Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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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:

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