Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Checking out some Halloween pop culture icons-any questions?

Saturday Night Live may be one of the best late night comedy skit shows of all time but they do have their fair share of clunkers and at the start of last week's "Haunted Elevator" skit, I thought we were in for a stinker.

Well, much to my and everyone else's surprise, Tom Hanks and company made the off beat premise work. While David Pumpkins(or should I say, David S. Pumpkins) was confusing, he and his dancing skeleton buddies were so cheerfully charming that not only was the bit a howling success, a new Halloween icon was born:

So, in honor of David Pumpkins, let's take a look at a few engagingly odd Halloween mainstays that have popped up over time. One of the more modern classics is Elvira, Mistress of the Dark aka Cassandra Peterson, who has made this horror movie hostess with the mostest the ultimate Halloween party gal.

From her TV hosting gigs to commercial endorsements, her reign in the eighties culminated in her very own movie in 1988(which wasn't well received to say the least). Today, Elvira still makes appearances on shows such as Halloween Wars and RuPaul's Drag Race as well as coming out with a book of photos that celebrates her 35th anniversary.

 Elvira has always come across as a Goth Mae West to me, with her sassy ways and sexy jokes. Granted, her film debut was less than stellar(I watched it again the other night) but like her, it offers some good goofy fun for the holiday:

For something a bit more family friendly(and pumpkin related), we turn to The Great Pumpkin from the beloved Charlie Brown special.

Linus and his devotion to this gift giving pumpkin patch extends even to the Peanuts election special, where his mention of TGP nearly costs him votes. Such unwavering belief is to be expected from the young, particularly since The Great Pumpkin's greatest strength is that he lives only in the imagination.

Think about it; has there ever been a Great Pumpkin costume, doll or any visual depiction of him? Nope, not at all-Linus himself never says what TGP looks like, which is probably why he was so willing to mistake Snoopy for his Halloween legend that night. The Great Pumpkin remains sight unseen and hopefully, he will stay that way for all time:

Last yet far from least, we have the leading man of The Nightmare Before Christmas, the one and only Pumpkin King himself, Jack Skellington. His pursuit of the true meaning of his life's work is relatable to young and old alike, not to mention how sweetly scary he can be.

While TNBC has become quite the merchandising monster, the movie and it's strangely charming characters still holds up well, which makes Jack the endearing as well as the enduring Halloween host that he is. You may argue the merits of the movie there yet Jack's melancholy musical ways are timeless to me and will be for many generations to come:

Well, I wish you all a Happy Halloween and may there be more treats than tricks delivered to your door that haunted eve. Having a holiday icon along for the spooky ride makes it more of a party as every good one needs the right host to set the mood.

Of course, it adds greatly to the festivities if the proper music is made available which is why the Sanderson sisters of Hocus Pocus have the devious distinctive honor of being the unlife of the Halloween party scene, so take it away, Winifred!:

Friday, October 28, 2016

My Year with Hemingway takes a long walk with his short stories

One thing that you can't get around when diving into Ernest Hemingway's body of work is his short stories; to avoid them would be like a Shakespearean scholar who ignores the Bard's sonnets.

Since there are several collections of his short stories, for my Year with Hemingway I went with one huge anthology which has the first forty-nine stories that he had published. After all, certain well known tales were included(which I will go over in a moment) and it's interesting to check out those that didn't get as big of a fanfare.

It took me longer than I expected or intended, as I literally finished the book over an hour ago as of this writing. Part of the reason for such a dragged out read is that my interest in short stories is more of a "take it or leave it" deal. Don't get me wrong, there are short story collections, either by a single author or several, that I've enjoyed but the format in general is not my instant go-to for fiction.

Enough complaining from me-let's go over some of the big name stories that I did like. One of the first ones out of the gate here was "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber", in which the title character experiences a very brief moment of personal fulfillment that leads to his doom.

 The entire story is set during a hunt in Africa, where Macomber is shown to be less than adequate when out with Wilson,the professional guide he's hired, or with his wife Margot. Wilson has no respect for his client, especially since he is also sleeping with the man's wife(who is broadly painted as the coldhearted sort for the most part).

 To me, the best part of the story happens early on during the first hunt when the viewpoint of the lion that is being targeted by Macomber and company is front and center. It's a sharp bit of writing that nicely breaks into the human interactions and adds nuance to the narrative, which pays off much later:

The major story that drew me to this collection was "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and it does not disappoint. A writer named Harry is slowly dying in a safari camp, due to an injury that started off minor but was neglected to the point where serious infection set in.

Harry, when not fighting with his wife Helen, takes a mental inventory of his life that looks upon his successes and failures in equal measure.

 Hemingway engages in some stream of consciousness at times here, which works out well with the otherwise straightforward tone of the story. A good chunk of the narrative, particularly Harry's personal life, feels a touch autobiographical, which adds strength to the narrative and a good solid punch to the conclusion. When TSOK was made into a movie in 1952, Hollywood went for a happier ending that displeased Hemingway greatly and I don't blame him for that. If they ever attempt a remake, sticking to the source material will have more dramatic impact:

Many of the stories in this collection are Nick Adams tales, a character that only appears in Hemingway's short stories and never one of his novels.

Nick is said to be a fictional stand-in for Hemingway himself and a good number of those stories are set in different portions of Nick's life such as "The Doctor and The Doctor's Wife" in childhood, "The Big Two Hearted River" in young adulthood and "Fathers and Sons" as Nick begins to appreciate his father once he has become one himself.

Some of the Nick Adams stories feel like early drafts of Farewell to Arms( particularly the ones where Nick is in military service and in one story, "Now I Lay Me" he is called Lt). For the most part, he seems to be right at home when dealing with nature as in "The Big Two Hearted River", which is divided into two halves and details a solo fishing trip. Nick is an okay guy but upon reading these stories, he's best taken in small doses which is just as well that he didn't inspire a full on novel directly:

As for the lesser known stories, I really enjoyed "My Old Man" where a boy named Joe has fond memories of his dad, a rather corrupt jockey, and impressed at the nerve it took to write something like "Today is Friday".

 The latter is a mini-play, where three of the Roman soldiers that took part in Christ's crucifixion go out for a drink afterwards. Quite a bold subject for that time period and if someone dared to act it today, I don't think it would go over well with several parties.

Well, despite how long it took, I am glad to have experienced Hemingway's short stories. Their intensity, brief drama and sharp dialogue are important points of style that are magnified in his novels and I think that I'll be better able to appreciate the last book in my Year with Hemingway,For Whom The Bell Tolls, by having read through these.

In the meanwhile, let's wrap this up with my song choice for this book and since there are multiple people,places and things focused on in the short stories, the theme song from the 1986 movie True Stories is so on point here. When it comes to Hemingway, it's a wild,wild life indeed:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Being Eligible for a library card

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that a truly adult person in want of their youth can not easily recapture it. However, this past weekend, I was able to do just that by taking a good long walk in order to do something I haven't done in years; sign up for a library card.

You might be surprised to hear that any avid reader wouldn't have a library card, which was one of my cherished possessions as a child. Upon growing up and eventually being able to buy my own books, a trip to my local library became less and less of a thing to do.

Thanks to my younger sister(who is developing her own interest in reading), I was encouraged to visit one of the libraries in our area on Saturday and while she offered to get me anything I wanted with her card, I thought it best to have one of my own again. Not only was it easy to do, I enjoyed having a shiny plastic card that would hold up much better than the pale cardboard with metal bar inserted ones that were available when I was a kid.

A good portion of my childhood and teen years were spent at the library, a place that allowed me a real taste of what freedom of choice was like. My parents never had any problems with what I read but still, being able to pick and choose what I wanted by myself was a sheer joy:

What makes this card extra special is that it is the first New York Public Library card that I've ever had(my previous ones were from Westchester County). The branch that I went to is small but charmingly cozy, trimmed in dark wood with a pair of sleeping lions at the front door.

This card does allow me to visit other branches,of course, and kind of makes me feel very cosmopolitan.  The NYPL has a vast collection that includes art and literature from various points in history, along with opportunities to see authors, check out specially themed exhibits and learn so much more about the world of books and their influence upon society from one generation to the next:

So, how many books did I take out? Well, I decided to go slow as I do have a good number of in progress reads at the moment and went with just one.

Curtis Settenfeld's Eligible is the fourth(and most likely last) entry in The Austen Project, which tapped modern day authors such as Joanna Trollope, Alexander McCall Smith and Val Dermid to do their own take on Jane's work.

Settenfeld was given Pride and Prejudice, no doubt to the envy of some, and she really makes this version of that well known story sing. Here, the Bennet family is set in Cincinnati, with Jane and Liz being well over thirty.

The older girls live and work in New York but come home when their father has health troubles(not to mention financial ones), doing much more than their younger siblings as Kitty and Lydia are mainly devoted to CrossFit training and Mary prefers to take online courses that take her no further than her own room.

 Mrs. Bennet is quite the shopaholic and convinced that all problems can be solved by her daughters getting married. When Chip Bingley, a well to-do doctor who was once on a reality dating show, moves into the neighborhood, Jane does take a liking to him while Liz is less than thrilled with Chip's snooty surgeon friend, Mr. Darcy.

P&P is a novel that Austen fans love to have new versions of, so it can be daunting to take this particular classic on. Sittenfeld wisely allows herself to have fun with the basics of the plot and characters while also allowing these versions of Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy to have depth and charisma of their own.

 So far, I'm really enjoying Eligible, which was also smart enough to give itself a new name, and looking forward to more page turning delights to come from it. Out of all of the books written for The Austen Project, Eligible promises to be this series' crown jewel:

It will be necessary to bring Eligible back soon and when I do, I might take more than one book home that day. In fact, I'm pretty sure of it and at some point, get a Westchester library card as well since my sister has both and I need to keep up with her on this!

Having a library card does feel very fulfilling and it will expand my reading access greatly. Whether you buy, borrow, download or receive books as a gift, reading is one of the few habits that improves over time and can never have too many ways to engage in it. To read is to live, in my opinion, and my new library card will be all the more appreciated for reviving my literary spirits as an essential part of my life:

Monday, October 24, 2016

Getting ready for winter with some November/December new reads

Now that we're finally having some real fall weather to enjoy, the planning for those chilly winter months ahead can begin. Stocking up on comfy sweaters, special brands of tea or hot chocolate and cozy throw blankets to wrap yourself up in are crucial for seasonal survival.

What's best to gather up for the winter,however, are great books. Plenty of good reading can be done during a cold snap or sudden snow fall, not to mention a certain gift giving holiday or two is just around the corner.

Hopefully, some of these upcoming November and December titles will warm your heart as well as your fingertips with rapid page turning there:

HAIL TO THE QUEEN: The third volume in Erika Johansen's epic trilogy will be out and about this November and in The Fate of the Tearling, we learn the fate of young Queen Kelsea, who has surrendered herself to the invading army of Mortmesne.

Being taken before her previously unseen enemy, the Red Queen, Kelsea has to use all of her strength and skills to find a way to truly bring peace to all. Part of the answer may lie in visions from the past, in the life of a woman named Katie who was there at the beginning of the Tear Kingdom.

 This saga that blends magic and power and has such a wonderful leading lady in Kelsea that it will be hard to see this story end but it's been a marvelous journey to take. I will be happy enough just to savor the showdown between these two queens in all of their grand glory(November):


 Fannie Flagg has shown herself to have quite a flair for small town life and in her upcoming new novel The Whole Town's Talking, she kicks things up a  paranormal notch or two.

The residents of Elmwood Springs, MO get more insight into the past than they ever expected as former townsfolk wake up from their graves and stick around to chat with their neighbors. No, this isn't a zombie invasion, more like a friendly haunting as the true ghosts of the past share their memories that make up the history of the town.

While keeping their distance from the living, there is a mysterious death that needs solving which brings the living and undead sections of Elmwood society together to find the truth out once and for all. As in any of Flagg's heartfelt stories, it's the people involved that keep the story telling conversation going and this one should be the talk of many a town indeed(November):

 If you prefer your small towns set in the actual past, then The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen may be the ideal literary location. Newly widowed Jane Bell has no choice but to take over the local inn as her deceased husband left a large amount of debt to be repaid.

With Jane not knowing anything about the business, upon which the village of Ivy Hill depends on, she reluctantly turns to her resentful mother-in-law Thora for much needed assistance. As this unlikely partnership develops, both ladies experience a change of heart and mind about each other.

Still, that growing friendship is met with plenty of challenges that affect more than the two of them. As outside interest in the inn(not to mention romantic interest for Thora) gets stronger, Jane must either trust her choices or trust in fate. Unlike Klassen's previous books, this is meant as the start of a series and judging by her engaging earlier novels, Ivy Hill promises to be a lovely place to visit on the bookshelf(December).


Elaine Khosrova takes us on a table side journey with Butter: A Rich History, a look at one of our most common culinary companions.

 From it's humble roots through the technological changes over time that made making this salty sweet spread readily available to the mistake that was margarine, this book highlights the many ways in which butter has become a major part of our eating lives.

Recipes are also included, along with a list of  words for butter in over 50 languages that only goes to show that the true universal language can be spoken by our taste buds(November):


 In Wally Lamb's I'll Take You There, film scholar Felix Funcello meets with a real Hollywood legend, silent film director Lois Weber. Trouble is, Lois is a ghost and she wants to show him a movie that showcases women from his past.

As these special screenings continue, Felix learns more about his older adopted sister Frances and her birth mother Verna, who was a fierce competitor for the title of Miss Reingold back in 1951. These insights help him connect with his grown daughter Aliza, a magazine writer who happens to be researching the Miss Reingold contests.

Bridging the past and present appears to be the ultimate goal of Felix's private film festival but will he truly appreciate the life lessons being shown to him on screen? This book is being published along side an interactive app, which adds to the meta-media vibe of the story.

 Since Felix is a character from an earlier book called Wishin' and Hopin' that was made into a movie, perhaps this follow-up will come full circle with a film version as well-here's hoping, anyway!(November):

Michael Chabon blends memoir with fiction in Moonglow, a novel written by a character named Mike who chronicles his grandparents' life stories.

His grandfather takes center stage at first, as his deathbed narrative goes over his time during WWII and the many outrageous acts done in private life, such as a battle with his business partner that came to physical blows.

Mike's grandmother has her own share of personal conflicts, as her war experiences triggered emotional injuries that she did manage to hide for as long as she could. Despite their tragic tales, Mike's grandparents prove to be vividly engaging people who made the best of what life handed them and this story, true or not, promises to be one of Chabon's hallmark pieces of prose(November).


 Amy Poeppel's debut novel, Small Admissions, introduces us to Kate Pearson, a young woman in New York who is disappointed in both life and love. She's even given up on her master's degree and is willing to spend the rest of her life wallowing in Sex and the City reruns.

 Much to her own surprise, she lands a job as an admissions officer at Hudson Day School, one of the most sought after private schools in Manhattan. Kate soon finds herself swamped by overanxious parents, nervous students and her own set of family and friends eager to add extra drama to her stack of new situations.

However, there is a chance at romance that might make Kate's life better but not in the way she expected. Can Kate mix and match up her life just as well as she matches up the right students for Hudson Day? Author Poeppel draws upon her own experience as a private school admissions officer to bring snappy life to a world most of us only know from Gilmore Girls and I do think this is the kind of fictional charmer that Lorelai herself would like(December):

Whatever you read this winter, one thing that will keep many of us warm is the Gilmore Girls revival coming to Netflix, which offers the perfect excuse for re-watching the entire series. That doesn't mean that you should neglect your books(Rory would so frown upon that!) but enjoying the snowy days to come is an absolute where Lorelai is concerned, so plan your pleasures of the season accordingly,folks:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hitting the devilish dance floor with some scary movie soundtrack tunes

With tonight's debut of a new production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (subtitled Let's Do The Time Warp Again), I am in the mood for some Halloween themed party music and what better place to look than soundtracks from scary movies?

Granted, most fright flicks don't lend themselves to the kind of music that gets your toes tapping, more like keep your feet moving as fast as they can away from the masked man with the chainsaw there.

However, I did manage to find a few selections from certain film soundtracks that certainly would create the right atmosphere for dancing the night away. I must warn you,tho...this list is rather vampire film friendly. Seems that those children of the night are the best ones to set up a dance floor:

LOST IN THE SHADOWS: Granted, the Lost Boys soundtrack may be a mixed bag of musical goods at best, however there are several lively tunes suitable for getting your groove on, dance wise.

My personal favorite is Lou Gramm's "Lost in the Shadows" as it really feels like the true theme song of the movie. A audio blend of driving pulse with moody goth style lyrics, this song sets the tone of any All Hallows Eve celebration nicely.

It's been said that The Lost Boys was one of the inspirations for Buffy the Vampire Slayer(lead vamp David does look a lot like Spike) and this tune certainly would be on the playlist at The Bronze, no doubt about it:

GIVE IT UP: Speaking of eighties vampires, Fright Night could be seen as the East Coast companion to Lost Boys(yes, I know that it came out a few years earlier), with it's take on modern teens running a foul of old school bloodsuckers.

While it wasn't as MTV friendly as TLB, one of the best scenes in Fright Night is strictly musical. Innocent bystander of a girlfriend Amy happens to resemble a lost love of lead vamp Jerry and while caught in a local nightclub, Jerry lures her onto the dance floor.

Evelyn "Champagne" King's song "Give It Up" is note perfect background music for this sinister seduction, mirroring the sexual tension and terror as Amy realizes the true nature of her dance partner. An excellent acting lesson in body language, not to mention a show stopper of a sequence:

HANDS OFF: When it comes to vampire seduction dances, this one is more on the silly side, as Once Bitten has hapless hero Mark being in the middle of a high school dance battle between his sweetheart Robin and the bloodthirsty(as well as button biting) Countess.

"Hands Off" by Maria Vidal is a fun song to have playing during this routine, which offers some great goofy bits by a young Jim Carrey, and since this whole thing takes place at a Halloween costume party, so much the better for holiday themed entertaining:

ANYTHING ANYTHING: You could easily make an argument for Freddy Kruger being a vampire of sorts, but that's a debate for another day. Yet, out of all of the movie monsters of his day, Freddy was the fearful host with the most in the music department.

  By the time that Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master rolled around, music became a big part in promoting the franchise and the studio folk strove to have songs that would play in steady rotation on MTV.

Ironically, the one memorable tune from the movie isn't on the official soundtrack. Dramarama's "Anything Anything" was featured in certain key scenes for heroine Alice(and her doomed brother Rick) that it became an integral part of the whole film. Sure, it's a simple pumped up song that fits well into any training montage but that is what made it work so well:

Finally, let's wrap this dance party up with a little something from Twilight. That first release off of the soundtrack,Paramore's "Decode", struck a good chord with many of fans and got that particular cinematic saga off on the right foot, if you ask me.

So, even if your Halloween plans are more home bound than out on the town, don't hold off on having some dance time that night. It never hurts to cut a rug while handing out tricks or treats , not to mention taking a break during a binge watch of Stranger Things.

A dance party can be a party of one, just as long as you don't scare the neighbors too much.  As for vampires, don't be too quick to invite them in for just one dance. Sure, they have to be gone by dawn but you will be low a quart or two before then as they see you as the party punch:

Monday, October 17, 2016

My Top Five Superheroes in the Small Spotlight

The most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly has a ranking of the most powerful superheroes, a power list of 50 from both Marvel and DC.

 They even have a Top Ten villains line-up to boot, which is fun and fine by me. Any superhero list that places Wonder Woman at the top of it(spoiler alert!) is alright in my book.

However, this did get me to thinking about a few other good guys and gals out there, the ones who may not otherworldly powers or big league franchises yet still deserve a special shout out of their own. To that end, I've pulled together my personal picks for the Top Five Small Spotlight Superheroes:

1) AGENT CARTER: Peggy Carter was an occasional character in the Captain America comics as the American girlfriend of Steve Rogers who burst out into the main stage in the 2011 movie Captain America: The First Avenger as British secret agent Carter, a solid fighter in her own right.

Since then, she's appeared in several Marvel movies and had her own TV show for two seasons that was sadly canceled. Many fans took to this incarnation of Peggy for her smart and savvy ways, not to mention in additional to battling the evil forces of Hydra, her greatest enemy was the persistent sexism of her day.

 While Marvel may be done with Agent Carter for now, she will not be soon forgotten by those of us inspired by the unwavering courage of her convictions:

2) LIV MOORE/IZOMBIE: The DC/Vertigo comic book that brought this undead heroine to life is a little more loosely structured than the CW TV series adaptation(not to mention her original name was Gwen in the books) but many of the core elements remain the same.

 In this incarnation, Olivia "Liv" Moore was just another overly ambitious med student until a bizarre incident at a boating party turned her into a brain craving zombie. Realizing that she could hold onto a semblance of her humanity by eating brains in regular but small amounts, Liv got a job at the Medical Examiner's office in order to ethically maintain her new diet.

A side effect of her condition is absorbing the memories and personalities of those she consumes, which Liv channels into solving murders. It's a twisted talent that has it's merits and pitfalls, to be sure. Yet, using her new outsider status to be a protector rather than a destroyer is what ultimately makes Liv a heroine worth admiring:

3) WHITE CANARY: First seen in the DC comics world as a minor enemy of Black Canary, she's been reinvented as Sarah Lance, the long lost sister of Laurel who takes on the mantle of reluctant heroine in the series Arrow and is now a major player on DC's Legends of Tomorrow.

Her reformed ways, upon leaving the realm of hit-woman for hire as a member of The League of Assassins, has left Sarah with superior fighting skills and remarkable talents as a covert agent. Yet, her dark side is never fully under wraps, as she's prone to throw a punch first and ask questions later at times.

Her current story line on LOT has her pursuing a vendetta against the man who killed her sister through time, an understandable goal that could distract her way too much from the main objective of guarding history. Nevertheless, White Canary will do what's right in the long run as her best asset is keeping her cool in the midst of battle and knowing when to call for back-up:

4) THE MIDDLEMAN: This cult comic book was briefly made into a TV series for ABC Family, which lasted only one season. That was a shame as the quirky title character was charmingly cheerful with a "can-do" attitude that never grew old.

The main viewpoint of both the comic book and the series was apprentice Wendy Watson, who was unexpectedly chosen to be training as a future replacement(it's a status that is passed down from generation to generation).

Wendy's creative energy and her slightly more cynical approach to life was a good balance for the current Middleman, whose array of weapons and vast knowledge of unusual foes such as mad scientists, vampire puppets and sirens, made him an excellent buffer against the forces of evil. Also, the Middleman had a off beat wit and unaware flair for word play, something that may be a cliche  but is a great component to any hero's arsenal:

5) THE BOWLER: Out of the numerous characters from the off beat Mystery Men comics(which began as an off shoot of the Flaming Carrot series) that made it into the 1999 movie version, The Bowler has become quite a favorite with folks who enjoy a snarky superhero.

Carol, daughter of legendary Carmine the Bowler, joins the title crew in order to avenge her father's death.  Using the skull of her departed daddy(to whom she has a telepathic link) to guide her aim when throwing her specially made bowling ball, Carol is quite a team player.

She also adds a good amount of street smarts to the group, not to mention that out of all them in the original bunch, she's the only one with a truly formidable power. What's best about The Bowler is her determination to hold her own in a crime fighting field overrun with fellas looking to prove something, a skill that she has in abundance:

 No doubt there are many more superheroes/heroines that also should have their special place on the mainstream media stage highlighted as well here. Yet, it just goes to show you that heroes, super or not, can be found where you least expect them and not only in this genre.

For example, while I adore Nancy from the Nightmare on Elm Street series, there's a solid spot in my heart for Alice Johnson, a later Freddy foe whose courage and talents proved to be as equally powerful against that dream stalker. Fighting evil is scary business that calls many but those chosen don't have to be flashy figures who leap tall buildings or sport bullet proof bracelets. They just have to be ready to embrace their destiny:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Offering up a triple dose of historical fiction to ease those presidential debate blues

Without getting too political, I think it's safe to say that when it comes to the election cycle this year, truth is proving stranger than fiction on a daily basis(especially if you're fact checking). The big presidential debates alone come across more like Punch and Judy rather than Lincoln and Douglas there.

Fortunately, there's a way to take a well deserved break from the campaign trail while still keeping in touch with our national focus upon American history. This trio of historical fiction titles are all based in Founding Father territory and yet provide an entertaining look at those life and times. Call it educational escapism, if you will.

First up is America's First Daughter, which looks at Thomas Jefferson through the eyes of his oldest girl, Martha, best known by all as Patsy. At age 10, she took over the family household upon the death of her mother and became such a help to her father that she was also his valued companion in France, when he was commissioned to be America's envoy in Paris .

However, the reality of his failings grew even larger in scale for Patsy over time, including turning Sally Hemings into his mistress while still owning her as a slave. Eventually, she left his side to form her own family yet still maintained a loyal heart that wanted to preserve the legacy that Jefferson was able to leave behind. Co-written by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, the research that went into this novel is impressive, not to mention bringing an unsung heroine of history into the light:

Speaking of unsung, The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs offers a non-musical version of the romance between Alexander Hamilton and New York society darling Eliza Schuyler.

Hamilton had a tough enough time holding his own during the Revolution, due to his outsider status, without dealing with the intricacies of Eliza's family connections. Yet, it was her strength and determination that saw them both through the tough times ahead and even when faced with living life on her own, Eliza did great things that honored her beloved's hopes for the future.

While the musical take on Hamilton's life is beyond amazing, a novel like this goes into greater details that make the true story of Alexander and Eliza come to even more vivid life for us all:

For a look at some old school dirty dealings, Allison Pataki's The Traitor's Wife gives us quite the sinister spymistress in Peggy Shippen, the colonial belle of the ball who married Benedict Arnold.

As told by her maid Clara(a fictional creation), Peggy uses her wiles to not only manipulate her husband into being a double agent against George Washington, she also keeps up her secret romance with Major Andre, a former suitor and British recruiter of foreign agents.

Clara is torn between keeping Peggy's secrets and holding true to her own convictions, a duality that draws her more into a deadly spy game that she does not want to play for anyone. I fondly recall reading this last year and highly recommend it as a riveting read for those eager to engage with Revolutionary reading:

Hopefully, one or all of these books will make these last few weeks of election mania go by quicker and do take heart that we have only one big debate to go. Personally, I wish we had the likes of Paris Geller running that particular show as she refuses to suffer fools gladly and brings formidable knowledge as her best weapon into any verbal battle:

Monday, October 10, 2016

Having a monstrously good time with FrightFall this year

Part of my Halloween fun the past couple of years has been taking part in FrightFall, one of the readathon events hosted by Seasons of Reading, where you're encouraged to read as many scary books as you can in a week.

This time out, I went with father and son selections and managed to finish the one novel written by the younger author. Horns by Joe Hill(yes, he's Stephen King's son) tells the tale of Ignatius "Ig" Perrish, a young man tormented by the unsolved murder of his childhood sweetheart Merrin Williams.

Not only was her death horrifying, Ig was the prime suspect and a year later, is still considered to be Merrin's killer by their small town, despite a lack of evidence either way. The night before the first anniversary of Merrin's death, Ig gets good and drunk but awakens with more than the expected hangover.

Ig finds himself growing a pair of horns on his head, which give him unusual and unwanted powers. People are compelled to tell him their worst thoughts and desires, often asking his permission to act on their deepest darker impulses. He also learns their real feelings about him, including his own family who truly don't believe in his innocence.

Soon realizing that his new abilities could be helpful to him, Ig uses his powers to hunt down Merrin's real killer. That quest uncovers some nasty answers and hard choices that have to be made in order to find true peace.

I did see the film adaptation before reading the book and while the movie is rather faithful to the source material, there were enough changes from script to screen that made reading the novel it's own engaging experience.  Ig's plight is very relatable, despite the supernatural elements, as his pain "is a scream that pierces dimensional walls", much like one of my favorite characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow. The only difference is that she actively sought out paranormal assistance for her troubles while poor Ig just stumbles into this bizarrely sinister solution.

I've been reading quite a bit of Joe Hill lately and while there are some themes and tones that do link him to his father in the literary sense, he clearly has a very unique imagination that allows him to make his original stamp upon the paranormal landscape. Horns is strange,sad, darkly humorous at times and yet is a tender love story to treasure:

I do confess to being overly ambitious in thinking that Stephen King's It could be read within a week(my paperback copy is over a thousand pages,after all!). However, I was planning to reread it at some point and will continue with the book for the remainder of the month.

While I do tend to revisit Stephen King during FrightFall, news of a big screen adaptation of It did peak my interest in reading it again. Frankly, I was shocked when the made for TV version was made, considering the whole kid eating monster thing. Not something that you'd expect to see on prime time back in 1990 but at least Tim Curry was evilly effective as Pennywise.

Reading it along side Horns, I did spot a few connect the dots moments, as both stories have flashbacks to particular moments in the characters' childhoods that later define their adult actions, complete with bullies to be fought and fears overcome. Horns is it's own creature, mind you, but it does share a couple of talking points with the elder King's monster mash magnum opus.

 The main difference of course is that Horns has it's leading man turn into a monster who may or may not be the Big Bad while It has no qualms about the true nature of the shapeshifting entity that preys on the youth of Derry,Maine.

There's also plenty of great metaphors about the toxic effect that the title monster has upon the town itself, as numerous times people literally turn a blind eye away from the supernatural menace in their midst as well as the everyday wrongdoings of average folks that grow worse from generation to generation. Pretty scary when a terror tome like this can still feel relevant in this day and age.

It is one of King's maximum sized novels and while some of those big boys could've used a firmer hand in editing, It is not one of them.

 The full impact of the story is best served by the length needed to fully form each and every member of the Loser's Club, from future writer Bill to smartmouth Richie, bighearted Ben, perhaps not so illness prone Eddie, the stillwaters of Stan, steadfast Mike and the brave heart of Beverly.

 Some of the story choices may be odd ,to say the least, but the power of the overall work lies in the characters and their united faith in one another. You can still see the influence that this book has had on the pop culture, with the most recent example being the Netflix series Stranger Things.

Granted, that show is set in the eighties but a band of kids joining forces to stop the supernatural terror in their small town that none of the grown-ups are not willing to admit is happening? That's definitely Stephen King country and from what I hear, he's pretty happy about that:

Next year, FrightFall will last the entire month of October, which sounds great to me. In the meanwhile, I'm happy to have shared this special seasonal reading time with Michelle of SOR and the many other eager readers out there getting their page turning scare on. This has been quite the literary monster mash but at least this has all been in good fearsome fun, which Halloween really ought to be for all:

Friday, October 07, 2016

Harvesting some family themed fiction this fall season

While October brings on those spooky vibes associated with the fall season, it doesn't shut out the major emotional element which makes it so inviting, that sweet touch that is as pleasantly persistent as pumpkin spice(for some of us, anyway).

Family time adds that special kick to the autumn holiday season as Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah and other get-togethers make bonding with the kin folk an essential part of the celebration.

Of course, that does come with a few side effects which are well explored in a good number of the new novels that are out and about right now. Here's a tempting trio of fresh reads that offer up their special blend of family flavored story telling to make your perfect cup of literary tea:

COMMONWEALTH: Ann Patchett's latest work follows more than one generation of an entwined family, starting with an unexpected kiss at a christening that changes the course of several lives.

 The baby who was the focus of that party, Franny, grows up to marry a writer who turns those family secrets into a bestselling book and film, forcing the many step-siblings in her life to relive those particular scenes in a way they couldn't imagine.

I recently started this novel(the first time I've read any Ann Patchett) and the lyrical tone that she uses to evoke the setting for her characters is truly entrancing. I had to take a brief break,due to a readathon, but extending my stay with this set of relatable relatives is a must:

THE MORTIFICATIONS: This debut novel by Derek Palacio is set in the 1980s, where the Encarnacion family is divided literally between two countries.  Mother Soledad takes her twin son and daughter Ulies and Isabel with her to America, settling down in Hartford,Connecticut, while father Uxbal remains in Cuba determined to hold on to his political dreams.

 Over the years, Soledad and her children manage to make lives for themselves that are vastly different than the ones they could've had in their homeland yet still fraught with various challenges.

 When a letter arrives from Cuba written by Uxbal, all three of them have to decide if returning to him is an option any of them want to truly pursue. This book does sounds promisingly beautiful as it draws flowing distinctive lines that connect past and present that illustrate those dreams of home for those who had to seek out another one:

THE NIX: We have another amazing debut novel come a-croppin' here, as Nathan Hill garnishes his meaty mother and son story with a bounty of history, mystery and pop culture treats.

The leading man of this fictional feast is Samuel, a college professor with a vicious video game habit who is way behind on his current book contract. Dropping into his life with the luck of a bad penny is Faye, the mother that left him when he was eleven and who is now up on charges involving political protest.

Turns out that Faye has quite the colorful history and Samuel's agent encourages him to write about her glory days in order to fix his finances. Motivated by more than money, he looks into Faye's former life and times, learning way more than he ever intended to about her and himself. 

Comparisons have been made to John Irving(Irving himself has said great things about this novel) and as a long time World According to Garp gal, I am eager to if this is so for myself:

Novels about families can be enjoyed year round but there's something about fall that makes them especially suitable. Maybe it's that whole gathering around the dinner table urge that takes hold during these months or just the simple fact that some of the best stories you'll ever hear(true or not) do come from family, with that peculiar flavor of sour and sweet love:

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Speculating on starting a series of speculative fiction and other fantasy fables

As of now, I'm in the midst of a horror themed readathon(which is going very well) but as soon as it ends, I do have a reader's choice to make. Which of the new fantasy/semi sci-fi series on my shelf should I start next?

I say "semi sci-fi" in regards to one set of books, due to author Margaret Atwood preferring the term "speculative fiction" for such books as her MaddAddam trilogy. All three of these novels take place in a bleak futuristic world, where scientific tampering and environmental causes have altered the course of humanity.

 Beginning with Oryx and Crake, the story of how this all came to be is told through the viewpoint of certain survivors such as Snowman, who guides the new generation of artificial created beings known as Crakers.

The Year of the Flood picks up some of those threads in following a group called God's Gardeners, who are devoted to preserving the natural world of plants and animals as much as possible.

 The finale, MaddAddam, deals with a new threat to the remaining inhabitants of both stories, a group called The Painballers, which gives you a good idea of what harm they can do. With an adaptation of all three books in development for HBO, this certainly feels like the right time to read Atwood's triple play saga that seems to show how while some things change, others never do:

Although I did splurge and get the entire Maddadam trilogy, I decided to take my time with Patrick Rothfuss' The Kingkiller Chronicle. One reason is that each book in this in progress trilogy(which has an extra novella attached to it) is a nice thick stack of pages to read.

The Name of the Wind is the starting point here, as it records the back story of Kvothe, a legendary warrior with musical and magical abilities. From his childhood with a group of traveling entertainers(which was cut tragically short) to his days at "University" where the darker arts were learned, Kvothe's journey takes him down a road that he never meant to go down. Yet, he can not help but to answer it's call.

I've heard a lot of good word about this book alone, so I'm willing to take a shot and see if this is a plot pathway that I wish to follow as well:

Oddly enough, I learned about the first book in Daniel O'Malley's Checquy series, The Rook, by hearing a number of positive reviews about the second book, The Stiletto, which just came out recently.

The leading lady of The Rook is Mwfanwy Thomas, a secret agent in Britain who handles supernatural cases. One day, she wakes up in the middle of a park surrounded by dead people,with no memory of what happened or who she actually is.

Piercing together clues,some of which she thoughtfully left for her future self, Mwfanwy soon discovers who and what she is up against. Yet, that knowledge may not be enough to save the day or civilization as we know it. I have to admit, this whole concept sounds mighty entreating in a Being Human meets The Office kind of way and I may have to pick this up sooner than I expected to:

Stories like this make that old saying about too many books and too little time to read them feel all too real there. However, that doesn't mean giving up although on tackling these strange new horizons. What's needed is a bit of planning and pacing to enjoy as many as possible. Oh, and being sure to start with the first book first. Yes, there are some series that do allow you to take up a title out of sequence and be able to enjoy but I do feel that you get a better flow of the whole thing by beginning where it properly begins: