Thursday, March 28, 2013


Author Genevieve Valentine has done a blog series called The Catherine Cookson Experience which is better than my series and funny and wonderful and please read.......


in Which Rachel Watches some Old Catherine Cookson Miniseries: Vol II

Obviously one Catherine Cookson miniseries is not enough. So, Esther and I decided to set forth and watch another (Esther just kinda hopped on the Cookson train and, the way I see it, the more the merrier. After reading through the synopses of several of the excellent adaptations available on Netflix, we both said (on facebook, not to each other, I don't know where she lives--- somewhere in Tennessee ) " THE CAVE ONE" and, thus, readers.....

The Dwelling Place 

Now, in all honesty when this one started I thought: whew! This isn't so bad! This isn't nearly as melodramatic as Tilly Trotter and Rag Nymph

Ha! was I foiled.  You have a good, solid hour of seeming historical normalcy: a young woman whose parents die in the cholera epidemic who, rather than undergo inevitable separation from her brothers and sisters at the Workhouse, moves them into a cave dwelling and tries to make ends meet. Her little brothers work for an abusive foreman down in the mine and her sister goes into service.
Five mouths to feed isn't an easy task for strong Cissy; but she has the mental and emotional support of Matthew Carpenter ( TITUS PULLO...with hair!) who loves her to distraction and helps her build a roof for her cave and stuff and even promises to marry the miller's daughter so he can provide employment and apprenticeship for her brothers.

Nice, misguided guy with heart of gold----girl overcoming odds to keep her family together with virtue and resolve--- OBVIOUSLY these two will go over and under several plights of hills and rocks and crags but finally find romance and happiness.

Heck, no, people.  This is Catherine Cookson's genius. This isn't a fuzzy Easter bunny story; not before the first hour is up and Cissy has a pail of fresh, white milk swinging at her side then she is RAPED by Lord Fischel's snotty son Clive while HIS SISTER WATCHES for NO REASON except they are kinda mad because her brother was trapping on their land and she protected him and OH NO! the overturned MILK bucket is now a SYMBOL of her lost virginity.

I am sweet and a carpenter and you think I am gonna be all Joe Gargery--but I am ACTUALLY USELESS

Anyways, Lord Fischel is all "you are going to sea for raping a girl, young man" and so Clive goes to sea.  Cissy is pregnant with an illegitimate child and it all goes to Hades in a handbasket.

Matthew is trapped in a horrible marriage and his wedding day is, coincidentally, the same day that Cissy gives birth to a little boy.

Of course, Lord Fischel is all: this is my grandson! I sent my son away! I need an heir!  Bring him to me  and Cissy sacrifices and does and then is really sad.

Matthew is all: I love you!  and Cissy is all: WTF? I can't deal with this! you're married! I lost my baby! I was raped! I LIVE IN A CAVE! your martyrdom it's like.... dude..... this is all lost on me.

Anyways, Clive comes back a changed man and genuinely feels badly about raping Cissy. And Cissy his a voicebox for the Cookson mantra and says something like: "The only reason that you raped me Clive is because you are rich and I am poor and if we all were rich and not hungry and didn't live in caves then there would be no crime"  His father is all "here! your son" and Clive is all " I think I should give him back to his mother!" so he takes the boy to see Cissy and Cissy is all "I AM TURNING INTO A PUDDLE OF LOVE" and Clive is all "I am gonna work it so that he can be with you forever; but you have to move outta the cave and into the house" and Matthew is all "BUT I LOVE HER" and Cissy is all "oh! screw you, Matthew; you are WAY too late to this party" 

c/o radiotimes

And then Clive's conniving sister conspires to take the boy away and hide him and so she goes to Cissy's cave with a gun. And Cissy, over the moon because Clive dropped off her son that morning, is all "YOU WILL NOT TOUCH HIM! DON'T TOUCH MY BOY"  and Clive's conniving sister is all " I AM GONNA KILL YOU" and Clive shoots his sister from afar. With his hunting rifle. Because, that's how things go down.  So, RECAP: first, Clive's sister encourages Clive to rape a fair maiden with a milk bucket then LATER Clive kills said sister with a rifle to save the fair maiden (actually former maiden ) and .....then ....incidentally MATTHEW shows up ( late as per always)

Anyways, it seems to be ironing out with 15 minutes left on the Netflix timer.... but.....

IT GETS ALL STELLA DALLAS because Cissy LISTENS to her toddler when he says "I don't like you" and she is heart-broken and gives him back to his grandfather ( because toddlers, as I understand it, never throw tantrums and of course his dislike is true and inherent and he will never like her again or change his mind.)

And Cissy goes back to her cave and Clive is all "I know I raped you; but I was wondering if you wanna get married and forgive me. But, I kinda think you love Matthew."

Cissy: " Matthew? hruasdfjkasd jfkasd jfkl j! HARUMPH! like, he is EONS too late to this party and already married and stuff...."

Clive: "Cool. So, let's let bygones be bygones and we can hook up?  I mean, without my forcing myself on you in a violent and horrible way?

Cissy: "sure. I mean, what have I got to lose but this cave?"

I just... I can't even.....

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In Which Rachel watches some old Catherine Cookson Miniseries Vol I

 Guys. Sheesh.  Once, there was a famous and prolific recipient of the OBE who wrote, like, a gazillion melodramatic books that you are likely to find at your grandmother's or stuffed in the bookshelf at that cottage your family rents.

In the 1990s, they made a bunch of these books into miniseries. I’m talking not-so-great miniseries. I’m talking some of your favourite British actors and actresses before they landed their big time roles.  I’m talking British television on the cusp of the production values we know and love today.

Here, being British, they brought these tales to televised incarnation as reverently close to the melodramatic source as possible.  What we get? Catherine Cookson miniseries. … which are just… I mean…..

(note: I know a lot of people are fond of Cookson, I am too! She wrote some gripping tales of love and struggle, of prostitutes and hunchbacks, of poverty and class-divide; but you gotta admit, there is more than a little soap opera in her milieu ---so please, just enjoy the ridiculousness that is a Catherine Cookson miniseries when you take a step back and look at it logically).

Once upon a time there was a prostitute’s daughter who was cute and had impeccable manners. Her mother would entertain her “uncles” at night (you know as well as I where THAT euphemism is going)and this was against the law. So, one day, her mother was arrested. A kindly-brash old lady, a “rag” lady, who sold weird used wares in, like, a 19th Century Goodwill kiosk takes the little girl in and raises her (kinda) alongside her (Mill on the Floss, holla!) hunchbacked companion Ben.

The little girl is pursued by the pimp that once “loved” ( okay, love is a strong word; I’m not sure what this is ) her mother who feasts his eyes upon her nubile eight year old form (eww) and promises that she will be his when the girl grows older (eww again). To keep her from being molested or kidnapped by the bad pimp, the hunchback and the rag lady send the little girl to a convent where she meets a rich family and gets stricken with a ruler and is basically kinda Jane Eyre at Lowood; but with more spirit.

Then the little girl grows up into Samantha Stewart.  The hunchback Ben now loves her and the men of the street are, like, “tasty” and Sam Stewart is all “umm… guys, c’mon!”  and she is eventually invited to a party where she wears a blue silk gown while everyone else wears black. Which is, of course, a bad thing. So, the matron of the house, is all “ boys, you should molest her” ( because someone always needs to be threatened by sexual assault in a Cookson novel ) and they try to but Bingley from Pride and Prejudice shows up and saves her.

Then Sam Stewart’s long-thought-dead father shows up for no reason.

Sam Stewart courts Bingley while Ben the hunchback watches all jealous and stuff because, guys, he totes loves her.  But, turns out Bingley just wants Sam as his mistress because she is of a different social class ( okay, the real Bingley? Yah, he never would’ve done that. Ever! He’s Bingley, for god’s sake). So Sam decides “heck no! my self worth!” and turns him down.   Then, the pimp who followed her when she was, like, 8 kidnaps her and takes her to a brothel and sets someone on her. But, not before Ben the hunchback can save her and murder the assailant (well, murder is a strong word, kinda self-defense ) who was planning on preying on her innocent Sam Stewart flesh).   The police don’t really miss the loser who owned the brothel so Hunchback Ben is off the hook and he marries Sam ( sorry, Andrew Foyle ) and they live happily ever after and open a bakery and eat custard tarts.

Now, those of you who are aware of Cookson know that Tilly Trotter is kinda legendary. It is so epic it is a trilogy where the names of the books give away everything in the plot (Tilly Trotter Widowed, Tilly Trotter Wed ) and it was turned into a magnum opus of a miniseries (though it cut out the Wed and Widowed part ).

Tilly Trotter lives with her grandpa and grandma and chops wood and is beautiful with russet curls and a lovely complexion. Her friend Simon, the farmer, is the true love of her life: what with his broad shoulders and dimples and annoying Yorkshire accent.   Tilly is pursued by a jerk from the local village who wants to claim her. Tilly is, like, heck no!  Jerk from Local Village gets mad. Farmer Simon gets married ( who knows why! He doesn’t like his wife, he likes Tilly, they dance at his wedding. It’s all very odd).  On the way home from Simon’s wedding, Tilly is CAUGHT IN A NET by Jerk from Local Village and his Douchey Friends (a literal net, like a fish! ) and they attempt to rape her. But, don’t worry, the master of a local estate is nearby having an affair with his mistress because his wife has turned into a cold fish and they are there to rescue Tilly.
Tilly goes home and learns that they have all been living off of stolen money ( think this plot point is important? Think again. It matters not, you will never hear of it again. In four hours of this lovely tripe, you never hear of that again) and that jerk from the local village is still after her. Also, when she was practicing reels in the church basement one night with the minister’s wife, it got her branded as a witch (????!!!??? ) So, not only is Tilly pursued by lustful jerks from the pub, she is branded a witch.

Thinking her to be all witchy-like, some guys put her in the old town stocks and throw tomatoes at her; but not before a bunch of people can save her and the minister’s wife can accidentally kill one of the assailants (in another plot point that will never be mentioned again).  Tilly is all Hester Prynned in town and Farmer Simon (who hates his wife, still ) and her grandparents are her only friends.   That is, until granddad dies and the mean guys from the pub burn down her house and kill her grandma while Tilly is running errands.

Not knowing what to do, and convulsing with fake, dry tears, Tilly is spirited off to the grand Sopwith estate to look after  the children.  There’s a couple Maria Von Trapp moments with frogs and stuff; but it all works out and everything is fine until their daft mother, is, all “dude! You’re having an affair!" and takes the children away. Not knowing where to go and still branded a witch (!!!????!)  Tilly sets to working in the mines.

And this is where it turns into…like…the cinematic masterpiece it is. The owner of the mine is Mark Sopwith ( the same guy who is the lord of the manor whose kids Tilly looked after) and one day there is a mine accident and Tilly and Mark are trapped beneath rubble.  As fast as you can say “ROCHESTER THIS! DARNIT!” Mark is injured and loses his leg and makes Tilly his housekeeper.  They grow in friendship and he obviously loves her with every uneven whisker on his awkwardly side-burned face; but Tilly is still pining for Farmer Simon who—it would seem--- kinda loves her, too?  I mean, sure? I mean….

Turns out jerk from the village is still after her for some unknown reason ---SHE MUST BE MINE!---and so he intercepts her path home and tries to rape her ; but she throws him down a cliff and he breaks his back….

Back at home, the Master, Mark Sopwith, is all “ Tilly. Be my mistress. I love you; but I cannot divorce my wife; because this is 19th Century England even though I know she has a lover and has taken my kids”

And Tilly is all “That wouldn’t be right” *insert momentary Jane Eyre fortitude here*

And Master Sopwith is all “You still love Farmer Simon. Turns out his wife died 6 weeks ago.”
And Tilly is  “WHAT?! He is freee!  Love of my life” and she runs to find her Farmer love who is actually shacking up with a woman in the barn and Tilly sees and her heart is broken.

She goes BACK to the manor and Mark Sopwith is, all “ I love you.”

And Tilly is all “MY --*gulp* *sob* ---my heart! My faith in humanity….” And then Tilly goes to her room and while she is there she realizes that it IS Mark that she loves and that she HAS no self-respect so she GOES back to his room in her nightshirt and climbs into bed with him and lives happily ever after as his mistress having happily tossed her morals and resolve out into the dark moors.

In short, masterpieces, both of them. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Do You Hear What I Hear?: Differences of Opinion on Les Miserables GUEST POST by GINA!

And now.... a special guest post by our friend Gina.....

Every time the film version of Les Misérables comes back into the news—with the Academy Awards, and then again with the recent DVD/Blu-ray release—the controversy starts up all over again. The controversy, that is, over the quality of the singing. I confess I’ve lost my temper and got into Facebook brawls over it, which is neither mature nor dignified. Nor is it sensible, because after all, taste is subjective. Why should I care if other people hate what I love?

I guess it’s just that I have a really difficult time understanding how there can be such wide differences of opinion over this. Why, I wonder, can’t some of my friends hear the beauty that I hear? And what makes it all the more confusing is that I know they’re wondering, why can’t I hear the ugliness that they hear? Am I hearing something in this music that just isn’t there?

It’s not that there’s a lot of disparity among us when it comes to musical knowledge. I’ve been playing the piano for more than 30 years, and singing in a choir for about 15, and I minored in music in college. A lot of the people I’ve brawled—er, discussed this with have similar backgrounds.

But I have musically talented friends who love the movie and musically talented friends who loathe it. My former choir director/music minister (who’s also my piano teacher of many years) was in raptures over it; some of the choir members who had sat under his direction for decades couldn’t bear it.

In other words, it doesn’t seem to be one’s level of musical intelligence or education that makes the difference.

Nor does it seem to make much difference that the film’s cast was full of trained singers with extensive musical theater experience, including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit, and quite a few more. We’re not talking about a film that went for name value and sex appeal over vocal talent, like the regrettable Phantom of the Opera adaptation from 2004.

One can reasonably argue that a particular key should have been changed, or that a particular singer could have had better technique, or that Russell Crowe wasn’t the best choice for Javert. (Even he didn’t bother me all that much, though of course it would have been nicer to have a Roger Allam type with a big baritone!) But to claim that the film was one big vocal disaster, as some do, just doesn’t make any sense.

In the final analysis, I think it all comes down to what any given viewer expected and wanted from the movie.

Director Tom Hooper, in interviews, made it very clear what he was going for: a gritty and realistic film version of a musical drama. And with that come certain requirements and limitations, because film is a different medium from theater, with a vocabulary of its own. Onstage, no matter what a musical is about, you want powerful singers who can project to the back row; in a film, especially if you’re portraying “the wretched of the earth,” you probably don’t. On the stage, Fantine can hold everyone spellbound by belting out her tale of woe; in a film, honestly, that probably would have seemed a bit ludicrous. Fantine singing quietly and brokenly to herself, as we saw Hathaway do, is what you need in a film.

And so it goes for the other performances as well. We’re watching the poor and sick, the people beaten up by life; or we’re watching exuberant, naïve young revolutionaries, “schoolboys [who] didn’t last the night.” We’re watching people living lives of desperate urgency, and to make them all seem real on film, Hooper decided, we needed something raw and realistic in the quality of their singing, something you wouldn’t find on a stage. By taking talented singers and having them sing in a non-theatrical way, I think he hit just the balance he needed to hit.

If someone went into the movie theater expecting and desiring an experience that was pure musical theater, with beautiful voices soaring to the rafters, I guess I can see why he or she would be disappointed. Of course, for those who found the film experience less than they expected, there are always the CDs and DVDs of the various stage versions. But because I believe there’s value and beauty in both the theatrical and the cinematic ways of telling this particular musical story, I’m glad we have both.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of and Dickensblog. Her singing voice sounds best when surrounded by dozens of other voices.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

the 10 Best White Collar episodes of ALL time ( all time= four seasons)

dedicated to Jessica Barnes 

1.) the one where Neal gives Peter the oxygen in the Comic Book Vault and Tim Dekay wears a cranberry-coloured sweater

2.) the one where Neal is drugged and sings Love is a Many Splendoured Thing and Peter is there and should arrest him; but instead just puts his hand on Neal's hair for a bit  and Neal tells Peter that he is the only one he trusts

3.) the one where Peter is kidnapped and Neal is like HECK NO, KELLER! that's MY PETER and they hug it out (Neal and Peter; not Keller and Peter. That would be weird)

4.) the one where Neal is on an island with Mozzie and Peter is moping in New York with nothing but Ellen, Elizabeth and his Ford for company and he calls Neal on a secret pager phone and loves hearing his voice and then SHOWS UP ON THE TROPICAL ISLAND and they hug it out 

5.) the one where Neal and Peter switch roles and Peter is Neal Caffrey and wears black and is all sly and cunning and a CON MAN

6.) the one where NEAL TEACHES KIDS CHARLES DICKENS and reads Poetry

c/o USA
7.) the one where Peter Makes Coffee for Neal who is all sulky and a mopey teenager and they go and do these panels for an FBI conference and Neal runs along the top of cars and gets shot and Peter is HEARTBROKEN (for a second ) but NEAL was wearing a bullet-proof vest (whew ) and then Peter brushes him off *brush brush brush*  and then we find out that TREAT WILLIAMS is Neal's Dad !!! WHAAA!

8.) the one where Neal escapes from jail and Peter harbours him and tells the bad FBI guys to just put up wanted ads and road blocks (bwahahah! foiled you! FOILED YOU!)

c/o USA

9.) the one where Peter and Neal are BOTH kidnapped by Vincent Adler and diffuse a bomb in a submarine. while looking for treasure. and a music box. with a code. and the Midas touch. you can't make this stuff up, people.

10.) the one where Neal and Peter go to a dating auction (there's actually a prom photo taken of the guys in their suits. honest to Pete)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Danny/Darcy: the Austen archetype in the 21st Century

You love Mr. Darcy. You may not know you do; but you do. If you watch a romantic comedy or even buy into the long-building romance between two characters on your television screen, you are likely encountering facets of Darcy perhaps even without knowing.

The Darcy archetype has been alive and well and thriving for years. For centuries, to be exact and while many people know of Austen and her seminal work Pride and Prejudice many may not recognize that it has infiltrated so much of our popular culture.

A male friend asked me last year about Darcy and to give an example of a modern Mr. Darcy he might know about in modern culture. Off the top of my head I mentioned Nick Miller from New Girl. Not the best example, granted, but a surly, somewhat misunderstood and aloof character who harbours obvious chemistry and fondness for the heroine even though they meet at a cross-roads now and then. This dynamic has changed greatly in latter episodes; leading me to believe that their bond is one of repressed physical and sexual attraction and somewhat diminishes my initial comparison--but, there you are.

Lately, I have sought and found 21st Century Darcy elsewhere....
I am a huge fan of Mindy Kaling. She unabashedly champions the single every-woman, has a smart and sassy sense of humour, is sharp as a tack and speaks openly about her obsession with romantic comedies. Indeed, her creative brainchild The Mindy Project proudly flounces and brandishes so many lovely cliches of the rom-coms she loves. They are an unofficial guide for her as she navigates modern life and relationships. Unlike so many clumsy and stereotypical rom com heroes, Mindy is a genuine article, a bonafide smarty who has her professional life figured out (for the most part) as a talented OB/GYN; but who lacks the ability to separate romantic ideals from real life in her personal spheres.

Tell me that you don't relate to this, oh bookish, romantic, dreamy reader friend of mine.

Often, she cites how romantic comedies have provided life lessons she lives by---- or strives to live by. The line between fictional Mindy on screen and the Mindy we meet in her hilarious memoir is ironically as blurred as on-screen Mindy's disability to detract from the rom coms of her youth.

Mindy's favourite romantic comedy in the tv series is You've Got Mail --- an archetypal romantic comedy of letters and epistolary flair that, itself, is an homage to a play (Parfumerie), a musical (In the Good Ol' Summertime) and a Lubitsch piece The Shop Around the Corner). It is also a Pride and Prejudice re-telling before the far more obvious Bridget Jones' Diary. So blatant is the comparison, writer Nora Ephron has both of her characters reading and mentioning the piece unaware that their story greatly mirrors the triumphs and challenges of their literary counterparts Lizzie and Darcy.

In the New Yorker last year, Kaling wrote the following: " But what I’d really like to write is a romantic comedy. This is my favourite kind of movie. I feel almost embarrassed revealing this, because the genre has been so degraded in the past twenty years that saying you like romantic comedies is essentially an admission of mild stupidity. But that has not stopped me from enjoying them. 
I like watching people fall in love onscreen so much that I can suspend my disbelief in the contrived situations that occur only in the heightened world of romantic comedies."

She buys into the pretences, the contrived cliches, and she admits to loving them. In her series The Mindy Project which she developed, created and often scripts, she bombasts her audience with a parade of these lovely tropes and conventions. Never more obvious than in Mindy's on-screen Darcy-esque counterpart, Danny Castillano.

It is easy for people to misread any love/hate relationship as one reflecting the Lizzie and Darcy mould. Yes, theirs has its antagonistic moments; but the greater the depth of the building relationship the greater the intellect behind the creator and the creation. I argue that since Mindy Kaling has self-deprecatingly asserted her love for this archetype that she buys into it in the best, most grounded way possible. Danny is a modern-day Darcy.  One of the best examples, it turns out, to give a friend you're out for beers with who asks "What's a Darcy today? Who is a 21st Century Darcy?"  Hear me out: 
This will never happen again, I caution you, but I'd like to start with an unlikely source for further evidence. Read how Danny is described in The Mindy Project wiki (I can't believe I am sourcing a wiki): He has a very strong, intense personality capable of running over weaker, less assertive personalities; it is best tempered by someone who has an equally strong, assertive character. He is very vocal in his opinions (especially when it comes to  Mindy) and often comes across as a jerk. Despite this, he cares deeply for the people around him and is very loyal and dependable. His respect is hard-won, but once won, it is also hard to lose.

Correct me if I'm wrong; but the latter part of this contributor's perspective smacks of a chapter 11 conversation between Lizzie and Darcy in which the latter admits that his "good opinion once lost is lost forever." 

I may be pulling at strings; but I do think that there is propensity for modern writers to draw on literary predecessors from the well of perfect heroes. Pride and Prejudice is one of the original romantic comedies, not unlike Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing . Human nature doesn't change, at least in its core, over time and neither does love. Sure, it takes on different forms and freedoms and is not labelled as easily as it once was, but at its centre, the experience of two people meeting and the obstacles they overcome to be together are very much the same.

One of the reasons I am attracted to Danny as the modern-day Darcy archetype (Darchetype? tee hee) is that he really is good-hearted when it counts--- Not unlike Darcy is forced into action to reveal Wickham's wrong-doings and traipse through London trying to recover Lydia before she can make it to Gretna Green. He thinks Mindy is ridiculous (much as Darcy thinks Elizabeth's family is ridiculous); but respects her nonetheless.  He shows up at her Christmas party and acts as saviour when she learns that her current beau is a cheat and a liar and comforts her thereafter. More still, he takes the Christmas speech she has written in her bouncy, loquacious way and reads it himself: completely out of persona. He even brings a Gingerbread House (tell me you didn't just die. you did. you died. he brought a Gingerbread House)

When an old flame from camp shows up in New York on leave from the army, it is Danny who picks up the pieces when Mindy's almost-love must leave for duty. In his gruff, typical way, Danny cajoles Mindy; but stays with her nonetheless.  I couldn't help thinking in this moment of a helpless Darcy encountering Elizabeth who has just learned of Lydia's misfortune. He feels a tad awkward, more than a little helpless, but he stays.  Danny also stays, incidentally, with Mindy when she is in the midst of a crying jag when she breaks up with her boyfriend . He is awkward, yes,  but he is there. 

The qualities that make Darcy....well... Darcy are not the affable ones that we find in a Bingley (a modern counterpart to Bingley might be Jim from the Office, per se, a show that, coincidentally, Mindy Kaling wrote several episodes of); but in the deep-seeded gold and fibre that force him to act in moments of goodwill. Often surly, often misunderstood, he's not at his best with crowds or with people; but the right person and circumstance can draw him out. 

I'm not lining one against the other in comparative certainty, inasmuch as I am proudly adhering to a nod: a slight nod to source material.  Kaling buys into the tropes of romantic comedies and promenades them for the world to see.  In doing so, she essentially tips her cap at a master, at Austen, who created dishy, dark and swoon-worthy heroines, who are at their best when just a little out-of-reach.

The one comparative certainty I can state without hesitation is that in both cases the reader/viewer is more enticed when these two characters are in the room together, their chemistry so palpable you want to shake them and ask them to stay awake and pay attention.  Women revisit 6 hours of the BBC Pride and Prejudice for those lovely, listless, dreamful moments between Lizzie and Darcy: even from their misguided early start). In the same way, I come alive when Mindy and Danny are in the same scene; much like the way the volume on my television somehow gets louder during a commercial.  I am alive for them. I am rooting for them. I want my 21st Century smart and sassy Lizzie to get her surly, "handsome jerk" ( as Mindy  describes Danny) Darcy and I want them to live happily-ever-after ( but off-screen. After the end of the show. The build-up is so much more fun than the resolution ).

Side note: Not unsurprisingly, Chris Messina, the actor who plays our Danny/Darcy, has a few romantic comedies under his belt: two of them Ephron films ( he was a bookseller at Fox Books in You've Got Mail--- how perfect! and he was the modern love-interest in Julie and Julia. More recently, he starred opposite Jenna Fischer in The Giant Mechanical Man: a quirky film that I LOVED)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Breakpoint Articles

Hi all,

I've been on Breakpoint twice this past week ---so you can catch up.

Here's a feature article Am I a fake Virgin? is a review of Rachel Coker's splendid Chasing Jupiter

Go forth and read, kittens! and have a great week!


Finally everyone!

after 6 years since the publication of the AMAZING Red Seas Under Red Skies  and a lot of whining and whimpering on facebook and an open letter to Scott Lynch, there is a publication date ( a real one!) for The Republic of Thieves.

Check out the update on Scott's LJ 
Pre-Order on Amazon

Monday, March 18, 2013

Parade's End BBC

I kinda of think of Parade's End as Downton Abbey for grownups. It is an enticing, compelling and highly nuanced tale of love, war and the end of a civilization. Based on the tetralogy (though greatly condensed by the genius Tom Stoppard) by Ford Madox Ford (often called one of the greatest literary works of the 20th Century), the experience found here is not unlike sitting in a theatre, the proscenium arch resounding the echoes of well-spoken, taut and perfectly threaded words and sentences. Where emotions run deep; but are clouded by well-mannered visage, where the action and plot takes left stage to the higher thematic norms of the centre.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the tortured Christopher Tietjens, the last "Tory" an English country gentleman and statistician in an age where the squires and landowners are being politically overthrown and there is a new land of suffragettes, modern philosophy and battles (both literal and figurative) on the horizon.  Tietjens is plagued by honour.  He cannot fathom doing something that would break his moral code of conduct. Trapped in a loveless marriage to the absolutely fascinating Sylvia (seriously: Rebecca Hall is beautiful and beguiling in this role, she's as much a chameleon as Benedict ), Tietjens cannot reconcile happiness which doesn't fall into the carefully constructed line of social norms instilled in him by his great landowning Yorkshire father.

Sylvia is Catholic and doesn't believe in divorce, Tietjens moral code forbids divorce. So, even though it is questioned as to whether his son ( whom he loves to distraction ) is his own and no matter the nature of his wife's infidelity, Christopher is long-suffering.  Several characters paint the canvas of both the Tietjens' town and country worlds: including a minister's wife and her mad husband, a Scottish critic who acts as friend and confidante to Christopher, and the indomitable suffragette Valentine Wannop, a young athlete and radical whom Christopher meets and subsequently muses on for most of the series.

So much of the prelude to the War is an intricate waltz between Sylvia and Tietjens. Sylvia is mad for her husband and desperately wants his attention. Christopher isn't sure what to do with his wayward wife; but refuses to take a mistress no matter how it would equalize their playing field and perhaps, as Sylvia muses, bring them closer together.

What begins is the downward spiral of a tragic hero. The rumours which begin spinning about
Christopher's own infidelity are made even worse by the forbearance he shows against their telling. In one case, he is said to have been involved in a sexual affair on a train; whereas, in actuality, he was escorting a woman and offering help to his friend and his friend's new mistress.  It is heartbreaking to see someone who falls on his sword again and again to do what is right, be cast off again and again by a society who cannot believe in his inherent honour. Indeed, it seems more as if they cannot tolerate his goodness because they know they cannot live up to it. He must be taken down a peg.

Even Sylvia knows that her husband would never dishonour her; though his rapport with Valentine irks her jealousy until she begins spreading a few tall tales of her own.

At several points  I wanted to shake everyone: pay attention, Christopher! Your wife is just trying to get you to notice her! Sylvia, come on! He doesn't expect you to be up to his level, he is taking you as you are and there is NO NEED to be a conniving fox.   Christopher's strict and stalwart core make him a martyr for his own cause. He needs happiness! Love! A chance!


If this waltz had continued, it might have played into the soap-like tendencies of Fellowes' Downton; instead it introduces the War and severs entirely the world that Tietjens knew.

Tietjens comes into his own not when he is acting in high command, training Canadian troops (he sticks up for the Canadians as more than conscripts! Score! ) ; but when he is lowered into the trenches, forced to confront the enemy, without his title or his traditions to hide behind. One lovely moment sees a young soldier bringing him coffee and a sandwich on a china tea service while the muck and debris of the trench falls around him. After finishing his dainty repast---a complete contrast to his present situation--- Tietjens smashes the china tea cup against the muddy wall.  He is someone else now, he has come into his own when stripped of high title and ranking and equalized with the war.

All of the uncertainty, all of the muddled confusion strips away and Tietjens finds a new purpose and family. When the war is over and he returns home to find that his wife has heartlessly chopped down the great ancient cedar at Groby Estate, a symbol of era upon era of Tietjen prosperity and reign, he can finally throw a chopped log of its once-grand branches into a fire, he can dance alongside his new officer comrades, he can take his suffragette into his arms.

The world has changed. The last Tory has expired: not from death; but from new life. A man went through the war (on the home front and in the trenches) and emerged the best of a waking civilization. He just had to leave a lot behind.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Novel Crossing Review: "The Air We Breathe" by Christa Parrish

Hey all!

I'm over on Novel Crossing today.  Read my new review of Christa Parrish's The Air We Breathe


Guys! did you see the season finale of White Collar. First off, it had a plot-twist.  I have always been able to figure out a White Collar plot-twist; but for the first time they threw me off. I feel so cheated.

at first Neal and his Dad: all fun and games

Thirdly, my friend Gina and I were sure that Sam/James was going to get killed off. Maybe accidentally shot by Peter ( after we saw last week's preview of the episode )

but I didn't think at all that Sam/James would turn out to be AWFUL and FRAME PETER FOR MURDER!!!!

It had the usual tropes and "stock" moments: cool little caper, June, Mozzie, Mozzie's one-liners, Sarah,  New York moments, the new "Fowler", tracking a valuable possession (box) full of secrets..... but it didn't follow the trajectory I anticipated.

Instead, it flipped the tables. We all kinda wanted James/ Sam to redeem himself, to prove to the Neal who always wondered who he was, that he was decent at core, inherited from his wronged father.

Instead...well... his father kinda isn't decent at all and truly believes that there always needs to be someone to take the fall.

And now... the coolest part.

Last week, Treat Williams followed me on twitter ( i know!!!)  and obviously I took to twitter with my heartbreak and rage and this happened

Treat feels badly. I know he does!

And this little twitter conversation helped numb the pain of PETER ASDFHJASDFJASDKFJASDFKJASDF A!!! being arrested and in handcuffs and Neal watching helplessly and PRISON BREAK! we need a White Collar PRISON BREAK

the good old days 

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Books I've Read in the Past Week or So

I've been doing a lot of reading; but don't really have time to write up all of these books.  Sorry, readers.

But, I do want to let you know what has been keeping my reading brain turned on and happy and provide you with links so you can check them out.

The books below are all books I heartily recommend. In some cases, you'll see my reviews of them at Breakpoint or Novel Crossing and I'll let you know when they're posted there.  For each I have included one word or short phrase or description that comes to mind when I think about the book

c/o jane austen's world

The Irish Healer  by Nancy Herriman Perfectly Paced, Slow-Burning Romance. 

Veil of Pearls by Marylu Tyndall Attention to Detail. Breathless. Lace.

The Air we Breathe by Christa Parrish Trapped. Disillusioned. Plays with narrative tropes.

Home Another Way by Christa Parrish Lyrical. Music. Discordant. Clash. Rural.

Into the Free by Julie Cantrell  
Gypsy. South. Drenched. Abuse. Emotional resonance. Poetry. Pitch-perfect put-in-your-pocket poetry that lolls on your tongue. Taste. Palpable.

My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger.  Cotton-candy-coloured-bright-flippant-ephemera-highschool-laugh-romance-sweet-friendship-awkward-giggle-nose-wrinkle-good.

Chasing Jupiter by Rachel Coker juvenalia-in-the-best-Bronte-way. Nostalgic. Flipped.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Proposal Writing

I am currently writing a book proposal. And, as promised, I wanted to let you all know about what is going on in my writer-ly world as I do in my reading world.

I am finding this very difficult.  A great challenge that is really stretching my skill as a writer.

It is so different than writing a critique of a book or a plug or a review.  The intent of the synopsis of the proposal, is not just to give a description ( that is something else entirely),  but to introduce your story in great detail: capturing thematic essence,pivotal plot details while still making the reader aware of, and intrigued by, your characters and their relationships.

Like Goofy, I always stick my tongue out when deep on concentration 

I have to say that I am finding this one of the most difficult aspects thus far in my little writing journey and I think I know why:

- I am used to critiquing and reviewing novels: this is not a critique or a review, this is a kind of literary story-board honing in on the essential elements

-I am long-winded.   it is essential that I find a balance wherein I can hopefully demonstrate some flair for the written word while letting the characters and the story speak for themselves

-I second guess myself: we all know that when it comes to writing, I can have the self-assurance of a gnat. I think this is common for several writers. I need to learn to trust that the story elements I am parading and the plot points I promenade in my synopsis are, indeed, those which will provide eventual readers with the enticement they need to carry on.

I have a fabulous critique group online constituting of a few professionals and published authors which I recently was blessed enough to join.  While I have been discussing synopses with them (and relying on their expertise), as well as visiting other blogs which have talked to this very point, I wanted to hear from my Fair Substitute readers. Anyone out there remember their first book proposal?

What is the hardest part about it for you?

Monday, March 04, 2013

Litfuse Blog Tour: " Grave Consequences" by Lisa T. Bergren

There are very few authors who could pull this off.  It's a trilogy about the Grand Tours of yore, flitting between the first person narrative of our hero, Cora, and the third person narrative of the "Bear" (read: Tour guide with the best job in the world. Bar none).

It's not just the play on narrative voice, though. No, it is the attention to detail so that each grand European adventure is pitted out and displayed in sepia-toned snapshot for the reader to mentally emblazon with dialogue and action.

I suppose I could meander at this moment about plot ( young Cora Kensington introduced in Grand Illusions is still traipsing throughout Europe while attempting to find her identity, acclimatizing herself to the her new role as a young heiress, far from the ordinary routine of her American farm, learning to love her new brothers and sisters, juggling her feelings for a dashing Frenchman and the obvious chemistry she has with Will, etc., etc) but I don't find the plot to be the most exceptional part of the story; it is the experience. I love traveling the world with these people. I love re-visiting some places I have been and seeing their great attractions through their eyes and imagining other places I have only read about and how they might look in Will and Cora's Age.

While the first novel in the trilogy did well at examining the whir and change and shift of social classes from an old world ( emblemized further by the ruins and monuments they visit on their tour) on the brink of something new, the second book introduces Cora's fascination with the Suffrage movement. There is a lovely, lovely thought explored when Cora sees her male companions jumping into the river and longs to try it on her own in a scandalous night time leap.  We feel that this represents Cora's longing to lunge into something new---as a young woman on the precipice of something great.  Torn between her need to live up to her familial obligations and appease her "new" family and to stay true to her own passions and convictions.  A few brushes with romance do nothing to untangle her thoughts.

I knew going into this book what relationships and romantic paths are the most integral to Cora's self-realization but the journey, much as the journey which takes our young sojourners across lavish, opulent Europe, is what was worth my investment.

Here's the Litfuse Landing Page 
Visit Lisa on the web

random rant: don't judge this book by its cover. 

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Film Review: A Royal Affair dir. Nikolaj Arcel

Sumptuous, driven, ornate, opulent, gut-wrenching.

I actually took out a scrap of paper from my purse and wrote some of the words that catapulted to my mind's forefront as soon as the credits starting rolling.

This, fair reader friends, is why I love period pieces. They are so fascinating, I learn so much, they whet my appetite and I want to go on a research spree and excavate every little detail about the people I have seen come so vibrantly to life and the world that has fleshed out before my eyes in whirling canvas.

After watching A Royal Affair I added Copenhagen ( "Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen"-there. now it's in your head, too)  to one of the places I really must visit

We often associate grand period pieces of the 18th Century with the British and French monarchies; but we don't as often read or watch the palatial life in other parts of Europe, such as Denmark, unfurl.

This is a work of visual opulence, yes, but also one of romance and power play.

Caroline Mathilde of England is betrothed to King Christian VII of Denmark.  She dreams in the opening sequences of how theatrical and artistic he is as hearsay has taught her. She lifts her locket from her neck and stares at the tiny portrait of him painted inside.  When she meets him and they consummate their marriage, she realizes that he is jealous, changeable, temperamental and mentally unbalanced. If his critics and council are right, this is one mad King.

Having fulfilled her duty by providing him with a male heir, Caroline is certain that her life from there on in is a hopeless imprisonment.  The king stifles her artistry (she is a fabulous pianist) so that she doesn't upstage him and the censorship is so great in a Denmark stagnantly opposed to Enlightenment theories, that the books she had transported from England have been sent back.  The king much prefers the company of prostitutes and ribald activities in the evening, leaving the Queen to her bedchambers: trapped in a loveless and passionless existence, though the cogs of her fast-moving, philosophical and Romantic brain are forever turning.

While the King is on a two year European tour, he meets with Johann Struensee, a small-town physician he is taken with during an interview wherein they have a battle of Shakespearian quotes. Struensee is the perfect foil of the eccentric and flamboyant king and he welcomes him to not only be his personal physician, but also his constant companion and confidante.  This does well for Struensee, who was encouraged to try for the post by two men desperate to get back into court life.

When he meets the Queen, she seems as pale and lifeless as the King has described her. Her spirits are low and she views Struensee as another one of her mad husband's whims, destined to bring the king further and further into debauchery.  During a check up, the Queen discovers that behind his medical treatises, the new physician has rows of her favourite Enlightenment works by Rousseau and Voltaire. She immediately sees him a kindred spirit and they bond. Very slowly, very subtly. Their relationship merges further when Struensee presents her a packet of the philosophical works he has written anonymously.  When their relationship transitions from one of mental equality to physical passion, the viewer is more delighted because  a preternatural kinship and solid friendship has already been established.

This is a familiar story and a familiar trope: not only in fiction but in real life.  Forbidden love, power-plays, a double-standard which allows the husband to carry out extra-marital affairs while condemning the wife and a slow-boiling tension made tantamount by members of court who, for reasons of politics and self-protection and advancement need someone to act as scapegoat, need a downfall.

While Struensee has the king's ear, he acts as a royal advisor to the extreme: they dissolve the council and implement a myriad of wonderful decrees inspired mostly by Struensee's personal philosophies and his conversations with the Queen who, like him, would like to see censorship banned and serfdom obliterated with rights for the peasants.

Of course it falls apart. Of course there is tragedy.  History doesn't do well at providing us case after case of happily ever afters. But, like the best films and stories of the sort, while you are in the elegant and refined and supremely passionate midst of the love affair unfolding, you believe that it could go on forever... that it must go on forever... that Enlightenment and romance will prevail.

I knew it was coming, I bit my nails to the quick and wrung my hands ( seriously. goodbye manicure) but I didn't want to see it as it happened. I wanted to freeze a few beautiful and bold, gilt-edged moments in time.

Friday, March 01, 2013

My Hyperbolic Lie to Lisa T. Bergren

So, Readers, I loved Lisa T. Bergren's Glamorous Illusions and I am almost done Grave Consequences and I remember after finishing GI that I was, like, yo! gonna download me some Bergren!

but I didn't download ALL of them. So I lied to her and elicited this response

Umm, Lisa T. I tend to lapse into hyperbolism, but I did download the following and, readers, if you read one of her books you will be inspired to follow the same sure and steady course:






Do you want to interact---- hyperbolically or otherwise--- with Lisa T. Bergren? Follow her on twitter : @lisaTBergren


My Litfuse post for Grave Consequences is scheduled for Monday.