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...