Sunday, December 30, 2012

TSS-The Most End-iful Time of the Year

secret santa

Hello, everyone! I hope you all had a nice holiday and that you're ready to celebrate the end of the year. If you were thinking of reading during New Year's Eve, Jenn from Picky Girl is hosting a NYE Readathon that you should sign up for! I'll be participating so will Becky from One Literature Nut and our friend, brut cuvée.

I feel like 2012 was a really good reading year for me. I started the year off with a great book that blended mystery and romance--The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley (review here)--and I just finished an AWESOME classic spy novel called The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton. My review for The Man Who Was Thursday will be posted in January on The Project Gutenberg Project, but I can say right now that I definitely think it's a novel everyone should read, especially if you like stories that are quirky and clever. If you're looking for a classic to read for a Readathon, The Man Who Was Thursday would be perfect--it's about 200 pages, funny, entertaining, creepy, mysterious, and it goes by really fast.

Aside from The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (review here) and The Man Who Was Thursday, some of my most favorite books of 2012 were Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini (review at PGP), The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart (review at PGP), The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (review here), and The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville (review here).

This has turned into the Year of Reading Mysteries for me. I knew it would when I blew my 2011 Christmas gift card entirely on mysteries at B&N. Mysteries were the first genre I loved as a kid and I definitely returned to the fold this year, especially when it comes to classic mysteries. Last year I read so few mysteries they didn't even show up on that little pie chart thing on GoodReads; this year, I read the first detective mysteries ever written, The Dupin Mysteries by Edgar Allan Poe; some Sherlock Holmes stories, Agatha Christie's first novel, reread a few favorites by Barbara Michaels, and many others.

As for blogging, I started two new blogs (Liquid Persuasion and The Project Gutenberg Project), which is kind of crazy considering that in December of last year I honestly wasn't sure Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books would survive 2012. The new blogs have offered me different creative outlets and new things to learn about, though, so I think branching beyond the single blog was a good idea.

Next year, I'd like to focus more on recent releases here. I fell really behind on that in 2012 (I think I can count on one hand the number of books I read that were released this past year), and I'd like to actually post reviews of books in the same month they're released in 2013, as well as peruse NetGalley for upcoming releases. We'll see how that goes--it's nearly January already and I have no idea what's coming out next month.

That's why I need your help! Since I'm planning on to focus on new releases next year, please recommend some upcoming books--fiction or non-fiction--you think I should put on my TBR list. And I hope you all have a great new year!

What were some of your favorite books in 2012, and what are you looking forward to in 2013?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Guest Post: 5 Most Anticipated Books

book covers

I was brainstorming with Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads on silly end-of-the-year lists the other day, and we thought it would be fun to list our most anticipated books of 2012 and what we thought of them. This is Colette's list; to see my list, go to A Buckeye Girl Reads!

Colette's Most Anticipated Books of 2012

I didn't realize that I read quite so many Urban Fantasy books until I made this list out. All of the books except for one are from that Genre. I think I like Urban Fantasy's so much because while there is romance, it's secondary to the plot and doesn't take over the whole story line. The guys are tough, the women are tougher and the battle of wills gets me every time. Why must all UF books end in a cliffhanger?? I think that reason alone is why most of these books are on my most anticipated list of 2012.

5.  Chasing Magic by Stacia Kane #5 in the Downside Ghosts series (Urban Fantasy)
If you had told me that I'd like a series that features a drug addict for a heroine two years ago I'd have laughed you out of the room. However, Chess is one of my top five favorite heroines. I think it's because she's not perfect, has flaws, tries to do the right thing but doesn't always succeed. The love interest in this series isn't your typical alpha male, and Terrible has won a place in my heart because he's just not what you expect. These two make an unlikely pair, and I love it. The world is one where the ghosts had an uprising, and the goverments have failed, and The Church of The Truth rules everything. They keep the ghosts in check, and if a family or business should find themselves being haunted the church sends someone to see if it is in fact being haunted. That's where Chess comes in. She tries her best to prove or disprove a haunting. I love how her cases always revolve around other subplots and I love seeing them all come together in the end. In this book Chess is more vulnerable then before, and we get to see more of her role in the church. This series isn't religious, but it is dark, gritty and raw. I love how it pulls me out of my reading comfort book. Each book in this series is better then the last.

Magic-wielding Churchwitch and secret addict Chess Putnam knows better than anyone just how high a price people are willing to pay for a chemical rush. But when someone with money to burn and a penchant for black magic starts tampering with Downside’s drug supply, Chess realizes that the unlucky customers are paying with their souls—and taking the innocent with them, as the magic-infused speed compels them to kill in the most gruesome ways possible.
As if the streets weren’t scary enough, the looming war between the two men in her life explodes, taking even more casualties and putting Chess squarely in the middle. Downside could become a literal ghost town if Chess doesn’t find a way to stop both the war and the dark wave of death-magic, and the only way to do that is to use both her addiction and her power to enter the spell and chase the magic all the way back to its malevolent source. Too bad that doing so will probably kill Chess—if the war doesn’t first destroy the man who’s become her reason for living.

4. Keeping Secret by Sierra Dean #4 in the Secret McQueen Series (Urban Fantasy)
 This series has a love triangle that actually works, a heroine that is tough, witty, sassy and doesn't take crap from anyone yet is still really likable and vulnerable. Just as soon as you think you know where the plot is headed something happens that leaves you saying "Wait, what just happened here???" The ending was a cliffhanger that made me want to shake some sense into the heroine, and wanting the next book in the series immediately. This book did not disappoint me at all!

It's a nice day for a white wedding. At least that's what Secret McQueen is hoping for, with her poofy-princess-dress marriage to a werewolf king looming closer and closer by the day. But as ever, nothing can be that easy for a vampire/werewolf hybrid for whom someone still harbors a death wish. 
Summoned to the south by her werewolf uncle, who makes no bones about the fact her mate bond with Lucas doesn't pass muster, Secret learns her furry heritage looks more like a tangled vine than a family tree. Getting her royal uncle s blessing hinges on finding one of the missing twigs. Even with vampire sentry Holden Chancery at her side, she manages to land up to her neck in a swamp of trouble. As an assassin s scope zeroes in, family dramas boil up and a fast-collapsing love square threatens to bury her alive, making it to the church on time could be the least of Secret s problems. Warning: Contains a grumpy bride who shouldn't be wearing wedding white, a motley crew of bridesmaids, a dangerous scenic drive in the woods and a smoking-hot trio of suitors who might be too scorching to touch

3. The Ripple Effect by J.A. Saare #3 in the Rhiannon's Law Series  (Urban Fantasy)
This series made like vampires again. These vampires aren't sparkly and Rhiannon isn't an angst ridden teen. She isn't afraid to get out of the trouble she's somehow landed herself in, and this is another series where anything can and will happen when you least expect it.  This is one of the few series where I like a secondary character more then the main love interest, and like the nice, good guy rather then the super alpha male who is too jerkish for his own good. Each book in this series has been better then the one that came before, and I'm so glad this one didn't disappoint me. I was worried that it had been so long since I read book two, that I wouldn't remember anything that happened and would be totally lost. However, while I was a little shaky on the details from book two, they all came back to me while reading this one, and loved how the recap of what happened in previous books was nicely merged in with the story line instead of taking up all of one chapter by itself.

There is always a price to pay... Rhiannon Murphy visited the future, witnessed hell on earth and made choices to change things for the greater good. Unfortunately there are consequences for her actions, the penalties for her interference possibly more than she can bear. Determined to sever her debt with a fallen angel, she pushes everything aside, focusing on locating Marigold Vesta's resting place. Until death comes knocking at her door. When Disco's maker arrives in New York, he resents Rhiannon on a level she can't begin to comprehend. Yet Marius isn't her most dangerous adversary, not by a long shot. Marius's sire -- a half-demon -- is determined to see the necromancer who stunned the vampire world on her knees. If she won't bend, he'll do everything in his power to make her break. No price is too high, meaning no one is safe -- including Disco and Paine. Dealt a blow from which she can never recover, Rhiannon turns to the only person who can help her: the fallen angel who is relying on Rhiannon to save her soul. Bartering with a creature from Heaven is probably just as dangerous as starting a war with a demon from Hell, but with nothing to lose it's no longer about life or death. It's about getting even

2. The Prince by Tiffany Reisz Book #3 in the Original Sinners Series (Erotic Fiction)
This is the lone none Urban Fantasy book to make it on my list. This book left me breathless. This entire series is one where anything can and will happen. Nothing is safe. If you are thinking this series is just another copy cat of the fifty shades book then you'd be wrong. While there is romance in this series, it's not what it's about, and it's not all about sex either. It has a plot, characters to love and hate, and is one of the freshest series I've read since I started blogging.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer...preferably in bed. That's always been Kingsley Edge's strategy with his associate, the notorious New York dominatrix Nora Sutherlin. But with Nora away in Kentucky, now it's Kingsley's chance to take her place at the feet of the only man he's ever wanted -- Søren, Nora's on-again, off-again lover -- until a new threat from an old enemy forces him to confront his past.Wes Railey is still the object of Nora's tamest yet most maddening fantasies, and the one man she can't forget. He's young. He's wonderful. He's also thoroughbred royalty and she's in "his" world now. But Nora is no simpering Southern belle, and her dream of fitting into Wesley's world is perpetually at odds with her dear Søren's relentlessly seductive pull. Two worlds of wealth and passion call to her and whichever one Nora chooses, it will be the hardest decision she will ever have to make... unless someone makes it for her..

1.  Iced by Karen Marie Moning (Urban Fantasy)
I loved the MacKayla Lane books something fierce, but when I heard a spin off series was being started with a secondary character, Dani O'Malley I was a little hesitant to read this book. I was afraid it wouldn't live up to the standards I had set for the other series because Dani is young. (just 15) She was one of those characters that were annoyingly endearing. I have to say though, that this book while slow in parts, totally won me over. I enjoyed Dani as a lead character much more then I thought would be possible, and Ryodan was just as mysterious and hot as Barrons was. I didn't think that was possible!! Karen Marie Moning has mastered the art of cliffhangers and always makes me forget that there was a part of the book I didn't like by the time I get to the ending. This world continues to fascinate me and I can't wait to see where the next two books will go.

The year is 1 AWC—After the Wall Crash. The Fae are free and hunting us. It’s a war zone out there, and no two days are alike. I’m Dani O’Malley, the chaos-filled streets of Dublin are my home, and there’s no place I’d rather be. Dani “Mega” O’Malley plays by her own set of rules—and in a world overrun by Dark Fae, her biggest rule is: Do what it takes to survive. Possessing rare talents and the all-powerful Sword of Light, Dani is more than equipped for the task. In fact, she’s one of the rare humans who can defend themselves against the Unseelie. But now, amid the pandemonium, her greatest gifts have turned into serious liabilities. Dani’s ex–best friend, MacKayla Lane, wants her dead, the terrifying Unseelie princes have put a price on her head, and Inspector Jayne, the head of the police force, is after her sword and will stop at nothing to get it. What’s more, people are being mysteriously frozen to death all over the city, encased on the spot in sub-zero, icy tableaux. When Dublin’s most seductive nightclub gets blanketed in hoarfrost, Dani finds herself at the mercy of Ryodan, the club’s ruthless, immortal owner. He needs her quick wit and exceptional skill to figure out what’s freezing Fae and humans dead in their tracks—and Ryodan will do anything to ensure her compliance. Dodging bullets, fangs, and fists, Dani must strike treacherous bargains and make desperate alliances to save her beloved Dublin—before everything and everyone in it gets iced.

Have you read any of these novels? What did you think?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

TSS-Some Bookish Trends I Hope Will Die 2013

Jamie Oliver drooling over fifty shades of grey
Even Jamie Oliver liked Fifty Shades of Grey!

I was toodling around the internet last week, as I do, and I ran across a post titled "Five Trends I Hope Will Die in 2013". I think it was about celebrities or something, but I can't find the original article. Sorry! Anyway, I thought it would be fun to do a similar list about books.

  • Fifty Shades-alike covers--Okay, I get that this is a marketing thing, but the cover wasn't that great to being with and I don't think Fifty Shades was a success based on its cover. So can we please stop creating lookalike covers for every contemporary novel with sex in it?
  • Drama llama--Remember at the beginning of 2012 when every week some author would fly off the handle and attack a reviewer, or write a post about how reviews "should" be written online (favorably, of course)? And then there was the GR Bully site (created by, ironically, bullies). Wouldn't it be weird if nothing like that happened in 2013? Just imagine how easy it would be to enjoy reading! 
  • Consolidating publishers--Not that I know anything about the publishing industry aside from observation, but in the long term I think the merging of the bigger publishing companies (e.g., Random Penguin) will wind up hurting the Big 6 5 4. To me it seems like the big publishers' problems lie in being slow to adapt to a changing market. Turning themselves into bigger companies is NOT going to help that; publishing is becoming more decentralized and personally I'd like to see more publishers and more variety in the market--that's not self-pub'd--not less. But of course breaking into smaller companies is not only more expensive in the short term, but more difficult to manage.

What are some bookish trends you hope not to see in 2013?

Friday, December 21, 2012


virgin slave barbarian king cover

Rome is being sacked by barbarians, and patrician daughter Julia Livia is trying to escape her burning house when she's attacked by rioting citizens. Fortunately, she's save by the Goth (Visigoth? Barbarian? Are they the same?) leader Wulfric. Unfortunately, he decides she'd make a good slave and carts her off to his encampment. If the tent is a-rockin, don't come a-knockin.

I first heard about this book from Penny Watson at Penny Romances, who has a talent for convincing me to read really odd books. With Virgin Slave, Barbarian King however, I didn't require much convincing. For one, I am a total sucker for romances where a woman is taken captive. I think they're hilarious and a lot of the modern ones have really interesting twists on relationship power dynamics. For two, I love unusual settings, and the Fall of Rome is a very unusual setting for a romance!

For the most part, Virgin Slave, Barbarian King was good-ish. I loved the two main characters and found Wulfric particularly interesting. He's definitely an alpha male, which one would expect from this sort of romance, but's he's not a HULK SMASH sort of alpha male. He's really intelligent and calm, and actually a nice guy. Louise Allen does a great job of rounding out his character so that he seems like a normal guy and a romance hero at the same time.

I also thought Julia Livia was a well-drawn character. The story is really about her finding a home and a family, and I love stories like that. The secondary characters were all very sweet and likable (other than Julia's rival for Wulfric's affections) and I thought they rounded out the story nicely. Her conversion from wanting to escape to wanting to stay with the Goths was also believable.

That being said, the integration of the story and the romance just didn't happen for me. It seemed like all of a sudden Julia and Wulfric were in love for no reason other than this is a romance novel, so they have to fall in love. I didn't get a lot of chemistry between them. I also felt like the sense of the historical setting wasn't really there. I kind of need more than how they heated their water and what plates they used in order to frame a time and place in my mind, you know what I mean? As a result the book came off as a little generic.

The ending also made NO SENSE. Okay, so you want a distressing haircutting incident--I got that in the first quarter of the book. But why would the character in question cut off their hair if they weren't going to live in Rome, hmm? Makes no sense. Don't just go around cutting off people's hair for no good reason. Not cool.

ANYway. Despite these minor annoyances, I honestly think Virgin Slave, Barbarian King is worth a buy, especially if you like unusual settings and characters. While it isn't a perfect romance, it does twist the expectations of a typical romance novel in a very interesting and refreshing way. Louise Allen is definitely an author worth watching, I think!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thoughts on THE HOBBIT by JRR Tolkien

the hobbit cover

Once there was a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins who was very respectable, at least until a wizard named Gandalf tricked him into going on an adventure with a bunch of dwarves to steal a dragon's treasure.

This was my first time reading The Hobbit. Remember that ugly-ass cartoon based on the The Hobbit that they used to show sometimes on Saturday mornings? Yeah, that removed any desire I might have had to read the books. Ever. (It's kind of weird how awful those cartoons were--I think there was a LotR one, too--because they actually seemed to follow the books pretty closely. But without any artistry or interpretation.) Anyway, I didn't intend to read The Hobbit now; however, I was googling something--I forget what--and came across the audiobook on YouTube (fun fact: The Hobbit was in the public domain in the US until January of this year, which means you can still find the audiobook and eBook versions for free online). I hit play just out of curiosity and was totally sucked into the story.

Surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed The Hobbit--in fact, I would say it's impossible not to like this book. There's something very innocent and disarming about it. I absolutely fell in love with Bilbo; he is an awesome character. And the stand-out scenes in The Hobbit absolutely sparkle. I loved the beginning where the dwarfs come to Bilbo's house, when he trades riddles with Gollum, and when he steals from Smaug. Smaug was awesome as well!

That being said, I do have one major beef and few minor ones with this book. I'm not sure I would have gotten through it if I had read it rather than listened to it. I mean, for one there are NO WOMEN anywhere in this novel. All the main characters are men. And even the minor characters. I mean, I've read books from the 19th century that were written by men, take place almost entirely on a battlefield, have five characters, and they still manage to fit a female character in there. So how about a shout out for the ladies, JRR? I really wonder how any of the peoples in his novels manage to self-populate considering the ratio of women to men. Maybe we should have put some more thought into that and less thought into how the Elves talk, hmmmm? Why on earth would I be interested in a book with no women in it? Answer: I wouldn't. Secondly, The Hobbit feels uneven at times (especially at the end, which seems to go on and on). Then Tolkien goes into a political rant wherein Smaug is equated to a dictator whose death brings instability and infighting to the region, and the book gets slightly academic. Read: boring.

The no women thing aside, though, The Hobbit was a fast, fun read. Unless of course you start to think about what it all sets into motion in Lord of the Rings, in which case it's actually kind of chilling. But try not to think about that.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: THE MURDERS OF RICHARD III by Elizabeth Peters

murders of richard iii cover This cover is pretty ugly, but totally makes sense once you read the book.

Thomas is a Ricardian (someone dedicated to proving Richard III is innocent of killing the two princes) who invites his friend and crush, Jacqueline Kirby, to a country house party where he and other Ricardians dress like historical figures and reenact the Battle of Bosworth, which Jacqueline thinks is hilarious. The weekend turns into a nightmare, though, when a prankster starts recreating the murders of Richard III. Although no one is seriously injured, Jacqueline is convinced the "accidents" are leading up to an actual killing. Can she stop the murderer in time?

I initially read The Murders of Richard III a long time ago, I think in middle school. It was my first encounter with both the concept of historical reenactments and the history of Richard III. After reading The Daughter of Time--which this book references a lot--I thought it would be fun to reread The Murders of Richard III and compare the two.

This is a really good mystery. Maybe not as good from a technical standpoint as The Daughter of Time (review here), but definitely as enjoyable, if not more so. Although dealing with same subject, The Murders of Richard III doesn't try to rewrite The Daughter of Time; instead, it's a twist on a country house mystery, with a large pool of suspects all of whom might be the culprit. Probably the biggest (and my favorite) twist in this book is that the sleuth is a woman and the "Watson" character is a man. There are tons of mysteries where there's a female Watson (Elementary, Perception, The Mentalist, etc.), and a few where the female sleuth has a female sidekick who tells the story (both Baroness Emmuska Orczy's Lady Molly of Scotland Yard--my review at PGP--and the Madame Storey series by Hulbert Footner spring to mind), but a male sidekick with a female detective is relatively rare. The Murders of Richard III are told entirely from Thomas' viewpoint, as he watches Jacqueline pick apart his well-known and beloved Ricardians like a lioness playing with a herd of antelope.

Jacqueline Kirby is my absolute favorite of all of Elizabeth Peters' heroines. First of all, she's a librarian so she knows EVERYTHING. Secondly, she's super sarcastic. Not in an asshole-joke way, either; in an I-honestly-think-you-are-an-idiot sort of way. Take, for example, this exchange between her and Thomas:
"I don't mind being Watson... I'll make admiring noises from time to time, and look as stupid as I can."
"Just be yourself," said Jacqueline.
Fortunately, Thomas, despite being a bit of bloke, does actually know a lot about women in general and Jacqueline in particular. "You just want somebody to listen to you and say 'yes' now and then," he says at one point. YUP, pretty much!

I also love how The Murders of Richard III kind of has a romance but kind of doesn't. Peters doesn't write formulaic romances, but the characters in her novels usually fall in love, or at the very least in lust. Sometimes this leaves me feeling cheated out of a HEA--like she withheld the romantic wrap-up just so no one could accuse her of writing romance--but in the case of The Murders of Richard III, I thought the conclusion was entirely appropriate to the story and Thomas and Jacqueline's relationship.

The only thing I struggled with in this book was actually the list of suspects. First of all, there's a lot of them, about a dozen; and secondly, because they're supposed to be historical figures for the entire weekend, everyone has two and sometimes three names! It took me until nearly the end of the book before I was able to sort them all out.

But that's a minor complaint. Overall this is a really good mystery. I'm glad I took the time to reread it and remind myself of why I love Jacqueline Kirby and Elizabeth Peters so much.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday Salon: It Was All a Dream

dorothy wakes up

At the end of The Wizard of Oz movie, Dorothy wakes up in her bedroom to find that the world of Oz was just a dream. Her subconscious substituted the characters and events from the real world to create a much more colorful fantasy world, but that's all it is--a fantasy.

I hate this ending. It's a total let-down. So I was quite happy to find out that the book the movie was based on, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (my review at PGP), doesn't have it. Dorothy does travel back to Kansas, but the land of Oz is just as "real" as Kansas (especially to Dorothy). And that isn't the only adaptation I've come across that does this: in The Nutcracker ballet, Clara wakes up on Christmas morning to find her journey to a castle with an enchanted prince was nothing but a dream. Depressing! Does this happen in the story Nutcracker and Mouse King by ETA Hoffman? Nope! Instead, Clara winds up traveling back to the prince's castle at the end (review here).

Obviously these are only two examples, but I have to wonder why the film and stage adaptions of these fantasy novels went that route. "Ooops, it was just a dream," is a TERRIBLE ENDING. Terrible! Personally I think it would make more sense for the world to remain a reality in the context of the story; but by saying it was just a dream, the adaptations kind of render what just happened irrelevant. It's not as if they didn't have an already-good ending at their disposal, yet they went out of their way to set the story firmly back in "reality."

One of my theories for this is that movies and plays are more "real" than books, in a physical sense. Everything that happens in a book happens in the reader's mind--which is one of the reasons two people can have such different experiences reading the same book. But movies and plays happen in real time and are experiences usually shared with a group of people in a theater. The objects on stage and in the movie take up actual space, and the characters are brought to life by real people. Maybe as a result, people who tell stories through plays and movies are more concerned with reality and making their movies "realistic." That still doesn't quite fit, though, because there are plenty of fantasy films that never reference reality of any sort.

Maybe it's because both Clara and Dorothy begin their stories in the "real" world, travel through a fantasy world, and then return to their normal lives, thus creating a permeable reality. Tchaikovsky and The Wizard Of Oz's studio didn't want to encourage escapist fantasies, which--fair enough. That's some dangerous stuff right there.

Can you think of any other book adaptations that turn a fantasy or adventure into a dream that didn't "really" happen? Why would anyone do that? Why?!

Friday, December 7, 2012


bel and freddie in The Hour

I haven't done a television post in a while (unless you count all those Downton Abbey posts--here and here and at Edwardian Promenade--but anyway) and I thought I was due for one, especially as there are two shows I really want to talk about!


This a show you definitely should be watching. It takes place in 1950s London and is about a television news show called The Hour. But that's not all it's about! There are spies and murders and cocktails and country house parties and awesome cars. At the heart of the show, is the romance between Bel, The Hour's producer; and Freddie, a copywriter and reporter. Bel and Freddie have known each other forever and are best friends. These two are so clearly in love but aren't sleeping together, I don't know why. It's maddening. I LOVE FREDDIE SO MUCH. Actually I love all the characters, but Freddie's my favorite. He's one of those journalists who looks at his job as a calling, not a means of employment.

Basically, if you like Mad Men, The Hour is like that but with a John le Carré twist. It distracts you with shiny television gossip and then it's like BOOM, SPY STUFF! It's totally awesome. Thanks to Ruth from Booktalk & More for convincing me to give it a try. The second season just started on BBC America and you seriously must watch it; it's one of the best shows I've seen in a long-ass time.


When Elementary first started, I'll admit I was a bit snobbish about it. Compared to BBC's Sherlock, it seemed really fluffy and stupid. It didn't reference the Sherlock canon nearly at all, and the mysteries were kinda blah. Plus it didn't have Benedict Cumberbatch in it (PS: brain, feel free to give me more BBC Sherlock dreams whenever you want, thanks). Buuuuuuut I kept watching because I do like both Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Lui quite a lot.

Now that the show's been going for a few months, I've done a complete 180. I love this show. No, it's not canon and referential in the way BBC Sherlock is; but I think of the two it's actually the more creative adaptation. BBC Sherlock is almost slavish in its devotion to the canon--which is great, I love the layers of references in each episode--but Elementary allows its characters to live on their own and take off in an independent context. Sherlock's drug addiction, which at first seemed like kind of a gimmick, has really given the character and story an unexpected depth. I also think Lucy Lui does a great job as the Watson--both literally and figuratively--in the relationship, and I love the dynamic between her and Johnny Lee Miller. Despite my crush on Benedict Cumberbatch and my appreciation of the complex references in BBC Sherlock, I think Elementary might actually surpass it as my favorite Sherlock TV adaptation (especially if BBC Sherlock doesn't return until late 2013 *dies*).

Have you seen any of these shows? What are some of your new favorites?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tasha's Random Awards Results!

random choice awards

GoodReads announced the 2012 winners of their Choice Awards today, which reminded me I started this survey several weeks ago. After many entries, here are the results!

Best Romance: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie
Runners-up: On the Island, The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton, Austentatious, The Siren, Family Album, The Mistborn Trilogy, Rakes & Radishes

Best Mystery: Anything by Agatha Christie (via write-in votes!)
Runners-up: A Discovery of Witches, Silent in the Grave, Gone Girl, Gentlemen and Players

Best YA: Leviathan
Runners-up: Seraphina, Wonderstruck, There Is No Dog, Code Name Verity, A Million Suns, Rotters

Best Manga: The Arrival
Runners-up: Bride of the Water God, A Bride's Story, Vampire Hunter D, Dramacon

Best Non-Fiction: Le Road Trip and The Homemade Pantry (tie)
Runners-up: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Lost in Shangri-La, The Omnivore's Dilemma, The Psychopath Test

Best Humor: Fifty Shames of Earl Grey and The Ghost and the Goth (tie)
Runners-up: My Third-World Girlfriend, Trail of the Spellmans, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy

Thanks to everyone who participated and wrote in entries like a boss! What do you think of the results?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Virtual Advent: Favorite Not-Holiday Movies

scott pilgrim

Hello, everyone! It's time for this year's edition of Favorite Not-Holiday Movies. These are films I think of as necessary viewing during the holidays, even though they have very little (if anything) to do with the holidays. Be sure to check out my list of not-holiday movies from 2010 and 2011 if you need a refresher on the other films I consider my not-holiday favorites.

  • Hugo--This is a beautiful film about a little boy in Paris who finds a family and discovers an old toy maker's secrets. Although I had some issues with Hugo (review here), overall it was a delightful way to spend two hours, and definitely heart-warming enough for any not-holiday movie.
  • Dark Shadows--Barnabus Collins, a vampire, returns to the family mansion to battle his evil ex, the witch Angelique. I know this movie is painfully dumb, and it seriously has NOTHING to do with Christmas, but for some reason I really enjoy it and it gives me the warm fuzzies. Maybe I just have a thing for Johnny Depp in make-up, who knows.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs the World--I wouldn't have called this a not-holiday movie last year, even though I really love it; but I've been feeling the need to watch it lately, which automatically qualifies it as being a "holiday" movie in my book. Basically it's about Scott Pilgrim, who has an awesome life, is 23 years old, and falls in love with a woman named Ramona. But to keep dating her, he has to battle her seven evil exes. It's totally hip.
  • Inception--Is there a more Christmasy movie than this labyrinthine mind fest of twisty turns? If there is, I can't think of one! Leonardo di Caprio plays a thief who descends into dreams to steal people's idears (my review here).
  • Casino Royale--You guys knew I couldn't have a not-holiday movie list without a few shootings and car chases, right? Plus Daniel Craig... rowl. And he's in a suit, so that's practically thisclose to getting dressed up for a holiday party.
Now it's your turn! What are some of your favorite not-holiday movies?

virtual advent buttonThis post is part of Virtual Advent. For more holiday-related posts, visit

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ode to DNFs


To all the books I tried to read
Only to abandon with varying speed
Maybe I was hasty, maybe I was rash
Maybe you got really good in the second half

It wasn't you, it was me. Okay I'm being wry
But I promise I did try
I wasn't in the mood, I don't like prologues
Whatever the reason, they were good ones

I'm sure there are others who appreciate
A slow-moving novel with twists that aren't great
Clothing descriptions that last forever
And circular conversations about the weather

A closed book is like a mystery
You don't know if it's good or crummy
So many books, so little left on the meter
I'd rather take a chance the next book will be better

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New to You: SHERLOCK HOLMES Short Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

scandal in bohemia

I wasn't going to write reviews for these short stories, but then the second season of BBC's Sherlock started, and I thought, why not? For those of you who don't watch the show, each episode of the second season of Sherlock was based on the three most popular Sherlock Holmes mysteries: A Scandal in Bohemia, The Hounds of Baskerville, and The Final Problem.

As I've said before in my review of The Sherlockian (Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books), I'm not a big fan of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and it all started with The Hounds of Baskerville. We had to read it in sixth grade English and I was SUPER excited because 1. I'm a dork that way; and 2. I loved mysteries as a kid. And Sherlock is supposed to be the greatest mystery solver of all time, right? So imagine my disappointment when I was kind of bored with the book. There were no interesting female characters, and Sherlock himself was an arrogant ass. I'm aware that that's the entire point of Sherlock, and it wouldn't even have bothered me too much if he'd had one or two redeeming qualities, but he didn't. So I decided 'twas not for me and moved on with my life.

Fast forward a decade or *cough* two, and I've gradually warmed up to Sherlock Holmes. In other people's work--not Arthur Conan Doyle's. Him I'm still prejudiced against. But A Scandal in Bohemia was one of the selections in a Librivox short mystery collection I downloaded, and I thought it wouldn't hurt to give it a try.

A Scandal in Bohemia is famous for marking the appearance of Irene Adler, the only person to have ever bested Sherlock Holmes. The King of Bohemia comes to Holmes asking for help in the return of a set of letters, which detail his affair with Irene, to whom he was engaged but dumped in favor of marrying a princess. Holmes, naturally, has a plan, but Irene Adler is one step ahead of him.

I wasn't expecting much from A Scandal in Bohemia or Irene Adler--I anticipated Conan Doyle would either make her a vamp or a victim, and how much can one build of a character in a single short story anyway? However, I was pleasantly surprised. Holmes starts off being his know-it-all self, but then Irene shows up and things get a helluva lot more interesting. Conan Doyle did a good job of making Irene a believable, feminine character who is admired for her intelligence, not her boobage, and who has her own motivations in the story. She's not just there for the guys to lust after. I loved the end where the King of Bohemia declares, "What a woman!" and in response Sherlock says something to effect of, "Well, you're an idiot and you never deserved her anyway." Aw.

A Scandal in Bohemia definitely challenged my notions about Conan Doyle's writing being chauvinistic, and I now completely understand why the fascination with Adler's character persists. This was a great story!

final problem

The Final Problem is famous as the story where Conan Doyle killed off his most beloved character. I decided to read--well, listen to--it after seeing the last episode of Sherlock, "The Reichenbach Fall." Again, as with Scandal in Bohemia, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this short story.

The Final Problem opens with Watson in his medical office. He hasn't seen a lot of Sherlock since he got married, and this gives him the sadness. As if conjured by his thoughts, Sherlock shows up, acting even stranger than usual. It turns out the net is finally closing around his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty; and after receiving a visit from Moriarty at 221 Baker Street, Sherlock has decided he should leave the country until the master criminal is safely behind bars. Of course, Watson's game for an adventure, and soon they're setting out for Switzerland.

This was a very well-written story. Watson--or Conan Doyle, rather--sets us up for Sherlock's death from the first page--and it's a good thing, too, because otherwise his death would be too hard to take. Then we're taken on a fun cat-and-mouse chase through Europe, until the story's tragic conclusion.

I have, on occasion, accused Conan Doyle's writing of being emotionless, but that wasn't the case in The Final Problem. Not that it's sentimental or histrionic--far from it. But I felt so sorry for poor Watson at the end and it was very sad, even knowing that Sherlock isn't "really" dead. I can appreciate Watson's value as a relatable character in this series--we've all had friends we've lost, either permanently or just drifted away from, and The Final Problem resonates with that common experience. For that reason I think this story is one that's accessible to people who people who aren't fans of mysteries or Sherlock Holmes.

What I wonder is, did Conan Doyle plan on bringing Sherlock back at some point? I know the popular opinion is that he hated Sherlock and was happy to be rid of him, but the way he killed the guy off does leave open the possibility of Sherlock's (and Moriarty's, for that matter) return. Maybe the final problem isn't defeating Moriarty, but finding out what happened to Sherlock.

empty house

Ten years after killing Sherlock, Conan Doyle brought him back in The Empty House. It's a bit of mystery--har har--why he did so, but everyone is happy he did; and after the double whammy of The Reichenbach Falls and The Final Problem, I needed a pick-me-up.

Watson is carrying on, when one day Sherlock appears in his office. Watson faints. When he comes to, he's like, "Sherlock, is it really you?" etc. etc. I'm sure you can fill in the conversation for yourselves. Point is, for the last few years, Sherlock has been wandering around Europe, with the assistance of his brother, doing odd jobs and pretending to be dead. But he's been a little bored lately; and since England is the only place where interesting mysteries happen, Sherlock has decided to return.

I honestly could not tell you anything about the mystery in this story, but does it really matter? The point is, Sherlock's back! And he's wearing disguises! And Watson still can't recognize him when he's in a disguise. Seriously, I can't even see Sherlock and I'm still like, HELLOOO, WATSON, THAT'S OBVIOUSLY SHERLOCK IN DISGUISE. And he's tricksing people with his smarts and making wax casts of himself and going, "See what I just did there? No? Sorry, I forgot how slow you are."

The Empty House was not as good as A Scandal in Bohemia and The Final Problem. It seriously felt phoned-in. And Watson seemed to accept Sherlock's return way too easily. After the fainting spell, he's pretty laissez-faire about the whole thing. If one of my friends whom I thought was dead suddenly showed up at my house and was all, "Sorry I didn't write," I'd be PISSED. I'd want to either hug them or punch them in the face, and possibly both. Watson just shrugs it off and goes back to business as usual, as if he finds out dead people are actually alive on a semi-annual basis.

Anyway, The Empty House was okay. I don't think Conan Doyle was as psyched about bringing Sherlock back as he was about killing him off, but maybe it says something that after ten years, it feels like the detective never left.

For the most part, these stories have really improved my opinion of Conan Doyle's mysteries and writing. I'm NOT going to reread The Hounds of Baskerville, but I might consent to read more Holmes mysteries in the future. Do you have any favorites?

Originally published on Project Gutenberg Project.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Originally released: 2003
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Based on: the script by Coppola

Once upon a time, there was a princess named Charlotte who lived at the top of a skyscraper hotel overlooking the city of Tokyo. Although the princess could leave her tower, she always felt isolated from everyone else, until an unlikely knight errant named Bob Harris crossed her path. He brought her down from the tower and helped her feel like a part of the world again.

lost in translation movie poster

The summary of Lost In Translation (not the one I just gave, the official one), always put me off. So basically it's movie about a pair of rich people who are bored and kind of get together but not really? FASCINATING. Not. Plus it stars Scarlet Johansson, who really annoys me (the only movie I can stand her in is Midnight in Paris because she's supposed to be annoying). But then Bridget at Books as Portable Pieces of Thought assured me it was a good movie, and that there was an awkward sex scene (yay?), so I figured I would give it a try, hate it, and then cleanse my mind with something else.

What actually happened was that I didn't hate Lost In Translation--I LOVED it! I think what Sofia Coppola was trying to do with this film was capture experiences. When you're living in a different country, you don't just miss your friends and family, you miss your entire culture. Things that you take for granted suddenly become problematic. What do you do for entertainment or to unwind at the end of the day? What if you get sick and need to see a doctor? How do you order from a menu when you don't read a language? Even the things from your own home are tweaked to local tastes so that they come out not quite right. Coppola did a brilliant job of showing us these experiences in the movie: the New York Bar with the cheesy lounge singer, Charlotte and Bob ordering at a restaurant, or going to the hospital.

But whether you hate or love the culture of the country you live in, you have to adapt to it. You have to listen to the music, eat the food, and learn to communicate with people in order to survive. After a while, although you're not truly a part of the culture you're living in, you're not a part of the country you're from, either. Your "home" might even start to feel like the foreign country. I think that was the point of the painful phone conversations Bob and Charlotte had with the people they love back in the US. I also think the Tokyo street scenes did a great job of conveying that feeling of being in limbo--physically being somewhere, but not really a part of it.

tokyo street scene

It's interesting to compare this movie to Marie Antoinette, also directed by Coppola. They're both about poor little rich girls who aren't sure how their world works or what their place is in it. I think Lost In Translation is more hopeful, though, because first of all it's really funny. I laughed my patootie off during the awkward sex scene, and all the cocktail lounge scenes are hilarious. I particularly enjoyed the rendition of "Scarborough Fair." And Bill Murray was adorbs; he has some great one-liners in this movie ("I don't get that close to the [whiskey] glass until I'm on the floor.")

Second of all, the film is really romantic. Not in a rom-com sort of way, but in the traditional Romanticism sense of the word, with an emphasis on emotion and experience, and the struggle of the individual to find their own way in the face of society. If Bob and Charlotte do have a romance between them, it's of a courtly kind.

Basically, this movie is REALLY good. It's entertaining and great to look at, but also stays with you and gives you a lot to think about. The take-away message I got from Lost In Translation is that Bob and Charlotte might be lost, but maybe that's a good thing--the only way they can ever see or find what they truly want. Thanks to Bridget for encouraging me to watch it!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Holiday Giveaway: NUTCRACKER by ETA Hoffmann and Maurice Sendak

nutcracker cover

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's officially time to start the holidays! And what better way to start the season than with a gift?

Last year for Virtual Advent, I reviewed Nutcracker and Mouse King by ETA Hoffmann (post here). This is the short story Tchaikovsky's ballet was based on, and is honestly the most perfect Christmas story I can imagine. It has all the elements you want in a Christmas tale: magic, mystery, presents, danger, and wonder. Plus the story's ending is A LOT better than the ballet's.

Because I am a big pusher of this book, I was thrilled when Random House offered to send me a new reprint of Maurice Sendak's illustrated version to give away to my blog readers. You definitely need this book on your shelves and it's a perfect Christmas gift (to yourself--ha ha). To enter, just fill out the form below or go here. This giveaway will run from November 23rd-30th.

Here are some samples of the illustrations in the book to whet your appetite:

the mouse king
The Mouse King with seven heads.

the nutcracker prince
A prince is cursed to look like a nutcracker.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Instead of reading the prologue, you can just watch this book trailer!

Jacob grew up listening to his grandfather's stories of "peculiar children"--orphans who were rescued and sent to live on an island during WWII, one of whom was Jake's grandfather. Unlike most orphans, however, the orphans Jake's grandpa knew had strange powers and abilities, which were captured in photographs that his grandpa kept. After Jake's grandfather is murdered, he sets out on mission to find out the truth about his grandfather's odd stories.

miss peregrine's home of peculiar children book cover

Despite the fact that there are reviews of this book all over the freaking place, I started Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children with very little idea of what it was about. When I read the reviews, all I heard was: "Pictures! Creepy pictures of olde-timey kids being creepy!" That alone was enough to make me want to check Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children out, of course, but there's a lot more to the novel than just pictures, and honestly the creepy kid photos are probably the least-successful element of the book.

Not that they're UNsuccessful. I can see where Ransom Riggs (incredible name for a writer, by the way) was going with that idea, and I love it. But I'm not sure including the photographs in the text was necessary, and at times it felt gimmicky. Why are these kids running around taking pictures of themselves and then saving them all? Where are these photographs even developed in the time loop, hmmm?

I did adore Riggs' writing style and the voice of the main character, Jacob. As someone whose own grandparents come from Germany and lived through WWII, I really connected to all the generational things going on between Jake and his dad and grandpa. He also freaking TIME TRAVELS--I mean, come on. That's really the best part of the novel (although the entire time I kept thinking, "Nazis aren't enough, we need wights and hallows too?" A little OTT). Riggs can write creepy REALLY well. Honestly, for the first three-fourths of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, I didn't want to put the book down at all.

Then I hit the last quarter of the book and it started to literally put me to sleep. I think it's mainly because the "magical" elements of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children aren't grounded enough in the world of the novel; or maybe they're just too obvious? It was as if Miss Peregrine's started off as magical realism and then switched to middle-grade fantasy. I pretty much lost all emotional investment in the story by the end of the book.

My feelings about Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children are very mixed at this point, but I have say it's interesting--and I mean that in a good way. Intriguing concept, unexpected story, and a writer who's not afraid to take chances. I love how Riggs took real photographs and quilted them together into a story with emotional depth. As I'm always willing to reward experimentation even if it doesn't quite hit the mark, I think this might be one of my more memorable reads of the year.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Movie Review: ABOUT ADAM

Originally released: 2000
Starring: Stuart Townsend, Kate Hudson, Frances O'Connor
Directed by: Gerard Stembridge
Based on: the ramblings of a syphilitic mind? I really have no idea.

Lucy Owens is a cheesy nightclub singer who just can't take any of the guys she dates seriously. Hm, I wonder why. Then she meets Adam, a mysterious beta male with a fancy car, and EVERYONE in her family loves him, including Lucy. Adam is pretty obviously a total horndog, and soon he's sleeping with all Lucy's siblings, including her brother. But now that they're engaged, is Lucy still really that into him?

about adam wedding

After my review of Bel Ami (post here), Evangeline from Edwardian Promenade told me I should watch About Adam. I suspect it was mainly because of the awkward sex scenes (apparently I'm Awkward Sex Scene Girl now), but About Adam is a gentler--and better--version of Bel Ami. What makes it better is basically two things: one, Stuart Townsend is a total hottie and I love him. He actually manages a balance between charm and devilishness to where you know he's up to something; but you can't really blame any of the other characters for falling for his dubious charms, even though anyone with even a hint of common sense would know men don't act like this unless they're conning you.

Two, About Adam is clever and funny. I'm not going to say it's SUPER clever and funny, but in comparison to Bel Ami it is. It's kind of fascinating how Adam just reels all the Owenses into his web; and the characters on their own are quirky and fun. Naturally I had a fondness for Laura, Lucy's bookish sister who's writing her PhD thesis on some obscure Victorian poem and likes vampire movies; but the older sister, Alice, and their mom is also fun. The mom had my favorite quote from this movie: "Boring men are the curse of the world, and there's just so many of them." The Gala Dalí philosophy of relationships, lovely. That always turns out well.

about adam dvd cover

Despite the fact that About Adam was better than Bel Ami, though, I'm not sure I would necessarily call it "good." First of all, the Irish accents from the non-Irish actors occasionally verged into Australian territory (I'm looking at you, Kate Hudson). The art direction is really questionable. And the sex scenes are super awkward. I believe I mentioned that, but it bears repeating, because there are a lot of them. I almost got a crick in my neck from shaking my head at the stupidity of the characters. Finally, I spent the WHOLE FREAKING MOVIE waiting to find out what Adam's endgame was--did one of the Owens' ancestors kill one of his ancestors or what?--and the explanation was basically, "People want things from me and I just can't help giving them what they want."

Mmkay. Is he an incubus or what, because I find it very difficult to believe he just happened to have the poem Laura was writing her PhD thesis on MEMORIZED. Also, he totally chases after alllll these characters. Suddenly the library is his favorite place to hang out? And it's not like Alice called HIM up to have phone sex. It's a completely unsatisfactory explanation for the entire plot of this movie.

Also, the symbolism of the car really bugged my brain. Adam owns a blue Jaguar and this becomes a BIG DEAL. The car basically sucks everyone in. He has tons of stories about his dad, and the car, and how he poured all this money into it, and it's a symbol of the family he lost, and blah blah blah. The mysteriously fancy blue car! At first I thought maybe the Jag was a metaphor for how he treated women, but now I think the car represents the character himself. Like a genie's bottle. And... that's it. That's all there is to know about his character: he's a sports car, and he likes giving people rides. IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.

Basically this movie was kind of awkward. I liked all the scenes where Stuart Townsend took his shirt off. The end.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tasha's Random Book Awards

random choice awards gif

In honor of GoodReads Choice Awards and Amazon's Top Books of 2012, most of which I haven't even heard of, let alone read, I decided to start my own random voting awards!

How were these books selected to be semi-(actually actual) finalists of the contest? No idea. But even if I knew, I probably wouldn't tell you. You see, it's a complicated algorithm that you couldn't possibly understand because it makes no sense. That's also why most of these books weren't published in 2012 or even fit into their designated categories. Just go with it! Vote in the embedded survey below, or click here to take survey.

And remember, every time you add a random write-in, a reading angel gets its wings.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Definitive Version

i feel as if i know you

Right now I'm "reading" (actually listening to) The Wizard of Oz, read by Anne Hathaway on audiobook. I love Hathaway and am enjoying the story, but it's pretty clear she was influenced by the movie. To be fair, the book and the movie are pretty similar so far; but even the way Hathaway does the voices seems to imitate the way the characters were portrayed in the film.

This isn't a bad thing, but it's interesting to me how certain versions of a story become the one everyone's familiar with, and later interpretations kind of have to be in conversation with that version in order to be relevant. For example, The Phantom of the Opera is one of my favorite books of all time, and in my mind the book and the musical are two separate entities. But when I first think of Phantom, admittedly my thoughts turn to the Andrew Lloyd-Weber musical. That was the prism through which I approached the novel. So it was super-interesting for me to watch a silent movie version of The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney--which, unlike every other version of The Phantom I'd seen, was clearly in conversation with the book, NOT the musical. I'm not saying it was the best version, just that it had a very different sensibility from the contemporary adaptations I'd seen.

What about books like Dracula, or Sherlock Holmes, two of the most adapted novels/characters in literature AND cinema, not to mention plays? When I was reading Dracula, I personally couldn't help but think of the 1992 movie Bram Stoker's Dracula, and picturing Jonathan Harker as Keanu Reeves, Mina as Winona Ryder, etc. That movie is actually pretty faithful to the book (probably why I couldn't help but associate the two), but I don't think it's the definitive version, just the one I'm most familiar with. I'm not sure there's an adaptation that has become the "definitive version" of Sherlock Holmes, either, although I enjoy the hell out of nearly all the Sherlockiana I come across. No matter how good it is, it still feels either derivative of or in conversation with the original stories.

In both of these cases, the original versions are still what sets the standard for the characters and the story. But why is that? Why have Oz and Phantom been superseded by a movie and a musical, respectively, while Sherlock and Dracula still rely so heavily on the original text? Is it the quality of the books? I don't think so; as I said, Phantom is one of my favorite novels, and Dracula... well, it has its moments, but it's not the best thing I've ever read. I also don't think the quality of the adaptions have anything to do with it, since there are some truly kick-ass Sherlock adaptations.

Maybe it has more to do with the fan base. Sherlock Holmes fans still go to 221B Baker Street and read the original stories, while Phantom fans (Phantomites?) identify more strongly with the musical.

Have you ever come across an adaptation that overshadowed the original work? What do you think makes something a "definitive version"?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest Post: Inspiration by Charlotte Henley Babb

maven fairy godmother tour banner

How far back does the inspiration go? All the way back.

My mother told me fairy tales when I was little—the Charles Perrault versions that are the most popular, and are the ones the Grimm brothers collected from their neighbors. The very first toy I ever remembered wishing for was a baby doll dressed as a pink fairy with wings, but my mom didn't know that, and I didn't get it, even though she worked at the store where it was hanging in a display. I was three years old.

I remember watching Rocky and Bullwinkle when I was eight or ten and wondering if the government knew what the stories were about and how the writers got away with the satire. The stories were very silly, of course, but they pointed out how stupid people could be. And, of course, there were the fractured fairy tales with the snarky narration by Edward Everett Horton. It wasn't so much that the stories were funny, but that they had a wise and knowing twist.

I wear size 11W shoes, usually Birkenstocks 42R. Even as a young woman, my feet were too big for cute shoes. Shopping for clothing was a humiliating experience of being the wrong size and the wrong shape. I felt sorry for Cinderella's ugly sisters who did not have a magical helper to make them clothing that fit perfectly. I learned to sew from my mom, who made a lot of my clothing.

Maven, my main character came to me when I was first playing on the electronic bulletin boards back in the 80s, before the internet was invented. That character developed into Belle, the mistress of the Twilight Lounge, but the name Maven, a word that means a person of specialized and esoteric knowledge, settled on a fairy godmother character who always fractured fairy tales.

I commented one day that as an adjunct English instructor in a community college, I felt like a fairy godmother who had classes full of budding princes and princesses, and my job was to help them transform themselves.  My own life was falling apart at the same time. My first marriage failed, my second ended in widowhood, and then I fell into infatuation with a coworker while working through bankruptcy, depression and my daughter's teen years.

Clearly, I was in no position to write romance. So I wrote about a woman at the end of her rope, who at the time looked a lot like me. At first, I wrote about her adventures after she became a fairy godmother, but when I started studying goddess lore with a teacher, I was convinced to start the story at the beginning, which lead me to write about the events happening in my life. The story I set out to tell will probably be the fourth book in the series, and the first few chapters of it have been written, along with bits and pieces from the third title, as I am outlining the second.

The more I studied goddess lore, the more I began to look into fairy tales to find the older versions, the originals, the less sanitized and Christianized versions. I've learned that our popular fairy tales are fairly modern, dating from the 1600s, like the translation of the King James Bible, and they represent a kind of feminine liberation that is only coming to fruition now, with all the focus on the young woman with her life ahead of her, in conflict with the elder woman: her mother, stepmother, mother-in-law or evil queen.

So as a woman of a certain age, I wondered where the stories for the elder women were, and if there were none, then some needed to be written. I am an elder now, and I am writing those stories, hopefully with a spark of amusement at the foibles we share. That's where inspiration comes from.

Author Bio: 
Charlotte Henley Babb is the author of Maven Fairy Godmother: Through the Veil, available from  Muse It Up Publishing (, Smashwords, Amazon and B&N. Her websites are and

Friday, November 9, 2012

New to You: THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK by Lewis Carroll

hunting of the snark cover

They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.
In the explicanation of all that is good, somewhat is left unsold. Your right brain, directing your speech, knows what you want to say, but your left brain doesn't know the words for it. What are you looking for? Be sure to write it down in soap.

In The Hunting of the Snark there are seven characters. One is a butcher but not a butcher and he makes friends with a beaver, which is what he hunts. Beavers are the only animals he kills. Then they hear a jubjub. They fear death and realize they've been friends forever. That was my favorite part.

Actually, I lied. There are ten characters. The best character is the baker, called "Hi," who forgets everything except the most important thing. He tries to warn the crew, but they don't listen, and he winds up being got by the very thing he feared getting.

Blah blah blah. Coming to the point, think of the words read and understand. Now open your mouth and say the first word that comes into your head. Those with a proclivity to one will say "read," while those with an inclination toward the other will say "understand." But only those who know what I'm getting at will say "runderstead."

I rundersteaded The Hunting of the Snark frumiously. The great thing about kids is they don't really care if something makes sense, because to them nothing makes sense. Nothing makes sense to adults, either, but they like to pretend it does. Therefore The Hunting of the Snark is beamish fun for multiple-aged persons!

In conclusion, be careful that your Snarks aren't Boojums.

This post was originally published on Project Gutenberg Project. I believe it's the best review I've ever written. Be careful your Snarks aren't Boojums--words to live by.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Review: THE DAUGHTER OF TIME by Josephine Tey

daughter of time cover

Inspector Alan Grant is laid up in hospital and bored out of his mind. So, to entertain himself, he decides to learn about Richard III, the infamous villain of English history who killed his two little nephews in the Tower of London. Only after the scratching the surface of history does Grant become convinced that Richard didn't kill the princes. But then who did?

The Daughter of Time is the first book in a long time that seriously blew my mind. It's a mystery novel that takes place entirely in a single hospital room, is told almost exclusively in dialog and narration, and is about something that happened hundreds of years ago in a country I don't even live in. By all rights, this book should NOT work--but it does. The Daughter of Time is one of those books that grabs you from the first page and doesn't let you go until the very end. The mystery is a fascinating intellectual puzzle and I loved all the characters.

This was my first novel by Josephine Tey, and I have to say I really admire her writing and storytelling skills. Most people who set out to write a novel arguing that a historical figure didn't commit a murder would set said novel in the past (or at least that's what I would do); but by setting The Daughter of Time in contemporary Britain, Tey makes a more convincing and interesting argument. Besides which, The Daughter of Time isn't really about Richard III and the Princes in the Tower; it's about the romance of history and how history consists of stories that are sometimes just as fictional as any novel. Yet people cling to these stories with an almost religious zeal, allowing them to shape their view of the world.

richard iiihenry vii
Richard III (left) and Henry VII (right). Does Richard have a "nice face," do you think?

You don't really think about that while you're reading the book, however, because you're too caught up in the story. One of the things I love about The Daughter of Time is that this a book that could never be adapted to film--there is no "action," no change of scenery, and nearly all the clues are discovered off-page in dusty archived documents or history books. Yet it's really gripping, because Alan Grant finds it interesting. To him it's not just an intellectual exercise, it's a matter of principle to get the truth sorted out (as compared to a similar set-up in The Mystery of Marie Rogêt by Edgar Allan Poe, which wasn't as successful--see my review at PGP). This supports my theory that books are about what happens in your head, not what you can see.

The Daughter of Time is a very quick, absorbing read that's amazingly well-written and honestly one of the best books I've ever come across, mystery or otherwise. If you like history, especially, you need to hunt this book down like a beast. Near the end of The Daughter of Time, Grant makes a statement that, "Most people's first books are their best anyway; it's the one they wanted most to write." I call bullshit, Tey--this was your last book, and it's hard to imagine anything better than this.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Mina Harker and Dr. Seward: So In Love.

mina harker and dr seward
Warning: there is going to be a lot of capslocksia going on in this post.

Sometimes, when I'm reading a book or watching a TV show, my brain gets really bored. As a result, I start inventing storylines in my head--and, since this is me we're talking about, the stories usually have something to do with a secret romance between two characters.

Some people call this shipping (for more about shipping and what it is, read "To Ship or Not To Ship" at I call it LOGIC. Or at least in this case I do.

See, lately I've been listening to Dracula on audiobook (it was free), and I swear to Gott--as Van Helsing would put it--that Mina Harker and Doctor Seward are in love. THEY ARE SO CUTE TOGETHER, YOU GUYS!!! Yet I can't find anything on the internet about their secret, burning romance. What the fridge? It's totally obvious.

Don't believe me? Here is my recap of how they fell in love, which seriously reads almost exactly like the start of a romantic comedy:

Meet-cute: Paddington Station. Mina recognizes Dr. Seward immediately from her friend's description of him. He blushes. She blushes. They go to the lunatic asylum where he lives for some reason (because he's crazy?). He's so excited he has to record his thoughts about their meeting IMMEDIATELY.

Mina knocks on the door.

*gasp* "Here she is!" (Seward literally says this--okay maybe not the gasp. But he's obviously P R E T T Y jazzed.)

And they fell in love: Mina walks in, wondering to whom Dr. Seward is talking, but he's alone. He really is crazy! No, he's just recording in his "diary," which happens to be a phonograph. Mina's all, "You keep a diary? I keep a diary!" (And for the same reason--to improve themselves. RME These two already clearly belong together.)

Mina's account:
I felt quite excited over it, and blurted out, "Why, this beats even shorthand! May I hear it say something?" 
"Certainly," he replied with alacrity, and stood up to put it in train for speaking. [Gawd they are so cute.] Then he paused, and a troubled look overspread his face. 
"The fact is," he began awkwardly, "I only keep my diary in it, and as it is entirely, almost entirely, about my cases it may be awkward, that is, I mean…" He stopped, and I tried to help him out of his embarrassment. 
"You helped to attend dear Lucy at the end. Let me hear how she died, for all that I know of her, I shall be very grateful. She was very, very dear to me." 
To my surprise, he answered, with a horrorstruck look in his face, "Tell you of her death? Not for the wide world!" 
"Why not?" I asked, for some grave, terrible feeling was coming over me. 
Again he paused, and I could see that he was trying to invent an excuse. At length, he stammered out, "You see, I do not know how to pick out any particular part of the diary." 
Even while he was speaking an idea dawned upon him, and he said with unconscious simplicity, in a different voice, and with the naivete of a child, "that's quite true, upon my honour. Honest Indian!" [Seward, you are so awkward. Adorbs.] 
I could not but smile, at which he grimaced. "I gave myself away that time!" he said. "But do you know that, although I have kept the diary for months past, it never once struck me how I was going to find any particular part of it in case I wanted to look it up?"

Don't worry, Seward. Mina won't just type up your diary for you, she'll index it according to patient, symptoms and illness.

Which brings me to another reason why Mina and Dr. Seward are in love: they need each other! Mina is so bored with Jonathan she's memorized the train schedules on his commute "just in case he's in a hurry." JESUS, MINA. Memorizing the schedule for your own commute is one thing, but another person's?! I'm guessing Jonathan is able to tell time, get a freaking grip. Dr. Seward, on the other hand, needs someone to help him with his research and, um, you know, play with his phonograph. His work is much more interesting than Jonathan's, and he doesn't commute--he lives at the asylum!

Anyway, Mina and Seward exchange diaries, which is like the cutest thing ever, and Seward gets so wrapped up in Mina's he almost forgets to eat. And Mina gets so wrapped up in Seward's diary she cries and tells him,
That is a wonderful machine, but it is cruelly true. It told me, in its very tones, the anguish of your heart.... See, I have tried to be useful. I have copied out the words on my typewriter, and none other need now hear your heart beat, as I did.
Aww. She can hear his heart beat.

Adjectives Mina uses to describe Seward: noble, good, thoughtful. Adjectives Dr. Seward uses to describe Mina: sweet, a brilliant mind, pretty, courageous. GAH HE'S SO IN LOVE. Dr. Seward also never refers to Mina as a child, unlike SOME people I could name (coughJonathancough).

After a few days at the lunatic asylum, Dr. Seward remarks that having Mina there has made it feel like a home for the first time ever. So cozy (too bad Jonathan Wet Blanket Extraordinaire is there). Then she decides to talk to Renfield, I forget why, and Seward--who's in the room to make sure she's safe--observes, "She came into the room with an easy gracefulness which would at once command the respect of any lunatic."

OHHHHHHH MAH GAWSH coming from Dr. Seward that's like a love poem! He might as well have said, "She walks in beauty, like the night." Even Renfield notices. He's all like, "Wait, are you two going out?"

You see? They're totally in love. So Jonathan's going to die at the end of Dracula and Dr. Seward and Mina are going to get married, right? Right guys?

Have you ever shipped any characters in classic novels?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Movie Review: BEL AMI

Originally released: 2012
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci, Kristin Scott Thomas
Directed by: Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod
Based on: the novel of the same name by Guy de Maupassant

Georges is a poor young hoofer in 1890s Paris looking to make his mark. After meeting an old army buddy, he gets involved with a group of snooty bourgeoisie and a bunch of women who all want to hit that. His male colleagues hate him and treat him like a pussy, but that's probably because he keeps sleeping with their wives. Don't worry, though, Georges isn't just a hot piece of ass--he has a ridiculously complex Plan to get money so that he never has to watch cockroaches crawl around his apartment again.

I first heard about Bel Ami from Anachronist at Books as Portable Pieces of Thought, and it sounded so incredibly stupid that I seriously HAD to watch it. Bel Ami actually wasn't THAT bad, though (I probably would have enjoyed it more if it was), despite the fact that it contained some of the most awkward sex scenes I've ever seen. The cinematography and set design was gorgeous, and the movie did have some semblance of a plot (even if it didn't seem like it did for at least the first hour). I also thought the gender roles in the film were pretty interesting. As for Robert Pattinson... eh.

robert pattinson making faces in bel ami

I mean, it's RPatt, so he basically spends forty percent of the movie staring and another forty smirking, which is pretty annoying. But he did make Georges sympathetic. I was honestly kind of rooting for the guy, but I'm not sure I was supposed to be. RPatt has said that Georges is amoral, but that doesn't really come across, especially in comparison to the other characters. He seems more of a bumbling idiot than a master manipulator, and he does care what at least one person thinks of him--his true love, Clothilde. I'm not sure if this is a failure on the screenwriter's part or RPatt's, but if you want someone who embodies a sexually objectified male, he does fit the bill.

Anyway, gender issues! Bel Ami reflects the fin-de-siècle paranoia about degeneration and indolence. Men should Do Things On Their Own and Not Rely On Women and all that good stuff. Except Georges basically gets everything from women, and has no intention of doing any work himself. His dad did that and it was for the birds! He'd rather make money on his back (to be fair, it's probably the only thing he's good at, and he is pretty). Georges basically takes on the role of a woman sleeping her way up to the top (à la Nana--post here--or Camille), but he's a dude. And it does get super-awkward sometimes.

bel ami poster

Meanwhile, there are a lot of strong female characters in this film, most especially Uma Thurman, who plays Georges' wife, Madeleine. She smokes, drinks, plots to manipulate political elections through the press, and has no intention of letting anyone besides herself wear the pants in their marriage (side note: all the female leads in this movie should send thank-you notes to the cinematographer and director, because they looked freaking gorgeous). Wow, so many awkward sex scenes between those two. Even the other women Georges hooks up with come on to him first. Does Bel Ami pass the Bechdel Test? No way. But it does show women as independent, intelligent, and powerful. I would like to say this is interpreted as a positive, but instead it's more of a sign that civilization is going to the dogs--or at the very least, people like Georges.

When it came to the twisty, Les Liaisons Dangereuses-type plot, however, I thought the film really faltered. We get only the vaguest sense of what's happening at the newspaper Georges work at, or the political and financial manipulations Madeleine is a part of; and frankly Georges' plan to get the better of everyone makes no sense. Does it really take that much effort to infatuate a teenager? There are also a bunch of things left unexplained or that seemed kind of pointless.

Even with the interesting gender role reversals, I would say unless you have a particular love for Maupassant or the setting (which I do), you can skip Bel Ami. It's only minimally entertaining and kind of leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...