Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Friday, December 08, 2017

A bundle of holiday cheer from my Bookish Secret Santa

For the past couple of years, I've taken part in a special holiday gift exchange(arranged by Michelle Miller from True Book Addict) called Bookish Secret  Santa. Giving and getting these well chosen yet slightly secretive pack of presents with a book or two have fast become the highlight of my Christmas season.

This year, my Secret Santa, Charity Huchyt, was bright and early with her set of goodies for me. First up is a book that I'm happy to add to my Jenny Colgan collection, Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery, the third title in this delightful series.

We find our leading lady Polly at her beloved bake shop on Mount Polbearne island, preparing for the holiday season as well as her upcoming wedding to Huckle, her honey making honey. While life does get frenetic for her,along with her best friend Kerensa who is sharing a possible secret about her pregnancy, things are completely up turned when a major storm threatens to cut off the entire island from the main land.

 Granted, this is book three but it shouldn't be hard for any newcomer to dive into this saltwater taffy sweet story.  Jenny Colgan's tales are truly tasty delights any time of year and not just because she includes recipes in her food themed novels such as what many NOLA residents know well as a king cake. I may not be able to eat such treats but this charming book will feed my literary soul, that's for sure:

The reason that I can't eat a king cake,btw, is due to my being a Type 2 diabetic but fortunately there are some sweet treats that I can enjoy. My book also came with a bag of sugar free mini Hershey bars and a bag of Russell Stover mint chocolates, both of which are greatly appreciated.

Russell Stover sugar free candies have become my favorites with their smoothly sweet design and flavor varieties, not to mention choice of sugar substitute which is no joke, believe you me. In that department, it is not one size fits all!

Seriously, it is nice to have something this stylish and satisfying to indulge in once in a while under such a circumstance. Plus, Russell Stover is a quality brand that does make you feel part of the foodie festivities during a time like this,which is sweet of them indeed:

To round this holiday gift bundle off, an aloe vera mask with a pair of  cat themed Christmas socks were included. The ones I received are the gray striped ones in the photo on the left.

My own kitty cat Bella gave her feline approval to them and they're very comfortable to boot. Seasonal socks are great to have and much more convenient to add to any holiday outfit than one of those traditional ugly sweaters that folks love at this time of year.

Nothing against the sweaters there but I just prefer the socks. They are part of the classic Christmas tradition,after all, and offer a more practical sense of joy:

Much thanks to Charity and Michelle, for starting off my Christmas season just right. I have my own Bookish Secret Santa package to send out next week and I hope that my giftee is as pleased with the selections made as I am with mine.

 Between this and the first snow of the season to arrive this weekend, it does feel more like the holidays are here,which is a good feeling that I want to last right through New Year's. Having a good book and a few extra bonuses are a wonderful way to begin,so thank you yet again:

Monday, December 04, 2017

Make some royal family reading time this season

Between the real world announcement of another royal marriage in the making(congrats to Prince Harry and Megan!) and Netflix ready to release the second season of their historical fiction series The Crown, it's safe to say that British royalty has a nice revival moment on hand in pop culture.

To that end, I've rounded up a few novels about English regal reigns from the past to whet our colonial appetites for what's to come. First up is Daisy Goodwin's Victoria, which the author has already adapted into a miniseries airing on PBS.

Both the book and the show chronicle the early days of Queen Victoria's ascendancy to the throne, which gave the forcibly sheltered young woman a chance to become independent yet still also bound by duty and tradition. From her close ties to Prime Minister Lord Melbourne to resisting the influence of her mother's suitor Sir John Conroy, Victoria slowly but surely proves herself to be the formidable queen that history notes her as being.

I've watched Season One of Victoria and eager to see S2(which will debut in January of 2018),which should be a splendid way to keep warm during the cold winter months to come. I have only read Goodwin's The American Heiress yet just from that book, I know her to be an engaging writer who knows how to spin a story web as intricately beautiful as any royal tapestry:

To go a little further back in time, Philippa Gregory showcases The Last Tudor, as in Lady Jane Grey and her two sisters, Katherine and Mary.

With the demise of Henry the VIII's last legitimate son, Jane finds herself placed in a position to take the throne and is backed by Protestant forces wishing to avoid having the Catholic Princess Mary in power.

However, such plans go awry fatally and when Elizabeth I comes to power, Katherine risks all by marrying her lover Ned Seymour in secret. When he has to leave the country, she discovers herself to be with child and unable to prove that she is married which raises many suspicions and sends Katherine to the Tower.

As Mary shares a similar fate, Gregory highlights what each woman had to go through in a time where control of their lives was something that a rare few females of that day could imagine, not to mention find a way to do so and survive . Despite such struggles, the bonds of sisterhood gave them strength to endure and then some:

If you really want to find out who might be considered the great grandmother of English matriarchs, Elizabeth Chadwick has a trilogy of novels that follow the legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine into history.

Starting with The Summer Queen , Eleanor becomes a young bride of the intended King of France,who proves to be an ineffective leader at best and as she gains her freedom from him via annulment, The Winter Crown sees Eleanor joining forces with Henry of Normandy as he becomes the new King of England.

The final book in the trio is appropriately titled The Autumn Throne, as it shows Eleanor in the last years of her life still doing her duty by brokering a marriage for her son Richard the Lionhearted and trying to keep the peace between him and his brother John. This epic tale of a woman who shaped the course of the monarchy of England for many generations afterward is one that deserves to be retold over time and Chadwick honors that literary legacy well:

 These books should be a good start as we go along to check on the latest news of the impending royal wedding and check out Season Two of The Crown. I just started watching Season One and could kick myself for waiting this long to embrace this remarkable series. On the other hand, once I am done with that, my wait for more won't be as long:

Friday, December 01, 2017

The CW's Crisis on Earth X crossover delivers blockbuster thrills on a super small screen scale

While I grew up enjoying both DC and Marvel, most of my favorite shows as a kid were from DC. Wonder Woman,Super Friends, even the corny capers of Adam West's Batman made up a good portion of my imaginative identity.

This week, some of that childhood joy was recaptured as well as brought up to the next level with the CW's four part superhero series event, Crisis On Earth X, which combined Arrow,The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow into one major story line.

This is the second time that the network has done this and although that first outing was fun, this one definitely topped it. The focal point of this elaborate plot was the wedding of Barry Allen/The Flash to his longtime love Iris West. As expected, the guest list was quite varied, with plenty of super and non powered folk alike bringing their best wishes and a little emotional baggage to the ceremony.

Of course, the real chaos began at the wedding itself, which was enhanced by special guest Kara/Supergirl singing the very song that Barry proposed to Iris with(since both Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist are Glee alums, any time they're together is a great excuse for them to show off their pipes).

 A nice meta touch was having The Greatest American Hero star William Katt as the officiating priest but alas, his screen time was brief indeed due to the arrival of Nazis from Earth X:

Yes, I said Nazis and no, they are not thinly veiled versions either. In the mythos of DC, there are multiple Earths with different time lines in history and Earth X happens to be the one where WWII ended badly for the good guys.

Here, the invading force is lead by evil versions of Supergirl and Arrow(aka Overgirl and Dark Arrow), who are assisted by Barry's seemingly neverending nemesis,Reverse Flash. Their motives are about more than just invasion as one of the wedding guests is a target meant for a truly sinister purpose.

Before the reasons behind this attack of the worst wedding crashers ever are looked into, we get the first of several amazing battles between our heroes and their Nazi foes.

The fight scenes here are of the quality of a major motion picture, with excellent f/x and quick chemistry between good guys, some of whom barely know each other. Not to mention it was exhilarating to watch; given the current political atmosphere these days, this is a moment where seeing superheroes punch Nazis is truly perfect timing:

As someone who watches three out of the four shows on display here(even when I caught up with S1 of Arrow, I was still too far behind), I do have more of an advantage than a casual viewer in appreciating many of the subplots that blended themselves into this epic presentation.

Yet, I do feel that any fan of DC Comics in general or someone just tuning in would be able to catch to such things as Alex Danvers finding a way to get over her recent heartbreak, Felicity Smoak dealing with her cold feet issues regarding marriage and the complex relationship between the men who make up Firestorm. Exposition helped but also,the acting by all involved allowed those diverse emotions to add to the overall emergency facing everyone.

Meanwhile, regular viewers were treated to such delights as well placed pop culture references(one of my favorites was a Superman II quote), the introduction of a new hero,The Ray, who I hope to see more of and a new version of Captain Cold that uses his bad boy antics for the good as a resistance fighter on Earth X:

One of the things that really amazed me upon watching Crisis on Earth X is just how much more creative freedom the TV editions of these DC Comic characters have than their big screen counterparts seem to do.

While I haven't seen the Justice League movie(whose highest praise from most people seems to be "Well, it's better than that Batman vs. Superman,that's for sure!"),I honestly don't feel the need to,especially after this small screen event. Yes, I do adore the Wonder Woman film that came out earlier this year but from what I have seen of DC based movies lately, the CW is way more open to giving us great live action versions that live up to the promise of their print origins.

For one, we get more diverse representation not only with race and religion but also gay and bisexual characters who are not shoved into simple stereotypes and tropes. Also, there are plenty of strong women on hand, some of whom who use only the power of their intelligence and tech skills to help save the day.

 With the whole subject of Nazis in this story line, a proper line was drawn for dramatic purposes that didn't exploit the serious nature of the history here and also gave heroic moments to two Jewish characters, one of which made the ultimate sacrifice to save the world as well as a friend. Hollywood movies have touched upon these elements,of course, but not within this genre and it's important to do so,as this particular pop culture arena reaches a broader spectrum of the worldwide audience.

In an ironic way, the CW superhero shows are more capable of doing what the Marvel Cinematic Universe does best than any DC Comics film: create well developed characters and story arcs that further enhance their big tent pole movies. With each of these shows about to have their mid season break, it might be wise for the major studio folks to do a little binge watching over the holidays.

Crisis on Earth X was one of the best pieces of entertainment that I've seen this year and as I saw on Twitter those two nights, a strong majority of the fans agree. I really do hope that a couple of those bigwigs planning the next major DC movie takes a few notes as this crossover proves that DC epic events can be done right:

Monday, November 27, 2017

Doing my Holiday Library Haul with Trevor Noah and some mysterious companions

I seriously did not intend to head back to the library so soon and on a holiday weekend to boot but as it happened, a book that I placed on hold came in.

 For any book person, that last half of my statement is explanation enough and for others, yes, I did have a good amount of time to pick it up but just waiting until after Thanksgiving day was hard to do.

The book in question is one that I've been wanting to read for some time now. Trevor Noah's memoir,Born A Crime, has been getting excellent reviews but more importantly, it tells his true story of being in a racially divided nation, a part of history that's from a not-so-distant past.

The Daily Show host chronicles his childhood in South Africa,where to be born biracial like him was legally considered a criminal act. Noah talks about how daily life was difficult for his mother(it was dangerous for her to even walk down the street with her own son), the way his relatives engaged with him and what eventually inspired him to be a comedian.

Told in his humorous yet heartfelt style, this is a touchingly insightful look at a childhood that had to make major decisions due to race right up front and how Trevor Noah became the man that he is for it. I am so looking forward to reading this book,so much indeed:

In the meanwhile, I did have one book to return(The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman, which was a decent read),so that meant that I could get another one,despite still having a library book at home from my last visit that I just started. Talk about your tangled webs there!

Perhaps that is why I also borrowed The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. I've heard a lot of good word of mouth about her mystery novels and thought it was time to give her a try.

Our lead detective is Lo Blacklock, a travel writer in need of a rest. While taking a cruise aboard the luxury liner Aurora, Lo becomes convinced that the woman in the cabin next to hers has been done away with, despite the fact that there is no evidence of anyone having taken that cabin or any such person being on this particular voyage.

Lo refuses to buy into the notion that a recent trauma is causing her to not see the situation clearly and get some assistance from her ex-boyfriend Ben into solving this mystery. The plot does sound interesting and folks are comparing this story line to classic Agatha Christie ,which is good reason for me to stamp my passport for this sinister sailing adventure:

You would think that would be plenty,especially with one at home already but I couldn't resist grabbing one of the newest John Grisham titles. Camino Island is set in the world of rare book dealers, where a major heist is the theft of manuscripts by F. Scott Fitzgerald from a vault at the Princeton library.

Bruce Cable runs a specialty book shop in Florida, where such an item would be difficult to sell yet an encounter with Mercer Mann, an aspiring writer who is deep in student loan debt, draws him into the case.

When Bruce finds himself implicated in the crime, the urge to find the stolen manuscripts becomes more than an academic venture. It's been a good while since I read John Grisham and since I do have an interest in the used and rare book market, this seems like a fine way to get reacquainted with his work:

So, that makes four books on loan from the library, a lot for me at the moment. However, reading this quartet of books(which includes Paula Hawkins' Into The Water) and getting them back by Christmas should be a worthy challenge.

Renewal will be a big help in this endeavor,that's for sure. I swear, there is just something about being at the library that makes me crave books more than usual. Perhaps it's that revived sense of childhood wonder, with so many beautiful varieties of books all around me like a garden of words, that makes it such a temptation. Well, at least it's a temptation that only leads to good:

Friday, November 24, 2017

A trio of paperbacks to make your Book Buying Black Friday all the better

Happy day after Thanksgiving,folks,and I hope you all had a lovely day as well as a great meal with your loved ones.

 By now, most of you are engaging in the other annual tradition of this weekend, holiday gift shopping, and to that end, I'm recommending a threesome of fresh new paperbacks that should suit a few of the book lovers on your list.

First up is a special edition of L.M. Montgomery's iconic novel, Anne of Green Gables, from Penguin Classics Deluxe. Not only is this edition adorned with charming artwork by Siobhan Gallagher, it comes with an introduction by Benjamin Lefebvre(director of L.M. Montgomery Online) who details the struggles that the author faced in publishing her book.

There's also an engaging foreword by novelist J. Courtney Sullivan, who talks how Anne of Green Gables peaked her interest in writing and in maintaining life long friendships. To this day, one of her good friends is quick to reconnect with as they both loved the 1985 TV adaptation of the series and feel that it's the best one ever:

Being introduced to Anne with an "e" this year, I feel that any new edition of this delightful story is well worth having,whether you prefer your Anne Shirley to be old school or new. As to adaptations, I've enjoyed watching the current PBS films(the latest one,subtitled "The Good Stars" aired last night) and I'm sure even Marilla would agree that this Deluxe Edition would be a suitable and sensible gift for readers new and established indeed:

Next, for those seeking potential prize winners, we have Elmet by Fiona Mozley, a debut novel that was a major contender for the Man Booker Award this year.

This tale,set in the woods of Yorkshire, is narrated by Daniel,who is living with his father John and sister Cathy isolated from the wider world and their home life feels idyllic for the most part.

However, when a local landowner(who once had John on his payroll as an enforcer) becomes determined to take their land for his own financial gain in a larger project, Daniel's family finds their peaceful existence altered forever, yet not without a serious fight. A smartly written story that takes a sure and steady pace as it explores that pivotal fork in the road that we all must take, some sooner than others.

However, if the folks on your list are more in the mood for a sweet relaxing read, debut author Louise Miller has a slice of storytelling pie ready to serve.

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living has a Gilmore Girls flavor to it, only if chef Sookie St. James was the leading lady instead of Lorelai.  Olivia Rawlings decides to move to the small town of Guthrie in Vermont after her personal and professional life in Boston truly blows up on her.

Taking a job at the Sugar Maple Inn, Olivia finds that her culinary skills are still solid yet her new boss Margaret has a very high standard that is in serious need of maintaining. The reputation of the inn is built upon a lengthy winning streak in the apple pie contest at the county fair and that standard has sunken recently.

In addition to that, Olivia becomes attracted to Martin, a former musician who has returned home to Guthrie in order to help his ailing father out with the family farm. Can she create a winning recipe for her new work and love life? Quite the humorously heartfelt read to give and get this holiday season:

Best of luck on your holiday shopping sprees this weekend and I do hope that these suggestions are helpful. In the meanwhile, let us take a moment during the mad rush of gift buying to appreciate the wonderful reads that have sustained us through out the year. Having new books is great but giving thanks to the ones still on our shelves is important,too:

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Some special live action fun to flavor your Thanksgiving pop culture feast

With Thanksgiving only a couple of days away, I thought it was time for one last reminder of just how fun this holiday can be.

Since we all look forward to animated specials this time of year such as A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, it's also notable that there are a good number of live action specials that are just as delightful to look forward to as well.

The all-time classic in this category is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which starts off our Turkey Day in fine form with balloons, marching bands and scenes from current Broadway shows. The latter portion of that sentence is what I really enjoy watching these days; having a little preview of hits like Cats, Elf and Waitress(which fit in nicely last year with their pie themed songs) is like having dessert before dinner:

A few years ago, we were treated to a Lady Gaga Thanksgiving special, which sadly has not been repeated.

However, the musical showcase,complete with a cooking segment by Art Smith, is available on home video and I'm sure there are many households who will be playing it on their big screen TV in the background during meal time.

It was a lovely show, with Gaga in serious glam mode through out and singing some of her best songs along with a duet or two with Tony Bennett. I do love how dressed up she got for fried turkey and waffles:

If you're in the mood for laughs, Saturday Night Live will be airing a prime time special of their Thanksgiving themed skits over the years.

However, their latest episode with host Chance the Rapper had plenty of holiday style giggles on hand, such as this sketch that had Gotham City's Bruce Wayne getting some serious critiques about his "buddy" Batman's crime fighting techniques at the annual Wayne food drive:

For some foodie flair, you can always count on Rachael Ray to deliver the holiday goods. No doubt she'll have a great episode on air to help out and entertain during your cooking time.

Her daytime talk show has heaps of Thanksgiving delight, from cooking tips to table settings and quirky things you can do with food. This clip of a woman who creates works of art with edible items is a treat in and of itself:

I wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving and to round this live action salute out, I give you a second serving of Chance the Rapper on SNL as he gives us a new Thanksgiving song that should come in handy once your relatives arrive:

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Library Haul and a back to the Binchy reread

One thing that I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving is having an active library card,not to mention making a little library trip to have new reads in time for Turkey Day.

My first pick was Into the Water, the much anticipated second thriller from Paula Hawkins,whose debut The Girl on the Train was truly a runaway hit. Granted, I thought the TGOTT was just okay yet it was very addictive to read(one of those stay-up-all-night deals),so I'm willing to take a shot with this one.

The leading lady of this story is Jules Abbot, who reluctantly returns to her home town of Beckford due to the death of her estranged sister Nel. She met her demise by drowning in a local lake known as the Drowning Pool, infamous for the watery graves that many women have found there over the years.

Jules not only has to untangle the mysteries surrounding her sister's death and the other Drowning Pool victims, she has a teenage niece named Lana to try and connect with as well. This set-up has an old fashioned feel to it that might be worth investigating,even with the batch of mixed reviews Into the Water has gotten so far. Who knows, I might like it better than Girl on the Train,we shall see:

The library book that I started reading,however, is Allegra Goodman's The Chalk Artist which has a variety pack of storytelling to unfold.

We first begin with a budding romance between Collin, a struggling of sort artist looking for direction in his life, and Nina, a new to the system teacher struggling to connect with her students. As things go on, Collin learns that Nina's father is a high tech mogul who invented one of the biggest video games of all time.

While Nina wants to get Collin a job with her father, she's worried about how that could change the nature of both relationships. Also, one of her students, Aidan, becomes pulled into a viral marketing scheme to promote the newest version of the game and that could have serious real world repercussions.

These story lines seem far apart but Goodman slowly yet surely draws them close together. The characters are instantly engaging, one of the author's hallmarks, and I'm more than willing to see what will become of them as the pages turn.

Meanwhile, with the holidays fast approaching(not to mention the horror of the daily headlines), I am feeling the need for some emotional comfort food and the best place for that on my bookshelf is my Maeve Binchy section.

Yes, I do have a good chunk of space devoted to the Irish authoress who is sadly no longer with us. I was well into her books before Tara Road was an Oprah pick and rereading it now is doing me a world of good.

Sure, it's a bit melodramatic at times but so what? Binchy always managed to level that out with solid characters and plots that had the ring of realism with a small town flair, even if some of her stories were set in a big city like Dublin.

The plot of Tara Road is what I always liked to call "female friendly" as two women sharing a troubling time in their lives swap houses and countries in order to recoup and reassess. We start off with Ria Lynch, a seemingly happy housewife who is willing to sacrifice for her charming husband Danny but he betrays her good nature to a point where she has to make a stand.

 Once she spends some time in America at the Connecticut home of Marilyn(who is mourning the loss of her son), she begins to get a new sense of herself as well as a new lease on life.

 The book was originally published in 1999 but still stands up as a heartfelt read. Binchy didn't sugar coat the problems that her characters faced, instead she showed just how people felt they should either deal with or ignore the situation at hand until finding the solution at hopefully just the right time.

Some might still think that Binchy's work(and other writers like her) are frivolous entertainment but they couldn't be more wrong. While her books are comforting, they're not simply candy flavored tonics for the spirit. Rather, they give readers a sense of hope that good things are possible despite the bad times in front of you and the way things are now, we could all use a nice relaxing read such as this to help us out:

Don't get me wrong, I'll be reading plenty of new books before this year is out(finally got started on my last Series-ous Reading selection,The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss). Yet, it is nice to revisit an old friend as it were,book wise.

Chances are that I will be making another library visit soon,which is great but I do wish that one of those little lending libraries that people set up in their neighborhoods was within my reach. Then again, my withdrawals vs my deposits might not be as well balanced there,so best to avoid temptation!: