Thursday, November 20, 2014

O. Henry's Full House (1952)

I've wanted to see this movie for several years, and the other night I finally settled down and watched it. I went into it with only moderate expectations—literary adaptations, you know—but I was pleasantly surprised; I really loved it! It is actually five separate short films, each based on one of O. Henry's most famous stories, linked together by segments with John Steinbeck narrating some background on O. Henry's life and writing. For me, as someone who has read the Complete Works cover to cover and never tires of recommending them, watching the camera pan over the familiar titles of the collections on the spines of beautiful leather-bound copies and listening to Steinbeck talk about the stories I've loved so much was lovely in itself. (For the curious, the little introductory scene, in which O. Henry—his face never seen in the shadows of a prison cell—overhears a remark by another prisoner and writes it down, was actually drawn from his story "What You Want.") The individual adaptations are very well done, considering that so much of what is couched in crisp, humorous narration on the page has to be conveyed visually and through dialogue. The settings of the stories are opened up and moved around a bit, but the spirit of the original is maintained.
The set begins with "The Cop and the Anthem," in which park-bench bum Soapy (Charles Laughton), determined to spend the cold winter months comfortably in jail, repeatedly and unsuccessfully tries to get himself arrested, with comic results. The script gives him a sort of sidekick in another tramp (David Wayne) who tags after him, in order that Soapy may explain his schemes for the benefit of the audience; and his personality is that of a decayed gentleman with a florid vocabulary incongruous beside his ragged appearance, providing the opportunity to work a lot of that narrative humor into the dialogue. Very well done, and Laughton's performance, particularly in the climactic scene, is spot-on.

In "The Clarion Call," police detective Barney Woods (Dale Robertson) recognizes that a recent murder and robbery was committed by a former friend of his, Johnny Kernan (Richard Widmark)—but since he owes Kernan a long-standing debt of a thousand dollars, he can't bring himself to arrest him until matters are squared between them. This one is well-scripted too, and I liked Robertson as the detective, but Widmark noisily overplays the eccentricity and nastiness of his character, coming close to spoiling the effect. The moments where he is more restrained allow you to pay more attention to the story.

"The Last Leaf," in my opinion, is the pièce de résistance of the film. The story of a despairing young girl ill with pneumonia (Anne Baxter), who becomes convinced that when the last leaves fall from the nearly-bare vine outside her window, she will die too, is one of O. Henry's most emotional on the page, and the film version does it wonderful justice. The script gives it extra depth, I think, by making the two girls sisters and giving Joanna (Baxter) a failed romance as part of the reason for her despair. The performances by all three key characters, including elder sister Sue (Jean Peters) and the girls' upstairs neighbor, irascible old painter Behrmann (Gregory Ratoff), are excellent, and the final scene is just as beautiful as in the story. Bring along a handkerchief for this one.

"The Ransom of Red Chief," is, unfortunately, the weakest of the bunch, though based on one of O. Henry's most famous tales, in which two hapless con-men  (Fred Allen and Oscar Levant) kidnap a small boy and wind up driven to their wits' end by his antics. The dialogue is clever enough, but the pacing is very flat—it doesn't have the same snappy hilarity as the story, with the two men reduced to exhaustion by the end. I think part of the problem is that both Allen and Levant play it with a kind of deadpan humor; I liked Allen's performance, but thought it would have been better if he'd had a more goofy or excitable partner-in-crime to play off. Lee Aaker is just right as "Red Chief," but his part seemed small compared to the story. (I understand that this segment was actually dropped for the first theatrical release; I can understand why.)

And finally we have "The Gift of the Magi." You all know this one. The famed Christmas story of a young couple (Jeanne Crain and Farley Granger) trying to find a way to buy Christmas presents for each other, in spite of having very little money, is given a very sweet and faithful adaptation—again, using the dialogue and a scene with the couple looking in shop windows to expand the background of the characters. You might want to save a corner of your handkerchief from "The Last Leaf"—it's a lovely way to end the film.

One of the things I loved best about O. Henry's Full House is the period-correct atmosphere: the Edwardian-era clothing and hairstyles are excellent, much better than one usually sees in a film like this; the setting of old New York City with its brownstones and shop-window displays and the rattling and roaring of the elevated trains is brought to life wonderfully. Besides the original music by Alfred Newman, the score is filled with old popular songs, hymns and Christmas carols, adding to the old-fashioned feel (you can hear "After the Ball" playing in the background of the short scene with Marilyn Monroe in "The Cop and the Anthem"). It'd make a great holiday-season film, I think, considering that three of the five stories have a wintry setting and the final one winds up at Christmas!

Of course you know I'm going to finish by recommending the original stories. Viewers who already love O. Henry will probably enjoy this film most, but I think even those not yet acquainted with him will probably like it too. It's available on DVD and on Amazon Instant Video (and currently here).

Monday, November 17, 2014

lento e costante

And so autumn rolls on. I will forbear to quote you Robert Burns on the subject of best-laid plans, or even ordinary decently-laid plans, but he had something there. I caught a nasty cold around the end of October, which basically knocked all my writing efforts to splinters for a couple of weeks. When I have a cold, I am not good for much of anything but curling up in a corner and trying to keep myself from going stir-crazy by reading something cozy and comforting like L.M. Montgomery or P.G. Wodehouse.

I still feel like I haven't got all my energy back, but I am getting back to work on One of Ours—very s-l-o-w-l-y. I am not a fast writer as a rule, but the slowness of last week's progress found me treading through one of those sticky periods akin to the outskirts of the Slough of Despond. My writing seemed flat; the characters weren't coming out on the page the way I knew them in my head; I determined that I'd probably have to end up doing extra research and rewriting most of my description. It was a moment for taking a breath, taking a complete break for a couple of days, and reading Jennifer Freitag's very opportunely timed post on persevering through just such difficult spells. The method seems to work.

I think I've made a step forward in accepting that most of what I'm writing will probably have to be rewritten again. I've expanded the outline of the story so much since the raw first draft of four years ago that this go-round is basically to get the plot hammered out; other elements will have to be refined after that. And it's a wonder how much a new idea, however small, brightens one's outlook. Today it was the realization that two apparently differing characters share a personality trait, which gave me a new angle on a scene between them. I admit that before that idea came to me, I was not looking forward to today's writing session, but that little spark of inspiration for a scene that's still far down the line cheered me greatly, and I got a fair amount done (by my slow standards).

During my off-hours, I've been continuing my education—what fun autodidacticism is. (I did not invent that word; it's in the dictionary.) Rachel Heffington and her Shakespeare-quoting detectives put me onto the trail of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, which I found to be a gold-mine of delight: I read through it using the Kindle highlight feature copiously and noting down the names of authors to explore further. Poetry and English classics have always been areas where I felt I could improve my knowledge, and I've discovered half a dozen more things I want to read to that purpose. (First up was the Bard himself: I read The Tempest and enjoyed it even more than I expected.) And one reference leads to another, which leads to another...that's the joy of literature: there's just so much out there to explore. Count me in for the lifelong adventure.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Three I's of Being a Writer: Instinct, Information and Imagination

While on Pinterest recently, I happened upon this quote, which struck me as one of the best deconstructions of the write-what-you-know cliché that I've ever seen:


That is true. While bits of our own experiences do find their way into our books, I'd hazard that the vast majority of writers do not literally experience everything they write about (and I'm talking about people who write successfully about things, not people who patently don't know what they're talking about). This also explains how successful writers can create characters who are nothing like themselves, who do things and think in ways that the writer would never do. ("These are fictional characters! They are not me!" I always find myself wanting to preface a work when I hand it to somebody I know.)

So all this got me thinking: what are the qualities that go into making up a successful writer, in this sense? I pondered a little, and sorted out the results under three headings. I call them the three I's:

Instinct: I think all successful writers have some degree of natural perceptiveness about them. They have an inbred curiosity about life—an instinctive sensitivity to the way the world works, to the way human nature behaves. This quality may be partly born and not made, but one can cultivate it by training oneself to take an interest, to notice things and wonder about the whys and wherefores.

Information: The ever-changing, ever-accumulating sum total of the knowledge we gather throughout life. This is why it's important for a writer to be a voracious reader, too. Information doesn't just mean facts we purposely store up, but everything we absorb from reading, from observing, from living. It all gets distilled into a store of knowledge from which we will be constantly and almost unthinkingly drawing when it comes time to create something of our own.

Imagination: This is what fuses the first two things together—what allows us to create fiction based on the combination of information we've gathered and instinctive understanding of how people behave. This is what allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of characters unlike ourselves, and make them behave as they would behave, not necessarily as we would behave, and still be authentic. This is what allows us to vicariously experience things we've never actually done, and write about them in a way that seems real to the reader.

I don't know if any one of these things is more important than the others. Perhaps the instinct is necessary for a start, because it may have something to do with our impulse to write in the first place. But it can't carry far without the others. The best results probably come from a balance of all three. What do you think?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fairytale Blogathon: First Love (1939)

A few months ago, while preparing for the launch of my own little fairytale retelling, I stumbled across the news of an upcoming movie blogathon on fairytales in film. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to revisit and spruce up my review of one of my favorite movies, which also happens to be a Cinderella retelling, 1939's First Love. So here it is, as my entry for the Fairytale Blogathon hosted by Movies, Silently.

As the film opens, orphaned Connie Harding (Deanna Durbin) has finished boarding school and is sent to live with her wealthy relatives, the Clintons, in New York City. She quickly falls into the position of a typical poor relation—often overlooked, fetching and carrying, and generally living in the shadow of her pretty but spoiled cousin Barbara (Helen Parrish), society belle and the darling of magazine photographers. Her scatterbrained, astrology-obsessed aunt (Leatrice Joy) and supremely lazy cousin Walter (Lewis Howard) aren't much help either. Uncle Jim (Eugene Pallette), a man of few words, is only visible ducking between his workplace and his study when the coast is clear, seemingly making it his object in life to spend as little time in his family's company as possible—and it's hard to blame him. But Connie quickly endears herself to the household staff (Charles Coleman, Mary Treen and Lucille Ward), who become her firm friends and allies.

Prince Charming enters the picture in the form of Ted Drake (Robert Stack, in his film debut), an eligible young man whose attention Barbara is bent on monopolizing. After an awkwardly comic first meeting on the grounds of a country club while employed as her scheming cousin's go-between, Connie is smitten too, and sets her heart on attending a ball hosted by Ted's parents. Barbara, by no means welcoming competition, does everything possible to prevent her from getting there, but Connie's friends the servants pitch in to see that she has a suitable dress, and conspire with the cook's policeman brother (Frank Jenks) to keep the rest of her relatives from getting to the ball before midnight so she'll have a little time to enjoy herself. (One of my favorite lines in the film comes here from Coleman, the perennial movie butler: "You will have an escort of six white bikes, miss!") Though the ball proves to be a dream come true, the stroke of midnight of course heralds disaster...and it's up to Connie's old schoolteacher and friend, the grim-faced Miss Wiggins (Kathleen Howard) to play fairy godmother and try to mend the situation with the help of a silver slipper.

First Love seems to be a relatively obscure movie today, even among classic film fans. At the time of its release it was a big affair, for Deanna Durbin was Universal's wildly popular singing star, and a flutter of publicity whirled around the movie because it contained her first screen kiss. Perhaps the rather generic and unimpressive title has something to do with its slipping from view—one source says it was originally supposed to be called Cinderella 1939, which would at least have been a bit more descriptive of the story! But it's such a clever, charming adaptation of the Cinderella story, I still wonder that it's not better known. The script is sprightly and humorous, filled with amusing scenes—the frustrated Clintons delayed by the laid-back policeman on their way to the ball; Barbara and her so-called friend (June Storey) sweetly trading barbs about each other's clothes and dispositions; and the hilarious climactic scene where Pallette's Uncle Jim finally blows his top and lets his family have it.

The whole cast is good, but I was particularly impressed by Helen Parrish as the spoiled Barbara—I'd seen her before playing such sweet, naïve characters, her performance here seemed that much better! She played the "mean girl" to Deanna Durbin's heroine in a couple of films, but off-screen they were good friends; Parrish was a bridesmaid at Durbin's first wedding. They eventually got to play sisters in Three Smart Girls Grow Up, the sequel to Deanna Durbin's first film.

Though the setting is contemporary 1930s all the way, there are a couple little touches that remind us of the fairytale background. A moment where Connie's reflection in the mirror unexpectedly answers her back might be magic...and then it might just be her imagination. And a lovely special-effects moment comes when Connie and Ted are dancing at the ball, as the other dancers momentarily fade away to leave them waltzing alone to the dreamy strains of a melody from Johann Strauss' "Roses From the South," one of my very favorite waltzes. As in any Durbin film, there's some wonderful music—a spirited rendition of "Amapola," a medley of Strauss waltzes for the ball scene, and finally, Puccini's "Un bel di" (sung in English), in a wonderfully out-of-context performance that suits its new usage beautifully.


First Love is available as an individual DVD which seems to be currently out of print, and also as part of a Deanna Durbin box set DVD with five other movies. You can click here to see more film stills and behind-the-scenes clippings and trivia at the Deanna Durbin Devotees fansite (all pictures in this post courtesy of the same page).

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Corral Nocturne Giveaway Winner


(This picture is so perfect for the story. See more on the Corral Nocturne Pinterest board.)

Many thanks to all who entered the Corral Nocturne giveaway! The Rafflecopter has chosen a winner, and the recipient of the Prairie Cinderella Prize Package will be...
Raechel

Congratulations, Raechel! [Edited to note: Raechel, there is evidently a problem with the email address I have on file; my attempts to notify you have been returned with error messages. If you're reading this, please get in touch with me within the week to claim your prize!]  And now all of you who want to read Corral Nocturne but didn't win may proceed to purchase your own copies forthwith.

Last but not least, I'd like to give a shout-out and thank-you to all the bloggers who helped host this event:

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Still More Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit

I had no idea of this becoming a recurring feature the first time I wrote about the frequency of references to Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit in other books. Nor even the second time. But I doubt I shall ever cease to chuckle at a reference to the ever-popular Mrs. Gamp and her elusive friend Mrs. Harris, and there seems to be no end to their adventures:

"This Oliver appears to be a very elusive person," said he.

"Isn't he?" agreed Wimsey dryly. "Almost as elusive as the famous Mrs. Harris."

~ The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers

 
You said to me once you'd like to come here to live. Read Martin Chuzzlewit again before you do. "Eden!" That's what the famous Ornaby Addition looks like! It isn't swampy, but that's all the difference I could see.

~ National Avenue by Booth Tarkington
 
"Poor old man! What was his name?"

"Harris," said Lucy glibly.

"Let's hope that Mrs. Harris there warn't no sich person," said her mother.
~ A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Songs of Old: After the Ball

The melody of the waltz followed her now, rang dismally in her ears although she would rather have forgotten it, rising and falling continuously like a never-ending gramophone record. It suited bitterly. She had paid little attention to the rest of the words during the dance even though she knew them well, but now they came back to her.

~ Corral Nocturne by yours truly

We have a special edition of Songs of Old today! To celebrate the release of Corral Nocturne, we're taking a look at a beautiful waltz song that I discovered in my favorite music book a few years ago, and later found to be the perfect song to incorporate into my historical Cinderella retelling.

(Don't forget to enter the Corral Nocturne giveaway, which includes an mp3 of my favorite rendition of the song!)

"After the Ball" was written in 1892 by Charles K. Harris (1867 - 1930), a prolific and successful songwriter who was one of the founders of Tin Pan Alley, often referred to as "king of the tearjerkers." (A detailed and interesting biography of Harris can be found here.) It became one of the first real smash hits of American popular music, selling over five million copies of sheet music. John Philip Sousa took a liking to it and played it daily with his band at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, which provided a tremendous boost to its popularity.

Legend has it that Harris conceived the idea for the song after attending a dance in Chicago, where he witnessed a pair of young lovers go home separately after a quarrel. The three verses narrate a very Victorian romantic tragedy, with an old man telling his little niece the long-ago tale of how he lost his love. After he witnessed another man kissing her at a ball, he refused to listen to the lady's attempts at explanation, and she subsequently died of a broken heart—only for the gentleman to learn afterwards that the mystery man at the ball had been her brother. (Tell me what Victorian novel—albeit one with a happier ending—that reminds you of!) The chorus of the song, lamenting the heartbreak that often follows in the wake of a ball, was just perfect for the midnight knell of a Cinderella story, and the beautiful sweeping melody and the song's popularity around the turn of the 19th century made it a splendid fit to have played at a dance scene in a story set there. "After the Ball" fit into Corral Nocturne as though made for it.

In 1927, "After the Ball" was interpolated into the score of the musical Show Boat by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, one of a few genuine period songs that appeared alongside the Kern/Hammerstein originals to give historical flavor. Here is a clip of Irene Dunne singing a verse and the chorus of the song in the 1936 film version:


You can view the original sheet music online here. And to go along with that, here's a real bit of history: a film short from 1929 featuring Charles K. Harris himself singing a part of the song.
To read previous entries in Songs of Old, click here.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Release Day & Giveaway: Corral Nocturne


Ebook $1.99
Life on her brother’s ranch is lonely for Ellie Strickland. Ed’s ungracious manners and tight-fisted habits keep visitors away and his mother and sister close to home. But when Cole Newcomb, son of the wealthiest rancher in the county, meets Ellie by chance, he is struck by an unexpected impulse to rescue her from her solitude—and Ellie’s lonely summer is transformed.

When Cole asks her to go with him to the Fourth of July dance, Ellie is determined that nothing, from an old dress to Ed’s sour temper, will stand in her way. By the time the Fourth of July fireworks go off at midnight, will they herald only more heartache, or maybe—just maybe—a dream come true?

Novella, approximately 21,000 words.
The day has at last arrived: Corral Nocturne is now available for purchase across e-retailers—and we've got a fun giveaway to celebrate! Here's what the Prairie Cinderella Prize Package includes:
  • Corral Nocturne ebook (winner's choice of .mobi or .epub)
  • "After the Ball" MP3
  • An adjustable pink cameo ring, in the style of the brooch Ellie's mother gives her in the story
  • Custom-made Corral Nocturne bookmark
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October Snippets

As you read this I am probably back scribbling away at the manuscript of One of Ours, either at the kitchen table or at the folding table in the cellar which my mom optimistically suggested could be considered a lower-altitude version of Jo March's attic retreat. I'm not so sure. But at least it's quiet there. At any rate, while I am thus occupied I proffer a few snippets of the fruits of my labors so far. (And don't forget, Corral Nocturne and a giveaway are coming on Saturday!)

...There was a light step inside, and a slender skirted half-silhouette showed behind the others in the doorway; a woman was there listening. Between them drops of water fell from the edge of the porch roof, drilling a line of little puddled holes in the dirt beneath it.


His own left foot in the stirrup ached dully, and the wind pushed at him, gusting from both directions at once, shoving impudently as if taunting him with his inability to find shelter from it.


She looked down at her grandfather in the armchair. "Grandpa...do you think you can put the gun away now?" 
Grandpa gave a start, and looked down at the Sharps as if he had never seen it before. Grumbling to hide his embarrassment, he got up and stumped across the room to put it away in the rack. 


[Britt] nodded, and looked down at the fire. Again Alice felt that undercurrent of resentment—not at her, but at something she had said—what was it?


The ticking of the clock and the crackle of the fire had made a gentle, homey background; little shimmers of firelight ran up and down the crossed sabres on the wall. Tonight the silence seemed hollow, the clock's ticking a reminder of something; the slant of the sword-blades steeply forbidding above the mantel.


"Go!" yelled Johnny with a vigorous crack splitting his voice at the end, and with a churning and thudding of hooves the two horses launched and sped away. They were side by side for most of the quarter-mile, bits of sod spitting up from under their hooves and deep breaths snorting from their nostrils. The buckskin laid his ears back and flung his long lean body out like a wildcat, and Phil, glancing sideways, saw the brown's nose slip back.


"Grandpa," said Jeff, "what do you do after you've been a soldier?" 
Grandpa gazed down at him for a minute, as if he was considering that question for himself. Then he handed him the bag of corn. "Do?" he said. He took one of the staffs from his grandson's hand. "Whatsoever your hand finds to do, boy. Let's go."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Supporting Characters Seeking Employment

The other day I worked out a tentative one-sentence description for One of Ours. It's not the best, perhaps, but it's a start:
In 1870s Texas, a Civil War veteran uncomfortable with his legacy of heroism becomes the cause of conflict within the family he wants to protect during a land dispute.
I've wrestled with synopses and summaries for this book ever since I wrote the first draft several years ago. In the few weeks before I began this rewrite I spent several kitchen-table sessions up to my elbows in sheets of lined paper scrawled with attempts at loglines, character profiles, and various efforts to describe the plot. I'm not big on overly-detailed or strictly structured outlines, but the faults of One of Ours all ran in the other direction, so it was in need of a little structure. I pulled a few ideas from the Snowflake Method and tried a few of the exercises from Finding the Core of Your Story, and improvised a bit on my own, and it did help.

The most successful plot breakthroughs I've had so far have involved handling supporting characters. I've realized that you can't just have supporting characters doing nothing but standing around agreeing or disagreeing with the main ones when they happen to come into contact. I don't necessarily believe, as some do, that every supporting and minor character has to have a goal or arc of their own, but they do need to have something worthwhile to do. They can't just go breezing around being in the right place at the right time. In one case, when I wanted a scene to take place at a certain person's home and have a certain group of people be there, I had to stop and think about what they went there for and why. In another case, I felt I needed another scene featuring certain characters, but wasn't sure what they should be doing in it.

(I feel like I'm being terribly vague here, but I'm just not ready to talk One of Ours details yet.)

By the time I'd figured out the answers to those questions, I'd expanded one subplot till it made much better sense, and created a whole new one—all using supporting or minor characters who had been there all the time, but hadn't done anything worth mentioning. I'd always been fond of them, but never realized their full potential for being useful! So if you have a supporting character hanging around looking suspiciously idle, stop and think a minute about what they could be doing to occupy their time. The answer could open up all kinds of new doors in your plot.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Musical Interlude: Begin the Beguine


I mentioned in a recent post that until this year I never really knew Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine," though I'd always been aware it was a standard. For the last few weeks, though, I've been humming it and listening to it constantly. At first I only knew the Glenn Miller version, but as much as I loved that, it didn't quite match up with my memory of a different one I'd heard on the radio but couldn't recall the artist. Then when Melissa Marsh mentioned on Twitter that she'd been listening to Artie Shaw's rendition, I looked it up—and it was the one I remembered! Even better, I found this wonderful video of Shaw and his orchestra performing the song in a 1938 film short. It's so neat to find clips like this where you can actually see the original big bands perform as well as hearing them! Listen and enjoy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book Review - Firmament: Machiavellian

If you were to ask me which currently-in-progress book series I follow most eagerly waiting for the next installment, I'd answer J. Grace Pennington's Firmament series. The cast of interesting and endearing characters and their intricate, well-developed world aboard the starship Surveyor keep me coming back for more despite my unfamiliarity with and lack of interest in the sci-fi genre outside this series. (You can read my reviews of the first two books in the series here and here, and also check out Grace's guest post on series-writing here at The Second Sentence.)

Firmament: Machiavellian finds visitors aboard the starship again, this time the crew of a science station needing transport back to Earth. But the visit turns into something else altogether when the station's Captain, Felix Holloway, suggests a new endeavor for the starship, with a goal dear to the hearts of the Surveyor's crew (having to do with certain events in the last book, In His Image)—but one that requires them to break the law by traveling to an off-limits part of the galaxy. With Captain Trent seriously considering the plan, a strange wave of sabotage breaks out on the ship—is it someone trying to force the Surveyor into the journey, or trying to prevent it? And circumstantial evidence points to none other than Trent's estranged brother, the chaplain of the science station. Conflicted herself over the rightness of Captain Holloway's plan, Andi finds herself at the center of desperate efforts to figure out what's going on before it is too late.

The intricacy and suspense of the sabotage angle were some of my favorite parts of the book. Though I did guess right about the troublemaker almost from the beginning, through most of the book I felt there could have been several different twists regarding the identity of the culprit, and didn't know which it would be. I thought a few of the lighter scenes, like Andi's banter with Olive, didn't ring quite as true as the more dramatic ones, and honestly, I found Captain Holloway's effusive politeness and enthusiasm a little wearing. But regarding Holloway, I really liked how an early remark about Andi as an intuitive judge of character, which seemed a little off at the time, came into play perfectly at the climax of the story. I think the series also does a very good job referencing key incidents and relationships from previous books, without it feeling like re-hashing everything. And of course, it's always great to spend more time with these characters and learn a little bit more about them with each entry. So if you liked the first two Firmament books, by all means, continue with this one!

Firmament: Machiavellian will be released this week on October 23rd. For a little extra fun in the meantime, you can check out the Firmament personality test Grace has created, and see which of the series characters you are! I got Guilders, the grave, principled helmsman of the starship, which surprised me a little—I kind of thought I might be August or Andi. But it's flattering to be equated with such an upstanding chap as Guilders.