Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, June 21, 2021

Setting up some summer duets of reading

 

As it is officially-according-to-the-calendar the first day of summer, I thought this would be a good time to arrange a few bookish duets.

By that I mean pairing up some of my TBR titles based on author and my own personal seasonal needs. To start, a recent completed read of mine is Jennifer Weiner's latest novel That Summer, where two women with similar names met up yet only one of them knows the real connections between them.

When Daisy Shoemaker keeps getting emails addressed to a Diana S, she's sort of not surprised since her actual name is Diana(her husband Hal insisted on calling her Daisy). By letting the "other Diana" know of the messages she's missed, Daisy finds herself striking up a friendship with this woman, who seems to be more sophisticated and polished than herself.

As it turns out, Diana is not what she seems but her intentions are not directly about Daisy; rather it's about what happened to her fifteen years ago at the same Cape Cod beach where the Shoemakers still vacation at. Those events changed her life in a profound way and finding those responsible for that may change Daisy's life as well.

I don't want to say more to avoid spoilers but many of the themes and plot points have current event connections. The interwoven narratives here(including Daisy's offbeat and charming daughter Beatrice) form an emotional quilt that creates a solid canvas for the characters to showcase their inner lives and outward concerns upon. It's been awhile since I've read Weiner but she doesn't miss a beat in setting up her story lines and making them work in a way that would please Tim Gunn very much indeed.


It turns out that Weiner's previous novel, Big Summer, is briefly referenced in That Summer, which gives me plenty of reason to go back and fully read it this time around.

When budding Instagram influencer Daphne gets a call from high school frenemy Drue, she's more than justified in wondering why. A prank that Drue played on her lead to Daphne's internet fame but it was the last straw in a series of passive aggressive mind games that shut down their alleged friendship for what Daphne considered to be permanent.

Drue is about to get married in a high society Cap Cod set wedding but has no real gal pals to act as her bridesmaids. She begs Daphne to do her this one last favor, stating that it would help both of their public personas. While not fully trusting her, Daphne agrees to be part of the wedding and at first, things seem to go well. Unfortunately, a shocking tragic event places her at the center of a murder mystery that needs to be solved to save her own future!

This sounds like one of those "why-didn't-I read-this-sooner?" books but hey, better late than never, right? Especially when it comes to one of my all-time favorite writers and yes, Jennifer Weiner is high on that list:


I am planning to do some rereading this summer and for that reason, Daisy Jones & The Six is on my literary playlist. I first read this much talked about Taylor Jenkins Reid novel as a library loan(back in the before times!) mainly to see what all the fuss was about.

Well, this oral history of the title music group(said to be loosely based on Fleetwood Mac) was a truly pleasant surprise. As the unseen interviewer brings the various  talking point by members of the band, torn between original lead singer Billy Dunne's artistic vision and newcomer Daisy's more improv approach to music, you get a full fledged portrait of fellow travelers on the musical journey of their lives.


However, before climbing aboard that tour bus again, I want to dive into TJR's latest novel, Malibu Rising.  Set in the summer of 1983,  Nina Riva is preparing to host her annual beach party despite the fact that her tennis pro husband's split with her is very much public news.

Nina is the eldest daughter of famed singer Mick Riva, a distant parent at best. That made Nina the go-to for her other siblings such as pro surfer brother Jay, their half brother Hud whose photography has helped bolster their careers and younger sister Kit, determined to make her own mark on the surfing world.

As this present day party gathers together, some secrets from the past(and a few recent activities) make their way to the surface, making this family reunion more of a fire hazard than a late season festival to say the least.

If that doesn't sound like ideal summer reading, I don't know what is! So far, the book is good juicy entertainment and should offer plenty of fun out of the sun page turning delights as I go on:


 

Arriving in August is another cool novel from Silvia Moreno-Garcia, this time set in the 1970s, Velvet Was The Night. As the gorgeous cover art suggests, this a noir tale where a dreamy eyed secretary named Maite becomes caught up in a missing person case that may lead to murder and political intrigue.

While looking into the disappearance of her neighbor Lenora, an art student involved in the protest movement against the government, Maite at first teams up with Ruben, Leonora's exe.

As time goes on, Maite crosses paths with Elvis, a young government operative who usually is sent to break up student protests. However, when ordered to track down Leonora, he finds himself drawn to Maite and the two of them join forces to seek out Leonora along with the truth.


Since it'll be awhile before that book is out and about, that gives me time to read one of SMG's earlier works, The Beautiful Ones.

When Nina makes her debut into society during the Grand Season, she hopes that her special telekinetic abilities can stay hidden long enough to make a good first impression.

Unfortunately, that doesn't work out too well for her yet the return of Hector Auvray to town is a game changer for her. His powers are similar to hers and have made him a famous performer with world wide approval.

Hector is charmed by her talents and offers to tutor Nina, who soon falls in love with him. Those feelings are not quite mutual as Hector's motivations for seeking her out stretch back to a former romance with someone in Nina's family circle, who is none too pleased with his supposed change of affections.

This blend of period drama and magical powers is the type of amazing story telling that SMG is an expert in and brings to vivid life on page. The Beautiful Ones should make waiting for Velvet Was The Night a pleasant experience in more ways than one:



I'm sure that many of you out there can match up some of your lingering TBR titles to create a duet or two for summer reading season.  It's almost like a musical duet as you find the right words to tap your mental feet along to and perhaps even share with one of your super friends to enjoy:



Monday, June 14, 2021

Announcing the Autumn in August summer movie festival!

 

As some of you may know, I have in the past set up the month of August as Bad Movie Month where the best of the worst was reviewed. While that was a lot of fun, the terrible no-good very bad year we shared in 2020 didn't feel right for such an entertainment outing.

The RomCom Comfort Food film fest that I did instead was a nice change of pace that I hope amused other folks as well during such a rough time. 

For this upcoming late summer season, my creative spirits decided to do something a little different yet again. So, LRG is happy to announce the Autumn in August movie festival, a quartet of films that just have that Fall feeling, plus are literary inspired as well. After all, those dog days of summer tend to be heavily humid and what better time for a good book and movie combo to chill out with?


 THE HOUSE OF MIRTH: Since I've been rereading Edith Wharton lately, it only seems fitting to include a couple of her adaptations here. This 2000 film stars Gillian Anderson as Lily Bart, a socialite in late 19th century New York who is starting to age out as a viable candidate for a wealthy marriage.

Part of Lily's problem is her utter lack of guile in claiming a husband, something that one of her married frenemies Bertha Dorset(Laura Linney) has in abundance. Particularly when it comes to Lawrence Selden (Eric Soltz), a bachelor lawyer who has no issue with a discreet affair or two yet can't bring himself to declare himself in love with Lily. 

The downfall of a social butterfly who is truer to her scruples than the upper class folk around is bittersweet and beautiful, with director Terrence Davies giving Lily Bart the true elegance that she yearns for onscreen:



THE AGE OF INNOCENCE: The first Edith Wharton novel that I ever read was due to this 1993 version, a pet project of director Martin Scorsese who saw little difference between the honor code of the criminal underworld and the  strict yet silent social order of New York in the 1970s.

As Newland Archer(Daniel Day-Lewis) finds himself torn between his sweetly doting fiance May(Winona Ryder) and hoping to be divorced Countess Ellen Olenska(Michelle Pfeiffer), it turns out that more than his heart is at stake. 

Subtle forces from within and without his immediate social circle do their best to steer him in what they consider to be the right direction yet the strong weapon in that arsenal is most unexpected indeed.

The film did win Best Costume Design at the Oscars that year but it really should have gotten Best Adapted Screenplay as well with Scorsese and co-writer Jay Cocks bringing this tightly woven world of words to a richly vivid cinematic life:


 

PERSUASION: Of course, I had to bring Jane Austen into this and like Age of Innocence, I was drawn to this posthumous work due to a film version. This 1995 Roger Mitchell(Notting Hill) production showcases the passionless plateau that Anne Eliot, played by Amanda Root, finds herself upon.

Stuck between her cold hearted father and chilly older sister Elizabeth, who must "retrench" due to their lack of financial management, and her always fancing herself ill younger sister Mary's household, Anne soon discovers that her former love interest Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds) is back and has done well for himself in his naval career.

Each of them finds the other in their social orbit at differing times, not sure of being just friends or reconnecting their romance. Will Anne allow herself to be influenced again in this situation or will this decision be taken out of her hands by other means?

While I know that other Persuasion adaptations are in the works as we speak, this one holds a special place in my bookish heart that no other can possess. Yes, I will certainly give the newer films a fair chance and appreciate them on their own merits yet this down to earth edition is like the porridge that Goldilocks chose for me:


YOU'VE GOT MAIL: Yes, folks, a film actually set in modern times! Although the technology necessary for the plot is rather old fashioned, it is fitting as director/writer Nora Ephron based this 1998 NYC located movie on a 1940 Jimmy Stewart romcom.

As rival booksellers Joe Fox(Tom Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly(Meg Ryan) run into each other while fighting to claim a section of the city as their literary providence, romance is not far behind.

When Joe realizes that his secret online pen pal is Kathleen, things change in more ways than one but is a happily every after completely ruled out here?

Out of the three romantic comedies that Hanks and Ryan starred in together, I find this one to be the absolute best(Joe Vs. The Volcano is, however, highly underrated). The dialogue is a delight as are co-stars such as Jean Stapleton, Dabney Coleman and Dave Chappelle. Plus, the movie starts in the fall, so it's truly picture perfect for this occasion:


So, this is my line-up for Autumn in August and I cordially invite you all to stop in for a spell later this summer. My favorite time of year happens to be Autumn and it will be nice to relax during heat wave season with the promise of cooler days when school supply shopping is a treat for all ages:





Monday, June 07, 2021

Starting my summertime Series-ous Reading with a taste of Arsenic and Adobo


 Yes,Virginia, summer is definitely here and it's such a perfect time to stay in the shade with a tasty culinary cozy mystery at hand along with a cool glass of iced tea to sip between chapters.

My latest Series-ous Reading selection is a debut novel from Mia P. Manansala called Arsenic and Adobo, meant to be the first of Tita Rosie's Kitchen Mystery series set in Shady Palms,Illinois. Lila is our leading lady, who has recently moved back to town to help her Aunt Rosie with the title restaurant.

Lila is also trying to get over a major bad break-up and it doesn't make it easier when her obnoxious high school exe keeps showing up for dinner. Derek Winters is a food blogger who persists in giving bad reviews of Tita Rosie's Kitchen yet keeps coming back for more and this time with his stepfather Ed Long, who happens to be the landlord.

 While the restaurant has a strong following for it's flavorful dishes, those reviews are making it harder for Tita Rosie to make ends meet but Lila is determined to not let Derek and Ed ruin the good food feeling for everyone:



 Ed's been looking to shut the place down for awhile now and during this visit, might have a solid reason to do so as Derek drops dead during the dessert course!

 Even though Derek was diabetic, his death wasn't caused by that ailment which puts Lila in the top spot as prime suspect in the case. In order to clear her name and have the now closed restaurant reopen, Lila has no choice but to investigate as the detective in charge is quick to blame her for what's happened.

With the help of her friend Adeena, Lila discovers that other local eateries have been targeted by Derek and shaken down by the health inspector who happens to be good friends with Ed Long. Is that the  reason for Derek's demise or is there something even more unsavory afoot here?:


I do love restaurant settings in books and Mia P. Manansala makes the most of that element here as part of Lila's inquiries take place at various other eateries, which is a smart way to expand the horizons of this story(as well as establish future mystery locations!). Also, Lila's bond with her family and friends added some good character seasoning to this first course of what I hope is a feast of great tales to come.

Detective Park did annoy me a little as even I could tell that Lila was being framed(okay, you get an anonymous call about hidden incriminating items right AFTER a very public death at the restaurant and those objects just happen to be exactly where you were told they were, easy to find? Seriously, dude, way to be a dupe there!) However, it seems that he's going to be a future love interest as well as his brother(who I like way better!), so I'll give him a chance in the next book.

The next entry in this series is Homicide and Halo-Halo, due out in February of 2022 and this time around, Lila has to look in a revived beauty pageant in order to keep her cousin Bernadette from being accused of offing the head judge! Food,family and murder is what makes a delicious cozy mystery page turning good:


Meanwhile, for this month's Series-ous Reading selection, I'm heading back to Lake Eden to sample Hannah Swensen's Red Velvet Cupcake Murder.  After  all, my mom is still way ahead of me when it comes to Joanne Fluke and I really need to catch up!

The title treats are being served at the opening of a luxury hotel/condo by wealthy owner Roger Dalworth, which goes smoothly until the police secretary Barbara Donnelly has a sudden fall from the penthouse balcony!

While Barbara managed to survive that incident, her fuzzy recollections send Hannah off on another mystery only to be sidetracked by the death of Doc Bev, her former rival for Norman's affections. Can she solve both cases in time to avoid an arrest warrant by Mike, who is more loyal to the law than to any of his lady friends, that's for sure!

As it happens, this story is set during the summer season and a cupcake sounds like a great way to have a winter delight taste just right in heat wave times:



Monday, May 24, 2021

Setting out towards the stars for this Sci-Fi Summer readathon

 

With the big holiday weekend coming up, making those summer plans is more timely than ever and as mine are of an indoor nature, I'm pleased to share with you all my TBR for the Sci-Fi Summer readathon this June!

Hosted at Seasons of Reading by Michelle Miller, this month long look at science fiction and fantasy is still a new item on the literary roster here yet it's a great way to challenge yourself if this particular genre is one that you haven't tackled too much on a regular basis.


 This year, my list of four titles happens to be all hardcover editions(two of which I won in a giveaway last year) and at least two of them are set in outer space, which is as about as sci-fi that you can get there!

That pair of books also happen to be the one that I received from VirtualCon, with Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie where two fellow classmates at an intergalactic military academy go on the run after one of them is discovered to be the heir to the despotic empire that rules the galaxy.

As they seek sanctuary and allies, the reluctant prince and his protector face a good number of challenges, including that his royal family is responsible for the death of his companion's parents and home world. Can these obstacles be truly overcome to save the universe and make right those things that have gone wrong? This book is the first in a trilogy and I hope that I enjoy it enough to check out the next entry in the series.

Speaking of series, the other Virtual Con prize book also appears to be the first in a duology. Lora Beth Johnson's Goddess in the Machine is set in the year 3102, the last moment in time that Andromeda aka Andra expected to wake up in.

When she and her family went off to live on a new planet, Andra was told that her cryonic sleep would only be a hundred years but it turned out to be a thousand years later instead, with everyone she knew and loved being long gone.

In order to return to Earth, Andra teams up with Zhade, an exiled prince looking to boost his social status by exploiting the popular notion that she's an awakened deity meant to save their world. Will Andra be able to find home somewhere in the universe and maybe true love as well?

This does sound cool and since the second book(Devil in the Device) is due out later this summer, my timing for this story could be perfect:



For something a bit more down to earth, Mike Chen's We Could Be Heroes has a rather unlikely pair of friends as our leads. When Jamie recognizes Zoe at his  memory loss support group meeting, it's not a sign of good things to come.

As it turns out, both of them woke up in unknown locations two years ago, each given only a one year apartment lease and a note that explains what their super powers are. Given such strangely similar circumstances, they decide to work together to achieve their goals-Jamie wants to steal enough money to retire to a remote island with his beloved cat Normal while Zoe just wants her memories back.

While Jamie is fine with using his mental powers to help Zoe, what he finds in her thoughts changes the game for both of them in more ways than one. I do love superhero themed novels and this story promises to be more than just an action packed adventure but also a powerful emotional journey well worth taking:

 



To make this TBR a true quartet, my last selection was The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang, the first in a trilogy that has been getting serious praise from critics and fans alike.

When orphan girl Rin passes the entrance exam to the Sinegard, the top military school in the Nikara Empire, no one was more surprised than she. Thrilled to be leaving a harsher than Cinderella life as well as being able to avoid an arranged and unwanted marriage, Rin is determined to make her mark but there is much against her.

Scorned by the student body, Rin works even harder to keep her spot yet her difficulties increase when she finds that she has a talent for shamanism, a powerful magic that is at best hard to control.

Gaining reluctant help from a teacher feared mad by others, Rin manages some grasp of her new found abilities only to learn that she has a connection with ancient gods thought to be long dead. Using that knowledge and sorcery skill is dangerous but with the Empire on the brink of another war, Rin may be their only chance at victory. Yet, what cost to her soul?

I am truly looking forward to this book as it's been awhile since I dived into an epic novel and series and this feels like the beginning of a beautiful book friendship:


  Sci-Fi Summer begins on June 1 and ends on the 30th(there is a link to the sign up post in the second paragraph of this entry, if you'd like to join in the fun) and I hope that  everyone involved with this seasonal challenge will enjoy their reading selections here.

I will be taking next week off , due to not only the Memorial Day weekend but my mom's birthday, which falls around the same time, and will see all of you in June soon. Science fiction and fantasy really do feel like summer time treats, whether it's a great book,movie, video game or song, which could combine for a great pop culture party indeed:



Monday, May 17, 2021

Setting up a sweet stack of summer beach reading

 

We are very close to Memorial Day weekend which, to many, is the official start of the summer season and signs are good for having a much better time outdoors and inside than last year.

With the announcement of rules being relaxed for the fully vaccinated (I am in that category but still keeping it cautious for now), more folks are making big vacation plans and the one thing that you need whether you are going to the beach or staying home in the shade is a good book.

So, this trio of new/upcoming releases might help you out in that department. Pair one or more of these novels with the cold drink of your choice and prepare to be properly entertained:


DIAL A FOR AUNTIES: Jesse Q. Sutanto's screwball romcom novel begins with Meddy(short for Meddelin) Chan dealing with the fact that her loving but overbearing mother has set up a blind date for her via a dating app.

Meddy is used to giving into to her mom and her mother's quartet of formidable sisters, even to the point of becoming the photographer for their mutual event planning business.Yet,this latest arrangement is way too much but when told that the man in question is running the hotel where the family business has been hired for a major league wedding, she once again gives in.

As the date winds down, Meddy not only finds the guy obnoxious , she soon learns that his expectations for the evening are totally different than hers. Fighting him off in the car, an accident occurs and Meddy is shocked to see that he's dead!

Going home for help, Meddy is both relieved and anxious than her mom and assembled aunts are very willing to help her get rid of the body, as long as it doesn't interfere too much with the wedding plans for the next day. Juggling both the big celebration and the need to stash the corpse before it's discovered in one of the coolers mistakenly brought to the hotel, Meddy runs into Nathan, a former love who is in charge of the event.

Can Meddy rekindle an old flame while discretely dispatching a dead man and making sure that the wedding of the year goes off without a hitch? Well, I'm the midst of this book right now and it's a pure page turning delight. Suranto gives this modern day story a classic fictional flair with dark comedy in the style of films like Arsenic and Old Lace as well as Clue. A perfect comedy cocktail flavored with family love and laughter:


THE SUMMER JOB: In this debut novel by Lizzy Dent, our leading lady is Birdy, who agrees to give notice for the title occupation on the behalf of her best friend Heather. 

However, once she arrives at the Scottish inn where Heather was to be a sommelier, Birdy can't see why she shouldn't take this golden opportunity and simply be Heather for the summer. Granted, she has no experience with wine pairing but the place looks to be a simply set-up vacation spot that won't give her too much trouble.

When Birdy arrives, it turns out that the inn has had a major upgrade and a renowned chef named James is at the culinary helm who expects her to know her vino. Can Birdy manage to be a suitable sommelier and a possible partner in love with James or will more than one summer be ruined?

This does sound like fizzy foodie fun, with a nice mix of romantic comedy. No doubt you can pair this summer themed story with a great vintage or a savory season of Top Chef:


LOVE SCENES: This behind the scenes story from Bridget Morrissey stars Sloane Ford, an actress who just lost her steady role on a TV show and her boyfriend to boot.

With a family legacy to live up to, Sloane reluctantly agrees to be a producer for a WWII drama that has her mother as a supporting member of the cast. In addition to that, her dad and stepsister are tag teaming as director and to top it all off, Joseph Donovan, a major star who undermined Sloane during a past project, is the leading man!

To make matters worse, her mother insists that Sloane be Joseph's acting coach, a task that she dutifully performs while expecting very little for her pains there. Surprisingly, Joseph  seems to have turned a new leaf and is starting to make amends for his past behavior.

When the lead actress leaves the film in midstream, Sloane is eager to step into the role yet her onscreen chemistry with Joseph is not enough to make their potential relationship work in real life. Will Sloane be the star of her own life or keep playing second banana to others, including Joseph?

I do love a Hollywood themed tale and this one has plenty of popcorn passion on deck. While movie watching in theaters is still a bit uncertain, Morrissey offers us some movie magic between the covers of this engaging read. After all, a book like this certainly could be the literary equivalent of Netflix and chill this summer indeed:


There is still a good amount of time to make your summer holiday plans and while you stay safe and travel wisely, picking the right reads are just as essential as choosing the right brand of sunscreen lotion.

Even if you keep closer to home, setting the right mood for your book reading is not impossible. A good chair, some excellent lighting and some snacks can make all the difference when it comes to enjoying the summer breeze with a breezy new book:





Monday, May 10, 2021

When you play A Game of Cones, your Series-ous Reading always wins


 Despite the chills that are still lingering in the air, spring is definitely here and all too soon, we'll have ice cream craving weather which makes my latest Series-ous Reading choice all the more seasonable.

This second book in Abby Collette's new cozy mystery series, A Game of Cones, has our leading lady Bronwyn "Win" Crewse, now in charge of the family ice cream parlor, attending a contentious town hall meeting where sparks and footwear flies at the head of a man bringing unwelcome news.

The local business owners of Chagrin Falls are not too happy to hear that a mini-mall is about to be set up in the downtown area, with a few stores shutting up shop to make way for Rhys Enterprises to start construction. Win is not thrilled about it either but not to the point of throwing a shoe at company rep Zeke Reyolds like her good friend Riya does to "show support!"

Zeke is found dead in an alley the next day, with Win now concerned that Riya might be considered a suspect in his untimely demise. Teaming up once again with Maisie-who has more of a motive due to her community garden being destroyed by the incoming mall,if you ask me-Win decides to look into the matter. I know Maisie is innocent, of course, but her eagerness to emulate her favorite British mystery shows like Agatha Raisin and The Queens of Mystery do tend to lead her down the wrong detective path at times:


 
Before she can focus on that caper,Win has to deal with two new visitors to town and both of them intend to impact her business career.

The infamous Aunt Jack(short for Jacqueline) returns with the express intent to take back the reins of Crewse Creamery, which she ran into the ground with mismanagement and an overabundance of inedible side lines such as lottery tickets and T-shirts for tourists.

While Win's grandfather reassures her that he has the final word on who runs the family business, Aunt Jack seems to be making plans to stay. Can Win keep her aunt at bay without causing a rift among her relatives?

 Meanwhile, an old friend from New York arrives to encourage Win to go back with her. Rory Hunter worked with her at the NYC ad agency that Win left and now, supposedly authorized by the higher ups, Rory is here with an offer from the company to take Win back with better pay and status. 

Win is not too sure about this sudden offer,especially when Rory appears to be hiding something regarding her arrival to Chagrin Falls. Nevertheless, she does recruit her assistance in looking into the other business owners in town to see if any of them had means or opportunity to eliminate Zeke.

Despite not being fond of the local coffee/tea shop(owned by a pair of twin sisters who have target shooting experience!), Rory is willing to help out and becomes keenly interested in one of the closing down businesses, an art galley that promises to sell her an authentic painting by a member of the legendary Florida Highwaymen, an object worth more than what they're pricing it at or so it seems:


As Win looks into the behind the scenes deals involved with the mall and the mayor's office, more troubling circumstances pop up that cause her to wonder just how messy this particular can of political worms might be. Can she find the killer before the killer finds her and is more than prepared to deal with any trouble at hand?

This follow-up to An Inside Deadly Scoop is a real sweet treat, giving us more of Bronwyn and friends/family in a most delightful way. Collette does create an inviting environment for her characters to thrive in and you would be pleased to join them on any escapade, murder related or not. Also, there seemed to be set-ups for future story lines put in place-the mayor, for one-and that should be good to watch out for in the next couple of books.

My only wish is that we had more time with Aunt Jack(who-semi spoiler- seemed to give up far too soon). However, she may very well come back and she did inspire a new ice cream flavor with candy  mixed in for the shop, so job well done there! All in all, The Ice Cream Parlor series is a great new addition to the cozy culinary mystery genre and one worth devouring on a hot or cold day indeed:


For this month's Series-ous Reading, I've chosen a debut cozy culinary mystery with plenty of fun and flavor.

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Masansala is the first in this author's Tita Rosie's Kitchen series, where Lila is now working after needing a reset to her life. Her aunt is warm and welcoming but the constant presence of former high school sweetheart Derek Winters is making the restaurant less than appetizing.

Derek is now a local food critic/blogger who persistently gives the place bad reviews and during his latest dining experience, drops dead during dessert! Lila finds herself blamed for his death and has no choice but to clear her name and save her aunt's business to boot.

So far, this book is a charming read that makes it hard for me to put it down at times. Like a judge at a culinary competition, I am tempted to clean my page turning plate yet want to savor the story telling goodness for as long as possible. New reads, like new dishes, are wonderful surprises that make your appreciation for such imaginative creations rise up even higher than before:




Monday, May 03, 2021

This Spring Into Horror readathon has been quite the lethal ladies' night of reading

 

Now that May is here, the end of Seasons of Reading's Spring Into Horror readathon has arrived as well. As usual for me, I didn't get to everything on my list but there was much to enjoy.

My first completed read was Samantha Downing's My Lovely Wife, where a supposedly typical suburban married couple takes up a new hobby to liven up their relationship. Only trouble is, that leisure activity is rather lethal to those pulled into their serial killer fun and games.

Narrated by the unnamed husband(who uses the alias Tobias while seeking out fresh victims), we met Millicent, the beautiful spouse of the title, who initiates this murder habit and goes far beyond with it than her life mate ever dreamed.

At first, these sets of  deadly trysts seem to be one or two times a year but when the body of Lindsay, their latest kill, is discovered by the police, Husband is terrified of being caught. Also, it turns out that Lindsay wasn't simply dispatched and disposed as they originally agree on. Instead, her demise is all too similar to Owen Oliver Riley, a local serial killer who vanished from the area years ago after getting off on a technicality in court.

Millicent insists that changing their standard procedure is an excellent way to throw the authorities off   track from their crimes, which her dear husband is not sure about yet eager to go along with there. While this sudden media attention adds a little extra spice to their shared slaughter fest, things start going way out of hand,causing Husband to have doubts about what his beloved bride really wants from him.

This story is a sinister thriller with more twists than a M. Knight Shyamalan movie and certainly more scarily suspenseful at times. Downing gives a vivid glow to her characters and the upper class world they live in, adding a note of satire to the proceeding that makes this domestic terror tale all the more riveting and real:



After that, I needed a little comfort food reading so I took up Eggsecutive Orders by Julie Hyzy, which had White House chef Ollie Paras trying to solve a dinner time death by poisoning before the annual Easter Egg Roll.

 I do like how as this series goes along, we get more character development from the supporting cast and that Ollie broke up with her jerk of a Secret Service boyfriend(never trusted that guy!).

My next read was also a comforting joy, the latest in the Noodle Shop Mystery series by Vivien Chien, Fatal Fried Rice.  While leading lady Lana Lee is great at managing her family's restaurant, her older sister Anna May loves to remind her that she can't cook any of the dishes that made Ho-Lee Noodle House the local legend that it is.

To show up her sister once and for all, Lana decides to take a community college cooking class in secret, planning to surprise everyone with her culinary skills. Unfortunately, she's the one who gets surprised by discovering the body of her cooking teacher, Margo Chan, not long after her first class.

With a new detective determined to think that she's behind this literal stab in the back(due to Lana's talent for solving murders placed in her path), Lana has no choice but to get involved despite the warnings from her law enforcement boyfriend Adam and her family(including her sister's legal eagle romantic partner!).

 Can she uncover the killer in enough time to clear her name and manage to learn a few simple recipes to finally get an one-up on Anna May?

I do enjoy the expansion of Lana Lee's world as the books go forth, with crime fighting friends such as her roommate Megan and the contentious Kimmy Tran(whose forthright nature makes her a great partner when it comes to confronting suspects!) and now that Anna's boyfriend is finally in the picture, hopefully her big sis can join this Scooby Gang at some point!

Oh, and yes, Lana does go back for another cooking class but is not too successful at the title dish, due to being distracted by sleuthing. Nonetheless, she does want to try again but at least she's not at a Worst Cooks in America level:



And yes, I did intend to read a Ruth Ware novel but as I tend to do with these readathons, a last minute change was made and this time, I truly don't regret it.

Layne Fargo's They Never Learn is set on a college campus, where literature professor Scarlett Clark makes it her duty to eliminate one male predator at a time, with both the student body and the staff being equal opportunity offenders.

Her latest kill,a prominent athlete on campus involved in a frat house sexual assault, draws the unwelcome attention of the local authorities as well as sets off an in-house investigation led by Mina Pierce, a top notch psychology expert.

In order to get ahead of the game, Scarlett makes herself part of Mina's team and while she finds an unexpected kinship with her, Scarlett is determined to throw both Mina and the cops off course as she plans for her next target to be taken down.

Meanwhile, Carly Schiller is a freshman looking to find her place in the world and her friendship with lively roommate Allison may be a good start for that. However, upon discovering Allison being assaulted during a rowdy party, things change between them. Carly wants to either get help or seek revenge for what happened while Allison just wants to forget the whole thing.

How the paths of Carly and Scarlett cross each other is something that I refuse to spoil but let's just say that it's a journey worth taking. Fargo creates an emotional atmosphere that doesn't conflict with the pace of the story, rather it enhances the range of the characters and their end goals. The growing tension of this tale is a live wire of page turning energy that made this an up-all-night book for me.

They Never Learn is one of the best books that I've read this year and I was well into it during Oscar season, reminding of a potential contender for the awards, Promising Young Woman(which did win Best Original Screenplay for writer/director Emerald Fennell).

While I haven't seen PYW yet, I do hope that Fennell considers this amazingly intense novel as her next project. They Never Learn would make for an excellent Patricia Highsmith pairing with that film indeed:

 


Well, I hope everyone else who took part in Spring Into Horror had as much fun as I did and thanks to Michelle Miller of Seasons of Reading for making this all possible.

While I didn't get to every book(I am making Final Sentence by Daryl Wood Gerber, the first in her Cookbook Nook cozy mystery series, part of my regular reading rotation), there's always a next time. Speaking of next time, my TBR for June's Sci-Fi Summer is being built and with two of my choices set in outer space, my reading for this challenge should be truly intergalactic: