Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Finding my footing within The Forsyte Saga

I've mentioned before on this blog that one of my bookish habits is to read a literary classic a little bit at a time(what I call "Morning Reads"), which has taken quite a few titles off of my TBR pile.

After doing a back-to-back reading of Tolstoy,followed by a double dose of Dickens, my latest selection has been John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga. It's made up of three novels,plus a couple of interludes, that are usually published in one big book and has been adapted for radio,film and television for several decades.

The series earned Galsworthy a Nobel Prize for Literature in1932(the books were published between 1906 and 1921). The overall story is set in England during the end of the Victorian era and focuses on the upperclass Forsyte family, who view themselves as an institute of standards more than kinfolk.

At this point in their existence, the elder Forsytes such as Aunts Juley and Hester, disdainful cousins Swithin and Soames , not to mention Old Jolyon, the grand patriarch of the family, see themselves as followers of the tried and true way of British life while shaking their heads at the antics of the younger generation.

The newer Forsytes do have a spark of rebellion within them,for example there is June, raised by her grandfather Old Jolyon upon the death of her mother and determined to have her own way in things.

Her father, known as Young Jolyon, fell out of favor with the family after remarrying a governess and having two children by her(and yes, the boy from that relationship is also named Jolyon-that name is very popular with this bunch!). Jolyon the Younger also pursued his dreams of art with paintings that gave him a solid reputation yet not one that satisfied his relatives at all:


The center of conflict in all of these stories comes from Soames, who is obsessed with his wife Irene, who has no living family and was pretty much browbeaten into becoming his bride.

When Soames decides to build a house far out of London to keep Irene away from what he considers to be "undue influences" on her, the commission is given to Phillip Bonsinney, a promising young architect engaged to June,who happens to be good friends with Irene.

At first, this seems ideal but Bonsinney and Irene find themselves falling in love with each other, with one of them bound by the law as well as a promise of fidelity. This tension between them begins to rise to a noticeable level , straining June's relationship with both Irene and Bonsinney, not to mention turning up Soames' jealousy radar to a considerable extent:


Sadly, the bond between Irene and Bonsinney comes to a tragic end that resonates throughout the rest of the series. While Irene does manage to free herself from the possessive clutches of Soames, she still winds up being part of the Forsyte world in one way or another.

I took a look at the introduction written by the author for my edition of TFS this morning and noticed that there was mention of readers "pitying Soames" and I'm like, are you kidding me?!


While Galworthy's notion of pity for the character was that "he knows that he is unlovable" and that some of the readers of that time period would consider Soames a wronged husband, I suspect that many would be on Irene's side. For one, Soames is a dense ,self involved person who defines himself as a "man of property" and refers to Irene as one of his possessions, which even disgusts his cousin Young Jolyon(who later on, plays a larger role in this portion of the story).


He emotionally abuses Irene(and at one point, forces himself on her) who had, right from the start, told him that she didn't love him and asked Soames to agree to a divorce if their marriage didn't work out.

That promise is conveniently over looked by him until many years after they've separated and even when he does seek a divorce, it's only due to Soames wanting to remarry a younger woman in order to have a son. Even then, he still doesn't want to let Irene go, demanding that they try again! Fortunately, she receives some unintentional assistance from Jolyon the Younger in that regard.

Soames is the worst, in my opinion-the type of person who refuses to do the slightest bit of self examination and takes out his anger on those who don't give him exactly what he wants when he wants it. Irene, on the other hand, shows herself to be more than the beautiful enigma that most of the men here imagine her to be.

Her determination not to go back to Soames is admirable and by building a quiet yet productive life for herself that allows for a future chance at real love, she is a remarkable woman indeed. Maybe it's the modern day reader in me talking but Irene deserves to be seen as a heroine in her own right:


Of course, there are other story lines here, with one of Soames' sisters looking to divorce her cheating/gambling/skipping town husband, some of the younger generation signing up to fight the Boer war and new found romance among that set as well.

Galsworthy writes with a heartfelt elegance, not only about the inner lives of his characters but in describing the poetic moments of nature that many of the Forsytes experience and find true solace in as time goes on. Such richness of language is refreshing to behold, like having a renowned pianist perform live right in front of you. It's no wonder that he won the Nobel yet a shame that most readers haven't gotten to known him and his work.

If you're looking for a period drama to be immersed in during this remain at home time frame that we're all sharing now, The Forsyte Saga has much to offer there. I'm not sure what my next Morning Read will be after this(perhaps some Henry James or Georgette Heyer's An Infamous Army?) but one thing is certain-when it comes to the Forsyte family, keeping a steady poker face is necessary for social survival:


Friday, March 27, 2020

My Series-ous Reading takes a taste of Carrot Cake Murder

Welcome back, folks, to more of my Series-ous Reading challenge , where I tackle several titles within a book series. One of my constant reads here has been Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen mysteries-which I inadvertently got my mother interested in and now she's surpassed me!-and now it was time for a piece of Carrot Cake Murder.

As always, the action is set in the small Minnesota town of Lake Eden where Hannah is helping out with a family reunion. Her partner in the Cookie Jar bakery, Lisa, is having her new husband Herb's relatives join in for the fun with her own family and everyone loves that title baked treat that Hannah makes and is more than happy to contribute.

A real surprise occurs when a long gone family member shows up-Lisa's Uncle Gus, who simply took off one day and no one has heard from him since. The reception he gets is a mixed batch as many are pleased to see him yet others still remember the trouble he caused back in the day:



Uncle Gus and his flashy ways don't exactly thrill Hannah but he does at least like her carrot cake so much that he insists upon another platter for himself!

She's happy to oblige in that department although it is disconcerting the next day when Hannah discovers that sweet treat was his last meal. Fortunately it wasn't her baking that did him in.

She finds Gus(who was nowhere to be found for a group photo) stabbed with an ice pick straight in the heart in the lake side pavilion that the families were using for the reunion.  For once, police detective Mike Kingston is not against Hannah taking part in the investigation-in fact, he openly asks for her help(more on that in a moment)!


 While it's uncertain who did him in, the possibility is raised that perhaps Lisa's Alzheimer affected father Jack might have been settling an old score with Gus that fateful evening.

 Since the family wants Hannah to look into this matter before that suspicion surfaced(and Jack is such a good natured soul to begin with), she's doubly determined to solve the case and keep the reunion on track.

It does help that Gus is a rather unlikable fellow(and as it turns out, a bit of a sleaze) when reading this story as a couple of good humorous moments pop up along the way.

 One chapter has a great sitcom style gag where just about every woman of a certain age pulls Hannah aside to let her know that Gus had a baseball themed tattoo(doubts about him actually being Gus crop up among the relatives there) on a nether region that would positively identify him. Even Hannah's ladylike at all times mother Delores chimes in on that subject!

Also, an interesting debate for an East Coast gal like me is introduced as some question Gus saying "casserole" instead of "hot dish" when referring to a certain warm offering at one of the many large meals at the reunion. I'm not sure of the difference myself but it's a nice side dish of a discussion to have:


Now for the Mike vs. Norman talk-to be fair, Mike does ask for Hannah to do some inside digging on the case, given that the families involved know her well.

 And yes, he gives Hannah a few insights into the investigation but she catches on quick that he's getting more than he's giving here.

While that can be understandable to a point, Mike also happens to be making the same mistake of entertaining a flirty female co-worker in public while thinking that it's completely innocent on both sides. Seriously, how is Mike supposed to be such a savvy detective yet can't pick up on rather obvious clues from the women around him?

Meanwhile, Team Norman scores a lot of points in this outing, with Norman not only going above and beyond to help Hannah with the case(he even flies to Atlantic City at one point to follow up a lead!), when her cat Moishe is acting bored and restless, Norman picks up a Kitty Kondo and sets it up in her home. While he did tell Hannah that it was part of a two-for-one sale(yep, Norman also has a cat, which gets him a gold star in my book), more likely than not, he paid full price for it.

Granted, I do know that Hannah makes a third choice in romance later on down the road but come on, honey-Norman is a keeper in more ways than one!

Anyway, this tale ends well and despite carrot cake being the title theme, other edibles take the spotlight here such as Red Velvet cookies, which help to boost Jack's memories about his long ago bout with Gus. They do sound tasty and perhaps they'll get a delicious entry of their own in this sweet series someday:


For the next Series-ous Reading selection, I pick up my mini challenge known as Second Acts to take up the second Maggie Hope WWII adventure from Susan Elia MacNeal.

In Princess Elizabeth's Spy, Maggie has just finished her training with MI5 but instead of being sent out into the war zone, she's assigned to tutor the title princess in math at Windsor Castle. While it's not the duty she wanted to have, it becomes clear that this new post is not merely a royal babysitting job.

When a murder happens on the castle grounds, Maggie finds her new skills put to the test and her newly formed bond with young Princess Elizabeth making this situation all the more personally compelling.

One of the things that I enjoy about this series is how much of it reminds me of Agent Carter, a show that was canceled far too soon, if you ask me. I really should have a rewatch of that series(there are only two seasons of it, alas!) at some point,especially during this necessary time period of indoor activities. A good book and a great show sound like perfect distractions for this troubling moment in history and I hope all of you have a pop culture pairing like that on hand right now:


Monday, March 23, 2020

Setting up a Mailbox Book Haul

With libraries and book stores around the country having no choice in these difficult times but to close their doors for now, the acquiring of new books to read can be tricky but not impossible.

Yes, there are more important concerns due to the current health crisis yet it's also important to make our collective time indoors as engaging as can be and books are vital for that purpose.

In addition, you can help your local bookseller out by placing online orders and /or pre-orders (many independent book stores are handling such sales as we speak), along with online library resources in your community.

 Plus, if you just want a new stack of solid books, places such as Better World Books do donate a portion of your purchase price to various reading programs and charities. So, with that in mind, I'm sharing with you my latest Mailbox Book Haul(and yes, the You've Got Mail poster up above does tie into that!):

On my last library trip, I was able to borrow the fourth book in Amy Stewart's Kopp Sisters series, Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit, but the title before that one was not on the shelf.

Since I do happen to own the first book(Girl Waits With Gun) and recently read the second(Lady Cop Makes Trouble) as a library loan, it only made sense to pick up the third entry via Better World Books-to me, anyway!

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions has our law enforcement leading lady Constance using what influence she has to aid young women being unjustly targeted for "wayward behavior" by those determined to lock them away in a reformatory.

Her worries go beyond the professional when her younger sister Fleurette decides to seek off for an audition with vaudeville star May Ward. Given the sheltered life that Constance and her other sister Norma have given Fleurette(due to the particular origins of her birth), the need to overprotect her is hard to resist. Surprisingly, May Ward turns out to be a useful ally in more ways than one for both Constance and Fleurette.

Constance Kopp was clearly a woman well ahead of her time and the fact that she actually existed makes this set of novels all the more fascinatingly fun to read:


A favorite read of mine from last year was Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonai Dev(to be followed up later this year with A Recipe For Persuasion) and I thought checking out one of her earlier books would be a good idea right now.

In The Bollywood Bride, famed actress Ria Parkar reunites with her relatives in Chicago for a big family wedding, which not only brings her back down to earth having become an international cinematic sensation but this trip also has her dealing with Vikram, a cousin of a cousin who was her first love.

Their renewed connection is less than pleasant as Vikram has no idea what the real reasons were for Ria's breaking off with him as suddenly as she did ten years ago.  His mixed feelings towards Ria make for an awkward time at best between them on this occasion but when that hidden secret from the past is unexpectedly revealed, both of them may have a chance to right this personal wrong.

I know that this book is part of a series but it does sound like it can be read and appreciated on it's own merits there. Not to mention that this mix of storytelling ingredients-love,family, secrets and a wedding-seem to be the perfect dish to start a literary feast with:


Speaking of weddings, Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand has such an event as it's fictional focal point. As Jenna Carmichael is preparing to marry Stuart Graham, her main source of inspiration is a notebook that her late mother Beth put together as a guide for the perfect wedding.

While that notebook is a comfort to Jenna and her father Doug, this happy time is marred by the fact that Doug is thinking of divorcing his second wife Pauline, who is hoping that by having her own daughter Rhonda as a bridesmaid will  help to endear the two of them more to the whole family.

Meanwhile, Stuart's mother Ann is literally inviting trouble as she asks her husband's former mistress Helen(who also had a son born out of that affair!) to attend. In addition, Jenna's older sister Margot is having a relationship with an older friend of the family who does not want to make their romance public. Will all of this potential for disaster spoil the wedding or make things all the more memorable in the best way possible?

Lately, I've been reading Hilderbrand's Summer of '69 and it's been quite the refresher there. While it might seen a tad early for a good beach read, a family drama like this is most welcome indeed:


In this modern era, email definitely does count and to that end, I'm including this pair of romcom themed reads that were offered to me from the publisher  that way and made available from Netgalley.

Kerry Winfrey's Waiting for Tom Hanks introduces us to Annie, who lives with her D&D playing Uncle Don and dreams of being a screenwriter much like Nora Ephron, whose movies were part of a beloved must-watch ritual between her and her late mother.

When a romantic comedy is being filmed in her home town, Annie is able to get a job on set, thanks to her uncle having been a old college buddy of the director. However, as great as that sounds, she is not happy with the choice of leading man for the film.

 Former TV star Drew Danforth has a reputation as an airhead prankster with little knowledge of the genre that he's currently working in. To make things worse, he seems to be mocking Annie by calling her "Coffee Girl" after an accidental spilling and coat staining incident. Despite her efforts to avoid Drew as much as possible, Annie keeps running into him and finding out that he might be the Tom Hanks of her dreams.

I was offered this book along with it's soon to be released sequel this summer, Not Like The Movies(which gives Annie's best friend Chloe a chance at romance on her own), and I plan to do a back-to-back review of both titles. At the moment, I'm really liking WFTH and one of the reasons for that is how much it references You've Got Mail(see, I told you that poster would make sense in the end!).

It happens to be my favorite of the three famed Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks onscreen team-ups(best wishes for a speedy recovery to Hanks and Rita Wilson) and yes, I like it better than Sleepless in Seattle. Blasphemy, I know, to some but bookstores and New York are my cinematic catnip, folks-what can I say?:


I hope that this notion of Mailbox Book Haul helps you to find some great books to stay home with and just one small piece of advice; a reader can not live by books alone. Take this time out to expand some of your creative horizons online-listen to a new podcast(or try one for the first time!), see what shows that you've never watched before are available for binging or even find a new YouTube channel to dive right into.

For example, I recently discovered Postmodern Jukebox, which takes past and present tunes even further back in time for a bit of classic toe tapping flair. To get you started, take a gander at this Spice Girls song done in the style of the Andrews Sisters and yes, more delights await you here:


Monday, March 16, 2020

Seeking cozy comfort from Spring Into Horror reading

Well, it appears as if we're going to be spending a lot more time at home, folks, which makes for some great opportunities to read.

Whether you're catching up on that one about to topple over TBR or just need an excuse to buy more books, readathons are your best bet for the spring/summer season.

My reading list for Seasons of Reading's Spring Into Horror upcoming readathon(which starts April 1st) is more on the cozy side due to the truly terrifying headlines that are broadcast daily at this point. However, I do have one actual out and out thriller for some page turning thrills to enjoy:

THE SUSPECT: The third book in Fiona Barton's series that features reporter Kate Waters  takes us to Thailand, where a pair of missing girls unexpectedly take her out of the official lines of inquiry.

Seems that Kate's son Jake happened to be in Thailand at the time and actually stayed at the hotel where eighteen year old Alexandra O'Connor and her girlfriend were last seen by anyone.

Feeling as concerned for the parents of the missing young women as well as her own son, Kate finds that her best option is to head to Thailand(with a frenemy in tow) to get at the truth, despite how painful it could be to her personally.

Barton has a real knack for making uncomfortable subjects the most compelling to read and this book promises to be more of the same, with the kind of tense moments and startling scenes that make for  the type of rollercoaster ride sensation you'd get from watching a similarly themed film:


EGG DROP DEAD: The latest in the Noodle Shop Mysteries from Vivien Chien has Lana Lee taking her family's restaurant to the next level with a major league catering gig at a high end pool party.

The pool party in question is being hosted by Donna Feng, owner of the Asia Village mall where the Ho-Lee Noodle Shop has resided from the start. So when one of the staff members hired for the occasion winds up dead, Lana has enough to worry about without Donna insisting that she take a special thumb drive into her keeping before the cops show up!

Lana not only has a murder to solve but another mystery that could dive deep into Donna's past, which could affect her family's future in the food business. Can she spin all of these potential plates of disaster  in the air without any of them crashing down on her loved ones?

 I do love this series as it's quite the hidden gem among the numerous cozy mystery stories out. Fortunately, you don't have to be a foodie detective to find these books but your search for savory suspense will be well rewarded:



THE CEREAL MURDERS: I do have a number of Diana Mott Davidson's Goldy Bear mysteries on hand and the last one I read for Series-ous Reading was fun, so it only made sense to add this third entry to my reading pile here.

Goldy's latest murder case involves a student named Keith Andrews, who attends the same prep school as her son Arch. Keith, who happens to be the class valedictorian, meets his untimely end at the senior class dinner that our culinary heroine is catering and given the dubious honoring of finding the body.

With the help of her police detective beau Tom Schulz, Goldy discovers that Keith made quite a few enemies playing the blackmail game among his social circle of anxiously ambitious college bound classmates and their equally determined parents. Considering the college bribery scandals that made the news over the past few months, this story may prove to be rather timely indeed:


THE DONUT SHOP MYSTERIES:  After all, what goes on a breakfast menu right next to cereal? Donuts, of course!

I picked up the first two books in Jessica Beck's sinister sweet series, starting with Glazed Murder as Suzanne Hart gets a jolt early in her working day at  her Donut Hearts shop and not from a good cup of coffee.

When the body of a good customer, Patrick Blaine, is dropped off on her shop's doorstep, Suzanne is both outraged and motivated to track down the killer.

While both her overly cautious mother and rather handsome cop Jake Bishop would prefer that she stick to selling baked goods, Suzanne can't embrace that sweet serenity without knowing who dared to deliver death to her brand new start in life like that.

That delectable debut is followed up by Fatally Frosted, where Suzanne again faces a demise far too close for comfort. This time, a neighborhood gossip is found dead after eating a signature sweet from Donut Hearts, causing a forensic team to mess up her kitchen right before a big culinary event in town.

The last person in the world that she wants to rely on for help is Max, her former husband and professional flake. However, Max proves to be useful for once and with Jake also on the case, Suzanne is willing to deal with the men in her life for the benefit of all concerned.

This does sound fun and this series has the bonus of being recommended by Diane Mott Davidson(along with other cozy mystery authors such as Leslie Meier and Rhys Bowen). Yes, there are recipes for donuts and other edibles included, which are nice to check out even if you're not much of a baker(that includes me!).  Donuts are the one food that feels homemade even if it's not and combining them with crime fighting is almost picture perfect:


Last yet far from least on this TBR is The Book of Candlelight by Ellery Adams, which I've been saving for this very occasion. It's the third book in her The Secret,Book and Scone Society series and I'm just realizing that I have a large number of titles here, by my standards anyway.

I tend to stick to at least four books for readathons like this but considering the current situation, six might not be enough. No worries on that score as there are plenty more on hand in other TBR piles(oh,yes, I have a good many there!).

If you'd like to sign up for Spring Into Horror, there is a link in the second paragraph of this post and you don't need a blog to join in on the literary party here.While it would be nice if some of the problems we're dealing with at the moment could be capably handled by a plucky heroine from a mystery series(cozy or otherwise), the next best thing is to join them on a good literary adventure.

 What better way to relieve some of the stress and tension that the news is bringing us right now than to deal with some fictional fears?  Plus, it might be nice to imagine a smart and sassy lady coming to the rescue there:




Monday, March 09, 2020

Seeking relief from reality with a Library Haul

I know that a lot of folks are busy stocking up on supplies right now(which is understandable) but my priorities happen to include a true life giving essential; new books to read.

With that in mind, I made my regular trip to the library this past weekend and hopefully, it won't too long before another visit there can happen. First on my list was Brewed Awakening, the latest Coffee House Mystery from Cleo Coyle.

 Coffee house owner Clare Cosi seems to be living her best life as her beloved police detective Mike Quinn has finally asked for her hand in marriage. About two months later,however, she wakes up on a bench near Washington Square Park with no idea of how she got there or how much time has passed.

Clare is suffering from a trauma induced form of amnesia, which has wiped out the past fifteen years of her life. She still thinks that her grown daughter Joy is only a preteen and that's she recently left her ex-husband Matteo, not to mention having no idea who Mike even is!

That memory loss is particularly troubling at the moment, due to the fact that Clare was the last person seen with Annette Brewster, an heiress that has gone missing for several days. Since there is a strong possibility that Clare is being set up to take the fall , it's up to her family and friends to save the day in her stead.

I've read the first couple of chapters and clearly Cleo Coyle has done her homework when it comes to amnesia, a well worn plot device, giving Clare's confusion some strong emotional resonance. Also, this allows the other supporting players a chance to step forward into the spotlight, such as her former mother-in-law and mentor Madame Blanche(a woman not to be easily gainsayed!), which makes the main mystery all the more interesting.

 Plus, I love how Clare may not know who she is at this point in time but one thing that's firmly embedded in her memory is the need for a good cup of coffee:


This next book practically leapt off the shelf at me and my only regret is that it's the fourth book in the series when I haven't read the third one yet.

Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit by Amy Stewart takes the title heroine into truly choppy waters and I don't mean the waves she's battling in the cover art. This time, she and her mentor Sheriff Heath have to deal with politics as the latter is running for a seat in Congress with his record being constantly attacked by a ruthless rival who loves to bring up Constance Kopp's past crime fighting capers as proof of Heath's failings in law enforcement.

Meanwhile, Constance is working on a case where a woman is being sent repeatedly to a mental asylum more for her cheating husband's convenience than out of real concern for her well being. Can she keep this poor lady safe while not making things worse for Sheriff Heath as well?

With the current status quo so precarious right now, I decided to order the third book online(Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions-what a great title!) but hope to catch up with the rest of the series at the library in the near future. It's times like these when solidly smart leading ladies are most wanted and author Amy Stewart really delivers the goods on that fictional front:


Finally, I promised myself a few posts back that I would try to get one of the novels that the writers' team of Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White have published. Well, there was one on the shelf and it's on my library loan list now.

The Glass Ocean follows three different women, two within the same time line, as their stories are connected by the ill fated voyage of the luxury liner known as the Lusitania in 1915.

Modern day writer Sarah finds her great grandfather's possessions from when he was a steward onboard the ship and seeks to learn more about what happened back then with the help of another descendant who may have information about a possible spy mission that lead to that fatal catastrophe at sea.

Two women are passengers on the ship, Caroline, whose husband is acting more secretive than usual and Tess, traveling in the steerage section with the chance to make some easy money by aiding her sister Ginny in a risky forgery scheme. How all of these worlds collide when an act of sabotage changes history like this certainly makes for a compelling tale of heartbreak and adventure indeed.

Granted, cruise ships are making headlines these days for very different reasons yet I think a book like this will be fine as it could help put some much needed perspective on how to handle a crisis in situations where you have no control over the outcome.  Not to mention that checking out the creative collective at play in these pages promises to be a true bonus feature here:


As I said earlier, I do hope that my next library visit will be sooner rather than later but I have to accept the possibility that it might be awhile before things have settled down enough for that. It's a wait and see deal at best, due to more important issues at hand now.

Let's face it, people-we're in a bad spot with a certain illness going around and not much reliable information and/or guidance from those charged with the public good here. What we all should do is follow the sensible advice that is available(pick your favorite hand washing song,please!) and be more on the alert when it comes to our family, friends and neighbors who may need some extra assistance during this situation. Perhaps it will get better soon but we really will have to rely on the kindness of others to get through this, which I sincerely hope is not in short supply.

In the meanwhile, if you have to spend more time at home due to what's going on, use this as a chance to catch up on some good reading . Self care is just as important as physical is, so treat yourself to a nice binge read to get that page turning relaxation mode to kick in:

Monday, March 02, 2020

Making up a tasting menu for some savory and sweet food flavored mysteries

As much I am enjoying the culinary mystery titles that I'm reading right now, it never hurts to be on the look out for a new taste sensation that will having me turning pages hungrily.

To that end, I'm considering a trio of mouth watering mysteries that should whet my appetite for more to read. Due to a blurb for Vivien Chien's latest Noodle Shop Mysteries(Egg Drop Dead, which I'm saving for a readathon this spring!), I learned of a savory series known as Pizza Lovers Mysteries.

Written by Chris Cavender, the first book is entitled A Slice of Murder, where A Slice of Delight pizzeria owner Eleanor Swift finds herself being accused of delivering more than one of her massively topped pies to a customer.

It doesn't help that the local police chief, Kevin Hurley, is a former high school classmate of Eleanor's who still feels that she rejected him back then. Eleanor's business begins to decline as suspicions mount against her, especially since she did have a public argument with the deceased(who received a well deserved slap for his rude moves!). However, with the aid of her married sister Maddy, Eleanor is out to solve this case before the next lethal slice is literally on her.

This does sound like delicious reading and with the stories set in North Carolina, it'll be interesting to check out the food scene in that part of the country. When it comes to pizza, that is one dish that does travel well yet thankfully the same can't be said of murder:




 After pizza, one does tend to think about cheese and yes, there is a Cheese Shop Mystery series. Avery Aames starts things off with The Long Quiche Goodbye, where Charlotte Bessette is thrilled to be taking over the French style cheese shop that her grandparents first set up when they first settled into the town of Providence, Ohio.

With her cousin Matthew running a wine business along side her cheese mongering in the store, Charlotte is sure of success. Yet, when a dead man is actually found on the shop's doorstep and her grandmother is the prime suspect, Charlotte has no choice but to take her food focused skills and aim them in the direction of the real killer.

One of my favorite things about cozy mysteries,especially the food flavored ones, are the punny titles that do crop up and this series has some great snackables in that department. Titles like Lost and Fondue, Clobbered by Camembert, To Brie or not to Brie and my favorite so far; For Cheddar or Worse!

 Plus, while I am all about All American cheese, the French do have a nice flair when it comes to that dairy delight and this series could offer some edible education as well as entertainment there:




Of course, the key ingredient for making any pizza is dough but in this instance, I came across the next best thing, donuts. Jessica Beck's Donut Shop mysteries begin with Glazed Murder, as recently divorced Suzanne Hart decides to use her settlement money to open up Donut Hearts in her home town of April Springs in North Carolina.

Being free of her less than gainfully employed actor husband Max, Suzanne feels as if her life is truly about to start. Unfortunately, a dead body being dropped off at the door of her shop in the dead of night puts that dream on pause for the moment.

Speaking of punny titles, this series offers up a nice plateful with the likes of Sinister Sprinkles, Fatally Frosted, Powdered Peril and Illegally Iced. Now, you might be thinking "How did you go from pizza to cheese to donuts here?"  Well, as it turns out, Jessica Beck and Chris Cavender have something in common other than setting their books in small North Carolina towns.

Jessica Beck and Chris Cavender(along with a few others) are pen names for writer Tim Myers, who has several cozy mystery series in print. His other tales include lighthouse keeping and candle making but I think that his food related series(he also has a Classic Diner set of mysteries!) sound more like my style of cozy culinary reading.

Not to mention that donuts do have the reputation for pleasing police officers and that along with a cup of coffee sounds like the perfect pairing for some crime solving fun:


I'll be seeking these series out at either my nearest library or book seller soon, especially since the current headlines these days seem to be encouraging folks to stay inside and read for a little while longer this season. Hopefully, things will get better soon and we can all engage in some culinary mystery capers with lighter hearts and full fictional stomachs:


Monday, February 24, 2020

Put a Spring in your step with these March & April reads

Looks like those early spring weather predictions are coming true and as the outdoors becomes more enticing, just remember that your best walking companion is a book.

Not that you should block your vision while taking a leisurely hike or stroll through the park-books are great for those pitstop moments when you need to pause for a drink of water there. Better yet, if a nice shady tree happens to be on your path, a book is the very thing to have on hand for just such a spring time occasion!

So, I have a few recommendations for the upcoming March/April releases that should be suitable for some outside and/or inside reading this season:

EMOTIONAL JOURNEY INTO THE PAST:

The title of Louise Erdich's latest novel, The Night Watchman, refers to Thomas Wazhashak, whose job it is to guard the local jewel bearing plant that maintains the livelihood of the Native American residents of Turtle Mountain,North Dakota.

However, he has a higher duty as one of the tribal councilmen and in 1953, Thomas heads to Washington in order to testify to Congress regarding a new bill that would erase the current treaties his people have with the U.S. government. That potential new law could displace his entire community for generations to come.

Joining him on this trip is his niece Pixie, whose life is turbulent to say the least. Saving up as much money as she can to leave Turtle Mountain  and her alcoholic father for good, word of her older sister Vera's disappearance has Pixie putting her work and home life on hold to find her. While Vera proves hard to locate, Pixie does find the chance for a love of her own but can she pursue that quest along side the one for her sister?

Erdrich is well known for her mastery of heartfelt stories edged with realistic touches and this upcoming novel should strike several chords of literary brilliance in that regard(March).

SINISTER TALES OF KILLER SUSPENSE


Some murder mystery classics are given a gruesome spotlight in Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson, thanks to a blog post that bookstore co-owner Malcolm Kershaw lives to regrets.

During his early days at Old Devils Bookstore, he wrote up a list of mystery titles that had what he felt were the best fictional murders that could be gotten away with. Unfortunately, his now settled life is overturned by a visit from FBI agent Gwen Mulvey, who informs him that three of the murders that she's looking into have connections to his former reading recommendations list.

While Malcolm never intended for books such as Double Indemnity, The A.B.C. Murders and The Secret History to be used as blueprints for actual murders, things are more complicated for him as Malcolm has a connection to one of the inspired deaths that he's not willing to share with the authorities. Instead, he plans to do what he can on his own before another literary themed crime is committed.

This sounds like a lot of page turning fun, especially if you're a fan of old school murder mysteries, and should make for a great movie at some point as well(March): 



For something even more marvelously meta, Grady Hendrix has The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires all ready for your next group read.

Bored Charleston housewife Patricia Campbell decides to liven things up by getting her gal pals to form a true crime themed book club which goes over well enough with them. It's not long before Patricia finds herself rounding up her bookish buddies to solve a series of real life murders in their midst.

The main suspect here is James Harris, new to town and quite the charming fellow. However, his aversion to sunlight and some mysterious disappearances give Patricia pause as to just how nice of a neighbor he really is. Can Patrica and friends find out if James is a serial killing vampire or just a serial killer who thinks he's a vampire before raising some serious stakes here?

Hendrix is a devotee of nostalgic horror as his prior novels(My Best Friend's Exorcism, We Sold Our Souls) has shown in abundance. With this fresh take on fanged fiends, we might have a great excuse to binge watch True Blood again (April):


SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE STAGE:


In Actress, author Anne Enright introduces us to Katherine O'Dell, a renowned Irish  star of film and theater whose life story we learned from her daughter Norah.

To begin with, Katherine wasn't Irish-she was a London girl that started her theatrical career early in life and her rise in fortune was one paved with heartbreak and moments of despair. The pressure to stay to on top of her game combined with continuing poor choices in men lead Katherine towards a tragedy worse than any she ever had to perform in.

As Norah learns about the life and times of her famous mother, she examines her own emotional journey and one great mystery; the identity of her father. Enright's haunting tale of life and art from a mother/daughter viewpoint promises to be engagingly challenging to experience(March).


Debut writer Aaron Jackson showcases The Astonishing Life of August March, which chronicles the story of a man literally born to the theater but not exactly a part of it.

Young August was raised by a kind hearted laundress when his actress mother left the newborn backstage after giving birth to him during intermission. Over the years, he learned all of Shakespeare's plays due to listening to so many performances but being raised in secret became a problem upon the death of his foster mother and the destruction of the playhouse where August grew up.

His quick study skills lead him to a life of crime, only to be rescued from that by the actor Reginald Percyfoot, who enrolls him in school. August's flair for the theater provides him with more interest than a formal education yet will his talents take him down the proper road or one that leads to his doom?

This book sounds like Monty Python teaming up with Charles Dickens and that ought to be a show worth checking out. Hopefully, Jackson will bring us future flights of fancy here(April): 


As the warmer days approach, our love of reading can go hand in hand with enjoying the fresh bloom of the season. Just be sure to pack your reading material properly as well as lightly-it can be done!:

Friday, February 21, 2020

Following up a Second Act of Series-ous Reading by Dying For Chocolate

The first of my Second Acts for this year's Series-ous Reading challenge went so well that I felt an immediate follow-up was necessary. Plus, the title of Diane Mott Davidson's book 2 in her Goldy Bear series, Dying for Chocolate, was perfect for Valentine's Day this month.

Goldy is a divorced mother who is practically raising her preteen son Arch on her own, which is a good thing considering that her vicious ex-husband has a name whose initials rightly earn him the nickname of The Jerk.

In order to make a living in Aspen,Colorado, she's become a caterer and is starting to get a good reputation for her culinary skills. Unfortunately, way too many obstacles are piling up in her path.

 For one, The Jerk has been lurking around Goldy's neighborhood so much that she's had to put in an expensive alarm system and to pay for that, she's taken a live-in private chef position with General Bo Farquhar and his wife Adele(whose sister Marla is another ex-wife of The Jerk). While Goldy is able to still run her business,not to mention get Arch into a good private school nearby, she is being threatened with a lawsuit from a rival catering company with a name similar to hers.

On top of all that, negative reviews are appearing in the local newspaper about her culinary commissions, written by a critic known only as Pierre. Goldy is being given a chance to respond but it's frustrating not knowing who this person is, especially when they keep getting the menu items wrong:



One of the few bright spots in Goldy's life is a new romance with Phillip Miller, local psychologist who happened to have a member of the Farquhar household(sponsored student Julian) as a patient.

Their relationship has been going on for a short time yet it's shocking for Goldy to witness Phillip driving dangerously on the road which leads to his death.

With no signs of intoxication, auto malfunction or bad weather to account for his on-road behavior, she becomes convinced that his accident was no accident at all. Her semi-regular beau, police detective Tom Schultz ,agrees but wants her to be careful about looking into the matter.

Meanwhile, Goldy still has work to do and that includes an "aphrodisiac" dinner party for neighbors Weezie and Brian Harrington. It's hard enough to be professional under the circumstances but at times, it feels as if it weren't for bad luck, Goldy would have no luck at all!

Things are bad enough with a pair of last minute guests who happen to be vegetarians and having to talk the hostess out of being made to wear a sexy French maid outfit during dinner service but Goldy also has to fend off the sleazy advances of host Brian, whose roving eye falls on a rather younger woman at the table instead of his own clearly annoyed wife. Yes, the dinner party winds up being badly reviewed in more ways than one indeed:


As it turns out, Weezie and Phillip were working on a local land project together, which many in town considered to be a pretense for an affair.

While a hidden romance between those two was not the case, Goldy discovers a good amount of secrets and lies that include her own employers on the list of suspects. Can she find the killer before the next flavor on her menu is fatally delicious?

Diane Mott Davidson has the distinction of being one of the big culinary crime queens in this particular mystery genre. While many have followed in her literary footsteps, I feel that her set of 17 mysteries(the last one was published in 2013, with no current plans for future books) is more in line with someone like Cleo Coyle than Joanne Fluke.

While DMD did begin the mixing in of recipes within her mystery novels much like Fluke, her leading lady Goldy has a more gritty back story, unlike Fluke's Hannah Swensen, that is more in line with Coyle's Clare Cosi, with troublesome ex-husbands(although The Jerk is far worse than Matt Allegro), raising a child on their own and dealing with money problems.

 Both series also share a wry sense of humor at times that borders on cynical yet their female leads are determined not to let any bad situation get the best of them.  Mind you, I haven't read all of the books in either series(this is actually the second Goldy Bear book for me) but it's not hard for me to imagine Goldy and Clare swapping recipes and detective stories over a cup of coffee together.

I do intend to read more of DMD's books in this series, as Goldy is an engaging heroine and it would be nice to see her finally end up with a good life(Tom is a good soul mate, the Luke to her Lorelai in my opinion).

It's a shame that DMD hasn't had a new book out in quite some time but who knows, she may surprise us all in that department. If not, she's certainly made a tasty mark on the genre that will encourage a fresh batch of culinary crime fighters to bake up some savory stories:


Speaking of Hannah Swensen, the next selection for my Series-ous Reading is  Carrot Cake Murder, which places Hannah at a friend's family reunion. While her contribution of the title cake to the festivities is appreciated, finding one of the relatives dead next to a sweet slice is a bit much for all concerned.

Don't worry, I have more Second Act reads to come but it's good to take a mini break every now and then during a project. Not to mention that I'm still trying to catch up to my mom with these books-she's ready for the latest one, Coconut Layer Cake Murder(which arrives next week!) while I am stuck at the far end of the dessert table, so to speak.

Oh well, it's not a bad place to be at, really. Granted, I'm not into carrot cake as a sweet treat but it does sound like the right delight to start the spring season off with:


Monday, February 17, 2020

Tuning into some small screen suspense stories

They say that we're getting an early spring this year(if the majority of recent groundhog reports are to be believed) and while the promise of warm weather is inviting, a number of rainy days are also included in that bargain.

So, if you're in the mood to curl up with some book based mystery shows during those washed out weekends, there are a trio of small screen delights to sample soon.

First up is a new adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse , set to stream on Amazon Prime next month that stars Rufus Sewell as Mark Easterbrook, who finds himself on a hit list that includes a recently murdered priest.

 Having no idea what this is all about, he and a good friend decide to check out a few leads on their own, bringing them to the small town of Much Deeping and to the local inn where the weird sisters trio of owners might have the answers he needs. However, will Mark get that information in time to keep himself from being permanently crossed off?

This Christie story is not part of her regular detective tales from Poirot or Miss Marple(although it was adapted for a Miss Marple series some years ago) but her stand alones have proven to be even more chilling there. From the trailer, this version has a bit of a Wicker Man/Midsommar vibe to the mysterious proceedings that should add quite the extra eerie edge:



 Meanwhile in May, HBO will airing a limited series called The Undoing whose cast features Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland.

Based on the novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, Kidman plays Grace Fraser, a therapist that seems to be living her best life with the publication of her first book and a happy family in the upper echelons of New York City.

That blissful existence is shattered as her husband Jonathan(Grant) vanishes and news of a shocking nature that has him at the center of it is hitting Grace from all sides. Wanting to know what's been going on herself, she  decides to ask a few questions that lead her to making some hard choices that will determine not only her fate but that of her young son as well.

 This does sound intriguing and Nicole Kidman has been having great luck with HBO adaptations lately, so this certainly ought to be one to watch for:




If you don't want to wait that long, NBC has a new show on Friday nights that you might like to catch up on. Lincoln Rhymes: Hunt for the Bone Collector is based on the popular detective book series by Jeffrey Deaver , which was also a 1999 film adaptation starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.

This time around, Russell Hornsby plays the title character, a brilliant criminologist who was severely paralyzed while searching for the elusive serial killer. His extreme injuries put him into early retirement yet Lincoln is still consulted by the NYPD on certain cases. His assistance is reluctantly given due to bitter resentment about his situation, not to mention that the Bone Collector escaped justice.

Years after the Bone Collector's last kill spree, a potential copycat brings Lincoln the chance to get back in the game with the help of promising rookie police officer Amelia Sachs(Arielle Kebbel) who becomes his eyes and ears in the field. Their work together has caught the interest of the Bone Collector, who wishes to take down his nemesis and his allies once and for all.

I've been watching LR:HFTBC since it first aired and it's a good ,smartly done crime drama there. The actors have a nice chemistry on screen and there are episodes that focuses on cases other than the Bone Collector's(who we see living his twisted secret life as a doting husband with a gruesome addition to his wine cellar) that allow for further character development.

Since this is a midseason debut, I'm not sure if it'll get a second season but it certainly deserves to. Do check it out, it's a fun thrill ride in more ways than one:


As much as I like to see more good thrillers on TV and/or streaming, it would be nice to have a cozy mystery or romantic suspense series back on the air as well. I'm probably not the only one who would like something along the lines of Murder She Wrote, Castle or Bones around, that's for sure.

Then again, we do have Agatha Raisin(still waiting for S2 from Netflix!) online with a third season, so that is a small comfort indeed. Still, let us hope for new crime solving capers in our entertainment future:


Monday, February 10, 2020

Enjoying some TV worthy period dramas in print

 This time of year is a period drama fan's dream as most of the big TV series in that genre arrive to relieve us from the mid winter blues and prepare for spring.

With PBS Masterpiece airing Sanditon at the moment with plans to have World On Fire this April along with Starz premiering season five of Outlander this upcoming weekend, the historical fiction feast is plentiful indeed.

However, you don't have to wait for Sunday nights for such dramatic delights. There are some wonderful new reads on the literary horizon to tune into as well such as Above The Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen.

Our leading lady is Bella Waverly, whose aristocratic father's spendthrift ways have brought the family down to near poverty levels, forcing her to be the sole provider of income as a scullery maid. She does,however, find happiness in learning to cook and when an unexpected opportunity comes for a position in the kitchens of Queen Victoria, Bella takes more chances than one to claim it.

Slowly but surely, Bella makes a name for herself (even though she has to use another person's name and cut what ties she has left with her own family) among the male dominated staff, gaining a bit of praise from Her Royal Highness to boot.

The promise of becoming a pastry chef and the possibility for romance is within her sights but when joining a royal trip to France ,Bella's entire future is threatened by a regal guest fatally succumbing to a mushroom dish that she played a small part in preparing. Can Bella find the killer and clear her name, only to have more of her true secrets revealed?

I've been reading this book, via a Netgalley arc, lately and it's an engaging page turner that puts me fondly in mind of the PBS series Victoria, particularly that story line with Her Majesty's maid falling in love with the talented and ambitious chef. If you like Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness series(and yes, I do!), this stand alone novel is a wonderful addition to her literary world:


Speaking of series, I was finally able to watch the Downton Abbey movie over the weekend and yes, it was a welcome homecoming there.

That put me in mind of author Jessica Fellowes( who is the niece of DA creator Julian) whose Mitford Murder Mysteries were a great library find for me last year. Most recently, a third entry in that series has been released that I hope to catch up to at some point soon.

The Mitford Scandal is set in London of 1928 and while Louisa Cannon no longer works for the Mitford family, she finds it hard to quit their orbit. As a server at an upper class function, she not only runs into heiress Diana Mitford being swept off her feet by a very potential suitor, the tragic death of a maid occurs and Louisa fears that she has seen an important incident regarding that seemingly accidental demise.

Before her own potential police detective suitor Guy Sullivan can take charge of the case, Louisa is offered a job as Diana's personal maid and takes it, bringing herself closer to Guy and deeper into danger. These books are such fun, especially since they feel like alternate world versions of period mysteries like Miss Fisher's Murder series, only with Phryne's sweetly determined companon Dot and her police officer beau Hugh being the main crime solvers:


If you would rather double down on the drama instead of mystery, then I have quite the bookish triple play for you.

Over the past few years, a trio of historical fiction writers, known as Team W, have teamed up to create collaborative novels that showcase their considerable story telling skills quite nicely.

 The latest offering from authors Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White is All The Ways We Said Goodbye, set in Paris at the famed Ritz hotel where three different heroines touch base at different points in time.

 We start with Aurelie as she and her American mother witness the beginnings of WWI during their stay while a WWII Resistance member named Daisy persists in visiting her grandmother at the Ritz while shielding her from the dangers of her war work. By the early part of the 1960s, Babs journeys to Paris in hopes of finding out the true identity of a Resistance member called La Fleur, whose name she has seen on a hidden love letter and wishes to discover more about her.

I am very familiar with Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig(need to check out Karen White!) but have yet to tackle this set of Team W titles so far. With such good word on their prior works as The Forgotten Room and The Glass Ocean, this is a situation that I need to remedy before the year is out. These ladies are proof positive that team work makes the dream work indeed:


Well, I don't know if any of these books will become TV and/or film adaptations in the not too distant future but they certainly are prime material for just such treatment ,if you ask me. For now, we can take pleasure in turning these compelling pages and relaxing with the current crop of TV period drama delights.

 Outlander alone should be extra exciting and who knows, we may get a Lord Grey spin-off series some time soon! Period dramas are hearty fare that can only be improved by expanding the historical horizons and hopefully, more of us will do just that. After all, our favorite leading ladies want more than what the world is placing before them as "proper" and we the fans should follow their lead, so to speak:


Monday, February 03, 2020

Wrapping up my Winter's Respite reading and other bookish concerns

My first readathon of the year, Winter's Respite(hosted by Michelle Miller from Seasons of Reading) ,ended last Friday and it was a great way to kick start my reading there.

Since I already reviewed one of the books on that TBR separately,due to it being part of a blog tour, this wrap-up post begins with The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory.

This novel is part of a set of sorts that began with The Wedding Date and followed by The Proposal but it can work as a stand alone read although you might want to check out the other titles afterwards. The romantic leads here are Maddie and Theo, who find each other repulsive and only tolerate the other's presence in public due to having a mutual friend, Alexa, in common.

Maddie has been Alexa's gal pal for years and Theo works with her at the mayor's office, which throws both of them together when Alexa announces her engagement and insists that Maddie and Theo help with the wedding plans.

While Maddie and Theo are happy to join in, even willing to put up with one another for Alexa's sake, they wind up having a one night stand that changes the nature of their adversarial relationship. Surprised at their sexual chemistry, they continue to hook up privately with the deadline being Alexa's wedding for these trysts to end.

Yet, a couple of unexpected incidents pop up that make each of them wonder if this is more than just a fling but neither one wants to be the first to bring up the question of real love. Guillory has a great way with creating romantic tension that doesn't skimp on sexy moments and allows for solid as well as engaging character building along the way. Granted, I read the earlier books(along with the one that comes after TWP, Royal Holiday, that highlights Maddie's mom) so clicking into this realistic romance vibe was easy for me.

However, I would recommend this to a newcomer and yes, it's a great Valentine's Day read. This novel also brought back great memories of the TV sitcom Living Single, where snarky Maxine Shaw and snide Kyle Barker found themselves in a similar situation that ended up rather well there:




Next on my Winter's Respite list was Kim Michele Richardson's The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, a fictional story with some real world connections.

The title lady is Cussy Mary Carter, who lives in the Kentucky mountains with her father during the hard times of the Great Depression era. She and her family are considered outsiders, despite having deep roots in the community, due to a genetic condition that gives them blue skin.

Nevertheless, Cussy finds purpose in life upon becoming a Pack Horse librarian, a government initiative meant to spread literacy in rural areas. She also makes friends among her patrons on her book delivery route and even gets some respect from those who appreciate Cussy's kind gestures in bringing more than books at times-when she can, food, medicine and messages to be mailed are part of her Pack Horse service.

However, Cussy is put upon by deliberately ignorant folks, such as a local preacher obsessed with "healing" people born different and a library matron determined to keep the more intelligent Cussy in what she deems "her place" . Even the local doctor who insists on testing Cussy for a possible cure to her condition is condescendingly callous to her needs at best.

Despite all of that, she persists in finding what good she can in the life given to her and discovers that being loved for her own self is not impossible. This book is a true page turner and although Cussy has some rather sad moments in her life, you can't help but follow her every step of the way.

Included in the bonus materials at the end of the book, information about the Pack Horse Library and photos of the actual women who did brave the rough terrain in order to spread the love of reading to remote areas provide inspiration to modern day readers:


So, I completed three out of the four books that I intended to read(made progress with the last one, The Chocolate Maker's Wife by Karen Brooks, that I have made part of my regular reading), plus a couple of library books to boot.

I consider this another successful readathon and much thanks to Michelle for setting up such much valued reading time. The next SOR event is Spring Into Horror and I'm making plans for that as we speak.

Meanwhile, thanks to finishing some of my library loans, I was able to make a quick trip to return and borrow a pair of light hearted reads. The one that I am currently in the middle of is The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson, a romcom delight indeed.

Children's librarian Charlotte Gorman has no real interest in her identical twin sister Ginny's beauty pageant lifestyle but decides to be supportive and share her vacation time with her sis on a major competition in Florida. Charlotte plans to spend a good amount of time at Harry Potter World when she's not cheering her sister on but her bookish activities are forced aside when Ginny has a allergic reaction that swells up her face.

The Miss American Treasure pageant is all important to Ginny as it was the crown jewel in their deceased mother's beauty queen career. The thought of not being able to compete is so upsetting to her that Charlotte, against her better judgement, winds up taking her sister's place. This is only meant to be a temporary fix yet Ginny's facial problem is taking it's own sweet time to heal.

Much to her surprise, Charlotte does better than either she or Ginny thought she would, plus some of the other contestants are very nice and supportive of one another. A major hitch to this switcharoo is that Charlotte finds herself falling for one of the judges, a man with a love of literature who could be the Darcy to her Elizabeth Bennet. However, knowing the truth about her would be damaging to not just this budding romance but to Ginny's beauty queen dreams as well.

This is such a charming read that really relieves my spirits during these troubling times and after I turn the last page, I might take the time to watch Miss Congeniality, a cinematic treat that suits this sisterly story perfectly(and yes, the movie is mentioned in the book!):


To round things out, I decided to check out a book that I've heard a lot about, Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

Granted, it helped that my local library is going to screen the movie adaptation this spring and the big display they had set up for that event made it hard to miss but I am curious to see what all of the fuss was about.

The plot takes place in Seattle, where celebrated architect Bernadette Fox lives in near isolation with her husband Elgie Branch and their daughter Bee. Internet access makes it easy for her to keep most of the world at bay but over time, Bernadette starts to feel creatively closed in.

With a family vacation on the horizon that she doesn't want to go on, Bernadette takes off for parts unknown, causing Bee to use the Internet to search for her missing mom. If I like the book, I may see the movie before the library showing. From what I know of this story, it's got a good amount of snark and satire with a touch of heart so this might be a tasty comedy meal to savor until spring arrives:


 While I do hate to end this on a sad note, I would be remiss to not send my condolences to the loved ones of suspense author Mary Higgins Clark.

She passed away on January 31 at the age of 92, leaving a legacy of over 50 mystery novels since her first one in 1975, Where Are The Children? Over the decades, she worked with co-authors on several books including her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, who has a mystery series of her own.

This departure is a bit personal for me, with Mary Higgins Clark  not only being one of my mother's favorite writers, but I was fortunate enough to meet her both as a customer and later as a bookseller. In fact, I first met her at the bookstore where I eventually wound up working at.

My younger sister and I were making a casual visit to the store that day and discovered that MHC was finishing up a book signing. Having no idea that she was going to be there(plus, didn't have enough money on me for the hardcover she was promoting), I grabbed a paperback anthology from the mystery section that had her name on it and asked her if she would sign it for my mother's birthday.

She was more than happy to do so and kind enough to chat with my sister for a bit, making a good impression on her indeed. During my time working at that bookstore, my mom did get a chance to meet MHC and Carol Higgins Clark as well, with that group photo that I took of the three of them holding a special place of honor in our home.

When our store did book signings for both mother and daughter(they really had a nice sense of teamwork at these events), both ladies were a pleasure to work with. I wasn't the only one on staff who thought well of them and their fans appreciated their charm as well. It is a shame that she is no longer with us but her books will be around to remind readers of her savvy writing skills and good nature for a long time to come: