Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

My page turning progress during this Winter's Respite

We're at the half way mark with the Winter's Respite readathon and it looks as if many folks are enjoying this special time with their selected stack of books.

As for me, I have finished two books, working on two more and have added an extra title onto this particular TBR. Not too shabby, as they say, and I'd like to share my thoughts with you all about what I've read and am reading so far:

 The first book that I completed for this challenge was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, a debut novel by Gail Honeyman that has gotten a lot of positive word of mouth and critical praise, not to mention some notice from Reese Witherspoon's book club(and yes, she's planning to turn this book into a movie).

The title lady of this story lives a quiet life in London, working in the financial department of a small PR firm, keeping mostly to herself with only a plant in her apartment for company and her regular weekend plans involving vodka.

Despite her firm resolve to remain apart from others, Eleanor is drawn to the outer world by two men; one , a singer that she develops a crush on and the other a co-worker named Raymond from the IT department. When she and Raymond find themselves helping an elderly man who fell down in the street, an unexpected friendship develops that brings Eleanor into the society of a wider set of people willing to accept her on her own terms.

However, Eleanor has emotional as well as physical scars, the inner ones coming from a traumatic event in her childhood at the hands of her vicious mother. While she has managed to make something of a life in the wake of that aftermath, it becomes apparent that Eleanor does need and deserves to improve her situation and it does takes some help from a good friend or two to achieve that.

While this story does have it's humorous moments(Eleanor is engagingly blunt at times), there is a good amount of sadness here and yet, I did not find this book depressing. You root for Eleanor right away and going along with her on this journey toward emotional renewal is a trip worth taking. Things are not neatly wrapped up with a bow, which is right and proper, and there is no big romance that heals her heart, also a check in the plus column there.

EOICF is a satisfying read and while it may not be the perfect book for everyone, every one who does read it can easily relate to such a solidly told tale of the heart. I know that many of the fans that Gail Honeyman has made here will be eager to see what she comes up with next and I happily join their number:

Next up was Jasmine Guillory's The Proposal, a book that I was anxious to get to in order to relive the run of reading her earlier novel,The Wedding Date. The story starts with Nikole, who is seriously considering breaking up with her boring hunk of a current boyfriend, Fisher. The thrill is long gone after five months with his good looking but not much to talk about self.

However, she is stunned when Fisher decides to propose marriage to her at a Dodgers game, in big Jumbotron style. When that request is refused, Nikole is about to be ambushed by the media and is given a surprise save by two good hearted siblings, Carlos and Angela.

After Carlos helps her get out of Dodge, so to speak, he and Nik start up what each of them intend to be a casual romance. As time goes on, the two of them grow closer than expected and revealing their true feelings about one another may be more daunting than getting out of a public popping of the question.

Guillory is two for two here, with her smartly drawn characters and their lively dialogue that make for a realistic yet sweetly romantic story(with the right amount of sexy time spice thrown into the mix). She also doesn't stint on the supporting characters, making both Nik's best gal pals and Carlos' family into more than sideline cheerleaders to their love connection.

You don't have to have had read The Wedding Date(although those lead characters do pay a visit) to appreciate this but why deprive yourself of a matched set of wonderful reads? Guillory has a wonderful way with words and wit, making her a must-read for book clubs and those seeking a real romance to sink their story telling teeth into:

At the moment, my current WR reads include an Agatha Christie(The ABC Murders) and a book from last year, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar.

Set in the Georgian era, we begin with widowed London merchant, Jonah Hancock, who is shocked to say the least when the captain of his most recent trading ship arrives with only the preserved body of a mermaid as the sole prize.

Determined to make the most of this potential misfortune, he has this unusual creature displayed at a local coffeehouse where her small and scarily scaly appearance brings in a good amount of paying customers willing to pay for a look. This attention draws the interest of Mrs. Chappell, a celebrated madam whose "nunnery" has seen better days. She rents Mr. Hancock's mermaid for her establishment, the main selling point being the high class clientele who he can make social connections with.

To further entice his interest, Mrs. Chappell enlists the aid of Angelica Neal, a down on her luck courtesan who got her start with that less than good lady. While Mr. Hancock is instantly smitten with Angelica, the feeling is far from mutual:

That first meeting appears to be a one time instance but after Mr. Hancock changes his mind about having the mermaid at Mrs. Chappell's and Angelica soon in need of a truly suitable suitor, the two of them are brought together again. The mermaid that unites them in a common interest to change their lives for the better also holds the promise of undoing them,as well as many others, for the worst.

I'm midway into this novel and it's quite the riveting debut. Hermes Gowar has done a remarkable amount of research into the time period and is also blessed with the knack for creating such vividly alive characters into this narrative, a magic as potent as any mythical being could possess.

While the mermaid in question is not the traditional deep sea beauty, her silent allure lingers in the atmosphere of the book as a warning to those who do not wish to listen that such enchantments come with a price that mere mortals may not wish to pay. Yes, I am hooked as any fish by this historically creative tale and hope that many more will be just as happy to be caught in this narrative net:

Odds are that I'll be finished with The ABC Murders before TMAMH(the former is shorter, page wise), which leaves me with two books left for Winter's Respite.

However, I just had to add one more. Since I read Kiertsen White's take on Elizabeth Frankenstein for a prior readathon and happen to be a big Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, there was no doubt that her new novel set in the Buffy realm would be a must have for me.

Slayer takes place well after the final TV season of BTVS and the follow up graphic novel series that had the source of all magic vanquished from our world. However, that doesn't mean that danger from nonhuman forces is gone for good. While it seems that another Chosen One will not appear, the daughter of one of the last Watchers is tapped for that dubious honor.

This story looks like a grand excuse to dive back into Buffy lore and the edition that I picked up has a bonus short story told from the point of view of Faith, the true opposite of Buffy in more ways than one. Hanging out with these legendary lady killers should certainly warm up the cold winter nights to come indeed:

Monday, January 07, 2019

My first Library Haul and Book Buy of 2019

As this was the first weekend of the new year, I decided to celebrate by making my first library visit of 2019.

There were books that needed to be returned(as well as a couple that were renewed) and yes, I have plenty to read at the moment but it never hurts to take a look around to see what's new , or new to me at least, on the shelves.

My destiny was sealed as the first and second mystery novels in a brand new series were available. The Mitford Murders is the fictional debut of author Jessica Fellowes, best known for several behind the scenes books about Downton Abbey.

The story is set in 1920, as young Louisa Cannon seeks a better life away from London,along with a means of escape from her corrupt uncle Stephen, by taking a position as a nanny to the countryside Mitford family. While fleeing from the criminal scheme that her uncle was forcing her upon, Louisa happened to be on the train the same day as the vicious murder of Florence Nightingale Shore took place further down the line.

Eldest daughter Nancy is keenly interested in Florence's death and manages to drag a reluctant Louisa into an investigation, one that comes close to being a real threat to both their lives. As much as she wishes to avoid any connection to her past, Louisa can't be but hope to run into Guy, the friendly railway policeman who helped her out that fateful day. Will he be able to lend his assistance to solving this case before things get truly out of hand?

The follow-up to this is Bright Young Dead, where Nancy and Louisa team up again with Guy in London of 1925 so that they can track down a ring of female criminals known as the Forty Thieves.

Louisa is able to make contact with a former member of the gang, a maid named Dulcie but the price of that acquaintanceship proves to be rather high and deadly for one unfortunate soul.

I've already started reading The Mitford Murders and the writing is lively and crisp, with a good blend of Upstairs,Downstairs characterization combined with the heartfelt drama of a good Downton Abbey episode.

 Fellowes gives the reader a great deal of invested interest in Louisa and Guy as they go forth on their separate but soon to be mutual paths that are enhanced by such real life figures as the Mitford sisters(yes, that Nancy!) and with revived interest in Downton Abbey,thanks to the upcoming film later this year, I suspect that I was blessed by the good book fairy to find this delightful pair indeed:

Apparently, the good book fairy found me worthy of a double tap from her tasseled bookmark(what else would such an enchanted entity use as a magic wand, after all?) as the two books that I had ordered from an after-holiday sale online arrived in the mail that day.

Josie Silver's One Day in December follows the long term romantic pursuit of  Laurie and Jack, two London strangers that happened to catch each other's eye during a bus ride yet fail to connect right away.

Through various means, Laurie hopes to find him but tends to just miss that special moment to meet Jack, with one of her best friends happening to find him first and have her own relationship with him. Over time, it seems that these two are never going to be a couple yet fate may have something to say about that......

This book sounds like a great Nora Ephron movie set in England, which would be nice to curl up with and on top of that, it's a Reese Witherspoon book club pick(I'm really enjoying her taste in books there).  A sweet bookish sundae like this ought to be a tasty read even in the cold weather days to come:

Speaking of England, The Gown by Jennifer Robson is subtitled "a novel of the Royal Wedding", the wedding in this case being of future queen Elizabeth II to  future Prince Phillip.

The narrative of the story is centered on the women who worked hard to make that fabled wedding dress ready, as modern day Heather seeks to find out where her recently deceased grandmother Ann got a set of pearl encrusted embroidered flowers from to leave as her legacy.

Turns out that Ann was one of the many seamstresses at Hartnell House, the top fashion designer in the country who specialized in dresses fit for royalty and the upper class. Ann befriends one of her fellow workers, Miriam,a refugee from the terrors of occupied Paris, and they even become roommates as well.

While able to find love on their own, Ann and Miriam must join forces to prevent industrial spies from learning of the intended design of the regal wedding dress to prevent any knock off versions from spoiling the big day, which is a much needed moral boost for the post-WWII nation still in recovery and knee deep in rations.

Granted, I'm not a major Royal Family watcher but the time period is interesting and perhaps this book can get me to finish watching the second season of The Crown,particularly before the new one without Claire Foy begins. Of course, such a novel will have plenty of it's own merits to enjoy and looking at such a historical occasion from a mostly unseen viewpoint promises to be memorably page turning:

So far, this year has gotten off to a good reading start and my Winter's Respite readathon is going along smoothly as well. One of the best things about this time of year, I hate to say, is being able to focus more on books that I want for me, myself and I.

 As much as I do like buying books for others, it was distracting to see so many wonderful books that I desired for my own pleasure. Perhaps the good book fairy will bless me with patience and literary concern toward those readers in my life that are in need of engaging reads in order to reward me with more opportunities to find great bookish delights for myself in the months to come-we shall see!:

Friday, January 04, 2019

My new year of reading resolutions

Happy New Year, everyone and I hope that 2019 has gotten off to a good start for you.

As for me, a lot of great books were under my Christmas tree and late last night, I finished my first read of the year(Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) and it also counts as the first book in the Winter's Respite readathon to be completed-bonus points!

While most people do make resolutions for the new year, I'm at the point in my life where I find it best to make ones that I truly have a good chance at keeping,so these are all reading related promises to myself(and one for the blog).

Now, I try not to get too overly organized about this because that can take the fun out of things(not to mention ruin the opportunity for spontaneity reads there). However, there is some method to my literary madness that allows for some wiggle room,especially as far as my library visits are concerned:

SERIES-OUS READING 3: So far, I've been doing these year long catch-ups and /or dives into books from various series for two years now and renewing this blog project for a third term just felt right.

Mind you, this year will get off to a late start, due to my still being in the midst of a Poldark title from this past December(and yes, I do intend to read yet another one in this series but I just can't quit Cornwall and Demelza just yet).

A good portion of the Series-ous Reading will be in the cozy mystery category, including Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen stories. In a weird way, this is not much different than when I was into paranormal romances back in the day.

 Both genres have strong minded ladies solving crimes and proving those pesky yet sexy men folk wrong when it comes to a woman's intuition and intelligence. The main difference is one has deadly demons to battle while the other has devil's food cake to conquer.

In addition to that, I do have a couple more of Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness books(do so adore Georgie's maid Queenie!) to explore and a lovely omnibus edition of the first three mysteries in the Phyrne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood. I loved watching the Miss Fisher adaptations and reading the books should be a blast.

What should also be a blast are Ellie Alexander's Bakeshop Mysteries, with such tasty titles as Caught Bread Handed(I'll be starting the new year with that), A Crime of Passion Fruit and Another Bites the Crust. To sweeten the deal, Alexander has a fun Youtube channel with plenty of updates about her latest works and insights into her writing. A real box of video treats to savor indeed:

DIVING INTO DICKENS: Some time ago, I started to read War & Peace as a way of coping with the chaotic times that we're living in and granted, Tolstoy does not sound like mellow out type of reading, nonetheless, it's done the trick for me.

I'm happy to report that not only have I finished W&P, I'm halfway through Anna Karenina(highly recommend the Maude translation for both) and it will soon be time to pick up another classic read.

For my next selection, I am going back to Charles Dickens, who happened to be a major fan of Leo Tolstoy's work. I have read a good number of his books but there are plenty that I haven't gotten to and intend to remedy that situation right soon.

The Pickwick Papers was the first of Dickens' bestsellers, weaving a set of tales from the notes of the famed Pickwick Club, with such distinguished members as ladies' man Tracy Tupman, the artistically inclined Augustus Snodgrass and of course, Samuel Pickwick with his fateful bumbling valet Sam Weller. These fine gentlemen found themselves in various silly situations, most of which they manage to escape relatively intact but not without some unexpected help from Sam Weller at times.

This big book has been adapted into film and TV miniseries(the most recent being in 1985) over the years and even inspired a series of novels by present day author Van Reid called The Moosepath League. With the headlines getting stranger and more absurd by the minute these days, it's more than time for a good laugh which Mr. Pickwick and his friends can certainly provide.

Not to mention that the Pickwick Papers are a main influence on one of my favorite novels of all time, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The March sisters had their own version of that illustrious group and now I'll be able to appreciate that section of the story all the more:

THE ELLROY/MURAKAMI CONNECTION: There are some authors whose works you really want to get into but for one reason or another, you just can't quite make that pivotal turn into their respective territory. It may be bad timing or too many other things on your personal plate at the moment but the urge is still there.

Well, I am going to try reading at least one book by two such writers on my list who are an odd pairing to say the least.

 No doubt that many of the devoted fans of Haruki Murakami's novels would give me a through list and suggestions on what to read first but I'm choosing to tackle The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle here. I did attempt to read IQ84 but that may have been too big of a bookish slice to sample as an introduction. If all goes well with WUBC, I will gladly go back to that one indeed.

For the other, it's James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential. I did actually meet Ellroy at a book convention signing(for a different book) and he's a strange duck to be sure. Nevertheless, his writing style is amazing to behold yet has such a zig zag style of energy that it's not easy to settle down with.

However, I have seen the celebrated 19997 film adaptation(which is hard to watch now, due to a certain disgraced actor's presence) and recall enough of the central plot line to be confident in getting a firm grip on this story of old school scandal and corruption. I know there will be differences between the movie and it's source material but I suspect that many of the main points and character development details will be well featured on the page:

This sounds like a good set of goals to head off into 2019 with and I hope that all of you with bookish New Year's resolutions(and non as well) find much success with yours. Anything's better than the one by Ross from Friends with his "new thing to do!" every day which resulted in bad pants choices and other hilarious catastrophes before January was over and done with. Make reasonable resolutions, my friends, and you'll be much better off for it: