Apropos Shakespeare · mini-review · stuff I read

Brutus and Other Heroines: Playing Shakespeare’s Roles for Women by Harriet Walter

33310390._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
‘A part we have played is like a person we once met, grew to know, became intimately enmeshed with and finally moved away from. Some of these characters remain friends, others are like ex–lovers with whom we no longer have anything in common. All of them bring something out in us that will never go back in the box.’

In a varied and distinguished career, Harriet Walter has played almost all of Shakespeare’s heroines, notably Ophelia, Helena, Portia, Viola, Imogen, Lady Macbeth, Beatrice and Cleopatra, mostly for the Royal Shakespeare Company. But where, she asks, does an actress go after playing Cleopatra’s magnificent death? Why didn’t Shakespeare write more – and more powerful – roles for mature women?

For Walter, the solution was to ignore the dictates of centuries of tradition, and to begin playing the mature male characters. Her Brutus in an all–female Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse was widely acclaimed, and was soon followed by Henry IV. What, she asks, can an actress bring to these roles – and is there any fundamental difference in the way they must be played?

In Brutus and Other Heroines, Walter discusses each of these roles – both male and female – from the inside, explaining the particular choices she made in preparing and performing each character. Her extraordinarily perceptive and intimate accounts illuminate each play as a whole, offering a treasure trove of valuable insights for theatregoers, scholars and anyone interested in how the plays work on stage. Aspiring actors, too, will discover the many possibilities open to them in playing these magnificent roles.

The book is an exploration of the Shakespearean canon through the eyes of a self-identified ‘feminist actor’ – but, above all, a remarkable account of an acting career unconstrained by tradition or expectations. It concludes with an affectionate rebuke to her beloved Will: ‘I cannot imagine a world without you. I just wish you had put more women at the centre of your world/stage… I would love you to come back and do some rewrites.’

4.5 stars. Some of the earlier chapters of Brutus and Other Heroines, which were drawn from other pieces she wrote for various publications, etc., felt undeveloped. But the later chapters created specifically for this collection are amazing in giving us a peek inside how an actor develops a character – and specifically a character that has been played so many times by so many other actors. I always enjoy Harriet Walter in anything I’ve seen her in so this was a delight to read.

And if you can catch it, the Julius Caesar where she plays Brutus is phenomenal. I haven’t seen the Henry IV (or Tempest, which she doesn’t get into) yet but I hope I can.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Duke Darcy’s Castle by Syrie James (Dare to Defy #3) – a blog tour review with Austenprose!

Duke Darcy Castle by Syrie James 2020

Lance Granville, the Tenth Duke of Darcy, was none too happy to give up his career in the Royal Navy to inherit the family title, complete with an ancient castle he needs to renovate. When an architect arrives on his doorstep, Darcy is astonished to discover that she’s a woman.

Kathryn Atherton has one goal: to become the first woman architect in Britain. Marriage doesn’t figure in her plans. Despite the odds, her schooling is behind her. Now she needs experience. When she’s sent to a small tidal island in Cornwall to remodel a castle, the last thing Kathryn wants is to be attracted to its roguishly handsome owner.

Kathryn is determined to keep things professional, but the sizzling attraction between her and the duke quickly blazes out of control. When Darcy learns that Kathryn is an heiress whose fortune would save St. Gabriel’s Mount, he wages the most important battle of his life: to woo and win the woman who’s captured his heart. But (in an homage to Austen), the Duke’s first proposal is so Darcyesque, he is refused. In any case, duchesses can’t be architects. And Kathryn has worked too long and too hard to give up her career for anyone….

Kathryn Atherton, architect, is sent in her boss’s stead to a tidal island off Cornwall to consult on the renovation of…a castle! She’s almost a licensed architect, almost, the first in Britain, and this will certainly be a boost in her career. She arrives at St. Gabriel’s Mount to meet the Duke of Darcy, who not only answers his own front door but also mistakes her for the new schoolteacher in the village.

Lance Granville has been the Duke of Darcy for only a few weeks after the sudden death of his elder brother. The duchy is drowning in debt, the estate drastically reduced and mortgaged, and Lance really doesn’t have the time (or money) for an architect to renovate the castle. Especially if said architect is a woman. He would much rather escape back to his Navy command. But Miss Atherton is talented and persuasive so Lance agrees to let her remain for the agreed three weeks to develop the renovation plans (although he really has no intention of putted the scheme in to action).

Soon enough, Lance learns that Kathryn is a richer-than-rich American heiress, with a proposed dowry to the tune of seven figures in American dollars. If he marries her, her dowry will not only save the duchy but put the village to rights. So Lance proposes – badly. Kathryn a) does not intend to give up her career to swan around as a duchess and b) she will only marry for love. Lance is chastened – his grandmother puts it in perspective for me – but determined not to give up. Although he isn’t exactly forthcoming about the duchy’s financial woes, an omission that will come back to haunt him later.

Duke Darcy’s Castle is a very sweet romance between an architect and Modern Woman and a brand-new duke (he used to be in the Navy). The romance is medium-steamy, with a lot of good, feminist sentiment about working women and women’s roles (I did love Lance’s grandmother quite a lot who is in Kathryn’s corner from the get-go). The plot trips along very neatly – with a couple of fun interludes where the couple gets to interact with each other – and ties up nicely, but the tension between hero and heroine didn’t quite pay off to my satisfaction. It felt unbalanced in a way – he had to prove he wasn’t a twerp or out for her money (which, lets be honest, would this love story have happened had he not learned she was worth seven figures?) while she had to decide that adding a ranking title to her fortune would unlock many doors for her as an architect who also happened to be woman. Lance’s first “Darcy-esque” proposal was excellent. The setting of a castle on a tidal island – based on the real-life St. Michael’s Mout – was quite unique.

Duke Darcy’s Castle is the third book in the Dare to Defy series, which follows three unconventional American heiress sisters. I haven’t read the first two books, Runaway Heiress and Summer of Scandal, but I was able to get the gist of the connections easily enough so don’t worry about getting caught up before reading this one. The sisters do make an appearance in Duke Darcy’s Castle but the plot doesn’t spoil any of the particulars of their books.

Dare to Defy series James

AUTHOR BIO:

Syrie JamesAuthorPhoto2012SYRIE JAMES is the USA TODAY and Amazon bestselling author of thirteen novels of historical, contemporary, and young adult fiction and romance. Her books have hit many Best of the Year lists, been designated as Library Journal Editor’s Picks, and won numerous accolades and awards, including Best New Fiction by Regency World Magazine (the international bestseller “The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen”), and the national Audiobook Audie for Romance (“The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte”, also named a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association). Los Angeles Magazine dubbed Syrie the “queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings,” and her books have been published in twenty languages. A member of the Writer’s Guild of America, Syrie is also an established screenwriter and playwright who makes her home in Los Angeles. An admitted Anglophile, Syrie has addressed audiences across the U.S., Canada, and the British Isles.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS | BOOKBUB

Duke Darcy’s Castle was released on ebook from Avon Impulse on February 25 – the mass market paperback will be released March 24, 2020.

I’m participating in a blog tour with Laurel Ann at Austenprose! See the Austenprose review and a schedule for other features and reviews.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss

stuff I read

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

43126457Summary from Goodreads:
Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly in a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Jia writes about the cultural prisms that have shaped her: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die.

Trick Mirror is a good collection of long-form essays (nothing wrong with a short hot-take, but a well-researched and laid out essay is becoming rare), all of which deal with the ways in which feminism and femininity are packaged and served to us. Our yoga pants, our television shows, the internet, our relationships, our celebrities. Outstanding essays include “We Are Old Virginia” and “The Cult of the Difficult Woman.”

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

stuff I read

God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America by Lyz Lenz

41707938Summary from Goodreads:
In the wake of the 2016 election, Lyz Lenz watched as her country and her marriage were torn apart by the competing forces of faith and politics. A mother of two, a Christian, and a lifelong resident of middle America, Lenz was bewildered by the pain and loss around her–the empty churches and the broken hearts. What was happening to faith in the heartland?

From drugstores in Sydney, Iowa, to skeet shooting in rural Illinois, to the mega churches of Minneapolis, Lenz set out to discover the changing forces of faith and tradition in God’s country. Part journalism, part memoir, God Land is a journey into the heart of a deeply divided America. Lenz visits places of worship across the heartland and speaks to the everyday people who often struggle to keep their churches afloat and to cope in a land of instability. Through a thoughtful interrogation of the effects of faith and religion on our lives, our relationships, and our country, God Land investigates whether our divides can ever be bridged and if America can ever come together.

I picked up God Land because I was interested in Lenz’s reporting/research on religion and faith in the Midwest (I am 100% a city kid from Cedar Rapids, IA, where she now lives). And she does a great job in tying to get inside that mythos of “midwesterners are the salt of the earth and the ‘real’ backbone of the US” and the cognitive dissonance of faith and politics. She also ties much of it to her search for a faith community that did not make her feel small or unwelcome. I think she also did a fantastic job of presenting all her subjects fairly and with depth and avoided othering or making any of them the boogeyman which is hard when being “politically neutral” is impossible. (I had a chuckle in the chapter where she attends the ELCA pastor conference and I was like “those are my people! *High five*” I am a very lapsed Lutheran 😂)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy because I was definitely not fancy enough to get a review copy.

mini-review · stuff I read

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

46265702._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
From Jennifer Weiner, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who Do You Love and In Her Shoes, comes a smart, thoughtful, and timely exploration of two sisters’ lives from the 1950s to the present as they struggle to find their places—and be true to themselves—in a rapidly evolving world. Mrs. Everything is an ambitious, richly textured journey through history—and herstory—as these two sisters navigate a changing America over the course of their lives.

Do we change or does the world change us?

Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.

Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world?

I liked Mrs. Everything, especially the relationship between Jo and Bethie and how women’s roles have changed (or not changed, see also: #metoo) over the latter half of the 20th century. But it felt very draggy to me, with some parts rendered so beautifully early in the book and then others very slapdash later. She could have used some balance in the narrative pacing.

It’s definitely an ambitious book, based on events in her mother’s life. The author’s note in the back of the Barnes and Noble Book Club edition was very informative. I haven’t read any of Weiner’s previous books so I don’t know how this compares to Good in Bed or In Her Shoes.

Read for BN Book Club. A trigger warning for a brief description of sexual assault and abortion on the page and several depictions of unwanted groping.

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book provided by the publisher to the Book Club leader.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (Feminine Pursuits #1)

42117380._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

Look at that pretty, pretty cover. The story for The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is pretty rad, too.

Our astronomer-heroine Lucy – who performed all the mathematical calculations for her astronomer father – is at the end of her rope. Her lover has just married, her artist-brother is being a hypocritical jerk, and she’s running out of money. She jumps on the opportunity to translate a critical work of astronomy from French to English and presents herself to the widowed Countess of Moth.

Our embroiderer-heroine Catherine would like to get this business finished so she can wash her hands of her late adventurer-husband’s affairs. He had been volatile and unappreciative but Catherine is in need of something to do. So the young woman who turns up on her doorstep for the position of translator is an intriguing – although somewhat dismaying, Catherine has had enough of scientific ambition – surprise. After a few missteps and one scathingly patriarchal Society meeting later, Catherine determines that she will fund Lucy’s translation of the book herself in opposition to the Society translation (by a male translator, naturally).

Over the course of the months that Lucy lives with Catherine, diligently working away at the translation, the two women grow closer to one another. Lucy never makes it a secret that she is attracted to Catherine, but for Catherine – who defined herself sexually in terms of, well, she was married to a man and had an affair with a man so she likes only men, yes? – becoming entangled with Lucy in a non-professional sense means that she will have to re-examine past relationships to see herself in a new light. There is a beautiful scene where she examines some of her embroidery work – Catherine is a gifted fiber-artist who can create a portrait with her needle and silks – in light of the realization that she is also attracted to women.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was a wonderful summer romance filled with lady scientists and artists taking down the patriarchy. Waite sort-of signals the Big Reveal plot-twist at a Royal Society debate ahead of time, so I did catch it, but it was a delicious piece of “eat crow, dudes” nonetheless. Lucy’s and Catherine’s relationship was so lovely to see develop and also to see them have growing pains related to class, wealth, and jealousy. There are even small side plots where Catherine and Lucy help lift up other women scientists and artists.

(Note: I read my galley while waiting on an Amtrak train that was supposed to arrive at 830pm but didn’t arrive until almost 11pm and I was stuck in the crappy train station starting around 5:30pm. This book kept me from murdering people. High praise, I’m sure, lol.)

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is out today in ebook! Mass market paperbacks are expected July 23.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and I had a copy pre-ordered on my Nook OF COURSE.

mini-review · stuff I read

Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood by Karina Longworth

38647394Summary from Goodreads:
In this riveting popular history, the creator of You Must Remember This probes the inner workings of Hollywood’s glamorous golden age through the stories of some of the dozens of actresses pursued by Howard Hughes, to reveal how the millionaire mogul’s obsessions with sex, power and publicity trapped, abused, or benefitted women who dreamt of screen stardom.

In recent months, the media has reported on scores of entertainment figures who used their power and money in Hollywood to sexually harass and coerce some of the most talented women in cinema and television. But as Karina Longworth reminds us, long before the Harvey Weinsteins there was Howard Hughes—the Texas millionaire, pilot, and filmmaker whose reputation as a cinematic provocateur was matched only by that as a prolific womanizer.

His supposed conquests between his first divorce in the late 1920s and his marriage to actress Jean Peters in 1957 included many of Hollywood’s most famous actresses, among them Billie Dove, Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, and Lana Turner. From promoting bombshells like Jean Harlow and Jane Russell to his contentious battles with the censors, Hughes—perhaps more than any other filmmaker of his era—commoditized male desire as he objectified and sexualized women. Yet there were also numerous women pulled into Hughes’s grasp who never made it to the screen, sometimes virtually imprisoned by an increasingly paranoid and disturbed Hughes, who retained multitudes of private investigators, security personnel, and informers to make certain these actresses would not escape his clutches.

Vivid, perceptive, timely, and ridiculously entertaining, Seduction is a landmark work that examines women, sex, and male power in Hollywood during its golden age—a legacy that endures nearly a century later.

I’ve been a fan of Karina Longworth’s work on her podcast You Must Remember This for a while so I was really excited to see that she had a book coming out about Howard Hughes. Not because of Howard Hughes, because ew, gross, but because she was going to shine a light on the women he treated like garbage. Seduction is the story of how Hughes had this weirdly charming personality, convinced a lot of people that he knew what he was doing in the movie business, and ultimately became a person suffering from untreated mental illness.

One of the major themes in Seduction is how Hughes controlled women’s careers in the movie industry, to the extent that some of them didn’t even work during the time they lived in Hollywood. Women like Jane Russell, Faith Domergue, and Billie Dove who were poised for Betty Davis-levels of stardom, and who were good actresses, were reduced to their noticeable physical assets and made far fewer movies than contemporaries at other studios. Myraid other young women, some of them young enough to require their mothers to come with them, were lured to Hollywood with the promise of stardom and then kept under constant surveillance and prevented from working.

While I was not shocked that he was a completely gross, creepy, controlling predator, particularly toward very young women of a certain physical type, I was surprised that he was a really bad businessman and filmmaker (I should have known about the filmmaker stuff, I have seen The Conqueror, do not recommend). He tinkered with movies so long that they went over budget, or no longer made sense. RKO died under his leadership. The only reason he had money to blow in Hollywood was because he inherited an extremely prosperous manufacturing company from this father and then picked up lucrative defense contracts during World War II.

Hughes was not the only gross dude running around Hollywood between the 1920s and 1960s. There were a lot, trust me. For all the glitz and glamour, “classic” Hollywood had a lot of garbage hiding under rocks and Karina shines a very strong light on one particular corner. Now, if you have listened to some of the podcast episodes that were produced as part of the publicity for Seduction don’t worry that the same information is re-hashed in both places – the episodes and the book complement each other, so I highly recommend both.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from my store.

audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps

39939598Summary from Goodreads:
A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the beloved comedic actress known for her roles on Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, and Cougartown who has become “the breakout star on Instagram stories…imagine I Love Lucy mixed with a modern lifestyle guru” (The New Yorker).

Busy Philipps’s autobiographical book offers the same unfiltered and candid storytelling that her Instagram followers have come to know and love, from growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona and her painful and painfully funny teen years, to her life as a working actress, mother, and famous best friend.

Busy is the rare entertainer whose impressive arsenal of talents as an actress is equally matched by her storytelling ability, sense of humor, and sharp observations about life, love, and motherhood. Her conversational writing reminds us what we love about her on screens large and small. From film to television to Instagram, Busy delightfully showcases her wry humor and her willingness to bare it all.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life to write this book. I’m just so grateful someone asked. Otherwise, what was the point of any of it??”

This Will Only Hurt a Little is a “celebrity memoir” in the vein of Mary-Louise Parker’s Dear Mr You. However, Busy names names when she needs to rather than give everyone pseudonyms and she’s basically done with a lot of the bullshit of Hollywood “stardom” or whatever. But what this book really turns into is the story of how Busy got to BE Busy, warts and all. How she was a kid who might have been a little messed up, choices that she made, how she bought into the misogyny of the acting business, how she learned to be a good friend when her besties went through terrible things, how to be a mom and partner in a relationship. (I did kind of want to kick her husband in the shins at times, because dude he doesn’t come off really well at times – this is addressed later, just an FYI, and they seem to be doing better.)

And here’s the thing: I hope Busy writes more. I want her to write more. Write some more scripts or does more directing or gets into producing if she doesn’t want to deal with casting anymore because she’s tired of getting burned. She has a good eye for a turn of phrase and clearly has comedy timing. The book could have used a bit tighter editing at times, but she tells a good story. She’s got her talk-show now (which looks excellent, but since I don’t have cable I haven’t been able to watch it) but I’d love to see her push forward outside of acting.

I listened to this on audiobook, read by Busy, and I really can’t conceive of it any other way now. The way she “does” her mom’s voice (it’s like the mom on That 70s Show), how you can hear her getting choked up at times. I got choked up. Definite recommend on the audio.

Dear FTC: I borrowed the audiobook via the library’s Overdrive system.