Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, November 12, 2018

Thankful for some tasty reads served up at the library

Sometimes, finding a good book can be like discovering a prize at the bottom of your favorite cereal box; it can be completely unexpected and a welcome delight indeed.

I made an unexpected trip to the library late last week, in the interest of helping my sister(she needed some books returned), and naturally, I couldn't resist having a bit of a browse while I was there. After all, I had returned a couple of books myself and probably won't be back until some time after Thanksgiving.

Nothing was catching my eye at first but then I decided to check out a certain display set up at the end of a section of shelves. This particular spot at my library has become a regular place for books connected by a mutual theme to be showcased and sure enough, a sign overhead announced "With a dash of mystery".

There was a combination of cookbooks and foodie mysteries arranged there, the latter whetting my literary appetite right away with the title Diners,Drive-ins and Death. It's the third book in Christine Wenger's Comfort Food Mystery series, set in the upstate New York town of Sandy Harbor.

Our culinary sleuth is Trixie Matkowski, who owns the Silver Bullet Diner, an old school fifties type of eatery and as the story begins, she's being consulted by her elaborately dressed best friend Antoinette Chloe Brown,aka ACB, about the land next to the diner being used to build an old fashioned drive-in movie theater.

Trixie is happy to support her friend in this enterprise, mainly to help ACB stop worrying about the disappearance of her new boyfriend Nick, who happens to be her former brother-in-law due to her ex-husband Sal being in prison for trying to kill her and Trixie. During the ground breaking for the drive-in however, Nick's body is discovered and not only is that messy can of worms reopened, the heat is on for ACB as a possible suspect in the case.

While this is the first time I've ever read this series(and in the middle of it, no less), Wenger does make it easy to catch up with the characters and their backstories, not to mention the quirky nature of the town itself. In addition to solving a murder, Trixie also has to help house contestants for the local Miss Salmon pageant,which has a special musical number being planned with a salute to spawning fish(this brings Miss Patty's School of Dance moments from Gilmore Girls gleefully back to life).

So far, I am enjoying this book and while Guy Fieri doesn't play a role here, I have a feeling that if he stopped by the Silver Bullet, his time would be well spent and he'd be well fed to boot:

I wound up getting three more books from the display(don't worry, there were a few left for others to borrow) and all of them are from the same series entitled A Food Lovers' Village Mystery.

Crime Rib by Leslie Budewitz is the second entree in this series where Erin Murphy has a gourmet food market called the Glacier Mercantile(also called The Merc) in the Montana town of Jewel Bay.

When a popular food TV show arrives to highlight Jewel Bay's culinary community, Erin arranges for a steak cook-off to be held at The Merc, featuring three of the best grill masters in town. Unfortunately, one of the contenders is iced before the competition and it's up to Erin to smoke out the killer before more than one fire is put out for good.

I love the whole notion of calling Erin's establishment "The Merc" because it reminds me of Food Network's Pioneer Woman,Ree Drummond, who runs a similar place in her Oklahoma small town. That homey feeling I always get from watching an episode of TPW should blend in nicely with such a savory mystery series like this:

I had to have book three in the series not just for the perfectly punny title but the movie theater cover art as well. Butter Off Dead has Erin trying to drum up some off season business for Jewel Bay by arranging a local film festival.

With the foodie film theme, she and local painter Christine are right on track but when Erin's partner in planning is found dead, more than one complication arises. The suspicious leading man in this murder is Nick, who happens to be Erin's brother and was Christine's boyfriend, quite the deadly double feature.

As she works to clear her sibling's name, Erin hopes that the film festival goes off without a hitch but by the time the first reel is being shown, she may have to worry about the end credits rolling on her own life story. Really love the film festival focus here and if the movies selected for this showcase are better than the ones shown in Stars Hollow(Gilmore Girls keep coming to mind, can't help it!), it should be a good night to remember:

The last Leslie Budewitz mystery I picked up that day is a little further ahead in the series but it's very suitable for an upcoming readathon. Along with  Joanne Fluke's Sugar Cookie Murder and The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen, I plan to read As The Christmas Cookie Crumbles for the Christmas Spirit readathon held by Seasons of Reading later this month.

As Erin is planning her own holiday wedding, a returning member of a prominent  hometown family has a true silent night, deadly night encounter that needs solving. Merrily Thornton seemed to have changed her criminal ways but what appeared to be a fallback into her former embezzling habits may have been a frame job of the fatal kind.

I'll do my best to read one of the earlier books before this one, in order to get a feel for Erin Murphy's food lover life and times, but I'm sure that this will be a real sinister sweet treat to nibble page by page here:

The Christmas Spirit readathon starts on November 19 and runs until December 2, so check in with Seasons of Reading if you want to join in. As for me, I am pleased to have gathered up a nice pile of foodie mysteries to make this Thanksgiving a feast for mind and body alike.

I do feel a tad guilty for liking this genre so much lately but then again, why should I? Such harmless fun is hard to find in times as troubling as these and the authors who labor over these seemingly light hearted mysteries are truly talented with a good knack for developing strong flavorful characters, something that any reader truly loves in any category.

So, instead of such needless remorse, I intend to be thankful for having such wonderful books to read and recommend. Books do provide true comfort and inspiration just when we need them the most with the additional blessing of having a local library around to assist us in finding that perfect tasty read that really hits the spot:

Monday, November 05, 2018

Some literary odds and ends for my future reading basket

As most lifelong readers know, one pile of books is never enough to stave off the chances of having nothing to read. While it is true that clearing a shelf or two is good home library keeping, eventually that empty space gets filled up yet again(a vicious circle, in the best sense of the term).

This past weekend, I went to a local church sale and managed to find a couple of books that were definitely worth having. One of them is Razor Girl by Carl Hiassen, where a batch of offbeat characters crisscross in bizarre ways, causing a merry spree of chaos in their wake.

For talent agent Lane Coolman, being mistakenly kidnapped by the mystery bikini clad woman who rammed into his car is a mixed blessing. While it's no fun trying to escape your confused captors, it's better than dealing with the media mess that his biggest reality star client,Buck Nance, has made due to not having Coolman on hand to make sure that a major interview doesn't go off track.

Meanwhile, Merry Mansfield,the car kidnapper, is in trouble with the mob for snatching the wrong guy and a former police detective turned health inspector named Andrew Yancy believes that solving a past crime of Merry's will give him his badge back. Yes, this does sound complicated but Hiaasen has quite the knack for making wacky people and situations work well together and it should be fun to check out this latest adventure ride:

While I have read Hiaasen before, the other book that I picked up at the sale is the third one by an author that I keep meaning to read and still haven't yet.

Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage follows the title leading man on a quest for understanding as the quartet of childhood friends he's known for years choose to suddenly cut off all contact with him.

Years later Tsukuru is a successful architect, using that abrupt rejection as inspiration for his best work. However, he continues to be haunted by that unexpected group decision and on the advice of his girlfriend, reaches out to those former friends to find out what went wrong and was it all his fault in the first place?

Murakami is known taking usual turns with his stories, adding in very surreal touches that enhance both the characters on the page and the reader turning those pages. I tried to read one of his bigger books first (IQ84) but didn't get too far with it. Perhaps I should start with something smaller in scope such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle(which I do have) but glad to have this intriguing novel on hand as well:

 The week before the sale, I had to return a library book and was pleased with only borrowing one title on that occasion(particularly since I have three other library loans at home!).

The reason that I even took out Daughters of Ireland by Santa Montefiore is due to having won her newest book,The Secret of the Irish Castle, from Library Thing. The latter happens to be the third in a trilogy known as Deverill Chronicles and since I hadn't the first two books, I thought that this might be a book that was destined to be donated unread.

As fate would have it, I stumbled across book two(Daughters) on that quick trip to the library and there's plenty of references to the first book,The Girl in the Castle, to catch me right up. The Deverill family have owned their lands for years yet due to a curse, ghosts of the previous owners are still walking the grounds.

Some of those spirits are willing to aid the living, such as Kitty, who has adopted her half brother with her devoted husband Robert yet longs to run off to America with longtime love Jack O'Leary. Also, Kitty's ditzy cousin Celia now owns the family castle,which was damaged in a fire, and has grand ideas about restoring the estate to it's former glory. To round out this trio, Bridie has returned from New York with the hopes of reclaiming her son yet soon learns that her wishes might be better off not granted.

So far, Daughters of Ireland is an enjoyable romp and best described(as I heard in an interview) as "Maeve Binchy meets Downton Abbey." Glad I gave it a chance and if it wasn't for getting the third book, I wouldn't have given this one a second glance. Thankfully, the literary muses had other plans for my TBR.

In between both of those book acquiring bouts, a trio of paperbacks that I ordered online arrived in the mail. Yes, there is no rest for the weary when it comes to book buying!

Along with Agatha Christie's Crooked House and a Bakeshop Mystery from Ellie Alexander(Fudge and Jury),another  Joanne Fluke Hannah Swensen mystery was added to that particular growing TBR. 

Cherry Cheesecake Murder has Hannah making the title treat for a movie director new to Lake Eden, making his latest flick locally while eyeing many of the local ladies to boot. When a deadly accident with a prop gun takes him out of the picture, Hannah is ready to solve the case and whip up a fresh batch of cookies to chill out any concerns about her well being to her loved ones.

It'll be a few more books before I get to this one-at the moment I'm reading Lemon Meringue Pie Murder as part of my Series-ous Reading gig-but I am looking forward to the whole" Hollywood in a small town" set-up for this story. It's a tasty trope that I can't resist:

My TRB plate is certainly full at the moment but no doubt, room will be made for more bookish delights as time goes on. A never ending supply of books is a dream that many readers want to come true but can it be a nightmare as well?  Nah, of course not!:

Friday, November 02, 2018

My FrightFall finale for 2018

My Halloween was a happy one for many reasons, one of which was finishing up a book for the FrightFall readathon, hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading. In fact, this was one of my better readathon achievements to date, completing six out of the seven books that I had chosen for this challenge.

In the final three(I wrote about the others in an earlier post), one of them happened to be a last minute selection, thanks to a nice little visit to the library. Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence is a stand alone story with none of that good lady's regular detectives around to solve the case,although I do believe this story was adapted into a recent Miss Marple series.

The leading man of this story is Arthur Calgary, who learns to his horror that he was the alibi for a young man accused of murdering his adoptive mother, Jacko Argyle, who died in prison. Arthur is able to inform the authorities and then the surviving family but much to his surprise, Jacko's relatives are less than thrilled with the news of his innocence.

As it turns out, Jacko was quite the obvious suspect and known troublemaker in a family made up mostly of children adopted by the seemingly goodhearted Rachel Argyle. His conviction allowed the rest of the remaining Argyles to get on with their lives, including widower Leo who is making plans to remarry. Arthur's revelation stirs up a lot of old resentments and creates new suspicions about who the killer truly is:

Arthur,along with the police and an insider among the Argyles, decides to find out who the murderer is, feeling highly responsible for his inadvertent part in this familial tragedy. Answers are eventually discovered, with the lives of the whole Argyle family changed forever.

OBI is quite the riveting read, the kind of book that you have to force yourself to stop reading in order to go to bed long after midnight. The variety of suspects and their growing doubts about each other do make for a vicious round robin effect here.

While there is racially insensitive language about one of the characters(Tina, a biracial young woman also adopted by Rachel), it is sadly true to the time period and that particular person is otherwise well portrayed, despite the assumptions of those around her.  Apart from this off putting element, the book is sharply well written and quite the tension packed thriller.

This is the second stand alone Christie that I've read(And Then There Were None was the first) and it has inspired me to try another,Crooked House. That book was recently adapted into a major motion picture and the screenplay was partly written by Downton Abbey's Julian Fellowes. While that movie sounds like fun, I think that I'll try the novel first, making such a devious delight last as long as possible:

On the somewhat lighter side, I was pleased to be able to indulge in Royal Blood, the fourth entry in Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness series. While Lady Georgiana may only be 34th in line to the British throne, that does not exempt her from doing her noble duty by king and country,so when asked to attend a wedding in Transylvania, it's more of a command than a question.

Georgiana was invited specifically due to having been a boarding school classmate of the intended bride, Princess Maria Theresa, who wants her as a bridesmaid.

 While she is willing to spend some time abroad, complications arise such as running into the dashing Darcy O'Mara(along with the unwelcome attentions of Prince Siegfried), the poisoning of a rather obnoxious wedding guest and a random late night encounter with a possible vampire.

Like the previous titles in this series, there is a good blend of old fashioned screwball comedy and romance, with a touch of mystery and a splash of political intrigue. One of the best things about this book is Queenie, the inept maid that Georgiana winds up hiring. She's a good natured gal who may not know how to iron a fancy dress without scorching it but does manage to stick by her employer when a mysterious man is lurking about the castle they're visiting.

Yes, the vampire notion does turn out to be a bogus one but it's still amusingly done. I wonder if there's a series with a pre-WWII vampire hanging about high society solving crimes-that would be a real kick indeed! In the meanwhile, I look forward to more of Her Royal Spyness(with Queenie in tow) and who knows, maybe another supernatural storyline in the near future:

Last yet far from least, I finished up On Thin Icing by Ellie Alexander on Halloween morning. It's the third of the author's Bakeshop Mystery series that is set in and about the town of Ashland,Oregon, which is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Juliet,aka Jules, Capshaw is happy to be back in her hometown helping her mom and their vibrant young staff make the family bakery Torte a roaring success. However, the chance to do a little off-season catering at a resort for the OSF board members is hard to resist, given the need for more money to renovate Torte's kitchen.

The actual cooking over the weekend goes well for the most part(the high altitude of the resort location causes a few baking problems) but two major events serve to shake Jules up much more; the arrival of her estranged husband Carlos and the murder of local bartender Tony. With a sudden snowstorm keeping everyone in place as well as making it difficult for the police to show up, the list of suspects is mighty short and so not sweet.

Jules is quite the engaging heroine and I really enjoy the time taken to develop certain relationships such as her mentoring of new culinary apprentice Sterling and more backstory about her romance with Carlos, who is too much of a charmer for my taste. Not spoiling anything but his explanation of why he didn't tell Jules a certain secret is serious weak sauce there!

Anyway, this was a good solid story and yes, I have the next two books in the series(Caught Bread Handed, Fudge and Jury-these tasty titles are punningly delicious!) to read later on. Ashland sounds like a great place to be and thanks to Jules, I will be seeing more of it on the page very soon:

My thanks to Michelle Miller for another wonderful holiday themed readathon and I hope that all who joined in for the reading fun had a good time. There is a Christmas readathon being planned for late November/early December and I might take part in that as I actually have two new books for that occasion(yes, one of them is a foodie mystery)!

What really made this FrightFall special was having my holiday spirits revived, especially with all of the real life terrors making horrifying headlines these days.  Even though facts are becoming scarier than fiction lately, there was good ghoulish entertainment to be had with my Halloween reading here. By this time next year, it may be easier to embrace the nightmare ride of the season and let us all have a grand literary dance party together then:

Monday, October 29, 2018

Looking for some holiday cheer with these November/December releases

While I know that Halloween is only a couple of days away, it's still high time to start preparing for the rest of the big holiday season.

Granted, this past week alone has been more than enough to try the souls of humanity, not to mention dampen the celebratory spirit although. However, we should hold on to some hope for the future and make an attempt at reviving our holiday cheer.

Well, nothing cheers me up better than a new book and this list of upcoming titles due out this November and December might help you do just that, along with finding that perfect page turning gift or two for your loved ones:

TRICK OR RETREAT?: Liane Moriarty gathers together Nine Perfect Strangers at an isolated resort, folks hoping to restore their peace of mind after whatever situation has shaken them out of their usual routines in life.

From romance writer Frances, who is worried about the future of her literary career to Zoe, a young woman trying to reconnect with her parents on the anniversary of a tragic family event, all of the guests expect to have an experience that changes their lives for the better. However, the agenda of the retreat's director may be very different from theirs...

Despite the ominous tone of the plot, there is plenty of good humor to be found here and Moriarty certainly does know how to deliver a solidly good story telling time indeed(November): 


 First up in our leading lady league is Tony's Wife by Adriana Trigiani. The title spouse in question is Chi Chi Donatelli, whose marriage to rising singing star Tony Arma feels like a dream come true.

They seem to be the perfect show biz couple, as she writes the songs that he turns into number one hits. Even when parted due to WWII, Chi Chi and Tony feel more united than ever in their love.

Unfortunately, once the war is over, they start truly living together and learning just how different their goals in life are. With Tony pursuing one adulterous affair after another and Chi Chi wanting to be more than simply a suitable piece of arm candy for his career, it's pretty clear that their love is no longer in full bloom.

Trigiani is a marvel at creating heartfelt female friendly dramas and her flair for period pieces lately has gotten better and better with each book. I have no doubt that Chi Chi Donatelli is destined to be one of her best heroines who certainly deserves to be center stage in her own life story(November):

Next up is Jennifer Robson's The Gown, which connects more than one generation together. Upon finding a pearl encrusted set of embroidered flowers in her late grandmother's possessions, Heather wonders how these exquisite made posies ever belonged to her seeming sewing adverse grandmother Ann and decides to investigate further.

As it happens, Ann used to work for the best dressmaker in London during the aftermath of WWII, along with Miriam, who did fine embroidery for Christian Dior before the invasion of Paris.

Ann and Miriam became fast friends, hoping to find true love and achieve an artistic goal by working together on the wedding gown for Princess Elizabeth's upcoming nuptial to Lt. Mountbatten. While they each have a bit of romance, there's also some industry intrigue to avoid as the designs for the royal wedding dress are being pursued by rival designers.

Robson is starting to become quite the rising star among the historical fiction set and it looks as if her newest novel will be another top of the line literary creation there(December).


 Arriving in softcover for the season is Miss Bingley Requests by Judy McCrosky, which features one of the best known and most disliked of Jane Austen's famous supporting characters from Pride and Prejudice.

While Caroline Bingley desires nothing more than to be the wife of her brother's good friend Mr. Darcy, annoyances are cropping up that distance her a great deal from that lifelong goal. In particular, one Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who dares to stand in the way of what should be Caroline and Darcy's grand destiny together.

However, there is a certain Mr. Tryphon who has been introduced into her society and his appeal as a possible companion in life has not escaped Caroline's notice. What ever can a proper lady like herself do with such options before her? While Miss Bingley may fancy herself too much of an accomplished woman to be headlining such a story,  there is plenty of reason to assume that she is well worth a romantic tale of her own(November):

Also appearing in paperback, the third entry in Julie Klassen's Ivy Green series,The Bride of Ivy Green, has a good amount of intrigue blended with romance.

A new dressmaker in town with a mysterious past is causing a great deal of talk among the residents, while Jane Bell is torn between marrying a man she loves and keeping her independence in order to run the inn that she's grown to love as well.

In addition, Jane's friend Mercy can no longer run her school for girls and might have to become a governess and while there is a rather predictable wedding being arranged for Miss Brockwell, who the groom may ultimately be promises to be a most unpredictable surprise for all to discover.

This book is meant to be the last in a trilogy but given the drawing power of Klassen's writing, this may lead to the start of something new for her readers to enjoy in the future(December).


 In a series of autobiographical essays, Ann Hood discusses the role that food has played in her life from good times to bad. Kitchen Yarns goes from her father's love of cooking(yet his meals were far from tasty) to learning how to make her grandmother's meatballs and then seeing food on a whole new level upon her marriage to food writer Michael Ruhlman.

Hood talks about cooking as a way to cope with the harsh blows that life brings her such as the passing of her older brother and the unexpected death of her young daughter. Despite the sadness, she manages to find some joy and a path towards healing while preparing family feasts or small simple plates.

Food and family can often be taken for granted but Hood uses her literary skills to remind us all of the part both play in all of our lives so well(December):

I know that simply reading a good book(or any book, for that matter) can't solve all of our problems or make things better in the world. However, they do provide comfort and solace, which we all need  these days, and turning to something that requires some introspective mental effort is a smart step in the right direction.

Also, it would be healthy for everyone to embrace the holiday season, which promotes unity and good will towards one another, regardless of race, religion and identity. Let's just try to be good to each other and develop a sense for snow, which, as Lorelai Gilmore can tell you, can be a great gift for all to share:

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Congratulating the winners of The Great American Read

Earlier this year, PBS launched The Great American Read, a literary event that gave readers across the country the chance to vote for their favorite novel of all time. Whether it was online, on the phone or by text, people voted in large numbers and the official rankings were announced this past Monday.

From a list of one hundred titles that ranged from classics to contemporary, the top five finalists were mostly twentieth century fare,with one notable exception. In the interest of brevity,(check out the full results tally here) I'll just discuss a few of the top five in detail in this post.

Full disclosure; I have read four out of the five books that made it to the top and enjoyed them all in different ways. The one series that I haven't read(unless The Hobbit counts) is simply due to time and being well satisfied with the film adaptations, a true rarity indeed:

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: We might as well start with the book that was number one and Harper Lee's pivotal tale of a young girl learning the realities of life in the American South during the 1930s has proven to be a timeless classic for readers today.

It's not surprising in both a good and sad way that TKAM was number one on this list since the first day of voting, it's position never wavering. I first read it only a few years ago and the beauty of the prose is powerful. Plus, Harper Lee had a strong sense of characterization that makes such fictional folk as Scout, Atticus,Tom and Boo Radley as vividly real as our own friends and neighbors.

The sad part comes from the issues of racial prejudice and injustice within the story, issues that are still with us,especially these days. Some continue to find that examination of those topics here to be controversial, causing the book to be placed on banned book list time and time again.

 It would be nice if some of those censors would actually read the novel and see just how socially relevant it is and how young and old alike could benefit from a conversation about those issues using the book as a platform for further understanding.  TKAM does at least give us hope that things may be better for the next generation, a message well told and taken to heart:

OUTLANDER: Diana Gabaldon's popular series of genre mashing novels(time travel, historical fiction, romance) came in at number two. However, I have no doubt that fans of both the books and the cable TV show based upon them will see this saga as number one in their hearts.

While the small screen adaptation has drawn in more fans and readers(my mother and I love the Starz series, it's one of "our" shows), the true love for these stories in either format comes from the characters, particularly the feisty Claire Randall Fraser, a woman who knows her own mind no matter what century she's in.

I've read the first two books in the series(all of them are lusciously long page turners) and holding off on the rest of them for the moment in order to avoid spoilers. Not easy to do but at the moment, that will work for me.

While Gabaldon does embrace more than one genre in her tales of Claire and her Highlander soul mate Jamie, I do think that the fantasy elements of the long ranging story are part of what made Outlander land in the top five, along with the Harry Potter series (No.3) and The Lord of the Rings (No.5). People turn to fantasy fiction in troubled times and more often than not, those flights of fancy have proven to be solid ground for many of us to steady our weary souls upon:

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: Jane Austen's most beloved book was given the fourth place on the GAR top five and rightly so.

While many of my fellow Austenites would have preferred to see P&P occupy a much higher ranking on the list, to my mind, it is far better to have this truly delightful novel be included among the upper five than not at all.

Pride and Prejudice does have the distinction of being the only novel in the top five that has lasted with readers for over two centuries now. It is amazing how many different editions have been published(enough to get a book of it's own!) as well as various media adaptations ranging from plays to feature films and made for TV miniseries have kept this sharp witted romance of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy feel as fresh as if it were released just yesterday.

It's a testament to the power of Austen's writing that P&P is still a viable fictional framework for each new generation to make their own while allowing the main points of the original story to still be felt. Whether it's a Bollywood inspired musical, a Nora Ephron romcom or an award winning web series, Pride and Prejudice has more stamina than any battery powered bunny could ever hope to possess:

The Great American Read was a wonderful event and the best part about this was the chance to discover and/or rediscover such literary wonders in our midst. I know that plenty of book lovers of all ages and backgrounds were able to find common ground, thanks to this great excuse to discuss our joy of reading.

With any luck, some of this good feeling can extend beyond the pages of a book but we shall see. For now, a hearty congratulations to all of the nominated books is in order and three cheers for the real winners, all of us who took the time to read and share with friends, old and new:

Monday, October 22, 2018

Fearsome flicks from the ladies of American Horror Story

One of the annual delights of the fall TV season has been a new season of American Horror Story, an anthology series that goes above and beyond anything The Twilight Zone ever dreamed up.

Fans have both loved and hated certain seasons yet this time out, the current run "Apocalypse" seems to be a crowd pleaser.

 I've been watching the show and despite having only viewed three out of the eight seasons(Coven,Freak Show and Hotel) of AHS, the crossovers from the past have been amazing to behold. Of course, this series is not going to be everyone's cup of Halloween brew but with such fine female actors giving their all to the various characters that they've portrayed over the years, it would be a shame not to see some of their scary silver screen work.

This particular quartet has been on AHS more than once and all of them have made an appearance on AHS:Apocalypse(some more than others) and perhaps one or two of their frightening films might be a nice addition to your Halloween movie marathon plans:

JESSICA LANGE/HUSH: Lange has been a mainstay of AHS, winning Emmy awards for such roles as witchy Supreme Fiona Goode and murderous matriarch Constance Langdon(the latter being recently revisited for Apocalypse).

While she hasn't made a lot of horror/suspense films, there is one that does evoke some of the deadly diva antics that were perfected on the series. 1998's Hush cast Lange as Martha Baring, a seemingly sweet Southern belle of a mother in law, who slowly but surely terrorizes her pregnant daughter in law Helen(Gyneth Paltrow).

Granted, this isn't a great movie unless you're in the mood for some campy cult fun. Lange earned a Golden Raspberry nomination for her over the top nuances here(including forcing Paltrow to experience natural childbirth in captivity!) yet it's hard to resist a gruesome giggle at her demented diva performance:

KATHY BATES/DOLORES CLAIBORNE: Bates came on board AHS in season three entitled Coven and won an Emmy for her role as resurrected racist Delphine, becoming a main staple of the series as well.

Most people would go straight to her Oscar winning role in Misery but it doesn't really reflect the detailed character development given to her AHS personas such as Freak Show's sorrowful bearded lady or Hotel's manager mother willing to protect her self destructive son at all costs.

For that, I recommend Dolores Claiborne, another Stephen King adaptation that has showcased her talents to perfection. Bates plays the title role of a hard as nails woman accused of killing her longtime employer, which brings her distant daughter Selena(Jennifer Jason Leigh) back into her life.

While the two of them deal with that investigation, the truth about the death of Dolores' abusive husband Joe(David Strathairn) is brought back to vivid life, unleashing a horror that both hoped to be long forgotten. Like most of Bates' roles on AHS, the real fear factor comes from the depths of reality involved in her character's  tragedy:

EMMA ROBERTS/SCREAM 4: Roberts also arrived at AHS in season three as snarky witch with a "b" Madison Montgomery. She came back for very different roles on seasons Freak Show and Cult, along with another Ryan Murphy series, the short lived Scream Queens, and is now back as mouthy Madison once again.

Roberts does very well in ensemble casts, which Scream 4 proves nicely. Here, she plays Sidney's cousin Jill, one of the younger generation being targeted by a new Ghostface killer. This sequel is actually a vast improvement from the horrible third act meant to complete this fear franchise and worth seeing for it's own merits.

However, Roberts gives a grand performance in this one and while I refuse to reveal any spoilers, let's just say that her character is not as innocent as she seems and delivers one hell of a speech towards the end:

TAISSA FARMIGA/THE FINAL GIRLS:  I first saw Farmiga in the Coven season as Zoe, a distraught young woman who found out about her magical abilities the hard way but she was part of the show since Season One,aka Murder House, as distraught daughter Violet.

 Both of those roles have brought her back to AHS this season and while I think we'll see more of Zoe than Violet, a good movie to catch Farmiga at her best as distressed would be The Final Girls. 

She plays Max, the distraught daughter of recently deceased scream queen Amanda, who joins her friends in a horror movie screening of her mom's most infamous slasher film, Camp Bloodbath. Somehow, Max and friends wind up trapped within the movie and have to follow the rules of cinematic survival in order to escape.

It's a bit of a horror comedy but the tone is properly balanced between those genres and Farmiga does have a few solid emotional scenes as Max tries to connect with the fictional version of her mother. The movie is rated PG-13,which dilutes some of the scares yet some might find that a welcome advantage there:

If you still want to catch up with the current AHS season, there's still time to do so and trust me when I say it does take a few twists and turns that you might not expect. For some reason, this season does feel as if it's going to be the last one and while I could be wrong, making AHS: Apocalypse the final take on this strange small screen ride isn't a bad call to make.

Like I said, my notion could be completely incorrect and they may flip the script for a whole new version of the show in the last episode of this season. Either way, American Horror Story is well established as an icon of Halloween TV at it's best,thanks to the talent behind and in front of the screen,especially it's lethal leading ladies:

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Some page turning tricks and treats to savor on my FrightFall journey

At this point, I'm at the half way mark for the FrightFall readathon and to date, my total of finished books is three, with two in mid-read and a couple of others awaiting their turn on the shelf.

The most Halloween themed of the former group is Kiersten White's The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, which takes the classic Mary Shelley tale of reanimation in a whole new direction.

We begin with Elizabeth, a ward of the Frankenstein family, going in search of eldest son Victor with her good friend Justine, the governess to the younger children of the household. It has been months since Victor has written to them and not even mutual childhood friend Henry has been able to get fresh word about how Victor is or the progress of his unusual studies.

Elizabeth is concerned about her position in the Frankenstein home due to his absence; as a young girl, she was brought into the family as a companion to the troubled Victor in order to keep him calm and collected. Now, that they both have grown up and he is able to make his way in the world, she fears being cast out without anywhere else to go.

She is not just motivated by the need for her own security(although that is a pressing concern) but worries about Victor's state of mind and their mutual affection for one another. For years, Elizabeth has known of his dark obsession with the mysteries of life and death and has been lovingly willing to protect him from any of the consequences that pursuit might place at his doorstep:

When she and Justine,with the help of a new friend Mary, do discover Victor's whereabouts, Elizabeth is both relieved and horrified.

Victor is gravely ill but still alive, What is more serious than that, his isolated location conceals some rather grisly experimentation going on there. Elizabeth is able to get him the medical help he needs while shielding her companions from the worst of the horrors inside his secret lab.

She feels more secure after destroying the lab and Victor's notes yet as it turns out, his tinkering brought a monstrous being to life. A wrathful creature that seeks revenge against his creator. Despite being told not to concern herself with any of that, Elizabeth is bound and determined to find the monster and stop him from ruining her future happiness:

Yet, despite her plans, a string of tragic events unfolds and Elizabeth finds to her true horror that things are not as they appear to be, especially when it comes to Victor and his creation. Finding herself trapped in a situation that leaves her very limited options, she decides to make new allies and find a solution that will reveal who the real monster in their midst is.

Keirsten White weaves a new and imaginative narrative from this classic cloth, echoing the themes of the original Frankenstein yet also evoking the feminist writings of Mary Shelley's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, as well. At times, her leading lady has the dark complexity of a Gillian Flynn character combined with the Gothic undertones granted to many a heroine of that genre.

It's a compelling read that explores the nature of a destructive co-dependent relationship , the meaning of real love and the role of women during that time period. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a well layered chiller with plenty of food for thought served up up with style and I highly recommend it indeed:

On the much lighter side, I caught up with the third title in Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness series, Royal Flush.

 Once again, Lady Georgiana Rannoch is called upon to do a little detective work for Queen and country and that duty calls her home to Scotland, where her brother Binky and sister-in-law Fig are being plagued with American guests. One in particular that is most troubling is also seen as a most unwelcome escort for the future king of England, Wallis Simpson.

What is quite distressing is the increasing number of "accidents" that target members of the royal family and an insider among that crowd  is suspected. Georgiana is eager to find the culprit as well as avoid being matched up with the annoying Prince Siegfried and keeping an eye on Darcy O'Mara, the dashing yet impoverished nobleman who may or may not be on Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Each entry in this series grows more and more entertaining, with a good dash of history and mystery given a twist of old fashioned humor. The romance between Georgiana and Darcy has a lovely screwball comedy vibe to it,adding the right note of fictional flavor here:

Speaking of flavor, I took a second bite of the Bakeshop Mystery series by Ellie Alexander and got a good taste of A Batter of Life and Death.

Our culinary heroine Jules Capshaw is given an unexpected opportunity to get both publicity and funds for the family bakery Torte by being a contender on The Pastry Channel's competition series, Take The Cake. Jules also has to host a couple of the contestants,the glitzy Southern belle Linda and vegan baker Nina,at Torte's kitchen as part of the deal, making the contest a little too close for comfort.

Competing for the top cash prize becomes more challenging when fellow competitor and very drunk chef Marco is found dead on the set, face down in a vat of buttercream, by Jules. Her last brush with murder left Jules a bit wary yet she still can't resist looking into the case. Can she find the killer before another contestant is cut for good?

The book and series so far has a really nice sense of place, making the Shakespeare festival driven town of Ashland feel very real and welcoming to the reader as well as Jules. I also like that Jules is a well developed person in her own right, with a solid love of cooking and family, plus her conflicted feelings about where her troubled marriage with cruise ship chef Carlos is heading(along with the potential for revived romance with high school sweetheart Tommy).

A nice bonus here is the whole baking competition concept; as someone who has watched several seasons of such shows on Food Network, this plot line is sinfully sweet and sassy. While the theme is not Halloween, this story has enough sugary scares to truly take the cake for holiday reading fun:

Right now, my FrightFall status has me diving into Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence and the next Her Royal Spyness book, Royal Blood(which sends Georgiana to Transylvania for a possible vampire encounter!). There's also On Thin Icing and The Silent Corner to explore and with any luck, one of the latter will be finished by All Hallow's Eve.

I do hope that everyone else taking part in FrightFall is having a good time with their TBR piles and getting ready for Halloween as well. In my house, we take part in a community trick or treat table for the neighborhood kids and figuring out our costumes is tricky, to say the least.

 I wouldn't mind a book related one but those can be difficult to explain,especially if there isn't a movie version involved. Oh well,  there's still time before the witching hour to make some dress-up magic!: