Another Pemberley Digital web series!

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember my gushing about Pemberley Digital’s previous web series, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and “Emma Approved” (which is still running, but I think it will be wrapping up soon). Now they’ve come out with another project, and this time it’s based on a book by a different 19th-century female author. The web series is called “Frankenstein, MD,” based on — you guessed it — the 1818 novel by Mary Shelley. The first three episodes are already available to watch:

The most obvious deviation from the original book is Frankenstein’s gender: in this adaptation, the main character is Victoria Frankenstein, a bright young almost-doctor who is determined to achieve the impossible through science. Even from the first three episodes, it’s obvious that her singleminded pursuit of her goals will cause tension in her friendships, as well as with her university’s ethics committee!

So far, I’m liking the show a lot more than I thought I would (Frankenstein is fine, but it’s no Jane Austen!), for several reasons. First, I think they nailed the character of Victoria. Right off the bat I’m horrified by her, but I also somehow like her! The series as a whole seems more confident, with a better pace than Pemberley’s previous work. I assume part of that is due to their greater experience, while the rest is probably because of their partnership with PBS (which gives them more money to achieve their vision).

Finally, I’m curious to see what elements of the book they’ll change for the adaptation. Surely Victoria won’t actually assemble a monstrous creature from the body parts of dead people and bring it to life…will she? (Frankly, I wouldn’t put it past her!) And will the outcome be the same as the book’s, or will Pemberley Digital actually be able to pull off a happy ending that doesn’t totally disrespect the source material? Part of me is very skeptical…but on the other hand, they actually changed P&P quite a bit too by redeeming Lydia.

So the short version of all this is that I’ll be watching “Frankenstein, MD” with great interest, and if you like the book (or the idea of a web series focused on a female scientist), you should be too!

Review: Exclusively Yours

Exclusively YoursShannon Stacey, Exclusively Yours

Keri Daniels is a career-focused tabloid reporter who is determined to become an editor, but her latest assignment fills her with nothing but dread. She’s been commanded to get a hard-hitting (and preferably scandalous) interview with Joseph Kowalski, a reclusive bestselling author who also happens to be Keri’s high school sweetheart — a fact her editor wants her to exploit when she approaches him. To Keri’s surprise, Joe agrees to be interviewed, but he has conditions: Keri must accompany him on his family’s annual two-week camping trip in rural New Hampshire. For every day Keri can stick it out, Joe will answer one question. With no other choice, Keri agrees to the scheme, but her high-powered life in the city doesn’t translate well to living in a cabin, dousing herself with bug repellent, or riding an ATV through the mud. But the more time Keri spends with Joe’s big, loud, loving family — and with Joe himself — the more she enjoys herself. Can she and Joe rekindle their romance without encountering the same obstacles that originally tore them apart?

I’d heard good things about Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski series, so I decided to pick up this first installment. Overall, I liked but didn’t love it. My favorite part of the book by far was Joe’s rambunctious family, from his mother with her deadly wooden spoon to his noisy, irrepressible nephews. While the Kowalskis certainly have their share of dysfunction, ultimately it’s obvious that they love and care about each other. That said, I wasn’t particularly invested in the romance between Joe and Keri. I didn’t really buy their reasons for breaking up after high school, nor did I understand what was keeping them apart in the present. Keri wanted to focus on her career, but she certainly doesn’t seem to have a lot of pride in her current job as a tabloid reporter. And Joe didn’t want to follow Keri to the big city because he loved his family, but surely a bestsellng author could afford frequent trips back home to see them. So basically, I thought they were both acting stupidly, and I found myself dismissing their supposed obstacles. All in all, I’m not sold on this series, but I may pick up the next book sometime.

Review: Landline

LandlineRainbow Rowell, Landline

TV writer Georgie McCool is at a turning point in her life. For several years, she and her best friend Seth have been working on a dumb but popular sitcom, but now they’ve been given a chance to create their very own show. Georgie is thrilled, but her husband Neal is less so: Georgie now has to spend Christmas in L.A. and wants to cancel the family trip to Neal’s mother’s house in Omaha. But instead of deferring to Georgie like he usually does, Neal takes their two daughters to Omaha without her. At first Georgie assumes this is just one of the many small fights they’ve been having lately…but then Neal stops answering his cell, and she can’t seem to get ahold of him. Stunned and grieving, Georgie goes to her own mother’s house for comfort, where she finds an old rotary phone in her closet. She soon discovers that the phone has magic powers: when she uses it to call Neal, present-day Georgie is able to talk to 22-year-old Neal the week before he proposed to her in 1998. Can Georgie use the phone to solve the problems in her marriage? Or will she learn that she was never supposed to marry Neal in the first place?

I’m a huge fan of Rainbow Rowell’s previous books, so it’s no surprised that I devoured this one in two days, albeit with a couple of quibbles. But first things first: I love that Georgie and Neal are already married when the book starts, and I love that they’re having such a common problem. Georgie wants her husband to support her career dreams, while Neal feels taken for granted as the stay-at-home parent, and I could really sympathize with both points of view. I also love the flashbacks to the beginning of Georgie and Neal’s relationship. They really lent a lot of weight to the story, because we know exactly what Georgie will be losing if she can’t find a way to reconnect with Neal. That said, I wasn’t a fan of Seth; he seemed to exist as “the other man” who comes between Georgie and Neal, yet he’s never really presented as a viable option for Georgie, so I just didn’t see the point. I also didn’t like the way that Georgie’s career ambitions seemed to be the sole cause of her marital problems. To me, the message was that she should be willing to give up those ambitions to make her husband happy. But aside from these grumbles, I really loved the book and would definitely recommend it, especially to fans of Rowell’s other books!

Review: The Black Lung Captain

Black Lung Captain, TheChris Wooding, The Black Lung Captain

***Warning: SPOILERS for Retribution Falls!***

Darian Frey and the crew of the Ketty Jay are once again down on their luck. The airship needs repairs, but Frey can’t afford to buy the engine parts he needs. Crake, still tormented with guilt over accidentally killing his niece, is trying to drown his sorrows in a bottle. Jez is struggling to come to terms with being part Mane, afraid that this feral, violent side of her will eventually consume her humanity. Harkins is so jittery and terrified that he can’t even cope with Slag, the Ketty Jay‘s ancient and ornery cat. Even the loutish Pinn is depressed, missing his girlfriend back home. So when Frey is offered the chance to salvage a mysterious treasure in the heart of the jungle, he leaps at the opportunity despite the obvious dangers ahead. He even teams up with Trinica Dracken, the most feared sky pirate on the planet — and Frey’s ex-lover. But of course, nothing about this job is what it seems to be, and the supposed “treasure” may lead to widespread destruction, unless Frey and his crew can stop it first.

Retribution Falls was an unexpected delight when I read it earlier this year, so I couldn’t resist picking up this second book in the series! I’m thrilled to say that this book is just as much swashbuckling fun as the first, with tons of action and some wonderful character development. The stakes are even higher in this book, because Frey and his crew have more to lose: their last adventure created bonds of friendship and loyalty, and now those bonds are being tested. I really loved that the book switches between many points of view; although Frey, Crake, and Jez are probably the most fleshed-out characters, everyone has a moment to shine — even Slag the cat! And because the main characters of the series have already been established, the book has more time to spend on worldbuilding, giving tantalizing glimpses of the bigger picture surrounding Frey’s adventures. I am really looking forward to learning more about the geopolitical situation of this planet in future books, because I just know Frey and his crew are going to get involved somehow! I can’t wait to continue with this series!

Top Ten Tuesday, Part Two: Favorite TV Shows

Top 10 TuesdaySo as I just mentioned, I couldn’t stop myself from doing two Top Ten Tuesdays this week! I already listed my ten favorite movies, so here is a list of my favorite TV shows (once again in alphabetical order):

1. “The Americans” — Strangely enough, this is one of the only shows on my list that’s still on the air (season 3 will be premiering this fall). Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are phenomenal as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, two Soviet spies posing as a normal American couple in the early 1980s. It’s very dark and very compelling, and I really think everyone should be watching it!

2. “Chuck” — I loved this action comedy about a regular guy who accidentally downloads a government computer into his brain and becomes one of the CIA’s most valuable (and dangerous) assets. The show definitely had its ups and downs, as well as several plot holes you could drive a truck through, but overall it struck a great balance between humor and heart. Adam Baldwin also did a stellar turn as buttoned-up NSA agent John Casey (he loves guns!).

3. “Daria” — Daria was basically the voice in my head during my teen years. This darkly funny cartoon poked vicious fun at the shallow lives of America’s youth, as personified by Daria’s classmates. I especially enjoyed her vapid sister Quinn and the other members of the Fashion Club (not to brag, but I do a pretty awesome impression of Sandy!).

4. “Firefly” — “Sci-fi Western” is not really a genre I’m naturally attracted to, but somehow this show made it work in spectacular fashion. You can’t watch this show and not come out loving every single character, from noble-ish captain Mal to simpleminded thug Jayne (also Adam Baldwin!) to perpetually cheerful Kaylee. The only flaw in this show is that it was canceled way before its time. At least we have “Serenity,” which ties up the major plot lines…but there was still so much more this show could have been. Alas!

5. “Gilmore Girls” — If I had to pick just one show to be my absolute favorite, this would be it. I absolutely fell in love with the relationship between fast-talking Lorelai and her smart, book-loving daughter Rory. The rapid-fire dialogue and obscure pop culture references made the show a fun puzzle to solve, and there was a wonderful mix of comedy and drama as the girls faced various life challenges. To be fair, I felt the show started to decline in season 5 (largely because I HATED Logan), but at its best, this show was really something special.

6. “The Office” (U.S.) — This is another show that really dropped off in quality over the last few seasons, but it gave us the utter brilliance of Steve Carell as Michael Scott, not to mention one of the sweetest TV romances of all time in Jim and Pam. Sometimes the humor is so awkward that it’s almost unwatchable, but I also don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder in my life.

7. “Parks and Recreation” — This show started out very similar in style to “The Office,” and a lot of people dismissed Leslie Knope as the female version of Michael Scott. But the show really came into its own in Season 2 and is now one of the warmest, funniest shows on TV. Every member of the large ensemble cast contributes something amazing, from the hostile deadpan of Aubrey Plaza (April) to the borderline-douchebag enthusiasm of Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, would-be mogul. But really, my strongest argument in favor of this show is three simple words: Ron Effing Swanson.

8. “Sherlock” — This show just has everything: compelling mysteries, literary allusions, and an absolutely perfect cast. Benedict Cumberbatch gets most of the glory (and fangirlish swooning), and it’s absolutely well-deserved; but let’s not forget Martin Freeman’s perfectly understated performance as John Watson! That scene at the end of “The Reichenbach Fall,” where he talks to his (supposedly) dead best friend, was just unspeakably good. I’m so glad we’re going to get at least one more season!

9. “Ugly Betty” — Every time I think about this show, I can’t help smiling and chuckling. Yes, it was completely ridiculous and over-the-top, but it was always aware of its own silliness and just provided tons of fun. I especially loved Vanessa Williams as the scheming Wilhelmina Slater, who tried everything from bribery to sperm-stealing to gain power!

10. “Veronica Mars” — I love this teen drama with a film noir twist. I wish I were as cool as Veronica Mars, though I certainly don’t envy her troubled past! I enjoyed the season-long mysteries in seasons one and two, and even the somewhat rocky third season has a lot of good episodes. I also quite liked the recent movie, although it still leaves the door open for a lot more stories in the future!

Top Ten Tuesday, Part One: Favorite Movies

Top 10 TuesdayA lot of people make a distinction between reading books and watching movies, claiming that the former is somehow better, more challenging, or more highbrow than the latter. And while there may be some truth to that, in the end they’re just two different forms of storytelling; they both have the power to challenge, move, and entertain us. For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, we’ve been asked to list our favorite movies or TV shows — but I can’t resist doing both! So I’ll be doing a second post on my favorite TV shows, but for now, here’s a list of ten of my all-time favorite movies (in alphabetical order):

1. “Better Off Dead” — I really enjoy almost all John Cusack movies from the ’80s, but this is definitely my favorite. It’s the bizarrely surreal tale of a teenage boy who is so depressed by his recent breakup that he tries to commit suicide, but he just can’t seem to finish the job. And it’s really funny! Worth watching just for the bits where his mom is cooking something.

2. “Clueless” — What girl who came of age in the ’90s doesn’t love this movie? No girl I want to be friends with, that’s for sure! This deliciously funny satire of the lives of the rich and vacuous also happens to be a very clever adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. Plus, Paul Rudd is in it!

3. “An Ideal Husband” — Based on an Oscar Wilde play, this movie is a quintessential British comedy of manners. The cast is terrific, especially Rupert Everett as the idle but smarter-than-he-looks Lord Goring. There’s witty banter, romance, a sinister blackmailing scheme…and of course a very important conversation that takes place under “the usual palm tree!”

4. “Much Ado About Nothing” (Kenneth Branagh version) — My favorite Shakespeare play and a wonderful, exuberant film.

5. “Penelope” — I’m kind of a sucker for whimsy, and this movie is practically exploding with it. Penelope is an aristocratic young woman cursed with a “face like a pig,” and her only hope is to marry a fellow blueblood…except none of them will get near her, until she meets a charming gambler who inspires her to start enjoying life. The romance is very sweet, and I absolutely love the scenery of the movie, with its saturated colors and fairy-tale-esque imagery.

6. “The Philadelphia Story” — I know some people don’t like black-and-white movies, but all I can say is, they are wrong. :) This classic comedy (starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart — you can’t beat that!) involves a young socialite who is about to get married, but the wedding is hijacked by her first husband and a couple of tabloid reporters. Hijinks ensue!

7. “The Princess Bride” — I don’t actually need to explain this one, do I?

8. “Spaceballs” — All I can say is that Mel Brooks is a frickin’ genius. I have probably memorized about 75% of the dialogue from this movie…it’s just that good, people.

9. “Strictly Ballroom” — I’ve never been much of a dancer, but for some reason I’ve always really liked dance movies! This one is a delightful little film set in the unusual world of Australian ballroom dancing. A rising star on the professional circuit teams up with an amateur to create a new style of ballroom for the upcoming competition, but various forces are arrayed against them. Baz Luhrmann directed it, so of course it’s visually gorgeous, but it’s also funny and surprisingly moving!

10. “While You Were Sleeping” — This is just a straight-up romantic comedy that holds sentimental value for me, as I often watched it with my mom growing up. Sandra Bullock plays a lonely young woman who, due to a series of misunderstandings, pretends to be engaged to a comatose man and is embraced by his kooky family. It’s just a nice, heartwarming movie with some wonderful comedy from the supporting cast.

Bonus: “Pride and Prejudice” (Colin Firth version) — It’s technically a miniseries, so I didn’t include it on my “official” list…but let’s face it, I consider this my favorite movie (and not because of the lake scene!). :)

So wow, this list is pretty homogenous! All the movies are comedies, and they all incorporate romance to some extent. Maybe that’s shallow of me — and I have loved a lot of darker, grittier movies as well — but I guess I just fundamentally want a happy ending!

Review: The Haunted Bookshop

Haunted Bookshop, TheChristopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop

In this sequel to Parnassus on Wheels, bibliophile Roger Mifflin has temporarily abandoned his traveling bookstore for a more permanent location on Gissing Street in Brooklyn. He calls his store the Haunted Bookshop, claiming that it is “haunted” by the ghosts of great literature. One day a young salesman named Aubrey Gilbert enters the store, hoping to persuade Roger to advertise with his firm; instead, the two men have an intense discussion that leaves Aubrey with a newfound appreciation for literature. When Aubrey returns to the shop a few days later, he is immediately smitten with Titania Chapman, the beguiling new shopgirl. But as he starts to visit the store more regularly, he notices something strange: an old and rather obscure volume keeps disappearing from the Haunted Bookshop and then re-appearing without warning. Is there a literary-minded thief frequenting the bookstore, or is something more sinister at work?

This is one of those cozy little books that take you back to a simpler time, and I found it absolutely charming! Roger Mifflin’s enthusiasm for books is infectious, and the novel is full of his musings on literature, both in general and about specific books. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize most of the titles he mentioned, presumably because they’ve gone out of fashion (and print!) since the book was published in 1919. But this is definitely the type of book that reminds me of the huge number of books in the world that I still haven’t read! The mystery plot is clever, though very slight and easy to guess (and very much a product of its time). I also liked the central characters, especially Aubrey, who makes a lot of endearing mistakes in his quest to solve the mystery and win Titania’s heart. All in all, I finished this book wishing that I could stop by the Haunted Bookshop for dinner and a literary discussion with these characters.

Review: I Will Repay

I Will RepayBaroness Emmuska Orczy, I Will Repay

Paris, 1783: Paul Déroulède, a wealthy but non-aristocratic member of Parisian society, accidentally kills the young Vicomte de Marny in a duel. The vicomte’s sister, Juliette, swears an oath that she will one day avenge her brother’s death. Ten years later, Juliette finally gets her opportunity: by provoking an angry mob right outside Déroulède’s door, she is able to gain entrance to his house and look for a means to destroy him. But the more time she spends with Paul Déroulède, the more she finds herself responding to his kind, chivalrous nature. Meanwhile, Déroulède occupies a somewhat tenuous position in the brand-new Republic of France: while he is popular with the common masses for his moderate, benevolent views, many of the revolutionary leaders view him as dangerous. When Juliette discovers that Déroulède is planning to rescue the condemned Marie Antoinette — an act that would brand him as a traitor to the Republic — she must decide whether to fulfill her oath or listen to the promptings of her heart.

So as it turns out, there are SEQUELS to The Scarlet Pimpernel! Since TSP is one of my favorite books of all time, I was thrilled to discover that many of the sequels are in the public domain and easily downloadable in e-book format. I Will Repay is the first of these sequels (in publication order), and I really enjoyed it — despite the fact that the Pimpernel has a very minor role, and Marguerite and Chauvelin don’t appear at all! But I loved the descriptions of Paris in the throes of the French Revolution, as well as the romance between Juliette and Déroulède. Of course, the book is far from perfect; the writing style is quite flowery and over-the-top, and I really wasn’t a fan of the (unconscious) sexism exhibited throughout the book. For example, in one pivotal scene, Déroulède defends Juliette’s actions by saying, essentially, that you can’t expect girls to act rationally. So that really bugged me — especially coming from a female author, who should know better! But I have to admit, I still kind of loved this book, and I look forward to reading more of the Pimpernel sequels!

Review: The Hunter

Hunter, TheRichard Stark, The Hunter

This book introduces Parker, a criminal whose combination of street smarts and brute force has enabled him to live comfortably on the proceeds from his thefts. But his life is fundamentally disrupted when a job goes awry and one of his partners double-crosses him. Now Parker is consumed with thoughts of revenge, and he’ll do anything to catch up with Mal Resnick, the man who stole both his money and his wife. Parker uses a variety of tactics, including intimidation and murder, to track Mal down; meanwhile, Mal learns that Parker is on his trail and tries desperately to escape his clutches. Parker’s task is made more complicated by the fact that Mal is a memeber of an extremely influential crime syndicate called the Outfit, and the Outfit isn’t inclined to let Parker have his way. In order to exact his revenge, Parker must eventually go up against the whole organization; but will killing Mal sign his own death warrant?

While I enjoy the occasional film noir or con movie, I don’t tend to like the noir genre in book form. I tend to prefer my mysteries a little less violent, with a more clearly defined moral code (i.e., the killer is the bad guy). This book has a very cynical tone and a protagonist with few, if any, redeeming qualities. Frankly, I found Parker horrifying, especially in his violent treatment of women and his casual approach to killing anyone who gets in his way. Yet I actually ended up enjoying this book! I liked the writing style, which doesn’t waste any words and gets straight to the point. I also really enjoyed watching the story unfold: the book alternates from Parker’s story in the present to the story of the job that went wrong. Additionally, it was fascinating to see how Parker’s situation changes throughout the novel, as his quest for vengeance against one man turns into a war against the entire Outfit. If I’m ever in the mood for a darker mystery, I may even continue with this series!

There are also two film adaptations of the book, “Point Blank” (1967, starring Lee Marvin) and “Payback” (1999, starring Mel Gibson). I haven’t seen either of them, but I think this story would translate really well to film! Has anyone seen either of these movies, and if so, would you recommend them?