Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, December 30, 2016

My Year with Hemingway chimes out as we learn For Whom The Bell Tolls

I suppose it's oddly ironic that my last post of 2016 should be the wrap-up of My Year with Hemingway reading project. Like most of this year, this challenge had a lot of ups and downs,along with plenty of sad moments.

 Yet, it was a fulfilling one that did offer me some insight into a great American author, not to mention some excellent reads, which made it all worth while.

 My final Hemingway novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls, is certainly not a cheery book for this time of year as it takes place in Spain during their Civil War in the late 1930s, which was well known to Hemingway as he was a war corespondent over there during that period.

Most of the story is told through the eyes of Robert Jordan, an American who has joined the fight against the fascist forces overrunning the country. Jordan is sent to work with a group of guerilla fighters on a mission to blow up a bridge that could be crucial in an upcoming battle.

 As he meets up with the group lead by the laconic Pablo, Jordan slowly yet surely bonds with them all and in particular with Maria, a young woman who is still recovering from the horrors of war. As the time grows near for the attack, tensions rise, loyalties are questioned and dreams for the future become just that, dreams and nothing more:

The book has been made into a film more than once; the best known version being the 1943 one starring Gary Cooper as Jordan and Ingrid Bergman as Maria that won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for co-star Katina Paxinou.

I don't know if I will see that movie anytime soon but if they do a remake, I think Quentin Tarantino should write and direct. A good portion of this story involves intense conversations with occasional bouts of violence, a trope that he's dead familiar with.

Frankly, I'm surprised that Tarantino hasn't done any Hemingway adaptations as both he and Ernest do share a deep interest in exploring interpersonal relationships that go awry along with a taste for juicy monologues and the verbal profane. Maybe someone should pass a copy of the book over to Tarantino, just to see if he'll be inspired to make his mark on such material:

Hemingway met up with the woman who was to be his third wife,Martha Gellhorn, during his time in Spain and it's no coincidence that the book is dedicated to her.

Also not a coincidence that the two main women in this novel are two of the strongest females that Hemingway ever wrote. Pilar, the woman who stands at Pablo's side(and at times, way ahead of him) is a formidable person in her own right.

She's tough and cynical, yet has a soft spot in her heart for the likes of Jordan, Maria and even Pablo when he goes back and forth between loyalties.

One of the most powerful portions of the book is when Pilar relates to Jordan an account of Pablo and company wiping out fascist sympathizers in a small town. That whole story would make a movie unto itself,as she tells it with true feeling and precise detail.

Maria may appear to be a shrinking violet at first but as Jordan gets to know her better, her inner core of strength is revealed. Her love for Jordan is fierce, reminding me of a certain gal from Game of Thrones who would be just as quick to tell Robert Jordan that he knows nothing:

All in all, I have to say that For Whom The Bell Tolls is an epic look at the small scale in love and war. Don't know if I'll read it again but I am glad that I took the time to do so.

So, my Year with Hemingway is done and in conclusion, my overall impression of him is that of a man conflicted in both life and art. Granted, that doesn't excuse any of his faults yet his work does showcase what was best in him, which is more that most people are able to leave behind them.

I do have another reading project lined up for 2017(it's much less intense) and I'll take part in a blog tour and/or a readathon along the way, to be sure. One thing that I feel confident in saying as both this year and my reading time with Hemingway ends is that despite whatever the world throws in our path, we can face it together with a good book by our side.

As part of this project, I've had fun matching up songs to the books and this number from Les Miserables entitled "The Red and The Black" fits FWTBT like a glove to me. The song,sung by a number of characters, illustrates well the push-pull between romantic love and love for a cause, themes that ring throughout the book.  Hopefully, this time next year, there will be less of angry men and that we will see the night that ends at last:

Thursday, December 29, 2016

My holiday book haul and setting up for some Series-ous Reading in the new year

I know that we're in the midst of returns season(which is running smack into clearance sales celebrations) but I'm quite satisfied with my holiday gifts, especially the bookish ones.

Speaking of bookish, thanks to The True Book Addict's Bookish Secret Santa and my assigned gift giver Nicole, a lovely new addition to my library is Jenny Colgan's latest novel, The Bookshop on the Corner.

The shop mentioned in the title is actually a van, a mobile bookstore named The Little Shop of Happy Ever After(which happens to be the British title of this book) that newly displaced librarian Nina Redmond starts up with tons of tossed out books from her former branch.

Since the regulations for parking and selling are a tangle of red tape in her home city of Birmingham, Nina winds up taking her business to small towns in Scotland where the lack of libraries and bookstores are being most keenly felt. She also winds up settling in one particular spot and making some new friends along the way.

While Nina is finding her joy in doing what she does best,matching up books with people, she finds a bit of opportunity for romance that could be just as exciting as the ones from her favorite books. Yet, as in those stories, the true course of love doesn't run smooth but a happily ever after for her is not completely out of reach.

So far, this is a delightful read with engaging characters and gorgeous descriptions of Scotland that makes the wait for the next season of Outlander even harder to bear. Colgan has a charming knack for setting up typical story situations for her heroine that feel fresh and lively on the page. The love of books that Nina has is so relatable that you wish she was just down the street with a great new read to recommend.

 Much thanks again to Nicole Huff for sending me this wonderful book(along with a set of Wonder Woman pens and Winter Spice tea) and I do hope that you have a lovely little bookshop like this one not too far from home:

As for my other book gifts, three of them are by the same author,Lauren Willig, and the same series as well. What I'm planning as a blog project for 2017 is a year long bout of what I'm calling "Series-ous Reading" as I intend to catch up with two series of historical fiction, Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen Mysteries and Willig's The Pink Carnation.

The latter is a string of books that have a modern day heroine, Eloise Kelly, discovering the history of a secret spy ring during the Napoleonic Wars and in particular, several female spies, the most elusive of all being the Pink Carnation.

I have read the first two books as well as a couple of the later ones but I do want to try and get back on track by taking up the third book, Deception of the Emerald Ring. That particular book does have an Irish location at one point but I think that I'll be reading it well before St. Pat's Day there.

 It was one of my Christmas presents along with The Garden Intrigue and Mark of the Midnight Manazilla. That last one I might save for October as the main plot has a vampire theme and that seems very suitably sinister for that time of year.

 I will be posting reviews of the books as I go along and I hope that many of you out there will be happy to follow along with me, especially if you are a fan of either series. Lauren Willig does have non-Pink Carnation novels that are just as highly praised but I really want to delve into her take on the Scarlet Pimpernel legend more deeply:

During my Series-ous Reading time, I will be checking out the first book of other series to see if I want to tackle the entire set of titles that follows it.

One of those books I do have some knowledge of, as I saw the new PBS adaptation of Anne of Green Gables over the past Thanksgiving weekend. That was a nice film but reading the book feels like the best to truly appreciate the antics of Anne Shirley and friends.

My Christmas copy is a recent reprint with lovely cover art from Sourcebooks and if this one enchants me enough, I may add the other new editions from this publisher to my home library as well. No doubt, L.M. Montgomery reads well in any edition but I did want to meet her special girl with the right amount of bells and whistles:

Happy rest of the holiday season to everyone and I'll have more about my Series-ous Reading plans in the new year.  In the meanwhile, do your best to handle the post-seasonal blues, even if all you have left is a whisper of peppermint:

Monday, December 26, 2016

Ring in a New Year of reading with these January/February books of 2017

I do hope that everyone had a Merry Christmas(and still enjoying the Hanukkah season as well) and no doubt, plenty of you had some bookish delights among your holiday presents.

However, some of those gifts were in the form of gift cards and with plenty of new books coming out in the new year,the time to place those pre-orders is now.

This list of books due to be released in January and February are all works of fiction(don't worry, non-fiction will be highlighted in future preview posts) but the fact is that at least one of them should be a future gift you'll want to give to yourself:


 It's been awhile since Min Jin Lee's last novel, Free Food for Millionaires, came forth but her newest book promises to be well worth the wait.

 Pachinko chronicles the fortunes of a family starting from Korea in 1910, where Sunja, the granddaughter of a humble fisherman, marries a minister at her parents' boarding house in order to preserve her honor and start a new life in Japan.

Sunja's children wind up building mini-dynasties, with one son running a chain of pachinko parlors and other a brilliant scholar. Nevertheless, secrets from the past are still out there and a man who has persisted in being a part of the family's life in one way or another could reveal all. The story spans several generations and with the powerful beauty of the author's writing, could become an instant classic to last many generations more(February).

Lydia Peelle tells the tale of two men who are almost like family in The Midnight Cool, as grifter Billy Monday and his young apprentice Charles McLaughlin work their verbal magic by selling mules to folks eager to get into the growing war in Europe.

However, the fellas met their match in Tennessee of 1916 , where they purchase a possible prize winning horse. Unfortunately, that mare has a bad habit of leading her riders to their deaths. To make matters worse, Charles falls in love with Catherine, the daughter of the former owner, and their growing bond threatens the one between Billy and Charles.

When a bad shipment of mules puts Billy in a bad spot, it's up to Charles to see if he can fix not only that situation but make a move that will determine all of their futures. This is Peelle's first novel(her previous book was a collection of short stories) and it sounds like a remarkable story that encompasses love, honor and duty in the best sense of those words(January):


 In Beatriz Williams' new novel, The Wicked City, our leading lady is Ella Hawthorne, who moves into an old Greenwich Village apartment upon leaving her faithless husband.

 While there, she learns the history of the place that hide a speakeasy  in the basement during the 1920s ,where a rather notorious flapper named Geneva"Gin" Kelly had quite the romantic adventures that lead her into taking down a big league bootlegger.

Inspired by the antics of Gin Kelly, Ella decides to find her own big city thrills with the help of a handsome new neighbor. Beatriz Williams does have a flair for fabulous ladies of the past and present, with this book being the launching pad for a new series of old school stylish women who can give as good as they can get when it comes to men and the trouble they bring(January):

The title character of Miranda Emmerson's debut novel, Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars, is the London theater dresser for Iolanthe Green, an American actress who vanishes one night after her regular performance in November of 1965.

As the case grows cold, only Anna Treadway remains bound and determined to find out what happened to Iolanthe. She is joined on her quest by outsiders like herself, including a coffee house owner and his rebellious daughter as well as an Irish cop and an accountant with a taste for literature.

Their search for the truth leads this unlikely pack of detectives into some rather strange places and answers to more than one question could impact them more personally than expected. A mix of quirk and mystery, this story sounds like the perfectly punchy cup of tea to me(February):

Sara Flannery Murphy showcases a literally haunting world in her debut novel The Possessions, where with the aid of a certain drug, people can channel the dead for those able to pay for the privilege.

Eurydice has been a "body" for the Elysian Society for five years and until now has never gotten involved with her clients beyond work. Upon channeling Sylvia, the recently deceased wife of Patrick Braddock, a lawyer who is somewhat suspected in her death by drowning, she finds herself becoming more connected to both of them.

As Eurydice struggles with being attracted to Patrick and memory flashes from Sylvia, she is coming close to discovering some truths that could turn deadly for all involved. Could be quite the intensely thoughtful thrill ride that would make for a fun read indeed(February):

A PORTRAIT OF FRIENDSHIP: Author Kayla Rae Whitaker takes on the tough topic of women in the cartoon/comic book world in her novel The Animators, where college class gal pals Mel and Sharon are hoping to make their mark on.

As the two of them manage to do well as an animation team, with a biographical film about Mel's life gaining a bit of prestige, Sharon is struck by an unexpected illness that puts her past into focus. Using this experience to create a second movie, the ties between the two friends start to become a bit frayed.

Female friendship stories tend to go down a certain route but Whitaker appears to be going for more of an in-depth look into what motivates such connections, along with the question of how does personal experience and pain truly inspire art. A smart yet emotional exploration into what it really means to be a woman artist(January):

I know it's a bit early but I do wish a Happy New Year to us all, even as that new start has many troubling aspects up ahead there. One steady constant that may help us weather those future storms is the promise of new and wonderful books to read, a promise that will certainly last longer than any of those New Year's resolutions that are made once the midnight party is over:

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Singing Santa songs on the way to the Christmas Carpool Karaoke

With Christmas only a few days away, I plan on taking a brief blog break but it has been my tradition to set up a playlist of holiday themed tunes to entertain everyone in the merry meantime.

Since one of the songs that I always like to include is Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollis"(featured on the original A Very Special Christmas album as well as the Yuletide action classic movie Die Hard), I took a cue from that song and decided to do a set of Santa Claus numbers.

After all, "Christmas in Hollis" starts off with doing a good deed for Santa and being well rewarded for it, not to mention that wacky elf in the video who seems to be having too good of a time keeping an eye on things while his boss is out. Plus, this is a great song for any office party, guaranteed to have you chilling and grooving like a snowman on the dance floor:

 Next up is Eartha Kitt with "Santa Baby", a song she originally sang in 1953 and then re-recorded in 1963, the latter being the basis for many a cover version.

Not all of those covers were to Ms. Kitt's liking as this video shows in a performance where she serves up a shot of sweet shade before gifting her audience with her stylish sassy voice.

Personally, I would consider it a honor to be mentioned in any context during a number by one of most iconic divas of our time but that's just me. Regardless of that, Eartha does show everyone just how it's done and then some:

Another great song from that first A Very Special Christmas album is the Pointer Sisters' "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", which they performed several times on TV.

The clip that I found of this rendition might be from the 1980s music series Solid Gold(I loved watching the Solid Gold dancers!) but I couldn't swear to it. Not that you should swear during this time of year to begin with....oh, let's just enjoy the song,shall we?:

And for our last Santa song, we present Buster Poindexter with his quirky take on "Iz That You,Santa Claus?"

 For those of you wondering who this dapper Dan is, Buster Poindexter was a musical alter ego for David Johansen, who was the front man for the protopunk band The New York Dolls back in the day.

Being Buster allowed him to sing in styles that weren't associated with him such as calypso, jazz and just plain goofy stuff. Granted, his character is an "either you like him or you don't" type yet you can't deny the flavorful fun he delivers here:

To round things off, I have a double dose of Carpool Karaoke, Christmas style. Despite how hectic and at time down right horrifying this year has been, one pop culture spot has always managed to lift our collective spirits and that is the simple musical magic of James Corden and his singalong passengers. Let's begin with Mariah Carey and company as they tell us all they want for Christmas:

Happy Holidays to all and much thanks to everyone who takes the time to check out this blog on a regular basis, I truly appreciate it. See you all next week, with a little New Years' wrap-ups and a new reading project for 2017.  For now, please enjoy the perfect caroling capper as  James, the incomparable Reggie Watts and friends offer us "Joy to the World", something we really need for next year and beyond:

Monday, December 19, 2016

Some last minute literary recommendations for your holiday shopping list

With both Christmas and Hanukkah coming down the home holiday stretch this upcoming weekend, the rush to get all of your present buying done is even more hectic than ever.

One way to make those perfect purchases conveniently  in one stop is at your local bookstore. After all, books are gifts that keep on giving through out the year and as a humble suggestion, I have a trio of titles that might allow you to check off a few boxes on your shopping list for the season:

FOR THE GILMORE GIRLS FAN: They're thrilled about the Netflix revival and have all of the seasons(even the debatable seventh one), not to mention just about every T-shirt,coffee cup and item that has a Stars Hollow sticker on it.  Sounds hard to shop for, but Louise Miller's debut novel, The City Baker's Guide to Country Living, should suit them well.

The leading lady of this story is Olivia Rawlings, a Boston pasty chef who has to leave her post at a exclusive dinner club when her latest dessert sets the place on fire. Her plans to start over begin in the town of Gutherie,VT, where her good friend Hannah lets Olivia know about an opening at the Sugar Maple inn, run by the gruff and ever sweater wearing Margaret Hurley.

Olivia and her dog Salty soon settle into their new home and job, which has a kitchen that's far from ideal but the new friends and surroundings soon make up for that.

Along the way, She soon learns that Margaret is determined to recapture the blue ribbon glory that the Sugar Maple apple pies have held for years(there's an entire room in the inn covered in awards to prove it) yet has lost out on recently.

In addition, Olivia befriends a local family with a rather handsome yet slightly mysterious musician son named Martin. Her luck with love has never run smooth but perhaps this time, Olivia can win the blue ribbon for romance as well as pie.

I've been listening to this book on audio( narrator Jorjeana Marie has a lovely voice) and the language here has a tart sweetness that makes you want another bite of this story telling treat. It's as if Sookie St. James from GG had her own special series or a Waitress style musical dedicated to her:

FOR THE BUDDING CARTOONIST: This person may have a burning desire to be the next big artist for DC or Marvel yet also might want to create the new Charlie Brown or Calvin & Hobbes for this generation.

In order to do the latter, a good place to start would be the work of George Herriman, who influenced the likes of Charles Schultz and Bill Watterson with his groundbreaking Krazy Kat comics. The strip ran from 1913 to 1944 and is considered one of the most outstanding works of pop art.

Michael Tisserand's new biography of Herriman, Krazy, is subtitled "A Life in Black and White", which refers to more than the paper and ink that gave Krazy Kat life. Herriman was born into a Louisianian Creole family but upon moving to Los Angeles, was able to reinvent him as white in order to blend in and be able to work in an industry that would not have opened their doors to him.

Tisserand explores the connection between Herriman's life and art, which allowed him to make social commentaries about race and class in a subtle fashion for many of his readers.

A full panoramic view is given of Herriman's world, including insights into the publishing realm of Hearst's newspapers, the cultural differences between L.A. and New York(where he worked for a brief time) and the toll that keeping his true racial identity a secret took on him.

The book is beautifully designed as well, with a number of Krazy Kat cartoons included in the chapters. However, I would recommend adding a collection of Krazy Kat comics to this brilliant new biography as the ideal gift set for those looking for real pen and ink inspiration:

FOR THE OLD FASHIONED MOVIE LOVER: If you know someone who loves to say "They don't make them like they use to" when film talk comes up and can quote The Godfather or The Untouchables on command, Dennis Lehane's Live By Night might be their perfect popcorn page turner.

The story chronicles the rise and fall of Joe Coughlin, the son of a corrupt Boston cop who makes his own bootlegging empire in Tampa during the Prohibition era. Joe may be a cool customer in business but his innate loyalties find him caught in more than one crossfire between warring rivals, along with affairs of the heart.

Lehane's smooth style and emotional depth makes this more than your average gangster tale and now that the novel has been adapted for film,with Ben Affleck as the star and director, this sounds like a good book to read while waiting for your movie tickets there:

Well, I hope this helps a few of you out as you head out to do that last bout of shopping before the big day arrives. At the very least, this little list might prevent you from launching into a Luke Danes type of rant about all the trouble gift buying can be, which is a bonus gift to yourself:

Friday, December 16, 2016

An awkward guest list for Jane Austen's birthday party

Today, we celebrate the 241st birthday of Miss Jane Austen, who many regard as one of the most brilliant authors in literary history. From Pride and Prejudice to Persuasion, her fictional contributions to society are immeasurable.

Such a fine lady deserves a proper party on just such an occasion as this but what if someone mixed up the Who to Invite with the Perhaps We Should Not list? In that case, there would be some amusement to be found as the meeting of these particular minds would undoubtedly cause quite a commotion as we shall soon see:

OH,MR. COLLINS!: Arriving far too early would be this devoted supplicant of Lady Catherine De Burgh, eager to sing her ladyship's praises rather than the lady for whom the party is being held in the first place.

Of course, he would find a moment to make one of those well rehearsed compliments of his that are"always acceptable" to Miss Austen and perhaps even compare her home to one of the best guest rooms at Rosings, which for him is high praise indeed:

LADY CATHERINE THE LESS THAN GREAT: As to her ladyship, she would most condescendingly attend and more than likely have her daughter Anne waiting outside in the carriage, the better to make a quick departure once her duty is done.

Most of her conversation would be about the inconvenience of such a gathering during the holiday season, the lack of notable persons to make such a long journey worth the effort and how she herself would have a far better party at Rosings.

No doubt, she would insist on changing the venue of the party and firmly request that Miss Austen join her outside to discuss the matter further, which would certainly lead to quite the verbal battle worth overhearing(discreetly, of course):

ENTER THE ELTONS: No doubt, Mr. Elton and Mr. Collins would be happy to exchange comparisons of local patronesses with each other,although I suspect that Mr. Collins might find his new friend to have been a bit presumptuous in his first choice for the position of wife.

Charlotte,on the other hand, would have to deal with Mrs. Elton and her constant chatter about her "caro spouso",her plans for a musical society of some sort and how surprisingly respectable her new neighbors are. Poor Charlotte, not even daily doings at Rosings could truly prepare her for this:

WINKLING IS COMING: There are many delights to be had in the company of Mrs. Jennings,as her favorite son-in-law will vouch for, and certainly among company such as this, she would be a welcome face in the crowd.

However, some of that pleasure would arise from her attempting to "winkle" a few secrets out of Lady Catherine and trying to think of a few suitable suitors for poor Anne, not to mention making sport of such uptight fellows as Mr. Collins and Mr. Elton.

Hopefully, Miss Austen will suggest some musical entertainment as a distraction and probably play the pianoforte herself in order to keep the considerable peace before her birthday cake is to be served:

Even with such a contentious lot in attendance, any party with Jane Austen's characters would be a true treat. If it were not for her snobbish ladies and pompous gentlemen, we would not be as able to appreciate the polite charms of her heroes and heroines as much as we do.

Before departing such an engaging party, I must mention that Caroline Bingley would certainly contrive to make an appearance with reluctant companions in tow.

 Although she is the mistress of subtle verbal stings, I do think that even the firm resolve of Mr. Darcy would crack if Caroline persisted on making too many feline remarks about the dancing being done at Miss Austen's party. All of this would only cause Jane to sneak off with Elizabeth Bennet for a much needed private moment of mirth, which makes any birthday celebration all the better:

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Everything old is new again at the 2017 Movie Trailer Park

While we still have a few new movies to get to before the last bell on New Year's Eve has chimed, one of the somewhat positive things to look forward to for 2017 are the fresh flicks set to arrive then.

However, a good number of those films will be reboots/remakes/revivals of former cinematic and/or TV fare. Such a development isn't an automatic recipe for success or disaster but let's check out a handful of 2017 trailers that are clearly on this bandwagon.

First up is Spiderman Homecoming, which is giving us a newer,younger version of the web crawler who was recently showcased in Captain America; Civil War. This Peter Parker(Tom Holland) is still in high school and while he does get a visit or two from  his Avenger mentor Iron Man, that doesn't mean that he has on-call backup when villains such as The Vulture(Michael Keaton) and The Shocker(Bokeem Woodbine) show up to cause trouble.

So far, this appears to be a lot of fun and a good way to work Spiderman into future Avengers movies. Granted, we've had more than our fair share of Spidey film franchises within the last decade but I think that this particular revamp will work out well:

I'm afraid that I can't say the same for the upcoming Tom Cruise helmed The Mummy which,based on the trailer alone, looks like Mission Impossible does The Monster Mash.

Other than the title creature being a pissed-off princess instead of a high priest seeking his lost love, there's not much evidence of this latest take on the horror movie classic having anything original to add to the already well established mythos of this creature feature or being anything other than a special effects fest.

Sure, you could say that about those Brendan Fraser Mummy movies,too but at least the first two had some period piece fun and adventure with that concept. This one just appears to be a fancy pile of CGI dust:

Turning to TV based films, I have to say that I've never been a fan of Baywatch yet do appreciate the camp value of the show.

Apparently, so the filmmakers as casting Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the new head lifeguard as well as Zac Efron being his less than welcome sidekick tells me that they're going for a 21 Jump Street movie translation.

David Hasslehoff and Pamela Anderson are set to make appearances here(no word on Yasmine Bleeth,alas) and all in all, this could be good goofy fun, something we will be in sore need by the time that this flick hits the multiplex beach:

Last but far from least for many longtime fans, Power Rangers will be back in action with a much gritty take on the space age super teen squad.

For one, Elizabeth Banks plays a more involved Rita Repulsa, the wicked woman with evil and then some on her mind. No longer a cartoonish villainess, she appears to be just as much of a threat as the fierce flunkies that are sent to stop this new crop of heroes.

While I was too old for Power Rangers(that was more of my sister's generation), I did enjoy some of their hijinks way back when and this modern makeover should win over a new set of fans and hopefully please the older ones to boot:

Certainly, there will be many more reworkings of previous done material than this and the best we can hope for this that the better editions will inspire new interest in those franchises.

After all, things can be even badder than that as the arrival of Fifty Shades Darker is looming ahead of us and just in time for Valentine's Day! It's hard to decide which is worse; unwanted sequels or warmed up versions of our favorite films and TV shows?

On the other hand, FSD is bound to be more of a cinematic trainwreck than it's pretty awful predecessor was,which should be prime meat material for all of those parody makers out there. The way things are going, we're all going to need a good laugh at the movies, one way or the other, so let's take our mirth where we can get it:

Monday, December 12, 2016

Julie Klassen's The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill invites a few special guests to her blog tour party

As a fan of Julie Klassen's Regency era novels, I was not only happy to hear about her latest release,The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, but also to learn that this is the first entry in a series from her to be called Tales From Ivy Hill. When I was offered a spot on the blog tour for this book, my joy was complete.

The main plot of this particular tale focues on Jane Bell, a recent widow who is overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running the coaching inn that she inherited from her husband. With the business in bad financial shape, having her mother-in-law Thora(who is widowed as well) back home is rather a mixed blessing.

Despite the trouble that the inn is having, Jane and Thora both want to turn things around, particularly since the welfare of the village is strongly connected to the fate of the business as well. Such ties to the community remind me of how much of an influence the Independence Inn and the Dragonfly on Gilmore Girls were to Stars Hollow, not to mention the Stratford Inn on Newhart.

However, it's about more than just the inn in all three cases, as author Julie Klassen highlights in this special guest post. Here, she showcases the BBC series that many of us have enjoyed along with her that displays the English small town worlds that helped to create Ivy Hill on page:

Inspired by the BBC
by Julie Klassen

As an author of historical fiction and an Anglophile, I have loved several BBC television series set in English villages, like Larkrise to Candleford, Cranford, and Middlemarch. I am drawn to their close-knit communities filled with unforgettable characters. The romances and family drama.

 And, of course, the British accents. Now I hope readers will enjoy my first series, Tales From Ivy Hill, beginning with The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill. Here are a few ways I’ve been inspired by British programs:

 Larkrise to Candleford: I thoroughly enjoyed this series and happily acknowledge its influence on my characters and setting. If you’ve watched this series and read my new book, you may recognize similarities between a few of the characters.

 And, like the rivalry between rural Larkrise and the larger town Candleford, my small village of Ivy Hill has a similar rivalry with neighboring Wishford:

 Cranford: A series populated primarily with quirky and lovable female friends (and some of my favorite British actors like Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, and Julia McKenzie)--what’s not to love?
  Tales from Ivy Hill also focuses on friendship and women helping each other through challenging times, along with second-chance romance and touches of mystery, too:

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South:  This is one of my all-time favorite miniseries. While not set in a village, it helped inspire the character of Thora in The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, who has similarities to the gruff Mrs. Thornton. 

North & South has inspired me in other ways over the years, too. For example, actor Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton inspired the hero in one of my previous books, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall:

 Far From the Madding Crowd: Seeing the 2015 film spurred me to watch a few older adaptations of this Thomas Hardy book as well.

  (I think  my favorite was the 1998 version starring Paloma Baeza and Nathaniel Parker.) One scene in The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill was partly inspired by a dramatic scene in the movie:

Jane Austen fans may also notice a nod or two to Pride and Prejudice in the book. Some readers have written to me, telling me they enjoy finding these in my books. If you are similarly inclined, I hope you will enjoy them as well.

Have you enjoyed these BBC programs? Do you have another favorite to add to the list?

 My heartfelt thanks to Julie Klassen and her publishers for asking me to take part in this blog tour for The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill. I'm reading the book now and have to say that I truly look forward to visiting the residents of this town quite often in the future.

In the meanwhile, you can learn more about the Ivy Hill series here, at it's official website. The next stop on this blog tour will be at English Historical Fiction Authors for a look at the historical aspects of the story. I do hope that everyone also checks out the stop prior to mine that is over at Delighted Reader as well.

Like Ms. Klassen, I've also enjoyed the delights of both the book and miniseries editions of Cranford(which has a follow-up TV adaptation entitled Return to Cranford that is well worth looking for). Lark Rise to Candleford is a journey that I've just begun and should pair nicely with further readings of Tales From Ivy Hill.

 Books like these are wonderful to share with friends, old and new and thanks to Julie Klassen, we will meet many more of them in the times to come:

Friday, December 09, 2016

A little Library Haul for the holidays

So, this past weekend, I was able to return the remainder of my three previous takeouts from the library(one had been brought back by my sister the week before) and with the holidays coming up, I thought it best to keep my new selections simple and sweet.

With that in mind, I decided to try a new author, Helen Simonson, and her latest hardcover, The Summer Before the War. The war in question is WWI and our heroine is Beatrice Nash, who moves to the small town of Rye in Sussex, England. Beatrice is to be the new Latin teacher at school but plans to tutor a trio of boys during the summer.

While the local townfolk are less than thrilled about a woman teaching Latin, they are more perturbed by the arrival of Belgian refugees, who are fleeing the growing oppression in Germany that  threatens to cross over more than one border. As Beatrice settles into the routine of Rye life, she finds an unexpected ally in Agatha Kent, a formidable woman in her own right, and is able to offer support to both newcomers and long time residents as the oncoming war changes all of their lives.

I have heard good things about this author(mainly about her debut novel, which I'll get to in a moment) and right now, a good old fashioned read like this sounds picture perfect to me. Most of the reviews that I've read about TSBTW have said that this is an ideal novel for Downton Abbey fans, which means that it should be the right cup of storytelling tea for me:

I do hope that The Summer Before the War is as good as it sounds, so then I will have another new book to enjoy,which I may have to borrow from Book Lender. Helen Simonson's first book is readily available in paperback and that one also takes place in a small English town.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand has the retired widower of the title struggling to get over the recent loss of his brother Bertie and dealing with his callow son Roger, all the while engaging in a friendship with Mrs. Ali, a widow who runs the local food shop.

Their slow yet steady romance raises a few eyebrows and an invitation to an annual dance doesn't go as well as it could. Nonetheless, true love is determined to win the day, not to mention a pair of hearts. This does appear to be a delightful book and I will find a way to read it soon, regardless of how I feel about TSBTW(although I think that I'll like that one as well):

The other book that I took out that day happens to be nonfiction, a memoir to be exact. Joanna Rakoff's My Salinger Year chronicles the writer's first out of college job at a literary agency in NYC, who happened to have J.D. Salinger on their list of clients.

Salinger himself doesn't make an appearance here, apart from some phone calls and correspondence regarding a book project, but the core of this story is about Rakoff's life and times in that end part of the 1990s as she grows to love books and publishing even more than she already does.

I'm part way through the book at this point and it has a blend of Gilmore Girls meets Mad Men vibe, as Rakoff learns to work in an office that resists any new tech equipment(one of her first duties is to figure out how to use a Dictaphone machine) and handle the quirky attitudes of the other inhabitants of the agency, as well as the pretensions of her boyfriend Don and their social circle in pre-gentrified Brooklyn.

This is a book that moves along as quickly as Lorelai Gilmore's dialogue at times, so I have to force myself to slow down and savor all of the glowing details. Joanna Rakoff has quite the snappy style and I look forward to reading more of her work:

Having two library books(with the promise of another in the future) for the holiday season feels quite right. After all, I do have more of my regular reading to do,including finishing up the final book in my Year with Hemingway series(have a new reading project on deck for next year,will give out details soon!) yet it is nice to add a little literary treat to my daily reads.

As for after the holidays, I do think that library haul posts are going to be a regular feature from now on at LRG. Libraries are part of most of our bookish lives and now that I'm back in that particular book borrowing game, I hope that I can pay back the library love just right:

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Singing the praises of The Queen of the Night

On my last library haul, I picked up a book that I had on hold, The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee, and just this past weekend, I stayed up late and woke up early the next morning to finish reading it.

 Since there was another hold on the book, I wasn't able to renew it again and after turning that last page, I am glad to have returned it in order to let someone else share the glorious experience of this amazing novel.

The leading lady of the story is Lilliet, a famous opera singer in Paris of 1882 who is approached by a writer whose new novel is about to be adapted for the stage. He asks her to take the lead role, which would make this a stand out moment in her career. However, upon reading the book, she realizes that this is a thinly disguised version of her life story and that someone from her past must be setting a trap for her.

To tell anymore than that would only spoil the numerous surprises that Lilliet's tale has in store for you. I've read and heard many wonderful reviews of this book and for once, the hype is true.

This is one of the best books of the year and I'm sorry that I didn't read it sooner in order to put it on my Best of 2016 list. Well, to make up for that, I have put together a playlist of songs that I feel highlight the themes of the book very well. Granted, these are pop songs and the music featured in TQOTN is in the opera category but the same emotional levels can be felt in both genres:

LOVE: Romance is a major part of the book, both the lack of true love and the deep longing that authentic love gives Lilliet and the other characters in her life. At one point in her journey, Lilliet must go through the motions of a love affair with a man she despises, due to his own obsession with her and other forces at work.

To express that false front, Seal's "Kiss from a Rose" is suitable, particularly since the man that she is being made to be seen as his lover is in possession of a iconic piece of jewelry given to Lilliet by the Emperor of France and yes, it is in the shape of a rose:

Lilliet does have a true love, however, a composer who is caught in several entanglements himself that makes it difficult to openly be with her. That bittersweet relationship can be showcased by one of the songs that Whitney Houston performed for The Bodyguard, "Run to You". She is no stranger to running for her life yet taking him along with her proves to be harder than she thought or planned:

FREEDOM: As much as she does want a permanent home, Lilliet often feels more content when finding a way to choose her own fate and that is usually done by shaking off whatever shackles are placed upon her. Kelly Clarkson might not seem operatic but "Miss Independent" does describe our heroine rather well in this department there:

IDENTITY: It's not a spoiler to say that Lilliet is not the real name of our main character and over the course of the story, she changes names and personae with the near ease and grace of X-Men's best known shapeshifter Mystique. Those shifts in identity are at times necessary to her survival but they do take a toll on her there. To channel that struggle, I think Lady Gaga sings it best with "Perfect Illusion":

Well, I hope that my musical picks do the book justice and that anyone out there in need of a gorgeously immersive read will find this book the answer to their prayers.

The Queen of the Night is also out in paperback, so it would make for a great holiday gift(and no, not being paid to say so, just sharing the love).  If you love historical fiction, music or strong female characters, this book is pretty much tailor made for you and worth passing on.

Since any true diva ought to have a closing number, let me add a finale from the Queen of Disco that I sincerely believe Lilliet Berne would appreciate,especially since she always did like the chance to dance: