20 November 2011

Romantic Fairy Tales (Penguin Classics)

This is Romantic with the capital "R", for the literature movement, not romantic because of any marriage plot.

We received this into the store and I promptly bought a copy because it appealed to my need to "tell a story."  I was having a little trouble plotting my book so found myself open to a little inspiration from Goethe.

This collection of four traditional fairy tales (as in, the Kunstmarchen versions - they aren't pretty) is edited by Carol Lisa Tully.  It includes:

Goethe's Fairy Tale (1795)
Ludwig Tieck's Eckbert the Fair (1797)
Friedrich de la Motte Fouque's Undine (1811)
Clemens Bretano's The Tale of Honest Casper and Fair Annie (1817)

Murder, incest, wood nymphs, sex (and stand-ins for sex), the supernatural, and one seriously misplaced sense of honor...come and get it!

14 November 2011

Solves that question....

So last week when I blogged about QR Markham's plagiarism I wondered whether he was punking us or just plain stupid.

GalleyCat reported that Markham (or Quentin Rowan as was) explained his reasons in an email to novelist Jeremy Duns.

After reading said "reasons" my vote is now for "just plain stupid" (additionally, that is the lamest set of excuses, ever).

11 November 2011

Gratuitous Cat Picture Friday (5): Hai!

Oh, hai!  Wut r u doin mom?

Chaucer looked like a jack-in-the-box, repeatedly popping his head up from behind the laptop to look at me.

10 November 2011

NC-17: Yes, please!

Steve McQueen's new movie Shame - about a New York man's sex-addiction problem, portrayed by Michael Fassbender - has received an NC-17 rating for "some explicit sexual content" (it's pretty well-publicized that there is full-frontal nudity).  The rating isn't terribly surprising to me.  The MPAA has had its collective head buried up its tailpipe for years and movie theatre chains treat the ratings as marketing tools.  I knew since the project was announced I'd have to wait and catch Shame on either Netflix or just buy the DVD because, although I live in a pretty progressive college town, both large theatres are owned by chains and we don't have a good indie/art house movie theatre (the Bijou on the University campus does it's best but it only has one screen and limited seating).  Y'all have seen this rant before back when Jane Eyre released.

What surprised me, and I completely applaud McQueen and Fox Searchlight for the decision, is that the rating will stand.  They aren't appealing or re-cutting the movie to get it down to an R.  The movie is what it is - a raw, unflinching portrait of a successful, polished man with a secret whose world comes crashing down when his sister winds up moving with him.  It can't be told with innuendo and still get the same emotional impact.  Besides - and get this, movie theatre chain owners - in no way do I want to watch this movie with a pack of immature teens.  This is not a movie you watch just to see some hotties in the buff* (and if that's the reason you want to see it, I think you'll be bored).  McQueen's earlier film Hunger (also starring Michael Fassbender) is also a raw, unflinching film with a good deal of male nudity but it's also violent, brutal to the point of savagery.  Watching naked men getting beaten and violated (and staving themselves to death) is not sexy.**

HixFix.com has a great interview with Carey Mulligan (she plays Fassbender's troubled sister) where she expresses irritation over the NC-17 rating - not because the film has nude scenes, but because those nude scenes aren't "sexy":
“You know, so many of the teen movies will have so much sex and so many people walking around in bikinis and bare-breasted and that all seems to be okay. And then the minute you show it and its not funny, and it's not sexy, and it's actually unattractive, then it becomes a problem, which seems so odd."
The article points out that Shame has no more physical nudity than Forgetting Sarah Marshall which earned an R rating.

So, bring it, NC-17 rating.  I am totally down with it.

*Er, I will grant you that Michael Fassbender nude is a plus in my book.  He is easy on the eyes.  But that's not the reason to see either Hunger or Shame.  Sort of like Daniel Craig in Love is the Devil where he played Derek Jacobi's boyfriend - yeah, he's in his birthday suit for a few scenes, and he's got a good body, but the scenes aren't titillating.

**However, violence against women - especially sexualized violence - always seems to get a pass.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (curently not yet rated) will probably get an R rating even though Lisbeth experiences a horrific rape scene (if you've read the books you'll know what I mean).  That movie ought to be an NC-17 for the violence alone.

08 November 2011

Tsk, tsk, they never learn, or do they?

This week Twitter lit up with the revelation that a new, well-received spy novel - QR Markham's Assassin of Secrets - was heavily lifted from other spy novels (including James Bond, to which the book was compared).  Little, Brown recalled the entire print run (The Book Bench blog at the New Yorker summarizes and muses on the situation well).  Ed Rants went on a hunt for the lifted passages and found so many from different sources that the plagiarised novel is looking more and more like a collage.

My question is, how did Markham think no one would ever find the lifted sections?  It's not like he ripped off an obscure, out-of-print-and-copyright novel that few would remember.  He lifted from Geoffrey O'Brien, Charles McCarry, and John Gardner (according to Halford a whole six page stretch was lifted from a Gardner novel).  People obviously still read and are fans of those authors.  Pulling stupid stunts like this really gives both the author and publisher a black eye.  The editor and publisher especially for not catching the plagiarism beforehand. 

Conversely, is Markham doing this on purpose?  An article he wrote for HuffPo (which has since been pulled) was largely cobbled together from an O'Brien work.  The Paris Review ran one of his short stories in 2002 which has since been found to contain passages from a Graham Greene book.  It almost seems like he was testing the system, dipping a toe to take the temperature and see if he could slip an entire novel collated from existing novels.

If Markham is "punking" the literary world, no one is laughing.  Least of all Little, Brown.  I just want to know why - was it Markham's intent to deliberately put this book out there and see if anyone would notice or was he honestly hoping it would go under the radar so he could make more money off the series contract?

05 November 2011

Romance Benders

Lit snob confession:  I used to read romance novels a lot.  I used to sneak them from my mom's room and read all the naughty bits.  Then I read the Anne Rice Beauty trilogy (yeah, yeah, I know, the non-vampire stuff is erotica, technically, but someone thoughtfully misshelved them with some romance novels at the library) and that just about put me off my feed (also, I was about fifteen...if you haven't figured out "vanilla" yet the "banana split with whipped cream, sprinkles, and nuts" will make your hair stand on end).  So extended break from romance novels.  I was also tired of recycled plotlines.  I did get the brilliant idea to name one of my cats "Chaucer" from a romance novel (The Wedding by Jo Beverly, I think) so not entirely a bad thing.

My sister-in-law turned me onto Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series a while ago.  They are fun books to read - Regency-era flowery-named spies causing trouble for Fouche and Delaroche while protecting England from French invasions framed by the modern story of an American grad student in England trying to write her dissertation about the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian, and the Pink Carnation.  They are deliciously funny, Regency romance-type novels that borrow on some Austen themes (Letty's family in The Deception of the Emerald Ring is an obvious borrowing of the Bennetts from Pride and Prejudice that works well in that plot) and combine them with cheeky espionage plots.

This year, having partially OD'd on fantasy novels again (thank to GRRM) and partially fried my attention span by writing a book, I have come back around to romance novels.  Simple plots.  Mostly happy endings.  Bad guys get punished (after 4000 pages of Lannisters getting away with just about everything I needed some punished villains, let me tell you).  Poor fried brain doesn't have to think.  Additionally, I can read a 300 page romance novel in about two hours - a good thing when I'm twenty books in the hole on my goal to read 100 books this year.

Back in July, my attention was caught by The Bargain by Mary Jo Putney.  Has a good meet-cute: she needs to marry by age 25 to get her inheritance money (stupid clause in father's will), he is dying from a wound received in the Napoleonic wars.  He'll marry her, she will provide an income for his sister who's scraping along as a governess.  Good bargain, right?  Well, enter one outraged sister, a pioneering surgeon, a twist of fate...you get the picture.  It had what felt like a really rushed ending - makeup sex and an annoying epilogue.

So, ok, that was fun, right?  At the end of August I picked up The Secret Desires of a Governess by Tiffany Clare.  The governess was a fun character to root for and the book had a really nice Gothic quality to the backstory and mystery.  However, the sex scenes between hero and heroine - while crazyhotandsteamy and not completely out of place for a modern setting - felt really forced in the mid-nineteenth century setting.  A few plotholes, too.  Sort of meh.

The next month, while receiving at the bookstore, I came across Devil of the Highlands by Lynsay Sands.  Evil stepmom betrothes sweet stepdaughter to a Scot known to be horrible, cruel, and a "devil".  Turns out the Devil (Cullen) is not bad looking and quite a considerate guy.  Seems to be mostly misunderstood.  Ok, I'll bite.  Not withstanding a re-donk-ulous meet-cute (Evelinde falls in the stream, getting banged-up in the process, tries to dry her dress by holding it over her head while riding horseback, and causes an accident with Cullen) and an extended English-girl-has-no-idea-what-is-up-with-Scots-culture scene (which is actually pretty funny, leading to a crazy someone-took-four-muscle-relaxers-type scene almost straight out of Sixteen Candles) I really liked this one.  It has a really nice little mystery to solve and is also quite funny in places.  Fun to read.

Ok, liked the historical setting, a little humor is good.  I tried out The Black Lyon by Jude Devereaux next.  I found an ancient copy while browsing at the library (the new mass market edition is much prettier) - it's about the same time period as the Sands so I figured I'd give it a shot.  While decently researched as to time period (a good book for setting, clothes, what happens at a tournament, etc.) I really didn't like the hero and heroine.  He was beyond too jealous and controlling and she was way too insecure.  Also, I didn't find this one very funny, actually pretty depressing at times.

So, that Lynsay Sands...writes a pretty good book.  Conveniently, I had put The Deed on my book clubs endcap for September (the Romantic Reads group was reading the KISS and TEAL Avon books to help raise money for ovarian cancer research) and I read a little on break one day.  The Prologue and first chapter cracked me up - poor Lady Emmalene has to petition King Richard to force her husband to bed her...and then the bugger up and dies before he can return home to do "the deed" so the King marries her to a loyal knight to both protect her from evil relatives and reward the man for saving his life.  So I fired up the nook for a purchase.  Emma is a really endearing little character - stubborn, bossy, funny, and resourceful.  Amaury isn't so bad either.  I really liked this one - even re-read it during the readathon when I had mush-brain and was too lazy to get out of bed.

I continued with my Lynsay Sands run.  The Perfect Wife is interesting in that it plays on the very modern (and very old) problem of women thinking they need to look a certain way or be a certain size to be loved by men.  Avelyn is a full-figured heroine and it's nice to see her evolve to accept herself over the course of the book.  The mystery plot got a little odd in places but the book had a good cast of characters (Lord and Lady Gerville were pretty funny at times).  Taming the Highland Bride picked up where Devil of the Highlands left off with Evelinde's brother, Alexander, marrying his betrothed, Merry Stewart, thus introducing us to her drunken family.  This one felt a little more sinister - particularly with a certain character we met in the first book and you know it isn't going to turn out well - but still a fun read.  Merry is a great character and we got to visit Evie and Cullen again.  The Hellion and the Highlander jumps to Merry's eldest brother, Kade, who has just recently returned from imprisonment in the Crusades, and his marriage to Averill (who, according to English standards, will be trouble because of her bright red hair, small strawberry birthmark, and nervous stutter but Kade's Scot sensibilities think she's wonderful).  Kade has his work cut out for him in turning the Stewart men around and Averill is a very capable heroine to match him.  They also have a very sweet relationship, defintely one that makes you go "awwwww".  Sands has a lot of room to write more books in this series if she wanted because there are a load of single side-characters she could use (Ian, Will, Tralin, Tavis, etc.) so here's hoping.  The last two titles are sort-of misnomers - Merry doesn't need taming and Averill isn't a hellion.

I think I'll continue reading romance novels here and there.  I get them on my nook - I think the mass market size was a considerable turn off and the nook lets me make the print larger/size of book easier to handle.  I don't think I'll be expanding to paranormal romances (having supernatural vampires/were-whatevers/angels/demons/dragons that turn into hotties in my fiction has never been a huge draw for me) or western-themed or contemporary romances but I enjoy the historicals (so far, and as long as the anachronisms don't get too crazy).  I also really enjoy Sands's writing so I'll read more of her historicals (I've get a bit hooked on her style) then maybe look into some others.  We'll see.  Keeping myself entertained is the point.

03 November 2011

The Thirteen Clocks (New York Review Children's Collection)

The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber
If you are looking for a great read-aloud story, look no further than The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber.  I so clearly remember having this read to me in elementary school and read and read it on my own.  Who knows why I never asked my own copy, I didn't, but I can recite the opening paragraph nearly verbatim to this day:

Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales.
It's such a heart-felt fairy tale.  Who wouldn't want to root for Saralinda, for Prince Zorna to save her with help from the Golux?  Who doesn't wish for any one of Saralinda's suitors to outwit the evil Duke (who admits to the flaw of being wicked)?  Thurber's sly humor shows through and his words trip off the tongue - from "guggle to zatch" just rolls in my mouth.

The Thirteen Clocks is a lovely addition to the New York Review Children's Collection.  I spent a wet and cold evening huddled under the electric blankie reading it aloud to the cats - I think they liked it.  One can never tell with cats.

Here's a treat for fans of fantasy literature - the B&N Review recently featured an animated video of the first scene read by Neil Gaiman.  Worth both a watch and a listen.

01 November 2011

This is why I can't be allowed in the craft store alone...

...with coupons and credit cards.

Exhibit A:

I will make flower arrangements.

Exhibit B:

I will overdose on Martha Stewart papercrafting punches.  Entirely too fun.

Yes.  Those are sheep.  I will now be attaching little sheep to gifts of knitwear (it's a pretty small sheep - hey, Martha - any chance on making a bigger sheep punch?).

Exhibit C:

I will be crafting a Christmas tree to hang on the wall where it will be free of evil kittehs who want to knock it down and chew on the branches/needles/ornaments.  It's not done yet.  I promise pictures.

I think the crafting bug double-dosed me since I was moving during the holidays last year.