Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, May 20, 2019

Some final thoughts about the final season of Game of Thrones

Last night, I joined in with the rest of the faithful viewers for the very last episode of Game of Thrones, a series that has gone beyond the five books written so far by G.R.R. Martin as it's source material.

Yes, it was an episode to remember and despite the numerous cries of disappointment  and for some, resignation, I have to say that this was as fitting a finale as we could get.

Should this season have been longer, in order to establish more firmly certain plot twists? Absolutely and I think that many of the disheartened out there might have been able to deal better with those developments if they had made this a ten or even twelve episode run instead of the six we got.

However, this is what was given to us and unlike a video game, there are no do-overs here. When the last books in the Ice and Fire saga are at last published, a stronger sense of closure might be gained. Having read the books and enjoyed the HBO adaptation, for better and for worse, I have a few parting thoughts that I will try to keep brief at best(fingers crossed):

THE DEATH OF CERSEI: One of the big takeaways from the next to last episode,"The Bells", was how despised Queen Cersei Lannister met her fatal end.

True, I would've liked her to have been blasted by dragon fire or cut down by Arya or a number of other payback scenarios yet this was the fate she deserved. To be abandoned by the few lackeys she had left,along with an army that had no real love or loyalty for her and to die no better than one of the smallfolk she ruled over with only her tormented twin brother Jamie to join her.

Cersei would have preferred to be captured or taken down publicly to further cement her image as a powerful figure instead of a resentful ,entitled person who worked within the very system she hated but was never as smart as she thought she was.

That whole High Sparrow takeover a couple of seasons back was due in part to her foolishly giving away power and responsibilities that didn't directly interest her and once the fallout personally affected Cersei, she went full nuclear option via Wildfire,which is bad governance any way you slice it.

What Cersei really hated was being a cog in the machine, a mere spoke on the wheel as it were. Yet, that is how she went out , living her own worst nightmare of her own making. She should have known better than trying to make an escape(as should have Jaime and Tyrion) at that point because as she once told a doomed Ned Stark, there are two options when playing the Game of Thrones and neither of them allow for a safe exit:

DANEARYS JOINS THE DARK SIDE: What truly troubled fans much more in that episode was seeing the beloved Mother of Dragons turn her fire power upon the innocent residents of Kings Landing, especially when it was well established that victory was hers.

If we had a couple of prior episodes to develop Dany's growing despair, that move might have seemed inevitable  but as it is, I can sadly understand it. Her whole life has become a quest to reclaim her family's dynasty and while she was able to break free from her terrible brother(who so got what he deserved) and the many along the way who tried to control and/or destroy her, Dany has kept a steadfast pace towards that damned Iron Throne.

Once she finally arrived at Westeros, the reception was chilly and even though an alliance was made in order to defeat the mutual enemy that was the Night King and company, Dany sensed rightly that her ascendancy wasn't a sure thing.

 Between losing two of her dragons and longtime loyal allies Jorah Mormont and Missandei, not to mention her own nephew/love interest of the moment Jon Snow having a more solid claim to the throne than her, Dany most likely felt "Why should I do all of this liberating for people who will be quick to toss me aside for a local boy?"

That doesn't excuse such mass slaughter but you do have to consider that she learned most of her battle strategy from conquerors such as the Dothraki and the Unsullied, social orders that rarely settled in more than one place.

Oddly enough, Dany had something in common with the late king Robert Baratheon; they both prefer the battlefield to the board room.  Her reign in Meereen was a total disaster because while her intentions were good, Dany had no real ideas about how to govern people. Tyrion arrived far too late to guide her towards a more moderate approach.

Once she burned down Kings Landing, I knew that she was going to die by someone's hand(and it took quite a bit of talking to get through to Jon Snow, seriously!) and while I did want her to be a benevolent warrior queen, Daenerys was too much of a warrior to transition into a peaceful ruler. That vision she received in the House of the Undying(and yes, it wasn't same as the one from the book) showed where her heart was always going to be and like she once told Jorah, hers was not a gentle one:

THE FATE OF TYRION: From season one, I chose only three characters to root for until the very end; Dany, Ayra and Tyrion. Turns out I did pretty well there in terms of survival time.

Tyrion's long journey has certainly been a hell of a ride, taking this at surface level snarky underdog and raising his strengths and weaknesses to their best and worst levels yet never making him a one note personality. Rather, he's one of the most nuanced characters in this story who used what skills he has to not only keep him alive but to make him a most valuable player in the game.

Realizing his fatal error with Dany, Tyrion did what he could to make that right but even that power talk with Jon Snow wasn't enough to redeem him and he's smart enough to know that. When he put up Bran as the new king and said that Bran has "the best story", he wasn't talking about what we the audience know , he meant the story to be told to the remaining citizens of Westeros and after the various wars they've been through, a back from the dead young man with a mild mannered touch of mysticism would go over better than any of those remnants of the nobility assembled in that council.

Keeping Tyrion as the Hand of the King was the right choice as it's a role he was born to play. Tyrion enjoys solving problems and getting folks to make suitable compromises as we saw in the second season when his own father gave him that task(and begrudged him for doing it so well). Also, it gives him a chance to repair the damage done to Kings Landing and while they're a long way from the democracy that Samwell Tarly suggested, Tyrion's notion of future rulers being chosen by group decision rather than birthright is a small step in the right direction.

All in all, Tyrion is finally where he ought to be and I have no doubt that Westeros will thrive under his influence. I also have no doubt that when he told Jon Snow that he was to be sent to the Night's Watch as punishment for killing Dany, Tyrion knew that Jon was going to rejoin the Wildings. He and Jon always managed to understand each other and this was the right parting gift indeed:

To wrap things up, I know full well that many of the fans feel that the female characters, particularly Dany this season, got shafted in terms of being power holders.

Instead of debating that, let us focus on the success stories of the sisters Stark. While I may not have been fond of Sansa in the beginning, she has grown by leaps and bounds over these past seasons, turning the tragedies of her life into triumphs.

No longer a pawn on someone else's sadistic game board, Sansa has claimed her own realm and will be a great Queen of the North, forging her own legacy for others to follow. As for Arya, she became the queen of her own destiny, no longer bound to seek revenge for the dead. Unlike the rest of her family, Arya has seen what life is like beyond the shores of Westeros and is setting sail to know more. She might still be an assassin but one that will more than likely seek justice for those in need rather than kill for the thrill or for cold hard coin.

Combined that with Yara Greyjoy ruling the Iron Islands and Brienne as head of the Kingsguard, we do have some wins on that side of the board. No, it's far from perfect but since Arya was one of my favorites from day one, I am willing to take comfort in that.

One thing that we can all agree on is that Game of Thrones was a game changer for both television and the fantasy genre, redefining both mediums and highlighting what needs to be changed for the better in future pop culture endeavors. I am happy to have been part of this audience and despite how you may feel about where things ended up, I hope that you are as well.

As for the next big show, I recommend a look back at a miniseries that helped to pave the way for this one. I,Claudius is also based on books(just two, and it's historical fiction) and like GOT, displays the results of where a pursuit of power can take a family. There's a ton of great performances, shocking moments and hints of the dark divine that makes this series just as gripping, even without dragons in play:

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Setting up my beach reading blanket for some Sci-Fi Summer fun

Whether you take a long trip, a weekend visit or just stay put, all summer plans do allow for reading time and readathons work well with that.

The next one on the Seasons of Reading schedule(hosted by Michelle Miller) is Sci-Fi Summer, a two week event that kicks off in June. Sign-ups have already begun and you can follow the link in the earlier sentence to find out more and hopefully join in the fun.

Yes,I am on board and working on my TBR as we speak. Since this is a short readathon,my stack of books is small but substantial, I think. Also, you are allowed to read fantasy as well as science fiction which works for me as I do have more of the former than the latter on hand at the moment:

THREE DARK CROWNS: This first book in Kendare Blake's YA fantasy series takes us to Fernbirn, a land meant to be ruled by one of three sisters in a ritual battle to the death.

While Mirabella is in full power with her storm bringing abilities and Katherine is able to withstand poison, Asninoe's talents as a naturalist don't make her the odds-on favorite to survive, let alone win. However, things are not always what they seem.

I do like this concept, harsh as it may sound, and have heard good word of mouth about this author, so this feels like a good place to get to know her work. Also, when a certain HBO series is over and done(I will not be talking about that at this blog until after the finale!), a fresh new race for a throne will be necessary:

ONE DARK THRONE:  Yes, I did pick up the second book already(hey, it was my birthday and I was in a book store, it couldn't be helped!) and if this turns out well, the third one will be on my purchase list as well.

As this entry begins, the game has definitely changed and not just for the three royal sisters. With the favored Mirabella no longer being the expected winner, alliances have shifted among supporters of each sister, both friend and enemy alike. No matter how many maneuvers are made, the fate of all involved still lies in the hands of the true players of this deadly game.

One of the elements that interest me about this series is the female focused drama, something we don't often see done well,especially in this genre. It may too soon for me to tell but I have the strong sense that this story will give me plenty to talk and think about indeed:

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES: Truth be told, I've been reading this book on and off for years(and yes, the other two titles in the All Souls Trilogy are on one of my TBR piles) and only getting so far with it.

The writing is lovely and the concepts are great fun, as reluctant witch Diana Bishop comes across the legendary Book of Life, a volume that's been missing for centuries, and while she wants nothing to do with it, no one is letting her off the hook that easy.

From broody yet charming vampire Matthew Claremont to sinister head of the witches' branch of the Congregation(basically, a supernatural United Nations) Peter Knox, she finds herself beset on all sides, discovering powers that she never knew she had access to.

As Diana learns more about her abilities and her family's past, Matthew appears to be the only one she can really trust in more ways than one. I don't know why my reading has been stalled with this series but it does help that AMC is now airing the British made for TV adaptation lately. My interest has certainly been jump started and this readathon is a great time to give this book another go there:

I might add another book or two before June 1 and perhaps even an actual science fiction title to boot. This really is the right time of year to engage in these genres, as our summer movies show us. I know that I'm not the only comic book fan looking forward to the rise of the Dark Phoenix at the multiplex this June and the wait has been a long time coming yet this time, our pop culture patience will be well rewarded:

Monday, May 13, 2019

My Series-ous Reading is given a tasty verdict from Fudge & Jury

Being a major league chocolate lover(and yes, sugar free versions are very satisfying), it was hard not to resist the next entry in Ellie Alexander's Bakeshop Mystery series for this latest round of Series-ous Reading.

Fudge & Jury has our culinary heroine Juliet "Jules" Capshaw,along with her mother Helen, running a booth at the Oregon Chocolate Festival, an annual event that not only attracts new business and keeps up with old contacts, prizes are awarded as well.

While Jules is happy to showcase her sweets and drum up more business for the family bakery,Torte(which is being renovated during the festival), she is quickly displeased by fellow exhibitor and judge for the festival Evan Rowe.

No matter how well crafted his chocolate creations are, Evan's snobbery and vicious critiques, especially of a food blogger whose Unbeatable Brownies are new to the circuit, are an appetite killer. Unfortunately, upon tasting one of Torte's display cakes, he goes into anaphylactic shock and dies on the spot. Turns out that Evan had a dangerous allergy to nuts yet the cake he sampled was free of that fatal ingredient.

Evan's demise brings about a number of questions such as "Where was his Epi Pen?" and "Where was his assistant Carter at the time?" along with wondering if, due to rearranging the supplies at Torte, could a nut based product have unintentionally ended up in that last piece of cake Evan ate? This possibly deadly error could not only affect the future of Torte but the whole Chocolate Festival to boot:

 It's not long before the festival is able to safely reopen and while Jules' cake is cleared of suspicion, she can't help wondering if Evan's death was more than an unhappy accident.

None of the other sweet treats that Evan tried that day,even the brownies that he harshly disliked, had nuts and yet his death was directly linked to his allergy. Jules does a little investigating and discovers that Evan has quite a few secrets, one of which could jeopardize the rest of his chocolate making career.

That's far from the only major item on her agenda as pressure mounts from the expansion of Torte, the wait for her mother's beau(the charming head police detective known as The Professor) to pop the question and a not so surprising romantic overture from Thomas, her old high school boyfriend and detective in training.

Maybe I'm being overly picky but I just can't warm up to Jules' estranged husband Carlos(who went back to his cruise ship chef job by the end of the previous book) and have some hope that she ends up with Thomas at some point.

Carlos is a charmer, to be sure, but I'm a Jane Austen gal and sweet talkers who keep secrets for reasons that only benefit themselves are typically not the best bet for future happiness. That whole "I just couldn't tell you about my son" deal still sticks in my craw.

Thomas, on the other hand, sincerely regrets breaking up with Juliet back in the day and clearly, his feelings for her have never wavered. I also appreciate that for the most part, he hasn't interfered with Jules' reunion with Carlos(although, his jealousy did flair up a bit). I know that she doesn't need a man to complete her but I can't help feeling that Thomas is meant to be Captain Wentworth to her Anne Elliot(as it happens, Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel):

Back to the book at hand, I thoroughly enjoyed this melt in your mouth mystery as well as seeing more of the other folks in Jules' world such as her staff at Torte,who click together so smoothly it's hard to imagine any them, particularly Sterling, ever leaving. I don't know if that's going to happen in a future book but I certainly hope not!

It's also fun to see Jules having a partner in crime like Lance, the engagingly over the top theater director, and for their friendship to blossom as it has. A platonic bond like this nicely off sets any of Jules' love interest plot points, not to mention that Lance is quite the scene stealer in the best sense there! Trust me, I will be revisiting Torte some time soon as there are still plenty of questions that need answering about Jules and company:

In the meanwhile, my next Series-ous Reading selection is Peach Cobbler Murder by Joanne Fluke, which was also adapted for Hallmark Channel's Murder She Baked mystery movies.

I did see the movie but more importantly, I have to keep up with my mother when it comes to the Hannah Swensen books. She's been on a reading kick lately and while I'm happy to share my books with her, Mom is ahead of me on this series! Granted, she's skipped a Christmas themed entry or two but I need to be in synch with her on this in order to have a proper chat about them.

Perhaps I can get her to watch the movies with me(I do have all of them on DVD) and make this a book club of two there. It makes sense that a series like this would hook my mother's occasional reading interest; it has three elements that we both enjoy-food, family and fictional murder mysteries to solve:

Friday, May 10, 2019

When it comes to book hauls, luck was a library lady for me!

I'm sorry to report that my last library haul was a bit of a bust-only one out of the three books that I borrowed was read to completion(the other two, I did give a good try, honest!).

However, better one than none, I suppose and in making a sooner than expected visit to the library this week,  my unexpected trip paid off quite nicely. In the new releases section, a copy of Sophie Kinsella's I Owe You One was easy to spot, almost as if it was waiting for me.

The leading lady of this story is Fixie Farr, youngest sibling of the family that has run an up-to-now successful home goods shop in West London. When their mother takes an extended vacation in Spain, Fixie finds herself being the only sensible person on hand who is aware of the troubles that the business is having.

Between the ludicrous schemes of her older brother and sister, along with the sudden appearance of an ex-boyfriend hoping to rekindle their romance, Fixie has enough on her plate as it is. That platter of problems threatens to overflow as she makes a connection with Seb Marlowe, an investment manager whose IOU keeps them in constant touch. Is Seb  her tipping over point or the promise of a better path in life for them both?

My reading luck seems to pop up with Sophie Kinsella titles lately, as Twenties Girl landed in my lap the other week and now this. Perhaps the universe just knows when you need a few good reads and Kinsella is a perfect fit for me right now:

My lucky library find was not a fluke, as Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy was also available barely a shelf away.

This prequel to the classic Anne of Green Gables focuses on the younger days of stern foster mother Marilla Cuthbert as she tackles the responsibilities  of home and family due to the sudden death of her mother.

When given the chance to see more of the world, thanks to her maternal aunt Izzy, she travels to Nova Scotia to work for the Ladies Aid Society by helping out at an orphanage that also serves as a depot for the Underground Railroad from America.

Torn between her new found independence and the possibility of making a life back home with long time love John Blythe, Marilla finds that there is more to consider than her own heart in the choices that must be made. As someone who only discovered the joys of Green Gables a few years ago, I am very open to a story like this that offers a good deal of backstory to a character that seems harsh on the surface but has more emotional nuance to share with those she truly loves:

There were a couple of other interesting books that pinged my regular reading radar but in the end, I decided to take a chance on a new cozy mystery series.

The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle is the second entry in Laura DiSilverio's Book Club Mystery series and since there are just three books at the moment, this is a good enough place to start.

Amy-Faye Johnson is an event planner whose book group also likes to solve murders as well as reading about them. Their latest selection is Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, which is giving them plenty of food for thought discussion wise.

When Amy's brother Derek is under suspicion for the sudden demise of his temperamental business partner for his new pub, she and the rest of her reading group decide to follow in the footsteps of M.Poirot and see if they can stop Derek from being railroaded right into jail.

This concept sounds like great fun and I hope the book talk also includes the movie adaptations as well(the latest remake of MOTOE wasn't much to write about, in my opinion. In that regard, the 1974 version did a much better job there):

So, my literary luck should result in perhaps finishing all three books before returning them to the library-hope springs eternal, as they say. Given the hectic nature of current events, the most stable thing in the world right is a good book worth reading and this new trio ought to add greatly to my TBR oasis indeed.

In the meantime, I wish you all a happy weekend of reading and a Happy Mother's Day to all of the maternal types out there. Regardless of age, moms are still people,too and gals who just want to have fun every now and then, so let them take their strut on the catwalk!:

Monday, May 06, 2019

Rummaging around for a few new reads

A major sign of spring in my neighborhood is the arrival of the local church rummage sale(not my personal church,btw-it just happens to be very close to my home) and while the offerings can be either feast or famine, I usually find a new book or two to add to yet another TBR.

The first read I spotted was Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived In The Castle, a nice Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition with only slight wear to it. This was Jackson's last book and held in even wider regard by some that her iconic Gothic novel, The Haunting of Hill House.

The story is told by Mary Katherine "Merricat" Blackwood, one of the three remaining members of a prominent family in a small New England village. While reviled by the townsfolk, due to the mass death by poisoning of several relatives six years prior, Merricat and her older sister Constance,along with wheelchair bound Uncle Julian, manage to lead a reasonably quiet life.

When a distant cousin,Charles, pays a visit and stay far longer than expected, Merricat begins to feel threatened by his presence and suspicious of his motives,especially as far as Constance is concerned. Is he truly interested in being part of their lives or simply out to steal the family fortune? As Charles' true reasons are revealed, a few other hidden truths surface that could awaken the recent past in more ways than one.

As luck would have it, a new film adaptation of WHALITC is due out this May, starring Taissa Famiga as Merricat and Sebastian Stan as cousin Charles. I don't know when I'll get to see the movie but in the meantime, this chilling little read will do nicely:

I wound up pairing that with something a bit more modern. Glitz by the late great Elmore Leonard is set in Atlantic City, where convicted sex criminal Teddy Magyk is out for revenge against Vincent Mora, the Miami police detective who sent him to prison.

The murder of a woman Mora used to know brings him within Teddy's sights and the cat and mouse game begins. However, Vincent is not totally unaware of someone keeping an unwanted eye on him and is also ready to dish out some payback of his own.

I haven't read an Elmore Leonard novel in some time and since this happens to be a favorite of Stephen King's(he praised it highly in a 1985 book review for the New York Times), this should be a snappy one to get back into Leonard's style of writing.

The book was made into a made-for-cable movie in 1988 but would be too hard to track down for a viewing. That's fine but with so many of his works being adapted for the big and small screen, it does seem odd that this story hasn't been remade yet. Nevertheless, the book is still out there to discover again as I did this weekend:

The final book on my rummage sale pile was a small Oxford University hardcover copy of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. This is one of those authors that I keep meaning to read, particularly since I enjoy Charles Dickens(who was a contemporary of his) and perhaps now I might actually get to him.

The title gem is not actually a moonstone; it's a huge diamond from India given to young heiress Rachel Verindar, a legacy from her uncle who stole the jewel during a battle back in his military days. Upon wearing the gem during her eighteenth birthday party, Rachel announces her ownership of it and the diamond is stolen from her room.

A series of strange happenings follow this theft, leading to an all out investigation that asks as many questions as it answers. This story is considered by a number of literary folk as the first major detective novel and while that may be debatable, The Moonstone did set up several tropes that are still in use in the mystery genre today.

There are a good amount of adaptations of this story, including a recent one that became a YouTube series. It's not that I need a movie version to read this but it's nice to know that such an option is available in abundance:

Starting off spring at the rummage sale is a nice tradition that I manage to maintain and while I have a good stack of new reads,thanks to my recent birthday, it's fun to find a few bookish surprises.

Given that I buy books the way some people buy clothes or shoes, it's good that I also donate regularly to a nearby thrift shop. Not to mention a necessity as my shelves can get as cluttered as any closet with goodies that I need to let go of(and yes, I do store books in my clothes closet as well):

Friday, May 03, 2019

Sipping the last good drops of my Spring Into Horror reading

While the official end of Seasons of Reading's Spring Into Horror readathon arrived a few days ago, I needed a bit more time to finish up the last two books on that particular TBR in order to be complete.

One of those was the third entry in Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse Mystery series, Latte Trouble, which had our hot java heroine Clare Cosi being the hostess for a major Fashion Week event.

A regular customer,Lottie Harmon, chose the Village Blend to showcase her comeback into the world of stylish accessories,since her new line was inspired by the rich color tones of coffee. Lottie was a major player back in the eighties but left the scene abruptly, to say the least.

As the launch appears to be a great success, one of Clare's most loyal servers, Tucker, winds up accused of murder as a latte he's delivering on the floor is snatched up by a snooty former lover of his and that drink happened to be poisoned. As shocking as that sudden death was to all, most of the fashionista guests present are more concerned  about getting to their next Fashion Week party than giving witness statements for the police:

Clare,however, is more concerned about Tucker being instantly set up for a crime that he didn't commit. It doesn't help that her favorite detective Mike Quinn is taking time off for personal issues(on his way to a divorce) and that the current cops on the case are quick to make this murder an open and shut situation.

What also worries Clare is that the deadly drink was originally intended for Lottie, who has a couple of suspicious new business partners as well as a former fashion mogul flame from her past who might want to do her in.

That leaves Clare to not only solve the mystery and possibly prevent another murder but her charming ex-husband Matteo is also around, trying to get financial backing for a coffee kiosk franchise from one of the suspects on her list. Add a little rekindling of her romance with Matteo and a whole pot of trouble is in full brew indeed.

After this third cup of Coffeehouse Mystery, I have to say that I'm a little addicted to this series. Being somewhat  New York adjacent, this setting is very appealing to me and the entire vibe of the coffee house crew and customers makes this an inviting literary locale to hang out with for a good jolt of mystery fun:

 Meanwhile, I had two Fiona Barton titles left and I skipped rereading The Widow and went right to The Child.  This is the second novel to feature reporter Kate Waters and here, she's looking into a human interest story that has a lot more to reveal than at first glance.

The skeleton of an infant was found at a construction site and the identity of the Building Site Baby,as the body is called, sparks both fear and hope into a seemingly unconnected trio of women.

Angela Irving is convinced that these remains are those of her long lost baby Alice, stolen from her hospital room on the maternity ward back in 1970. That disappearance has haunted her and her loved ones for years and the chance of a definitive answer is too good not to miss.

Book editor Emma,however, feels that this unfortunate discovery could lead to the exposure of her biggest secret from her teen years during the 1980s. Emma's feckless mother Jude also worries about this case, not knowing her daughter's truth yet more concerned about a dark secret of her own.

Kate is the narrative needle that threads the rest of these separate story lines and the results of her investigation illuminates not only the past but the present and future of everyone involved. I do like Barton's multi-layered style of round robin story telling as she expertly weaves together the mystery elements and the emotional material that the characters have cut out for themselves.

 Yes, this is a sad story yet it does provide some hope for those suffering with secrets and lies to find their way towards healing those old wounds once and for all:

Once again, another great time of shared reading and I hope that everyone who jumped into the Spring Into Horror pool had plenty of fearsome fun. Much thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for making this happen and I look forward to the next bookish challenge, Sci-Fi Summer, in June.

As for finishing my SIH reads a little late, sometimes you have to be flexible with your reading challenges there. The important thing is to enjoy what you're reading and to complete your own personal goals as much as possible. After all, reading is supposed to be fun as well as fundamental, folks!:

Monday, April 29, 2019

Getting ready to relax and read this May and June

At long last, the spring weather is upon us(despite the occasional chill) and we can make some fun plans that involve the great outdoors.

Of course, staying inside with a good book is a fine option as well and there are plenty of new releases heading our way this May and June that should set up a suitable late spring/early summer TBR to sit back in the shade with:


Jean Kwok's upcoming novel, Searching for Sylvie Lee, deals with two sisters in two different countries as Amy Lee leaves New York for Amsterdam in order to find her older sister Sylvie.

While this is Amy's first visit to the Netherlands, Sylvie grew up there, leaving at age nine when her family emigrated to the US. She returned recently due to the death of her grandmother yet their relatives in Amsterdam,particularly second cousin Lukas, haven't seen her lately and are growing as concerned about her whereabouts as the American side of the family is.

Amy is far from outgoing but has no choice in putting herself out there to track Sylvie down. During her impromptu investigation, she discovers a few secrets from the past that could explain where her sister went to yet also include another important member of the family into this mysterious mix. Having read Kwok's earlier engaging novels(Girl in Translation, Mambo in Chinatown), I have a wonderful feeling about this book that could blossom into a really big read for many to enjoy this season and beyond(June).


 A young couple takes a trip they won't soon forget in The Snakes by Sadie Jones as Bea and her husband Dan decide to go on vacation from London by driving around the countryside.

One major stop lands them at a desolate hotel,owned by Bea's rich yet distant family, where her shifty brother Alex is staying. While the place is a literal wreck that is crawling with the title creatures,most of which are not poisonous, what really makes Dan and Bea's stay unbearable is the sudden arrival of her parents whose wealth and obnoxious ways do hand in hand.

Cutting the family reunion short gets to be complicated,however, as Alex goes missing one dark night and the lists of suspects in his disappearance is rather short to say the least. Or, is there a more sinister ploy at play here that traps Bea and Dan as unwitting yet at risk pawns? This tale of familial foils that become as slippery as serpents sounds like the kind of good old school thriller that would make for a fiercely fine night at the movies indeed(June):

 Author Liv Constantine follows up her first novel(The Last Mrs. Parrish) with another tightly woven thriller, this time set in Baltimore.

 The leading lady of The Last Time I Saw You is Kate English, a well-to-do surgeon whose seemingly perfect life has taken a few brutal blows of late, what with throwing out her cheating husband Simon and the shocking death of her beloved mother.

To make matters worse, a threatening series of text messages,with the gruesome addition of some real world ones, sent to Kate are convincing her that she is the next target of a dangerous killer, possibly the one that murdered her mother as well.

So far, the only help she's getting is from Blaire , a childhood friend that Kate reunited with recently who happens to be a successful mystery writer. Can these two find the killer before it's too late or are things even stranger than they seem? A truly juicy suspense story can be hard to find but this latest outing from Constantine and company might fit the bill nicely(May).


 In Mistress of the Ritz, writer Melanie Benjamin introduces us to Blanche and Claude Auzello, who find themselves playing hosts to German occupying troops in Paris of WWII.

As manager of the renowned Ritz hotel, Claude is less than thrilled with these unwelcome new guests as much as his bold American wife is. However, unbeknownst to each other, Blanche and Claude join the French Resistance and use the hotel as a neutral zone for the cause.

Doing their best to help their country, the two of them keep a number of secrets and lies between them along with a few that are directly tied to their marriage. Towards the end of the war, a situation arises that demands a bit of truth telling from both of them to save the day. Benjamin's knack for making historical figures come alive on the page promises to make this new novel a brilliant blast from the past to embrace(May):


 A tale of young love during turbulent times in Iran is the heart of Marjan Kamali's novel, The Stationary Shop.

The title establishment, owned by kindly Mr. Fakhri, becomes the meeting place in 1953 for Roya, a young woman studying at university thanks to the new reforms in place, and Bahman, whose passion for politics is matched by his admiration for the poems of Rumi.

As their love blooms, the world around them rapidly begins to change, forcing them apart for many reasons. Mr. Fakhri does help them by being the go-between for a series of secret letters yet a chance for an elopement doesn't go off as planned.

Decades later, the possibility of a reunion is made available to Roya but is it worth the risk after all of these years? Such a heartfelt romance could be the bittersweet surprise read of the summer(June):

The literary lady of Kim Michele Richardson's new novel The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is Cussy Carter, a young woman in 1930s Kentucky whose coal miner father thinks ought to be married off by now.

Due to a genetic disorder that tints her skin a deep shade of blue, her chances at marriage are few and far between, which is just fine with Cussy. She prefers her work as a pack horse librarian, chosen by a government program to bring books and reading to the remote Appalachian regions of the state.

Despite the joy she feels from delivering books and advice to the folks on her route,who also appreciate her services, Cussy is made downhearted by a local preacher who accuses her of being evil because of her blue skin and even endangers her life. The opportunity for a cure could change her life for the better but at what price and who else might stand in her way?

This does sound like a story that needed to be told sooner as the pack horse library that Cussy was a part of was real and should inspire others to spread the love of literature as far and as widely as they can(May):

No doubt they will be even more great books to check out as summer arrives, but I do think that this set of fresh new reads should make for a fine start. There will even be a few movie tie-in titles, such as Where'd You Go Bernadette, that should combine both forms of entertainment together like a beautiful bookish bow around a buttery bag of popcorn.

Kind of an awkward metaphor, I know but hopefully, you can find a good book based movie that can make the impending summer heat all the more bearable: