Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Quite the tricky treat bag of reading for FrightFall this year!

Autumn is definitely in the air right now and a sure sign of that is the announcement that sign ups for FrightFall over at Seasons of Reading have begun! For those  new to this readathon, it starts October 1st and ends on Halloween (naturally) with scary books ranging from cozies to out and out horror strongly encouraged.

My trio of TBR titles for this year’s sinister season are a mixed bag of treats, from an offbeat musical take on vampires to Marple flavored Agatha Christie and a much talked about terror tale set in the days of yesteryear. So, let’s look them over and see what scary sweetness awaits me:

Mike Chen’s Vampire Weekend blends the power of punk rock with vampire lore in the form of Louise, who despite her immortal status, is no more social as a member of the undead than she was during her human lifetime.

That reluctance to bond with anyone is severely tested when Ian, a distant teenage cousin, enters her existence. Since he has no one else to turn to for help, Louise takes Ian in and does her best to keep her blood drinking a secret. As a way of distraction, she introduces him to the modern classics of punk rock, an interest that never really died off for Louise and in fact, starts to bring her back to life, metaphorically speaking.

I’ve read one of Chen’s more recent novels (We Could Be Heroes) and his style of tweaking genres with heartfelt characters and occasional touches of humor is very much my cup of tea. He’s also a devoted music fan so this particular book should be singing in three part horror harmony indeed:

Next up is A Murder is Announced, one of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple adventures.

 The premise is right in the title as a newspaper ad invites the residents of Chipping Cleghorn to see an actual murder on a Friday evening in October and of course, Miss Marple is curios to learn what all of the fuss is about.

While it is possible that this is all a tasteless joke, it does frighten Letitia Blacklock, whose address is given as the setting for this gruesome event of which she knows nothing about!

On the day and time in question, the advertising has been proven to be sadly true yet the why of it all is for our dear Jane Marple to find out.

As someone who has only seriously tackled Agatha Christie late in life, it’s fun to play catch up with her works like this.

 Also, I adore Miss Marple and sincerely hope that when the Hollywood strikes are settled (in favor of the writers and actors there!) that this sweetly sharp sleuth is given the cinematic spotlight that she so richly deserves:

To round things off, I have Victor LaValle’s Lone Women, a much highly praised book by critics and readers alike.

Set in 1915, Adelaide leaves her burning remains of her parents’ house in California with only a mysterious trunk for company.

Reaching Montana, where solo women like her are able to claim land for themselves, she begins to make a new life for herself without too much scrutiny from the new neighbors. The time comes. however, when Adelaide cannot keep the deadly contents of that trunk locked up and the danger is far and beyond what anyone ever expected.

It’s been hard to hold off on reading this book(got it from Book of the Month Club earlier this year) but this story seems picture perfect for this readathon and I am in no doubt that my patience will be well rewarded:

If you’re interested in joining in on the spooky seasonal fun, there’s plenty of time to sign up over at Seasons of Reading and check out the Stephen King read along over at their sister site Castle Macabre, both run by the excellent Michelle Miller.

One great thing about the horror genre is just how well it lends itself to blending the old school style and the new way of dealing with fear. 

No matter how truly monstrous things may seem, fiction can show you the way to figure it out. At the very least, we can get some petrifying popcorn fare to delightfully distract us for awhile:



Wednesday, September 13, 2023

My first book haul of Fall

Despite the increasingly warm and wet weather these days, this is the Fall season which means a new reason to get new books!

Granted, I did get some fresh reads over the summer but between my latest library visit and September selections from Book of the Month Club, it seems fitting to turn those autumn reading pages forward rather than back, if that mixed metaphor makes any sense!

Anyway, starting with BOMC, my main pick was You,Again by Kate Goldbeck which I must confess is partly due to the cover art that just screams “Autumn Romance “ in a delightful way.

We met Josh and Arianna aka Ari, as they first meet at the apartment of the woman that they both happen to be dating at the same time. Their dislike is instant and opposites do not attract at first as Josh’s deep desire for a lasting relationship clashes with Ari’s sincere aversion to long term love.

Over the years, the two of them keep running into each other and quick to relight that torch of tension even that person who accidentally brought them together is in neither one of their lives. 

However, when Josh and Ari have a reconnection during low points in their personal lives, that mutual misery somehow brings about a friendship that might over time become something more.

I’m over a hundred pages into this book and it’s a real treat indeed. Goldbeck’s snappy writing and dynamic character development sets a well paced yet brisk narrative that has you happily strolling along, eagerly awaiting to see what’s next for these two.

This novel is already drawing comparisons to When Harry Met Sally and I do hope that when both Hollywood strikes are settled ( in the artist’s favor!)that a present day incarnation of Nora Ephron will be able to take this snarky sweet story from script to screen just as well as she would’ve:

I decided to pair it with the beloved modern romance that has recently been adapted for streaming, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal

Alex has enough problems being the son of the American president without constant comparisons to England’s Prince Henry, who he never liked in the first place.

When a cake crashing bout at a royal wedding stirs up plenty of bad PR on both sides of the pond, Alex reluctantly agrees to putting on a fake friendship with Henry in order to save his mother’s reelection campaign.

As things progress, Alex and Henry begin to form a real friendship and what’s more, some true romance as well. How will both sets of political powers that be help or hurt this relationship and what choices of the heart will have to be made?

I haven’t seen the movie but word of mouth about this book has been stellar, enough for me to enjoy a lovely love story like this indeed:

As for my library loans, the longest book of the three that I chose was Stephen King’s Fairy Tale and yes, I am at least a third of the way into this one.

Charlie Reade is a 17 year old high school student who is grateful enough that his widowed father has managed to overcome an addiction to alcohol that when the opportunity to help a stranger in need comes along, he feels that his debt to the universe is ready to be repaid.

However, his assistance to the reclusive Mr. Bowditch and his aging yet strongly loyal dog Radar becomes more than your typical good deed. 

Bowditch may live in a rundown house with a TV straight out of the nineteen fifties but his main source of income is literally a bucket of pure gold pellets. Not to mention the shed in the backyard that’s always locked with a padlock and chain, with strange scratching sounds coming from inside every now and then….

So far, this story is a steady blend of heartfelt coming of age saga and sinister mystery with some fearsome fantasy yet to come, no doubt about it. I don’t always clink with King’s fantasy works(did enjoy Eyes of the Dragon but only got a little ways with the Dark Tower series) but this particular telling certainly feels right as rain:

 To that, I added An Island Princess Starts a Scandal by Adriana Herrera (heard some good word on this from BookTube) and The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave.

Hannah Hall feels that her life is going along a smooth path as she and her husband  of one year so far ,Owen,are doing so well together. Her biggest challenge to date is forming a connection with her teen stepdaughter Bailey, who makes it clear that she’s not in the market for a new mom.

Hannah and Bailey find themselves forced to rely on each other when Owen goes missing, leaving Hannah a mysterious note and Bailey a bag of money. Owen’s work place is under investigation for possible fraud involving recently developed technology and while the authorities are saying that he’s not a suspect, the timing of Owen’s disappearance is a little too coincidental to say the least.

Can Hannah and Bailey find Owen and learn the truth or face the fact that, for better and possibly worse, they are on their own for good?

This book was recently adapted into a TV miniseries for a streaming service (that I don’t subscribe to) and it’s a Reese Witherspoon book club selection, the latter being more of an inducement to picking it up for me.

Also, the author is mostly known for her domestic drama style of storytelling rather than thrillers and that change of literary pace seems to have gone over well with readers and critics alike. The blending of such genres can work really nicely at times and with any luck, this one will work for me:

Speaking of luck, I do plan to finish a couple of these books before the FrightFall readathon starts this October (my TBR picks will be posted soon!) but in the meantime, rushing through a good book is never a great idea.

I am glad that September is Library Card Sign Up month; how appropriate is it that back to school time is also a friendly reminder to be part of your local library? Especially when libraries need all the patron support they can get, if you haven’t gotten your card, do so in all haste! That’s a good idea to hurry along there:


Thursday, September 07, 2023

My Series-ous Reading gets Crowned and Dangerous indeed!

 My yearly Series-ous Reading challenge has taken quite a few turns this time around and now having morphed into a Five Point Page Turning Plan, is about to engage in another new twist.

Right now, however, let us proceed to talking about Crowned and Dangerous by Rhys Bowen, the tenth book in the Her Royal Spyness series of cozy historical mysteries.

Our leading lady, Georgiana “Georgie “ Rannoch is on the road to Scotland(Gretna Green, to be precise) with Darcy O’Mara, the man she loves and is willing to risk the displeasure of her regal relatives to elope with.

Fate steps on the brakes as Darcy receives word that his father, Lord Kilhenny, was arrested for murder. Lord K lost his family fortune and sold his castle to an American  businessman named Timothy Roach, who kept his Lordship on to run the stables. 

Upon being fired for allegedly doping a prize race horse, Lord K had a loud fight with Roach that makes the prime suspect when the American is discovered dead the next day.

 Despite their lack of affection towards each other, Darcy is determined to help his father out in any way he can and not only halts the hazy wedding plans but breaks up with Georgie altogether! Fearing that his family name will be forever tainted by this seemingly hopeless case, Darcy insists that it’s in her best interest to find someone else to marry.

Georgie, however, is no stranger to hopeless looking accusations and heads out to Ireland on her own to help save the day. She winds up staying with a couple of his relatives, the offbeat Aunt Oona and Uncle Dooley, whose messy house and topsy turvey ways may be strange but whose hearts are definitely in the right place on the matter:

She’s later joined by an old friend of Darcy’s, an exiled princess affectionately called Zhou Zhou who is a combination of Marlene Dietrich and Amelia Earhart with her tendency to take off in her own private aircraft for adventure.

With many shadows of doubt about the true identity of the deceased American being highlighted by Georgie and friends, the possibility of Lord K ‘s guilt grows dimmer but can the powers that be clearly see that? Or are the real bad guys able to get away with more than one dastardly deed?!:

Like most of this series, Crowned and Dangerous has numerous charms from characters both regular and new that solving the case is not entirely an overwhelming concern.

 That doesn’t mean that the mystery is neglected, rather that the main focus is on the emotional development of the players rather than catching the villain(although those pursuits are necessary to clear things up for our leads).

It’s nice to see supporting characters like Georgie’s haphazard maid Queenie start to find some confidence and skill during this caper instead of remaining in place as a perky punchline. Even Georgie has been slowly yet surely becoming more confident about dealing with things in her quietly indomitable way. It’s why I enjoy this series so much.

At the moment, I am in the middle of book 11, On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service, as Georgie heads to Italy in order to check on her best friend Belinda but also to do a little unofficial snooping for the Queen.

Seems that Prince Edward and his unsuitable paramour Mrs. Simpson are paying a visit at a nearby villa where a rather suspicious meeting of international types is happening. 

The Queen is more concerned about a secret wedding than politics yet even Georgie senses something in the air concerning the latter. So far, this trip has quite the intrigue, including some possible blackmailing of Georgie’ flighty actress mother Claire before any murder has taken place! Also, the atmosphere of Italy in the countryside is enchanting indeed:

Since these books are fairly quick reads, I am going to do a final wrap up of this particular challenge by the end of the year instead of a monthly post as usual.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not abandoning my Series-ous Reading plans altogether. In fact, I have something up my sleeve for 2024 that will be more seasonal in scope but that is all I will say at this time.

There’s no doubt in my mind that before the end of this month that I will have started Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding , the book that inspired me to tackle this whole series.

I received a promotional copy when it was first published and figured that it would be better to read the prior books before engaging with this one. Talk about full circle there! Books are like that, I suppose, taking you on unexpected journeys that become well worth the trip:

Friday, September 01, 2023

Settling into September after a happy High Summer of reading

While I know that the first day of September isn’t the actual beginning of autumn, it is the actual endpoint for Seasons of Reading’s High Summer readathon and a great way to round off that temperature rising time of year!

As per my usual, I went with three books on this particular TBR and finished two of them.

Jennifer Weiner’s  The Summer Place was a good old fashioned family slice of life story with modern day flair.

The title residence is the Cape Cod house belonging to Veronica, a woman who gave up her blossoming literary career back in the day and now as an aging widow, is pleased at the opportunity to share this beloved home with her family before selling it off.

The upcoming occasion is the wedding of her step granddaughter Ruby, who might be rushing into marriage due to her romance being fast tracked by the pandemic.

Stepmom Sarah is happy to give Ruby this special setting (despite her own doubts about this too soon marriage) but is worried about the state of her own relationship with Eli, her devoted husband who has become suddenly distant in more ways than one lately.

Other family complications abound, bringing everyone involved together for a tale of well intentioned misdirection that Shakespeare himself would applaud at. Weiner doesn’t take any easy outs with her characters and gives even the ones that appear to be not on the up and up their fair chance at their side of the story.

She also blends humor, heartbreak and a gentle touch of whimsy (even the house itself has a p.o.v. there!) that makes for a truly engaging as well as entertaining family act for the ages:

What took up most of my High Summer reading time was the third entry in Alison Weir’s Sux Tudor Queens series, Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen, a book that I saved for last.

Jane’s family had some experience in dealing with extramarital affairs before their eldest daughter became a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, a woman that Jane greatly admired. When that good lady was set roughly aside due to Henry VIII’s desire for a younger woman to give him a son, Jane wanted to stay by Catherine’s side but her parents had other ideas.

While Jane reluctantly joined the household of the new Queen Anne Boleyn, the last thing she ever expected was to fall in love with Henry. As that second marriage brutally collapsed, Jane found herself in the midst of more than one intrigue that kept pushing her towards the throne but was real love any part of this game?

As a historian as well as a historical fiction writer, Weir adds authenticity to her descriptions of these real life characters and despite knowing the eventual outcome for Jane, her story is both riveting and heartfelt. 

While she is mostly seen as a less exciting footnote by audiences eager for the six wives drama, Jane and her mixed emotions regarding her place in this royal life are bitter sweetly stirring to see:

While I am happy about completing this series (a reading goal of mine this year), my bookish cup ran very over this week as Alison Weir announced that she’s publishing a new Tudor related novel next year!

The Passionate Tudor , due out in May of 2024, tells the story of Mary I, the firstborn of Henry and Catherine who fought for her place in the line of succession and ultimately became Queen of England before her legendary sister Elizabeth did.

Mary is considered one of the villains of the Tudor dynasty, known as Bloody Mary for her violent at times crusade against the Protestants in her realm. 

However, once you get to know her struggles as a daughter denied her legacy due to the mercurial nature of her father, grieving the loss of her beloved mother and forced into hiding her religious faith, Mary is not simply some wicked witch of a queen there.

I know that I’m not alone in seeing Mary get the story telling spotlight she deserves. Stories that highlight her are few and far between but this one will certainly be worth the wait:

So, even with setting aside A Rogue of Her Own for another time, this was a nice reading journey for the end of the season. Much thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for bringing us all together on these literary excursions and I hope that others had a sweet summer session in the shade there.

We do have FrightFall to look forward to in October and I am beyond ready for that! Not only are my trio of books on the shorter side(which may give me a chance to finish them all), I also have plenty of Halloween themed baking shows to watch this spooky season. 

I must say that at this stage of my somewhat adult life, Halloween is best enjoyed with some great books, a scary movie or two and a recipe for revolting good sweet treats that I don’t have to make! Simple pleasures can make your days brighter, that’s all I am saying:


Thursday, August 24, 2023

Autumn in August pays a call on Northanger Abbey

For our final matinee of Autumn in August this year, the venue chosen is none other than Jane Austen’s posthumous scary satire known as Northanger Abbey.

While the 1987 version of this story does have it’s strange charms, that film is more suited for those seeking a Mystery Science Theater experience (which I do like!) than a real attempt at bringing this lively little adventure to cinematic life like the 2007 adaptation before us today.

Our leading lady is Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) who leads a rather quiet life with her family and friends and whose knowledge of the world comes from the Gothic novels that she eagerly devours.

When given the opportunity to accompany the local well-to-do neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Allen to the city of Bath, Catherine is thrilled in more ways than one to have the chance to maybe find some of that book bound excitement on her own.

 Throughout the film, she does tend to fantasize about being caught up in a Gothic situation with men fighting over her which is dramatically amusing indeed:

While in Bath, Catherine does meet a nice enough man, Henry Tilney(J.J. Feild)who wins the approval of Mrs. Allen for his depth of knowledge about muslins (Henry happens to be a clergyman not a professional clothing designer,btw!).

She also makes a new gal pal In Isabella Thorpe(Carey Mulligan), whose obnoxious brother John turns out to be school buddies with Cathy’s brother James. Isabella says she is romantically interested in James but her eye does wander quite a bit there. Not to mention that her air of worldly sophistication is mostly fueled by gossip and passive aggressive behavior:

Eventually, Catherine is invited to the title estate that is owned by the Tilney family and while Henry and his sister Eleanor are happy to have her stay, they are suspicious of their overbearing father’s intentions towards her as he insists upon his children marrying into wealth (of which Catherine has none).

Catherine does sense some secrets and lies being connected to the Tilney family, especially regarding the sudden demise of  Mrs. Tilney several years ago. Is Catherine right about the wrongs done at Northanger or has she taken her love of Gothic novels a bit too much to heart?

As Jane Austen fans already know, this slyly sweet wink at the popular storytelling tropes of Austen’s day is a low key charmer and this adaptation honors that intention very well there. It’s engagingly good and the two main leads have a solid cup of romantic chemistry brewing for audiences to slowly sip and savor on a stormy night:

Even if you’ve never read Austen, this movie would be a nice introduction to her work or if you just haven’t read this particular book by her,  this version of Northanger Abbey is a delightful way to get that fall feeling flowing. Think of it as the pumpkin spice latte of literature, if you will!

Thank you, one and all, for sharing this experience of seasonal expectation with me either for the first time or once again. I’m not sure what next year will bring for Autumn in August but hopefully, we will be enjoying the eerie anticipation together with a dash of humor and horror:


Thursday, August 17, 2023

Autumn in August reflects upon The Mirror Crack’d

 Thank you once again for attending the LRG midsummer matinee known as Autumn in August . We had just left Hercule Poirot and now paying a call on Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple in the 1980 feature film version of The Mirror Crack’d.

Angela Lansbury plays the friendly yet formidable sleuth whose knowledge of humanity and it’s negative tendencies comes from her seemingly quiet life in the village of St. Mary Mead. 

We get a nice sample of that English small life right from the start as Miss Marple handily gives her friends and neighbors the solution to the murder mystery movie that was interrupted by camera malfunction. Given that this story has a former Hollywood diva set to arrive soon, the meta effect is smoothly done indeed:

The diva in question is Marina Gregg(Elizabeth Taylor) who is planning her big cinematic comeback by starring in a Mary, Queen of Scots film. The local celebration of her arrival is going well for the most part, despite the presence of her co-star Lola Brewster(Kim Novak, to whom bitchiness seems to come naturally), until one of the locals, a woman named Heather Babcock, up and dies on the spot.

With Heather being a young and rather healthy person, clearly her death is due to foul play. Of course up
to that point, the only lethal weapons in the room were the razor sharp barbs that Marina and Lola were deliciously trading like Pokémon cards with each other:

As it turns out, Heather was poisoned but the glass she drank from was not her own; after her guest’s drink was spilled, Marina offered her own beverage as replacement. Now the question is, who wants to kill Marina Gregg?

Unfortunately, Jane has sprained her ankle during the festivities and has to do most of her detective work remotely with the help of her  young housekeeper Cherry(Wendy Morgan) and her nephew(Edward Fox) who just happens to be a Scotland Yard Inspector Detective.

Plenty of suspects abound, including Lola and Ella(Geraldine Chaplin), the personal secretary to Marina’s director husband Jason Rudd(Rock Hudson). As time goes on, however, the sinister spotlight soon focuses on the true killer but not without some pity.

This movie was the first and sadly only time Angela Lansbury played Miss Marple on screen and while this role did lead to her beloved TV series Murder She Wrote, it is a shame that she didn’t get the chance to play this character a couple of more times.

When it comes to Agatha Christie adaptations, the preference for major Hollywood versions tend towards standalone material (like And Then There Were None, for example) or Poirot tales; the latest one from Kenneth Branagh, A Haunting in Venice,is due out this fall. 

Granted, The Mirror Crack’d wasn’t a big hit but that never stops filmmakers from trying again and again. True, Miss Marple has been well represented on the small screen but still, Lansbury was delicately dazzling here and it’s too bad another onscreen opportunity was not given to her. 

Perhaps when both of the artist’s strikes are properly settled in Hollywood, someone might consider taking a chance on bringing Miss Marple back to the silver screen , we shall see there:

For our final Autumn in August presentation, we will be going further back than Agatha Christie although I wouldn’t be surprised if that author didn’t get a little inspiration from Jane Austen’s satirical salute to the Gothic novel craze in Northanger Abbey.

While the 1987 adaptation has it’s bizarre charms, it’s a bit too much like Halloween for this series (yes, I do know that some folks enjoy “Summerween” these days but that’s too soon for my taste). 

The 2007 version is grand fun with such up and coming stars as Felicity Jones and Carey Mulligan getting their Regency romp on that it shouldn’t be missed!:

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Autumn in August seeks some shade from Evil Under the Sun

Welcome back to Autumn in August for another round of Agatha  Christie style killer cocktails via 1982’s Evil Under the Sun.

Peter Ustinov once again plays Hercule Poirot (his second time portraying that particular character onscreen; he did at least four films as that iconic detective) who winds at an island resort on the behalf of a jilted millionaire wanting to reclaim a valuable piece of jewelry from a potential fiancé.

That woman in question is the infamous stage actress Arlena Stuart(Diana Rigg), who quickly dropped one rich man for another more vulnerable one;widower Kenneth Marshall(Denis Quigley) and is taking their honeymoon at a remote island resort run by Daphne Castle(Maggie Smith).

Daphne clearly has a bit of a crush on Kenneth, a regular visitor to the resort(and is certainly nicer to his daughter Linda than Arlena is). As it turns out, Daphne and Arlena were chorus girl rivals back in the day and the torch is lit for that diva feud to strike up again:

In fact, Arlena is pretty much surrounded by people who can’t stand her such as Rex Brewster(Roddy McDowell) a celebrity biographer who Arlena refuses to allow to publish a book about her, the Gardiners(James Mason and Sylvia Miles), husband and wife Broadway producers who Arlena ran out on during a major production and want her to make up to them by starring in a new show.

Most importantly, Christine Redfern(Jane Birkin) has very good reason to despise Arlena as her husband Patrick(Nicholas Clay)is carrying on a very blatant affair with the now Mrs. Marshall right under their mutual new spouses noses.

In fact, Arlena arranged for the handsome yet low wage earning Latin teacher to be on the island with his sickly and cross bride, which certainly raises a few eyebrows there!

However, when Arlena is found dead on a secluded beach, just about everyone has an alibi for the murder. Especially the Redferns, which has Poirot puzzled to be sure. Nevertheless, his little grey cells find a way to solve the case and reclaim that missing diamond brooch to boot.

While Evil Under the Sun is not as intense as Death on the Nile, there is plenty of fun to be found.

Maggie Smith is delightfully amusing at times whether she’s engaging in bitchy comments with Diana Riggs or trying to play amateur detective with Poirot(most of her theories come from crime novels). It’s a charming supporting character performance that displays the talents of the future Dowager Duchess at Downton Abbey perfectly.

Ustinov has a lighter touch with Poirot in this film and it makes his scenes all the more enjoyable. He attempts to amuse the understandably dour Linda with a magic trick, annoy the resort staff with his finicky food requests and his idea of taking a swim has to be seen to be believed:

All in all, Evil Under the Sun is a beach book kind of movie; a lively romp that will make you long for summer in the depths of winter and yet still feel new to you whenever you take it up again.

A nice touch right from the start are the opening credits which showcase a set of sketches (similar to the ones that a character uses to set up their alibi) that give the story a subtle bookish air. Too bad that device wasn’t used for the end credits as well but it still ends nicely there:

Please join us next time for Autumn in August when our Agatha Christie sleuth is Miss Jane Marple in The Mirror Crack’d.

It’s going to be quite the all star event as we not only have Angela Lansbury on deck but the likes of Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis and the great lady herself, Elizabeth Taylor as a once acclaimed movie star who might possibly be the target of a murder plot. Popcorn must be properly popped for this one!: