Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, December 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Celebrating my Christmas Book Haul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 22, 2017

Plugging in a holiday playlist for my Christmas Jukebox

As this upcoming weekend brings us closer to Christmas Eve, it is time for the LRG traditional holiday music playlist to be set up for your holiday enjoyment.

While this has certainly been the year for folks to want to hit the eggnog harder than usual,not to mention the whole keeping your spirits bright notion quite the challenge, we still have plenty of good feelings to hold on to with the promise of better times to come.

With that in mind, let us crank up a couple of fun seasonal tunes to get this Christmas party started. First off, the modern day classic "Christmas in Hollis" from Run-DMC is  perfect for setting the merry making mood:

Next up is another iconic holiday number by Hall and Oates who, according to Supergirl's Hank Henshaw,aka Martian Manhunter, has one of the best versions of "Jingle Bell Rock" out in the universe.

I can not disagree at all with that and granted, even your favorite song played over and over again can slightly sour your listening pleasure, it's too super sweet to see superheroes partying to such an old school tune like this:

 For our next bit of Yuletide cheer, we find a delightful tune in the midst of a soundtrack album for a movie that many would love to forget- Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

As it turns out, TLC contributed to the sorry sequel hijinks with their take on "Sleigh Ride", a good song stuck in this lackluster follow-up. I know other people are doing new looks at this film but all I will say is that the script is soggier than the Wet Bandits.

However, that shouldn't ruin our dance fun as the ladies of TLC give this time honored tune a great revamp indeed:

  To round this set out, a touch of Gloria Estefan ought to be the right tree topper here.

Several years ago, she released a holiday album and one of the cover songs that she did was "This Christmas",that has quite the music video to go along with it.

Gloria seems to be a snow globe spirit of sorts who rescues children from a truly b&w world to a full color realm where kids dress up like toys and get a big box of puppies to play with(so not kidding about the puppies).

Sure, it's a little sugary even for this time of year but,hey, why not? It's hard to resist cute kids and puppies, not to mention that Gloria's pipes are a treat to hear any time of year:

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, with best wishes for the coming year. I will be back before 2018 with a post or two but do plan to enjoy this season with my loved ones and maybe some binge watching(almost ready for The Crown S2!). Until then, let's climb aboard the Carpool Karaoke ride with James Corden and friends heading towards Santa Town:

Monday, December 18, 2017

Setting up some more Series-ous Reading for 2018

In winding down from my year of Series-ous Reading, I have come to realize that it's more about the journey than the destination. The final book on my list, Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, is not going to be finished by the end of 2017.

That doesn't mean I won't still be reading it, for the writing is amazingly good and the characters are incredible ones, especially our leading man Kvothe, a semi-retired wizard whose quiet life as a country innkeeper is disrupted by the threat of supernatural invaders and a chronicler of tales eager to get his life story.

I've read over a hundred pages so far but with holiday distractions(plus, taking out four library books that are due by the end of this month) and not wanting to simply gobble up such a good story, it's clear to me that this book needs more time for me to fully appreciate it. Pacing is a personal thing and having heard such wonderful things about this book, I want to consume it properly in my own time:

 That's not a bad thing since the main goal of Series-ous Reading for me was to catch up on a couple of genre series that have been gathering dust on my shelves and in that, I succeeded.

 Now, I can safely say that I've caught up well with both Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen Mysteries and Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation tales. There are still several books in both series that I will find and read but the first five of each are completed. Not to mention trying out new books from other series such as the classic Anne of Green Gables and The Rook by Daniel O'Malley. So, I've more than earned the right to take my time with The Name of the Wind there.

For next year,however, I've decided to kick this concept up a notch and read one whole series and yes, it's The Dark Tower saga by Stephen King. The seven main titles are the ones that I will be reading and reviewing, starting with The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three as rereads.

I know there is an eighth book(The Wind Through the Keyhole) but since that's more of a prequel that stands alone, I'll tackle that at another time. Yes, I did see the Dark Tower movie that came out this summer and while the casting was quite good, the overall story felt condensed and I highly doubt that anything I saw in that film would spoil me for the books.

Don't get me wrong, I am glad that there is some sort of cinematic version of this particular King tale out in the world, it just would have been better to get a more fully fleshed out adaptation for audiences old and new. It is considered one of King's best creative works and deserved a stronger film to support that status. Then again, to paraphrase James M. Cain, the books are not ruined, they're still on the shelves,waiting to be discovered yet again:

 In between the Dark Tower books, I'll also be catching up on some of the entries in the Poldark saga by Winston Graham. As a fan of the current BBC/PBS series,which just completed their third season, I am far behind on the books especially since the show uses two at a time for their story lines.

The ones that I plan on getting to include Warleggan, as in George Warleggan, the main villain of the piece. He's one of those guys you love to hate as his snobbery,greed and ruthless ambition make him hard to stand.

However, the show does give him small glimpses of humanity from time to time and it will be interesting to see if that is reflected in the books as well:

Speaking of TV adaptations, my summer reading for this challenge will be Voyager, the third book in Diana Gabaldon's epic series that was just made into season three of the Starz show Outlander.

With this being a good long read(Gabaldon doesn't do short for this series), spending July and August with this book feels like a great vacation to me. Also, it will relieve some of the Droughtlander angst that many of us fans feel in waiting for the next season,which will be in America!

"But don't you know what happens already,since you watched the show?" Not necessarily, as there are plenty of changes from book to screen and to me, it's a great way to get one great story in two different formats. Double your pleasure,indeed!:

Do wish me luck with this 2.0 version of Series-ous Reading or as I like to call it, Series-ous Reading 2: Electric Book-a-loo. As we go forward into more of the unknown in 2018, I find that it helps to have something solid on hand for stress relief and a good book is the perfect port in any storm.

If I can finish The Dark Tower titles, then my ultimate goal will be complete. At least it'll spare me from going back to the previous books before taking up another one,which can be fun but a little time consuming as well. We shall see as we read and hope to find other worlds than this:

Friday, December 15, 2017

Adapting a few perfect presents for Jane Austen's birthday

Tomorrow will be Jane Austen's birthday, a celebration that many of her devoted readers rejoice in as part of their holiday festivities.

However, like many birthdays that fall around this time of year, the question remains-what would be the perfect present? Of course, no one intends to actually have to get Jane Austen a gift but if you did, what would she want?

While some of her novels do deal in gift giving at some point, pianofortes are not the easiest items to come by these days and the finding the right chain for a cross necklace is less complicated than it used to be. Perhaps a quick look at a couple of  recent adaptations of Austen's work might spark a few fresh ideas in this department:

Theater tickets with a side of yogurt: On the webseries Emma Approved, our Ms. Woodhouse becomes convinced of her client Senator Elton's affection for her assistant Harriet by his bringing her a cup of Icelandic yogurt.

Not the most promising of love tokens there but his eagerness to help Emma find Book of Mormon tickets for Harriet as a holiday gift further boosts her belief in their romantic destiny.

While I doubt that Jane herself would be much interested in yogurt(even the Icelandic kind), she did love the theater and would be happy to accompany Harriet to any fine musical production,of that I am certain. It's more certain than Emma's notions about Elton's true interest in a future love match:

A library with music: One of the most musically inclined characters in Jane Austen's novels is Miss Marianne Dashwood, who holds poetry only second to playing the pianoforte in artistic expression.

That is why in the 2008 BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, it makes very good sense for Colonel Brandon to slowly yet surely win over her heart by giving her free use of his library and musical instrument.

Granted, I did say that a pianoforte is not a simple thing to acquire but perhaps a digital library of period appropriate tunes would amuse Miss Austen greatly, along with a trip to a good bookstore:

Some "Horrid" novels:  Speaking of  bookstores, to call a novel horrid back in Austen's day was placing it in the genre of Gothic literature(and a bit of a backhanded insult as well).

Her love for such books is well documented in Northanger Abbey, as the 2007 film version had Catherine Morland join her new friend Isabella Thorpe in a visit to a bookseller for a copy of Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho and then later getting a recommendation from Isabella's brother John for The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis.

No doubt Jane Austen would still have a taste for thrillers and be the right person to settle the argument over which is better; Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train? Then again, she might just settle in a comfortable chair with some Agatha Christie and politely nod during such a heated debate:

Well,anyway, happy birthday to Our Dear Jane and much appreciation for all of the wonderful writing that she left us as the ultimate gift for any occasion. Now, as to her fans, a good number of us would love to make a date with one of our favorite characters from her novels as our perfect present and I call dibs on Captain Wentworth. Of course, if the right Darcy or Tilney came along, I wouldn't be reluctant to accept such attentions at all!:

Monday, December 11, 2017

Looking forward to some future thrill rides at the Movie Trailer Park

With the state of the world in flux right now, looking ahead to next year is not quite a hopeful vision of things to come. However, there is one place where we can always count on for thrills and strange new changes that are sure to please us and that is at the movies.

So, one of the most anticipated flights of fancy to arrive in 2018 is the cinematic adaptation of Madeline L'Engle's classic novel, A Wrinkle in Time. For those like me who haven't read the book, it's the tale of Meg Murray, a young girl searching for her missing scientist father whose theories regarding inter dimensional travel were more accurate than he realized.

The film has a good amount of star power behind it, from director Ava DuVernay to actresses such as Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey as the trio of mystical guides known as Mrs. Who, Mrs.Which and Mrs. Whatsit. Chris Pine and Zach Galifianakis  are also on board,making it a serious set of big league players here.

Granted, that's not a guarantee of success or quality but this is clearly is a labor of love for most of these folks and that should amount to something truly special on screen:

For something a bit more down to earth, we have Red Sparrow, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika Egorova, aka DIVA, a specially trained Soviet spy who may be considering a switch to double agent.

Her interest in increasing her work load is due to a romance with CIA agent Nathaniel Nash(Joel Edgerton), something that her bosses may not see as a threat to their control over her at first. However, the time when those particular set of skills that were drummed into Dominika will be used against those in charge is fast approaching.

This movie happens to be based on a thriller novel by Jason Matthews, which could be a good sign of a solid screenplay and the director on hand, Francis Lawrence, worked with JLaw on the Hunger Games trilogy,so perhaps this may be a savvy sleeper hit in the making:

If you're in the market for fact based ghost stories, then a movie like Winchester:The House that Ghosts Built should be right up your alley.

Helen Mirren stars as the widow of the renowned gun maker who keeps on adding extensions to her already elaborate mansion in order to avoid the haunted spirits within the walls.

Yet, not even the further expanding of the now infamous house is enough to keep the determined supernatural threat at bay. I have a feeling that those who are familiar with the legendary Winchester Mystery House are part of the intended audience but not as much as regular horror movie fans:

Speaking of horror movies, the upcoming X Men themed film,The New Mutants,is certainly been made as one.

The plot has a quartet of newly empowered young people( a couple of which are played by Maisie Williams and Charlie Heaton) held at an isolated location in order to learn control over their seriously dangerous abilities. However, someone or something appears to be hunting them down.

This certainly is a change of pace for the franchise and if the results are anywhere near to what Logan achieved, we're in for some major ground breaking genre material here:

Out of all these,however, my strongest hope is with Ready Player One. Ever since I read Ernest Cline's amazing novel that blended pop culture wonder with video game prowess, it was not hard to envision this as a movie.

Fortunately, Steven Spielberg is at the helm which aids greatly to getting in many of 1980s referenced material into the story(Spielberg has opted out of using his own work,due to not wanting to make this film look like a vanity project). Also, while a few familiar faces(Simon Pegg,Mark Rylance) can be seen in the cast, we have a good amount of fresh faces as well.

That's important as the story is truly the star of the show and judging by this brand new trailer, this film could provide some much needed relief from what's to come in 2018 and revive our collective cinematic spirits for the better:

Friday, December 08, 2017

A bundle of holiday cheer from my Bookish Secret Santa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 04, 2017

Make some royal family reading time this season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 01, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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