Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Winter's Respite update: Finders,Keepers edition

Well, I find myself at the halfway point in Seasons of Reading's Winter's Respite readathon and pleased to report that my total of books completed for this challenge is also at the halfway mark.

Granted, it's the quality that really should count rather than the quantity yet it is a nice start to the new year to have a small accomplishment tucked under my bookish belt. Instead of going over each book that I've read thus far, I thought that a deep dive into one that I read for the second time would suit the occasion best.

While I do tend to add a Stephen King reread to these challenges(such as The Gunslinger, which will be featured in my first Series-ous Reading 2 post later this season), most of those are books that I haven't picked up for many years. Finders,Keepers is a much more current read but one that really needed another look at right away for me.

 This novel is the second installment of King's Bill Hodges trilogy, that began with Mr. Mercedes and fittingly finished up with End of Watch.

While Finders,Keepers is meant to be the meat of this particular story sandwich, at most times, it really feels like a dinner for one that just happened to be included on the Mr. Mercedes menu. I don't consider that a negative at all, in fact it's the strength of the book.

The central spoke of the plot wheel here is about a legendary writer,John Rothstein, (sort of a cross between J.D. Salinger and John Updike)who became a recluse after completing his trio of Runner novels featuring his rebellious hero Jimmy Gold.  One night, Rothstein is awoken by a gang of home invaders, with one of them interested in more than just the money stockpiled in the house.

That introduces us to Morris Bellamy, an always angry young man barely out of his teens who latched on to Rothstein's Jimmy Gold as his personal icon.

 Driven by his disappointment in the final Runner novel, where Jimmy seems to settle into standard suburban life, Morris wants to punish Rothstein for letting Jimmy "sell out" and his level of fury sparks enough of Rothstein's own tank of rage fuel to the point where Morris kills him, something his less than literary inclined partners expected.

Morris, as it turns out, is quite the sociopath with a blend of psychopath tossed in for good measure as his background of middle class resentment comes complete with an abandoning father, a mother with dreams of her own crushed and eager to crush her son's illusions about Jimmy Gold as well, plus a tendency to be a black out drunk with violent impulses.

However, Morris is stone cold sober when he kills Rothstein and then later, his two cohorts in crime, eager to do nothing more than hole up somewhere to read all of the hidden notebooks recovered from Rothstein's safe. That plan goes awry when Morris winds up in prison for a different yet just as heinous crime, with the only thing holding his interest in life is the thought of those Rothstein notebooks hidden away(along with a good amount of cash) in a trunk and buried under a tree near his childhood home.

Decades later, Morris finally receives parole and his only goal is to get his hands on his personal buried treasure. When, to his horror, he discovers that the contents of the trunk have already been claimed by another, Morris sets out on a course that he believes is righteous revenge.

 This unwavering conviction of his, that he is entitled to those notebooks, shows that despite his advancing years and grey hair replacing his once vivid red locks, Morris is still the same twisted teenager who takes the catch phrase of Jimmy Gold "shit don't mean shit" as a license to do ill onto anyone who gets in his way:

The true hero of this novel is,fortunately, Peter Saubers, who finds the trunk by accident at age 13 and at first, is only interested in the money.

With his family in dire financial circumstances(due in part to his father being one of the victims of the City Center attack in Mr. Mercedes) and the strong possibility of his parents close to getting a divorce, Peter figures out a way to send small payments to his folks over the course of several years.

The money is a secret blessing that gets them through the tough times yet when Peter's younger sister Tina wants to attend a good private school, the cash cache has dried up. During this time, Peter has read the notebooks(that contained two more Jimmy Gold novels that change the course of the character) and becomes a major fan of John Rothstein's work.

While he would prefer to donate the Rothstein writings to a literary institute, the need to help his sister out drives Peter to try and sell a few of the notebooks to an unscrupulous rare book dealer. That plan goes down a dangerous road as Morris Bellamy learns of Peter's possession of the notebooks and brutally targets him and his family.

At one point, a casual reference is made to John D. MacDonald's thriller, The Executioners, which was adapted into the classic thriller movie Cape Fear(not to mention remade by Martin Scorsese back in the 90s). King slips that in for a reason and not just because he's a fan of John D. there.

The plot of that book revolves around a lawyer who did wrong by a client who he knew was guilty. When the client is released from prison and full of righteous fury,  the lawyer finds himself on the defense,along with his family, in a true literal sense. Peter's actions towards the money and even the notebooks is understandable yet like the lawyer in Cape Fear, he has to face off against a determined enemy who feels that Peter has wronged him and all must pay:

That's when Bill Hodges and friends step in to help,which does work out well into fitting this story into that particular fictional universe.

While I have a sneaking suspicion that Stephen King had this novel on the back burner for awhile and felt that it would be easier to slip it into this trilogy, that gives the reader an unexpected surprise jolt into thriller country and makes this part two all the more interesting there.

It also plays upon the theme of reader obsession, one that King has touched on earlier with Misery. I like that both Morris Bellamy and Annie Wilkes are two tainted peas in a pod when it comes to their favorite characters as it shows that deadly devotion to fictional worlds cuts across class lines.

 After all, just as many folks fixated on The Catcher in the Rye and ill-used it as dark motivation for their evil deeds as any mainstream genre title has been. Peter finds himself not only afraid of what Morris will do, he also fears becoming just like him with the Rothstein books as well.

Yes, Misery and Finders,Keepers do make for unlikely bookends but they do fit scarily together. If those two "number one fans" ever did meet, Morris would probably sneer at Annie's beloved Misery as a "commercial sell-out", but that would be to his peril indeed:

So, all in all, Finders,Keepers was a riveting read well worth revisiting. While I did enjoy that thrill ride, I am relieved to be in much calmer waters with Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan's The Royal We.

Don't get me wrong, I had fun with FK and it was also exhilarating to climb aboard Murder on the Orient Express with Agatha Christie, not to mention get reacquainted with King's Gunslinger. Yet, with everything going in the world these days, a nice mental vacation is necessary.

Going to this book right after Daisy Goodwin's Victoria(finished in time for the season two premiere of the PBS series) is just delightful. This unlikely romance between American college girl Bex and future Brit king Nick is smart and funny, with plenty of verbal charm exchanged freely.

In a way, this novel puts me in mind of those later seasons of Gilmore Girls, when Rory hung out with the Life and Death Brigade(of which I am not a fan and any book that can make me think fondly of them is a success with me) and Logan,of course. Hopefully, Bex and Nick will have a better romantic ending than those two yet just as well written:

Friday, January 12, 2018

Getting the royal real deal on PBS Masterpiece's Victoria

One of the highlights of the winter TV season is the return of Victoria on PBS Masterpiece,starting this upcoming Sunday. This second season goes further into the life and times of one of  England's most iconic queens as well as her relationship with her beloved prince Albert.

That romance is the focus of the official companion book for season 2 fittingly entitled Victoria & Albert: A Royal Love Affair. Co-written by writer/producer Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan, we get more insight into the regal couple's lives through their diaries and journals, along with intricate details about the historical recreations done to make this series sparkle with life onscreen.

While I am enjoying Goodwin's fictional take on Victoria in book form at the moment, this tie-in tome sounds like an ideal read,not only for me but for the many fans of this historically heartfelt show.

Victoria and Albert were quite the power couple of their day but more than that, they were two young people in love who needed to work together for the betterment of their country, a standard not easily set. However, their struggles of the heart are well documented as this lovingly illustrated volume clearly showcases here:

If that book whets your appetite for more nonfiction fare about the queen herself, Julia Baird's Victoria The Queen is a scrumptious biographical feast indeed.

Baird's approach to her subject is that of a woman who defied as many conventions as she is said to uphold, a working mother that insisted upon being heard despite the delays in her direct control and even during her advancing years, still managed to shock and surprise those around her.

Rather than depict Victoria as a historical figurine from a bygone era, Julia Baird reveals the queen as an early forerunner to our modern female leaders who ,sadly, are still making strides to be taken as seriously as they should be:

However, if you'd prefer to snack on an untold tale regarding one of her post Albert relationships, Victoria & Abdul by Shrabani Basu ought to do nicely.

Abdul Karim was sent to serve at Queen Victoria's court during the latter days of her reign and she immediately took a liking to him. While he was eager to teach her to read and write in Urdu as well as expand her knowledge of India, many in the royal household considered him an unwanted influence upon Victoria.

That included her eldest son, the Prince of Wales, who was anxious to see his mother dethroned. Nevertheless, she persisted in that friendship which her family attempted to wipe out of the record after her passing.

 The story was recently adapted into a movie starring Judi Dench,once again portraying the older queen in a frowned upon relationship(Mrs. Brown) that could get her another Oscar nomination. I plan on seeing the film but the book might offer more tidbits of insight into this offbeat bond:

There are but a handful of the books out there about Queen Victoria and yet I feel that this tidy little trio ought to make a good start. In the meanwhile, it will be quite the relief from our present day political woes to be able to embrace our dear Victoria and her struggles in office for a good number of Sundays to come:

Monday, January 08, 2018

Bracing against the bitter cold with a chilling book haul

Between the mini blizzard we just had on the East Coast(I prefer to call it a "snow-nado") and the record cracking cold temperatures that came after it over this past weekend, it has not been ideal to go out for anything, let alone book shopping.

Thanks to the internet,however, I was able to acquire a bit of a book haul and the unintentional theme was mystery. While one of these titles is a review request from Blogging for Books, the other three are Better World Book purchases and by the time they arrive in my mailbox, some of the heaps of snow around my doorstep should be melting away:

LONG BLACK VEIL:  At the start of Jennifer Finney Boylan's thriller, a group of friends are forced back into each other's company due to the tragic event that broke them apart.

 In 1980, Newlyweds Casey and Weiler,along with their college buddy Tripper, join in with a trio of former school mates plus a few others into exploring an abandoned prison in Philadelphia. During their excursion, they become locked inside and during their escape, someone from their party goes missing.

Years later, a body is found on the prison grounds and Casey, now a renowned chef, is charged with murder. One of his friends from back then can spare him from unjust prosecution but at the cost of revealing a secret that will shatter the life she has build with her unknowing family.

 From what I have heard about this book, the story is mostly character driven rather than a simple whodunit, which sounds good to me. Some of the best thrillers, such as the works of Patricia Highsmith, are darkly etched portrayals of people struggling to deal with precarious situations that they can't easily get away from but this book sounds less cynical than those novels. It should be an engaging mental outing to explore this mix of mystery and emotional drama:

A IS FOR ALIBI: The recent passing of beloved author Sue Grafton has been keenly felt among her devoted fans,for whom the alphabet now ends in Y. For those such as myself who haven't read any of twenty six titles in her Kinsey Millhone series, giving them a try seems to be a good way to honor her literary legacy.

We meet Kinsey in this first outing as a private detective hired to look into the eight year old murder of a divorce lawyer. The lawyer's wife Nikki went to prison for his death but upon her release, insists that she was innocent all along and want Kinsey to clear her name.

The set-up is promising but I suspect there's more to it than that and I look forward to seeing what Kinsey is all about. My condolences to Ms. Grafton's loved ones as well as her numerous readers who will miss her dearly:

DEATH ON THE NILE: Upon the success of his remake of Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh is planning to film a new version of this Agatha Christie Poirot tale, which starred Peter Ustinov as the dapper detective in the 1978 Hollywood adaptation.

Much like Orient Express, the central location of the suspects in a suspicious death is on a moving vehicle(a steamer ship) and several red herrings are served up,such as a love triangle between a heiress, her new husband and his former love interest.

I love the 1978 film,especially Ustinov as Poirot, and am interested to see what Branagh will do with the story. Of course, there were changes from the book, which makes me eager to read it as I find that such tweaks often give me the joy of having two stories in one neat package to unfold:

EVIL UNDER THE SUN: I don't if Branagh will follow DOTN with another Agatha Christie but this book was made into a very fine Ustinov outing back in 1982 and should be on his list there.

Here, Poirot is staying at a remote island resort(that man loves his vacation time, doesn't he?) when one of his fellow guests is found dead upon the beach. Arlena Marshall was a much sought after actress,personally and professionally, and the fact that she was in the midst of many people who would like to see her done away with is an odd one indeed.

Don't get me wrong, I still favor Miss Marple as a Christie sleuth but it's only fair to check out Poirot in print as well. I wonder if Branagh will remake a Miss Marple story-Judi Dench would be perfect for the role,although Angela Lansbury did a fine job in 1980's The Mirror Crack'd. Then again, I'm getting ahead of myself-enjoy the book first and then see if a new movie is made after:

One good thing about the extreme cold is that it gives you a very good excuse to stay in and read. Hopefully, it's not so freezing that your light source and heat source are one and the same. It's better to just be able to bundle up with blankets and sweaters by a cozy lamp and perhaps a warm drink to sip between page turns:

Friday, January 05, 2018

Winners to watch for at the 2018 Golden Globes

With winter comes one of the best pop culture viewing events, film award season that starts this weekend with the 75th Golden Globes. While the GG does cover TV as well, it's their movie nominees and wins that help determine who and what has the best shot at the Oscars this year.

There are many films hoping to get their first major awards here or at the very least, get enough good buzz going for the rest of the season. I have my eye on a particular quartet of movies,two of which deserve more attention than the Golden Globes are giving them, and interested in seeing if how they fare here will foretell their Oscar fate:

Mudbound: Based on Hilary Jordan's 2008 award winning novel, this adaptation tells the story of two families in the Mississippi Delta during the 1940s.

For the most part, the McAllans, lead by less than savvy would-be farmer Henry(Jason Clarke) with his much put upon wife Laura(Carey Mulligan) and the Jacksons, who have worked on the land for generations with hopes by father Hap(Rob Morgan) to become owners, have little to do with each other's lives.

 Yet, with the return of two of their family members from WWII-younger McAllan brother Jamie(Garret Hedlund) and eldest son Ronsel Jackson(Jason Mitchell), an unlikely friendship is formed that changes all of their lives.

 As Jamie and Ronsel struggle to deal with post-war life, they begin to relate to one another as regular human beings outside of the racial roles that their society has forced upon them.

However, even that brotherly bond is frowned upon severely and sadly, leads to violent consequences and emotional turmoil for both families. It's a compelling film with an amazing cast and superb direction by Dee Rees(who also worked on the screenplay with Virgil Williams).

 The story is not simply centered on the Jamie/Ronsel relationship(although it becomes a major spoke in the plot wheel), character development is shared among Laura,who does her best to cope with a living situation she is not allowed much,if any, say in to Hap's dreams of a better life on his own terms and his wife Florence(beautifully portrayed by Mary J. Blige), torn between helping her loved ones achieve their goals and compromising her vow to care more for her children than other people's offspring.

Mudbound is up for Best Supporting Actress(Mary J. Blige) and Best Song(again,Mary J. Blige with "Mighty River") at the Globes and other award shows are already tapping this film for honors but this incredibly moving film should receive serious Oscar love. The movie is in limited release at theaters but is available for streaming at Netflix(who also produced it).  If you have access to this film in either format, Mudbound is a true must-see this season:

Get Out: This seeming typical horror movie has a sharp social satire edge to it that not only has kept it from being ignored for it's early-in-the-year status but given the movie a shot to compete in the Best Comedy/Musical categories.

It is a shame that writer/director Jordan Peele was not nominated for Best Screenplay or Best Director(which,at the GG, is not separated into Drama and Comedy/Musical,unlike most of the main film categories). Hopefully, both of those guilds as well as the Academy Awards will not neglect him in that respect.

Get Out is up for Best Picture and Best Actor with Daniel Kuluuya, who plays leading man Chris with solid emotional flair. Having him get a similar nomination at the Oscars would be awesome, as his performance is a key element in drawing the audience into that growing sense of unease that his character slowly but surely embraces during his visit to the too good to be true family of his new girlfriend. It takes the Stepford Wives metaphor to a whole new level and then some,thanks to Kuluuya's relatable take on the role:

The Shape of Water: Guillermo Del Toro's homage to The Creature from the Black Lagoon is the front runner at the Globes, with seven nominations that include Best Picture,Best Actress(Sally Hawkins) and Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer.

Already, folks are saying that this could be the new La La Land in terms of being the big favorite at the Oscars and even tho I haven't seen it yet, that would be fine by me.

I did see La La Land on DVD and while it was technically lovely, the romance at the center of the story came off as hollow as a plastic Easter egg. That relationship seemed more like one that wasn't meant to be than that was, despite the musical hoopla that accompanied it. While Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were a fine enough onscreen couple, buying into the notion of their great love was a deal breaker there.

The one thing that La La Land lacked with all of it's old school movie gloss and glow was sincerity, something that even the least of Del Toro's work always has in abundance. This tale of a mute cleaning woman who rescues an aquatic being from the clutches of a 1960's secret lab and it's vicious leader feels truly heartfelt just by watching a small scene or two. If it does well here and at the Oscars, that would be wonderful to see:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri: This movie is also a major contender with six Golden Globe nods that include Best Picture, Best Director and Screenplay(both by Martin McDonagh) and Best Actress for Frances McDormand.

Out of all these,McDormand has the strongest chance to get an Oscar spot as her character is the most talked about of the film. She plays Mildred, a grieving mother so fed up with the lack of progress by the police into finding her teen daughter's killer that she places a very eye catching message on the title billboards.

The part was written with McDormand in mind and it clearly shows, highlighting the raw power of righteous anger and determination that many a frustrated woman has tapped into lately. While her fellow actors Sam Rockwell(who is up for Best Supporting) and Woody Harrelson have been duly noted for their work here, this is Frances McDormand's time to shine in the cinematic spotlight once again:

We shall soon see how this all plays out,both at the Golden Globes and the Oscars, and with any luck, the truly talented will win. The Globes ought to be entertaining at least, with Seth Meyers as host this time around. He's become quite the late night rising star and perhaps his ascent will go even higher with this big night of stars indeed:

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Bundling up with some good books for a Winter's Respite

Happy New Year,folks, and I hope you've all gotten a good start off to 2018 there. I am most fortunate to begin this brand new year with a Winter's Respite readathon, hosted by Michelle Miller of Seasons of Reading.

This literary get-together has gone from a week long event to a month long one, giving us all more time to read and share our bookish thoughts with each other. With the subzero conditions most of us are experiencing,weather wise, right now, that is a perfectly timed great idea.

I'm going to continue with some of my regular reading(plus start my Series-ous Reading 2 project) as well as join in on the readathon fun, so let me show you a few items from this particular TBR, starting with Murder on The Orient Express, Agatha Christie's ultimate mystery classic.

This locked room case has quite an unique twist, as the title train becomes snowbound just as the murder of a suspicious passenger,Mr. Rachett, has been discovered. Nearly everyone on board is a suspect except for famed detective Hercule Poirot, who happened to take this trip in order to give input on another case. This is the first Poirot novel that I've read and so far, the pacing is excellent.

Granted, I did see the 1974 film adaptation(with my renewed interest being peaked by the recent  movie version starring Kenneth Branaugh) and have watched a couple of other Poirot headlined films,including Death on the Nile which also headed for a fresh new remake as well.

 However, experiencing the story on page has a crispness to it that allows you to absorb the plot on it's own terms. All star casts are fun but at times, can be a little distracting when looking to see whodunit.  At some point, I'll catch the latest cinematic version but for the moment, taking this mystery train word by word is turning into a true thrill ride:

 For more old school style mystery, I'm heading from shore to ship with Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House by Stephanie Barron. We find Jane Austen visiting one of her naval brothers,Frank, in Portsmouth in 1807 where her sleuthing skills are called upon to help one of his fellow officers.

Seems as Frank's good friend,Captain Tom Seagrave, has been accused of murdering a French officer after he surrendered his vessel, a serious violation of the Articles of War. To prevent Captain Seagrave from being unjustly hanged, Jane seeks a witness for the defense among the French prisoners of war held at Wool House, a task that endangers more than one life.

Having enjoyed catching up with Barron's Jane Austen mysteries last year, it is nice to go on a bit more with the series and with Persuasion being my favorite Austen novel, hearing more about British naval captains is a true treat indeed:

In addition to rereading the first two books in the Dark Tower series for my Series-ous Reading 2 challenge(already underway with The Gunslinger), I thought that I would revisit a more current Stephen King read.

Finders,Keepers is the second book in the Bill Hodges/Mr. Mercedes trilogy and in some ways, it's almost a stand alone story. It begins with the robbery and murder of reclusive author John Rothstein, whose iconic coming of age Runner novels have motivated the demented Morris Bellamy to take revenge for being disappointed in the journey of his literary hero.

A major part of the take from the robbery are Rothstein's notebooks, which contain two unpublished Runner books, but before Morris can read any of them, he is sent to prison for a different crime. The only thing that keeps him going is the thought of retrieving his literary loot. Meanwhile, many years later, a young boy named Peter Saubers finds the trunk containing the notebooks and money from the heist, the latter he uses to help his financially troubled family.

Peter does wind up reading the books and becomes a major fan of Rothstein's work. However, as he grows up, the money runs out and selling those notebooks could provide for his family even more. By this time,Morris has gotten parole and is determined to find those notebooks at all costs.

 The events of Mr. Mercedes do tie into the story but it's a great thriller with book lover themes which can be appreciated by die hard readers everywhere:

For something a little less intense, I chose a book from my latest library haul that fits right into a rather joyous real world event.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan was originally inspired by the union of British Prince William and Kate Middleton but with his younger brother Harry about to marry American Megan Markle, this regal romance feels right in tunes with the present times.

Our leading lady is US. born Rebecca "Bex" Porter, who falls in love with Nicholas, Prince of Wales who happens to be in line for the throne of England. Their love is true but the immense spectacle of media scrutiny(made worse by the antics of their publicity seeking siblings) causes Bex to doubt if following her heart is worth being followed by the public eye for the rest of her life.

This sounds like a good romantic romp and I'm hoping for something along the lines of Notting Hill, that charming Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts movie where falling in love with an international film star is just as tricky as a royal affair,plus some humor mixed in for silly sweet flavor:

These aren't the only books I intend to get to during this readathon but with any luck, I will have finished them up before the month ends. With the chance of more snow to come this week in my neck of the woods, curling up with a good book sounds cozier by the minute.

 Perhaps an episode or two of Gilmore Girls in the background would really set the readathon mood off ,preferable one with Lorelai's sense of snow in full affect, a sense that I share in spirit:

Friday, December 29, 2017

Serving up a New Year's feast of fiction for 2018

As the year 2017 is drawing to a close, the time has come to look ahead to what literary delights the new year will be bringing our way.

For this peek into a few of the page turning goodies that will appear on bookshelves this upcoming January and February of 2018, my focus is on fiction as many of the best new offerings seem to fall into that category.

In the months to come, I promise not to neglect any interesting works of nonfiction that are bound to arrive,eager for attention there. For now, let us devour these tasty bookish morsels being served up for our future consumption:

Sizzling Slices of Mystery Meat: Our first course is a debut novel from English writer C.J. Tudor,The Chalk Man, that brings with it some of the fearsome flair of the 1980s.

Eddie Addams is a school teacher still haunted by playing a role in the past that brought down a teacher from his childhood days. That's not the only thing from those days that comes with bad memories as a visit from Mickey, one of his boyhood buddies, reminds Eddie of that time when he was twelve and the two of them,along with a few other pals, discovered a dead body.

Not long after Mickey arrives back in his life, Eddie sees those chalk symbols that he and his friends used as a secret code cropping up all around him,particularly near a new set of victims. Is this connected to that long ago murder or are these simply inspired by that tragic event? Tudor sets up a mix of Stand by Me with Midsomer Murders that should provide readers with some extra chills this winter(January):

Speaking of British chills, The English Wife by Lauren Willig gives us a mystery bride from the Gilded Age who may or may not be involved in the death of her new husband.

Janie Van Duyvil was just as surprised as anyone in her family when her beloved brother Baynard brought home from London a wife named Annabelle to New York. Many eyebrows were raised in society yet she was willing to give Annabelle a fair chance.

However, when Bay is found dying at a party in his own home, Janie uncovers a whole new world of secrets and lies. With Annabelle vanishing into thin air and no one else willing to look deeper into her brother's death, she teams up with an ambitious reporter named Burke, who helps her find out but to what advantage of his own?

 Lauren Willig is well at home when it comes to mysteries set in the past and even with her Pink Carnation series finally completed, her future as a writer is bright indeed(January).

 A Satirical Sandwich at Work: In Jillian Medoff's This Could Hurt,  Rosa Guerrero finds her job as a HR rep more taxing than usual.

 As the economic landscape is quickly devolving  in late 2009, more pressure is placed on her to lay off staff at the Ellery Consumer Research Group in her own department, leaving her severely lacking in help to say the least.

While other department heads,such as burnt out recruiting director Rob,benefits manager Leo and hustling for a promotion Lucy, are struggling to stay on payroll, their status is strongly challenged when Rosa becomes severely ill. Covering for Rosa becomes part of their job ,repaying the loyalty that she's given them all, yet how long can they manage to pull it off is the new skill that can't be placed on any of their resumes.

Looking back at the recent past is not as easy as it seems and somehow, Medoff handles it with wry humor and well earned drama that makes this story feels as current as today's headlines(January):

Handing out pieces of Historical Fiction cake: In Janet Beard's The Atomic City Girls, we met June, who at age 18, is leaving home for the first time during WWII to work at Oak Ridge, a government run town that promises that the work they're doing is meant to end the war as soon as possible.

During her stay, she meets Sam, a young scientist who slowly grows troubled about the weapon that he and his fellow researchers are developing. Over time, June and other residents, like her roommate Cici and segregated construction worker Joe, soon realize that the ultimate goal of Oak Ridge is to bring the atomic bomb to terrifying life.

Historical photos are added into to give more of a sense of time and place to the story yet Beard's writing is vivid enough,making them that extra dollop of icing on top of a supremely crafted cake.  For a fictional take on the real life men and women on this project, The Atomic City Girls are grand company to keep up(February):

The life of Eleanor Roosevelt is showcased in White Houses by Amy Bloom, told from the perspective of Lorena Hickok, a long time friend and romantic partner.

The two of them first met during Lorena's journalist days, well before Franklin Delano Roosevelt  began his presidency. Given a staff position, Lorena had access not only to Eleanor but to the inner workings of FDR's administration which lead to personal insights she could not share with the world at large.

Amy Bloom does have a knack for elegant portrayals of complicated lives and this novel has the potential to be one of her best yet. Hopefully, her new novel will also inspire readers old and new to seek out more about Eleanor and Lorena, a pair of ladies who made real history together and then some(February).

 A Western omelet with Aussie flavor: Paul Howarth's debut novel, Only Killers and Thieves, is set in 19th century Queensland, Australia where a pair of brothers find themselves at the opposite ends of a brutal conflict.

When their parents are killed, Tommy and Billy McBride are of one mind in seeking to avenge those deaths. However, that forces the brothers to team up with John Sullivan, a vicious land owner who made their father's ranching life miserable and is eager to hunt down supposed suspect Joseph, as an excuse to go after the aboriginal tribes in the area.

Eventually, Tommy finds it hard to join in with the mob mentality and driven by his conscience(as well as the love of an aboriginal woman) to break away from Billy's determined course of brutal action in the name of "justice". 

This story has a familiar feel to it yet is free of the standard tropes of the Western with not only location but emphasis on the emotional cost of choices that may not be taken back but could be retreated from before it's too late(February):

A Happy New Year of reading to all and to all a good book! While it may seem that next year might be as off putting in some ways as this year was, take hope in the fact that good things are on the horizon such as season two of Victoria on PBS. It is comforting to see a historic leader who was able to make the phrase "grace under pressure" a true reality and a fine example to those who came afterward-may we see that like again and soon:

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Celebrating my Christmas Book Haul

Well, I hope everyone had a very good Christmas yesterday(and best wishes to those celebrating the first day of Kwanzaa today) and are as pleased with their gifts as I am.

A big part of my holiday joy was in getting new books to read from family and friends,that special kind of present that can be opened again and again. Apart from the lovely book that my Bookish Secret Santa sent me(which I have finished in time for Christmas), this quartet of novels were grand to find under my tree and promise to get my new year of reading off to an excellent start.

One of them happens to be one of the most talked about books of 2017,The Power by Naomi Alderman. Set in a not-too-distant future, we follow several characters as the balance of the world shifts when women and teen girls develop the ability to shoot electrical bolts from their hands.

While many are thrilled to be empowered this way,such as Roxy, the illegitimate daughter of a  British gangster who is finally getting the respect she always wanted, others are frightened by the repercussions like Allie, a foster child in America who flees to a convent for protection.

 As the accusations of witchcraft and a plot against men grow, along with violent retribution from now fearful males,women around the globe find themselves having to find a way to band together to hold back the rising level of chaos that could destroy them all.

I've heard and read a variety of reviews about The Power,most of which were positive. Alderman's dynamic and thought provoking story has already won The Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction earlier this year,plus it's on the New York Times list of Best Books of the year. It will be fun to check this out for myself and there is talk of an adaptation for British TV as well. This may sound like a comic book concept but the scary truth about our reality can come from the most unexpected places:

Speaking of British television, I was happy to get Daisy Goodwin's tie-in novel Victoria,that covers the early days of the English queen, as I adored season one of the made for British TV series that plays on PBS in the US.

As the young Victoria struggles to shake loose the controlling grip of her mother's paramour Sir John Conroy and be seen as a solid ruler in her own right, the best ally she has on hand is Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. Under his advice, she begins to find some confidence in her own abilities yet the close connection to "Lord M", as she calls him, could undermine the acceptance of her authority.

With Season Two soon to air, reading this book will be a fine refresher course,not to mention a thumping good read by an author who is well invested in this savvy slice of historical fiction:

Going back to the future, the copy of Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time that I got for Christmas happens to a 40th anniversary edition. First published in 1976, the leading lady of this timely tale is Connie, who was forced into a mental institution due to her visions of a possible better world.

An envoy from the year 2137 named Luciente has been showing Connie a civilization where bias of all sorts has been eliminated and people are living their best lives. However, this is only one of many realities that may come to pass and Connie's actions in her present time may decide what course the future will ultimately take.

Marge Piercy is a well known feminist writer and poet,yet I've never read her work before. With this book, the perfect opportunity for me to become better acquainted with her is here and given the cultural climate these days, the timing is eerily perfect:

Last yet far from least, I was given a C.S. Lewis novel that I never knew existed before. Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the classic Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche(one of the inspirations for that tale as old as time, Beauty and the Beast) from the perspective of Orual, Pysche's older sister.

Jealous of her sister's beauty yet determined to love her, Orual does her best to save Psyche from what looks like a deadly fate. However, that interference backfires, causing Orual to hide her face from the world and despite becoming the queen of her own realm, is furious at the cruelty of the gods.

This was Lewis' last novel and one that even his literary rival J.R.R. Tolkien considered to be his best. As a fan of Greek mythology, this sounds amazing and any re-imaging of  a classic legend is always worth exploring,especially in the capable hands of a thoughtful writer such as C.S. Lewis was:

These weren't the only gifts that I received this Christmas but I can't help being happy to have more to read. A couple of these titles will be saved for A Winter's Respite readathon this January(which I am looking forward to with great delight) yet at least one of them will be started before then.

Happy holidays to all out there and let's keep that good feeling going as long as possible. A good source of seasonal inspiration are books, which give far more than they receive like many of the best people in your life: