Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Enjoying some Jane Austen modern makeovers with a slice of Cherry Cheesecake Murder

As the heat waves approach us, keeping cool in the shade of a good book is more vital than ever before.

Fortunately, I was recently able to catch up with a pair of Jane Austen themed novels as well as dive back into a cozy culinary series(more on that later) in order to embrace the warmth of good writing rather than the warmth of the day.

As it happens, both of the Austen related books have two things in common; they're set in modern times and each one adapts a fresh version of Pride & Prejudice. First up is Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, which takes place in Canada where our title heroine is beginning her career as a substitute teacher. She would much rather pursue her ambitions as a poet but practical concerns and family obligations push her into this traditionally safe profession.

At age 27, Ayesha is considered too old for the marriage market, which is fine with her. However, one of her neighbors, Khalid, who is rather conservative in dress and manners, finds himself attracted to her strong outspoken nature while his mother is firmly on the hunt for a suitable wife for him,according to her standards.

More than one situation throws Ayesha and Khalid together, giving their respective group of family and friends plenty of chances to encourage them as they slowly yet surely fall in love. Plenty of complications arise as well, with enemies from the past and present haunting Khalid and attempting to get in the way of his possible romance with Ayesha.

What I really loved about this book was the delicious rom-com flow of the story that used P&P as a guideline but not a rigid structure. A solid blend of humor and heart went into these characters, such as Ayesha's grandparents who subtly influenced certain plot points and Khalid's party hearty co-worker, who winds up bettering himself a bit as he tries to help his friend.

I also liked how the female characters were fully developed, particularly in the relationship between Ayesha and her cousin Hasfa, who is so the Lydia Bennet of this story. While they do care about each other, Hasfa is rather spoiled and selfish at times, taking advantage of her cousin's generosity, to the point of having Ayesha pretend to be her for an event planning gig that compromises her integrity.

When Ayesha finally does confront her about that and a few other things, it's not pretty but it was also necessary for both characters to truly get to the next emotional level for themselves and the story arc. That push-pull of their relationship makes their bond more sisterly, which reflects on the JA source material nicely:


The romance between Ayesha and Khalid is not to be discounted, however, and it does help to see his side of things here. While Ayesha learns how to take more chances in life and not just settle for lesser dreams, Khalid finds out a few truths about his own family, especially his older sister who was sent packing due to a secret that his manipulative mother was determined to hide(his mom is such a Lady Catherine!).

Seeing the two of them find a place of mutual love and respect in order to be together is lovely and having a few Shakespearean quotes sprinkled throughout the story, courtesy of Ayesha's literary grandfather, really rounds out this enchanting tale of true love, Austen style:


Meanwhile, Sonali Dev's Pride,Prejudice and Other Flavors is not just serving up some Jane Austen goodness, this book is meant to be the start of a series of Austen influenced stories set in California that features the Raje family.

Trisha Raje is a brilliant neurosurgeon, still dealing with the guilt of an incident from the past that could upset her brother Yash's political future. As their father is determined for his son to make a distinctive mark in the world, his harshness makes it difficult for Trisha to stay in touch with her family.

Try as she might,though, her family duty pulls her into the current campaign to get Yash into higher office which has her run into DJ Caine, a talented chef who left England to help his sister Emma, an artist with a serious health condition.

As it turns out, Emma happens to be Trisha's patient, which brings them both together more often than either of them would like. No matter what the situation, they just can't help clashing like water and fiery oil, to say the least:


The one thing that they can agree on is food as DJ has high culinary standards and Trisha tends to be rather hangry at times. She does appreciate his cooking, even if her growing feelings for him make her incredibly tongue tied, and he can't resist liking someone who fully enjoys the effort that he puts into his life's work:


A huge barrier to their friendship and potential romance is Julia Wickam, a former friend of Trisha's who betrayed more than one trust. Julia claims to be making fund raising documentaries for the critically ill and wants to use Emma as her next subject. That , along with other complications and secrets that are insisted upon to be kept, makes both Trisha and DJ more conflicted about any feelings that arise between them.

This story is very engaging, with the P&P elements blended lightly into the overall story but still detectable nonetheless. This is one of those up-all-night reads, where you have to make yourself go to bed despite wanting to see what's about to happen on the next page or in the next chapter. This is the first time that I've read Sonali Dev and I'm looking forward to more of the Raje family saga indeed.

At the moment, I'm indulging in the next Hannah Swensen title on my list, Cherry Cheesecake Murder, which I was saving for my Series-ous Reading challenge but the need for a relaxing read was just too great. Plus, my mom is way ahead of me with these books and I ought to keep up with them and her!

The main plot has Hannah and friends being thrilled that a Hollywood movie is being made in their beloved town of Lake Eden but when the film's director finds himself on the wrong end of an alleged prop gun, the hunt for a killer in their midst is on.

I do love small town movie making story lines but what really liven up things for me was how Hannah dealt with the pressure of having both Mike and Norman propose marriage to her(that happened at the end of the previous book). Everyone in town kept calling her on the phone, demanding that she make a choice so that either Mike or Norman would stop moping around. Hello, what about Hannah's needs, here?

This was very Stars Hollow and I liked how Hannah became all Luke Danes in publicly taking this issue on, which was really nobody's business but their own. Then again, that is how small towns go, I guess but sometimes, you have to tell folks to stand back and let a person breathe there:


Well, I hope all of you are having a good reading time this summer and if you're in the mood for a new take on Jane Austen, one of the titles above will suit your bookish needs.

 Speaking of bookish needs, I'm still making adjustments to my readathon list for August-long books are great but a shorter title or two might help me meet my goals better. Decisions, decisions! At least this is the good kind of dilemma to deal with, if you ask me:


Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Making it a cool summer with some good books

With the July Fourth holiday over with, the rest of the summer is a relatively quiet time where the main focus is to beat the ever increasing heat.

 That didn't stop me from making a visit to the library-books were due back,after all!-and I managed to pick up a few promising titles that should hold me over for awhile.

One book that I've heard quite a bit about is The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, where a quartet of siblings are given the precise date of their deaths by a fortune teller on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1969.

 This dubious yet rather exact information leads the Gold children to take all sorts of chances in life, since each of them has their own due date set by fate already. Brother and sister Simon and Klara team up to take off to San Francisco in the latter portion of the 1970s, where one of them decides to look into magic, particularly talking with the dead.

Meanwhile, decades later, their elder brother Daniel uses his connections as a military doctor to track down the fortune teller, who is on the FBI wanted list for fraud. Varya, the oldest of all her siblings, is a researcher seeking the key to increasing the human life span. While she has more of an emotional bond with the simian subjects of her experiments than actual human beings, an interview with a journalist sets off a change that could alter the whole course of her life.

This novel was on a good number of Best of the Year lists in 2018 and does offer a truly intriguing premise; how different would your life be if you knew just how long you had to live it? It's certainly worth a try and perhaps I'll get a few more reading suggestions out of this promising read as well:


 A pair of mysteries also found their way onto my library checkout; Cleo Coyle's A Shot in the Dark and The Dead Ringer by M.C. Beaton.  The latter is the latest Agatha Raisin entry, where our leading lady is asked to attend the arrival of a rather handsome bishop in a neighboring town.

This bishop attracts a lot of female attention, some of which leads to either a strange disappearance(of heiress Amber, who was said to be interested in marriage) or an untimely death such as one of the lady bell ringers at the church he was visiting.

Agatha is interested in both of these cases while trying to balance her love life and help out a few folks in need of her guidance, in her opinion. Can she manage it all out before things get more complicated than usual?

While I have read several of Coyle's Coffee House books before, this is the first Agatha Raisin novel that I'm reading(and yes, I do have the first two books in the series on hand). Well, at this point I have four library books at home and if you have that many taken out, you should start reading one of them at least!

Anyway, even though this title is further on in the series, I did finish watching Season One of the British TV series(which is great fun) and this ought to tide me over until Season Two is available:


Of course, the library wasn't the only place for me to get new books for the summer. Thanks to Library Thing, I won a copy of The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner, which chronicles the beginning of the end of the Russian monarchy.

Princess Maria Feodorovna of Denmark was destined to marry one son of the czar yet an unexpected turn for the worse leads her to wed his brother Sasha. As she joins the family, conditions under the rule of her father in law Alexander II lead the country into a realm of despair and uncertainty.

Maria does her best to keep her loved ones safe and secure, a mission that grows more difficult when Sasha's troubled reign is handed off to their son Nicholas, whose wife Alexandra is being strongly influenced by devious new advisor, Rasputin. Can she guide her family into calmer waters before it's too late?

I do like historical fiction but haven't read much about Russia in this genre, so this should be a good introduction to that. At the very least, I might watch the acclaimed Nicholas and Alexandra movie from the seventies, which sounds like a grand companion piece to this story:




However, I was unable to resist a book sale or two so, along with a Beatriz Williams novel that I've been meaning to get to, Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce is making it's way to me as we speak.

Set in WWII London, Emmeline, aka Emmy, Lake is hoping to do her bit for the war effort by becoming a Lady War Correspondent. However, her new job at Women's Friend magazine has Emmy being the assistant to Henrietta Bird, a popular advice columnist who demands that "unsuitable" letters from readers be tossed away.

Moved by the plight of those desperate letter writers, Emmy secretly answers them, using the Mrs. Bird byline. While she is helping to boost the moral of those waiting women at the home front, Emmy does run the risk of being found out and sent off in disgrace, not to mention her advice giving urges could lead to some personal disasters as well.

This charming novel should make for a great summer read, plus I do like the notion of someone with a plucky can-do spirit trying to spread joy in troubled times. That's something we all could use more of these days, that's for sure!:


Hopefully, these new finds will satisfy my bookish needs as the temperatures climb higher and higher. Best case scenario, my book buying budget will not be exceeded by all of the great deals being showcased out there.

Of course, there are some books that don't need a sale to be purchase worthy but it does make resisting temptation all the harder when that special book you've been waiting for is at such a good price! Perhaps I'm not alone in wanting my resolve in such matters to be as solid as a block of ice instead of being as prone to melting as ice cream, especially in summer:



Monday, July 01, 2019

Wrapping up a readathon and other summer book plans

With the expansion of the Sci-Fi Summer readathon(thanks to Michelle at Seasons of Reading), I was able to add a couple of non theme related titles to my immediate TBR and since one of them was a library book, that really came in handy.

The other book was the third in a series and oddly enough, the second one that I read from this author. Laura Disilverio's The Readaholics mysteries all take place in a town called Heaven in Colorado(a recent name change, in order to attract the tourist trade) where a book club that focuses on mystery novels  winds up solving a few murders in their own backyard.

In The Readaholics and the Gothic Gala, leading lady Amy-Faye Johnson is using her event planning skills to arrange a local literary event,The Celebration of Gothic Novels, being hosted by a book shop called Book Bliss(love that name!). It's a theme that Amy-Faye and friends are in the mood for, having chosen Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca as their latest book club selection.

The Gothic Novels celebration has three modern day authors in attendance; grand dame Constance Aldringham, spunky Francesca Bugle and debut darling Mary Stewart. While most of the scheduled events go well, with only a few odd mishaps that are cleared up rather quickly, it's the costume party held at the golf club that produces the most excitement.

Two unexpected guests cause quite the uproar, with the first being Eloise Hufnagle, who insists that Mary Stewart stole her manuscript, making her surprise bestseller a fraud. As Eloise makes her getaway via dousing various party goers with (fortunately) fake blood, Amy-Faye is asked to go to the manager's office where a deceased stranger breaks up the party for good. Is Eloise to blame for this shocking surprise as well?:



Turns out that the stranger is an out of towner named Trent Van Allen, who Amy-Faye noticed showing up at the celebration events all day. He certainly didn't appear to be a gothic reader and in fact, had a rather shifty past.

Since the murder weapon was a stake swiped from Lola, one of the Readaholics at the party, Amy-Faye and company feel honor bound to discover who the killer is.

Secrets and lies abound with the newcomers to town as Constance's daughter Allyson has had prior trouble with the law, Mary Stewart and her accompanying brother/bodyguard Lucas are not who they seem to be, plus Francesca and Hollywood producer Cosmo Zeller are all too anxious about the upcoming adaptation of her bestselling novel, Barbary Close.

With Amy-Fay getting a tip from Van Allen's girlfriend Sharla, who has good reason not to go to the cops, it appears that the motive for murder is blackmail. But, which of the authors is being targeted and is it a secret worth killing for?:


I really like this series and hope there are more books to come. Amy-Faye and her Readaholic friends are great fun, especially Maud, a lady who's clearly lived a pretty interesting life and has some wild tales to tell! Another bonus is that the club does take the time to discuss their recent read(as well as watch the film version) and that each book plays a part in solving the main mystery.

I do have the first book to read,The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco, and while it's weird to read the first one last, this appears to be working for me. With Gothic Gala being published back in 2016, it might be the final one in this series, which would be a shame. Perhaps there's another Readaholics meeting being planned as we speak but if not, at least this was a grand gothic time worth having:


With Gothic Gala and Sujita Massey's The Satapur Moonstone(a wonderful read) being completed and Sci-Fi Summer finished until next time, I'm going to try and just have a few relaxing reads this July.

There are plans for a Christmas in July readathon but I am going to sit that one out and join up for the High Summer event this August. That month is going to be busy for me, with Bad Movie Month and setting up a fall book preview ,too,but no rest for the wicked as they say!

In the meanwhile, I have a few new books to explore such as Pride,Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev. In this present day take on the iconic Jane Austen novel,  Trisha Raje and DJ Caine seem to come from very different worlds as she is a talented neurosurgeon devoted strictly to her work and he's a chef /actual DJ that's hired to cater a major event for her family.

The two of them take an instant dislike to each other yet what they do have in common is DJ's younger sister, who is dealing with medical problems that require Trisha's skills and DJ's support. As they find themselves growing closer, a certain lady with the last name of Wickam does her best to split this potential for new love apart.

I do like a fresh blend of Jane Austen storytelling with modern day flair and this novel promises to be an engaging read, filled with fine writing and accomplished women galore:


Also, I'm going to be sampling some of M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin mystery series. thanks in part to enjoying the BBC TV series that it inspired on DVD.

We are introduced to Agatha in The Quiche of Death, where our leading lady has moved from London to a small village in the Cotswalds, having taken an early retirement from her successful PR firm. It's been a childhood dream of hers to enjoy a quiet country life but she's not fitting in as well as she thought she would.

Agatha decides to enter the local quiche contest, using a store bought pastry from out of town, as a means to making a good impression. That backfires as not only does her entry not win, it poisons one of the judges! Not wanting to reveal her cheating at the competition, Agatha decides to get to the bottom of the mystery before another deadly bite is taken.

The show is charming, with a nice bit of whimsy and potential romance, and with the first two books in the series, I will most likely have another cozy mystery author queuing up on my shelves to enjoy:


My blog posts might be light this month but I will pop in from time to time there. My thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for another great readathon(will sign up in August and yes, I have a TBR all set for High Summer!) and a Happy July Fourth to all.

I do know that I read a lot of  mysteries(cozy and otherwise) but I have no plans to start any amateur sleuthing on my own, I promise! Some things are best left to the experts or to those delightful fictional folk who make all of that page turning a suspenseful sweet treat indeed:


Monday, June 24, 2019

Setting up some summer day reading for July & August

Since we're fully into summer now, making rest and relaxation plans during these hot and humid months are vital.  Whether you're putting up your feet at home or packing up for a big road trip, books are part and parcel for your entertainment needs.

During this July and August, quite a few new reads are expected to arrive on a bookshelf near you and while it may be daunting to keep track of them all, perhaps this list of recommendations can make that particular task more of a pleasure than a chore:


RIDING THE READING WAVE:

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to finish reading The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman and in my opinion, this was the best way to start my summer.

The leading lady of the title is enjoying what she deems a rather happy existence, with a great job at a indie bookstore, an apartment loaded to the brim with books and competitive fun as a member of a bar trivia team called Book 'Em Danno, plus a cat.

Nina's world gets a few sudden jolts as a visit from a lawyer brings her news of the death of her father, a man she never knew, and a whole slew of relatives, one of which has very blunt opinions about Nina's possible inheritance from the last will and testament. In addition, there's a guy on a rival trivia team(You're a Quizzard, Harry, such a great name!) who is catching her eye but he doesn't seem to be much of a reader, a major check in the negative column.

Nina does have some anxiety problems, which are set off by all of these new changes. Can she learn to adjust to this new set of situations or will she retreat further away from them?  This is the first time that I've read Abbi Waxman and this book is a wonderful introduction to her witty ways with words and people.

I highly encourage any and all bookish types to add this enchanting novel to their summer reading and while this story is set in Southern California, there a bit of a New England Stars Hollow vibe to it that should delight fans of a certain beloved TV show indeed(July):


 For a look into the not so distant literary past, Karen Dukess takes us to The Last Book Party, set in the summer of 1987.

Eve Rosen longs to be a writer as celebrated as Henry Grey, who is practically a living legend at the New Yorker, yet being an editorial secretary at his publishers is enough of a thrill for her.  Getting to meet him and his seeming elite family at his home during a business gathering is pretty much a dream come true.

In order to get closer to the Greys as well as her literary ambitions, Eve leaves her job to work for up and coming author Jeremy Grand as his research assistant. Jeremy went to school with Henry's son Franny and while his talents as a writer are attractive, what he knows about the Greys is less than pretty. Eve learns that lesson the hard way at a book party which is both a beginning and an ending for all involved.

With such rapid changes to the world of publishing, Dukess gives us the gift of reflection upon a somewhat more innocent time that offers plenty of secrets and lies for the page turning(July).

HISTORICAL BLASTS FROM THE PAST:

Laura L. Sullivan offers a different take on The Three Musketeers with Milady, the villainous dame of de Winter. Here, we get her back story as Clarice, a young woman introduced into the intrigues of the court of King James I, mainly for the benefit of her absent nobleman father.

Using her skills for deceit and murder, Clarice makes her way through less than polite society, despite being made into a pawn by various men in her path for their own power games. By the time she does run into D'Artagnan and friends, she has lived more than one adventurous life and is ready to take on more.

If you're a fan of Milady de Winter (and yes, I am), this novel is a dream come true and for those not yet familiar with the classic Dumas tale, this is a good way to make the acquaintance of those fine fellows and the most deadly diva in literature(July):


 In Karen Brooks' The Chocolate Maker's Wife, which takes place in London of the 1660s, Rosemund Tompkins considers it to be her good fortune to be sold into marriage to Sir Everald Blithman, a nobleman who has just opened a chocolate drinking establishment for the upper class.

While happy to get away from the abusive men in her family, Rosemund soon learns that her new husband considers her more of a daughter, as in she resembles his deceased daughter Helena. Further more, Helena's widower, Matthew Lovelace, was never considered to be good enough for her and her father blames him for the early death of his beloved child.

Rosemund contents herself with being a good wife by educating herself on the newly flourishing chocolate trade and becoming a charming hostess at the drinking house. Even when she finds herself an independent woman of means, Rosemund does her best to take life as it comes but it's not without a few obstacles both in and out of her control. This lively look at a woman in the flow of history who makes her own way forward is quite the savory sweet treat(August).

Beatriz Williams can always be counted on for a great read that highlights amazing people in history and in her upcoming The Golden Hour, the infamous Duke and Duchess of Windsor play a key role.

Reporter Lulu Thorpe is covering the doings of the former heir to the English throne and his wife Wallis Simpson as they set up shop in the Bahamas during the early 1940s. Her ultimate goal is to help her current husband Benedict , an undercover agent for the British,escape from a German prison camp but she still has a job to do and highlighting the Windsors is a necessary evil.

Lulu is no stranger to trouble, having had to ditch a troublesome prior husband, and yet, this plight of her beloved Benedict may be trickier to deal with. A connection from his family's past might be the unexpected key to his freedom, if only she can find it in time. Williams is truly crackerjack when it comes to such stories and her portrayal of the Windsors should be a delightful dish on this literary menu(July):


 FIRE AND FLIGHT: This pair of late summer releases have very different ways of dealing with matters of heart and soul yet each works well for their particular set of fictional situations.

In Lisa Lutz's The Swallows, newly hired teacher Alex Witt is going through some hazing at Stonebridge Academy, a private school in Vermont. As she begins to deal with the bordering on nasty harassment, a student named Gemma informs her of a website where the boys of Stonebridge brag about their sexual conquests, complete with a ranking of their female classmates.

Not wanting to make waves yet unable to ignore the issue, Alex becomes an unofficial advisor to Gemma, who is forming a group of her peers that are planning to take the boys on, especially since they know the patriarchal power system that runs the school certainly won't. As remote as she hopes to be from all of this, Alex finds herself caught up in the maelstrom that eventually ignites but is not unhappy about which side she's on.

Lutz is known for her sharp satire mixed with savvy storytelling and while this novel is set several years before the rise of the push back movement against misogynistic behavior that we see today, this vivid tale of payback rings strongly true to the times(August).


The leading lady of Katherine Center's Things You Save in a Fire is Cassie Hanwell, whose determination to get over the turmoil that entered her life at age sixteen lead her to become a top firefighter in Austin, TX, ten years later.

An unexpected encounter with someone from her past sets off a chain of actions that has Cassie starting over in a Boston firehouse, living with the mother who left her a decade ago.

Dealing with a new crew and a mom that wants to reconnect before her health problems get worse, Cassie has enough on her plate without being attracted to a rookie firefighter named Owen, who is quite friendly but they're competing for the same spot in the firehouse, thanks to budget cuts.

That's not the only reason that she wants to hold off on making emotional bonds yet fate seems to have other things in mind for her, despite Cassie's determination to be an emotional island fortress. Perhaps she has to discover how to rescue herself. This poignant novel of love, loss and self healing sounds like the perfect reading escape for any time of the year(August):


 I hope you all have a great summer and enjoy whatever good times you have planned, especially for the big Fourth of July holiday that is just around the corner. As for me, that holiday is going to be spent in a certain small town where a new mall has opened and along with the fireworks, Stranger Things will be bringing the noise as well as the fearsome funk:


Monday, June 17, 2019

Planning a ladies' night at the movies this summer

While we're in the big blockbuster movie season at the moment, it's a good idea to take a serious look around at the upcoming film schedule to see if there is anything on the cinematic horizon that's a bit more bookish and female focused.

At the very least, you might find a small treasure just waiting to be discovered or a merely a not on the major radar movie that needs a little extra attention to gain a sizeable audience. For example, a different take on Shakespeare's Hamlet is due out later this month entitled Ophelia, starring Daisy Ridley in the title role.

From being taken in as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Gertrude(Naomi Watts) to becoming the secret love interest of Prince Hamlet(George McKay) as the royal family deals with major upheavals,including betrayal of the most intimate kind, Ophelia has to rely on her own wits to find a safe passage for herself. However, such maneuvering often comes at a terrible price but will she be willing to pay that cost?

Based on the novel by Lisa Klein as well as the iconic play, this vision of Hamlet's Denmark could be an eye opener even for those who think they know this story inside and out. Perhaps a new set of eyes could make this tragic tale more poignant than ever before:


 Arriving in August, Vita & Virginia puts the spotlight on two main members of the famed Bloomsbury Group in England of the 1920s.

Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) is determined to befriend the reclusive writer Virginia Woolf(Elizabeth Debicki) in order to liven up her dreary social life but their connection turns out to become much deeper than that.

The growing affection between them is strong, with neither of their seemingly conventional marriages getting in the way, and eventually their bond becomes the inspiration for one of Woolf's most innovative works, Orlando.

Adapted from the stage play by Eileen Atkins(who used the actual correspondence of these remarkable women as source material), this movie may be a great introduction into the Bloomsbury mystique as well as inviting those devoted to this special circle of friends over for some engaging drama:


Also set for August but a little closer to modern times, The Kitchen stars Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elizabeth Moss as a trio of wives living in Hell's Kitchen during the 1970s who share two things in common; their husbands are in prison and they're facing hard financial times.

Tired of scrapping by and barely making do with what little is given to them, the ladies decide to be their own mob bosses and surprise themselves by being more than just as good as the men. In fact, they're far better.

However, even these strong willed women have to deal with the aftermath of a life of crime but perhaps they can make it work on their own terms. This movie is based on a DC/Vertigo graphic novel by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle that should be reissued in time for this movie to make it's mark on the big screen.  Why this is set for so late in the summer movie game, I don't know but it could be a savvy sleeper hit, we shall see:


Well, it's good to see some girl power on the silver screen this summer and not just in the fall in time for award show season. Although, we may get a bit of mega movie fun when back to school season starts that should be delightfully wicked indeed, particularly if you're fond of villainous leading ladies, which I so am!:


Friday, June 14, 2019

My Sci-Fi Summer reading has turned into quite the royal rumble

So far, my pace in the  Sci-Fi Summer readathon has been pretty good and I thought rather quick for a two week challenge.

As it turns out, I have more time to read here as moderator Michelle Miller(from Seasons of Reading) has recently announced that this special bookish event is now a month long,which also moves July's High Summer reading to August. In addition, not all of your books have to be sci-fi and/or fantasy, other genres can be part of the mix.

It's a good idea whose time has come and while I did drop one intended book off my initial list, a library loan has taken it's place(more on that later). In the meantime, I was able to finish the first three books in Kendare Blake's Three Dark Crowns YA fantasy series, which are scarily addicting but oh so fun to read!

 The first book introduces us to the island nation of Fennbirn, where in every generation, a set of female triplets are born to be queen. Each one has a particular set of magical abilities and are raised apart from one another in communities that favor that young queen's powers.

At age sixteen, all three are brought together to fight to the death for the throne. Dominance over the island by a certain powerful group is also determined by which queen wins.

For the past several reigns, the Poisoners have maintained control over Fennbirn, placing a huge burden on Katherine, whose ability to absorb and survive the affects of various poisons given to her over the years is weak at best. 

However, the odds on favorite to win the throne back from the Poisoner crowd is Mirabella, one of strongest Elemental queens to come in a generation. While she is reluctant to destroy the sisters that are remembered only in her dreams, there is no denying that her control over lightning,wind and fire make her a force to be reckoned with:

  

The one sister who cares least about the throne is Arsinoe, a Naturalist whose powers have yet to manifest. It's only through "low magic" that she has been able to produce a familiar in time for the first ritual meeting of the three, a brown bear that she has limited control over.

Arsinoe's whole goal is to survive,period. With the aid of her best friend Jules Millone,who is far more powerful than most of the Naturalists, she is trying to do just that despite the increasing odds that she will be the first to die.

 With the return of a childhood friend Joseph(banished to the mainland for attempting to sail Arsinoe off of the island) and the arrival of William"Billy" Chatsworth, a potential royal suitor, the situation gets more complicated and gruesome risks are taken. When the sisters display their talents at the Quickening, a number of plans for and against each sister go awry, creating more conflict than ever before.


In One Dark Throne, much has changed for the sisters with the most dramatic being for Katherine, who was tossed into a deep pit known as the Breccia Domain(formerly used to dispose of defeated queens) and managed to make it out alive.

That move was made by Pietyr, a cousin of the powerful Arron family of poisoners, who thought that he was sparing her from a horrifying death due to a betrayal plot. Katherine's survival has given her a new life, so to speak as well as a change in her personality.

She is no longer the meek and mild mouse that the brutal life of poisoning has made her,rather Katherine has become a mysterious and deadly enemy who is all too willing to destroy her sisters in any way that she can:




By the time we get to Two Dark Reigns, Katherine has been crowned and her new rule is unsteady, with the protective mist that surrounds the island acting out in strange and violent ways.


Her sisters Mirabella and Arsinoe, along with Billy, have escaped to the mainland and are presumed dead by those on Fennbirn. They are doing their best to adjust to the very different way of life where women are not placed in any positions of power.

 Mirabella does not want to ever return to her homeland but Arsinoe is being haunted by dreams from a long ago queen that urge them both to go back home. Meanwhile, a rebellion is growing against Katherine and those whose magical gifts are in the minority want Jules to be their leader and new queen. She is beyond reluctant to do so but when push comes to shove, she can't help but join the fight:


This sisterly saga is truly compulsive reading, with a solid amount of character development and a rich world built by the author that feels so fresh and vibrant. If I didn't have to wait for the fourth book(Five Deadly Fates) to arrive in the fall, I would be reading it right now.

As it is, I am moving on to other things for this readathon and since we can add different genres, my current read is The Satapur Moonstone by Sujita Massey, to be followed by The Readaholics and The Gothic Gala by Laura DiSilvero. With TSM being a library book that happily came to me via hold, it's a good thing that Sci-Fi Summer was expanded like this, so thank you, Michelle! Choosing between a theme and a new read is difficult but fortunately, I and my fellow readathons can now enjoy the best of both literary worlds:


Monday, June 10, 2019

This year's Bad Movie Month has quite the Marvel-ous line-up

One of the traditions here at LRG is that August is known as Bad Movie Month, where once a week during that time, we take a look at some of the saddest examples of cinematic story telling.

For our theme this time out, inspiration is drawn from one of the better displays of long term story and world building.

No matter if you're a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe(MCU) or not, we can all agree that Avengers:Endgame was one of the major movie events of the year, rounding off over a decade of superhero films that successfully interconnected with each other as well as their respective audiences.

However, not all of the actors in those films have a solid stack of quality work on their resume. So, we then embark on what I'm calling Avengers:FilmFail. Since there are numerous characters in the MCU, our focus will be on four of the main Avengers-Iron Man(Robert Downey,Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow(Scarlett Johannson). Each of chosen cinematic stinkers has one of them in a starring role with perhaps a co-star from the MCU who, one way or the other, joins in the dubious fun:

DUE DATE: For Robert Downey Jr., I chose this 2010 road trip comedy and I can hear some of you saying, "Hey, this movie was a box office hit! How can it be one of your bad movies?"

Well, for one thing, just because a movie is financially successful doesn't mean that it's good-keep in mind, that Transformers flick that had King Arthur's knights in the mix(that will be important later on in this post).

Critics were less than thrilled with this movie as RDJ teams up with a "look how weird I am!" Zach Galifianakis as two unlikely companions forced to take to the road together, thanks to a misunderstanding at the airport. Yes, a terrorist joke is the cause.

As Downey struggles to get home in time to witness the birth of his first child, Zach plans to scatter his recently deceased father's ashes but little things like a "Stage Name ID" and a run in with the Mexican police tend to slow them down. This attempt at combining The Hangover with Planes,Trains and Automobiles sounds more a barrel full of headaches than hearty laughs. Also, Jamie Foxx, who played a villain in the Amazing Spiderman sequel, shows up to make this pick a bit MCU adjacent:



RED DAWN(2012): This remake of the 1984 warhawk movie was awful enough to earn a Razzie nomination and while the original film has the distinction of being the first American release to get a  PG-13 rating, this version made headlines for changing it's invaders from Chinese to North Korean(insert your topical joke here).

Hemsworth takes on the role originated by Patrick Swayze, as returning Marine Jed, who goes home just in time to help the locals fight back against the invading army suddenly at their doorstep. Why any invading force would go after a small town instead of a major city is beyond me but hey, gotta follow that original formula!

For a MCU connection, we have Adrienne Palicki(who played Bobbi Morse on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made for TV series) on board. As for the other actors, this is probably not the worst item on their resume but certainly not one any of them will want to highlight in the future either:


PLAYING IT COOL: I must admit that Chris Evans's performance as Captain America is one of my favorites in the MCU and I thoroughly enjoyed his take on Johnny Storm in those earlier Fantastic Four films.

However, while one of his FF co-stars(Ioan Giffurd) is the cast of this barely released 2015 romcom, this movie certainly doesn't sound fantastic. Evans plays a frustrated screenwriter who has to write a script for a romance before getting to work on the action movies that he prefers.

Feeling sour on love, he meets up with what seems like the perfect woman for him(Michelle Monaghan, who plays RDJ's wife in Due Date-is that a wild coincidence or what?), only she's engaged to someone else. Hilarity is supposed to occur but given that this film was pushed into VOD as soon as possible, that's more of a threat than a promise.

For a direct MCU connection, Anthony Mackie,aka The Falcon, was cast as Evans' agent and while those two always have great chemistry on screen, this isn't supposed to be a bromance. Then again, maybe it should have been-might have made things a whole lot better!:


THE ISLAND: Just listen to the premise of this 2005 big budget film: Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor are residents of a futuristic, isolated community where everyone dreams of winning a lottery that will take them to the title location for a chance at the good life.

But, surprise,surprise!-the two of them are clones, created as spare parts for rich folks, which was also the basis of a 1979 sci-fi flick called Parts: The Clonus Horror, which the studio had to play an out of court settlement for due to not getting those pesky rights to the previous material first.

What really sunk this movie at the box office and with critics,however, can be summed up in two words and one name-Michael Bay, who later on gave us that Transformers meets King Arthur film(see, I told you that was important to remember!). What could have been a decent sci-fi thriller turns into a big loud, blow-em-real-good type of movie that has an off kilter aftertaste, sort of like a peanut butter and sand paper sandwich.

The MCU link here is Djimon Hounsou, who appears in Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel and for a MCU adjacent, the late great Michael Clarke Duncan, who was the Kingpin in Daredevil. While Johansson has made eyebrow raising bad choices in her film career since then, hopefully she learned not to make the same mistake twice. Then again...:


I was happy to see Avengers:Endgame and look forward to the next batch of MCU films that will start a new set of adventures for all concerned. Even so, you can't help but tease the ones you love and Avengers:FilmFail is out to do just that this August, so with tongue in cheek I say Excelsior!: