Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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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:


Monday, September 09, 2019

Embracing the approach of autumn with a bookish glee

Granted, the calendar proclaims it to be September but I suspect that the weather will be taking it's sweet time before allowing those chilly breezes and falling leaves to properly make it so.

Nonetheless, I decided to start this season off right with a visit to my local library, a joy that I delayed due to the excessive heat that runs roughshod over August.

 It helped that I went close to my limit of book renewals to get as much time as possible to finish most of the literary loans that I made(3 out of 4, not too bad!) to tide me over. Returning those books,plus renewing my library card, to get a fresh batch of new reads was a wonderful way to begin the fall here.

The first book that I knew on sight that I had to have was The Bride Test by Helen Hoang, a novel that I've heard nothing but great things about.

Esme Tran is a single mother working at a hotel in Vietnam when she gets a most unusual offer from a well-off woman who emigrated to America.  This lady is looking for a wife for her younger son Khai, who is considered "shy" and willing to sponsor Esme for the summer in order to see if they might make the perfect couple.

Khai has no interest in getting married or being in any sort of relationship but reluctantly lets his mom have her way for just this summer. While Esme has no wish to marry someone simply for money, she does see the chance to better her life as well as her five year old daughter's, so she takes this opportunity to find out if America or Khai could be right for her.

As Khai and Esme get to know each other, some sort of spark begins to grow between them and the possibility of this arrangement actually working out is strongly increasing. However, there are a few things that Esme hasn't told Khai or his family about that might become a deal breaker yet maybe not, if their feelings are true for one another.

So far, this is an immensely likable book and while I know that this story is a standalone that is within the same universe as Hoang's earlier novel The Kiss Quotient, it looks like I may have to get that one,too, as these engaging characters will no doubt have equally engaging friends to get to know and appreciate all the more:


Another title that I was delighted to find was Miriam Parker's The Shortest Way Home, set in Sonoma Valley where our leading lady decides to make a major change in her life.

Hannah Greene does have a good job waiting for her as soon as she and boyfriend Ethan Katz finish up business school together but upon visiting a beautiful family owned winery, feels as if she is meant to be part of that seemingly sedate world.

While Hannah is considering exchanging one dream for another,perhaps better one, she's not alone in wondering what the next step in life ought to be taken. Linda, the matriarch of the winery clan, still has her heart set upon Jackson, a former love who became a musician and who has always managed to pop in and out of her life.

 In addition to that, Linda's son William wants to pursue his dreams of film making yet a family crisis forces him to rethink that notion, not to mention Hannah becoming another compelling reason to stay around.  With so many different pieces in play, it can be hard to see the big picture until the puzzle is complete and yet, Hannah is willing to make her move in order to do just that.

A major reason that I was happy to borrow this book is that I've meet the author, back when she was a book rep and a nicer person would be harder to find. She was kind and generous enough to meet up with a small book store clerk at BEA (yes, I mean me!) and I've never forgotten her good nature and love of books. She mention back then that she was working on a novel and I'll be pleased to savor the fictional fruits of her labor this season:



To round things off, I thought it would be fun to check out Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid which is a Reese Witherspoon book club selection and plans for a miniseries adaptation are already underway.

Told via interviews, this fictional look at a rising rock band from the 1970s and how they fell apart focuses strongly upon two people; Billy Dunne, the original lead singer of The Six and Daisy, the new addition to the group. Like it or not, her sassy soulful style changes the band's fortune yet at quite the cost.

I do like the type of books that Reese Witherspoon picks out and since this author is new to me, that's a solid enough recommendation there.  Also, TJR has said that she was inspired by Fleetwood Mac and their inter-band struggles on and off stage for this novel, which is fine by an old school Stevie Nicks fan like me:



 After checking that trio out, I come home to find a brand new book awaiting me in the mail. I happily binge read Kendare Blake's Three Dark Crowns series over the summer and a bonus in doing that was being ready in time for the final chapter in this smartly sinister saga.

Five Dark Fates picks up where the previous book had left off, as the island of Fennbirn is dealing with a rebellion that's supposed to be lead by the "Legion Queen" who is no longer able to control her complex powers.

Reigning Queen Katherine has many secrets to keep,including a deadly alliance that brought down one of her most trusted advisors. However, she's about to have one of her fugitive sisters join her side, more out of duty for the protection of the realm rather than willing to concede to her cruel sibling's hold on the throne.

 Can the dark legacy of the past queens be cast aside for a brighter future or will these royal sisters be the last in line for all time? Kendare Blake certainly has a killer cool instinct when it comes to portraying the power games that many of her fierce heroines have no choice but to play and this finale should be richly rewarding indeed:


Well, my fall reading is certainly off to a fine start and hopefully, the one place that we can all take solace in these days is within the pages of a good book. I really do love fall, it's such a calmly exciting time of year.

While some might feel that it signals the end, it's actually more of a beginning as the old season sheds it's skin in vivid colors to reveal a new stage for the coming winter to present itself in all of it's frosty glory.

Okay, I'm getting a bit carried away there but this is a crisp pause between seasons that makes me feel like taking a brisk walk to a bookstore or library and maybe picking up a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils along the way:


Thursday, September 05, 2019

How I spent my Series-ous Reading summer with Miss Fisher & friends

For my big summer read for my Series-ous Reading challenge, I decided to go with a three-in-one collection from mystery writer Kerry Greenwood. Due to the popularity of the made for TV adaptation of her Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries(and yes, I've seen all three seasons of the show), I've been anxious to check out this series in it's original form.

Introducing the Honourable Phryne Fisher has the first three novels and we begin with Cocaine Blues, where our leading lady decides to take a trip to Australia where she eventually settles in.

 Phryne's family has come into wealth due to the demise of a few relations during WWI and while she's happy to be living the good life, she does want to be useful to others. Her talent for sleuthing has caught the attention of Colonel Harper who is concerned about his married daughter Lydia living in Melbourne with a rather disreputable husband named John Andrews.

Wanting a change of scene, Phryne takes the job and upon arriving in Australia meets up with an old friend, Dr. Elizabeth MacMillian. During the course of her investigation, our Miss Fisher makes a few new acquaintances such as Dot, a young woman in need of a respectable job, Communist leaning cab drivers Bert and Cec and while visiting the strangely ill looking Lydia, a handsome Russian dancer who sweeps her off her feet and then some:


Once that case is resolved, we move on to Flying Too High(which was not part of the TV series line-up) as Miss Fisher acquires a house and a rather fast car that she handles as speedily as a professional racing driver.

Phyrne finds herself involved in two cases, one a kidnapping and the other a family dispute that leads to murder. Both of these situations call upon her talent at flying(the family in question runs a flying school) and knack for inventive problem solving.

She also makes a new friend of sorts on the police force, Inspector-Detective Jack Robinson, who at least is willing to have her help out, unlike the pompous ID in charge of the murder case. While Phyrne and Jack don't seem to be as romantically involved as they are on the show, they do make for an engaging pair of characters to follow.

The last book in this collection(which is definitely a Season One episode) is Murder on the Ballarat Train, where Phyrne and Dot are hoping to take a pleasant trip across country on.

However, during the night, an unexpected stop due to chloroform being dumped in the air vents leads to the demise of an elderly woman who was traveling with her adult daughter. The lady in question gave her only child a rather hard time, especially regarding her daughter's boyfriend, a young man studying medicine who is in desperate need of money.

A possible witness to the crime is a young stowaway who claims to have no memory, a girl that Phyrne decides to call Jane. As she looks into Jane's past and the mysterious death on the train, both of these separate scenarios wind up making quite the connection:

These books are a delight and while there are some differences from the TV series(which is to be expected), getting to know the delightful Miss Fisher in any format is a treat. She's smart and capable and for that time period of the 1920s, rather progressive when it comes to women's issues, bigotry and self expression.

While the first book takes some time to set up the character, the other two fly by quickly on the page and I suspect the other titles in the series do the same. If you haven't watched the show, this is a good intro to Miss Fisher and for those who have, a great way to relive those daring adventures indeed.


Now that summer is over, it's back to one at a time reads for this challenge and my next Series-ous Reading selection is Another One Bites the Crust by Ellie Alexander.

Having finished my time with Miss Fisher a tad early, I was able to catch up on a couple of other cozy mystery titles including A Crime of Passion Fruit, which took Torte baker Jules Capshaw back on the open seas. Now that this seventh entry in the Bakeshop Mystery series has her back home in Ashland, I'm ready to start my fall season with her.

Of course, there's plenty of high drama to be had on land as the annual Shakespeare Festival gets under way and a murder to solve but rest assured, there will be some tasty recipes worked lovingly into the plot as well. A savory serving of mystery soup is the perfect way to get into the autumn mood, if you ask me:




Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Wrapping up my High Summer with a bit of well written drama

Now that we're in September, the High Summer readathon hosted by Seasons of Reading is definitely over. While I'm near the finish line with one last read from that list, I did complete a book that may have had a small page count but it reached depths more successfully than some lengthy big reads have.

Meg Wolitzer's The Wife caught my attention due to the acclaim given it's recent film adaptation(which almost gave Glenn Close an Oscar win) but this novel has plenty of merits on it's own accord.

 I do intend to see the movie at some point but trust me, this emotional portrait of a woman who truly has suffered for art is is solidly compelling in print.

The title spouse here is Joan Castleman, who has been married to Joe, a well established literary author for several decades. They met in collage, where he was the professor and she the student. He was also married to another woman at the time but despite the scandal when their relationship was revealed, Joan and Joe stayed together.

Their marriage has had it's fair share of ups and downs, some of which relate to their three children, yet Joan has never seriously thought about leaving Joe until the announcement that he's won a major international prize for his novels. That award puts their entire married life in a new perspective that has Joan considering a major change in hers as they travel to claim the prize:



She recalls their early days, when Joe introduced her to the literary world due to Joan's budding talent with words. As thrilled as she was to be praised for her efforts, it was easy to see that Joan was already seen by everyone as his girlfriend and not much more.

While she did think about becoming a writer herself, that relationship with Joe, who can talk a great game but not play it as well as others can, along with the disregard given to female authors by professionals and the public made it seem simpler to put those dreams aside:


However, did she really step away from the typewriter or did she give away her right of authorship in the name of love?

Many suspect the truth, such as would be biographer Nathaniel Bone or their own troubled son David. Joan is both angry at herself as well as Joe, who eagerly gobbles up the praise and glory given to him.

 In fact, his self centered behavior combined with the attitude that he's doing Joan a great favor just by being with her makes this whole award ceremony event more intolerable to bear. Plus, Joe still indulges his wandering eye for other women, along with other unhealthy appetites, which really test Joan's resolve to maintain the illusion of their artistic front to the wider world:


Wolitzer does more than merely present a martial melodrama; she opens up Joan's whole inner life to display the reasons behind the choices she made, the regrets that still linger and the pride that keeps her from exposing the truths of her marriage. I have no doubt that the film version does justice to the source material but I think that by reading the novel, you get a fuller sense of the character's heartfelt journey.

At the moment, I'm getting closer to the conclusion of The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams. The main portion of the plot is set during WWII as reporter Leonora "Lulu" Randolph is set to Nassau in the Bahamas in order to get some good gossip on the infamous Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

While Lulu winds up writing the "Lady of Nassau" column for a major magazine with the approval of Duchess Wallis Simpson, she also discovers a few unpleasant truths about the exiled royals and the crowd they run with.

Plus, she falls in love with Benedict Thorpe, a biologist who may also be a spy for the British. When he becomes the captive of the Germans, Lulu is determined to do everything possible and then some to win his freedom and that include spilling the considerable tea on what the Duke and Duchess are really up to in Nassau.

Lulu and Thorpe's relationship is contrasted with an earlier romance, between Thorpe's German born mother and an Englishman who had some secret doings of his own for king and country. How these story lines are going to connect, I'm not sure yet but it will be a pleasure to find out. Williams truly has a flair for historical fiction that makes you feel like you're watching a classic movie that's never been seen before:


All in all, this has been a fine summer of reading and much thanks to Michelle Miller of SOR for making this happen. Once I finish that last book, I'll be making plans for the next readathon, Fright Fall, in October. It may be hard to find something scarier than the daily headlines but I think that I can manage to gather up a handful of sinister stories worth talking about there:


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Turning the autumn leaves of your September/October new reads

The unofficial end of summer is almost here and I know that I'm not the only one waiting to pull out those comfy sweaters and warm up a nice cup of hot chocolate to enjoy the evening chill with.

The fall season has plenty of new pop culture delights to savor such as potentially award winning films, the return of our favorite TV shows and a crop of new books ripe and ready for the reading.

For September and October, the air is filled with spices(and I don't mean pumpkin spice!) such as newly sharpened pencils, sweet apple cider and the crisp scent of paper pages being slowly turned for one of these engagingly fresh reads before you:

A PILE OF LITERARY LEAVES:

Ann Patchett gives us a fictional tour of The Dutch House, a home shared by more than one generation of a family whose relationships are in part shaped from taking up residence there.

When Cyril Conroy buys the elaborate 1920s mansion for his growing family, his young wife Elna feels so oppressed by the rather stately manor that she leaves in search of a better, more emotionally fulfilling life. However, her two children, Maeve and Danny, are left far behind.

The kids receive little comfort from their remote father and not much from their new stepmother, who loves the house so much that she insists upon claiming the property for herself alone upon the death of her husband. Despite the dark cloud of sorrow that follows them around, Danny and his sister Maeve prove to have a stronger foundation than the house where most of the memories of their lives were made.

Patchett has a remarkable talent for painting quietly vivid portraits of people set in vital places in their lives and this upcoming exhibit should be the literary masterpiece indeed(September).

Speaking of masterpieces, Elizabeth Strout decides to have her readers visit Olive, Again, as in Olive Kitteridge, her dry witted heroine from the 2008 award winning novel of interconnected short stories.

Ten years later, Olive is still showing the rough side of her nature yet can't help being part of the everyday world. Her second marriage has it's ups and downs, her son Christopher is in and out of her life and a former student or two pop up when least expected.

Even with her hackles raised, Olive has much to offer to others and while acknowledging her own shortcomings, is not at all about to give into complete despair. This feels like a welcome return and with any luck, we'll get another wonderful HBO adaptation out of it to boot(October):



In the follow-up to her previous novel set in 1880s New York , Where The Lights Enters by Sara Donati traces the path of two cousins, Anna and Sophie, who are pursuing their medical dreams as best they can.

While Sophie decides to channel her grief from the loss of her husband through using her inheritance to create scholarships for other women seeking to become doctors, Anna has concerns both within and out of her control.

In addition to losing custody of her foster children, she is worried for the safety of her detective husband Jack, who,along with his partner Ollie, is searching for a ruthless serial killer.

 The victims of his vicious wrath are desperate women in need of a safe solution for their unexpected pregnancies, which makes most of the authorities less than sympathetic to their plight. Nonetheless, Anna and Sophie are determined to save the women in their care from such horrors but what risks will they and Jack take that won't endanger them as well?

This blend of historical fiction with serial killer sinister storytelling offers great insights into the difficulties that women both back in the day and sadly, in our day and age, still face yet not without some courage and dignity to accompany them on this heartfelt journey(September):


 SOME SEASONAL CHILLS:

In Bob Proehl's The Nobody People, a father named Avi realizes that his daughter Emmeline's uniqueness is more than just a personality quirk. She and many other young people are displaying extraordinary abilities such as telekinesis, invisibility and unusual mechanical prowess that leads to fear and persecution.

While Avi is able to find a school that can help Emmeline learn to use her gifts safely, others are not as fortunate, with some being hunted down by secretive government forces.

To make matters worse, the violent action of a pushed too hard young man with otherworldly powers puts everyone in this new community in jeopardy. Can Avi save Emmeline from such threats or is he simply to step aside and let what happens, happen? Proehl intends to follow this up with another book and I hope that we see it sooner rather than later(September):



When less than romantic heroine Miranda enters The House of Brides, she gets quite the rude awakening and then some. In Jane Cockram's debut novel, our leading lady is taking a nanny job under false pretenses as she's more interested in the titled home than watching over the three siblings living there.

Miranda's late mother Tessa once wrote a one and done novel about the place and since Miranda herself is in the unhappy position of needing to stay out of the spotlight for now, pretending to be the new nanny for her distant relatives seems ideal.

Yet, nothing is what it appears to be and when push comes to potential lethal shove, Miranda has to gather up what courage and cleverness she possesses in order to save the day and then some. This seems to have a flavor combo of Rebecca meets The Nanny Diaries and that could hit the right sweet spot for many a reader out there(October).

MAKING HOLIDAY PLANS:

 It may feel too soon to be thinking about winter holidays but I get the feeling that we're really going to need some extra holly jolly vibes this year. A good place to start is The Mistletoe Matchmaker by Felicity Hayes-McCoy, set in Ireland where a young lady named Cassie is not looking for love yet it finds her anyway.

Cassie is happy to spend this special time of year with her grandmother Pat in the small town of Lissbeg where her father grew up. She even has friends in the community and joins the new writing group at the local library.

However, there are tensions hovering all about her that make this festive season feel less than bright. Also, getting the attentions of the charming and handsome Shay is very nice indeed but should she think that his notice means more than local hospitality? A lovely holiday themed story that highlights both family and romantic love sounds like a nice bookish gift pack to me(October).

If you prefer a taste of mystery with your seasonal sweetness, A Cup of Holiday Fear from author Ellie Alexander is the one to order up.

This tenth entry into The Bakeshop Mystery series has Jules Capshaw and friends getting ready to celebrate Christmas in all of it's edible glory.  While her family bakery Torte is doing well and then some at this time of year, Jules wants to take a time out for a bit of real holiday feasting.

Setting up a Dickensian feast for all of her family and friends sounds perfect and while the food is nicely delightful, the weather outside is growing naughtily frightful. Even more menacing than the snow storm is the sudden death of a dinner guest, which makes Jules have to take off her Santa hat to put on a detective cap to solve the case.

I do love this cozy little series and not shy about saying that I do have this book on pre-order and plan to save it for a Christmas themed readathon later this year. This book is truly a great gift to give to yourself as well as other fans of cozy mysteries looking for a little lightness before the new year arrives(September):


Hope you all have a great Labor Day weekend and ready for the fresh fall season ahead of us. I know that there are plenty of great things to look forward to, including the arrival of Downton Abbey to the cinema and another fabulous film visit with the March sisters(which really looks awesome!):




Monday, August 26, 2019

Avengers:FilmFail ends Bad Movie Month by breaking Red Dawn

At last, we reach the end of Bad Movie Month as our special theme of Avengers:FilmFail has felt as long as an infinity war and now, it's great to finally be in the endgame.

Our last entry shines a less than divine spotlight on Chris Hemsworth, aka Thor, in the 2012 remake of the 1984 cult classic Red Dawn. Just like the original, this new edition has a PG-13 rating but beyond that,there's not much of an improvement over the first film.

Let's start with the opening credits, which gives us a CNN style cliff notes version of world events, showcasing North Korea as the next major threat( the first script had the Chinese attacking us but the producers soon realized that having them as the adversaries would make it hard for this movie to do well...in China).

Then it gets all Friday Night Lights, as our leading man Jed(Hemsworth) is back home after serving in Iraq and watching his little brother Matt(Josh Peck) screw up the big football game. Of course, Jed and his dad(who happens to be the local sheriff) are all supportive of Matt, who has a cute blonde girlfriend who is,naturally a cheerleader  and there's a cute girl named Toni(Adrianne Palicki) who finds Jed to be cute as well.

Toni and Jed keep running into each other during the course of this movie as a potential romantic couple but their brief moments together are as meaningful as two people who meet cute in any cheesy TV commercial, not to mention I've seen better writing in Hallmark Channel movies:



The next morning, the town is under invasion from North Korean forces who follow a WWII style of attack, with parachute jumps and soldiers on the move! Seriously, we're about fifteen minutes into this movie and already the boom-boom-boom has begun.

Jed and company flee to the woods, with the enemy in hot pursuit and yes, I have so many questions. For one, how is it that once they get to the family cabin in the woods, everyone immediately knows where all the guns are stored inside? I mean, some of the weapons are in kitchen drawers and other offbeat spots but nobody seems to need to ask where any ammo is or anything like that!

Also, more importantly-why are the occupying army so worried about a bunch of high school kids lead by one ex-soldier? You'd think that with the mayor and the sheriff under their control, that would be more than enough to maintain control of a small town, plus they're the ones that have the armored cars and rocket launchers on hand!

Anyway, after his dad is nobly taken out by the main captain of the invasion troops, Jed decides to turn his kid brother and their band of CW show extras into a resistance squad who call themselves Wolverines(after their high school mascot, not the X-Men character). Speeches and training montages follow:


Granted, it's been a long while since I saw the 1984 Red Dawn but this movie felt like it was on fast forward the whole time-click, a training scene-whoosh, a raid on the town,bam, a major raid being screwed up by Jed's brother looking for his captured girlfriend, boom, new rebel allies show up!

Plus, as Drive In Theater expert Joe Bob Briggs might say, there's not much plot to get in the way of the story. At one point, it's mentioned that the NK invaders were being backed by Russia-why would Russia need to use North Korea as a military beard? Then later, during a big battle scene in town, two of the teen Wolverines take refuge in a sandwich shop and decide to rob the frightened staff for food! Uh, hello, you're supposed to be the good guys, remember? Stealing from your fellow captive townsfolk is not in the playbook there!

A lot goes on but it's hard to care about any of the characters since I've seen Colorform sticker figures with more personality. Sure, they try to add a few lighthearted moments, such as tricking a guy into drinking deer blood, but none of that jells at all.

Hemsworth does what he can here but his acting muscles are not strong enough to give any substance to the paper thin plot points. He does fight the NK captain that took out his dad at one point and gets to deliver the line "You f**ked with the wrong family!", which would have held some weigh had Hemsworth and the bad guy in question been able to exchange a little dialogue beforehand or at any time in the movie!

Mainly, this movie is made up of noise and fury, signifying less than nothing but wasted screen time. The only good thing I can say about this movie is that it's short, yet far from sweet:


Oh, wait-I can also say in it's favor that it does have a few memorably bad lines like "Marines don't die-they go to hell and regroup!" and "It's a vital piece of military equipment, not your porn stash!" Other than that, this movie is as memorable as cotton candy with the bad aftertaste of nostalgia porn left on your cinematic palate.

Well, I thank you all for sharing this awful movie journey with me and hopefully, my theme for next time will be more mirthful and less deep hurting. In the meanwhile, I am happy that this cycle of Marvel movies have done so well and I look forward to what lies ahead(although taking Spiderman out of the MCU is a dumb idea,Sony!). With any luck, we will see a brighter tomorrow both on and off screen:


Friday, August 23, 2019

Taking some cozy mystery comfort in my High Summer reading

Having the High Summer readathon in August this year was a great idea, as the steaming heat from the outdoors(not to mention the sweltering headlines in the news) really makes you want to find a nice spot of shade to enjoy a good book in.

A good portion of my completed reads for this challenge brought me to the cozy mystery section and yes, all of these titles do have a touch of foodie fun.

First up was Murder Lo Mein, the third book in Vivien Chien's Noodle Shop series, where leading lady Lana Lee is now the manager of her family's restaurant. She finds herself actually liking the responsibility, particularly now that her hovering mother is well distracted by the arrival of Lana's grandmother who is more than a match for her own daughter!

However, the big event on the horizon is the annual Asian Noodle contest, where Ho-Lee Noodle House appears to be in the lead, thanks to amazing chef Peter. Unfortunately after an early round of competition, one of the judges(a notoriously nasty food critic) is found dead at an after party. To make matters worse, he received a strange fortune cookie message which sounded more like a threat than a promise.

Lana winds up going into mystery solving mode, complete with her best friend Megan by her side along with other pals old and new as another judge is taken down. When Lana finds one of those frightening fortune cookies slipped into her purse, the search for the killer becomes less appetizing but necessary to save her own life, not to mention the contest!

I really love the world building that Chien does here, making the Asia Village mall as lively and connected as any small town(really hope that Mahjong Matrons get in on the mystery action at some point!), plus the network of female friendships that Lana has is great to see.

 Also, I like it that her relationship with police detective Adam Trudeau got a bit more deeper here, giving him a solid backstory that elevates him from the usual overprotective boyfriend role in this genre.

What's really great in finishing this tasty third helping of the Noodle Shop Mysteries is that book four, Wonton Terror, is due out in just a few days! Yes, I did pre-order this one and will be eagerly awaiting it at my mailbox as much as Lana waits for her new favorite doughnut shop in Asia Village to open it's doors for another delicious treat:


Next, I took a book off of one of my other reading lists(Series-ous Reading, which I'll get back to this September) to dive into as it's set in a very vacation friendly location.

A Crime of Passion Fruit has Ellie Alexander take her bakeshop heroine Jules Capshaw back to the high seas as a temporary pastry chef onboard the cruise ship where she first met her estranged husband Carlos.

As it happens, it's a good time for Jules to be away from her beloved hometown bakery Torte, due to an expansion of the premises during the slow season, plus her hard working mom Helen is given a free trip(along with her police detective beau known as the Professor) as part of the deal.

While Jules finds herself enjoying the time back on the boat, along with seeing her mom finally get a chance to relax and have fun, the unexpected death of a young woman causes everything to swerve off course. None of the crew or the passengers seem to know who the woman was or how she got on the ship in the first place and by heading to the nearest port to get official assistance in the matter, the ship winds up in the path of a vicious storm.

Can Jules keep her feet steady enough to solve the case and keep her kitchen afloat? Well, for one thing, it's good to see our leading lady in another setting,especially the one that has the most significance to her marriage and makes up a strong portion of her backstory. While we do hear about what's happening at Torte(thanks to e-mail) while she's away, having Jules maintain her own sense of self elsewhere is great to see.

I do like the bond that she has with the Professor, as he fully respects her crime solving skills and doesn't patronize Jules at all. It's very father-daughter but not at all a substitution for Jules' actual connection with her late father.

Speaking of bonds, Jules makes a major decision about her relationship with Carlos and while I'm still not happy with him for withholding important information from her, I do admit that he is trying to make up for that as best he can.  I do have happily have more Bakeshop Mystery books to read and look forward to another recipe for page turning pastry goodness indeed:


 Last in this category but miles away from least, The Whispered Word by Ellery Adams is a welcome sequel to the first book in her new series The Secret,Book and Scone Society.

When book shop owner Nora discovers a mysterious young woman hiding in her storage room, she instantly decides to help her out anyway she can. Her fellow society members agree, including baker Hester, who lets the newcomer who calls herself Abilene work in her pastry shop.

While Nora is more than willing to give Abilene the time and space she needs, too many unanswered questions crop up that cause Nora to wonder if there's any connection between her new young friend and the death of a cantankerous customer whose obnoxious son is also causing trouble around town.

Abilene does seem like a person in need of help but she displays quite a few talents that only raise more questions about her origins-in addition to baking, she has amazing artistic display skills(she arranges a gorgeously creative window tableau for the book store overnight) and when making a deal to have her own apartment above the new business in town, Virtual Genie,  she also possesses a keen flair for appraising clocks and watches:


Virtual Genie also appears to be too good to be true, as it's appraisal services for online sales of  various valuables puts on a good show but are they as reliable as they claim to be? Nora and her SBS band of gal pals might have a lot on their plate here yet these ladies are no strangers to compassionate multitasking there!

I do like the developing friendships between the leading ladies, who might disagree on occasion about certain things but still remain the best of buddies. While Nora is more or less the central figure in these books so far, I do hope that one of our other society sisters such as June or Estella gets a chance to headline one of these stories.

With the third book due out next year(The Book of Candlelight), perhaps we'll see that happen. Regardless, this is a lovely series that blends cozy mystery with female focused fiction that charms as well as renews the spirit.


We do have another week to go with the High Summer readathon and from what I've seen, everyone involved is having a wonderfully bookish time! Thanks again to Michelle Miller for making this happen and best literary wishes to all out there.

My plans for the rest of this week include finishing up Meg Wolitzer's The Wife and basking in The Golden Hour with Beatriz Williams, plus not getting any snack stains on my book pages.

Some treats are just too risky to be shared with books but luckily, books are flavorful enough on their own to enjoy( and some snacks have to be handled with caution, that's all!):


Monday, August 19, 2019

Avengers:FilmFail misses a Due Date for laughs in Bad Movie Month

Yes, folks, we're halfway through our Bad Movie Month journey and our Avengers:FilmFail theme brings us to the Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr.

Now, Downey can be very funny, when given the right material, and his comic talents have bolstered up some rather flimsy films in the past. However, there was no amount of super powers that could turn a boring bromance movie like Due Date into worthwhile entertainment.

Granted, the movie did do well at the box office when it was originally released in 2010 but most of that success can be attributed to Downey's Iron Man fandom(the second sequel came out earlier that year) than any real attempt at making this sorry mess work.

Downey plays Peter, an architect determined to get home in time to witness the birth of his first child, with wife played by Michelle Monaghan,who was also the love interest in Playing It Cool(the Captain America entry in this series). Does she have really bad luck in picking these roles or what?

Anyway, Peter runs into Ethan(Zach Galifianakis), a weird guy with a French bulldog in tow, at the airport. As Peter and Ethan keep bumping into one another, including an awkwardly gross encounter involving overhead baggage on the plane, things get worse for our man Peter.

Before he even gets on board, an accidental luggage switch has him under suspicion as a drug mule(how they let him on the plane after a quick phone call is beyond me) and then when Ethan starts making comments about terrorism, it's Peter who gets zapped by security. I know this is supposed to be dark humor but some jokes just don't work these days and airline terrorism is a subject best disposed of there:


 After they both get tossed off the place, Peter and Ethan wind up traveling to L.A. together, since Ethan wants to a) spread his father's ashes that are in a coffee can and yes, a bad coffee brewing scene crops up later and b) become an actor. Oh, and he's a big fan of Two and A Half Men and you bet, there's a pay-off on that towards the end!

Peter, not having his wallet on hand, decides to put up with Ethan for as long as it takes to get back to his wife(Monaghan is fortunate enough to literally phone in her performance) but so many wacky hijinks get in their way!

From being beaten up by an irate Western Union clerk(Danny McBride) to stopping by for "glaucoma medicine" being dealt by Juliette Lewis, where Peter has to watch her obnoxious kids(and accidentally on purpose, punching one of them) and then winding up unintentionally crossing into Mexico to be detained by the border police, which so does not play well in this day and age, Ethan and Peter get on each other's nerves and mine to boot!

Since the director Todd Phillips also made The Hangover, this movie was said to be a cross between that buddy adventure and the John Hughes' travel comedy Planes,Trains and Automobiles. Sadly, I also see a bit of The Odd Couple here, with Downey trying to be a more polished Felix Unger and having Galifinakis being the stoner version of Oscar Madison.

Trouble is, Downey comes off as a major elitist jerk who makes things worse for himself rather than a good hearted fussbudget and Galifianakis seems to be a character in a tired SNL skit most of the time, which doesn't help in building any chemistry with his co-star.

 That lack of connection between the two just makes jokes that involve drugs, self pleasuring as a form of sleep aid(and the poor dog is dragged into that bit,too!) and suspecting that Peter's wife may be having a baby with one of his friends(Jamie Foxx) seem vulgar and unoriginal instead of cutting edge:


Even when the movie has their leading men in scenes that are supposed to be bonding moments, the guys give off a strong going through the motions energy.

One of those moments is in a men's room, where Peter tries to give Ethan a chance to work on his acting by setting up scenarios for him to riff on. It's like watching the worst episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? where an actual toilet is on the stage, ready to flush away this awful demonstration of bad acting:


Well, Due Date was definitely one to miss and if I may take a moment for a personal complaint-I hate it when you're made to watch a bunch of trailers on a DVD before getting to the menu to start the movie! It's like the studio is saying "Hey, we know this movie is so bad that you might stop watching it before the halfway mark so look at these ads first!"

Yes, Due Date is one of those DVDs and making me sit through trailers for cinematic crap like Hall Pass doesn't put one in the mood to enjoy this dismal attempt at comedy.

Thank goodness, the next entry is our last one, Chris Hemsworth,aka Thor, in the 2012 remake of the 80s action movie Red Dawn, the first PG-13 movie to be released, a dubious honor at best. Hopefully, there will be some memorably bad lines in this one as my sister and I goofing around on the phone that night was much better dialogue than any to be found in Due Date:


Monday, August 12, 2019

Avengers:FilmFail tries Playing It Cool for Bad Movie Month

Welcome back, folks, for another round of Bad Movie Month where our theme this time out is Avengers:FilmFail, reminding those stars of the less than super roles they've played in the past.

Sadly, I have to highlight Captain America himself, Chris Evans, for the alleged romantic comedy Playing It Cool, which I call alleged due to this being neither one of those two categories.

Evans plays a screenwriter with no name(seriously, he is never called by name by anyone and the same goes for his love interest, which I'll get to in a moment) who has to finish punching up a romcom screenplay before he can work on the action film that he's more interested in.

Evans gets pressured by his agent(Anthony Mackie, aka The Falcon) to hurry up, with promises of getting to go on location to pick up attractive women and yes, I'm being polite here. Let's just say his descriptions are gross on the level of a 80's sex comedy and leave it at that.

Anyway, Evans mopes around, reading trashy magazine articles as research because his history of bad relationships makes it hard for him to write about love. First off, shouldn't a screenwriter watch a few movies set in this genre instead? Hell, TCM alone has plenty of classic material to inspire a decent script!

During his moping, Evans goes to an event with one of his buddies(Topher Grace) and winds up meeting a mystery woman(Michelle Monaghan) that he's instantly attracted to. No, she also has no name either and you would think that a first meet would be the time to introduce yourself, right? Well, they hit it off and for some reason, decide to have fun by randomly hitting on older people at the party. This is supposed to be cute and funny but it comes off as really weird and mean instead:


Evans keeps trying to meet Monaghan again in a lengthy sequence that is made extra tedious with pointless narration. See, this movie wants to have it both ways; complaining about standard movie tropes while using as many of them as possible to pad the story line.

In addition to endless narration(Sorry, Chris Evans but even you can't make boring cliches sound interesting), there's also bits where our leading man imagines himself as the main character in other people's stories, which gets amazingly awkward when one of his friends relates a plot line from a K-drama!

At one point, Evans talks to his grandfather(who conveniently dies later on so that he can find Meaning in Life and Love) who takes a break from calling him a term related to a cat to tell the "how I met your grandmother" tale that a)Evans and Monaghan pop up in as the leads and b) turns into an actual cartoon about WWII, which had me wondering if I was watching a bad episode of Adult Swim!

In between his attempts to woo Monaghan, Evans hangs out in weird places(a gun range and then a bowling alley straight out of The Big Lebowski) to consult with the motley crew that make up his friends such as Grace, who is also a screenwriter that leaves copies of Love in the Time of Cholera in random spots, claiming that it's his "art." How the hell is someone else's book YOUR art?! Granted, Evans calls him on that at a later time but Grace's argument seems to be somehow justified nonetheless.

Along with Grace, Evans hangs out with Aubrey Plaza,who sounds like she's intentionally over enunciating her lines and Luke Wilson, who enjoys giving crappy advice. By the way, these characters do have names but I don't care to give them. Trust me, they're not worth knowing:


Evans and Monaghan do wind up in a relationship, which is complicated by her already having a boyfriend(Ioan Gruffudd, the original big screen Mr. Fantastic). It's very on-again, off-again and oh so boring beyond belief!

The dialogue itself is so mind numbing that I found myself wishing I was watching a Lifetime made for TV movie instead. At least those movie have memorably bad lines!

Given the number of reasonably well known actors that pop up in this dismal film such as Patrick Warburton, Beverly D'Angelo(very briefly) and SNL's Kyle Mooney, I'm guessing that the writers and/or the director were pretty well connected to get this movie off the ground but also given the fact that this dull as dirt clunker was shelved for a couple of years, their considerable clout ran out once someone who was not their friend took a good look at the end results!

For one thing, it's hard to sympathize with Evans' plight as he is pursuing a woman who is seeing someone else and the little that we see of the other guy, his only fault seems to be that he's not as cool as Evans:



Also, I find it hard to root for a romance that begins with a first kiss right after the gal tells the guy how she buys birthday cards for herself to send from her dead dad(who killed himself right before her birthday,btw). Kind of sets a morbid mood there, in my opinion.

Yet that revelation clicks with our leading man because his mother left him as a child with a goodbye note attached to his favorite cereal and after hooking with Monaghan , Evans can eat Captain Crunch again. That just leaves a weirdly unpleasant taste in my mouth, sort of like peanut butter and sushi.

Anyhow, the rest of the movie falls into the usual cliche pit, complete with racing through the city to stop Monaghan from Marrying The Wrong Guy and I swear, for a hour and a half long film, this whole end bit felt longer than a Ken Burns miniseries!

Well, hopefully the next installment in Avengers:FilmFail is not as torturous as we join Robert Downey, Jr. on his road trip with Zach Galiafinakis  in Due Date. We shall see,folks, but my expectations are lower than before after watching this moanworthy mess:


Friday, August 09, 2019

Scooping up some sweet late summer book releases

I know everything's been rough these last couple of weeks, not to mention dealing with the humid dog days of summer, but there is one joy that we can cling to with certainty and that is books.

August does have the reputation for being slow and sluggish, especially pop culture wise, but there are page turning treasures to be found and with this being National Book Lovers Day, it's the perfect time to recommend some new books.

First up is The Wedding Party, the newest romcom from Jasmine Guillory. Theo and Maddie share a friendship with Alexa(the heroine of Guillory's The Wedding Date) but little else in common, each finding the other barely tolerable. That all changes when one fateful night, the two of them become one in the intimate sense of the term.

This leads to a continuing yet quiet relationship, where they both agree to keep Alexa and other mutual acquaintances in the dark about their new found appreciation of one another. However, when Maddie and Theo are both invited to Alexa's upcoming nuptials, they decide to make that occasion their endgame. However, will they both want to stop playing by then or take things to the next level?

I really love how Guillory is creating this interconnected world of friends and lovers that doesn't require you to read each entry in exact order. Also, her stories of people trying to make love work with all of the everyday issues around them are so engaging, using heart and humor to keep the plot lines on an even yet entertaining track. Yes, this is one party you want to get an invitation to!:


If you're feeling the flavor of mystery, Vivien Chien has a fourth helping of her Noodle Shop Mystery series to serve up soon. Wonton Terror takes Lana Lee and the Ho-Lee Noodle House folk to the Asian Night Market that marks the start of summer for Cleveland.

While the festival is fun for many reasons, Lana and friends find some tough competition for their famed menu from a new food truck, Wonton on Wheels. Since the owners happen to be long time friends of her parents, Lana feels that this will be a friendly rivalry at best.

However, an unfortunate attack on the food truck leads Lana back into sleuth mode which tests the new levels of trust made with her police detective boyfriend Adam. Worse yet, the investigation becomes very personal as a few secrets from the past are added to the suspenseful stew of events. Can Lana solve the case without stirring the family pot too much?

I just finished book three, Murder Lo Mein, the other day and already have this next one on pre-order. This is such a charmingly delightful series that it's hard to wait for another visit to Ho-Lee Noodle House at Asia Village but this side trip to the night market will be worth my patience indeed:


If a mix of mystery and 1930's screwball comedy is more your style, Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen might do the trick.

The latest in the Her Royal Spyness series takes Lady Georgiana "Georgie" to Kenya on honeymoon with her beloved Darcy. While she's thrilled to go, some of her traveling companions are less than welcome such as former frenemy Rowena Hartley and her brother Rupert, visiting their newly ennobled father Lord Cheriton.

During their stay, Georgie and Darcy also run into the obnoxious Wallis Simpson(still hunting down Prince Edward), get invited to an overnight party that's wilder than expected and find their host Lord Cheriton as a meal for the big cats of the title the following morning. Can the newlyweds have some romantic moments together while dealing with the outdoor and indoor dangers about them?

This is a great series for those who like Downton Abbey and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries that just bubble over with fearsome good fun. Reading out of order is fine but once you try one of these dashing adventures with the sweetly sassy Georgie, you will go back for more!

For full on historical fiction that's female forward, you can do no better than Philippa Gregory, who is launching a fresh saga set in England during a time of turmoil.

The leading lady of Tidelands is Alinor, a midwife with two children who has to fend for herself as her fisherman husband has vanished to who knows where. With her skills at herbal remedies, she can make a decent living but in England of 1648, Alinor has to walk a fine line or be accused of witchcraft by the Puritan forces  who have recently taken over the country.

To complicate things further, she meets James, a Catholic priest in hiding who is still loyal to the exiled court of King Charles, now living in France. By helping James, Alinor may be able to gain some favor that could help her family yet she risks her heart by falling in love with him. Turns out the feelings are mutual but so are the dangers from the rising political tides beyond their control.

Gregory has a deft hand when it comes to showcasing strong women in history and with this first in a new series, promises to give us heroines of the past who can inspire us to hold fast to the fights we face in the here and now:


I hope you all can delight in National Book Lovers Day and embrace some cool breezes before summer is truly over and done with. As for me, I do like making book recommendations when I can but even my list of picks gets rather overwhelming-then again, this is a good problem to have!: