Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, November 17, 2017

Some good choices on the media menu for tasty Thanksgiving TV

With Thanksgiving being oh-so-close, I felt it was time for another  flavorful reminder of the season with a look at a few of the best TV shows that highlight holiday cooking and eating.

First up is The Chew, the daytime darling of the foodie circuit that has pretty much spent the whole month of November on prepping for Thanksgiving, ranging from recipes old and new to dinner table settings and creative leftover suggestions.

Part of what makes this show fun as well as a great reference guide is the crackling chemistry between the quartet of hosts, with the dynamic dueling contrasts of Iron Chefs Michael Symon and Mario Batali, Top Chef Carla Hall's good humor and the always engaging Clinton Kelly. It's like hanging out with the cool culinary kids, who would gladly invite anyone over for some good food and good talk:

In the evening, however, Chopped is your best bet for some offbeat Thanksgiving meals. Actually, it's a weirdly entertaining way to live vicariously through the bizarre mystery basket ingredients there.

After all, what are the odds on you having to cook with gummy turkey feet, pumpkin pie ice cream, smoked turkey gizzards and green bean casserole? Granted, that was not all in one basket but it could very possibly be in the future,you never know.

Even the regular rotation of judges take their shot at the stove at holiday time, whipping up dishes that may seem strange but are nine times out of ten, taste delightfully savory for any season:

 Speaking of green bean casserole, if you're just looking for some old school food flair, Cooking Channel tends to air the classic Alton Brown series Good Eats for just such an occasion.

The smart and sassy take on nearly every edible item known to human kind has plenty of Thanksgiving highlights, from cranberries(which can be made into a candle!) to the right way to prep that turkey and the perfect mashed potatoes. If you like your Thanksgiving with a side of culinary cleverness, then you are in need of some good eats indeed:

And finally, for those of us who simply want a little home style cooking, Ree Drummond has that on tap as a key ingredient for her daytime series, The Pioneer Woman.

Ree's sincere charms make many of her meal time recipes feel both warmly old fashioned and satisfyingly modern all at once. That special emotional blend of hers is great for Thanksgiving, as she certainly knows how tricky it can be to spread the dinner table love yet she pulls it off with an ease and grace that pours out as smoothly as gravy:

 So, whether you're in need of cooking tips or just want to see the other holiday options out there, there is something for everybody when it comes to Thanksgiving food TV. The recipe is easy and no cook to boot: just take one remote control and click around a few channels until that just right show comes into view. Then sit and watch for a hour or so,binging purely optional.

If done right, your Thanksgiving TV will serve as many as possible and be that small screen sweet treat that tops off your holiday viewing in a most delicious way:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The LRG Best Books of 2017

As we're getting close to the end of the year, those "best of" lists are beginning to pop up and I am not one to ignore the chance to celebrate some of the great reading that I've done in 2017.

True, the year is not quite finished with and there are still a number of wonderful books that I have not gotten to yet. However, mid-November is a safe enough zone,pop culture wise, that making an official list is pretty reasonable.

 After all, Goodreads is the final stretch of their Choice Awards voting(and yes, I am participating in that) as we speak,so the time is nigh. Most of my picks are novels(with one nonfiction selection) and if you haven't read any of these yet, I so strongly urge you to at some point in the near future:

BELLE OF THE BALL: Min Jin Lee's second novel,Pachinko, was a long time coming but well worth the wait as the numerous critical raves and a nomination for the National Book Award clearly show.

However, the word of mouth for this generational story of a Korean family struggling to find their place in Japanese society during and well after WWII was just as dazzling, with many readers moved by her heartfelt prose.

I was fortunate enough to meet Min Jin Lee at a BEA event many years ago, where she signed my copy of her first novel Free Food for Millionaires(a highly recommended read as well) that I brought with me in a quilted tote bag. She was charming and generous that day and from what I've seen in interviews and articles for Pachinko, she's even more gracious as a person.

With the NBA ceremonies only a day away, I wish her the best of luck and hope that her next book will arrive sooner than expected:

JOURNEYWOMEN: My next pair of picks are debut authors whose first novels may truly feel miles away from each other, yet they share the same sense of knowing that some feelings are universal.

Kathleen Rooney's Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk has it's title lady taking a personal stroll through memory lane in New York City on New Year's Eve in 1984, intending to head to her favorite restaurant yet finds herself making a few unexpected detours before midnight approaches.

Lillian's take on the changing times as well as looking back on her life as an independent woman well ahead of her time is thoughtful,funny and bittersweetly touching at times. It would make for a great movie(Kathy Bates would be my choice as the lead) but as it is, this subtly sincere novel is a true mental breath of fresh air.

Speaking of fresh air, The Windfall by Diksha Basu displays a dazzling array of characters in a twist on the classic comedy of manners genre set in modern day Delhi.

From Mr. and Mrs. Jha,who are overwhelmed by their newfound wealth to their son Rupak in America who is torn between two women and not doing well in school to their new neighbors the Chopras who have just as much anxiety about the Jhas as they do about them, this set of social norms is upended in a most delightful way.

This isn't all fun and games,however; a good amount of emotional drama and potential romance within the fictional framework helps to ground the story and make the characters fully three dimensional. Basu makes such a wonderful first impression with this entrancing novel that I long to see what she does next and soon,I hope!:

SINISTER SITUATIONS: The next two books on this list are inventive chillers that defy the usual tropes of their genre and then some.

To begin with, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz starts out with an editor happily reading the latest entry in a popular detective series,only to be stumped not by the story but by the lack of final chapters.

When she goes in search of them, the author turns up dead and more than one mystery is in need of solving,not just for the characters but the reader as well.

Horowitz tips his hat to Agatha Christie here, especially with the fictional detective Atticus Pund, who I wish we did have a whole slew of his crime solving adventures to read our way through.  At least we do have this clever tale to enjoy and marvel at, with all of it's properly puzzling twists and turns:

Iconic author Stephen King joined fictional forces with his son Owen to bring Sleeping Beauties to waking life and boy, what a beauty of a nightmare vision it is.

Set in a not-too-distant future, the world is quickly undone by a mysterious ailment that puts most of the female population into a deep,cocoon wrapped slumber and simply waking the ladies up is not a safe option.

With a strange woman who calls herself Eve Black and is unaffected by the outbreak known as Aurora, a small mountain town becomes the focal point for the bizarre phenomenon,with a showdown at a women's prison possibly deciding the fate of all humanity.

Mixed with pathos,dark humor and elements of fantasy, this glimpse of a brave new solo gendered world is incredibly timely and gives the well worn notion of "battle of the sexes" a terrifying stage to showcase itself on:

 HOCKEY AND HEARTBREAK: I've been reading the works of Fredrik Backman for a good portion of this year, from A Man Called Ove to My Grandmother Says to Tell You That She's Sorry and Britt-Marie Was Here.

I do have a novella of his to catch up to but for the most part, his books have been amazingly excellent reads. However, I do have to agree with the critics that his latest novel,Beartown, is next level writing.

The title refers to a dying small town whose whole identity and hope for any viable future is wrapped up in the local high school hockey team. This drive to make it into the championship game offers a way out of despair for some and a constant annoyance to others but sadly, it also allows too much leeway for misbehavior to it's young players.

When a sexual assault occurs at a victory party, most of the town is willing to overlook it in order to gain fortune and fame, not to mention being quick to blame the victim and any of her allies. Yes, it's a sad and no doubt triggering for some story but it's a sincere and well developed one that should be a beacon of emotional light to those looking for the right way to go in this all too well charted territory.

THE CAT'S MEOW: Writer and blogger Tim Hanley is one of the best chroniclers of comic book history from a female perspective out there, as his previous works about Wonder Woman and Lois Lane show.

In The Many Lives of Catwoman, he does more than trace the rise and occasional fall of Batman's feminine nemesis. Hanley calls out comic book legends such as Bob Kane and others for their exploitation of fellow artists as well as the character herself. However, her villain/antihero status is not enough to keep this princess of crime down for long.

Hanley also showcases her more positive features over the decades and happily highlights her live action incarnations(yes, the infamous Halle Berry film is given it's own chapter) as well. This is truly one stop shopping for all there is to know about the feline queen that rules Batman's world:

I hope this list gives you a few new books to pick up and I do have a few honorable mentions to name as well: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Gracia,Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson,Kevin Kwan's Rich People Problems(so excited for the Crazy Rich Asians movie due out next year!) and Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin.

This year was and still is a troubling one to get through. With any luck, signs of better things to come will show up by the end of the calendar and for me, pop culture can offer us a bit of relief as well as inspiration as to how to handle the upcoming challenges set before us.

 A new year has many good things in store for us,including books, movies and books made into movies. I know one thing for sure about 2018 and it's that I am ready like Freddy for Ready Player One:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Setting the TV table for some Thanksgiving family fun

As a fan of Thanksgiving,it's been my observation that this savory holiday tends to get fast forwarded nowadays( all the better to start up your seasonal shopping spree!) and to bring us back to enjoying this delicious occasion properly, I will be posting a few Turkey Day pop culture reminders.

To start with, Thanksgiving is a time meant to spend with family and friends,which doesn't always go off perfectly but that's what makes for a great anecdote to share at holiday gatherings for years to come! Many of our favorite TV shows do serve up a good Thanksgiving episode or two yet also offer us a look at different ways that people get together and deal with each other for this special meal,so here's a tasting menu of small screen T-Day delights:

GILMORE GIRLS: Our title ladies begin their Thanksgiving run with a visit to the Kim family, with Lane nervously watching the punch bowl as her mother scowls at relatives who abuse her furniture and cheerfully passes out plates of tofurkey. While Lorelai is hardily a tofurkey fan, she does keep up a fine tradition of bringing a little something to the dinner,even if her napkin maneuver is hard to pull off:

SUPERGIRL: Yes, even superheroines need some holiday time and while it's always fun to watch Kara cook the turkey with her heat vision(so not kidding about that), it's the family drama that brings the real flavor there.

Last season, her sister Alex and buddy James had big reveals to make at dinner but an inter-dimensional disruption cut both of those announcements short. Just as well, since the bland blathering of future boyfriend Mon-El was also nipped in the bud(so glad that he won't be back for Thanksgiving this year!),although his confusion about the holiday was further enhanced:

SNL: It's a long standing joke that Thanksgiving forces you to mingle with those particular relatives whose world views are decidedly different from yours and that a fight at the table is inevitable ,to say the least.

However, one recent Saturday Night Live skit gave us the best solution to stopping such disputes from ruining everyone's appetite. Just crank up the music of the moment and in this case, it was Adele's latest album,which allowed even the uptight aunt at the table to rock harmoniously and humorously with her niece's new boyfriend:

FRIENDS: Over the years, the Central Perk pals joyfully shared many a Turkey Day together yet there was one time that they did not.

Most of them had made other plans or good reason not to go home to their family this time out and yet Monica wound up cooking three different versions of potatoes,only to have the entire meal burned to a crisp due to a parade balloon distraction. The mood of the day went downhill from there.

However, one more look out the window caused them to rally together and full embrace the spirit of the day, even Chandler, who got to carve the cheesy main course:

So, no matter what the circumstances, Thanksgiving is a good time to gather around your loved ones and rejoice in the good things in your lives. Granted, counting your blessings is getting harder to do these days but it's not impossible.

Also, don't caught up in the fancy trappings of the day such as the perfect place setting and the right style of food. As one of the best episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond shows us, a Thanksgiving dinner tastes fine any time and especially in your pajamas:

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Bits of book hauls for a fall bouquet of reading

I buy books the way other people might buy shoes-somewhat practical but can quickly get into impulsive territory. Having a church rummage sale near my house doesn't make that urge any easier but I do try to shop as smartly as possible there.

My book purchases were few at the rummage sale this time out(one book, I found out later that I already had, so it will be donated during my next shelf clearance run). However, I did get a nice three-in-one deal by picking up Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, a snazzy Penguin Deluxe edition no less.

This trio of off beat noir novels have become cult classics, with City of Glass starting things off by sending a mystery writer named Quinn out on a late night odyssey through the streets of New York. That's followed up by Ghosts, with characters that have names right out of an early Tarantino script hunting each other and the finale is fittingly entitled The Locked Room.

I've heard of Paul Auster over the years but never read any of his works,they just didn't call to me. That doesn't mean I won't give this set of his most famous stories a try,bargain price or not. Maybe this is the right moment for me to see what he's all about, at least fiction wise:

Another fortunate find was The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker, a novel that was a big hit in Europe a few years ago but didn't do quite as well in America(sort of like that film adaptation of Jo Nezbo's The Snowman at the box office these days).

The plot of the book is rather bookish as a successful young writer,Marcus Goldman, seeks inspiration for his next book via a visit to his former college professor of the title. Upon arriving at the seaside New Hampshire town where Quebert lives, the body of a dead girl  who had been missing for over thirty years is discovered with the professor being the prime suspect.

Despite the mixed reviews, I'm willing to give this a go. Turns out my purchase is rather timely as the book is being turned into a cable TV series for Epix, with Patrick Dempsey signed up to play Harry Quebert. Granted, I don't get that channel but this is still a good way to get introduced to this tale one way or the other:

My book bargain buying also extends to online(and Better World Books does give to charity,so more justification!) as well and yes, I really did need a new edition of Anna Karenina.

I've been doing well reading War & Peace in the Maude translation and since I've tried in the past to read AK but to no avail with the Constance Garnett version, it made sense to get the Maude edition. I did donate my older Anna Karenina before getting the new one(newish,so to speak).

My new Maude AK happens to be a movie tie-in edition, the latest big screen film starring Keira Knightley. I do like movie covers on books,plus the print size is good which is important for such a long read. I intend to read Anna Karenina as soon as I finish with W&P(yep, doing the full Tolstoy there) and who knows, I might see this film version,too:

 Also, I have a good excuse for getting The Black Moon by Winston Graham. It's the fifth book in the Poldark series,which is being featured on the new season of the PBS series(along with Four Swans, which I should really have as well). True, I'm a little behind in my Poldark reading yet I do have a plan as to how to fix that.

My Series-ous Reading challenge for 2017 will be wrapped up soon, with Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, and my reading blog goal for next year is Stephen King's The Dark Tower books.

However, that series has only seven titles(I know, there's a side story as well but sticking to the main books for this one) and for a full reading year,perhaps adding some of my Poldark TBR to this literary quest might be a good idea. Series-ous Reading 2:Electric Book-a-loo, how does that sound?

 A little corny, I know but being overwhelmed by unread books is something that most readers face and it's certainly a solution. Another round of catch-up is not too bad and it's better than being jinxed at birth by a black moon,that's for sure!:

Seriously, I do need to slow down my book buying as the holidays draw near, not to mention that I have a few library books to return soon. I'll do my best but so many sales, so many books, so little resistance to temptation....:

Monday, November 06, 2017

3 key elements that make Stranger Things 2 work like a charm

One of the few pop culture delights that my sister and I not only share but refuse to watch without the other sibling present is Netflix's Stranger Things and yes, we were fully revved up for the second season.

We saw the nine new episodes in viewings of three at a time-full on binging can make it hard on the eyes(we both wear glasses), not to mention needing some time in between to mentally digest the multiple plot lines and characters. After seeing the entire second season, my sister and I both agree that this was a great follow-up and are looking forward to what comes next.

Now, I don't intend to get into spoilers here but to go over some of my thoughts about ST2, a few minor plot details will have to be mentioned. You have been warned!

In my opinion, the second season of any show is make it or break it time; a debut can be dazzling but it's that next go-around that should cement in the solid character beats and main thematic track that both the viewers and characters are traveling on together. To that end, I have pinpointed three major elements that Stranger Things 2 needed to click together in harmony and in my opinion, succeeded brilliantly:

CONTINUITY: The story starts up a year after the events of season one and while everything feels like the typical mid-1980s small town coming of age tale, nothing is truly the same.

For one, while Nancy and Steve are still a couple(for the most part), their relationship is severely strained as Nancy still wants answers to what happened to Barb,not just for her but for Barb's grieving parents who have no idea about where their daughter went.

Mike, meanwhile, is still in mourning for Eleven(who is much closer than he thinks) and while Joyce has a new love in her life, the Byers household is not as it once was. Will remains the central focus here as he did in S1, struggling to fit in the regular world where the kids at school call him "Zombie Boy" as visions of the Upside Down frequently pop up at the worst of times.

 Granted, having Will be the designated Boy in Distress could get old fast but for the moment, it only makes sense that his otherworldly experiences would continue to haunt him. Comparisons are made by others to Will's situation to PTSD and it does make for a thoughtful metaphor here. However, Will ultimately becomes a harbinger of what's yet to come from that shadowy realm which is still being poked and prodded at by the powers that be. It's a role that he can expand on for at least another season:

NEW CHARACTERS: Being able to bring in new people is important to keeping the story lines fresh yet hopefully not too distracting. Since too many spoilers would stir up, I'm going to be very brief about the new Hawkins residents yet will expand upon one essential to our young protagonists.

 For ST2, we have Joyce's new techgeek boyfriend Bob(Sean Astin),who turns out to be very useful in a pinch, a new head of the secret lab(Paul Reiser) that has Will check in every so often, a conspiracy theory fellow(Brett Gelman) and a stepbrother and sister act.

The new girl in town is Max(Sadie Sink), plagued with a creepy controlling older stepbrother named Billy(Dacre Montgomery) and possessed of video game skills, not to mention smooth skateboarding moves. At first, the guys try to connect with her but to no avail and then later on, Max decides to team up with them,probably because no one else at school seems to bother with her.

Mike is less than thrilled with having a new girl in their group and even Eleven is not happy about that as well. Max does become a good fit, as her newbie status lets in a new perspective on the paranormal proceedings and the more strong females on board here,the merrier but Eleven may have a different take on that indeed:

DOING THE UNEXPECTED: A show like this can slip into cliches very easily and fortunately, that trope laden mine field is stepped through carefully yet it doesn't play things totally safe either.

Eleven has a major character arch midway through, seeking out her birth mother and eventually meeting up with another empowered person marked as Eight(the character's actual name is Kali and well played by Linnea Berthelsen). There's a whole episode that Eleven spends outside of Hawkins on her own and while I won't get into that too much, I must say that despite the negative feedback given to that particular episode, it's very necessary for Eleven's emotional journey and much better than a lot of folks think.

 Meanwhile, Steve, of all people, manages to surprise us by being a little more human. True, he still has a lot of jerk qualities(newcomer Billy actually manages to make him look like a sweetheart in comparison) but when asked by Dustin to help out with Upside Down business, he not only helps but tries to act responsibly to protect the kids.

Further more, Steve does a bit of mentoring with Dustin that shows some signs of growing maturity. You can have a debate about how good his advice on girls actually is but you can't deny that this odd bond has positive merits. Steve showing that he can think about someone else other than himself is a step in the right direction and while he has a long way to go, Steve might turn out to be a better person as the story continues.

 For a character to do that without special effects is pretty amazing and not to be taken for granted here:

All in all, Stranger Things 2 was an absolute pleasure to watch and I see good things ahead for the next season. Season Three should prove to be a real high point for all concerned and whether it turns into the end game of a trilogy or a next to last chapter, there is plenty of fertile fictional ground to explore.

For now, ST2 proves that this series wasn't a fad or a fluke-instead, it's the hallmark of talented writers and creative artists ready to give us more than we bargained for:

Friday, November 03, 2017

Some nominees for my Nonfiction November reading

Having just finished a month long readathon, it's understandable that  I would want to take a more leisurely approach to the rest of my literary year.

However, I've heard a lot about Nonfiction November, where the main goal is to read more factual books than my usual supply of fiction. While you can follow the challenge officially, most people seem to set up their own TBR and do their own thing here. With that in mind, I have a few books that are in the running for my personal NFN selections and maybe you might want to try one of them,too:

NOURISHED: Food writer Lia Huber chronicles her emotional journey into the world of cooking, going from a romance in Corfu where family love and home cooked meals went hand in hand to a village in Guatemala that the addition of simple vegetables to a soup brightened up everyone's day.

I've started this book already and Huber's writing is very heartfelt, bringing a vivid warmth to her descriptions of the time,place and people around her. Recipes are also included but the stories here are the main course of this memory feast.

With Thanksgiving coming up this month, this delicious memoir could provide some menu plan ideas or a tasty way to appreciate those good moments in life:

 BOOKNOTES: C-Span once had an interview show where authors of nonfiction shared their thoughts about the world as well as put in a good word for their latest book. Book Notes was hosted by C-Span co-founder Brian Lamb and this collection was the first of several that highlighted those interviews in print form.

There's a vast variety of writers on display here from historians such as David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin to political figures like Colin Powell and journalists ranging from Neil Sheehan to Stanley Crouch.

 The show had a good run, starting in 1989 and ending by 2004. I remember watching it from time to time back in the day and wish we had a version of Book Notes right now. Considering how the lines between fact and fiction have been blurred lately, this certainly feels like the right time to check out how the old school was able to make those distinctions very clear. Also, with knowledge under fire as it is now, the subtitle of this book "America's Finest Authors on Reading,Writing and the Power of Ideas" sounds rather timely to me:

 MY BOOKSTORE: This collection, edited by Ronald Rice, gathers together over eighty writers to talk about their favorite independent book stores and give their recommendations for good book buying from all across the country.

The list of writers ranges from best sellers like Fannie Flagg, John Grisham and Elin Hilderbrand to award winners such as Isabel Allende and memoir notables Rick Bragg and Dave Eggers.Here, they share some good stories about how these little literary shops made their reading and writing lives all the better and as a former indie bookseller myself, this sounds like a dream.

A few writers have even become indie book seller themselves, like Ann Patchett who highlights her favorite store here and perhaps took a bit of real world inspiration along with a great book or two from there:

Don't worry, I still plan on reading plenty of fiction(have a few books to catch up) but increasing my nonfiction intake feels like a fine idea. There are way more well read than me in this department,so you can find a lot of good suggestions for your own Nonfiction November list out there but do be sure to check out subjects that sincerely interest you.

On the other hand, it doesn't hurt to try something completely different yet it does help to persist with a lengthy nonfiction read if you are honestly motivated to learn more about a certain subject. Happy Nonfiction November and good reading to all and yes, to all a good read:

Monday, October 30, 2017

Some scary Series-ous Reading rounds out my FrightFall reading for Halloween

This month of FrightFall reading(thanks to Michelle and friends over at Seasons of Reading) has been quite the page turning fun,making the wait for Halloween feel not so long.

With tomorrow being our last day, I have a pair of books going neck in neck towards the finish line, starting with The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig. I decided to combine my Series-ous Reading challenge with FrightFall on this one,which makes it sort of a two-for-one deal here.

 It's the eleventh book in her Pink Carnation series and yes, I did jump far ahead in my quest to respectably catch up with this set of books(have completed the first four) but since this particular story has a Halloween theme, it felt permissible.

Our heroine for this tale of terror is Sally Fitzhugh, feisty sister of "Turnip" Fitzhugh(a charming bumbler often mistaken for a spy at times in the Pink Carnation world) who we first met in the Christmas themed entry,The Mischief of the Mistletoe.

 Here, Sally is well out of finishing school and delighting in the joys of a London season of parties, yet bored with most of the proceedings. Taking up a dare from her friends during one such social occasion, she dares to sneak over to the mysterious manor home of  Lucien, the Duke of Belliston, newly returned to England and rumored to be a vampire.

While Sally does have a brief encounter with Lucien in his garden, no evidence of blood drinking tendencies appear to be evident. A good deal of the notion that Lucien is a vampire is due to the popularity of the Gothic novel The Convent of Orsino, written by the Pink Carnation herself as it happens! The influence of this vampire bestseller causes much stir among the young and fanciful set, sort of like Twilight for Regency era readers,if you will:

 Lucien is haunted but not by any form of vampirism. Instead, it's the death by poison of his parents,which many wrote off as a murder-suicide committed by his mother,that drove Lucien to leave the country at a young age and make his way in the world elsewhere.

Returning home, Lucien is determined to track down the true killer, which may overturn a few messy stones as,according to his uncle, his mother may have been a spy for France. In addition to that, Lucien tries to mend emotional fences with the rest of his family(especially his sister who is now a debutante) but to no avail.

Running into Sally is the least of his worries yet her presence at another party is most fortunate. Upon being given a mysterious note, Lucien heads out for a midnight appointment with Sally at his side where the two of them discover a dead woman, arranged in such a way as to point the finger of blame at him. Worst of all, a wound on her neck suggests a vampire bite.

As Sally provides cover for Lucien from the authorities(not to mention society), he is forced to team up with her to solve the case before the murderer strikes again.

 At the point that I'm at in the book, this pair of possible vampire hunters has run into a old friend from Lucien's past and a warning left with the deadly flowers of the title in a carriage. No doubt the real enemy is all too human but the Gothic lit element of the story is delightful,putting me in mind of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.

Granted, Lucien is far more grim than Henry Tilney and Sally a bit sharper than Catherine Morland was in that classic novel. However, they both have similar burdens to bear and do make for a charming couple that one can not help but to root for in the end:

The one book that I may likely finish before Halloween is done is Agatha Christie's Miss Marple:The Complete Short Stories. I was so inspired by these tales that I rented an episode of the BBC Miss Marple series(The Body in the Library) to watch over the weekend.

These round robin set of stories(one of which is actually a prelude to a crime in the making) ,where even Miss Marple finds herself struggling for a solution to a case at one point, are like a box of sinister sweets. You may suspect what fictional flavor is in each one but there's always a unexpected spicy twist right in the center of them.

Since this anthology is not as long as The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, the chances of my completing it before the witching hour tomorrow are very good indeed. I may have to watch a few more of those Miss Marple episodes as well, since they do feel like fine fall viewing there:

 Now to wrap up my FrightFall reading altogether. First, I must confess to one DNF(Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield,which I gave about thirty pages to but couldn't go on) and a book that I just didn't get to.

That one was Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit,which I may have to try at another time. I simply overbooked my reading time,so to speak, but at least Bellman & Black is a library book and can go back without any fuss.

On the positive side, I did finish five out of the nine that I intended to read and that includes Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King, which was a massive book to say the least. Out of the rest of the five, my top recommendations would be Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. If you're looking for new takes on well known horror themes, these are pitch perfect reads.

With any luck, my FrightFall this year will have six as my final score before all is said and done. Much thanks to Michelle Miller for setting up another fun readathon and for expanding the reading time this season! It's also great to check in with other readers and I hope that everyone who took part in Frightfall had a great time as well. Happy Halloween,folks and best wishes for plenty of treats rather than tricks on All Hallow's Eve:

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wrapping up a few bookish gift suggestions for Novemeber & December

I know that Halloween is just around the corner but before you know it, the holiday season will be fully upon us and the pressure to find the right presents for your loved ones comes along with it.

With that in mind, I have a list of six upcoming novels that should make suitable gifts for friends and family, not to mention some good reading for yourself there.

 After all, you're on somebody's shopping list,too-so make it easier for them with one or two of these November and December releases:

FUTURE HOME OF THE LIVING GOD: Louise Erdrich's latest novel takes a quantum leap in genre as she envisions a future world that is literally going backwards. With plants and animals from the prehistoric age turning up,along with vicious new viruses, society is in panic mode and a new religious order has taken over the government.

Due to the lack of successful births, pregnant women are being rounded up for observation,which puts Cedar, who is 26 years old with proof that her baby on the way may be in perfect condition, in serious jeopardy.

Going on the run, her options are to reunite with her Native American birth family for passage to Canada, hide out with the baby's father Phil or trust in her adoptive parents who have disappeared without a trace. As Cedar keeps a journal for her unborn child, she considers those choices and hopes that she has enough wisdom and courage to make the right ones for both of them.

While this is new storytelling territory for Erdrich, her foundation of solid writing and character development should make this book a true wonder to explore(November):

 THE RUINED HOUSE: Ruby Namdar's debut novel is set in New York, where celebrated academic Andrew Cohen seems to have it all. His career as a professor of comparative culture is thriving, his new girlfriend Ann is young and lively, Linda,his ex-wife, is on good terms with him and even their adult children have deep love and respect for their father.

Andrew is up for a major promotion as well, making him feel on top of the world. Yet, a series of strange visions,based upon an ancient ritual, cause his rather comfortable life to be tossed into turmoil. As his fortunes reverse, Andrew has to take a deeper look into himself and reconsider the path he's taken in life to see where his ultimate fate is supposed to be.

This book is making it's American debut in translation and back in 2014, won Israel's top literary award, the Sapir. It sounds like a blend of midlife crisis with mysticism, which could be an interesting recipe for a good read indeed(November).

THE REVOLUTION OF MARINA M: In 1916, sixteen year old Marina is a budding poet and daughter of a well-to-do family in Russian society. Drawn into the changes all around her, she joins in with her outsider friends to make Russia better for everyone,causing her father to ban Marina from his doorstep.

However, her faith in the revolution is severely tested as WWI begins, along with the rise of the new regime that becomes just as harsh as the one under the deposed czar was. Marina finds herself resorting to all sorts of ruses and risks to protect herself and her friends,not to mention beloved fellow poet Kolya.

Author Janet Fitch is best known for contemporary novels such as White Oleander and this is her first foray into historical fiction. Given her earlier work, this look at such a pivotal moment in time through the eyes of a resilient young woman should play like a heartfelt melody(November):

 THE LADIES OF IVY COTTAGE: The second book in Julie Klassen's  Tales from Ivy Hill series,set in the Regency era, focuses on Rachel Ashford, who must now make her way in the world with only the massive collection of books she inherited from her father.

Using those books to set up a subscription library sounds like a wonderful idea and as Rachel begins to arrange the numerous tomes on hand, she stumbles across a mystery that may require some special assistance.

Meanwhile, her good friend Mercy,whom she shares a home with, is convinced that the new male visitors to their cottage are much more interested in Rachel than her yet the true reasons for such attentions are yet to be revealed. Klassen loves to weave tender tales of homespun charm with smart ladies at the helm and this new chapter in her Ivy Hill stories will be a welcome one indeed(December).

 ENCHANTRESS OF NUMBERS:Jennifer Chiaverini's recent set of historical fiction works now has lead her to showcase Ada Lovelace, who is considered by many modern day scholars to be the first computer programmer.

Unlike other young women of her time, Ada was encouraged to study mathematics(mainly to avoid following in her poetic father Lord Byron's footsteps) and even upon her debut in society, found a man who appreciated her vast intelligence.

Charles Babbage didn't become her husband and instead their friendship developed into a working relationship in his pursuit of a calculation machine that would change the world. Ada's admiration of Babbage,however, was not a two way street as she eventually discovered to her sorrow. Yet her work lives on and this engaging novel gives Ada Lovelace the full vivid portrait of a scientific genius that she deserves(December):

 ELMET: A Man Booker nominee, this debut novel tells the tale of Daniel, who goes to live with his sister Cathy and their father John in a remote section of Yorkshire. The three of them live in their own little world,content for the most part but not without some struggles.

Those struggles get worse as the landowner arrives, demanding that they leave the property. This leads to John, who mainly makes a living as a fighter, to resort to drastic measures that appear to be Robin Hood like in nature at first. Yet, as things go on, Daniel realizes that this battle may not be won to anyone's liking there.

The author of this book,Fiona Mozley, was pleased enough that her first time work made it as far as the short list for the Man Booker and hopefully, the good word of mouth that her story of a family finding it's way out of a rock and a hard place situation will please her as well(December):

Gift giving should be a fun thing to look forward to and while your intended recipients may not want a book(or anything other than a gift card), there is always a good place to find the right suggestions.

My first choice is a book store,of course, but thinking of others is the important part of this tradition and not even the smartest digital assistant is no substitute for that special touch of thoughtfulness,no matter how charmingly competent she appears to be,Janet!:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Some made- for-TV tricks or treats to savor for Halloween flavor

We're this close to Halloween,which happens to fall on a week day this year instead of a weekend, and there are as many ways to anticipate it as there are varieties of candy to be handed out that night.

However, like those sugary delights, not all of them are going to be everyone's favorite seasonal sweet. Sure, there are the traditional treats such as It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, whatever Treehouse of Horror the Simpsons are up to and clip shows like Disney's Halloween Treat, that are enjoyable holiday standards but what is fresh and new,or at least inviting, for today?

Let's take a look and see what can sweetly or scarily shake loose for your Halloween pleasure, small screen style:

MICHAEL JACKSON'S HALLOWEEN: A hour long animated special featuring the music of the late iconic pop star is set to air on October 27 and frankly, I'm not sure who the target audience is for this.

Check out the plot synopsis: "The special follows millennials Vincent (Lucas Till) and Victoria (Kiersey Clemons), who meet “accidentally” on Halloween night and find themselves, along with Ichabod the dog, at a mysterious hotel located at 777 Jackson Street called This Place Hotel. Once inside, Vincent and Victoria are sent on an unexpected, magical adventure of personal discovery, culminating in a spectacular dance finale featuring an animated Michael Jackson."

Okay,I repeat-who is this for?! Yes, it's animated but since the leads are seemingly of legal age, it doesn't sound like it's for kids(which would bring about a whole slew of other issues but let's not go there). Is it for Michael Jackson fans? My best guess is that those folks would be happier replaying the Thriller video.

This project looks and sounds like a musical version of those Hotel Transylvania cartoon flicks, which is not a compliment, trust me. Sure, there's a certain nostalgia for Jackson's music yet this special feels incredibly carbon dated and I suspect that most of the audience tuning in will be ready to mock along than rock along:

SNL DAVID S. PUMPKINS SPECIAL: There's no question about who is this half hour holiday animated show is for, given that it's premiere will be at 11:30 this upcoming Saturday night.

Not much has been revealed about the special, other than Tom Hanks will be vocally reprising his role as the odd Halloween mascot, along with SNL regular Mikey Day(and former SNL alum Bobby Moyinhan), plus Peter Dinklage, who was not part of the original skit but is a fellow SNL host. That's just as well, since the weird randomness of the whole bit is what made this character work like a strange charm in the first place:

FOOD NETWORK: Say what you will about this cable channel devoted to edibles, they do know how to throw a culinary seasonal celebration up right.

From competition series like Halloween Wars(where pumpkin carvers,bakers and candy makers create amazing scary food dioramas) to the Halloween Baking Championship and themed episodes of regular shows such as Chopped, this holiday is well represented here. To be fair, their sister network,Cooking Channel,has a few Halloween items on their media menu as well, but mainly it's mostly former FN fare.

Apart from the Halloween competitions, I do love the Chopped Halloweens the best. Seeing either the assigned chefs or the judge tackle a mystery basket that's full of stranger things than usual is just good fun(not sure if it's good eating but perhaps with the right chef....):

I'm sure there will be other Halloween shows on the TV horizon as the day draws nearer but the one that most folks are excited for is the second season of Stranger Things, debuting on Friday,Oct 27.

I held out as long as I could from seeing the "final" trailer yet with the show less than two days away, the temptation was too great to refuse. I don't feel spoiled for the season, more like having an extra dollop of suspense syrup added to my order for a sequel sundae.

 Some Halloween treats are better when savored slowly but others are meant to be devoured quickly and ST2 is one of those that you have to do a bit of both to truly enjoy. Happy Halloween watching, fellow fiends!:

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Even Miss Marple wouldn't dare to wake these Sleeping Beauties this FrightFall

I know that I'm a little late with my FrightFall progress report this week but on the other hand, that brief delay gave me more time with Sleeping Beauties, which is a pretty lengthy read(a bit over 700 pages) for any time of year.

This novel is the first time that Stephen King has collaborated with his son Owen and I have to say that the two authors blend their narrative voices together seamlessly here. The idea for the novel came from Owen, who tried to hand it over to his dad yet the elder King insisted on the two of them working on it.

There's a dark irony to that, as the main threat of the story is a bizarre infection that only affects females. Women of all ages(even young girls and infants) are falling asleep with cocoon like webbing covering their faces at first and then their entire bodies. They appear to be breathing and functioning just fine,only they can't wake up. To attempt to remove the eerie coating over their faces or otherwise wake them spurs the trapped sleepers to react violently.

This phenomenon, known as "Aurora" after the Disney princess famous for napping, is happening all over the world yet the action here is set in the town of Dooling, West Virginia.

 A women's prison becomes the central focus of the afflicted residents due to a mysterious prisoner named Eve Black, who was detained there upon suspicion of  murder,  a crime seemingly committed in order to place her in custody. Eve has a number of amazing abilities that include mind reading, communicating with animals and incredible strength but most of all, she can go to sleep and wake up without being cocooned.

Word of Eve's immunity gets out and the restless men who now run the town are determined to get a hold of her for some answers. With things in chaos, Clint Norcross, the prison psychologist, finds himself in charge of the prison and also charged by Eve to be her protector, otherwise his wife Lila may never return from her unearthly slumber.

Stephen King has done social disaster stories on his own before(The Stand, Under the Dome) and clearly working with Owen has enhanced that dynamic tenfold here.

The descriptions of how the world at large reacts to this situation are scarily realistic, as men are torn between protecting their wives and children or sliding readily into chaos,with many of them having no practical knowledge of how to care of day to day tasks such as feeding their boys or laundry. Others simply go straight into warfare, the one thing they know all too well how to do on their own.

The women in this story are fighters, from struggling to stay awake as long as humanly possible(with the help of legal and illegal stimulants) to finding their dreaming selves in a strange new world to rebuild together. 

Two of the toughest are Warden Janice, whose TV reporter daughter Michaela arrives too late to see her mom before Aurora takes her, and Lila Norcross, the first women sheriff in the area who takes charge in both worlds, armed with a strong will and questioning nature that isn't always backed up by the men in her life. As it turns out, it is up to her husband and son Jared to keep things going although Lila was suspicious of Eve Black right from the start:

As to Eve, she appears to be a harbinger of the divine with her connections to nature(a strange tree heralds her arrival) and secret mission agenda that involves setting up a confrontation in Dooling that should decide the fate of the world.

However, her true motives are hard to discern and it's suggested that she is merely a vessel for a greater force that feels the need to test humanity every now and then. That doesn't make her a good guy, rather a messenger of the gods that wearies of her purpose as things go on.

At this point, I am on page 500 and raring to go forward here yet I don't want to rush headlong into the end game. Seeing this story play out in it's own steady yet readily engaging pace is a key part of the fun here.

While my weekend plans do have Sleeping Beauties firmly in the driver's seat, I think that I may have found the perfect road trip tune to go along with it. It's not a song that you'll easily find on the radio but trust me, this haunting number by ionnalee fits Sleeping Beauties as perfectly as a certain clear slipper fitted a runaway midnight party girl:

In between my bouts with Sleeping Beauties, I have been sampling some of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, in a collection of short stories taken from other published works featuring that lady detective.

So far, the first set of tales revolves around a "Tuesday Night Murder Club" where Miss Jane Marple and her writer nephew Raymond have joined a group of his friends in guessing the solutions to various unsolved crimes.

 From a tinned lobster dinner that lead to a fatal case of stomach ache to some moonlit playacting that went horribly and a smuggling case, Miss Marple has figured out the who,what ,where and why without losing a stitch in her knitting. I must confess that I have not read a lot of Christie(mostly seen a few film versions) yet I vastly prefer Miss Marple to her famous Inspector Poirot.

Don't get me wrong, Poirot does have his charms(I adore Peter Ustinov's take on him in such films as Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun) but the first Christie novel that I've ever finished was The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side,which was partly due to my enjoyment of the movie version that starred Angela Landsbury as Miss Marple. For someone like her to simply state the case in matters of murder most foul was rather a feminist move for those times.

While someone like Poirot can go where he pleases for the most part and can get respect,if not complete belief at times. for his findings with the authorities, an older woman who lives alone like Miss Marple has a tougher row to hoe in that department. Elderly people can be too quickly written off as confused and out of step, not to mention a woman even more so then and now.

 For Jane Marple to quietly yet firmly involve herself in such unseemly circumstances was considered abhorrent to say the least. That didn't stop her, of course and by using her low key yet knowable demeanor, Miss Marple made plenty of strides for other fictional female sleuths and I dare say, a few real life ones as well.

I should read a few more of the full Miss Marple novels in my future reading and watch more of the adaptations there. She has several made for TV series and it would be entertaining to compare and contrast some of those fine actresses like Julia McKenzie and Geraldine McEwan in their considerably unique takes on the character:

As this readathon winds down, I really need to pick up the pace on one particular book. Lauren Willig's The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is part of my Series-ous Reading challenge as well as FrightFall and my progress with that book has been slow due to my putting it aside for too long.

 That is not the fault of the story, which has a lovely Gothic theme complete with vampire novel references, but my own desire to indulge my fiendish literary habits elsewhere. That must be remedied and right soon in order to appreciate the Jane Austen fearsome flair that it holds: