Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, November 08, 2019

Some cozy mystery dishes to add to your Thanksgiving fictional feast

As Thanksgiving is on the holiday horizon once again, I do worry that it's getting ignored by those who see this heartwarming celebration as merely a speed bump on the Christmas highway.

With that in mind, I thought it would be good to highlight some Turkey Day themed reading and what better genre to do some one stop shopping in than cozy mysteries? Even if the series in question is not food related, there's still a good amount of seasonal sleuthing to be found here.

 So here are a few books that should pair up nicely with your traditional Thanksgiving meal, before and after dinner, to get you right into the savory spirit of things.

 To start, our main course is Murder of a Botoxed Blonde by Denise Swanson from her Scumble River books. School psychologist Skye Denison is less than thrilled by the prospect of spending her Thanksgiving at a health spa, where tofu turkey is on the menu. However, urged by her best friend Trixie(plus the chance to avoid playing hostess to a swarm of relatives), she decides to give the experience a decent try.

As the over emphasis on beauty treatments makes Skye feel uncomfortable, her stay becomes more tense when one of the glamorous guests is discovered drowned to death in a meant to be relaxing mudbath.

Teaming up with her friends to solve the case, Skye hopes to have a happy Thanksgiving with no more empty place settings at the table. Sounds like festive fun, although the prospect of tofu turkey is scary enough as it is to a meat eater like me:

Next up is Krista Davis' The Diva Runs Out of Thyme, the first in the Domestic Diva mysteries and the lady of the title is Sophie Winston who is planning some payback with a killer recipe for stuffing.

She intends no actual harm to her longtime rival in life and love, Natasha Smith, but the chance to earn a win against her in the upcoming Stupendous Stuffing contest this Thanksgiving is too good to pass up.

Unfortunately, the discovery of a dead body and superficial evidence tying her to the crime is putting a major crimp in Sophie's holiday plans. Can she find the true killer in time for the contest or will orange be the new black for Sophie's future Thanksgiving plans?

Granted, I'm not a stuffing fan but even I know the importance of that side dish to the occasion and no doubt this tasty read has a delicious recipe for both the stuffing as well as a solution to Sophie's situation:

Heading towards dessert, Leslie Meier serves up Turkey Day Murder for local part time reporter Lucy Stone in the Maine town of Tinker's Cover.

Lucy has quite a lot on her plate as it is with the holidays fast approaching, including preparing the classic pumpkin pie that she's known for.

Yet, when a dispute at a town meeting leads to the demise of one of the advocates for a project beneficial to the Native American community, she finds herself putting aside her apron for some Lois Lane action.

Yes, the title is Turkey Day Murder but since Lucy's pumpkin pie plays a prominent part in her meal plans, I felt that this was better off in the dessert category(plus pumpkin pie is my favorite Thanksgiving treat and worth fighting for on any occasion):

For our flavorful finale, Joanne Fluke and her feisty heroine Hannah Swenson team up to give us a Raspberry Danish Murder and yes, this story is set around Thanksgiving time.

Hannah is not in a festive mood, due to the disappearance of her new husband Ross(yes, I know that she didn't choose either Mike or Norman, not yet at least) and trying to distract herself from worrying by focusing on making as many Thanksgiving themed treats as she can.

While the customers at Hannah's bakery The Cookie Jar certainly appreciate her efforts, she needs more than a new way to make raspberry danish to occupy her anxious thoughts. When one of Ross' co-workers is fatally poisoned, Hannah sees this investigation as a way to find her missing husband and get some of the answers that she truly deserves here.

While raspberry danish is not a typical Thanksgiving dessert, I'm sure that any raspberry treat could be worked into a holiday menu somehow. After all, that shade of red does have that autumn feeling indeed:

I do hope that some of these titles inspire some Thanksgiving related reading and help to bring about more love for the holiday. While Christmas and the other winter festivities are crowd pleasers to be sure, Thanksgiving is a time to not just make a big meal and watch parades and/or sports on TV.

It's a time to think about the good things in your life and yes, that might be hard to do even under the best of circumstances(plus, the very troubling times we live in right now) but taking a moment to do just that can make all the difference in your outlook for what lies ahead.

Everybody needs a little time for comfort and closeness, which is what Thanksgiving is all about, in my opinion anyway. If a good book or any other entertainment can make that day a little better, that's a true Thanksgiving blessing in the best sense of the term:

Monday, November 04, 2019

My October readathon has come to a FrightFall end

Here we are in the early days of November and yet I must look briefly back at Halloween, which heralded the end of the FrightFall readathon(hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading). My finale was short and sweet, with sadly one book left unfinished but hopefully not for long.

The last book that I did complete was The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco by Laura DiSilverio, the first in a series and ironically enough, the last one from that trio that I read.

The title group is a book club set in the small town of Heaven, Colorado and our leading lady is Amy-Faye Johnson, who is building up her event planning business quite nicely. As the story begins, she rescues a kitten on her way to a meeting with a new client, which sets things off on a topsy-turvy vibe.

That vibe gets even more wonky as Amy-Faye learns that her new client Madison Taylor is planning a wedding and that her intended groom is Doug, a former beau of Amy-Faye's who she has had an on-again,off-again relationship for years. With Madison being the one to announce the upcoming nuptials, it's clear that Doug is definitely over her but Amy-Faye is not so sure that she's done with him just yet:

A welcome distraction from that problem for Amy-Faye is her Readaholics meeting to discuss Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, their latest selection.

The group includes such biblio buddies as Brooke, who is hoping to have a baby via adoption much to the objection of her snooty in-laws, Lola, the gentle hearted florist raising her younger sister with the help of their grandmother(she becomes the owner of Amy-Faye's rescue kitty,btw) and Maud, whose love of mystery books reflect her deep suspicions about the world at large.

While the talk is a lively one, the follow-up meeting to watch the classic film version is delayed due to the shocking discovery made by Amy-Faye the next day. Another Readaholics member, Ivy Donner, is found dying by poison in her own kitchen. The authorities later rule her death as a suicide, which all of her friends find rather hard to believe, particularly Amy-Faye, who decides that it's her duty to find out who the killer is.

The story is well paced,allowing the other members of the group to contribute to the case(especially Maud, with her computer skills and tendency to see conspiracies  almost everywhere) while keeping Amy-Faye at the center of the action. Plus, weaving in elements of The Maltese Falcon into the overall arch of the mystery is nicely done.

My only regret is that there are only three books in this Book Club Mystery series and because of a library loan, I've read them out of order and now I'm done. Perhaps Laura DiSilverio will bring these characters back in the near future but until then, I do recommend checking The Readaholics series out as it's the stuff that bookish dreams are made of:

Meanwhile, as of this writing, I have not yet finished Gaudy Night but still intend to keep it in circulation among my regular reading. In a way, it might be best to do that as Dorothy Sayers is not a writer that you want to fast forward through.

The plot features Harriet Vane, an author whose casual romance with Lord Peter Wimsey(the main detective in Sayers' novels) not only helped her from being executed for a crime she didn't commit but now may be of some use in a new mystery she's landed herself in.

Upon attending the college reunion event of the title held at Shrewsbury, Harriet notices some strange drawings and notes left for her on campus. Thinking that they are due to her past notoriety, she discards them yet some time later, she gets a request from the Dean to quietly look into a string of odd occurrences that have popped up at Shrewsbury since Gaudy Night ended.

 Acts of vandalism, including the burning of collegiate robes, and vulgar notes with vague threats keep happening and since Harriet is a mystery writer, it is thought that she might have a better insight into who might be doing all of this. She does her level best ,however, it soon becomes clear that she is in need of serious assistance in this matter and fortunately, Lord Peter is able to provide just that. In addition to that, Harriet has to examine the mystery of her own feelings for Lord Peter, a man she is drawn to yet is uncertain of committing to when it comes to marriage.

This is my first major attempt at reading Sayers and I do enjoy the leisurely elegance of her writing, so taking my time with Gaudy Night feels like a good call:

All in all, this was a good FrightFall to be had and much thanks to Michelle at Seasons of Reading for hosting another wonderful readathon. Later this month, SOR will have the Christmas Spirit readathon and yes, I do have books ready for that!

I hope that my fellow FrightFall readers enjoyed their page turning terrors as well but weren't frightened too much. Scary stuff is fun at times but if it makes you crawl into your favorite hiding place,too reluctant to come on out, that might be a sign to take your literary fear fest down a level there:

Monday, October 28, 2019

Preparing for the holidays with some November/December reads

Halloween is only a few days away but the end of the year with it's holidays is much closer than we think. Between getting that turkey dinner ready and selecting those potentially perfect presents, this could reasonably be considered the most stressful time of year.

Despite that, good times are meant to be had and whether you're in gift giving mode or just in need of a little portable entertainment, we have quite a number of new books arriving this November and December that should suit you fine.

My small handful of recommendations is rather fiction friendly yet it dips into history, mystery and a touch of magic to make your seasonal reading bright indeed:

PAGE TURNING MAGIC: After the success of The Night Circus, many have been waiting for another amazing novel from Erin Morgantstern and it appears that our patience will soon be well rewarded.

The Starless Sea gives us Zachary Rawlins, a dedicated book lover who once found a doorway into a mystical realm known as The Harbor on The Starless Sea, where stories truly come alive. Having lost his chance to explore this strangely wonderful realm years earlier, he joins up with a secret society in order to regain entry.

While Zachary is able to enter The Harbor, he discovers that it's in disrepair and in need of revitalization. Part of the problem is that the secret society he's in wants to close all of the doors for good so with the aid of Mirabel, whose motives are as secretive as her past, and Dorian, a society member who has broken away from the group's goals, Zachary takes up the quest to save the bookish day.

This sounds like a fairy tale written for readers to embrace and no doubt that many of them will want to see how this enchanting tale ends, happily or otherwise(November):


 In Caroline Scott's debut novel The Poppy Wife , our leading lady is Edie, whose husband Francis never came back from the WWI front and while she's had time to deal with his loss, her doubts about his demise resurface when a photo of him arrives in the mail.

Determined to know the truth, she recruits Francis' younger brother Harry to accompany her on a trip to France in order to trace what may have been  the final footsteps of their mutual beloved.

However, with Harry's haunted memories of the past and the possibility of Edie finding answers to questions many would prefer she not ask, this search for closure promises to be both painful and enlightening all at once. Scott was inspired by her own family history to write this emotionally compelling story and it may inspire others to find the fact within their own familial fictions(November).

Pride and Prejudice fans have enjoyed quite the literary year in 2019 with so many wonderful P&P retellings and author Molly Greeley has another fresh take on Jane Austen's iconic novel to add with The Clergyman's Wife.

The lady of the title is Charlotte Lucas, now settled into the role as Mrs. Collins, who spends her days at Hunsford being the dutiful "helpmeet" of her dull husband and dealing with the nearly daily demands of his patroness, Lady Catherine De Burgh.

Charlotte does find some joys in life, mainly her young daughter Louisa, but when she encounters Mr. Travis,one of Lady Catherine's tenants, her firmly held notions about the practical nature of marriage are seriously put to the test. Was her friend Elizabeth right all along about marrying for love and if so, is it too late for Charlotte to change her own fate?

It's good to see a familiar story with new eyes and Charlotte's perspective is a welcome one indeed. There is a blog tour planned for this engaging twist on P&P and I am fortunate to be included in that line-up, so watch this space, as they say! Meanwhile, let us all look forward to being pleasantly surprised by the spotlight to be shined upon our dear Charlotte this season(December): 


 M.C. Beaton's upcoming Agatha Raisin adventure, Beating About the Bush, has the spunky lady detective taking on an unexpected client while diving into some corporate capers.

Agatha is asked to look into the goings-on at a factory in the Cotswalds that had a recent fire but also stumbles across what appears to be a human leg clad in the same sock and shoe as Mrs. Dinwiddy, the secretary to the factory owner Mr. Morrison.

As it turns out, the leg in question was a fake but when Mrs. Dinwiddy turns up dead, the culprit being blamed is a donkey named Wizz-Wazz, who Agatha likes much better than the folks at Morrison's. Determined to prove the donkey's complete innocence in the matter and get to the bottom of what's really happening at the factory, Agatha is on the case yet can she handle more than one crime at a time?

Having caught on to the delights of Agatha Raisin due to the current British TV series, this new mystery sounds as smart and funny as the episodes that I've seen on screen. Of course, books and TV do have different standards but in this instance, this series does well on either medium.

 However, that doesn't mean you should avoid the new book for the show-in fact, they ought to go great together like spiked tea and crumpets(December):

 Beatriz Williams is known for having her historically set novels have interconnecting characters but when it comes to her upcoming book The Wicked Redhead, the literary ties are a direct hit.

In this follow-up to her previous work, The Wicked City, we catch up with on the lam lady Ginger Kelly and her federal agent lover Oliver, who have fled to Florida upon the aftermath of their dealings with Prohibition gangsters.

A favor is called upon them both from Oliver's decidedly upper class mother, Mrs. Marshall, who is taking care of his younger brother Billy, who was caught up in their prior mess. Ginger is requested to help with his recovery by playing the part of his pregnant fiance.

While Ginger is less than thrilled with this situation, she is willing to go along with it. It would help if Oliver was standing by her side but his new undercover assignment has him keeping more than an understandable distance from her. Will this all work out or are Ginger and Oliver about to part ways for good?

This book is intended to be the second in a trilogy and while I do need to read the first one, Beatriz Williams knows how to make any new reader feel right at home in her past meets present world of feisty female characters(December):

I hope that everyone has a great holiday season and takes the time to savor the year's end, starting with Thanksgiving, a day that doesn't get the full attention it deserves these days. I know that I've said this before but I think a gentle reminder can't hurt.

Thanksgiving is a good way to slow down and appreciate what you do have in life, with a nice meal and some good folks to share it with. It's a time where the whole point is to enjoy yourself in the comfort of your own home, where ever that may be, and try not to fret about anything too much even if your turkey is deep fried instead of roasted(turkey doesn't have to be your main course but that's a whole other topic there). Savor the goodness, folks, and do it with laughter if you can:

Monday, October 21, 2019

Giving an early thanks for some fall reading finds

No doubt you're familiar with the old saying about a blessing in disguise and that was certainly true for me in a bookish sense this past weekend.

I made a trip to the library sooner than I had intended, due to one of the books that I borrowed last time having a hold put on it, and while rushing my reading of that title was a tad irksome, it was worth the increased pace.

So, upon returning that particular book, I wound up replacing it with two more that I hope will last a bit longer on my TBR. The first one is Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart, which follows up her fabulous Girl Waits With Gun a couple of years ago.

We are reintroduced to Constance Kopp, a New Jersey woman in 1915 who lives with her two sisters, the mild mannered Norma and dazzlingly ditzy Fleurette. Constance, due to her unexpected adventure with a local gangster, has been made a sheriff's deputy which was a groundbreaking role for a lady in those times.

Unfortunately, when she is assigned to guard a high priority prisoner named Baron Von Mattheisus, the devious con man escapes her custody. While Constance can handle being demoted to jail matron, the effect of the incident upon Sheriff Heath, who she must admire from afar since he's married, fires up her detective skills and she vows to hunt down the escapee on her own.

I fondly recall enjoying the lively energy that Girl Waits With Gun had and have wanted to take up more of the Kopp Sisters titles(there's two more books after this one) but didn't have the right opportunity to do so. Well, now is as good a time as any and learning more about Constance Kopp, who was a real person, in this fictional fashion is truly good old school fun:

It was also fun to come across Jennifer Chiaverini's latest historical fiction entitled Resistance Women. This novel chronicles four female friends who worked together in Germany during WWII to take down the Nazi regime.

Mildred moved to Germany from America to reunite with her native born husband Arvid but the political change in the country has made it difficult for both of them to find work and be happy. Meanwhile, Greta returned home from her studies aboard to become a writer for the theater, an art form under direct attack from the new government.

Along with Martha, the daughter of a diplomat who is playing in dangerous waters, and Sara, who is rethinking her impending marriage to a man outside of her Jewish faith, these ladies join a secret network of resistance fighters that gather information to help bring down the Nazi reign. Their work is vital and risky, with one false move from anywhere being enough to endanger them all.

I've read several of Chiverini's stand alone historical novels and she has a great flair for making the women of history spring to vivid life on the page. This new work, which has three of it's major characters based on actual people, should be as riveting as any classic espionage thriller set upon the silver screen:

 I was also lucky in a thrift shop find around that time as well, with Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen, set in New York of 1965 as Helen Gurley Brown becomes the editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan magazine. Her daring new approach to women's issues in print is shaking things up, to say the least.

The leading lady of this novel, however, is Alice, a new hire at Cosmo, who is very impressed with the changes that Gurley Brown is bringing. She's hoping that her dream to be a major photographer can be a reality with such an amazing example right in front of her.

As Alice becomes part of the Cosmo scene, a few of her new friends want her to join them in taking HGB down but she is determined to have no part in their plans. However, that refusal could make Alice a target as well, dooming her future career plans. Will she be able to stick to her principles or have to make a compromise that disappoints more than just herself?

I've heard this book be called "Mad Men meets The Devil Wears Prada" and since I like both of those pop culture sensations, this ought to be some twisty dramatic fun. Who knows, this story might lead me to some more fine stories along the same lines, we shall see:

As for my new library loans, I'm hoping to keep them with me until Thanksgiving is over and done with(renewals are a library patron's best friend, in my opinion!). Don't get me wrong, I have no intention of depriving someone of such good reading material but I would like to have a nice amount of time with them, plus it would be easier on my budget not to make another trip back right away.

Granted, this is far from a big league problem yet it is a challenge needing to be met. While it's not as daunting as say, attending four Thanksgiving dinners on the same day, any reader worth their salt should be able to do this and not have to skip the bread rolls either:

Friday, October 18, 2019

Having a FrightFall-ly good time

My reading list for this year's FrightFall readathon is short but rather sinister sweet ,with a last minute change that I'll get to later on here. At the moment, I have gotten halfway through my intended reads and felt it was time to do a progress report of sorts.

Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived In The Castle was quite riveting, so much so that I finished it on Day One. The story is told by Merricat(Mary Catherine) Blackwood, one of the few family members that survived a mass poisoning. She and her older sister Constance, along with their wheelchair bound Uncle Julian, live in virtual isolation upon the family estate and rarely have visitors.

Merricat ventures out twice a week to get supplies from the nearby town and is often met with ridicule and scorn, as the locals believe that Constance got away with murder(she was legally acquitted of the crime). Other than that, she's fine with their singular lifestyle and spends a good deal of time setting up protective spells and charms on the estate.

However, that sad tranquility is broken when a distant cousin named Charles comes to visit. His side of the family kept their considerable distance during the past tragedy but now, he suddenly has the urge to reconnect with them,most likely to see what money they have on hand.

While Constance is eager to have some more family around, Merricat is less than thrilled(not to mention Uncle Julian, who is easily confused at times) with this disturbance in her world. Charles is determined to have his way and finds Constance to be agreeable yet Merricat's insistence on making her displeasure known at his presence sets up a slow building war of wills:

The book reads like a slow moving nightmare, practically for Constance as her good nature is taken advantage of time and again. We never get her direct viewpoint yet at times you can sense her desire to break free of the emotional trap that she's in.

Yet when it comes to choosing between Merricat and Charles, neither option gives her a better choice. Merricat's rock solid need to remain in control of what she believes is her own private realm is formidable and proves to be more powerful than Charles' greed for the family fortune.

I was inspired by the recent film adaption(which I hope to see at some point) to get this book in the first place and it's an elegantly woven tale of home bound terror that creeps up on the reader with the gentle speed of subtly taken poison. This was Shirley Jackson's final novel and quite the chilling end note indeed:

After that cold blooded read, it was a welcome relief to head back to Ashland,Oregon for another taste of the Bakeshop Mystery series.

Live and Let Pie by Ellie Alexander has her leading lady Juliet "Jules" Capshaw settling back into Torte, the beloved family bakery,  upon completion of an expansion which brings in new business and the need to hire new help as well.

The fresh faces at Torte, such as Rosa and Marty, turn out to be great additions to the team. Unfortunately, head coffee maker Andy is having trouble with Sequoia, who has vast experience in the field yet her way of doing things seems to bother him way too much.

Since he's usually a happy-go-lucky guy, Jules is concerned about him, especially when Andy discourages Sequoia from introducing a trendy new drink, cheese tea. Granted, I find the concept of cheese tea a little weird myself but when it comes to food and drink flavors, sometimes you don't know until you try it!:

However Jules has a lot more to worry about than staff problems as the discovery of a skull in a local lake and the sudden death of Edgar, the curmudgeonly owner of a hotly sought after piece of property in town, appear to be connected.

I do like that Jules is able to not only engage in crime solving(with the over eager assistance of theater director buddy Lance) but also take some time to deal with other matters such as the Andy situation and helping her newly married mom find a new house to live in with Jules' now stepfather and appreciative police detective Doug,aka The Professor.

These subplots are just as vital as the murders and gives the overall story line some nice layers of emotional nuance. This entry in the series does make my wait to read the next book A Cup of Holiday Fear,which I've set aside for the upcoming Christmas Spirit readathon in late November, that much harder to bear but then again, my wait to read the 2020 release Nothing Bundt Trouble will be considerably longer!

However, as they say, some things are worth the wait and a fresh from the creative oven Bakeshop Mystery book is one of those page turning delights. My patience will be well rewarded here, making the time between books easy as pie to handle:

As is now becoming my usual practice with readathons, I decided to swap out Lethal White for Dorothy Sayers'  Gaudy Night to finish this readathon with, along side The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco.

 I hate to be fickle but due to a library loan that my borrowing time was limited upon, it was best to tackle the decidedly shorter mystery book of the two.

Plus, I treated myself to a lovely limited edition known as "Olive", which took up a mystery theme in their selections this year. This particular novel is a standout in Sayers' stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, a nobleman with quite the talent for sleuthing.

The major focus here is on Harriet Vane, a mystery writer who owes her life and freedom to Lord Peter due to his prominent role in preventing her from being condemned to death for a crime she didn't commit. Harriet attends the title event( a college reunion of sorts) and despite a bit of awkwardness about her recent troubles, seems to be doing rather well among her old friends and acquaintances

Unfortunately, a series of strangely threatening notes and other odd occurrences cause her to call upon Lord Peter for help before something truly dire happens. I tried to read this book years ago but didn't get too far with it. Yet, time seems to have prepared me to appreciate Sayers and I'm looking forward to reading even more of this well crafted tale.

We have over a week or so with FrightFall left and I think it's doing rather splendidly(see, these set in England books make me break out the fancy talk!). I hope that everyone else is having just as fine a time as I am, with plenty of scary stories that are easy on the eyes, at least:

Monday, October 14, 2019

Agatha Raisin offers up The Quiche of Death for my Series-ous Reading pleasure

While my FrightFall readathon is raging on, I've finished up my Series-ous Reading selection for this month and it's quite the English treat indeed.

Having discovered the ITV adaptation of M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin mystery series(via Netflix), I was curious to sample the first book which was made into the pilot movie for the show, The Quiche of Death. Granted, I did read one of the later titles over the summer entitled The Dead Ringer but sometimes it's best to begin at the beginning.

Our leading lady here is far from the meek and mild type, despite her rather quaint name. Agatha Raisin is a tough as nails Londoner who use to run a very successful PR firm. Having made a good amount of money and then some, she takes an early retirement by selling her business and buying a cottage in the small town of Carsely, set in the Cotwalds.

She's always wanted a home like this, due to her rough and tumble childhood, but the reality of such a laid back way of life throws Agatha for a loop.

 Feeling the need to connect with her new neighbors, she decides to enter the annual quiche competition judged by Reg Cummings-Brown, who is quite the man about town despite being married to Vera, who has a good fortune of her own.

When Agatha loses the contest(to Mrs. Cartwright, who suspiciously wins every year), she's less than thrilled even though her quiche was actually store brought from a deli out of town. She leaves her entry behind and the next day, Reg is found dead in his own living room, having had Agatha's dish as his last fatal meal. Once she confesses her contest cheating, Agatha is legally in the clear but the local folk cast an even more dubious eye on her:

Determined to still make a go of it in Carsely, Agatha winds up playing detective to discover who the killer is. She also joins a local ladies' society but that's not enough to make her feel more at home with everyone.

Agatha is not the most friendly type, more apt to make enemies than friends, yet she does get some emotional support from folks such as Detective Bill Wong, who gently insists that she not get involved in the case and Roy, a former employee of hers who thinks that solving the crime will make Agatha a popular lady indeed.

One of the strong points of the book(as well as the TV show) is the solid set of supporting players around Agatha, people with hidden and not so hidden quirks of their own that give a fully fleshed out dimension to the story lines put in place here. Roy in particular is charmingly over the top yet he balances out Agatha's blend of insecurity and forceful self confidence:

Despite having seen the pilot episode first, I did enjoy the book very much on it's own merits. The changes from script to screen were minor at best(some of them due to updating the tech elements since TQOD was released in 1992) and the twist of British humor into the overall plot was smartly done.

In fact, if I were to describe the series, I would say "Ab Fab meets Miss Marple"-as in Absolutely Fabulous, one of my favorite English comedy shows. In particular, Roy and Agatha have a real Patsy and Edina vibe(yes, Agatha is definitely Edina without Saffy) which makes their small town sleuthing adventures all the more fun. Just imagining those two gal pals trying to live a suburban lifestyle is too funny for words!:

All in all, Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death is a delightful read that, whether or not you've watched the show, is a must read for those who adore cozy mysteries with a British flair.

I do plan to read the second book(Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet) but not until next year as part of the Series-ous Reading line-up for 2020. In the mean time, I'm holding off until November for the next to last book for our 2019 titles which brings me back to Hannah Swensen.

My delay is not only because of my need to complete as much of the FrightFall readathon as I can(plus a library loan that is due back sooner than expected) but that Key Lime Pie Murder sounds way more suitable for Thanksgiving, which is pie season in my humble opinion.

Granted, the story takes place during a summer fair and key lime is not considered a traditional Thanksgiving pie flavor yet why not? From what little I know, there is an air of mystery surrounding the origins of key lime pie and that's enough to satisfy my inner sweet tooth for culinary crime solving there:

Monday, October 07, 2019

A bounty of biopics to set off the autumn award season right

A major sign that fall is upon us are the big league dramas that arrive at the movie theaters, some of which clearly meant to be seen and noticed for Oscar nomination consideration.

One category that's surefire to get such attention and acclaim is the biopic, where actors showcase their skills in being fictional yet realistic versions of legendary figures from the past.

Some are better than others when it comes to the sincerest form of flattery but at the moment, we have a trio of performances that promise to be more than just cinematic imitations.

For example, Renee Zellweger is gathering up favorable reviews as the title character in Judy and yes as in Garland. This portion of the Hollywood icon's life is set in 1969, where she had trouble making ends meet and has to travel to London for an exclusive tour at Talk of the Town.

Her substance abuse problems have taken a toll on her, making it hard to be with her children and for American producers to want to work with her. As Judy struggles to keep herself together in order to complete her theatrical contract, a new romance in her life is not helping to maintain her professional needs.

This film is based on an award winning stage play(called End of the Rainbow) and it wouldn't be too surprising to see the movie get a Best Screenplay Adaptation here yet it's Zellweger who is bringing folks to the multiplex for her heartfelt portrayal of a woman who spent most of her life putting on a happy face for audiences but never able to find her own true joy in this world:

Meanwhile, just released in theaters(with streaming on Netflix due by October 25) is Dolemite Is My Name, starring Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore who brought his comedic character Dolemite to life on the silver screen.

Moore had to self finance the movie, something that he was no stranger to as his raunchy comedy albums were also sold that way. His outrageous style of humor did give him a small amount of fame yet by making Dolemite the star of several blaxploitation films, he achieved a level of influence upon future generations that is still felt today.

While this is seen as a good comeback vehicle for Eddie Murphy , there is a solid supporting cast along side him such as Keegan-Michael Key as Dolemite screenwriter Jimmy Jones, Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed and Wesley Snipes as director D'Urville Martin. Whether you see it on the big screen or the small, this sounds like a great way to celebrate the power of movie making no matter what it takes:

Speaking of the small screen, we're getting Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood in November. Matthew Rhys co-stars as a cynical journalist doing a profile on the humble  children's TV
host who finds himself pleasantly surprised by how authentic Fred Rogers truly was.

This is a tricky film release, due to the success of the Fred Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? last year. With that movie fresh in the minds of most of the target audience for this flick, a lot of compare and contrast will be taking place here.

However, Hanks has become a rather lovable figure with folks who is almost as respected as Mr. Rogers himself , so this may be a perfect match of artist and subject, we shall see:

While it's hard not to get a bit jaded with some of the fall films out for award show contention, it's also refreshing to see that some of the big biopics out there appear to be quality material that intend to engage moviegoers with insight as well as nostalgia.

Of course, if you're more inclined to stay home, you won't be biopic deprived. HBO is planning to air a miniseries starring Helen Mirren as one of history's most memorable royal ladies, Catherine the Great, a true queen and formidable diva indeed. A good biopic can do more than just entertain, it can inspire and perhaps this look at a woman in power will be a good object lesson in more ways than one:

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Some extra reading to challenge me during my reading challenge

While I'm getting my FrightFall reading off to a good start(finished the first book on my list in one day!), there are other books on my TBR to tackle and it's not inconceivable to take part in a bit of regular reading as well this month.

For example, my latest trip to the library gave me a chance to check out a debut novel that I've heard a lot of positive talk about. Kayla Rae Whitaker's The Animators focuses on the friendship of two art students, Sharon and Mel, who become partners in an indie animation company.

After creating a number of short features, they finally win a major grant with their first full length film, which happens to be semi-autobiographical for Mel.  It seems that only good times are ahead of them but just like any combination of personal and professional relationship, bumps do occur in their path towards future success that threaten to divide them, perhaps for good.

Having a lifelong interest in art of animation, this story does sound compelling and adding on the unique challenges facing women in any artistic endeavor had me putting a check in the plus column when I saw this on my local library shelf. If nothing else, a book like this should highlight that old saying about judging covers in a smartly vivid spotlight:

The other library find I picked up,Force of Nature by Jane Harper, could fit into my FrightFall readathon line-up. It's a thriller set in Australia where a woman named Alice Russell has gone missing in the wilderness during a corporate retreat.

Alice's disappearance is complicated for two reasons-one, the area in question was once the hunting ground of a serial killer who is long dead but perhaps someone may be carrying out his gruesome legacy and two, Alice was working with financial investigators to uncover the company's shady business dealings.

One of those investigators is Aaron Falk, who is recovering from his last case and has a spark of memory about the long ago killings in that neck of the woods. However, as he and his partner Carmen Cooper discover, there are numerous suspects among Alice's colleagues when it comes to her vanishing. Can Falk find Alice in time or at least track down the person who did her in?

This book is the second entry in Harper's series featuring Aaron Falk(the earlier title, The Dry, got quite a bit of bookish praise) and since this set of stories is rather new, I don't think it will be hard to get into this latest one. Whether or not Force of Nature makes it into my readathon, this sinister tale has a intriguing hook that makes me want to dive right in as soon as can be:

Speaking of  serial mysteries, I'm taking on yet another cozy mystery collection with a food theme and it's the works of Diane Mott Davidson.

Recently, I came across a copy of the final book in her Goldy Bear mystery stories(entitled The Whole Enchilada) and while I don't mind reading out of order, starting with the very last book didn't seem right to me.

So, I had to get the first two books in the series for a proper introduction and in book one, Catering To Nobody, we met Goldy Bear, a divorced mom who has to juggle her business(called Goldilocks Catering) and personal life which dangerously overlap when her former father-in-law is poisoned by lemonade from one of her services. In order to get her business back on track after being shut down by the cops, Goldy takes up serving a slice of justice with reluctant help from investigating officer Tom Schulz.

By the time Dying for Chocolate rolls around, Goldy has a new love in her life who is quickly gone due to an auto accident that feels more like foul play. In digging into her recent romantic interest's life, she unearths a few secrets and lies that are more bitter than baker's chocolate. Can she find the solution to this puzzling case or be stuck with a deadly aftertaste from the true killer?

I've heard of DMD before and have to say, her book titles are savory sweet puns that are hard to resist such as The Cereal Murders, The Main Corpse, Grilling Season and Fatally Flaky. Spending some page turning time in her creative kitchen should be fun indeed:

At the moment, I'm reading Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, a fantasy novel that takes a new turn with the classic fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin.

Our leading lady is Miryem, a moneylender's daughter who has to take over the family business due to her father being too softhearted to collect what is owned, leaving their family on the brink of dire poverty.

Her harsh yet fair ways become a local legend, with an idle boast about Miryem being able to spin gold from silver catching the unwanted attention of the icy king of the Staryk, magical folk who raid their mortal neighbors for any form of that particular glittering stone.

Trapped in their kingdom, Miryem has to make good on this dubious promise and perhaps become the Staryk queen. Otherwise, her fate will be a chilly one in the worst sense of the term. Novik is an amazing writer-I've read some of her Temeraire series of books where dragons take part in the Napoleonic wars-and this stand alone story is a richly written treasure worth it's weigh in any precious metal:

 I know that there are people who take on way more reading challenges than me and yet, it can be a bit daunting to balance the ones that I do sign up for. However, it can be done with joy in your bookish heart instead of literary dread.

Let us all remember that reading is meant to be fun as well as fundamental and not allow ourselves to get too overwrought, as there are enough things out there to get worked up about and this should not be on that pile, not at all!:

Monday, September 30, 2019

Filling up my literary treat bag for some FrightFall reading fun

While the weather outside is taking awhile to connect with the calendar, capturing that special fall feeling is as easy as grabbing a good book to hunker down with your choice of warm beverage.

Tomorrow not only begins the countdown to Halloween but also heralds the start of FrightFall, Seasons of Reading's annual salute to scary reading. My list for this challenge is small but sinister sweet in more ways than one:

WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE: At least one out and out form of fearful fiction is required for this readathon and this Shirley Jackson classic certainly fits the bill rather nicely.

Our leading lady here for the most part is Merricat Blackwood, an offbeat young girl living with her sister Constance and their wheelchair bound uncle Julian on their gloomy family estate.

 The locals avoid contact with them, due to a poisoning incident that claimed several lives including Constance and Merricat's parents. The remaining three seem sadly content with their quiet existence until the arrival of a distant cousin shakes things up and not for the better.

Granted, part of my interest in this story is due to the recent film adaptation(which I have not seen yet) but there's no doubt in my mind that this tale of family ties that bind all too tightly will give me plenty of theater worthy chills right off the page:

THE READAHOLICS AND THE FALCON FIASCO: This trio of cozy mystery novels by Laura DiSilverio I happened to read in reverse order. The middle book(The Poirot Puzzle) was the one that I discovered first and then the third entry(The Gothic Gala) became my second.

Ending off with the first book is weird but worth it to me as this one sets up the reading group in Heaven,Colorado where event planner Amy-Faye Johnson loves sharing detective books with her good friends. Unfortunately, a member of the group, Ivy, dies under unusual circumstances that the police believe to be self inflicted rather than foul play.

Amy-Faye and the rest of the group don't see it that way and wind up taking notes from their favorite authors in order to find out who truly did in their friend. So far, there aren't other titles in the series,which is a shame, as I like to read genre themed books by someone who definitely enjoys genre themes:

LIVE AND LET PIE: Having just finished Ellie Alexander's Till Death Do Us Tart and preparing for the Christmas themed entry A Cup of Holiday Fear, it only makes sense to add this particular Bakeshop Mystery title to my TBR here.

Pastry chef sleuth Jules Capshaw can't even go on a simple picnic without stumbling across a dead body or in this case, a skull at the local park. While that find appears to be connected to an unsolved murder from the 1960s, the demise of Jules' grumpy landlord is really too close to home for comfort.

Meanwhile, Jules also has to contend with expanding the family business, dealing with the reality of her mother's new marriage and figuring out her own relationship status with estranged husband Carlos. I'm sure that this will be a delicious treat with mysteries that are not as easy as pie to solve yet sweet to savor:

LETHAL WHITE: The fourth title in J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith's detective series has reclusive private investigator Comoran Strike looking into a case where a young man named Billy claims to have witnessed a crime as a child yet has trouble recalling all of the details.

As he sorts through the few facts clinging to Billy's story, Comoran is also dealing with new challenges in his life such as becoming so well known to the public that it may interfere with his chosen profession.

More importantly, there are personal and professional changes in his relationship with Robin Ellacott, who has an equal share in the business and a special place in his heart. Can the two of them work together in such a highly charged atmosphere or must they part ways on at least one front?

I haven't watched the made for cable TV series that the prior books are based on but I do know that part of the reason that this particular entry is so lengthy is due to the whole Comoran/Robin deal and that's fine with me. Having seen their connection develop over the course of the first three books, it stands to reason that the "will-they-or-won't-they" situation would need to be addressed and this is as good a place to make that turning point as any,in my opinion:

 I'm looking forward to starting this spooky reading season off by the morrow and much thanks to Michelle Miller of Seasons of Reading(along with Castle Macabre, which is doing some Halloween themed reading as well) for making this possible.

Best wishes for fun and fearful fictional reading, fellow bookish fiends and just remember, page turning terror is truly in the eye of the beholder:

Monday, September 23, 2019

Some rebellious reading for Banned Books Week

Yesterday was start of Banned Books Week, which runs until September 28 and given the strong political divisiveness we're dealing with these days, championing the freedom to read is a more valiant cause that ever before.

While there are many topics to be highlighted in this area, I'm choosing to focus on books that encourage resistance to leadership that is clearly headed in the wrong direction.

For one, I found it interesting that recently, a private school in Tennessee decided to ban the Harry Potter series using the claim that the spells in the books are "real" and can cause evil spirits to rise up against people. While this ridiculous notion is eyebrow raising and head shaking worthy, let us consider this: what are they really worried about here?

It has been said that this generation has been more than prepared to stand up and speak out against injustice, due to books like Harry Potter(and others that I'll mention in a moment) where the young characters unite to fight against those elders who misuse power.

After all, Harry Potter does lead Dumbledore's Army,once the rightful headmaster of Hogwarts is unduly ousted and replaced by lackeys of Voldemort who insist upon not properly educating the students against the very real threats facing them.

Bringing most of the houses in Hogwarts together to learn the right way to cast Defense Against the Dark Arts spells, Harry and friends take up a challenge that the prior generation had thought was completed in their time. Much like our young people today, Harry Potter and his contemporaries decide not to wait for the adults to catch up to them and instead begin to make their own stand:

Another series written for young people that's been targeted by censors is The Hunger Games, a trilogy which is set in a distant future yet has plenty to say about class struggles in the here and now.

Katniss Everdeen becomes the major talking point for a resistance movement when she chooses to spare her younger sister from being the latest victim of a celebrated death match meant to entertain the masses. In truth, this annual bloodsport only amuses those in the upper "Districts" who even when they do take part, advantages are clearly given to those of their kind.

She never intended to lead a revolt but by letting those in power see that she was willing to play their games on her terms, Katniss sounded the charge to push back for a better world for all to strive for:

 Of course, these youthful leaders aren't just found in the pages of science fiction and fantasy. One YA novel that is featured on the current list of most challenged books(it's in the top five,actually) is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas where it's heroine Starr Carter finds herself having to take a stand that's very personal.

Upon witnessing the death of a childhood friend during an unlawful police shooting, Starr is beset on numerous sides to either speak out or stay silent about what really happened. Some of those pressures not only come from the adults in her community but from peers both within her neighborhood and at the private school across town Starr attends.

Wanting to do what's right but contending with differing sets of social norms that she's expected to comply with. Starr finds the courage to protect her loved ones and bring to light the racial bias that lead to the untimely death of her friend, an ongoing struggle that we keep seeing play out over and over again. Hopefully, with those both young and old following Starr's example, such daily terrors can be truly overcome some day soon:

So when folks insist that certain books should be removed due to "questioning authority", what they're actually saying is that they want kids to adhere to the old fashioned standard of "be seen but not heard." Well, if we all did just that, America wouldn't even exist in the first place and none of the freedoms that make this nation what it is would be around to defend.

Also, it's not only up to the youth of our country to stand for what's right-we older folk need to stand beside them and give them the support and respect they deserve. A book may be a small place to start but upholding one vital freedom leads to another.

 During this Banned Books Week event, please take a moment to consider the future that taking away the right to read and think freely will sadly lead to and I sincerely hope that it's not one you want for anyone to have to live through:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

My Series-ous Reading is ready to dish it out before Another One Bites the Crust

While I just did a write-up of new series titles to enjoy, my Series-ous Reading schedule is still going full speed ahead. In fact, it's so far ahead that my latest selection, Another One Bites the Crust by Ellie Alexander, is ready for it's own curtain call before the calendar month is near it's end.

No doubt that reading the prior entry, A Crime of Passion Fruit, this summer revved me up for this book, which has Juliet "Jules" Capshaw returning home to Ashland with a renewed sense of purpose and her mom Helen engaged to be married to the charming head homicide detective known as The Professor.

Jules is happy to be back, with the expansion of the family bakery Torte going along well and the annual Shakespeare Festival about to begin. What does concern her is the demeanor of Lance, the artistic director of the local theatrical company who is surprisingly having trouble with the board as well as at war with the new leading man,Anthony, who is set to star in the first of the season production of Antony & Cleopatra:

While Lance can be charmingly over dramatic at times, even Jules can see that he's seriously stressed out here. The theater is truly his life and she's willing to do anything to help him out.

Lance does ask a favor of her; to help out at the special opening season party that he's quickly planning. The official party was catered by local business rival Richard Lord(whose taste in food is worse than his fashion sense which consists of loud enough to wake the dead golf clothes) with the aid of Anthony, who seems to have it in for Lance,which is puzzling given the big break that Lance has granted him here.

Jules is a little worried about how tense Lance is and not crazy about having to dress up in period garb for the party, which is totally Shakespearean style with a live peacock thrown for good measure. However, she is willing to do what she can for a good friend and some of the dressing up isn't too bad at all.  In fact, the party turns out to be quite the smashing success despite the late in the evening fight between Lance and Antony, which ends peacefully enough for the time being:

That peace is suddenly shattered as Jules gets a late night visit from a frantic Lance, covered in blood and in shock over finding Antony stabbed to death on a nearby park path. As the police take over the case, even inviting a detective from another town to look into the matter, it appears that Lance is the prime suspect. Can Jules clear him of wrong doing before Lance is made to take his final bow?

I really loved the behind the scenes action of this plot, which allowed for a few extra suspects such as Vera, the wardrobe lady who knows a few secrets about Tracy, the current leading lady, Judy, a theater volunteer that overhears a rather pertinent conversation and prop man Thad who has personal reasons for helping Tracy keep her secret.

Also, I appreciated the time given to both Jules and her mother to deal with the reality of Helen's remarrying and their mixed feelings about the whole thing. The Professor is a great guy(and very receptive to his fiancee's emotional state) but it's understandable that Jules and Helen would miss their father and husband all the more due to this important life change and it's nicely handled here.

While I do have a Series-ous Reading title picked out for October(more on that in a moment), I'm already continuing with the Bakeshop Mysteries on my own with the next book, Till Death Do Us Tart, where Jules and the whole town is setting up a surprise Mid Summer Night's Eve wedding for Helen and The Professor!  Granted, I do want to be fully prepared for the new entry in the series, A Cup of Holiday Fear,  but also because it's lovely to sample the sweets of Ashland with a mystery murder flavor or two to savor:

Meanwhile, my October pick is The Quiche of Death, the first book in M.C. Beaton's beloved Agatha Raisin mystery series. I have read one of the later books recently but would like to take up the first one for some Series-ous Reading fun.

Agatha Raisin is a well established London lady who decides to retire from her successful PR firm in order to live in a small village set in the Cotwolds, a childhood dream of hers. However, it's hard to fit in with the locals and bribing her way into the annual quiche contest seems like a great way to break the ice.

Unfortunately, when the contest judge winds up dead, Agatha is instantly under suspicion and she has to use her wits in order to clear her name and then some. I happened to catch the recent BBC made for TV adaptation (Season One and anxiously waiting for Season Two to be available on Netflix!) and was hooked right away on this Bridget Jones meets Miss Marple approach. This should be wicked fun for Halloween reading indeed:

Monday, September 16, 2019

Seeking some literary sisterhood on the path of series-ous reading

With my regular blog challenge of Series-ous Reading, it can be tricky to find fresh new works to not only write about but to enjoy merely for the pleasure of reading.

However, a good number of new bookish opportunities do come my way and I'm rather partial to those with solid female leads. One recent example arrived by my having won a copy of The Prisoner in the Castle from Library Thing.

This happens to be the eighth book in Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope Mystery series, set in WWII where Maggie has gone from being Winston Churchill's secretary to a major spy who has encountered the likes of Princess Elizabeth, Eleanor Roosevelt and even the Queen herself during her various adventures. Here, she's deemed too risky to be in the field so Maggie is sent to a distant island along with other agents sharing her unofficial status.

While their confinement is not severe,due to being kept at a mock Tudor mansion where the previous owner gave his prior guests the quite the grisly end, there is plenty of danger to be had as one by one, Maggie's fellow exiles are being eliminated. Since all of them have been trained to kill, this makes the suspect pool both wide spread and growing narrower with each death.

Granted, this story is placed far within the series yet the plot set forth has an echo of Agatha Christie's classic tale of deadly isolation And Then There Were None, a story that I'm pretty familiar with there. Yes, I have decided to read a couple of earlier titles in this series as well but do plan to walk along these story shores with Maggie Hope as she searches for the killer before she gets taken off of the playing board:

Of course, it's also good to check in with old friends and thanks to Netgalley, I had an early holiday visit with Becky Brandon,nee Bloomwood as she turns into a Christmas Shopaholic.

Becky is expecting to have Christmas with her parents as usual, only they decide to move to the trendy neighborhood of Shoreditch(think hipster Brooklyn, if you're a New Yorker) which passes the celebratory baton to her instead.

Since holiday prep involves a good amount of shopping,which is still her greatest strength and weakness, Becky feels that she can handle this challenge but things get topsy-turvy at a steady pace.

In between hunting down the perfect gift for husband Luke(which has her breaking a long standing tradition for membership at a billiards club), finding that special must-have llama ornament for her tree and juggling various menu requests, Becky's buying powers are getting stretched to limits beyond her credit line on an emotional level.

Despite the mounting stress, Becky is determined to give all of her loved ones the happy holiday they deserve, just like the made for TV Christmas movies that she's become hooked on lately. During these current challenging times, I've found myself taking comfort in more of Sophie Kinsella's invigoratingly charming novels and this upcoming one(due out in October) is a welcome indulgence in British holiday humor indeed:

Meanwhile, there are those dazzling debuts that you are eager to invite in and hope that they stay around for more engaging tales. I feel that may be the case when it comes to The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis.

This first novel in a historical mystery series has the Bronte sisters themselves in search of the titled lady in question. Their brother Branwell announces a possible murder at the local estate of Robert Chester, whose first wife died via a fall from a window.

The second Mrs. Chester is missing and, due to the gruesome state of her bed chamber, is feared to have shared a similar fate. While Anne and Branwell team up to look into the household staff at the Chester estate, Charlotte and Emily decide to use their intuitive skills as interviewers, seeking answers to dangerous questions. Can the combined cleverness of the Bronte women reveal the truth of the matter or are they risking more than their reputations here?

This does sound like an intriguing premise for a new literary themed series and while I'm more of a Jane Austen fan(who has had a few mystery series written about her), I would be very willing to see where the detecting tales of the Bronte sisters would lead to:

Whether it be standalone or a series, reading is a true constant in turbulent times. However, it does help to be more flexible and I've had to deal with reading a series out of order on occasion and surprisingly, it can be more rewarding than starting from the beginning.

Of course, there's also the added bonus of playing catch-up which only gives you more great books to read and enjoy, regardless of their numerical status. If you're lucky enough to find a series that you really like, just go with it and if you have a plucky heroine to boot, you have been blessed by the literary deities indeed: