Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Honoring Jane Austen's legacy with a tea cup full of P&P flavored humor

Today is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's departure from this earth, an occasion marked by her fans with fond remembrances of her life and works. A solemn moment, to be sure, yet I do believe that the lady herself would not mind a little bit of laughter in her honor as well.

After all, this is the woman who had one of her characters proclaim "For what we do live but to make sport for our neighbors and be laughed at them in our turn?" as well as have another one say that "Follies and nonsense,whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.” 

Both of those lines come from Pride and Prejudice, the most celebrated of Austen's novels, and with that in mind, I have arranged a quartet of parody pastries for your Austen amusement, a little satirical snack,if you will, to liven up the tone of this somber event:

A MOST REFRESHING REFRESHER: Let us begin with a riveting recap of P&P, in a laugh fest of a lecture from Professor Sparky Sweets from his acclaimed Thug Notes series.

His most amusing analysis shows us the immense irony lying beneath the surface of what could easily be seen as a simple love story, not to mention that Darcy and Lizzy both acted the fool at times:

SOME POSH DANCING PUFFS: The fine fellows of Mitchell and Webb were kind enough to serve up a lovely silly soufflé of a skit where Darcy, Elizabeth and the always charming(not) Caroline Bingley chat about dancing.

Debating the merits of the conga vs. freestyle disco is entertaining enough but the true moment of joy comes when Darcy finally says to Caroline what many of us have longed to tell her for a good number of years and it was well worth the wait indeed:

A BEEFY BITE OF TIME TRAVEL: Worlds do collide in rather an odd fashion in this Impressions Show skit where the time traveling lead of the British series Ashes to Ashes runs into Mr. Darcy and finds him guilty of being "an arrogant fancy pants".

Quite the scurrilous charge, especially with Wickam as the chief witness to such a crime. However, all's well that ends well as DCI Hunt is delighted to investigate further, starting with the Bennet sisters:

A RATHER LOADED BINGLEY BUN: This is a new recipe for laughter (to me,at least) from a group known as Pineapple Shaped Lamps, who image what Darcy's BFF aka Mr. Bingley's version of internet communications would be like.

Quite naturally, these drunken texts would be in a more tangible form than our modern day editions, not to mention that servants would have to deliver many of these misguided missives. Also, that it would be rather easy for anyone else to read them and unlike the naive Jane, catch on to their true meaning far too quickly:

I do wish everyone a good day of Jane Austen reading and remembering, along with looking back with merriment at the pleasures she has given us with her lively wit and delightful story telling. Even her unfinished works bring us plenty of happy thoughts and hopefully, we will always look to Jane Austen for those much needed bursts of humor that make the hardships of life all the more bearable:

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Female Fab Four at this year's Emmys

The Emmy nominations were announced last week and for once, I'm actually excited. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of good TV out there but when it comes to award shows, they rarely highlight programs that I watch.

Part of my joy comes from certain ladies being nominated and on top of that list is Leslie Jones, up for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy series, along with her SNL co-stars Kate McKinnon and Vanessa Bayer(who, ironically enough, is leaving the show).

Leslie is one of my favorite people on Saturday Night Live,due to her strong comedy timing(yes, she gets a little nervous during the skits every now and then but who hasn't on that show,seriously?) and full commitment to whatever concept is being presented, whether it's flirting with Colin Jost during a Weekend Update bit or a short film following her fictitious relationship with a fellow cast member.

In fact, I do wonder why Leslie isn't given more time on SNL. Sure, Kate McKinnon is amazing but they are giving her some major overtime there and Leslie has the chops to create a reoccurring character or two here, come on, Lorne Michaels! She is one of your star players, take her off the bench!:

SNL has a record number of nominations this year, due strongly in part to Melissa McCarthy, who is in the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series category for her spot-on Sean Spicer impersonation.

I've always been a huge Melissa McCarthy fan yet this incredibly uncanny take on the press secretary has truly exceeded any and all expectations. Those skits have become a humor highlight for those of us dismayed by current events and gave us a good opportunity to release our collective tension through laughter.

No doubt she'll win and probably Alec Baldwin, who was also nominated for his Trump skits this season (although, if you ask me, there is someone else on another channel that is doing a way better job in that department) will get an award that night. It would be shocking if she didn't win but I find it hard to believe that would happen. Any entertainer who can make such a major media impact as her performance has deserves to be honored by her peers indeed:

In the drama categories, the Netflix series Stranger Things has garnered a good chunk of Emmy noms, including one for Millie Bobby Brown in the Outstanding Supporting Actress section(yes, Barb got nominated,too, for Guest Actress).

Her role as Eleven, the enigmatic girl with a taste for Eggos, is one of the main heart beats of this story and for such a young performer to create a character as vivid as this one with a minimum of dialogue is quite a feat. I haven't seen acting on this level for some time now, on the big screen as well as the small, and hopefully, this is the start of a wonderful long term career for this talented young lady:

Meanwhile, the third season of Fargo was the first one for me, as I gave this F/X series a try and boy,howdy, this show was definitely worth watching.

Apparently, the Emmys agree as S3 was given a solid number of nominations in the Limited Series categories, including one for Carrie Coon as Lead Actress. Playing Gloria Burgle, the steadfast police woman with little faith in technology, she was a heartfelt heroine whose moments were subtle yet supremely breath taking to behold:

That category is going to be tough, as Carrie Coon is up against both Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as the leading ladies of Feud: Bette & Joan. I have to say that F/X is certainly becoming a powerhouse when it comes to ground breaking and quality TV these days.

The Emmy awards will be handed out in September, giving many of us a chance to catch up on some of the shows being touted here. Feud in particular is a grand character study on the perils of Hollywood for women, which is still sadly relevant today and a major must-see in my opinion.

Overall, what I'm really happy about are the many opportunities for women on the small screen, whether it's network, cable or streaming. Sure, many more strides need to be made and it would be nice if the silver screen followed suit but for now, let us hope that someday in the future, a series like Feud: Bette & Joan is a depiction of a bygone era that's truly gone for good:

Friday, July 14, 2017

Tim Hanley is your purr-fect guide to The Many Lives of Catwoman

Comic book based heroines do have a rough road to travel down as they have to fight more than just the usual batch of bad guys. Part of their daily dose of obstacles are sexism, exploitation and badly written live action roles from Hollywood.

However, those foils can be overcome via time and persistence but what if your leading lady happens to be a villianess or more of an anti-heroine? The game is set up a bit differently there yet not impossible to play to win. In Tim Hanley's latest comic book character history, The Many Lives of Catwoman, he details the numerous twists and turns that this "felonious feline" has taken over the years.

The character was introduced into the Batman comics in 1940 and she quickly become one of the most popular enemies of the Caped Crusader, particularly due to the flirtatious cat and mouse games they played with one another.

Known by numerous aliases, her most persistent name was Selina Kyle and her M.O. was that of a jewel thief who had a fierce fondness for cat related items as well. While her outfits and various methods of crime changed over the years, Selina's teasing relationship with Batman pretty much stayed the same:

Unfortunately during the comic book censorship craze of the 1950s, Catwoman was kept out of the Batman series for about thirteen years due to concerns over her image. Oddly enough, she paid more of a penalty for such fear-mongering than many of the male characters under scrutiny at the time.

Thankfully, the campy Batman TV show in the sixties brought her back from pop culture exile. Once again, Selina became the bad girl belle of the Batman ball due in part to actress Julie Newmar's sexy sass in her depiction of the "Princess of Plunder."

While Lee Meriweather(who played Catwoman in the TV movie version) and Eartha Kitt in particular, gave the role their own special nuance, Julie Newmar is still considered to be the quintessential version of this frisky frenemy:

 Catwoman also came back to the comic books, even having her own separate story line in a series of her own by the seventies and 1980s. Yet, she also was showcased as less of a thief and more of a former "working girl" turned street vigilante.

The character was redefined once again by a live action version, this time in the now iconic Batman Returns in 1992. Hanley devotes a full chapter to this film, complete with behind the scenes info and makes a very credible argument for the notion that Catwoman was the only major character who completed a full emotional arch and achieved success in her goals, unlike her distracted male counterparts:

A full chapter is also given to the infamous flop that was the Catwoman movie in 2004. Starring Oscar winner Halle Berry and credited with several writers, the film was universally panned by audiences and critics alike as well as a highlight of the Golden Raspberry awards.

Hanley goes over the twenty year development that lead to this cinematic catastrophe, with scripts that bordered on ludicrous to begin with(an early one had Catwoman sent to a town called Oasisburg with amnesia to fight a cult of superheroes lead by Captain God) to producers who insisted that Catwoman had magical powers(she doesn't).

Hanley states the case that this film was a wasted opportunity and an easy excuse for Hollywood executives to not greenlight any female driven superhero movies for far too long. Hopefully, that all will change with the success of the Wonder Woman movie, giving Catwoman a chance to climb out of the kitty litter penalty box on that account:

 In addition to other live action takes on the character, such as Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises and a young Selina Kyle on the TV series Gotham, the book also showcases the animated versions of Catwoman, both for the small screen and video games.

The comic book/graphic novel incarnations of Catwoman are prominently featured as well, including an arch that made Selina the head of a mobster family in order to clean up some sins of the past. It's interesting to see the influences that various artists and writers have had over the character, which Hanley chronicles in engaging fashion.

As someone who has read Tim Hanley's previous works about Wonder Woman and Lois Lane, I was more than eager to snatch this comic book catnip up and happy to report that it is a fine read indeed. Much like his other books, Hanley gives the reader a fully formed look at the character and her pop culture fortunes over the years, adding new insights into the material and shining a spotlight on certain myths that don't hold up in full focus.

The Many Lives of Catwoman is an excellent portrait of one of the most celebrated and debated pop culture creations of our time and yes, a purr-fect way to look beyond the cat suit and into the heart of such an independent subversive spirit:

Monday, July 10, 2017

A few page turning recommendations from stars of the small screen

As any reader knows, looking for a new book recommendation can quickly become an overwhelming literary avalanche of suggestions from dozens of friends,family and reviewers,each one clamoring for you to pick their specially selected book.

I find it always helps to narrow things down a bit in order to gain a sense of clarity and while some might find celebrity book club selections to be a bit too mainstream, often times that dose of star power can really highlight a promising book by a perhaps not as well known as they should be author.

A prime example of this is the latest Oprah Book Club 2.0 selection, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. This is a debut novel that talks about immigration and the American Dream, giving a human face to those very topics that are high on the current events list at the moment.

The story begins in 2007, where a recent immigrant from Cameroon, Jende Jenga, considers himself lucky to have been hired as a chauffeur to Clark Edwards, a wealthy Wall Street executive. Jende lives in Harlem with his wife Neni and their young son and eager to make a better life for them all, including Neni taking a job in the Edwards household.

 By tying their future to the Edwards family, however, Jende and Neni find themselves becoming more involved that they wish to with their employers' lives and fortunes, particularly when the financial crash of 2008 occurs. I've heard wonderful things about this thoughtful and emotionally engaging book and having someone like Oprah highlight it on the shelves is a true bonus for any new author indeed:

Meanwhile, actress Reese Witherspoon is no stranger to scooping up good books to make movies and TV shows,such as HBO's Big Little Lies,from.

Nowadays, she has her own book club(featured on Instagram) and her new featured selection is The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. The title refers to a spy ring that began in France during WWI, with all of the female operatives going by the name of Alice.

We follow a new recruit to the network,Eve, as she undergoes espionage training in 1915, hoping to do her part against the German forces. Under the tutelage of Lili, the renowned "Queen of Spies", she is able to achieve her goals but suffers for decades afterward, due to a betrayal that destroyed the network.

In 1947, Eve is now alone in her despair and drinking heavily when a young American named Charlie St. Clair comes barging into her life. Charlie has been sent to Europe in disgrace, due to her out of wedlock pregnancy, and hopes to find her cousin Rose who disappeared during the height of the Second World War.  Since Rose had connections to the French Resistance, Eve may know of a way to find her and possibly find some sort of redemption as well.

This certainly sounds like it would make a great movie/miniseries and even if Witherspoon doesn't option it, The Alice Network should make for a grand summer adventure in reading:

Another literary minded actress,Sarah Jessica Parker has become the honorary chairperson for the American Library Association's Book Club Central and her first pick is Stephanie Powell Watts' No One is Coming to Save Us.

The story is a modern take on the classic themes of The Great Gatsby, as JJ Robinson returns to his home town of Pinewood in South Carolina with plenty of money and plans to build an elaborate mansion, the better to court his former high school sweetheart Ava with.

However, those plans are not as easy to pull off as time has changed many things and many people in Pinewood, especially Ava, who is married to Henry, a man whose furniture business is failing and her mother Sylvia, seeking comfort for her lost son Devon via regular phone calls to a young man in prison.

By marrying an All American book like Gatsby to a present day look at how those American dreams are affecting the African-American community, Powell Watts appears to have created a new classic for generations to come.

This novel has gotten considerable praise already and it's author has won several awards for her previous short story collection,We Are Taking Only What We Need. This extra promotion,however, is quite an honor and not just because of Sarah Jessica Parker(who is also running a literary imprint for a major publisher as well). Having the ALA place your work in such a spotlight is something that most library patrons can only dream of and no doubt being the first one chosen is the cherry on top of the sweet successful sundae:

You don't need to look to celebrities for good reading ideas, of course, but they do attract more attention to newer works that could use some extra media love. If you prefer someplace a little more bookish for fresh suggestions, there are a good number of them around such as Book Reporter, Book Page and naturally, Book Riot to seek out those literary treasures that may be buried on a shelf near you.

 In the end, it may not matter where you heard about a potentially good book just as long as you find it or it finds you for a wonderful experience together:

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Setting up my picnic TBR for the High Summer Readathon

With the rest of the summer season before us, it's a good time to make those plans for fun that doesn't have to be in the sun and what better way to do that than a readathon?

Seasons of Reading is already asking for folks to sign up for their High Summer Readathon, a two week event that also includes a 48 hour Christmas in July reading romp as well.

 Sounds like an excellent opportunity to catch up on some of those "been meaning to get to" books and so far, I have a decent short list of titles that I'm reserving for this occasion. Most likely, I'll include a few other books(depending on my reading speed and life events) but at the moment, this quartet of reads is my starting point:

RICH PEOPLE PROBLEMS: This is the third book in Kevin Kwan's series of high society satires set within the Asian community. Upon hearing news of his grandmother's possible demise, former favored grandson Nicholas Young heads to her grand estate in Singapore, hoping to make amends to her before it's too late.

Unfortunately, the rest of the family shows up to fight for a piece of the inheritance,causing more misunderstandings and mishaps than a reality show. In addition to that, there are a couple of other dramas involving a secret affair and a stepmother/stepdaughter competition for social media fame.

It's probably best to read the first two books,Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend, to get the flow of the story lines and characters if you haven't yet but have an interest in this book. Trust me, this delightful trio of snappy social snark mixed with honest emotion is a luxury vacation all in it's own and I look forward to seeing what Kevin Kwan does next:

SUMMER AT LITTLE BEACH STREET BAKERY: Having enjoyed a few of Jenny Colgan's previous works,including the book prior to this one, it only makes sense to save a summer themed title for this particular readathon.

As we rejoin Polly Waterford, she seems to be living the sweet life at her seaside bakery until the owner of the building passes away and the new folks in charge are less than thrilled with the quaint nature of the place.

That leaves Polly no choice but to take her business elsewhere, as in a van that becomes a bakery on wheels. Other dilemmas pop up, as her beekeeper beau is keeping a secret or two and her darling pet puffin causes some unintentional trouble. Nevertheless, Polly will find a way to sort things out and as in many of Jenny Colgan's charming stories, mix in a recipe for tasty treats and true love along the way:

BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE: I have to say that Fredrik Backman is an author that I'm so happy to have gotten into and the reason that I take my time between his books is to make the joy of reading them last longer.

The leading lady of this story was a supporting player in Backman's My Grandmother Says to Tell You That She's Sorry, who was not the most likable neighbor to say the least. Britt-Marie has left her husband and moved far away to the remote town of Borg, with little to recommend it other than a main road.

Her knack for cleaning and forthright nature soon lands her a job at the soon to be demolished recreation center as well as a coaching position for the local children's soccer team. Will the softer side of Britt-Marie shine thought? Perhaps but not without a bit of a fuss, which is what makes her such an engaging person to watch.

 I know that there's more to come from Backman(he does have a new book out at the moment) and there is a novella of his that I haven't read yet. Yet, like a wonderfully strange sweet treat, I can't help but wonder how long such novel goodness will be around:

ARENA: For something completely different, I thought I'd try this first book in a new sci-fi series. Our heroine, Kali Ling, is the first female captain of her virtual reality team, a game that has become a real blood sport in the year 2054.

Her team is a major competitor in the RAGE tournaments run by the Virtual Gaming League , which are shown worldwide. Kali is pleased to be given such an honor,despite the death of the previous captain via overdose, and fiercely determined to become the best there is.

However, RAGE takes a harsh toll on it's players, as each of them feels pain when they have a virtual "death" and that leads them to drug abuse, hard partying and a disconnect from reality. With the help of a new player named Rooke, Kali struggles to break free of that vicious cycle and see where her real enemies are. This certainly sounds promising and ought to be an intriguing take on video game adventures indeed:

There's plenty of time to sign up for the High Summer Readathon as it runs from July 17 to July 30 with the Christmas in July event being held on the last weekend. That holiday themed portion of the readathon is optional(I might not do the Christmas reads myself) and the whole thing is simply meant to be a time to just relax and read.

You can follow the HSR on Twitter(#HSreadathon) and yes, there is a Facebook group as well. What with the warm weather and the chaotic nature of world events these days, finding a good way to de-stress is vitally important for your emotional health, not to mention taking you to a place of literary zen:

Monday, July 03, 2017

A look at the muses of might that inspired Netflix's GLOW

I am pleased to report that one of my summer TV viewing goals has been completed, thanks to a weekend binge watch with my sister of Netflix's GLOW, loosely based on the mid-1980's women's wrestling series.

The show is fun and at times funny yet not devoid of real drama between the characters with standout performances by Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and Marc Maron. Even if you didn't grow up with the actual GLOW series, there's plenty of nostalgic entertainment to go all around.

The series also manages to capture the wild and wacky(as well as sadly stereotypical) nature of the wrestling characters created by and for the girls and some of the fun factor in watching this version is seeing which actual GLOW personalities are being fictionally showcased here. To that end, this is my short list of who is actually who in the ring:

ZOYA/NINOTCHKA: On the Netflix series, Alison Brie plays Ruth, a struggling actress who is holding on to her spot on the GLOW line-up by the skin of her teeth.

In order to make herself indispensable, she creates the perfect heel(a villain in wrestling terms) to go up against one of the better wrestlers, who also happens to be her former best friend, becoming Zoya the Destroya, a ruthless Russian.

Zoya is clearly based on Ninotckka, who was said to be a former colonel from Russia and who loved to ridicule audiences with her Soviet supremacy shtick. She was played by actress Lori Palmer and often displayed a nice sense of comic timing during the mini-skits that the show had the girls do in between matches. Ninotchka was one of the few characters to last during the entire four year run of the original show, thanks to her unbridled zest for over the top villainy:

LIBERTY BELLE/AMERICANA: Betty Gilpin plays Debbie,  a former soap opera actress whose marriage is falling apart and is eagerly recruited by the director of GLOW as the main headliner.

She becomes Liberty Belle, an All-American champion who goes up against Ruth's Zoya with a rather personal motivation indeed. While reluctant to take the role, Betty eventually embraces the power of Liberty Belle as she steps into the ring.

To old school fans, this character is meant to be Americana, the feisty fighter for freedom who took on all enemies of democracy but especially Ninotchka. She was played by Cindy Maranne and only lasted for two seasons, with her red,white and blue banner taken up by other characters such as the Southern Belles and cheerleader Susie Spirit. Nonetheless, Americana was a real fan favorite who still has s bit of a following there:

MACHU PICCHU/MT.FIJI: One of the supporting players on Netflix's GLOW line-up is Britney Young as Carmen, who comes from a family of established pro wrestlers.

While she has the legacy and physical strength to become a formidable female champion, her father is dead set against her joining up but defy him she does and takes the name Machu Picchu with some backup from one of the show's backers.

To me, it seems that she's based upon the legendary Mt. Fiji, played by Emily Dole, who was not from a family of professional fighters yet was an Olympic contender in the early 80s. Before GLOW, did a small role in the film Personal Best, along with several other top athletes. Later on, she also made appearances on Mama's Family and Son In Law with Pauly Shore.

Mt. Fiji was always one of the heroines of the show, the one that came to many a tag team partner's rescue(including her own sisterly partner called Little Fiji) and had a winning personality to match her winning moves in the ring. She was a solid standard for the entire run of the GLOW series and a real sweetheart who never failed to showcase her strength when called upon:

SHEILA THE SHE-WOLF/DEMENTIA: Quite the memorable character is Gayle Rankin's Sheila, who just doesn't don this wolf girl outfit for her wrestling gig. It's a full time persona that she guards fiercely, even from her reluctant roommate Ruth, who is more that willing to understand.

There were a few supernatural based characters on the original GLOW, including one called the Princess of Darkness, but my best bet is that Sheila is taken from Dementia, who was played by two different actresses(Michelle Duze and Nancy Daley) during the second and third season.

Dementia was sort of a Friday the 13th meets William Castle's Strait-Jacket, as she often came out in a cage wearing a hockey mask and carrying an ax. Other times, she would have a doll or other toys that distracted her from the bout that she was taking part in and wasn't the best tag team partner to have there. Then again, she wasn't the best one on one fighter either but always oddly interesting to watch:

As of this writing, there is no confirmation of a second season for GLOW but I can't see why there wouldn't be. This is a smart and savvy show that focuses on female relationships in and out of the ring with plenty of satirical knockout punches to pack for a few more rounds.

 It's also good to have an excuse to relive those goofy glory days with the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, who are being honored as the awesome misfit maidens of might that they were. Give them a Season 2,Netflix! We certainly could use some women warrior power anywhere we can get it these days:

Friday, June 30, 2017

Rejoicing in Jane Austen themed goodness this summer

While some books and authors feel more suited to one season of the year than others,such as Dickens for example, certain writers are able to be ready for reading all the year round.

 Jane Austen falls into the latter category for me and that includes books inspired by her literary legacy.

 The other day, I finished reading Kathleen A. Flynn's The Jane Austen Project, which is not an academic study as one might think upon first glance but rather a debut novel with a rather creative premise.

Dr. Rachel Katzman and actor Liam Finucane travel from a not too distant future to England of 1815, volunteers in a time travel experiment whose goal is to seek out the acquaintance of Jane Austen. They are charged with finding and making copies of her letters to elder sister Cassandra(which were destroyed upon her death) as well as the completed manuscript of Austen's final yet unfinished novel The Watsons.

 In order to complete their mission, Rachel and Liam must pose as a brother and sister, William and Mary Ravenswood, who have sold their holdings in the West Indies and arrive in London with a considerable fortune.

With Liam maintaining an identity as a doctor, he is first able to be introduced to Jane's brother Henry,particular when Henry falls ill for a brief time.  During their growing friendship,it is not long before Henry takes a fancy to Rachel, enough of one that she is introduced to the rest of the Austen family and most importantly, Jane.

As time goes by, however, things become more complicated as both Rachel and Liam struggle not to alter the past,which might endanger the timeline and their journey home. That becomes harder to do as Jane's ill health becomes more noticeable(a bit sooner than expected) and Henry's finances are in serious jeopardy.

To make matters perhaps worse, Rachel and Liam find themselves becoming romantically attached to each other, a dangerous issue considering the personae they have adapted for this moment in time.

Will their Jane Austen goals be met or are Rachel and Liam doomed to be trapped in time? I shall not say more about the plot,although I can safely proclaim that this is a story that honors the romantic spirit of Austen's works.

 The ways of life in the Regency era are well detailed and the science fiction elements are not overwhelming. Instead, both story components are as well blended as a good cup of specially brewed tea.

Rachel is the driving character here and her mixed emotions, from having to repress her forthright nature due to the social norms of the day to fighting her feelings for both Henry and Liam at times, really keeps the story firmly centered. The Jane Austen Project is a charmingly inventive tale that is sure to delight many an Austen fan who often wonders what it would be like to engage with their favorite author or have a foot in both our world and hers:

Another Austen themed novel on my TBR these days is Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge and the Austin of the title is spelled correctly as it refers to the city in Texas where our sisterly heroines must retreat to.

Jane and Cecilia Woodward have no choice but to close their beloved tea shop in San Francisco, due to their father's financial ruin. Packing up for new territory,with younger sister Margot along for the ride, is not as easy as it seems and adjusting to their new circumstances brings out some long hidden tensions between them both.

When Jane has two potential suitors at hand, one of whom is possibly a bit too good to be true, the bonds of sisterhood may be the ultimate decider in choosing the man that's truly the love of her life. This modern take on Sense and Sensibility sounds like a delightful lark and hopefully, the Willoughby of this story is more of a heartwarmer than a heartbreaker:

I will get to that one soon but at the moment, I'm enjoying a reread of Jane Austen in Boca by Paula Marantz Cohen and later this season, plan to revisit The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet as well. Yes, Jane Austen in all of her forms is indeed fashionable for any occasion and a perfect refuge from the hectic romps of the day(summer parties included) yet staying in tune with the world somewhat is just as important, as Jane would no doubt say herself:

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Building a bit of mystery with my latest book haul

Summer has it's many challenges, one of them being that the end of the month usually leads to a holiday weekend. With that in mind, I was glad to do my library book returns early(managed to finish all three books in good time) and pick up a couple of titles that I've been meaning to get to for awhile there.

I was in a mystery mood,perhaps due to a special package in the mail(more on that in a moment),and decided to borrow Fiona Barton's The Widow. The unfortunate lady of the title is Jean Taylor, whose husband Glen was the prime suspect in the disappearance of a little girl.

Jean stood by her husband and never wavered in her public professions of his innocence. Now that Glen has died,under somewhat suspicious circumstances, will her story change? Ambitious reporter Kate Waters is determined to find out, along with the police detective that risked his career trying to bring Glen to justice. Jean becomes willing to tell her tale but her listeners may not like what they hear.

This was Barton's debut novel and the word from both readers and critics was strongly positive, so I'm happy to get a crack at this. Fiona Barton has her second book out already called The Child, which I may also borrow from the library if The Widow is as good as promised. I hope the author won't mind that but then again, I did hear that she's a library fan, as many of the best people are:

I was in the mood for mystery that day, due to receiving a review copy of Anthony Horowitz's Magpie Murders a few days earlier. I started reading it right away and full disclosure, the book came with a tie-in tote bag which still makes me giddy with delight. However, that extra bonus does not influence my feelings about the story.

The plot here is twofold, as we begin with book editor Susan Ryeland settling in at home to read the latest and possibly final entry in mystery writer Alan Conway's series of Agatha Christie style novels featuring private detective Atticus Pund.

As we and Susan read Conway's new book, which are set in a small English town in the 1950s involving the local manor known as Pye Hall, the sense that another mystery,possible from real life, is hidden beneath the surface.

 When the book comes to an abrupt end, Susan tries to contact the author for more, only to discover that he has just passed away. Determined to solve both the fictional and factual cases at hand, she has to assume the mantle of her favorite detective but that may prove more to be more challenging than any adventure Atticus Pund has faced.

 Getting two for the price of one is a real treat when it comes to story telling and so far, my only complaint is that we don't have any other engagingly written Atticus Pund mysteries to explore:

The other advanced review book that came with Magpie Murders has a few mystery elements in it yet it's not quite in that genre. The title alone suggests a rather Gothic tone mixed with female friendly fiction.

The Lightkeeper's Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol begins with Elizabeth, a woman whose failing eye sight requires her to have some help going through the recently recovered journals of her deceased father who ran the local lighthouse seventy years ago. Her assistant is Morgan, a troubled teen doing community service, and as the two of them uncover a mystery from the past that may have connections to Morgan's present day circumstances.

Their combined interest and the intrigue that comes with it leads to an emotional bond that hopefully will aid them when all is revealed. The book is due out by July 4 and sounds like a sweet summer read indeed.

Heading back to the library, I did pick up something that was completely different from the mystery direction that I've been pointed in. Carrie Fisher's The Princess Diarist is the iconic actress/author's last literary take on her legendary role as Star War's Princess Leia, told with her usual zest and humor.

Having read a couple of her novels years ago(Postcards from the Edge was one of them and I just re-watched the film adaptation about a week ago), I'm familiar with her verbal style but in nonfiction, her forthright nature truly soars and I just got to the Harrison Ford chapter, which I am so looking forward to hearing more, like the chorus of "Summer Nights".

While I do wish both Carrie and her mother Debbie Reynolds were still with us, at least we do have their films and in Carrie's case, a few good books to keep their place in pop culture history properly bookmarked:

Since my holiday plans are in the now traditional staycation mode, I may be able to finish at least the two books that I've already started here before the last hot dog of the day is eaten. We shall see but I am happy to be able to relax at home with my loved ones and some good reads.

 Traveling is fine,of course, but the only place that I want to haul books to is my bedside table and the less need I have for travel guides the better:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Setting up some Beach Book Bingo for July and August of 2017

We're officially into summer, with the July Fourth weekend(which is rather long this year,thanks to the holiday being on a Tuesday) just around the corner. 

This is the time when folks began their serious vacation plans or simply arrange a little at-home leisure time to enjoy a brief break from the everyday world and these days, we certainly need to do just that.

I know that a few people hear the term "beach books" and think it's all lighthearted fare,which it can be, yet it doesn't have to mean mindless entertainment. You can have some solid food for thought with your page turning excitement-think Wonder Woman, not Michael Bay's endless Transformers movies! Don't get me wrong, I like blockbuster fare as well but when it comes to finding good reads this July and August, you can mix and match a bit:

SISTERS IN SUSPENSE: In Riley Sager's upcoming novel Final Girls, we met Quincy, who is resisting the title label given to her by the media upon being the lone survivor of a cabin-in-the-woods murder spree ten years ago.

While rebuilding her life and establishing a successful baking blog, Quincy makes a few friends who have gone through similar experiences and when one of them dies under suspicious circumstances, Samantha appears on her doorstep.

 She's also a Final Girl who thinks they need to stick together yet Quincy begins to wonder what her true motives are, not to mention trying to recall those lost memories of that deadly decade old encounter from her own past. This sounds like a great thrill ride that could offer plenty of scary and savvy twists and turns along the way(July):

 POWERFUL PERIOD DRAMAS:  Linnea Hartsuyker takes us back to the days of the Vikings in her debut novel, The Half Drowned King, which tells of a separated brother and sister who fight to reunite.

Ragnvald is meant to inherit his family's lands but in a betrayal arranged by his stepfather Olaf, he is left for dead on the high seas. Upon being rescued and aided by a fisherman, he seeks revenge and restoration of his birthright.

Meanwhile, his sister Svanhild is being forced into a loveless marriage by Olaf and when an opportunity opens up for her to break free, she grasps it strongly, despite having to rely on Solvi, the man who was a major ally in betraying her brother. As each sibling makes their way towards home, their choices are harder to make yet not impossible to survive.

 Hartsuyker was inspired by a potential ancestor of hers in bringing this legendary tale to modern day life and it may become a literary saga worth investing in, especially since this classic tale of a man wronged shares equal footing with one of a woman seeking her own destiny(August):

Molly Patterson's debut novel follows four generations of women in more than one country in Rebellion. starting with Addie, an American missionary who goes missing during the Boxer Rebellion, leaving her sister Louisa to wonder about what happened to her.

As Louisa's own daughter Hazel learns to deal with unexpected loss and the consequences of her own choices, it takes many decades later for the question of Addie's ultimate fate to be brought back to the surface. Some of those answers may come from Juanlan, a college student in modern day China who has to put her dreams on hold to help her family.

An emotional journey that packs punch is what's promised here and I have a strong feeling that it delivers as Patterson is giving us a set of women who still persisted despite what life has thrown in their path(August).

A PURR-FECT FRENEMY: Tim Hanley follows up his excellent histories of Wonder Woman and Lois Lane with another major feminine player in the DC Comics universe. As the subtitle suggests, The Many Lives of Catwoman
dives deep into the "felonious history" of Batman's most challenging foe, one that reflects his inner conflict with his outer duality all too well.

As Hanley shows,however, Catwoman,aka Selina Kyle, is more than just a sinister love interest for the Caped Crusader. Over the years, she's become her own unique persona and had her own series of comic book stories that don't rely on the Dark Knight to support her. Rather, her inclination to become an antiheroine at times has made her an icon of female independence.

In addition to her print and animated incarnations, Hanley also explores the live action versions of Catwoman, from Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether to Michelle Pffeifer's ground breaking performance and the recent Anne Hathaway depiction, proving that unlike her feline avatar, this character has more than nine lives in her(July):

 DOWN HOME DRAMA: The leading man in Matthew Quick's latest novel, The Reason You're Alive, is David Granger, a 68 year old Vietnam vet who learns that he has a brain tumor after his latest car accident.

While he blames that particular ailment on Agent Orange, David finds that there is a wrong that he committed and must make right from those dark days and with the help of his friend Sue, he seeks a former soldier named Clayton Fire Bear, a name he kept repeating during his stay in the hospital.

Along the way, David tries to reconnect with his adult son Hank, whose art dealer ways are confusing to him, as well as granddaughter Ella who reminds him of what humanity he has left.

Quick's offbeat approach to characters in familiar yet unique circumstances should resonate well with this sore spot in our American history, plus remind us of just how complicated the emotional impact of war upon the people who have to deal it with directly can be(July):

 An old friendship is renewed in Patti Callahan Henry's The Bookshop at Water's Edge, with a few old secrets as well. Bonny Blankenship has fond memories of her South Carolina summers with Lainey McKay, the two of them finding safe harbor at the local bookstore run by Mimi, a woman who sees more than she tells.

With Bonny at age fifty questioning her life choices and wanting to help her daughter Piper deal with a serious mistake she made, the two of them meet up with Lainey and her children back at their former childhood haunts.

 Their reunion brings about joy and sorrow, as Lainey still wonders about her mother's mysterious disappearance that occurred that  long ago summer that has never been resolved. If you're in the need of a good story of friendship,family and summer time bliss, you are in the right place indeed(July).

Hopefully, the remainder of this summer will bring us more good times than bad, but even if they don't, having a good book on hand can make all the difference in the world. At the very least, it's a great distraction from those seasonal annoyances that want to get in the way of your true fun in the sun:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The three Gs of my Summer TV

We're in a bit of an in-between time with current television, as many of the regular season shows are either finished or about to be finished with their run and not many of the summer series are up and about just yet.

For me, I try to keep my viewing needs simple during the summer months and I have earmarked a trio of shows to keep up this season that happen to all start with the letter G. First up is The Great British Baking Show, making it's fourth season on PBS that will be the last one for judge Mary Berry along with hosts Mel and Sue.

It's sad to see those fine ladies leave but in the meantime, we do have their delightful company as the baker's dozen of contestants battle it out over batter and pastry. The real charm of this show is the relaxed atmosphere and good natured friendship among the bakers, who are truly out to win for the honor of competing.

 Granted, folks do get nervous during certain challenges(especially those showstoppers!) but are always supportive of one another, which is not something you see often on any competition series and perhaps we should. TGBBS airs at different times across the country but in my neck of the woods, it's on Sundays at four in the afternoon, the perfect tea time to sit back and enjoy the sweet bliss of English treats:

Next up is GLOW, a fictional take on the female wrestling show that sprouted up in the 1980s. Alison Brie plays Ruth, a struggling actress who finds unexpected fame as one of the "gorgeous ladies of wrestling"and some new friendships along the way.

Of course, she has to deal with the lackluster direction given by Sam(Marc Maron), who used to put out B-horror flicks and a personal and professional rivalry with Deb(Betty Gilpin),her former best friend. Netflix will have the entire first season available on June 23 and as a fan of the original GLOW, I can barely contain my excitement at seeing this satirical salute to those wacky wrestling divas of yesteryear:

Of course, the truly big G for me is Game of Thrones, which will airing it's seventh season this July on HBO. There's a lot at stake here, with Dany finally reaching Westeros, Cersei holding the Iron Throne and the forces of the Night King on the move.

This will be a tricky season for both readers and non-readers of the G.R.R. Martin books that the series is based as the last two installments have not yet been published. Odds are that they will be once the show is over,in my opinion, as that way, no one in the audience will have advanced knowledge of what's to come.

That's fine with me, as I know enough from the books to be invested while enjoying the changes made to the story line as part and parcel of such a grand viewing experience. No predictions but I do hope that Tyrion gets to ride a dragon and that Littlefinger finally gets what's coming to him, not to mention seeing Dany square off against the remaining Lannisters. Thank the gods that we have such fine event TV to keep us cool during the cruel summer ahead:

Sure, there may be a few other shows that I'll check out this summer but it's not that often that you have three Gs lined up like this,except for Guy's Grocery Games, which I do watch. It's a cooking competition set in a supermarket-how could you not love it? Anyway, whatever letter of the alphabet fills your viewing basket this season, I hope it's as plentiful as Flavor Town Market appears to be(yes, that's a corny name but hey, it's just a show that lets you really just relax):

Monday, June 19, 2017

Bad Movie Month gets the royal treatment with a salute to Stephen King

One of my summer pleasures is presenting all of you with Bad Movie Month in August, a time to just sit back and chat about some awful film fare. Well, the theme for this year is The Worst of Stephen King and I have to insist that this is not as mean spirited as it sounds.

As a longtime fan of King's work, I think it's important to accept both the highs and the lows of a writer's career and to King's credit, he is the first one to step up to the plate when it comes to critiques.

 Also, he has a great sense of humor about himself and those less than stellar films that have been adapted from his writing from time to time(maybe not The Shining, but that's a whole other discussion there). So, in the spirit of fan love, here is my playlist of sorry Stephen King based flicks for this season:

CHILDREN OF THE CORN: Loosely based on a short story, this corn-fed attempt at cinematic chills has become a cult classic over the years. Some of that is due to lines such as "Outlander! We have your woman,she still lives!", the creepy cult of killer kids devoted to "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" that slaughters every adult in town before the opening credits and the pitiful performances of Peter Horton and pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton as the unlucky couple who stops into town.

What's truly scary about this movie is that fact that it spawned seven sequels, plus a made for TV remake, proof positive that even a bad cinematic seed can become frighteningly potent indeed:

CARRIE(2013): Since I usually include a pick of my sister's(sort of a blog birthday gift to her,as she has an August b-day), this "re-imagined" remake will be highlighted early on.

Granted, it's hard to outdo the original 1976 movie and even with that film's flaws, the story and Oscar nominated performances of Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie still stand the test of time. I did have some hope for this version, given that quality actresses such as Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore were cast as the leading ladies here.

Unfortunately, shoving this tale of a tormented girl's revenge into a modern day setting turned out to be a poor fit. Watching this particular Carrie has the flavor of a favorite dish that's missing some vital ingredients and it's too bad that my sister had to see this instead of the classic fear feast that whetted my appetite for King back then:

FIRESTARTER: One of the big problems with this 1984 flamethrower of a film is that it suffers from what used to be known as "Love Boat casting." In other words, pack the cast with a mismatched set of celebrity names in order to distract from the messy framework of the plot.

A young Drew Barrymore is joined by the likes of Heather Locklear, Art Carney,Louise Fletcher, David Keith, Martin Sheen and George C. Scott, who plays a half-Native American assassin who serves as mentor and would be executioner of Barrymore's pyro-psychic character. Yeah, miscasting is an understatement when it comes to George C. in that role, that's for sure!

The weird special effects that have Barrymore's hair attacked by a gang of hair dryers every time she gets the urge to light up don't help much either to breath life into a story that gives off plenty of smoke but not much of a film-worthy fire:

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE: It wouldn't be proper to do a Stephen King bad movie salute without the one movie he wrote and directed himself.

Based on his short story Trucks, King turns his strange tale of humanity on the run from their own vehicles(sort of an evil version of Cars) by focusing on a small set of folks trapped in a diner into a full out deadly demolition derby that even has ATMs and soda machines getting in on the "death to humans!" action.

Emilio Estevez stars as Bill, who rouses his fellow survivors into fighting back against the trucks keeping them prisoners by finding a cache of weapons in a hidden bunker beneath the diner(which is the most realistic part of this story). His performance earned him a Golden Raspberry nomination(as did King for Worst Director) but not a win, which is saying something yet I'm not sure what that is.

 Sure, there's great music with AC/DC songs on the soundtrack and the leader of the evil trucks has a Green Goblin face on it's bumper(wonder how Marvel felt about that tie-in) but this movie is a train wreck from the get-go and thankfully, King has stayed away from the director's chair since then:

I also plan to squeeze in a viewing of Stephen King's Silver Bullet(a werewolf movie with Gary Busey, how can I resist?) as well, which should round things out nicely.

 With a lot of King's books being on the better side of adaptation these days, such as the upcoming Dark Tower movie this summer, it's good to truly appreciate such a cinematic bounty by looking back at some of movie manure that has cropped up along the way. When it comes to King, sometimes less is truly more: