Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Shaking off 2014 with a party pleasing dance mix

The last day of 2014 is finally here and I think it's safe to say that a good number of us are more than ready to have this year over and done with. To be fair, there were some fun things that happened this year and what better way to celebrate that than with a song and dance?

 Plus, to add a little pop culture perspective, I've paired each of these musical selections from this year with one from the past that compliments it, one way or another. So, if you're looking for song choices for a New Year's Eve bash or just relaxing your way into 2015, here's the LRG 2014 Musical Look Back:


The acceptance movement for large ladies got a sweet spot on the charts as Meghan Trainor cheekily showed off all of her right curves in all the right places with her snappy single "All About That Bass". While we did get several salutes to bountiful booty this year, Meghan's wink and a nod of confidence set her apart from the crowd with a beat that you did want to dance to:

A few years earlier, Mika offered up a charming tribute to plus sized gals with "Big Girl(You Are Beautiful)" that this big girl still finds to be a great toe tapper:


A great burst of comic relief came from Weird Al Yankovic, who wonderfully overwhelmed us with tons of videos from his new album Mandatory Fun. From parodies to original songs, he gave old fans and new plenty to laugh about.

Picking just one song was so hard but I had to go with "Word Crimes" as this tune teaches and/or reminds us about those rules of verbal style that have become rather slack in our age of text talk:

Choosing just one song from Weird Al's vast vault of humorous hum-alongs was just as difficult but since we are getting a new Star Wars, it's best to recall how "The Saga Begins":


A major summer surprise hit was Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy(which I caught up to on DVD and it's truly marvelous) and it's too bad that there is not an Oscar category for "Best Use of a Previously Existing Song" because this movie would totally sweep that section.

One of the many old school classics from Peter "Star Lord" Quill's Awesome Mix was Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling"that actually rock the Billboard charts for awhile this year, due to the trailer for TGOTG alone. So looking forward to the sequel and the melodic memories that it will bring back to audiences everywhere:

With the movie Clueless getting a little bounce in 2014, due to Iggy Azelea's "Fancy", I thought that taking a tune from the original Clueless soundtrack would be ideal. Also, Kim Wilde's "Kids In America" is something that I do believe the Star Lord himself would get down to:

Happy New Year, one and all and I'll see you back here soon at LRG. In the mean time, don't despair about your favorite pop culture fandom followings coming to an end, due to that last movie or TV show airing. These things do have a way of returning, sometimes for the better:

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Starting off a new year of reading with some January/February reads

The arrival of a fresh new year means different things to different people and for literary lovers, this means a whole new stack of books to sort through.

This particular list of upcoming releases for January and February of 2015 is particularly novel heavy but with all that's going on right now, I think we can take a mini-break from non fiction for awhile.

Not to discourage anyone from grabbing up a biography or other real world interest tome(some of us do have gift cards to use and clearance sales to check out) yet on the other hand, you might find a serious work of fiction just as substantial as any non fictional title out there. Hopefully, one or two of these awaiting fictional works will suit your seasonal self very nicely:


Journalist Dmitry Elias Leger takes a real world event as the inspiration for his debut novel God Loves Haiti, which centers it's story line around the major earthquake that struck that nation in 2010.

One of the people who didn't expect such a thing to happen is Natasha, who is planning to escape her husband and flee the country without her lover(who happens to be locked in her bedroom closet). As she is about to take off for a new life in Italy, her husband catches her at the airport just as the quake strikes, changing thousands of lives in an instant.

As she goes through the ruins, Natasha finds herself wondering what direction in life to take next as the rest of her nation struggles to rise from the ashes. A powerful subject that should stir plenty of heartfelt discussion amongst readers(January) .

A much lighter look at the past comes from Nick Hornby, as his latest novel Funny Girl pops back to London of the 1960s. Barbara Parker longs to be the next Lucille Ball, so instead of sticking with her local beauty pageant win, she cashes it in for a ticket to London.

Barbara manages to snag a spot on a BBC sitcom, due to good fortune and a name change. Now as Sophie Straw, she sets out to take the television world by storm but how long her luck will last is anyone's guess. Hornby's rich humor combined with an inside look at British TV should be a pop culture delight to behold(February):


Carrie Synder takes us on an emotional journey in Girl Runner as her 104 year old leading lady,Aganetha "Aggie" Smart, is taking off on one last adventure.

In 1928, Aggie was one of the top female runners in the Olympics, even winning a gold medal for her home country of Canada. However, that victory didn't lead to a life of glamor and acclaim, due to several personal tragedies that drew her into seclusion.

Now, languishing in a nursing home seemingly forgotten, two young people arrive,claiming to be relatives, and whisk Aggie off as part of their film project about former female athletes. Aggie may not be as limber as she used to be but her mind is still somewhat alert and she's willing to see where this unexpected trip plans to take her.

I'm reading this book right now and it is very smartly stimulating prose. Synder's narrative has Aggie going over memories of her past while occasionally checking in on her current situation, which makes you step lively across the pages to keep pace. Girl Runner is an engaging book so far and I hope many folks will take this inventive run some time soon(February):


A Spool of Blue Thread showcases the life of a Baltimore family over more than one generation as Anne Tyler crafts the history of the Whitshank clan, from 1936 when their homestead was built to 1959 when current matriarch Abby met her future husband Red and into the next century.

While the family has their share of love and sorrow, it's the often told tales  of their communal past that keeps their hopes alive during the worst of times. Tyler is one of those authors I dip in and out of, with her humble depictions of middle class people being oddly alluring for me at certain moments.

From what I know of this upcoming book, A Spool of Blue Thread may very well be worth unwinding as it illustrates the quiet nature of family turbulence(February):

Family secrets abound in Kate Riordan's Fiercombe Manor, as young Alice Eveleigh is sent off in disgrace to the English estate of the title in 1933, with her family hoping that the shame of her illegitimate pregnancy will be well hidden there.

During her stay, Alice discovers the writings of a former mistress of the household, Elizabeth Stanton, who had an unfortunate pregnancy of her own some thirty years before. As time goes on, Alice fears that the past may be repeating itself and that she and her expected child may suffer for it.

If you want a dose of Downton Abbey blended with the Gothic suspense of Rebecca, this eerie tale may be your perfect cup of chilling tea(February):


F. Scott Fitzgerald's adventures in Hollywood are the focus of Stewart O'Nan's latest novel, West of Sunset.  F. Scott spent the last three years of his life there as a screenwriter and this story follows him about the movie making landscape of the day.

As he rubs elbows with film stars , romances a brash gossip columnist and  attempts to reconnect with his disjointed family, F. Scott does his level best to retain some sobriety in order to fuel the last remnants of his art but such personal resolve seems to have left him long ago.

For those intrigued by either Hollywood of this age or Fitzgerald's legacy(or both), this book is a reel to real double feature that you'll want to pop some corn for(January):

 I wish you all a Happy New Year of books and may your worst dilemma in that department be figuring out what to buy( it can't be said enough, there's no such thing as too many books!):

Monday, December 29, 2014

A few of my reading resolutions for 2015

As 2014 is nearing the end of it's run, the time to make plans and goals for the upcoming year is now. I tend to go for pop culture resolutions and my reading habits in particular, as those TBR piles  start to reach scary heights.

My goals aren't too lofty,actually, but it's important to shake things up in your literary intake so that your brain is being properly fed the right amount of art and entertainment. Plus, it'll be some time before all of our favorite TV shows are back in action(and yes, my TV Thursday posts will return, most likely by next week), so let's flip some pages and see what's on my immediate horizon:


I like making to-read lists for each season,as I began doing in 2014, and since it seems to be working, I'll keep that up. Mind you, not every book slated for a certain time period gets fully read(James Ellroy is definitely going to take a little longer than I expected, so those books will get a long extension) yet a good number of them do, making the odds rather even there.

In addition to that, I have quite a few "two by the same author" books that I would like to complete, such as Daisy Goodwin's The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter(the latter was a Christmas gift).

A double dose that I'm particularly looking forward to is from Syrie James, whose Jane Austen themed books I've devoured. She does write other non Regency fare and for my Spring Reading List, I plan to include The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte and Dracula, My Love.

As much as I appreciate a look at Charlotte Bronte, the Dracula title intrigues me a bit more, as the story is told from the point of view of Mina Harker as she begins to fall both in love and lust with the renowned vampire king. All the while, being a married woman in the Victorian era and still caring for her husband Jonathan(who was tempted by a few blood sucking babes, if I recall rightly) makes for a rather conflicted lady to say the least.

Romance is lovely but some sexy vampire time is always welcome. James does have a modern day vampire tale as well but I think it would be best to see how sweetly steamy things get with Miss Mina first:


I haven't read any comic books for a good long while and it's time that I did, especially since many of my favorite book vloggers are talking about how great so many of them are these days.

While my book buying budget is small, my book rental service Booksfree does offer graphic novels and comic book collections, so it only makes sense to catch up on the goodness that way. Not all of my picks will be superhero based(altho, I do need some more background info on The Flash and want to check out the best takes on Wonder Woman lately) but many will be in the fantasy category.

I also intend to check out some of the more notable graphic novels and memoirs, such as Alison Bechdel 's Fun Home. Her heartfelt humorous take on her relationship with her father who she discovered was gay(around the same time that she realized that she was as well) just before he died is held up as a high water mark in the field.

As the daughter of an artist who had a strong bond with her dad myself, I have a keen interest in seeing how Bechdel expresses her emotional connection to her family via her work. Insights into artistic development are engaging to watch, even in a medium where the action isn't always readily visible to the audience. The art of cartooning doesn't always get the respect it deserves but books like this bring the genre forward in more ways than one:


With the next half of season one of Outlander due to return to Starz this spring, I really need to get cracking on Book Two. I did start Dragonfly In Amber over the summer but with the show on halt by September, putting the book aside for a while felt right.

Don't get me wrong, the story is great but committing to such a long book when you have so many others on hand, begging for their turn,  slipping a bookmark in to "pause" until some of those must read titles are caught up on is so easy to do. Well, I should be able to get through a decent chunk of DFIA by the time the series has it's premiere in April and that will make me ahead of the game there:

No doubt there will be many more bookish delights to come in 2015, so while I may have a few structures in place, they won't prevent me from enjoying the new page turners to come. A little rereading must be allowed, as the good folks at Pemberley Digital have just launched their latest book adaptation webseries and it's a version of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women!

Little Women is an all-time favorite of mine and having The March Family Letters to look forward to only makes me wish that 2015 was here already. *sigh* Hope nothing too bad happens to Beth in this one(semi-spoiler alert) and how cool is it that Jo make action movies?! OK, I have no choice but to reread Little Women, a pleasure that I will be happy to share with all both on and offline this year. So ready to turn the page on this year, for more reasons than one and happy to find new story telling joys just around the literary bend:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Have yourself a rockin' Christmas Eve!

It is the day before the night before Christmas and since plenty of us will be busy come this time tomorrow, I thought it would be best to set up my annual holiday jukebox list today.

This year's theme is inspired by a Twitter post,oddly enough(yes, I have succumbed to the dark side and signed up for Tweety Bird Land,@deathadderdiva) that asked the question "which song do you hate more-"Jingle Bell Rock or Rocking Around the Christmas Tree?"

While I didn't answer, my response would be "Neither! I like them both!" Granted, any good song can get annoying fast if in constant replay,especially this season ,but some tunes are worth waiting all year for the right time to rock the night away. So, here's a Rocking Christmas Eve playlist for your party hop to get their groove on to:

DECK THE HALL & OATES: My favorite version of "Jingle Bell Rock" is from the eighties, with John Hall and Darryl Oates giving this mellow melody a nice laid back edge. The video for it is delightfully hokey and look for SNL music man G.E. Smith as a holiday reveler:


There are many cover versions of "Rocking Around The Christmas Tree" yet the first one is still considered the best. Brenda Lee was thirteen years old when she recorded this song back in 1958 and it's become one of her signature numbers.

You can actually hear some of it in the background of the TV holiday classic special Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and most of the younger generation know this song from the movie Home Alone. No matter how or where you know it from, this is a real toe tapper of a holiday song:

SISTER SEASONAL SELECTIONS: My sister Stephanie is more of a music person than I am, so I asked her for a couple of choices here and her top picks include Iron Maiden's lead singer Rob Halford's recording of Christmas carols such as "Oh, Holy Night":

Also, she chose a true favorite of hers, singer Jonna Lee, a Swedish performer best known for iamamiwhoami, with her cover version of the Mariah Carey contemporary classic "All I Want for Christmas is You":

 GIFT 'RAPPING: A contemporary classic I love to listen to is Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis", which made it's debut on the original A Very Special Christmas album and is one of the memorable tunes from the first Die Hard movie.

I plan to watch Die Hard this holiday weekend(hey, the story does take place during a Christmas party, after all) and while it may not seem like traditional fare, that movie certainly makes the season bright:

LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL:  I was pleasantly surprised to find that Joan Jett, a true rock n' roll diva, has a holiday song in her roster. Her take on "The Little Drummer Boy" is a thumping good time had by all indeed:

With that, I wish you all happy holidays,season's greetings and may you spend this occasion with those you love and care for.

I'll see you good folks after Christmas and before New Year's Eve, so enjoy those parties yet try to keep the music down a little and pass the eggnog and cookies around as much as possible:

Monday, December 22, 2014

Keeping that Scrooge spirit bright

So, this holiday season I'm taking part in the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge at the Christmas Spirit blog, where you are encouraged to read at least two holiday themed books. I chose to go for three and am on the second book already(not sure I'll make the third but we'll see).

My theme is Scrooge Spirit and of course, I began with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, that time honored Victorian classic known the world over. In rereading the book, I found the pace to be rather quick and invigorating, as Ebeneezer learns his life lessons from the Ghosts of the Christmas just in time to savor the true meaning of the holiday, not to mention provide some solid protein for Bob Crachit's family.

Dickens wrote other Christmas themed stories, such as The Cricket on the Hearth and The Chimes, but A Christmas Carol still leads the pack. It's been the subject of numerous films, from live action to animated, and stage productions, with no signs of stopping any time soon.

 Out of all of the movie adaptations, the one that most Dickensian folks agree keeps strongly to the original material is the 1951 British version(titled "Scrooge" in England) starring Alstair Sim. The slight changes from book to screen only enhance the story, adding a bit more back story that I am most assured Dickens himself would approve of:

At the moment, I'm reading Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard, the Timothy of the title being a grown up Tiny Tim, who still has a limp but is in reasonable good health otherwise.

Timothy is twenty one years of age and in flux, working as a tutor to the madam of a brothel and feeling haunted by the spirit of his father who died several months ago. As Christmas is a few days away, he finds himself involved in a mystery surrounding missing young girls and with the help of a savvy street boy, endeavors to protect an orphaned girl from meeting a gruesome fate.

Not the most cheerful of reads for this time of year, I grant you, and while it's a tad slow paced, the story is quite interesting. For one thing, part of Timothy's mourning is guilt over not living up to the sainted image that his father painted of him(turns out many of those pious Tiny Tim quotes were pure fatherly invention) and his relationship with Scrooge,aka "Uncle N" is rather strained, as the old man keeps to himself in a house where Christmas decor is present year round.

Also, Timothy is disconnected from the rest of his family, some of whom died while others live far apart from each other in more ways than one. I have to give Bayard credit for putting a different spin on the usual depiction of the Cratchit family, that plucky on the edge of poverty clan who take their troubles with a smile(and sometimes a song):

The story of Scrooge is really not a cheerful one to begin with and kind of odd for a season meant to be happy happy joy joy. It's a ghost story,first and foremost, which almost fits into a certain spooky holiday better( the sitcom Roseanne was able to use it for one of their Halloween episodes one season and it worked great).

A Christmas Carol is marketed as a family friendly tale but it's loaded with plenty of doom and gloom, plus scary imagery guaranteed to freak out adults as well as kids. Also, if you think about it, the reflective aspect of the story is very suitable for New Year's Eve, as Scrooge goes over his list of personal regrets and ends up vowing to do better in the upcoming years.

 Unlike most of us, Scrooge is said to stick with his resolutions and become a better person, which makes this story a real fairy tale indeed. No wonder there are so many parodies of Christmas Carol out there, as a sharp dose of satiric acid tones down the potentially cloying flavor of sentimental sweetness the story puts out like a plate of cookies for St. Nick:

Then again, perhaps it's the bitter that helps us appreciate the sweet. In Dickens' day(as it sadly is in ours), there was a lot of social unrest and need for society to be more concerned about the less fortunate in their midst, issues that he addressed again and again in his books.

A Christmas Carol was intended to encourage people to find their better nature and use it for the good of others, which it does. This story does have an international following for a reason and what better universal message is there than "be good to the world and you will be rewarded with kindness in return." I've seen that in my life and I know that many of us have as well.

 By choosing a man near the end of his time on earth, Dickens shows us that even those who appear the least likely to change can do so, if they truly wish it. "Go find some deserving younger person!" Scrooge implores the Ghost of Christmas Present but the spirit stays with him, refusing to give up on even such a miserable soul as Ebeneezer. While not everyone can change, it's good to leave the door open for redemption, just in case(for those willing to walk down the hard road, that is) and perhaps that is what A Christmas Carol is truly all about:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Having a few laughs at a Jane Austen Day party

For Jane Austen fans, this is an early Christmas(or Hanukkah, which begins today) as December 16th is Jane Austen's 239th birthday.

 The Jane Austen Centre in Bath has currently christened this momentous occasion as Jane Austen Day  and there are plenty of celebrations both on and off line going on as we speak. As for me, I thought a small party was in order and what's a party without some laughs along the way?

So, here for your general amusement are a few select clips from Jane Austen adaptations and/or Austen themed media that should start this party off right, one would hope:

SOME MST3K MERRIMENT: One of the best loved parties in all of Austen's books is the famed Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice, where Lizzy finds herself breaking her vow to never dance with a certain Mr. Darcy. Austenesque blogger Meredith Esparza gives us an amusing take on that scene as she offers a touch of Mystery Science Theater 3000 style of commentary(do wish Tom Servo and Crow were there in Regency grab!):


More P&P entertainment here, as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries had worked in Lydia's 21st birthday party into the storyline and Lizzie sought refuge from the extremely festive festivities by vlogging in her room.

Cousin Mary joined her for a break from the scene as well, plus a bit of Costume Theater where we found out why George Wickam was pointedly uninvited to this birthday bash. As much fun as a big party can be, it does help that someone retain their sense and sensibility in order to clean up as well as pitch in during the occasional fiery accident:


Switching over to Emma, the awkward Christmas party scene where Miss Woodhouse discovers that her matchmaking for Harriet and Mr. Elton has gone awry is delightfully included in the web series Emma Approved, this time as a holiday office party.

This modern take on that particular event is pretty fun, as guests take holiday card photos and gifts are exchanged yet Emma's confusion about why Senator Elton isn't as concerned about Harriet's cold as she thought he would be is a slight setback there:


It is hard not to return to P&P themed waters, as Bridget Jones' Diary has a bounty of party going delights.

 Choosing just one is as difficult as selecting the right outfit for a smart party but I think that our Miss Jones's wardrobe mishap at the Tarts and Vicars party(where her boyfriend of the moment Daniel Cleaver talked himself out of attending) fits the bill nicely.

Bad enough that she walked into the party without knowing the change in theme beforehand, running into her mum and the new Mr. Collins like admirer in her mother's life was a rather foul icing that took the cake indeed:

As the party winds down, let us wish all Jane Austen friends everywhere a very happy Jane Austen Day and happy holidays as well.

Parties are all well and good but there does come a time to know when to return home and recover from the frenzy that preparing for such things can bring.  During the party, however, despite the heat that can arise from the dance floor, you should remain cool enough not to discard any of your wardrobe whether your soiree is in Austenland or not:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Checking out some Golden Globe nominees at the Movie Trailer Park

The Golden Globe nominations came out last week, with the usual amount of happy people eager to have their chances at Oscar and Emmy gold being increased(along with those disappointed at being untapped for this honor).

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a few of the movies up for the double Gs that haven't been widely seen just yet. This quartet of potential winners will have major releases after New Year's(with a couple getting a limited Christmas Day opening),so you might want to keep an eye out for them at your local multiplex.

First up is Big Eyes, with director Tim Burton taking on another true story about artists, this one focusing on the infamous Keane paintings that were a big hit in the 1950s. Husband Walter(Christoph Waltz) sold his wife Margaret's(Amy Adams) work and claimed it as his own, which greatly distressed her but due to threats and intimidation, she put up with Walter's outrageous exploitation for years.

Finally, Margaret had had enough and declared her independence as well as the truth about who was the true artist in the family. The film is up for Best Song(another Lana Del Ray theme,she's really cornering the market on these) and Best Actor and Actress nods for Adams and Waltz. Hope that Amy Adams gets an Oscar nom for this one, as this story is a sound reminder of what happens to many trusting artists out there:

Next up is A Most Violent Year,which in this case happens to be 1981. The story is set in New York City as a series of criminal actions lead up to a deadly showdown that threatens the lives of an immigrant family trying to create a small empire for themselves.

Jessica Chastain is up for Best Supporting Actress,although from what I've read, she sounds like the lead. Then again, this does appear to be a rather male centric piece,so maybe her nom is in the right spot. Regardless, AMVY is said to be a gritty Sidney Lumet type of film, so keep on the lookout for it as it might become an Academy Award sleeper surprise:

One movie that is definitely going to be a huge contender in the award show arena is Selma, which already has four Golden Globe nominations.

 Director Ava DuVernay and writer Paul Webb(both nominated) bring the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march to life on screen, with a cast that includes  Lorraine Toussaint, Oprah Winfrey, Tim Roth, Tessa Thompson and David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King,Jr.

Unlike some films that have dealt with this subject lately, Selma appears to be an earnest yet thought provoking take on one of the most turbulent times in U.S. history. Given that we're currently experiencing some of these same social protests(which shows just how far we have and haven't come) right now, to say that this film is timely is quite the understatement indeed:

The Best Actress field is bound to be extra competitive this year but that hasn't stopped Jennifer Aniston from throwing her hat into the ring with Cake, for which she has a GG nom as the female lead for.

She plays Claire Simmons, a snarky woman addicted to pain killers who becomes obsessed with the suicide of a member of her support group(Anna Kendrick) and even seeks out that woman's remaining family in order to find a way to reconnect with life.

Aniston does have the chops for arthouse fare and she's gotten some film festival buzz for the film already(plus a SAG nom). This might lead her to Oscar territory but not sure if she'll take the award home with the likes of Reese Witherspoon on her heels. On the other hand, let's not get ahead of ourselves on this:

The Golden Globes will be handed out on January 11,2015 and for the third time in a row, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey will be on deck as co-hosts. Should be a fun show and as they say, the third time's the charm(although the first two have been as well). With the Sony Pictures hack scandal still being fresh by then, these gals should have plenty of material from that alone to make some mocking mince meat out of for our amusement, I'm sure:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Syrie James gives us some summer lovin' with Jane Austen's First Love

Author Syrie James has done very well when it comes to writing novels about literary figures, particularly Jane Austen as her prior books The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen and The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen have shown us eager readers.

Her newest title,however, Jane Austen's First Love, pretty much outdoes them both as this story sheds a little light on Austen's life and times, particularly , a romantic leading man that came into her life well before a certain Tom Lefroy(considered to be the one great love of her life) arrived on the scene.

Here, we find Jane at fifteen, anxious to be out and about in the world, especially when it comes to dances and being allowed the fashionable privilege of powdering her hair. Upon the news of her brother Edward's engagement to Elizabeth Bridges, Jane and her sister Cassandra(along with one of her brother and the ever anxious Mrs. Austen in tow) go off to Kent during the summer of 1791 to meet the in-laws.

A bit of carriage trouble finds Jane being introduced to one of the Bridges' neighbors, a Mr. Edward Taylor of Bifrons. Edward and Jane seem to get along instantly, as they both share a lively wit and enjoyment of daring challenges such as a walk across the top of a high garden wall. While she does her best to keep her strong liking for him under wraps, Jane can not help but show off her playful side, much to the dismay of her sister and mother:

Jane does not cause a true scandal, of course, but her great desire to be well thought of by Edward leads to much excitement when the chance for attending a dance held by family and friends arises.

Even with the grand allowance of powdering her hair for the occasion, Jane becomes a bit anxious about her opportunities for dancing with Edward as his cousin Charlotte is being gently but firmly pushed as a desirable partner for him and not just for a dance. Nonetheless, she and Edward do get a moment on the dance floor to themselves and their conversation proves to be just as nuanced as their steps:

Although Jane realizes that the chance of her and Edward being together are slim, due to the vast differences in their fortunes, she does hold out a little hope there.

She decides to spend some of her energy in a bit of matchmaking, as another sister of Elizabeth's named Fanny is also engaged and seems rather displeased with her choice of future husband. To that end, Jane proposes during a rainy set of days for a home theatrical to be put on by the assembled young people.

The play chosen is Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Eve(to be held on Midsummer's Day) and while the production goes off without a hitch, the intended romance rearrangement backfires, leaving Jane ashamed of her presumption in that regard. That is not the only disappointment to be had as she slowly comes to realize that Edward Taylor has a few flaws such as a reckless urge to take risks that endanger more than himself,leading to the first real argument between them:

 Things are soon set to right but not without a price to be paid and a small touch of heartbreak. The entire experience may not have worked out as Jane would have liked,however the inspiration for her novels yet to be are planted in her mind for future reference.

I was granted the chance to discuss Jane Austen's First Love as part of Syrie James' Holiday Blog Tour for the book and am delighted to be spreading the good word about this delightful book. Ms. James has a strong flair for Regency era writing and she captures the essence of our dear Jane remarkably well.

She did a good amount of research here, as many of the characters are real life figures, and her findings are woven into the story along with hints of Austen's own characters in a way that doesn't stop the action of the plot into a full halt. Even if you think you know all there is to know about Jane Austen, this story offers a good number of surprises and suspenseful moments. Plus, you do root for Jane and Edward to be together, one way or another.

My thanks to Laurel Ann Nattress for inviting me to take part in this blog tour(which does have several giveaway opportunities to check out here) and much appreciation to Ms. James for providing us with such a charming love story based upon one of our greatest literary heroines. Jane Austen may not have gotten her full happily ever after but she has blessed us all with many a fine romance better than any fairy tale could be:

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The LRG Best Books of 2014

Best books of the year lists are piling up these days, much like many of our bedside reading tables(and other spare spots in your home for new reads). My two cents is small indeed on this subject yet I do like to highlight those special titles that made my year of reading so memorable.

I must confess that one of my choices actually is from 2013(didn't get a copy of it until this year) and felt it deserved to be included, as this particular tale was exceptionally well told.

So, without further ado, here are the Living Read Girl picks for Best Books of 2014 and if you're looking for a good read or holiday gifts, any of these would be absolutely perfect delights to behold:


 Erin Lindsay McCabe's Civil War drama, I Shall Be Near To You, takes historical fiction and romance onto a new level of art, as her story of Rosetta Wakefield, who follows her newly wed husband Jeremiah into the ranks of the Union army under the guise of "Ross Stone" is a sincerely touching look at the bravery of both men and women.

Ross/Rosetta's  journey across the war torn landscapes that lead to the infamous battle of Antietam is an emotional voyage that changes more than one life and one person's fate. McCabe based her novel upon the numerous true life accounts of women on both sides of the war who joined the fight in male personae and her research goes hand in hand with the rough beauty of her prose.

This book was a Goodreads nominee for Best of 2014(I know I voted for it!) and I hope many others come to discover this heartfelt story before her next book comes out.

Granted, California by Edan Lepucki was fortunate enough to have the Colbert bump propel it forward into readers' hands but it was an honor well bestowed. This look at a young couple in a not too distant future considering their limited options,in the wake of an unexpected pregnancy, is a timely and thought provoking read worth delving into on it's own merits.

California takes stock of how different sections of society hold up when the main structure of their world collapses,from those eking out an existence on their own to "Communities" that  provide refuge and relief but demand an unspoken price for such benefits.

As Cal and Frida struggle to figure where they belong and what directions their lives should take, it's the subtly sweet battle for their hearts and minds(as well as their relationship) that makes this book stand out from the rest of the dystopian pack:


Professor Azar Nafisi, best known as the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, embraces the literature of her newly adopted country in The Republic of Imagination, which blends memoir with literary(and occasionally social) critique, by taking three novels as solid defining points for what it means to be American.

Whether you've already read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Babbitt or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter(along with the works of James Baldwin), this examination of how each book defines different elements of the American character makes them more readable than ever before.

I, for one, am inspired to tackle The Heart is a Lonely Hunter(it's going on my spring reading list for next year),thanks to Professor Nafisi and hopefully she'll write a sequel that explores the many other wonderful books she wanted to include here but didn't have the room for:


Yes, I know that Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch came out last year but it wasn't until my birthday this past spring that I finally had a copy of my own to read(plus, her other two works).

Despite the naysayers who took great joy in ripping this Pulitzer Prize winner apart, I found this elaborate novel just as immensely awesome as the seemingly humble painting that inspired the lead character Theo to guard it against all costs.

You do have to have patience and a taste for Dickensian flair to appreciate this book yet the old adage about such trips being more about the journey than the destination is well defined within these engaging pages. It is a pity that some people just can't let others enjoy a fine work of art without the need to splatter mud upon it but that is their failing , not ours.

 After the cinematic success of The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick's latest novel, The Good Luck of Right Now, had a lot to live up to.

 Even if you haven't seen or read TSLPB, Quick is still in fine form here as his leading man Bartholomew Neal copes with the ups and downs of his life by writing letters to Richard Gere, based upon finding a Free Tibet letter in his deceased mother's belongings.

Believing that a spiritual connection exists between them, Bartholomew pours out his heart in these unsent letters as he and the small group of folks in his slowly expanding sphere of existence are working on finding a better way of life. Packed with humor and heartbreak, TGLORN is a sure sign that Quick is more than just the Hollywood flavor of the moment:


 A good amount of hype,along with a pre-sale of the film rights, heralded the arrival of The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, the intended first of a trilogy. I am happy to report that not only is the novel worthy of such advance praise, seeing where this series is going to go is a big part of the fun.

As ungainly heroine Kelsea Glynn fights to take hold of the throne that her beautiful but thoughtless mother Elyssa couldn't manage, her courage and vulnerability make for a fantasy character that relates well with modern readers.

While it does have some familiar territory to cover, Johansen's unique twist is to have a female lead use her innate wits and education to stake her claim as Queen in order to protect and serve her country. When the movie does hit the theaters, hopefully it will do justice to this entertainingly engaging concept.

Speaking of film, with all of the attention regarding the upcoming Wonder Woman movie these days, a good source of background info about that DC diva can be found in Wonder Woman Unbound.

Living up to it's subtitle, "the curious history of the world's most famous heroine", blogger Tim Hanley traces the pop culture path of the Amazon princess from her eyebrow raising creator William Marston to her adoption as a feminist icon during the sixties and seventies to the impact of Lynda Carter's TV incarnation.

WWUB is a smartly written take on such a classic yet controversial figure in comic book history that should be in every comic collector's library as well as a pop culture follower's collection. For those wondering about the current state of women in comics, I highly recommend bookmarking Straitened Circumstances for Hanley's updates and thoughts on the subject. When it comes to Wonder Woman, Hanley is as much of a true ally as Steve Rogers ever was(perhaps a bit better) as this book showcases the power of strong female characters in media both then and now:

 Well,that's it for this year but stay tuned for more great reads in 2015, folks. For us die hard readers, it's no trouble to keep it all about the books there:

Friday, December 05, 2014

The LRG List of Top Pop Culture Videos of 2014

The time has come for Best of the Year lists and one that I like to put together is for videos from some of my favorite web series. They're a mix of parodies, thoughtful analysis and literary goodness with a big emphasis on pop culture realness(and most importantly, fun).

A huge must-watch for me and many others is Cecil Trachenburg's Good Bad Flicks that does much more than lovingly mock mediocre cinema. He also provides insider info about the making of certain films, plus in depth looks at how movies in general are marketed and the changes made over the years for good or ill.

 One of his strongest pieces to date is "WTF Happened to PG-13?", the MPAA rating  introduced in the 1980s that was meant to liberate mature content in mainstream movies but has instead become another form of artistic restraint:

A less serious look at modern day films comes from a new series put out by the gang at Wisecrack(which also does Thug Notes and 8-Bit Philosophy) called Earthling Cinema.

Space alien archivist Garyx Wormuloid,(aka comedian Mark Schroeder) gives his take on what is left of Planet Earth's cinematic past in ways that are greatly amusing. For one thing, the way humans consume food is considered upsetting to intergalactic audiences, so censor bars are common for such scenes.

For some flicks, an outsider approach is the best way to examine and a prime example of that is this dissection of Mean Girls, which makes this teen satire seem very Wild Kingdom indeed:

Speaking of Thug Notes, I was pleased as blood red punch that the selection for Halloween this year was Bram Stroker's Dracula.

 If you're not familiar with this series, let me break it down for you; Professor Sparky Sweets( actor Greg Edwards) gives his entertaining everyman synopsis of literature ranging from classics such as Pride and Prejudice(the first one I saw) and Hamlet to present day fare like The Hunger Games.

Don't let the casual flow fool you, Thug Notes offers smart and savvy analysis of great books that teachers and students both use in their studies. Also, it's creative catnip for book folks to sit back and enjoy:

I've watched more Book Tube folks this year and grown fond of a few, such as Rincey Reads and Ron Lit, whose book reviews and examination of literary trends offer some fresh perspective into my bookish world.

The one lady that got me hooked into this scene is Sarah of Mothereffing Books, who has launched a side line series within her web series entitled "Oh My God, This is Terrible, You Should Watch It".

Sarah and her good friend Chris get together to view exceptionally awful movies(both of the High School Musical features have been on the line-up) and give their spirited opinions on them. My favorite of them all is their breakdown of the film adaptation of Vampire Academy, which sounds a lot hilariously better than I suspect the movie actually is. I hope she and Chris keep this up because they make a great Siskel and Ebert pairing here:

I'll wrap this up with another Disney themed offering from the AVbyte brothers who released a sinister sweet mini-musical salute to cartoon villianesses, featuring Maleficent as the fearsome front runner.

2014 certainly has been a year of ups and downs, with a strong chance that more will come our way before the clock strikes midnight for 2015. In times like these, it's good to see people use their creativity to advance the arts not just for fun but entertaining enlightenment as well.

Let's hope that 2015 will lit more imaginative fires and much thanks to the folks mentioned here for making this year a bit more bearable. Despite what some evil doers might think, a happy ever after is a dream that can come true: