Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Thursday, July 09, 2020

Serving up some RomCom Comfort Food this August

As some of you may know, during the month of August my blog usually celebrates Bad Movie Month, a time to cheerfully mock those pitiful examples of cinematic failure.

Well, this time out, my heart is just not into it. Given the ongoing health crisis and other continuing disasters in our country right now, that style of humor feels a bit too bleak for me right now.

 Not to mention that with movie houses being shut down(glad to see the drive-in theater coming back at least) and major films having their offline/online release dates pushed back -even as far as two years from now in some cases!-this is a much needed yet not easy to bear pop culture sacrifice for the greater good.

However, that doesn't mean I won't have a movie themed series for LRG this summer. For the first time ever, we are proud to present RomCom Comfort Food in August, with a selection of films straight out of my personal DVD library that I haven't see in quite some time. This feels like an excellent excuse to revisit these lovelorn laugh fests and maybe a couple of them are your favorites as well(two of them are Jane Austen related!):

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING: I first saw this movie in 2002 on an airplane(my one and only trip to England) and it was part of a double feature with a Colin Firth film but I enjoyed this one a bit more.

Heading home that summer, there was nothing more American than watching this delightful tale of Toula(Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the screenplay), a woman in her thirties trying to balance her relationship with her large and lovingly loud family with dreams of a different life.

Pursuing her own happiness, she falls in love with Ian(John Corbett), a sweet natured school teacher who is more than happy to get along with Toula's huge set of relatives as long as he gets to be with the woman he loves.

We have Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson as executive producers here to thank for this charming take on the wedding story(yes, much good comes from them both!). While a short lived sitcom and a many years later sequel didn't fare as well as the original film, this engaging sleeper hit still stands the test of time:

CLUELESS: I'm not sure  if I read Jane Austen's Emma before or after seeing this teen satire but having that book as the inspiration certainly helped me out during my bookseller days.

Saying that Emma was the old school version of this 1995 hit movie did sell a few copies(then again, I also told teenage customers that Northanger Abbey was a good companion piece to the Scream slasher movie series) and to be fair, writer/director Amy Heckerling did a great job in making that classic novel fit into a Beverly Hills high school setting.

Another benefit to the durability of this film is the chemistry between Alicia Silverstone as Cher, the dippy diva of her social set and Paul Rudd as Josh, her former stepbrother who still checks in on her and Mel, the cranky yet lovable dad well played by Dan Hedaya. There is a remake being planned yet that does seem like a truly clueless idea, if you ask me:

NOTTING HILL: This 1999 movie is nearly a perfect blend of all of my favorite things-a Hollywood actress(Julia Roberts), a nervously charming book seller(Hugh Grant), a small book store set in London, loads of quirky characters such as Spike(Rhys Ifans), the wonderfully weird roommate.

This film happens to be written by Richard Curtis, who also wrote the hit romcom Four Weddings and a Funeral(which also has Hugh Grant romancing an American, Andie MacDowell) and I while appreciate his writing, I vastly prefer NH over 4WAAF any day of the week.

For one, I love the connection that Grant's even toned character makes with Robert's celebrity seeking a semblance of regular life, a world that both of the actors are very familiar with and yet don't feel as if they're being major league meta about this story. Instead, we get a smartly written romance delivered with fine British comedy flavor:

BRIDE & PREJUDICE: I have fond memories of seeing this film back in 2004 with a group of Jane Austen fans from the Republic of Pemberley(plus my little sister, who was into Bollywood at the time) in a small Manhattan movie theater.

While I can't remember the name of the theater, I do recall the fun we had watching this blend of "Bollywood meets Hollywood", courtesy of Jane Austen and Gurinder Chadha, the director and co-writer who made her cinematic mark a couple of years earlier with Bend It Like Beckham.

A romcom musical is truly a decadent delight, with the Pride and Prejudice themes being the extra sprinkles on this singalong sundae. While Aishwarya Rai is more than a match as Lalita(Elizabeth Bennet) for co-star  Martin Henderson's Darcy, that doesn't throw the story off at all. Rather, it gives this internationally known leading lady her rightfull spotlight to showcase her amazing talents:

Well, I do hope all of you will join me in some romcom relief this summer and who knows, this may become a regular LRG feature, we shall see.  While being part of a shared experience is what makes going to the movies so magical, hopefully it won't be too long before we can all gather together with our favorite cinema snacks in hand to enjoy a good film and feel safe. Until then, let us share some comfort with each other while remaining apart:

Thursday, July 02, 2020

My Series-ous Reading takes a second slice of Pizza Lovers Mystery

My theme for this round of Series-ous Reading has been highlighting the second title in a mystery series, which is just as important as the first, for what I call Second Acts.

It's like comparing the first season of a TV show to the second, where most of the awkward moments have been smoothed out and major arcs are beginning to take focus. I bring up TV because the tone of Chris Cavender's Pizza Lovers Mysteries has that friendly feel of a beloved sitcom or lighthearted drama.

Upon reading A Slice of Murder, it was only natural that book two would be an entry(a last minute one but nonetheless...)here. Pepperoni Pizza Can be Murder has widowed pizza parlor owner Eleanor Swift, along with her sassy sister Maddy, dealing with another case of unexpected death as she does her best to serve up slices.

This time out, the death dealing is way too close for comfort as the body of Wade Hatcher is found in the kitchen of her place, A Slice of Delight, with one of Eleanor's best rolling pins as the murder weapon. Wade happens to be the brother of Gregg, a regular employee at ASOD, whose relationship with his sibling has never been on the best of terms.

In addition to a prolonged battle over a family inheritance, Wade decided to get back at his brother by flirting with Greg's former girlfriend Katy, timing that encounter just so in order to have Gregg walk in on them both. This ,of course, lead to a fistfight with Gregg's current girlfriend Sandi becoming furious over the whole situation as well. Under these circumstances, Gregg is not inclined to talk to the cops once his brother's murder is major news:

You can't blame Gregg for avoiding the police, since Sheriff Kevin Hurley was all too quick to blame Eleanor for the murder of a less than desirable customer on her delivery route(in A Slice of Murder) and now is fixated on Gregg as the killer.

Considering that Wade owned money to a local loan shark and was skimming off the books at his accounting job, you might want to widen your suspect pool there! I really can't stand Kevin, as his status as former high school beau of Eleanor's (who cheated on her back then with the woman he later married!) makes him get way too personal in Eleanor's business at times.

Mind you, Eleanor is no shrinking violet, even managing to keep her cool during an armed robbery after hours and her sister Maddy always has her back, whether it's gathering information on potential suspects or using what pull she has over ex-lovers to get what she wants. Eleanor will not be bullied, not by Kevin or anyone else but she can get in over her head upon hunting down a killer.

What I really like about these books is the sense of camaraderie among the characters, from the banter between Eleanor and Maddy to the loyalty shown by employees Gregg and Josh(Kevin's son, who fights with his dad over when and if he can work at ASOD due to whatever case is being investigated) and their various friends.  The connections feel authentic and draws you into the story with amiable style.

Also seeing the pizza parlor day-to-day concerns as part of the story line is a nice bonus; it does help that Eleanor can make her own hours when it comes to chasing down clues and suspects.

Worries over how the latest murder can affect her profits and handling a vengeful customer claiming that a bug was in her food all add to the engaging background here,plus Eleanor truly does love making pizza(recipes are included at the end of the story) and that alone makes this a mouth watering read indeed:

So,yes, the Pizza Lovers Mystery series is one that I will be reading more of and may be including more reviews for next year's Series-ous Reading(I'm thinking an all culinary crime TBR!). After all, who can resist a good slice of pizza, especially when it comes with a side of charming characters and some tasty laughs along the way?:

Meanwhile, my Series-ous Reading selection for July is Frances Brody's Death of an Avid Reader, which is the sixth title in her series of Kate Shackleton mysteries set in post-WWI England.

Yes, I do intend to read the second book(A Medal for Murder) as part of my Second Acts feature but it's hard to resist such a tempting title for a bookworm like me! Anyway, I did start this series with book seven(Death in the Dales) so it only makes sense to work my way backwards here.

The plot of this particular mystery has Kate being hired to find the secret daughter of a noble woman whose husband is close to death's door. This search brings to Kate's attention the death of a librarian who may have been murdered and a possibly innocent man being blamed for that crime, all of which connects to the long lost daughter.

So far, I'm enjoying the book very much-the cover art for this series is just gorgeous!-and it's nice to have a bookish mystery to cool off with these days:

Monday, June 29, 2020

Enjoy your summer staycation with these July/August reads

With the July 4th weekend not that far off, it's reasonable to make a few plans for summertime entertainment around this time.

However, despite the reopenings that are happening, chances are that your best bet for a safe and healthy vacation will be remaining close to home and mainly indoors.

That's not a bad option, since there are plenty of new books about to be released within the next two months to provide the much needed amusement we need for these warm weather months. I have a lovely quintet of July and August titles ready for your beach bag or cozy corner of the couch:


Roselle Lim follows up her charming debut, Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune, with a new enchanting novel that sends it's leading lady to France.

In Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop, our title heroine has the ability to see the future for others, a talent that annoys rather than pleases her. Vanessa would prefer to be just another accountant who has a fair shot at finding love, something that her supernatural gift doesn't allow for.

Upon a series of ill timed predictions, Vanessa decides to try living in Paris with her Aunt Evelyn(who shares her otherworldly talents) to hopefully learn how to control her powers as well as avoid the professional matchmaker hired by her parents.

Perhaps a change of scene will help but it may take more than crossing an ocean to get Vanessa on the right path for her future life and towards possible real romance. I did adore Lim's first book and this one sounds as delectable as a plate of  Parisian marcarons(August):

Speaking of fun follow-ups, Not Like the Movies takes up where Kerry Winfrey's prior novel, Waiting for Tom Hanks, left off. This time, it's Chloe, the quirky waitress who inspired her best friend Annie's screenplay that is fast becoming a major motion picture, who is in the romcom spotlight.

Despite what her friends and potential movie goers think, Chloe insists that she's not in love with Nick, the gruff but soft hearted coffee house owner she works for. For one thing, she's far too busy looking after her father , who had to be placed in a retirement home due to his Alzheimer's condition, not to mention her twin brother Milo popping back into her life.

For another, she doubts that Nick has any romantic feelings for her but that's far from the case. Can Chloe wake up and smell the coffee when it comes to her heart?

I'm planning a double review of WFTH and NLTM(hopefully sooner than later!) but I can tell you right now that if you loved the first book, the sequel should be popcorn perfect for you indeed(July).


Author Finola Austin introduces us to Bronte's Mistress, the Bronte in question being Bramwell, the only brother of the three scholarly sisters who will become beloved writers one day.

He is not the main figure in this story,however-that portion falls to Lydia Robinson, who is grieving the untimely death of a daughter as well as her own mother,both within the same year.

Bramwell and his sister Anne join her household as educators to Lydia's remaining daughters and with her family in disarray, she finds the young man's company a most welcome relief. His charm and wit, along with lively interest in the arts, makes their considerable age difference a remote obstacle to their hidden love affair.

What does threaten their romance is Lydia's current marriage, grown cold but still very much alive in the eyes of society. While she does long to give into their mutual passion, Bramwell's erratic nature and his sisters' use of literary inspiration could ruin more than one life and that may be too high a price for either of them to pay.

This certainly is a side of the Bronte legend that we don't get to see too often and for any fan of Victorian literature, such a sorrowful love story is hard to resist there(August):


The upcoming entry in the Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen, The Last Mrs. Summers, has newly married Lady Georgiana off on a gothic adventure without her husband Darcy by her side.

Instead, she's teamed up with best gal pal Belinda as visitors at the stately manor of Tony Summers in Cornwall. He has just remarried despite the shock of his first wife's death via a fall over a cliff.

As a former flame of Tony's, Belinda is not suspicious of these circumstances but Georgie soon learns that the current Mrs. Summers has concerns about the demise of her predecessor and fears that she may become the late Mrs. Summers as well as the last!

While the new Mrs. Summers may be wrong about that fear, there is clearly something going on as the formidable housekeeper Mrs. Mannering is determined to keep everyone in line and then some,not to mention Tony brazenly attempting to rekindle his brief romance with Belinda.

When a staff member is found dead, Georgiana has to spring into action or her good friend Belinda will be more than just a suspect in the case. This spin on the classic Rebecca should be most entertaining as this series has a good blend of humor and terror that makes for truly page turning thrills there(August):

For something a bit more serious, Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees should fit the bill nicely.

In post-WWII, Edith Graham, a schoolteacher in search of a more interesting life, is recruited as a spy to work in Germany during their reconstruction. In fact, it's her cousin Leo who does the recruiting, hoping that she can help catch a notorious war criminal all too well known to their family.

Using the alias Stella Snelling, Edith poses as a cookbook author with a popular culinary magazine column that allows her to pass along coded messages in her recipes.

As her ruse becomes more successful, she is getting closer to her target but also deeper into danger. Can Edith achieve her objective in time or will she write her own recipe for disaster? Such an intriguing premise promises to be a real riveting read this summer or any season for that matter(July).

Please do have a happy July 4th, folks and despite the terrible times we're living in, joy can be found and taking a break from the daily stress is vitally important to your overall state of well being.  Any good book that allows you a moment or two of relaxing fantasy is a true blessing from the literary muses, if you ask me:

Monday, June 22, 2020

How my Sci-Fi Summer is more about the journey than the destination

We're approaching the end of the Sci-Fi Summer readathon(hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading) and yet, despite having finished only one book so far, I feel very complete.

Don't get me wrong, I do intend to have more than one done by the time July 1 is here. However, in taking my time with these particular flights of fancy, I think that it allows me to appreciate the effort taken to make such creative works come to vivid life on the page as well as the imagination.

Take the book that I have been able to place on the Read section at Goodreads due to this challenge; Gods of Jade and Shadow is not the first novel that I've read by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and certainly won't be the last yet it does feel like a true epic brought to glorious life, a definite turning point in her literary career.

The story is set in 1920s Mexico, where Cassiopea Tun and her mother live as servants in her cruel grandfather's house due to his disapproval of her late father's occupation as a teacher and poet. One day while the rest of the family is on a outing and she is left home as a punishment for a perceived slight against her horrible cousin Martin, Cassiopea opens a locked box in her grandfather's bedroom and unintentionally releases a Mayan death god.

Hun-Kame' was imprisoned by his twin brother Vucub-Kame'(with the aid of Cassiopea's grandfather, who was rewarded with wealth) for decades and now seeks to reclaim his throne in Xibalba, the land of the dead. To do that successfully, he must find certain body parts, plus a jade necklace, that have been hidden among his treacherous brother's allies. Cassiopea has no choice but to help him as a piece of bone binds the two of them together, for better and worse.

While the details of the time period and the mythology are expertly woven, it's the character development elements that truly spin this story telling cloth into literary gold. Moreno-Gracia shows the gradual progress of each of the players in this game, from Hun-Kame' slowly engaging with the humanity that comes from being bound to Cassiopea, who in turn finds her forceful personality being put to the test again and again in ways she never imagined.

Even the villains of the story, Vucub-Kame'(who betrayed his brother over what he felt was best for their kingdom) and Martin, who finds himself a somewhat willing pawn against the cousin he always envied and despised, are given real depth and nuance. This book may have the trappings of a fairy tale but it's so much more than that. Gods of Jade and Shadow redefines the quest story with lyrical style indeed:

At the moment, I'm working my way through Sarah Pinsker's A Song for a New Day, which just won the Best Novel award at the Nebulas(top honors for science fiction writing,btw) and it's a scary joy to behold.

I say scary because the futuristic setting is very close to what we're going through right now. One of our main heroines is singer Luce Cannon, a rock singer in the time Before who's starting to make a name for herself with a hit song and tour that is being derailed by massive terrorist threats that shut down society, along with a nasty new virus.

Luce is used to being an outsider, having left her ultra-raditional family to pursue her musical dreams, but what drives her sound is being able to perform in front of an audience, something that is rapidly becoming an illegal activity:

Rosemary Laws has grown up in the society After, where people use technically enhanced hoodies to  work,attend school and hang out with friends while staying at home. Her parents moved to the country to avoid the hazards of city living when she was still a child and at age 24, Rosemary has not interacted with anyone in person for most of her life.

Her customer service job at Superwallys leads her to an opportunity to attend a rock concert via StageHoloLive that awakens Rosemary to what live music is like, even in a virtual setting. She is then inspired to apply for a position at SHL and is hired as a new music recruiter, an exciting yet daunting challenge.

Despite having little contact with the underground music scene, Rosemary is determined to explore this brave new world and when given a hint as to where to find the next new sound, she takes off into what is the unknown for her; a major city, which frightens Rosemary and her protective parents for very different reasons:

I'm up to the part where Luce and Rosemary have met up and I can't wait to find out what happens next. While many features of this book do mirror some of our present day situations, that doesn't make this story off-putting at all. Instead, it showcases the need to persevere during such trying times and keeping something like music as a way to push forward towards a better world.

When someone can write a book about the terror of changing times that makes you long to read it all the more while in the midst of said times, it's no wonder that Pinsker has won a major award already. Even without a prize, you know this is an amazing author to watch out for.

Also, still reading The Left Hand of Darkness, which is an immense novel despite the three hundred page count. Ursula LeGuin's tale of Genly Ai, an envoy from a federation of planets, struggling to make the world of Gethen agree to join their united ranks does demand that you take your time with this intergalactic realm.

While Genly has trouble picking up the social cues of Gethen's residents, partly due to the people being of one gender(except for procreation periods and even then folks do not take up the same sexual identity each time), he runs into political intrigue that affects the course of his mission.

A potential ally of his,Estraven, becomes exiled upon displeasing the king of Karhide and that departure leads to Genly striking out on his own, seeking a possible answer to the question of the success of his assignment. Meanwhile, Estraven is in search of answers as well as to who orchestrated this exile and for what ultimate purpose:

It's an interesting book but not a fast moving one(at least to me) so taking my time with it feels like a good move here. You wouldn't want to rush through a five course meal just to get to dessert , after all.

Well, I hope to have at least three or more books completed for this readathon and hope that everyone else taking part is enjoying all of their reads as well. Once this challenge is over, my summer reading will be a little less structured yet still smart and fun. Science fiction is tricky to get into sometimes , yet when well done, is always worth the page turning journey:

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Making a summer meal out of these culinary mystery treats

While this is not definitely the ideal summer many of us had in mind, there is still joy to be found within the pages of a good book.

Given the fact that indulging in fabulous food also goes along with this particular brand of seasonal fun, the culinary mystery genre is the perfect go-to for indoor entertainment. I've found a trio of current and upcoming titles that ought to whet your literary taste buds and then some:

First up is a debut mystery from Abby Collette called A Deadly Inside Scoop, set in the town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio where Bronwyn,aka Win, Crewse comes home to revive the family ice cream parlor.

Due to the shop needing major repairs, Win is unable to reopen the business until December, where a snowstorm shuts down the opening day plans. To cheer herself up, she goes out to collect a bit of snow for one of her famed grandmother's recipes and uncovers a frozen corpse whose demise was not from natural causes.

Turns out the body is that of Stephen Bayard, whose dirty dealings in town included conning Win's grandmother Kay out of her shop. When her father is considered a suspect in the case, Win is highly motivated to find the real killer, with the help of Maisie, her addicted to British murder mysteries best friend. Can she save her father as well as the shop from being destroyed by Bayard again?

This just sounds deliciously fun, with ice cream recipes as the cherry on top of this sleuthing sundae. The book was released this May and the sequel(A Game of Cones,nice title!) already planned for next year. Plus, the idea of ice cream made from snow is a chilling pleasure to behold during the hazy days to come:

Something that pairs up nicely with ice cream is cake and Ellie Alexander has Nothing Bundt Trouble to serve up by the end of June.

This latest entry in The Bakeshop Mystery series has Juliet "Jules" Capshaw looking into a cold case from the 1980s. This time around, she gets some help from a most unexpected source: her late father.

Coming across his journals, Jules not only learns the origins of her beloved family bakery Torte but gains a few clues into a hit and run incident that nearly tore their small town of Ashland apart. Should she be digging up the past like this or stick to the present day concerns all about her?

Getting some extra backstory and world building is a special sweet bonus for fans ready to devour this new slice of mystery cake. Interestingly enough, Alexander has an ice cream themed book due this fall called Chilled to the Cone-winter ice cream seems to be a new trend in this genre and I like it!:

If you're in the mood for a more savory story, it's not too early to put in an order for Vivien Chien's Killer Kung Pao that'll be ready this August.

In this new addition to the Noodle Shop Mysteries, restaurant manager Lana Lee is handed another plate to balance as she witnesses an altercation between two cars in the parking lot of the Asia Village mall(which is a small town into itself).

It's bad enough to get in between tough cookie June Yi, owner of a local tea shop/bakery and determined Mah Jong player Mildred Mao over a fender-bender but when one of the ladies in question winds up dead during a pedicure, Lana has no choice but to solve the case before more havoc breaks loose.

These books are wicked good and I'm glad we have more to come, with the promise of Fatal Fried Rice next March! Of course, it's best to take each story telling course as it comes and this mystery dish should be suitably satisfying this summer indeed:

Having a few great books on hand does take the edge off of anxiety, I've found and while we must keep an alert eye on the headlines, this will be a stressful summer and there's nothing wrong with a little relief from the heat every now and then.

So, think of food themed mysteries as having a picnic with your favorite author and/or their delightful characters, sharing a sandwich and maybe some engaging insights as well:

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Emma and the merits of Mr. Knightley

One of my personal reading challenges has been to catch up to some of the major classics of literature,usually by reading a bit each morning(or day, depending on how things are going).

While I won't get into the big league titles that I've completed-the latest one was The Forsyte Saga-over the past few years, that section of my bookshelf has gotten pretty full at this point. So much so that it felt like the right time for a good reread.

Naturally, I went to Jane Austen since it's been a long while for me to have done a proper revisit with the Classic Six there. I started with Emma,thanks to the new movie which was nicely done, and I must confess that as charming as she is, Miss Woodhouse is not my favorite of the Austen leading ladies. She's a bit too self satisfied for my taste yet I've grown to appreciate her story.

During this current reread, I find myself taking another look at a different major character who does have his fans but is not as beloved as Mr. Darcy. I speak of Mr. Knightley, whose first name is George but I quite agree with Emma that calling him Mr. Knightley sounds more natural.

He is a proper leading man that provides the much needed balance to the heroine, matching her ready wit with a sly observation or two. Mr. Knightley can and does at times come off as snarky and overbearing but that's not there is to him, not at all:

For one thing, most of his concerns about Emma have to do with her character -he does respect her intelligence when it comes to education(even keeping a reading list that she made long ago for a few years!) and other matters.

What worries him is her occasional lack of direction and need to interfere in the lives of others, particularly Harriet Smith. Granted, Mr. Knightley doesn't think much of Harriet beyond her being "pretty and good tempered" but he has a strong point regarding Harriet's uncertain background not being a guarantee that her future would be secure elsewhere in life.

He's also very knowledgeable about what Mr. Elton's martial ambitions are, as opposed to Robert Martin, a man "so in love" that he could not be talked out of finding a more financially beneficial partner.  Yes, that sounds cold but back in those days, marriage was considered more of a business deal in some respects(a notion not entirely departed from in certain quarters today).

Emma's intentions are somewhat well meaning when it comes to trying to pair up Harriet with Mr. Elton but she's also playing around with other people's feelings in a way that ultimately backfires on her as well as Harriet. No matter what time period it is, creating a sock puppet romance for your own personal pleasure is wrong and Mr. Knightley is very much in the right to call Emma out on this:

Also, he is the only one in Emma's immediate circle who bothers to course correct her when necessary.  Mrs. Weston,aka Miss Taylor, is right when she says that despite her flaws, Emma is "an excellent creature" yet she often yields to the persuasion of her former pupil at times.

Mr. Woodhouse is of no help in such matters, being overly concerned with everybody's health(and mainly his own) and her older sister Isabella is much like her father, not to mention living in London with her own family to take care of.

In some ways, Emma is like a only child, given that Isabella married and left home while she was still a little girl. Due to her innate cleverness, most of the people in Emma's life assumed that her character was not in need of extra attention.

Mr. Knightley, as not only a family friend but related to her by marriage as well, seems to see it as his duty to urge Emma towards the right path every now and then. He doesn't force her to do anything other than reflect upon her own behavior, which Emma does do at certain moments, and makes up with her after their arguments.

He's not flawless,believe me-I find it amusing how much he can't stand Frank Churchill(who is to him as Jane Fairfax is to Emma; a person each feels gets too much praise and credit from others) to the point of a rant about that "trifling ,silly fellow" to Emma in one chapter. Personally, I think part of the reason that Emma likes Frank is that it annoys Mr. Knightley to no end!

What really makes me consider the merits of Mr. Knightley all the more this time around is his steadfast nature. Running a farming estate such as Donwell Abbey has him in a position of serious responsibility, which he takes to very well.

 In addition to maintaining the land and looking out for his tenants such as Robert Martin's family(Robert even asks for Mr. Knightley's advice concerning his first proposal to Harriet), he takes additional measures to help out the Bates family,particularly when Jane Fairfax shows up for an extended visit.

 Despite what Mrs. Weston speculates, I believe his interest in giving the Bates an extra hand is the added expense of Jane staying with her aunt upon the family budget rather than any possible romance with Miss Fairfax. He knows their family income well enough to offer what socially acceptable assistance he can, such as the use of his carriage and a surplus of apples. Emma herself admits that "he's not gallant but he is humane".

What really impresses me is that he is willing to admit that he's been wrong. When Harriet is in need of rescue from social embarrassment, thanks to Mr. Elton(who so deserves his awful wife!), Mr. Knightley is quick to remedy the situation and later tell Emma that he had misjudged her friend's character greatly. It may not seem like much but that kindness to Harriet on that particular occasion was a truly generous gesture that went a long way towards uplifting that young lady's spirits, plus her social standing.

In this day and age when so many people in positions of potential and/or unwarranted authority stubbornly cling to outlandish statements and ridiculous notions despite all evidence otherwise, a man like Mr. Knightley is infinitely preferable company, a good leader and a fine example for others to follow:

While my top Austen men will remain a tie between Captain Wentworth(hey, my first JA book was Persuasion!) and Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley is high up on that list for me these days. My favorite quote of his-which I'm badly quoting here- is "There is one thing a man can do if he chooses and that is his duty." I so wish more folks would take up that stance in the socially responsible way!

Meanwhile, my next Jane Austen reread will be Sense and Sensibility, a book that I haven't explored for far too many years now. It's nice to have my own Jane Austen book club as comfort during these troubling times and I hope that others can find a similar source of solace as well:

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Devouring some Cream Puff Murder for my Series-ous Reading self care

I know how stressful the world is at this moment, with yet another tragic event along side our current health crisis to deal with. As much as I am saddened by both dire situations, part of coping with these changing circumstances is taking some time to unwind from the ongoing anxiety and like many of us, reading comes in handy there.

So, my latest Series-ous Reading selection, Cream Puff Murder by Joanne Fluke, is a welcome light hearted relief. In this story, Hannah is getting ready for the release party to honor her mother Delores' debut Regency novel.

Unfortunately, the specially made dress that Delores wants her to wear for the event doesn't fit right, so Hannah has to go on a quick diet(usually not a fan of plot lines focusing on Hannah's body size but since losing weight for a special occasion is relatively reasonable , it gets a pass here).

In addition to eating from a more balanced meal menu, she and her little sister Andrea join the local workout spa called Heavenly Bodies(which sounds so eighties, doesn't it?).

Exercise is not something that Hannah is all too fond of but over time, she starts to get the hang of things.While getting used to exercise equipment is one thing, it's quite another to deal with Ronni Ward as her aerobics instructor.

It's no secret that Ronni loves being as friendly as can be with the guys in town-to the point of causing a few fights at local restaurants among jealous spouses!-but is the exact opposite with women. Her nasty approach towards her female students ruffles many feathers, including Hannah, who calls her out during one session.

What's truly annoying is that guys like Mike Kingston,Hannah's occasional beau, insist that Ronni is not as bad as some people think. I'll talk more about Mike in a moment but first, we have to get our main murder mystery and yes, Hannah finds the dead body of Ronni in the Heavenly Bodies' hot tub one early morning workout. Going to the gym is awkward enough without finding a corpse not far from a plate of overturned cream puffs that you made for someone else!:

Due to the fact that Ronni also had a receptionist job at the local police department, most of the cops have to step back from the murder investigation. An investigator from out of town is recruited to aid in the official case, which means Hannah is getting some not so-secret tips on how to find the killer from her exiled friends.

That list  includes Mike, Hannah's brother-in-law Bill and her Cookie Jar partner Lisa's husband,plus the rookie cop that youngest Swensen sister Michelle is seeing in a long distance relationship(a lot of ladies in love with the law in Lake Eden, it seems).

The most persistent helper here is Mike and he truly is at his worst with Hannah when it comes to their relationship. Granted, I am more of a fan of Norman, the sweetheart of a dentist that Hannah also dates, but Mike goes way over the line and then some this time out.

For one, he keeps waking up Hannah(who has to keep early hours as a baker) at midnight for snacks to be brought down to the parking lot of her condo to offer his advice on the case. Once, I can understand but Mike does this several times, potentially waking up her neighbors to boot!

 Also, he pushes a set of books about detective procedure on her and insists that she really needs to read them in order to properly solve the crime. Uh, excuse me-so far, she's found a good number of killers by now without any formal training, many times way before you do, so maybe you need to reread those books yourself,okay?

On top of that, Mike constantly claims that he had no idea that Ronni was flirting with him or that they had any sort of romantic interest in each other. Yet, when he discovers that Hannah spent the night at Norman's(in a separate bedroom), before she can clarify that situation, Mike immediately drops the dime that he and Ronni hooked up-"Guess this makes us even,huh?"

No, it does not,Mike! While Hannah is dating two men, she has been open and honest about the extent of each relationship with each of them.  She does her best to not lead either one of them on and doesn't pit one against the other.

Mike, however, wants to be able to see other women but still act innocent about it and expect her to always buy that line of bull. At best, he treats Norman as a friendly rival(even having Norman deliver Hannah info on his behalf when he's not making midnight snack runs at her place) and has the nerve to assume the worse when it comes to Hannah and Norman.

Meanwhile, Norman is not only nice and helpful when it comes to Hannah's cat Moishe(whose subplots in these books are charmingly cute), he even has sugar free desserts prepared at the restaurant that their families are having a murder mystery planning meeting at. Yes, Delores has a small part in solving the case and she has fun while doing it!

When it comes to this love triangle, Mike Kingston is such a Logan Huntsberger(and yes, I prefer Jess as Rory Gilmore's boyfriend in the series) and I'm glad to see that Hannah is starting to cool down when it comes to romance with him:

As to the main mystery, it does get solved well and while I did want a bit more about Delores' novel, it was amusing to see so many of her friends and neighbors insist that they were the leading man and lady in her story! This was a welcome cream puff of a delight to read indeed:

As for my first summer Series-ous Reading selection, my pick is a last minute addition to my Second Act reading in this category.

After finishing A Slice of Murder by Chris Cavender recently, I decided to have another helping with book two in the Pizza Lovers Mystery series that is titled Pepperoni Pizza Can Be Murder.

Our leading lady detective is Eleanor Swift, sole owner of A Slice of Delight pizzeria in Ridge Town,North Carolina due to her beloved husband Joel passing away two years ago.

With the help of her madcap sister Maddy, Eleanor runs her business as best she can, when not dealing with dead bodies, that is. For this second outing, one of her other workers is accused of murdering his brother who is found dead in the pizza place's kitchen and yes, these two boys did not get along to say the least.

I may not be a fan of pepperoni pizza(I'm a plain cheese pie type of gal) but I did like the bond between the two sisters and the comforting atmosphere of the setting, so savoring a fresh slice of mystery from this story telling eatery sounds good to me:

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Natalie Jenner invites you to join The Jane Austen Society this summer

It has become a truth universally acknowledged that readers will flock to a Jane Austen themed book,hoping to love it as much as they do her original six pack of novels.

In the case of Natalie Jenner's The Jane Austen Society, that hope will be happily fulfilled. This debut novel takes a fictional look into the origins of the group of townsfolk in Chawton,England, who decided to band together and do what they could to honor the memory of their most famous literary resident.

We start with Adam Berwick, a young farmer whose family dealt with terrible losses during WWII, leaving him and his mother to manage what's left of their farm.

 Adam always felt out of place, unlike his late father and brothers, and yet was never really interested in Jane Austen or her work. Like most of the folks in town, he tolerates giving out directions to the cottage where Austen lived as well as the Knight family estate nearby to visitors from afar.

One such visitor from America inspired Adam to take up the books for himself ,resulting in his devotion to Austen's books and becoming the first in 1945 to suggest forming a society that would turn the Austen family cottage into a museum. Considered by all to be a quiet sort, much like his favorite Austen hero Mr. Darcy, Adam surprises everyone with his heartfelt commitment to the project at hand:

The American who started Adam off on his love of Jane Austen returns to Chawton, with a fiance in tow. Actress Mimi Harrison has a lifelong devotion to Jane, thanks to her late father sharing those books with her.

Despite her success in Hollywood, Mimi is hoping to embrace a more relaxed life in England with plans to star in an adaptation of Sense & Sensibility(even though her favorite book is Emma).

Her film producer beau Jack is eager to indulge Mimi in her Austen love, to the point of buying her some of the jewelry that Jane herself wore in a Sotheby's auction. Once she hears of the society's plans, Mimi is excited to join in and help anyway she can.

Since she hopes to make Chawton her new home, Mimi is anxious to be part of things, particularly with her Hollywood career slowly yet surely coming to an end. Part of that demise is due to the unwanted attentions of a major studio boss, whose power and influence is sadly more prominent than her own:

Aiding Adam in his mission is Benjamin Gray, the local doctor who everyone trusts with their health and their secrets.

It is hardly a secret that Dr. Gray has strong feelings for former school teacher Adeline Grove. As a widower, he well understands the pain of her losses, from her husband dying in the war and the miscarriage of her child.

As a way of encouraging her to get back into the world, he asks Adeline to join the society and despite her own misgivings about getting too attached to the good doctor, she is more than up for the challenge.

 With the addition of a former student of hers, Evie Stone, a maid in the Knight household who has been writing up a catalogue of all of the books in the vast family library, Adeline finds herself feeling better connected to life. However, both she and Dr. Gray are unsure of their own true feelings about one another. The only thing that he is certain about is the need to protect Adeline from any and all harm ,whether it be physical or emotional:

A key player in all of this is Frances Knight, one of the last direct descendants of the Austen family. While she has lived in Chawton all of her life, Frances withdrew from society due to a romance that was thwarted by her father and in some ways, has become a stranger in her own home town.

While she would like to help with the society's goals, the will of her late father takes away any control Frances has over the property in question. Worse, she must give up most of her meager inheritance to the schemes of a potential male heir,however distantly related.

This situation personally affronts Andrew Forrester, the local attorney who does his best to prevent any conflict of interest between the Knight estate that he works for and the Jane Austen Society, of which he is a member. He and Frances once shared a deep passion that lead to disapproval and disappointment for them both:

While the aim of this group is to pay respect to the literary greatness of Jane Austen, it's also a way for them to thank the author for the meaning she has given to their personal lives as well. In that regard, their mission statement is complete.

Jenner may be a new novelist yet her prose is expertly woven, creating a elegantly tantalizing portrait of a small group of people brought together by more than one type of love and friendship.

While the story could be a little bit longer for my taste, it is my only regret and not much of one at that. The characters are incredibly alive on the page, feeling so real that you are almost beside them during one of their meetings or on a walk through Chawton, a town that I was most fortunate enough to visit many years ago, bringing back some lovely memories for me here.

For any and all Jane Austen fans, this book is a must read for the summer and my thanks to Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose who invited me to take part in this blog tour(the JAS banner in the upper column of this blog has a link to Natalie Jenner's website, which should lead you to more stops along this bookish online tour).

Also the audio edition is narrated by actor Richard Armitage, best known for the miniseries North and South, which should be an extra bonus for many period drama viewers indeed! However you engage with The Jane Austen Society, this tribute to the legacy of Austen and her readers is a beautiful grace note to life, love and literature:

Friday, May 22, 2020

Spending my summer in the shade of a good book

We're starting our first big holiday weekend of the summer and while some might be considering an outdoor adventure in the midst of what still is a major health crisis, I know that I'm not alone in planning on enjoying this occasion safely inside.

Part of my fun will be with books, which are a major player in my summer games, and while I have one readathon on deck next month(Sci-Fi Summer), the rest of the season is wide open, so to speak.

Granted, my TBR cup is overflowing at this point but this list of summer reads is short and savvy, I hope. Let me just showcase the top three titles on my pile of fun away from the sun reads:

NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA: Chanel Cleeton's acclaimed novel has two leading ladies, one from the past and the other dealing with the present.

The former is Elisa, who along with her sisters, was seen as a "sugar queen" in their elite social circles in Cuba of 1958. Sheltered from the harsh realities of everyday life and the revolution rumbling to life all around her, Elisa meets Pablo, a young man who opens her eyes as well as her heart.

Decades later, her American born granddaughter Marisol is visiting Cuba with a special item on hand, determined to honor the memory of the most influential woman in her life.

There, she also discovers her grandmother's past while meeting Luis, the grandson of a family friend that could help her ignite a passion similar to the one Elisa shared with Pablo back in the day. Will learning about Elisa's past help Marisol figure out her own future?

I've heard so many wonderful things about this book(and yes, I do like Reese Witherspoon's book club picks) and this sounds like a riveting read for any time of year:

THE GREAT ALONE: Author Kristen Hannah introduces you to Leni, who at age thirteen knows all too well about impulsive and self destructive behavior, due to the turmoil in her own household.

When her father Ernt decides to take their family off to Alaska in 1974 to claim land left to him by a deceased Army buddy from his time in Vietnam, Leni hopes that this will lead to a better life for all of them.

The rough conditions of their new home,along with the total lack of preparations made, takes an even harsher toll on Leni and her mother Cora. With Ernt being unable to handle such isolation, both mother and daughter find solace and support among their new neighbors.

Despite Ernt getting some work along the new pipeline that's being built, that time away from Cora and Leni does little to ease the tensions. While she struggles to find new friends and perhaps love, Leni has no choice at one point but to think of her own emotional survival.

At the moment, I'm reading an earlier book from this author, Firefly Lane(which is being adapted for Netflix,) and that novel is so engagingly good that it's beyond awesome to have another one of Hannah's books on hand. This is the first time that I have read her work and clearly, I've found a great author to catch up on here:

THE MASTERPIECE: Writer Fiona Davis centers most of her historical fiction in and around New York City, with this story truly being at the heart of many points of the famed metropolis.

Grand Central Station is the connection between two women from different moments in time. Clara Darden is both an artist and a teacher at the Grand Central School of Art in 1928, gaining some attention for her work but not all of the extra notice is seen as respectable.

In 1974,  Virginia Clay,a new employee at Grand Central's information booth, discovers a painting in the now abandoned art institute that appears to have been one of Clara's, who vanished long ago.

With an auction at Sotheby's that has a similar work up for sale, Virginia is determined to find Clara and let her know how valued her art has become. This search brings her some clarity to the troubles in her own life, battling illness and then dealing with a painful divorce, as well as helping to solve more than one mystery regarding Clara's life and times.

I so enjoy Davis' skillful blend of well developed female characters and finely crafted pieces of historical interest. She has a new book coming out this summer(The Lions of Fifth Avenue) and until I get to it, this intriguing novel should do nicely. I also love the cover art of her novels, although I know good and well that you can't judge a book by it's cover(in this case,however, you can!):

I hope everyone has a good Memorial Day weekend and finds plenty of fun even at home during these times. Good books help a lot, not to mention a little binge watching and/or re-watching  of tried and true favorites.

Speaking of favorites, I'm taking a bit of a breather from catching up with the classics and doing a reread of Jane Austen's classic six novels. I'm starting with Emma(yes, due to the new movie) and hoping to tackle Sense & Sensibility before Labor Day is upon us.

While I do know these books fairly well, there is value in revisiting them and it's been some time since Austen's original works were on my reading radar. At the very least, I hope to feel like a truly accomplished woman by the turn of that last page:

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Setting up a reader's beach towel for Sci-Fi Summer!

With Memorial Day weekend just around the corner, the summer season is about to officially begin. Granted, the usual holiday plans that are made this time of year have no choice but to be quite different (and indoors) due to the prevalent health crisis at hand.

However, that doesn't rule out having some fun and that's where a good readathon comes forth to offer just that. Seasons of Reading is now signing folks up for their annual Sci-Fi Summer event, which starts on June 1 and lasts until the end of the month.

The theme is science fiction, with fantasy also included.While I'm more comfortable with the latter than the former, there is one major sci-fi author that I haven't tackled and fully intend to here, for a start on my own TBR for this event:

THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS: This modern classic from Ursula K. LeGuin is set on the planet Gethen, where Genly Ai, a human envoy of the galactic alliance of planets known as Ekumen ,is hoping to encourage them to join this society of worlds.

His mission is fraught with peril, partly due to his discomfort with the formal set of manners that are not defined by gender practiced among the various people that Ai encounters. In fact, the Gethenians are ambisexual, only taking on a specific gender for procreation related purposes.

Ai's journey takes into several ruling realms, finding the social norms and politics to be daunting yet he makes an unexpected friend along the way who not only helps him but changes his perspectives on life and love as well.

This is a major novel in LeGuin's canon of groundbreaking works of fiction and there's no time like the present for me to give such an amazing book a serious try. Perhaps it might lead me to her other works, perhaps not. Nonetheless, this is an adventure well worth the taking:

THE BONE DOLL'S TWIN: In this first in a trilogy written by Lynn Flewelling, we are introduced to Tobin, a young boy hiding in plain sight from those who would destroy him due to the wrath of a usurper king.

Tobin was born into a set of twins, yet due to his uncle King Erius eliminating any females newly entering the royal bloodline, his parents called upon a sorcerer to use dark magic to protect their infant daughter. That spell had dangerous consequences, leaving Tobin with a ghostly sibling and a secret identity to be kept even from him.

While their country is constantly under siege from without and within, Tobin's father and a few carefully chosen allies are awaiting the day when the truth can be revealed and a warrior queen can rise again to save their realm.

I received this book from a mystery box brought during the recent Virtual Con held by Penguin Random House online(it was a fun event!) and since this story line reminds me of one of my favorite Game of Thrones characters-plus, the book cover has a positive blurb from G.R.R. Martin-I am most intrigued indeed:

SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA DOUBLE FEATURE: Not only does this fantastic writer have a great new book coming out this summer(Mexican Gothic) , her impressive body of work has at least two titles that I need to catch up with here.

In The Beautiful Ones, Antonina "Nina" Beaulieu is making her debut into high society, trying to keep her telekinetic abilities at bay in order to find a good martial match.

Her cousin Valerie is meant to be her guide yet when Nina attracts the attentions of Hector, who proudly flaunts his psychic powers , lines are drawn between the two women. It doesn't help that Valerie and Hector were once in love yet she had to give him up for what her family considered a more suitable connection.

At first, Hector is only interested in using Nina as payback against Valerie but over time, his affections start to change. However, Nina is not simply a pawn for either side to play in this emotional game and her own set of magical skills turn this love triangle into a source of true power for herself. This so sounds like if Edith Wharton wrote The Night Circus and I am all in for that!

Gods of Jade and Shadow has it's leading lady, Casiopea, finding herself bound to a Mayan death god and assisting him in his quest to fully regain his divinity. After opening a secret box belonging to her grandfather, she accidentally awakens the imprisoned Hun-Kame and finds out about her family's role in trapping him for decades.

She's less than thrilled to be caught up in this vengeance driven journey, as the deity in question plans to take on his betraying brother, yet along the way, Casiopea learns a few things about life from her new acquaintance and so does he, each gaining a new respect for the other.

Can their quest be completed, however, without a true sacrifice that changes both of their families for good? I've been looking forward to reading this book for some time now and saving it for the summer feels just right. Moreno-Garcia's blend of reality and mythology is truly compelling with a spell binding beauty that engages awe and terror all at once:

There's plenty of time to sign up if you're interested(see link in the top portion of this post) and you can also follow the hashtag #SciFiJune on social media. My thanks as always to Michelle Miller for making these reading challenges easily available to all.

I do like the fact that science fiction and fantasy are both part of this, as fans of one over the other tend to draw battle lines around their preferred genre. In the end, we're all on the same side of the bookshelf here and getting together for some good bookish fun is what's most important, especially these days. A little mock trash talk is fine but agreeing to be reading buddies is even better:

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Some summer time bookish TV to tune into soon

Despite talk of going back into society with the current health crisis all around us, chances are that most of your upcoming summer activities this year are going to be of the indoor variety.

That's not an entirely bad thing,especially for book folk, as this season has several new TV series based on books due out just in time to sit in the shade and enjoy.

First up is HBO's adaptation of Wally Lamb's novel, I Know This Much Is True, which began it's six episode run this past weekend. Mark Ruffalo stars as twin brothers Dominic and Thomas Birdsey, with one brother taking care of the other due to being diagnosed with schizophrenia.

In addition to Ruffalo, the cast has some pretty big names on deck such as Melissa Leo as the Birdsey brothers' mom, Rosie O'Donnell as a social worker trying to help both brothers deal with the mental health system and Juliette Lewis playing an Italian translator who is working on the memoir written by their grandfather, which may reveal some much needed family secrets.

Granted, this is not a cheerful story to watch, especially during these troubling times, however, the book was beautifully written with deeply well developed characters and no doubt, Ruffalo offers a solid performance here.  Also, there are some who find solace in tales of emotional survival and this series may provide just that kind of relief:

For some real world chills mixed with supernatural thrills, HBO will be airing Lovecraft Country. Based on Matt Ruff's novel, this series is set in America of the 1950s where Atticus(Jonathan Majors) seeks the help of his uncle George(Courtney B. Vance) in finding his father Montrose(Michael K. Williams).

Montrose is being held captive by the Braithwaite family, ruled by patriarch Samuel(Tony Goldwin), who is a founding member of "The Sons of Adam", a secret group with sinister and otherworldly connections. In order to save his father, Atticus ,along with his family and friends, have to make a road trip with deadly detours that include everyday racism and actual monsters from beyond.

As someone who read this book, this is so a must-watch! For those who haven't, the fact that Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams are executive producing this is a sure sign of great and scary things to come here:

If you're more in the mood for some comic book capers, the CW will be debuting Stargirl on May 19(it'll also be streaming on their digital platform the day before). Bree Bassinger plays Courtney, a high school sophomore who has moved to a new town with her mother and stepfather Pat(Luke Wilson).

Turns out that Pat was once a superhero sidekick for The Justice Society of America, destroyed by their enemies in the Injustice Society. Pat has been keeping the cosmic power staff of Starman hidden away, waiting for the right person to claim that mantle.

Courtney appears to be that special someone and she decides to use her new found powers for good, not to mention reforming the JSA with some new friends to push back against the still rather active Injustice crowd.

 Due to the Crisis on Infinite Earths shake-up on the CW superhero shows earlier this year, this new show ought to fit right in with the current line-up. Plus, this just looks like pure popcorn fun and that is something we all could use these days:

To round this out, TNT has a made for TV version of Snowpiercer, which was previously adapted to the big screen by Oscar winning director Bong Joon-ho  and based on a graphic novel.

The basic premise has the entire world covered in endless winter, with only one train carrying what's left of humanity. The people onboard have a firmly structured class system with those such as Melanie(Jennifer Connelly) in first class living the good life while residents who dwell in the back car of the train are barely surviving.

A rebellion is born, lead by Layton(Daveed Diggs), a man tired of seeing the suffering of others as well as his own. Their progression through the numerous train cars to reach the front engines causes many shake-ups in the traveling society but will gaining access to their goal really help or hurt all of the passengers in the end?

This sounds interesting indeed and a second season has already been approved, so this might be a thrill ride worth taking this May:

Having good books and TV shows on hand does make the time go by a little bit better and while that can't solve all of our present moment problems, using them to take a mental break is just as important as maintaining your physical health.

So, do look forward to these great combinations of imagination that are not too far away,folks! The fall season could be as equally promising, especially for fans of Starz's The Spanish Princess which will grant us an audience with season 2 of the show! More Phillipa Gregory adaptations, yes, please!: