Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gotham Gal Review: Writing Jane Austen

Critically acclaimed and award-winning but hardly bestselling author Georgina Jackson can't get past the first chapter of her second book. When she receives an urgent email from her agent, Georgina is certain it's bad news. Shockingly, she's offered a commission to complete a newly discovered unfinished manuscript. Skeptical at first about her ability to complete the manuscript, Georgina is horrified to learn that the author in question is Jane Austen.

Torn between pushing through or fleeing home to America, Georgina relies on the support of her banker-turned-science-student roommate, Henry, and his quirky sister Maud, a serious Janeite.  With a sudden financial crisis looming, the only way Georgina can get by is to sign the hugely lucrative contract and finish the book.

This is the premise for Elizabeth Aston's new novel WRITING JANE AUSTEN. I really wanted to love this book, I'm a huge Jane Austen fan, and it's set in England, so it should have been a win-win situation for me. Unfortunately, I found myself bored at times, and skimming the novel rather than reading it. The biggest problem for me was the heroine Georgina. I found her incredibly annoying and childish at times. Instead of facing the problems, she runs away first to Oxford and then from Bath. She ignores emails from her agent and from the Professor who is supposed to be helping her write the book, instead of sitting down and listening. Although I understood her snobbish, dismissive attitude towards Jane Austen, it bugged me that it took until page 140 before she even read the novels. Of course, once she did, she fell completely in love with Jane Austen. But then the real problems start, we are treated to endless pages of her procrastination, and self-doubt.  After awhile, instead of having me sympathize with a fellow writer, I found her whinging a complete turnoff.

Aston sets up believable roadblocks and obstacles. Georgina's funding gets cut off from her University fellowship and her father can't help her because he's going through his 5th divorce, which leads her to finally signing the contract to write the book. She also ends up with the beginnings of karpal tunnel syndrome from typing too much, which leads to some amusing scenes with her trying to type with one hand, and then buying voice recognition software.

Another problem is there is a lot of telling and not showing. It would have helped if Aston has included excerpts from THE SADNESS OF JANE SILVERSMITH, the book that Georgina has been working on, writing 48 versions of the same chapter. That's funny, and it would have been nice to have a few snippets from a couple of the chapters as well as some tidbits from her first novel MAGDALENE CRIB, which was critically acclaimed but didn't sell. The reader is treated to reviewer which gives a plot summary of a novel more depressing than anything Thomas Hardy wrote. Since LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP is supposed to be a lost Jane Austen fragment, I would have liked to have gotten more than just a plot summary of the fragment, and also later on when Georgina writes the first draft and then revises it. I felt that this was a real weakness.

There are two minor subplots. Henry's sister Maud runs away from her boarding school, and he spents endless pages trying to find her a new one. Also, his other lodger Anna, ends up falling for his cousin Charles, which is disapproved off by his aunt Pamela, shades of Pride and Prejudice. There are other echoes of Austen in the novel, Henry's last name is Lefroy which is the name of Tom Lefroy, the man that some people feel was Austen's lost love. Some of the most amsing scenes occur when Georgina flees to Bath which Aston depicts as sort of a Jane Austen themepark. Her friend Bel even owns a shop called Darcy. It's also somewhat amusing to hear other characters she comes across diss Jane Austen, which seems to bolster Georgina's viewpoint that Austen is just a romance novelist until she actually reads the books.  It was nice to see Georgina's snobbery crumble.

Aston does get into a writer's head and the problems of procrastination, those sections felt all too real, and the ways that we authors deal with it. However, the love story between Henry and Georgina felt tacked on. I never once believed that she was falling in love with Henry, I just didn't feel it, although he is wonderfully supportive during the story. Her great realization felt false. Maud however is a delightful character, and is rightly described as 14 going on 30. She was a breath of fresh air in the story whenever it got bogged down with Georgina's whinging.

Verdict: 3 Apples, This book will no doubt please die-hard Austen fans but I found the heroine sorely lacking and there was too much telling and not enough showing.

Hump Day Hotties: Jane Austen Edition

This post was inspired by two things, Amanda McCabe's blog post over at The Risky Regencies and the novel Writing Jane Austen by Elizabeth Aston.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Guilty Pleasures: Pringles

Yes, I confess, I love Pringles. I know they are salty as all get out, and made from potato flakes but there is just something so irrestible about those cans, although after British comedian, Johnny Vegas told Graham Norton what he did with one during a show, I'm a little less enthused. Pringles were first introduced in 1968 by Proctor and Gamble but they didn't really take off until the 1970's.  They were named after a street in Cleveland, OH. Initially they were known as Pringle's Old-fashioned potato chips, but they were forced to call them potato crisps because of how they were made and the fact that they contain less than 50% potatoes. I'm not sure I really want to know what the rest of it is made of. I just realized that Pringles are probably made from those same instant mashed potatoe flakes!

In the UK, you can get interesting flavors like Prawn Cocktail, Thai, and Curry flavorings. And recently Pringles introduced limited edition flavors in the US of Onion Blossom, Mozzarella Sticks, and Pizza. I have to admit, I kinda want to try the Onion Blossom flavor. They've also come up with Multi-grain Pringles which are probably totally healthy, but not something that I really wanted to eat.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Gotham Gal Review: Hold Me Tight and Tango Me Home

The idea that dancing can change your life has become a bit of a cliche. How many times have you heard a celebrity on Dancing with the Stars talk about how dancing has made a difference in their lives? Well, it's  cliche because it's true. And Maria Finn's book is a great example of that.

Maria Finn started taking tango lessons after throwing her husband out when she discovered that he'd cheated on her. It turns out that Maria learned that tango had a lot to teach her about understanding love and loss. Focusing on tango gave her a reason to get up in the morning. And she discovered like most people who sign up to take dance lessons that it can become highly addictive. She compares the endorphins that are released in dancing to those that are released when people take drugs. Dancing is like a drug although without the bad skin, tooth decay and robbing your family to pay for your habit. Although the cost of 3 lessons a week in New York costs about has much as having a minor drug habit.

As she slowly starts to heal, her life begins to revolve around the new friendships that she makes in clss and the milongs (dance socials) that she attends.  I was fascinated by the history of tango that she reveals as she becomes more and more immersed in the dance. After waching DIRTY DANCING with her father who is visibly moved by the movie, she learns that he once had to dance with the female guests at resort where he once worked. There's a wonderful scene in Buenos Aires where she goes to try on tango shoes, the lovely stilettos that are designed to be aerodynamically suited to the dance. She goes to Argentina and Uruguay for a wedding and experiences tango in it's birthplace, taking lessons and going to milongas. She even goes to a gay milonga for an article that she writes on tango for a travel magazine. Along the way, she meets a new guy Josh, who she likes, but when they dance tango together they don't fit. Each chapter is named after a  new step that she learns, the embrace, hook, the sweep, the throw, as her heart heals and she returns to the world of dating, and deciding exactly what it is that she wants to do with her life. The book doesn't end with Finn being swept up in some new romance, instead she realizes that she enjoys landscape gardening, and starts a new business.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Having taking tango lessons, I felt her frustration as she struggled to learn to give up control to her partner, the embarassment at standing at the practice sessions waiting for someone to ask you to dance, and the way that some men blame their partner for their missteps. Finn writes about how men don't ask her to dance a second time because she wasn't at their level, and how at her first milonga, she had to explain that she was just a beginner. Reading this, I felt like I was reading about myself. Although I've taken tango for several months, I have yet to work up the courage to go a milonga. I'm intimidated by the people that I've seen who are just tango gods. But now after reading this book, I'm not going to be as timid as I'd once been. If Maria can have the courage, so can I.

I highly recommend this book, even if you are not a dancer, or have never taken a dance class in your life.

Verdict:  4 Apples

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What I Want Now: Dreaming of Liberty

Anyone who has been to London has probably seen the Liberty of London store's mock Tudor facade on Regent's street. Well they have done a collection for Target, not just of cute dresses like the on the left but also home furnishings, patio furniture, you name it.

Two weeks ago in New York, they opened a satellite store on 42nd Street and 6th Avenue and the line was around the block to get in and go shopping. I'm sad now that I didn't stand outside to get in because the cute dresses are now out of stock. In 2 weeks! That's awesome. I mean a $40 dress that is cute and well made is not easy to find.

I've bought several items from Target's designer collections and they are incredibly well made compared to some of the stuff that you see at Kmart and Wal-Mart. I won an Alice Temperly dress, an Erin Fetherstone dress, and some very cute Hollywoud shoes. Not to menion the Isaac Mizrahi bag that I used to own. Right now along with the Liberty of London collection, Jean Paul Gaultier has done a collection and Zac Posen is coming up. I wish now that I had bought something from the Alexander McQueen collection that they had like a year ago.

These collections are just one of the reasons that Target is like the best store in the world.  Along with the great cosmetics and toiletries, and the cheap DVD's.

Hump Day Hotties: Vampire Edition

Mitchell from BBC 3's Being Human

Damon and Stefan from Vampire Diaries

Who else but Spike from Buffy

And Angel, Buffy's soul-mate

Monday, March 22, 2010

Anatomy of a Character: Sonny Corinthos

I have been a long time viewer of General Hospital although over the years the character of Sonny Corinthos has slowly taken over the show until there is hardly enough time for storylines for anyone else. Sonny was first introduced in 1993, as the owner of a strip club, who introduced Karen to drugs. He then became involved with Brenda Barrett and his character took off. Over the years Sonny has been involved and impregnated it seems like every single female character on the show apart from Monica and Epiphany. Over the years, his back story has slowly been revealed. His father Mike Corbin, a compulsive gambler, deserted the family. Sonny and his mother were abused by his stepfather Deke, who was a cop, leading to his hatred of law enforcement and his life of crime. Since he's been on the show, he's slept with a mother and a daugher (at different times and they didn't know they were mother and daughter) and impregnated them both. He had hate sex with his second wife Carly Benson (apparently Sonny feels that he is immune to any veneral disease and never wears a condom, despite witnessing the death of Stone Cates from AIDS). He deserted the so-called love of his life twice, once on their wedding day.

Now Sonny's daughter Kristina Davis has been beaten up by her boyfriend Kiefer and she has blamed someone else for it. Her daughter's abuse has brought up memories of his mother's and his own abuse by his stepfather Deke. The story of Deke's abuse has been used to excuse why Sonny can't go to prison, because his stepfather locked him in a closet while his mother has been abused. What kills me is how many of the characters go along with his claiming that he would never survive prison because he's claustrophobic, as if that's a good excuse not to imprison someone.

What the show hasn't addressed is how someone has been abused, can turn into an abuser. In Sonny's case, while he may not use his fists to abuse women, he certainly is verbally and emotionally abusive to them. In Sonny's world, women are either saints (his mother, his late wife Lily) or whores (pretty much every woman including the mothers of his children). Over the years, viewers have been treated to Sonny treating every woman in his life pretty much like dirt. He's called them whores, bitches, he's thrown them out into the street, he's forced them to marry him. When a woman 'betrays' him like Olivia, Carly, Hannah, Sam, Claudia, he unleashes a string of verbal abuse. Oh, and he shot Carly while she was giving birth to their son Morgan. Yes, it was an accident but still. Before he unleashes his verbal attacks, he usually has consumed a great deal of alcohol. As well as being verbal abusive, he's unfaithful (usually choosing to sleep with his women in the bed he shares with his wife), he even changed the name of the child he lost while the mother was in a coma.

Yet his verbal abuse has never been addressed by the writers. They've made him bi-polar to reflect his portrayer Maurice Bernard's own illness, but that storyline has been completely dropped apart from a few remarks occasionally about how he's taking his medication. Sonny's daughter Kristina witnessed his verbal attack on Claudia at a birthday party which he had thrown for her. Her mother, Alexis has made bad choices in men, but it's her relationship with her father and how he treats women which probably led her to stay with Kiefer despite the fact that this was not the first time that he's abused her.

The show holds Sonny up as a good father, despite the fact that he's a career criminal, which is absurd. He may love his kids but he is not a good father. Over the past 17 years, his children have been kidnapped by various psychos, they've been shot and put in a year long coma, and they have almost no idea of right and wrong. Kristina ran from a hit and run accident (which claimed the life of Sonny's most recent unborn child) and never took responsiblity for her actions. His son Michael has already shot one woman by accident and killed another. Sonny is taking the blame for the murder his son committed, which the audience is supposed to see as a father sacrificing himself for his child, but Sonny is convinced that he will get off, so how is this a sacrifice?

Now Kristina has been the victim of abuse and lied about her abuser. When she told her father who beat her, Sonny's immediate response was to threaten to kill the guy! No wonder his children are screwed up. My fervent wish would be for the show to really examine how Sonny's choices and the way he treats women has affected his daughter, but that's probably a lost cause, since Sonny is considered a hero by the show's writers.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

History Mysteries Challenge

I recently signed up for the Historical Mysteries Challenge sponsored by Mysteries and Musings blog. The idea is to read 5 historical mysteries over the next three months. The only problem is which historical mysteries? There are so many and I'm such a huge fan that it's been hard for me to narrow it down. I do know that I don't want them to be all series mysteries. I'd like to have at least 2 that are one offs.  Here are my choices thus far.

  • Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander
  • Castle Noir by Carole Nelson Douglas
  • Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen
  • The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
  • Miss Match by Sara Mills
  • The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
  • The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
  • 85 Bond Street by Ellen Horan
  • The Face of Stranger by Anne Perry
  • Murder on Bank Street by Victoria Thompson
  • The Agency: The Spy in the House - Ying Lee
  • Descent into Dust - Jacqueline Lepore
  • The Spymaster Chronicles - C.W. Gortner
And that's just to name a few.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gotham Gal Review: Pride/Prejudice

A few months ago, I heard that Avon was publishing Ann Herendeen's  interpretation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. In this version not only Darcy and Bingley are involved in a relationship but also Elizabeth and Charlotte. Kate over at Babbling about Books wrote a blog post about whether or not readers of Jane Austen would really want to read a bisexual version of their favorite characters. Well, if they can believe that Darcy is a vampire or that the Bennett sisters are zombie slayers, why not same sex relationships? I'm not a huge fan of Jane Austen paraliterature. I have no desire to read about Darcy and Elizabeth after their wedding or what happened to the rest of the Bennett sisters. However, I was intrigued enough by the reviews of Herendeen's first book Phyllida and The Brotherhood of Philander and an interview that I had read on Risky Regencies to give this book a shot.

From the back cover:  For readers who've loved Jane Austen's most popular novel - the inestimable Pride and Prejudice - questions have always remained. What is the real nature of Darcy's intense friendship with Charles Bingley, to explain why he would prevent Bingley's marriage to Elizabeth's  beautiful and virtuous sister Jane? How can Darcy reconcile his own desire for Elizabeth with his determination to save his friend from a similar entanglement? What is the disturbing history behind Darcy's tortured relationship with his foster brother George Wickham? And what other intimacies besides their cherished friendship, are exchanged between Elizabeth and Charlotte Lucas?

I wish I could say that I enjoyed this book but I found it incredibly frustrating. I had no problem with the idea of Darcy and Bingley being lovers although I quibble with Herendeen's view that she is just illuminating what was in the original novel. It reminds me of a director that I worked with who insisted that Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest was a sex farce or Jerry Falwell insisting that the Teletubbies were gay. The reasons for Darcy's not wanting Bingley to marry Jane are quite clear in the original novel. Her family is a nightmare and Darcy is a snob. And I never found Darcy's friendship with Bingley to be anymore intense than any male friendship. We've all had friends who have dated someone we think is awful or inappropriate, it doesn't make one gay, just a good friend.

Pride and Prejudice fans will probably look askance at Herendeen's decision to give the famous first line of the book to Darcy while he's lolling around in bed with his lover. The book is clearly meant for readers who are familiar with the original novel. Characters spend time either talking about scenes that happened in the original book or having interior monologues about them.  In fact one of the greatest weaknesses of this book is that there is too much telling and not enough showing.

There would be scenes in the book, mainly between Elizabeth and Charlotte, or Elizabeth and Jane that were positively Austenesque and then Herendeen would go back to Bingley and Darcy and it would get silly again. There were descriptions in the book that bordered on purple prose. There are long chunks set in London with characters that aren't in the original book but I suspect were in Herendeen's first book. There are also scenes told from the viewpoint of Georgiana Darcy and Anne de Burgh which I thought were unnecessary, not to mention a scene with three minor characters that seemed like it belonged in a different book. I also found it strange that Darcy and Bingley refer to each other by their first names in this book while Austen always has them refer to each other by their last names. It took me awhile to get used them being called Charles and Fitz. And that's the biggest problem, the characters don't seem like Austen's characters. As one reviewer on Amazon pointed out, it's like they are in an alternate universe.

While there are plenty of sex scenes between Darcy and Bingley, Darcy and Wickham in flashbacks, Darcy and various other people, there aren't really any sex scenes between Elizabeth and Charlotte apart from a brief scene where Elizabeth puts the moves on Charlotte after her marriage to Mr. Collins. Again, we're told that they've had a relationship, and Elizabeth makes a comment about her mother complaining about her dress being dirty after spending time with Charlotte but we see nothing. Darcy in this version is even more unlikeable than he is in Austen's version. He never seems to listen to other people, particularly when Charles is telling him that he wants to end their relationship because of his feelings for Jane. He's pretty much a jerk through most of the book. I never once believed that he loved Elizabeth, perhaps because he spent so much time thinking about her nipples.

I also had a hard time believing the ending, that both Jane and Elizabeth would be so understanding about the nature of the relationship between Darcy and Bingley. Considering that male homosexuality was illegal and most well brought up young ladies weren't even told the facts of life before they married, it's asking a little to much of the reader that both women would be waving regency rainbow flags.

If you are a huge Austen fan, you are probably not going to like this book.

Verdict:  2 apples out of 5.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hump Day Hotties: Irish Eyes are Smiling Edition

Colin Farrell

Cillian Murphy

Jason O'Mara

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (I hate the show but love him)

Ciaran Hinds (the only Captain Wentworth)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dreaming of Summer

Yesterday it was pissing down rain, so TCM nicely programmed two films to take my mind off the ark that I might have to build. The first film was Summertime, starring Katherine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi. Katherine Hepburn played Jane, a lonely middle-aged spinister who finally takes her dream trip to Europe. While staying at a lovely Pensione, she meets a hot, age appropriae Italian played by Rossano Brazzi. She falls for him but he turns out be married (of course he does!). He accuses her of being afraid of life so she finally falls into his arms. But the idea of having an affair with a married man is too painful so she leaves Venice. He runs to say good-bye but just misses her. She sees that he's brought her a gardenia as a parting gift.

The film is actually shot in Venice which is one of my favorite places on earth, although I've only been there in the wintertime. While I was watching it, I thought that this would be a good film to remake, perhaps with Kathy Bates or Frances McDormand. It's a great role for an actress of a certain age. The male role is trickier, the only Italian actor I can think of who is well known is Roberto what's his face who won Best Actor for Life is Beautiful, and he would be awful in the role. Unfortunately Giancarlo Giannini and Marcello Mastroianni are dead. I suppose Jean Reno could play Italian.

The next film I watched was pure cheesy fun. Where The Boys Are is set during spring break in Fort Lauderdale in 1960.  This movie must have been cheesy even back then. 4 college girls head south to have fun and meet men. My impression is that they go to an all girl's college. The men they meet are a motley crew, one beatnik musician, another guy who calls himself TV, a rich guy, and Ivy leaguer who turns out to be a jerk. Dolores Hart plays Merrit who thinks there is nothing wrong with pre-marital sex although she realizes that she is not ready. Connie Francis is the ditzy one, Paula Prentiss plays the really tall athletic girl who gets dumped (briefly) for a bimbo, and Yvette Mimieux is the sweet, sexy one, who (although the film is not clear on this one) gets sexually assaulted by a friend of the guy she was dating.

This is another film that could be remade, say for ABC Family, starring Amanda Bynes and the bitchy chick from the remake of 90210.  Perhaps mix it up a little and make it multicultural. It's been a long time since I went to college, but I'm sure East Coast kids flee the frozen north during Spring break if not for FL than for the Carribbean or Mexico.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gotham Gal Review: This Charming Man


Author: Marian Keyes

Publisher: Avon A

What's it About:   The lives of four very different women have been shaped and battered by one charming man. Ireland's debonair politician Paddy de Courcy - the "John F. Kennedy Jr. of Dublin" - has captured the tabloid headlines and the imagination of his country with his charm and charisma. But the crushed hearts he's left behind him reveal more about his character than his winning, vote-getting smile. Lola, Grace, Marnie, and Alicia have all suffered from his selfishness and cruelty. But with Paddy's political star ascending, the time is finally ripe for redemption...and perhaps a bit of revenge. (from the back cover).

Gotham Gal Says: I've loved Marian Keyes' book ever since I bought LUCY SULLIVAN'S GETTING MARRIED in London many years ago. When I saw that THIS CHARMING MAN was out in paperback I had to buy it. I've been reading nothing but non-stop non-fiction and historical fiction for months and I was dying to sink my teeth into something contemporary. While I liked this book, I didn't love it. Marian Keyes has a greaft gift for mixing laughter with the serious in her books, but at times I felt the serious overwhelmed the rest of the book. Lola, Grace and Marnie are extremely interesting characters, particularly Lola whose journey I probably enjoyed the most. Her time on the coast and the cast of characters that she meets are ones that I've never seen in fiction before. Who knew there were surfers in Ireland? Her sections are some of the lighter moments in the book. Marnie's journey felt a little 'been there, done that," for me after RACHEL'S HOLIDAY.

Alicia is the only woman who is not as clearly defined as the others. She only has two short sections of the book, and we learn nothing really of her relationship with Paddy through her eyes, we hear about it from the other women in their sections. She is more of a cipher and a spoiler than a real character, at least that was my perception of her. However, the biggest weakness would have to be THIS CHARMING MAN himself, Paddy de Courcy.  I felt that the reader got to know more about his sadistic and cruel side and less of the charming man that they all fell hard for. I didn't see it or feel it. What we do see is that his relationship with Grace's twin was incredibly co-dependent, and with Lola sexually sadistic. There needed to be more scenes of him as a politician or something. The book was certainly long enough to include that, it clocks in at a whopping 563 pages.

No one is better at depicting the modern multi-cultural world that Ireland has become than Marian Keyes but this book just didn't do it for me.

Verdict:  3 apples/5

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hump Day Hotties: Oldies but Goodies Edition

Anthony Stewart Head, Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and now Merlin

The only Colonel Brandon needed

Still gorgeous after all these years but please don't ever sing again!

Another gorgeous Irishman

Trevor Eve (his wife did those Taster's Choice commercials with Anthony Stewart Head!)