was reading her story. Secondly, she was completely unbelievable as a character. I was annoyed by Mac sometimes, but I was able to buy into her emotions and predicament. With Dani, I was just annoyed. She was way too OTT, from her crappy childhood to her reactions to EVERYTHING, to the fact that she didn't act like a believable fourteen-year-old. I can see where Moning was trying to make her *seem* like a teenager, but it didn't work for me. And speaking of age, this may be a stupid question, but why is Dani fourteen? Normally I don't care about characters' ages, but Moning makes a point of mentioning Dani's age (or lack thereof) every ten pages, and it doesn't contribute to the story at all. In fact, it works against the believability of the story pretty severely. 
  • Chapter titles--All of the chapter titles are song lyrics. Now, quoting song lyrics in novels is generally a bad idea (they never mean the same thing to you as they do to other people, trust me on this), but using them as chapter titles wouldn't bother me if it wasn't symptomatic of the central problems with Iced. None of these characters are musicians. OR EVEN LISTEN TO MUSIC. There's no music in this book, which is set in an alternate world *in Dublin* anyway, so why are the chapters referencing contemporary and classic American rock? Makes absolutely zero sense.
  • Ryodan and Christian--Ryodan was an okay character in the Fever series. I didn't give two shits about any of the Keltars, but that's probably because I didn't read that series by Moning set in Scotland, whatever it was. ANYway. My point here is this: Ryodan in Iced is boring. The way he ended every question with a period drove me bonkers. And the way he kept petting Dani was P R E T T Y creepy, almost as creepy as Christian stalking her. Especially considering she's four freaking teen. 
  • Story and pacing--You know how I'm always harping on when the pirates go back to the island in Pirates of the Caribbean? Now imagine the entire movie where they just keep going back to the island. Iced is kind of like that; except instead of an island, Dani keeps going back to Chester's. It's like this: Chester's, plot; leave Chester's so we can get adventures and pointless backstory; go back to Chester's so we can get back to the plot. FOR THE LOVE GOD, this book could have been wrapped up in 250 pages if Dani'd just stayed in Chester's!

Basically I really did not get Iced. At all. It just seems like a really weird, meandery book where the author didn't fully think everything through and then the editor didn't ask the right questions. But obviously that's just my personal opinion. And on the plus side I don't have to buy any more books in this series, yay!


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