Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A few other superhero team-ups to bring to the CW Superhero Crossover party

This is a big week for fans of the small screen DC superheroes as the CW is airing a set of four crossover episodes with the collective title "Heroes Vs. Aliens".

This tie-in quartet started last night with Supergirl and will pick up this evening with The Flash, followed by Arrow and DC's Legends of Tomorrow.

As someone who watches three out of the four shows(I'm too far behind on Arrow to catch up), this is a whole lot of geeky fun. To further enhance the joy, I've gathered together a few other superhero team-ups from the past to present for your viewing pleasure:

CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER FRIENDS: Out of the three cartoon incarnations of DC's Super Friends(aka The Justice League of America) on ABC's Saturday morning line-up back in the day, this one is definitely my favorite.

Pitting the JLA against their worst enemies united as the Legion of Doom(run by Lex Luthor, of course) was great for all sorts of elaborate schemes and story lines, not to mention introducing a number of lesser known characters to young audiences.

 I first learned about heroes like Black Vulcan and Hawkman on COTSF, along with villains such as Giganta,Cheetah and Gorilla Grodd. Since there may be a Legion of Doom forming on the current series of CW shows, a re-watch might be in order,folks:

WORLD'S FINEST: While many of us were disappointed with a certain big screen match-up between Batman and Superman, there is fortunately a viable alternative, thanks to the folks behind both the Batman and Superman animated series.

This special two part episode can be found on AM:TAS and at first, both of our heroes are less than impressed with each other.

Soon enough,however, they quickly learn to work together to defeat the mutual threat posed by the Joker(with an assist from Lex Luthor) and even get over the potential romantic rivalry over Lois Lane. It's too bad that Hollywood doesn't use the talents of the writers from those series to create better live action versions of these iconic characters:

THE AVENGERS: As DC has been slow to get it's act together on the silver screen,except for Batman,Marvel has been rightfully ruling the roost on that cinematic front. I think it's safe to say that a key gem among their crown jewels was formed by bringing this ultimate team-up to live action life.

It helped greatly that many of the characters were introduced to film fans via their own solo stories before being brought together as one band of brave souls ready to defend the world. Granted, we're still waiting for that Black Widow movie but in the meanwhile, just listening to the assemblage of  Avengers is enough to make even the mightier Big Bad quake in their boots :

MYSTERY MEN: Yes, this rag tag crew from the cult comic book The Flaming Carrot are meant to be a joke but it's one that can still get a few well earned laughs there.

Their 1999 film debut is also a cult favorite and while some of their powers are not quite effective, when they do get together to fight the local bad guys, this motley crew can be a force to reckon with:

This CW crossover event will not be the last, as there is word of a future Supergirl/Flash episode that will be a musical one and with the original Wonder Woman Lynda Carter on board as well! In the meantime, let's enjoy this early Christmas present from the combined forces at work here(DC, The CW and the Joss Whedon of our time, Greg Berlanti) and rejoice in the superhero goodness that will hopefully get through the end of this particular year:

Monday, November 28, 2016

Starting off the Christmas Spirit season right with some Jane Austen mystery treats

While Thanksgiving is considered more of a home bound holiday,even if you're visiting relatives, things can get busy indeed. Between cooking and shopping, the day grows quite hectic at times rather than harmonious.

 Fortunately, I had a lovely distraction in the form of Seasons of Reading's annual Christmas Spirit readathon which allowed me to indulge in a trio of mysteries involving Jane Austen. Granted, I finished two out of the three books that I intended to read but it was still a grand page turning time nonetheless.

The first to be finished was the third book in Stephanie Barron's "Being a Jane Austen mystery" series, Jane and the Wandering Eye. This story finds our Miss Austen in Bath during the Christmas season of 1804. With that city not being a particular favorite of hers, she is happy to accept a commission from Lord Harold Trowbridge(who does a bit of secret service for king and country there) to keep an eye on his niece Lady Desdemona. She has just ended a romance with the unsavory Earl of Swithin and gone to Bath to avoid him all together.

An invite to a masquerade ball makes that promise easy to keep but during the festivities, a murder takes place that implicates Lady D's brother, Simon.

 More than willing to help, Jane risks her safety along with her public reputation(her being seen with Lord Harold gets the gossips talking) but her real risk is keeping her dear sister Cassandra in the dark about what she and Lord Harold are doing.

While I haven't read Barron's series in their proper order just yet, I found this book(as well as Jane and the Waterloo Map, which I read last year) very easy to get into. It does help to have a firm knowledge of Austen's life and times here. During the course of the novel, several real life characters are introduced,with one having a less than happy connection to Thomas Jefferson, and insights into the Austen family are showcased, adding a special bit of extra fictional flavor.

I do intend to read more of this series and this particular entry inspired me to re-watch Northanger Abbey, as it's section in Bath and mysterious plot points were brought to mind, although the Jane of this story is clearly much more worldly than Catherine Morland was:

 Speaking of reading more of the series, I did make a brief start in Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which brings us to 1814 and has Jane, Cassandra and their mother making a difficult journey to the house of her brother James for the holidays.

During a roadside incident involving a carriage and the donkey cart that the Austen women are being transported in, Jane makes a new acquaintance who is on his way to The Vyne, the ancestral home of the renowned Chute family. Due to this mishap, Jane is destined to receive an invitation to that household for some much needed fun but a murder is bound to happen before the last day of Yuletide ends.

So far, this book is agreeably charming and I do wonder if some of the carriage trouble described here had a touch of inspiration from another untimely carriage ride for a rather famous Austen heroine:

To round things off, I completed my reread of The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig last night. This particular entry in her Pink Carnation series is meant as a special holiday treat to those who adore the humorous hijnks of a certain supporting character, Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh.

While Turnip may not be the cleverest of men, his innate decency and good humor are enough to charm Arabella Dempsey, the new teacher at his sister Sally's school. When the two of them literally run into each other and discover a secret message in a Christmas plum pudding, romantic sparks fly as does an air of intrigue.

 Upon reading this again, I rediscovered the delightful romantic comedy tones of the story(if Blake Edwards was still with us, this would be a fine adaptation for him to film) and found the developing feelings between Arabella and Turnip to be truly heartfelt.

 Jane Austen has a small supporting role here, as an old family friend of Arabella's, and since Willig was inspired by The Watsons, an unfinished work of Austen's, when creating this particular heroine, Jane's presence was fitting indeed.

Having read a couple of the other Pink Carnation books(I so need to catch up!), I was familiar with a few other characters from this world that made their appearances within the story and the author was good enough to add a special section towards the end of the book that explained who they were. All in all, TMOTM is a true seasonal treat that is always in style:

Well, I do feel as if the holiday season has begun and much thanks to Seasons of Reading for giving all of us readers a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle to renew our literary spirits.

Jane Austen has become a source of inspiration for writers and readers alike and as the end of this particular year approaches, it would do us well to take some solace and sensibility from works by her as well as in the spirit of her art.

She may not have written much about the Christmas season yet the themes of family, hope and enduring love that came from her pen do suit this time of year so. Even if Jane is caught up in a mystery or a genre that seems far from home, so to speak, her vibrant spirit offers any muse a good deal of merriment and joy that makes any story a gift to be opened again and again:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Savoring the funny taste of culinary chaos

As I get ready for Thanksgiving, it occurs to me that one of the most unifying things about that holiday is that just about everyone has a least favorite food that gets served every year.

For some, it might be a vegetable(okay, for a lot of people, it's a vegetable), others may dislike such staples as cranberry sauce, stuffing or a particular flavor of pie. What we need to remember is that your foul dish is likely another person's fabulous treat that they wait all year for.

So, in the flavor profile of this upcoming culinary occasion, I thought it would be fun to look at a few moments in pop culture where off the menu items were featured and not always appreciated. Not all of these are Thanksgiving related but the laughs that come with them are tasty indeed:

STINKY SWEET TREATS: While the ladies on Golden Girls did love their cheesecake, there were many times that they had to snack on dishes that one could literally turn their nose up to.

A memorable late night snack from Rose actually woke the whole household, with her foul smelling krispie squares that actually tasted wonderful as long as you knew the proper way to eat them:

TURKEY NOT FOR ME: A classic episode of Everybody Loves Raymond had mother Marie replacing her beloved traditional Thanksgiving feast with healthier fare, which included making a tofu turkey.

While the fellas in the family were less than thrilled with this flavorless fowl, it was one of the few times that Marie and daughter in law Debra were on the same page, cooking wise that is:

A BLUE SOUP BIRTHDAY: Understandably, the British do not have Thanksgiving yet they are not strangers to festive meals gone awry. One of the best sequences in the movie Bridget Jones' Diary making a royal wreck of a birthday dinner that she's planning to serve her best friends.

Fortunately for her, Mark Darcy shows up and stays as both rescue chef and guest, giving a very good first impression to Bridget's pals. In fact, you could say that the terrible dinner, that consisted of blue soup, omelette and a dessert that resembled orange marmalade in more ways than one, was truly a wonderful celebration. Only true friends(and true loves) would stick around for a miserable meal like that:

A MOUTHFUL OF MARZIPAN: Given the legendary appetites of Lorelai and Rory on Gilmore Girls , you wouldn't think that there was any edible item on earth that either one of them could resist. Yet at times, both mother and daughter could be picky eaters.

A prime example is the one time that Richard and Emily gave them specially made marzipan as a Friday Night Dinner dessert. While Rory was willing to give it a chance, Lorelai considered such a dubious sweet to be on the level of Velveeta(although she did take a bunny shaped piece). In the end, Rory followed suit as her first bite became her last but she wasn't the last one to slip some into a napkin for future disposal:

On that note, I would like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving(I'll be back here on Cyber Monday) and to remind all of us that Thanksgiving is not really about what you do or don't eat. The real meaning of the holiday is to share a special time with loved ones as a celebration of the good things that we have in life.

Granted, it might be hard to do that during these troubling times but it is when the state of things are in flux that we need to take a moment to embrace our blessings the most. Oh, and don't forget to pass the potatoes or the popcorn, whichever is on your table that night:

Monday, November 21, 2016

A packet of potential paperback presents for the holidays

While Thanksgiving will be soon upon us with it's foodie focus, the other celebratory main event this week are the big sales on just about everything for the gift giving holidays to come.

To offer a little help in that department, I thought making a few suggestions in the book category,particularly paperbacks, might be in the spirit of the season. Paperbacks can be as lovely as a hardcover book, not to mention suitable for slipping into a stocking or to be spread out over the course of a celebration.

First up, as PBS will be airing a brand new adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery's  Anne of Green Gables on November 24, I suspect  that a good many people will want to pick up a fresh copy or two to share with new fans. There are plenty of great softcover editions to choose from(I'm planning to treat myself to the Sourcebooks Fire one) and there is even a modern day version that you can pair up with the classic.

One of the great books that I read last year was Ana of California by Andi Teran, which takes place in present day America, as fifteen year old Ana Cortez is fresh out of foster homes and must do her best to fit in at the farm of brother and sister Emmet and Abbie Garber.

While the book does follow many of the plot points of the original, it does have it's own unique characters that add greatly to the emotional development of our heroine. The author is a huge fan of the LMM series and granted, I haven't read Anne of Green Gables yet, her take on these characters did peak my interest quite a bit.

So, if you have someone on your gift list who needs a new copy and would like to check out a fresh twist on their favorite story, here's your double dose of Anne goodness:

For that reader in the mood for old school style lady lit, Barbara Davis has a new novel coming out in early December that should fit like a glove.

Love,Alice begins with Dovie Larkin, who is still recovering from a personal tragedy that took her fiance from her permanently.  During her days grieving at the local cemetery, she comes across an older woman who is mourning a loss just as great, if not more so.

Dovie wants to know more of the woman's story and a collection of old letters uncovered in the cemetery's lost and found offers a few answers yet opens up an old mystery that brings with it even more questions. Such a story may sound sad but as the Elton John lyric says "sad songs say so much" and so do heartfelt stories like this.

If you have someone who prefers a leisurely approach to nonfiction, the twentieth anniversary edition of Under The Tuscan Sun could do the trick.

This new edition has a new afterword by author Frances Mayes, who gives readers a follow-up on the many of the wonderful people she met while  renovating a villa in the Tuscan countryside. Mayes also moved to a nearby town named Cortona and fully embraced the laid back elegance of life in that part of the world, which her writing inspired others to do so as well.

Even you know someone who already has the original, that person might like an updated copy and for those who have only seen the 2003 movie adaptation(which is vastly different from the book), this anniversary edition might be an engaging eye-opener:

Finally, for that film fan or crazy for the eighties friend, Jason Diamond has a pop culture friendly memoir that ought to be their golden ticket.

Searching for John Hughes chronicles Diamond's dream of writing the ultimate biography of the iconic director, even going so far as to move to New York to become a writer. While that dream became deferred, Diamond still found plenty of inspiration from those movies that showcased outsiders and loners which lead him to discover a new dream and an artistic life of his own.

The book will be available by November 29 and considering that  it's a true story of keeping hope alive during the bad times via film, the release date feels quite timely indeed:

 Well, I do hope this helps out any anxious book shoppers out there and there's nothing wrong with giving one or two of these titles as a gift to yourself. While reading during the holidays can be difficult(and sometimes frowned upon), it doesn't have to take away from family time.

In fact, it might make a few of those awkward get-togethers a bit more bearable, especially if you can get someone to ask about your book and let you know what they like to read, which makes that gift buying list all the easier to manage:

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Brewing up a pot of Jane Austen Mystery tea for the Christmas Spirit Readathon

I know that next week is all about Thanksgiving but I will be getting a head start on the yuletide season by joining in Seasons of Reading's Christmas Spirit Readathon which begins on November 21 and ends on the 27th.

While all of the books you read for this challenge don't have to be about Christmas, my picks for this readathon do have that theme along with two other common threads for this literary quilt; Jane Austen and mysteries. Odd pairing, you may say, especially for this time of year but let me show you just how sweetly suitable all three of my CSR selections are for this particular occasion:

JANE AND THE WANDERING EYE: After taking part in the blog tour for Stephanie Barron's latest entry in her Jane Austen Mystery series(Jane and the Waterloo Map), I decided that it was high time for me to check out some of the earlier books and happy to discover that the third title does have a holiday setting of sorts.

The story takes place during the Christmas season of 1804, where our Miss Austen is growing weary of Bath. Her spirits are enliven by a commission from her friend Lord Harold Trowbridge, who asks Jane to keep an eye on his visiting niece Lady Desdemona.

Jane's shadowing of Lady Desdemona fits into her social schedule well but during a party with theatrical folk, a murder takes place that leaves an unusual eye symbol near the victim. This sets off a few other untimely deaths that point the blame towards Lady D's brother and gives Jane more reason to aid her good friend in this sinister inquiry. Lord Harold is a strictly fictional character in this series yet I would like to see how well he and Jane get on at this stage of the game:

JANE AND THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS: While I do want to explore the rest of the series in somewhat chronological order, it was hard to resist picking this one in time for the holidays.

Here, we meet up with Jane in 1814 as she is spending the Christmas season at the celebrated estate of the Chute family. She is more than pleased to be enjoying the festivities with family and friends, not to mention her delight at Mansfield Park doing brisk business at the booksellers.

That good time is cut short when a visiting naval officer dies under suspicious circumstances that may be related to the tension still rising from the conclusion of the War of 1812.  Murder and merriment aren't the traditional mix for a holiday party but I'm sure that Jane and friends will be able to engage in a dance or two while solving this chilling crime:

THE MISCHIEF OF THE MISTLETOE: Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series has a number of delightful heroes and heroines playing spy games in Regency England and in this special Christmas edition, the spotlight is turned on a seemingly silly sidekick who is braver than he appears.

 Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh has unexpectedly come across adventure before yet upon visiting his sister Sally at school, is surprised by the talents of Arabella Dempsey, a new teacher who uncovers a deadly plot with the unlikely clue being a Christmas pudding.

Arabella also happens to be a good friend of Jane Austen, who makes a delightful appearance here, yet it is Turnip who proves to be her best ally in putting this particular message of national importance into the right hands. This is a reread for me and one that I'm most pleased to revisit. Turnip may not be a slick spy master yet he proves that old adage about a sharp dressed man:

There's still plenty of time to sign up for the Christmas Spirit readathon(you can follow along on Facebook or the Twitter hashtag #CSreadathon) and there is also a longer reading challenge for the holidays that you can sign up for at the Christmas Spirit blog. I do believe that the prizes for this readathon will be extra special but let us keep in mind that reading is it's own reward.

Jane Austen never fails to lift my spirits and the way things are this year, we need all of the joy that we can get. Of course, Austen antics are good for all seasons yet they do add that extra bit of holiday sparkle that makes the season brighter than ever:

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sharing some awkward moments at the Thanksgiving TV table

We're about a week or so away from Thanksgiving and while food, family and football games are a large part of that holiday, another classic staple is a bit less than savory.

The possibilities for old tensions and new to arise at the dinner table is quite the time honored tradition and let's face it, folks, this year promises to have an exceptional number of those close encounters.

However, such awkwardness is not inevitable and with the help of some of our favorite TV shows, we can learn to laugh them off(or least, cope with them better). So, enjoy this TV tasting menu of Turkey Day turmoil at the table:

DINNER WITH THE DANVERS: As it turns out, not even Supergirl can leap tall buildings to avoid family feuding. While Kara was happy to have her foster mom and work buddy Winn(to make it a Friendsgiving) over for Thanksgiving, big sis Alex was not in a festive mood there.

Mad at her mother for seemingly putting Kara first, Alex was on the way to Tipsy Town by the time the food was ready. With Kara adding a last minute blast of heat vision to warm up the main course, that only added fuel to the fire Alex was stoking. Fortunately, they all had a super villain to battle before dessert but things did get patched up in time for leftovers:

THE BARONE BATTLE OF THE ENTREES: For her first solo Thanksgiving, Debra on Everybody Loves Raymond wanted to make her meal as distinctive as possible from her mother-in-law Marie's beloved holiday feasts.

She went so far as to have fish as the main course, figuring that it would be best not to directly compete with Marie on the turkey front. That didn't stop Marie from bringing over a turkey that day, "just in case people want to eat!" The two choices of protein did make the dinner better, especially since there were some unexpected guests to the dinner party:

A FLAVORLESS KISS FOR RORY AND JESS: In the classic Gilmore Girls episode, "A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving", one of the four stops for Lorelai and Rory was,of course, Luke's Diner.

Since this was also at the start of Rory's relationship with Luke's nephew Jess, kissing in public was something she wasn't too comfortable with.

 The smooch that they did exchange was bland enough for Lorelai to comment on, with an extra sharp observation from Babette who was one table over. Fortunately, Kirk had nothing to add as he was still recovering from his bout with his cat named Kirk(yes, he did name the cat that on purpose):

THE TROUBLE WITH TRIFLE: On one of the Thanksgiving episodes of Friends, Rachel wanted to impress everyone by making the dessert and not just any dessert; an English trifle.

Problem was, she mixed up two recipes which turned her dish into a hideous hybrid of shepard's pie and trifle. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, the gang did their best to deal with this dessert disaster.

While Phoebe had the best excuse for not tasting it, the rest of the guests found rather creative ways to stomach that tough tasting treat. Oddly enough, Joey was the only person who actually enjoyed each and every mouthful:

So, as you can see, Thanksgiving does bring it's share of good flavors and feelings along with the taste of tension but a good dose of laughter and love can balance that out. My best advice for your real world holiday dinner dealings is to find something that everyone can safely agree upon. A favorite movie, board game or a wonderful song should be able to lighten any moodiness and make your meal time a happy memory to cherish for the future:

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Seeking cinematic comfort in the Movie Trailer Park

In times of great strife and turmoil in our country, movies have been our emotional mainstay, providing relief,comfort and hope to get us through the tough times. From the Great Depression to the Great Recession, the magic of movie storytelling has become an essential tool in our self care skill set. 

 Regardless of how you feel about the results of the presidential election this week, we can all agree that the road ahead of us is going to be hard to say the least. With that in mind, I thought it might help to ease our troubled spirits by finding something to look forward to at the movies.

To start, Rogue One will be arriving in theaters soon. This Star Wars story, set in the middle of both trilogies, has much to offer us with it's determined heroine who joins a ragtag group of rebels in order to steal those all-important plans for the Death Star to save the day. Not to mention it looks like Darth Vadar will be playing a significant role and possibly a major throwdown scene to boot:

If an old fashioned romance is what you're in the mood for, La La Land sounds like your golden ticket. Emma Stone stars as Mia, a struggling actress who is a waitress at a coffee house in between auditions. One fateful evening, she meets Sebastian(Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist who hopes to finance his dream of owning a night club by playing at swanky parties.

The two of them fall in love yet have differing goals that threaten to tear them apart but not without a song and dance number or two there. This movie has been doing well on the film festival circuit and will be getting a widescreen release soon, just in time to put a little love in your heart as well as a spring in your dance step:

For something to share with the family, Disney brings us a another amazing animated heroine with Moana. The title character is a Polynesian princess who,despite what some think, is destined to save her people from an oncoming danger.

She heads off across the ocean,which happens to be an ally of hers, with the demigod Maui by her side and battles the elements, pirates and other obstacles to find a hidden island that holds the key to protecting her home. Yes, there are songs, some of which were written by Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda, and since Dwayne Johnson is the voice of Maui, you will hear what The Rock is singing, that's for sure!:

Also, if you want to take inspiration from a true story, Hidden Figures is the right entertainment equation. Based on Margot Lee Shetterley's nonfiction account of three of the top female mathematicians at NASA in the early days of the Space Race.

Thanks to the persistence and intelligence of such ladies as Katherine Johnson,Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson(played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae), John Glen was able to be the first American astronaut to successfully orbit the earth.

For such capable women to have to deal with sexism and racism in order to do their jobs as well as serve their country, such a story is a sad yet vital part of our history. The movie will have a Christmas Day release and then enter more theaters in January, which will be quite the cold month in more ways than one to be sure:

Granted, going to the movies isn't going to make up for what's happened or what is to come. However, they can be a way to find common ground between us all and at the very least, give us a renewed sense of hope.

What I hope to do with this blog is to provide folks with a little break from those daily challenges by showcasing art and entertainment which, when done well, can remind us of our better natures along with encouraging our rights to think,read and imagine independently. Every little bit helps, so they say, and I want to do my part.

While life and the movies can disappoint at times, things can and do change for the better if you keep the faith and wait long enough. Having a Wonder Woman movie that may truly honor our most legendary woman warrior right is a small step but one that I'll eager to take towards the future:

Monday, November 07, 2016

My Super-Sized Saturday Book Haul

One of my favorite fall events is to go shopping for bargains at the local church rummage sale in my neighborhood. They hold one twice a year and over the years, I've gotten some great books and other pop culture trinkets that way.

This Saturday,however, was also the day that I had to return the first library book that I've taken out in over a decade(last month, I got a New York Public Library card and enjoyed reading Curtis Settenfeld's Eligible). So, this became a super sized book haul for me and I pretty much made out like a bandit, as they say. To share my joy with you all, let us begin by looking at the books that I picked up at the rummage sale:

A DOUBLE DOSE OF DOSTOYEVSKY: I haven't read a lot of Fydor Dostoyevsky, especially The Idiot, a novel I first heard of in The World According to Garp(the leading man was reading it at one point).

The title refers to a member of the Russian royal family, Prince Myshkin, a naive and trusting soul who others find to be a complete fool. His journey through society reveals a lot about the people around him as well as himself. I have to say that the cover art caught my eye(it's a 1968 edition,which accounts for the psychedelic design) and hopefully, this particular translation by Henry and Olga Carlisle is as engaging as well.

I know that I did read Crime and Punishment but it was so long ago that it's high time I got reacquainted with that story. From what I remember, the whole plot revolves around a premeditated murder by tormented student Raskolnikov of a local woman whom no one likes.

Yet, Raskolnikov finds himself conflicted once the deed is done. Once he is caught, plenty of moral arguments are made regarding the nature of murder but salvation for his sins becomes the ultimate goal. I was in my teens when I read this book(and The Brothers Karamazov as well), so rereading it now should be interesting, to say the least:

MEETING WITH THE MARGARETS: The recent passing of  renowned sci-fi author Sheri S. Tepper makes me regret not having read her work sooner. When I spotted a copy of one of her last books, The Margarets,  on the sales table, it felt like an opportunity that I shouldn't miss.

The story is set in a distant future, where young Margaret Bain learns to survive the harshness of her life at a Martian work colony by dividing herself into seven different personas, each of whom go off in different directions on other worlds.

Bringing these diverse yet connected selves back together is the key to saving humanity from those out there who feel justified in keeping this particular species under their control. The book does sound promising and I'll give it a fair shot. My interest in science fiction is on and off there but having a female lead with secrets to discover(several, in this case) is a good way to get me involved:

A DEVILISH GOOD READ: While C. S. Lewis is best known for the Chronicles of Narnia fantasy series for kids, he also wrote a few books intended for adults. The Screwtape Letters are meant to be a satire dealing with morality, as newbie demon Wormwood gets advice on how to handle humans by letters from his elder uncle Screwtape.

Wormwood's first assignment is to tempt a man called "The Patient" into damning his soul, a task that proves difficult to say the least. The humor of this book has gained it fans such as John Cleese, who narrated an audio book version and the late David Foster Wallace who ranked as one of his Top Ten favorite books.

I happen to be a fan of the TV series Lucifer and this book sounds the perfect group read for most of the characters on that show,especially Mother Morningstar, who is still getting use to living among mortals and so not loving it:

QUITE THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER ACT: I found this last book purely by chance and once I saw it, I couldn't resist. Charlotte Gordon wrote a duel biography of English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and her perhaps more famous daughter Mary Shelley entitled Romantic Outlaws, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award last year.

Wollstonecraft died while Mary was still a baby, yet the child grew up in the shadow of her mother's reputation and made certain choices in her life that echoed her lost parent's. Both had to get married to leave oppressive homes and both were criticized for the company that they kept, not to mention their writing.

Learning more about these literary icons will be great, particularly since I've always liked Shelley's Frankenstein. Getting a more in depth look into the birth of that book ought to be a real eye opener there:

 And now for the library:

HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD: I may well be one of the last HP fans to check out this newly written play that takes Harry and friends into adulthood.

From what I have heard, the plot is strongly focused on a friendship between Harry's youngest son Albus and Scorpius, Draco Malfoy's one and only offspring. The boys meet at Hogwarts,of course, and a Time Turner falls into their hands which inspires them to change a certain moment in Harry's history that has more far reaching impact than they expected.

I have heard various reports on the quality of this play to puzzle me exceedingly, with the best reviews merely giving this extension of the Potterverse an "it's alright" rating. I like the concept of Harry and Draco's kids being friends yet I know full well that this story was written by two other people(with J.K. Rowling's approval) than the original author.

 Since the new Potterverse movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them , is arriving in theaters this upcoming weekend, this is my way of getting back into this world and hopefully will be just as fun as this film looks to be:

THE ICE CREAM QUEEN OF ORCHARD STREET: Author Susan Jane Gilman is best known for her nonfiction work yet this debut novel was inspired by legendary ice cream seller Tom Carvel.

Her leading lady is Malka, who was abandoned by her parents as a child after an accident involving a horse driven cart leaves her right leg permanently altered. Taken in by the Dinellos, the family of Italian ice makers that caused her injury, she changes her name to Lillian and learns all she can about their sweet treat business.

When she grows up, Lillian wants to take part in the Dinellos' new ice cream parlor but she is quickly shut out. Out of sprite, she starts up a rival company and becomes the seemingly sweet faced ruler of her own edible empire. This book has a snappy flavor that I know will make it a truly tasty read:

THE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT: I've heard many great reviews of Alexander Chee's latest novel, so much so that I had to put it on hold. Lucky for me, it was available just in time as I was returning Eligible.

The story is set in the opera world of Paris in 1822, as top ranked singer Lillet Berne is about to star in a show written with her in mind. Trouble is, the plot of the opera is a rather thinly veiled retelling of her past, which is filled with various secrets and lies.

Lillet knows of at least four people who have such knowledge and might be willing to embarrass her in public like this. While figuring out who spilled the beans, she goes over her memories of those rough and tumble times to see if there's a chance that this could be a blessing instead of a curse.  Granted, my knowledge of opera is limited at best but the rags to riches tale of a musical diva is the little black dress of storytelling-it never goes out of style:

Well, my reading cup is definitely overflowing here. I do have other bookish plans, including my TBR for the upcoming Christmas Spirit readathon from Seasons of Reading later this month and that one has a Jane Austen theme, so stay tuned for that!

In the meantime, I hope that things go well tomorrow in regards to the election. I have been keeping this blog a neutral zone in that department yet I will say that we all need to come together in a positive way once this whole thing is over and done with. It's in all of our best interests to find and share our mutual joys and strengths as we move forward.

My best advice for that night is to take a break from the election coverage and watch a nice movie with your friends and family. I plan to enjoy Star Trek Beyond during those prime time hours and I did find a few good films at the rummage sale such as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. It's a two disc special edition and a wonderful take on this classic book that should be suitable as we all turn this particular corner together:

Friday, November 04, 2016

Adding some Foodie flavor to your Nonfiction November menu

Recently, I learned of a literary theme known as Nonfiction November  in which reading books based on fact is strongly encouraged. While I don't read as much nonfiction as I should, there are a few suggestions that I can make in this category,especially since Thanksgiving is also arriving this month.

If you like books about food, why not read about some of those staples of the Thanksgiving day dinner table? For example, I happen to reading Elaine Khosrova's Butter: A Rich History(an advance copy that I won from Library Thing; the actual book is due out Nov.15) and it runs the gamut from why cow's milk makes butter taste the way it does to the various methods of making butter around the world and a section devoted to recipes of creating numerous butters at home.

It's an engaging book so far and already I've learned that Sumerians were among the first to create butter churns, there is a museum in Cork,Ireland dedicated to butter and that, yes, Virginia, people can make horse milk butter. I am eager to get to the chapters on margarine, as that whole butter battle show that when it comes to taste, there is no true substitute:

Another common kitchen item that has it's own savory story to tell is Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. One of the oldest preservatives in the world, this simple rock mineral has been the cause of wars, the maker of family fortunes and even determined who would be included in the ruling classes of many nations.

Kurlansky is well known for his micro histories(other titles of his include Cod and The Big Oyster) and if you're looking for a smartly written account of something that's nearly taken for granted yet holds huge importance, he's the man to go to. Salt is that unique flavor that enhances any dish yet needs to be subtle about it, which this book does as well:

Moving on to the side dishes, we have The Potato by Larry Zuckerman. The subtitle of the book is "How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World" and while Ireland's potato famine is well known, the  impact of the potato upon the American and European life over the years has been keenly felt.

From becoming a cash crop as well as an alternative fuel source at times, potatoes are more that just quick and easy culinary fodder. Zuckerman traces the history of the spud's development from the 17th century right up to WWI and showcases it's edible evolution on the plate and society at large.

Recipes don't appear to be part of the book, which is a shame. As versatile a vegetable as it is, having a few tips about proper preparation would be a plus. Nonetheless, The Potato sounds like a good read about a good eat:

Finally, a book that gives a little perspective about a classic Thanksgiving dilemma-what to do with all of those leftovers? Sue Shephard chronicles the history of food preservation in Pickled,Potted and Canned, which may have you feeling extremely grateful for that overstuffed fridge of yours.

The book is jam packed with historical details, such as Attila the Hun's method of saddle side meat curing, how a Scottish housewife turned her husband's bargain buy of bitter Seville oranges into a marmalade empire and the rise of modern frozen food monarch Clarence Birdseye.

The author's experience in creating several British TV shows about foodie life clearly adds to the flavor profile of this book. Hopefully, more folks will increase their mental pantry of food knowledge by reading this and perhaps not be too quick to judge the value of certain canned goods there:

Whatever you choose to read nonfiction wise this month, I do hope that your books are both entertaining and educational. As for foodie fact reading, another good reason to engage in that is to have a solid base for any culinary debates that may crop up at your family Thanksgiving celebration. To deep fry or not to deep fry the turkey; that may be the question!:

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The LRG List of Best Books in 2016

With only two months left of this year, the time feels right to go over my picks for the Best Books of 2016. After all, literary award season is off and running(with much congrats to Paul Beatty for being the first American to win the Man Booker Prize for The Sellout!) and Best of lists are already starting to show up elsewhere.

Before we begin, I have to say that there are a few books that I haven't finished reading just yet but otherwise would surely be on this list. So, honorable mention goes to A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.

 Hopefully by New Year's Eve or early 2017, I 'll have both of these excellent novels finished and nestled upon my bookshelves. In the meanwhile, here are my top choices for the finest page turning I've done in 2016:

BOOK LOVERS' DELIGHT: I was fortunate enough to start off the year with a wonderful debut novel that celebrated the love reading. Katarina Bivald's The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend has a charming leading lady in Sara, who leaves her home country of Sweden behind to meet her American pen pal Amy in the small Iowa town of the title.

Sara arrives, only to discover that Amy has recently passed away but most of the locals are happy to make her welcome. To repay that kindness, she uses Amy's massive home library to start up a used bookstore in town.

 Soon, plenty of residents are more invested in reading and in each other's lives, not to mention that Sara soon finds herself in love. Will she stay or will she go back to Sweden if her love is not returned?

This is a must-read for any lifelong reader and the perfect thing to lift your literary spirits at any time of year, or any year for that matter!

JOURNEYS INTO THE PAST: Two of the books I've read this year can be seen as historical fiction although their true travels are of the heart.  

Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend is based upon the real life spy adventure undertaken by Frances Conway during WWII. She enters into a marriage of convenience in order to provide cover for Ainslie, an experienced intelligence officer who had to bring a wife along to the Galapagos islands for a mission to check out suspected enemy agents.

The story does have a few thrilling sequences but the center of the story is Frances as she goes from being a runaway teenager who is betrayed by her best friend to an adult woman wondering about the choices made in her rather lonely life. It's a hauntingly beautiful book that explores the true depths of love and friendship in more ways than one:

News of the World by Paulette Jiles happens to be a nominee for the National Book Award this year and even if it doesn't win, this short but savvy novel is a treasure.

A retired military officer and widower, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd makes his living in 1870 by traveling to small towns and giving public readings of newspapers to those eager to hear. On one stop, he is commissioned to bring a former captive of the Kiowa tribe, a ten year old girl named Johanna, home to the only living relatives she has left.

Their travels come with a lot of setbacks,including a pursuit by men with ill intentions, but what abides in the end is the bond between Kidd and Johanna, two outsiders that feel at home with each other. I've read an earlier novel by Jiles,Enemy Women, which made me want to read this one and yet, I truly think that this surpasses that book by a country mile. A movie version isn't necessary but it would be great to see both of these characters come alive on the silver screen,showcasing their true grit, so to speak:

LOST IN LOVE: It's been awhile since I read Terry McMillan and I was happy to get reacquainted with her in I Almost Forgot About You. Dr. Georgia Young feels resigned to the dull daily life she's leading until word of the passing of a former boyfriend causes her to look up a few old loves to learn what she may have done, right or wrong, to determine how those relationships turned out.

This walk down memory lane jolts Georgia into making a few other changes in her life, despite what her family and friends might think. The book has a lovely laid back style to it that allows you to join Georgia in her self exploration of her past and cheer her on as she takes steps to find a future that suits her best. IAFAY is a relaxing read that doesn't serve up empty calories-in fact, it's a feast of stylish substance.

 WALK THROUGH THE FIRE: While I have been catching up with Stephen King's Bill Hodges trilogy this year, his son Joe Hill has released a whopper of a paranormal saga that sets him apart from his father's legacy in the best sense of the term.

The Fireman is set in modern times, where a mysterious plaque known as Dragonscale is killing people via spontaneously combustion. School nurse Harper Grayson has a double risk upon contacting this bizarre virus as she's pregnant yet she hopes to give birth to a healthy child.

Her best chance of survival lies with the mystery man known as The Fireman, who seems to be in control of his illness and can harness it's powers to protect himself and others. Harper finds refuge with him and others affected by Dragonscale yet their is more than one battle that needs to be waged until true safety is found for all. This is one of those lovely long books that you really don't want to end but when it does, you long to see what the author comes up with next:

NOT SOME DAMSEL IN DISTRESS: Blogger Tim Hanley followed up his amazing look at Wonder Woman(Wonder Woman Unbound) with an in depth view of one of the other heroes of the Superman comics,, only her super powers include determination and moxie.

Investigating Lois Lane covers all of the aspects of this top reporter for the Daily Planet, from her comic book days to small screen versions and even her portrayal in the most recent superhero movies. Hanley traces her history with skill and grace, showcasing the writers, artists and actresses who made this character such a cultural icon over the years well.

Lois has gone from just being the token newspaperwoman and love interest of Superman to becoming a feminist icon in her own right. Granted, her strengths and weaknesses often change for better or worse with the times but one thing always remains and that is Lois Lane is a coolly confident heroine that anyone can admire and emulate:

Despite the chaotic nature of this year, there have been some great books to help us all get through these tough times and I thank every writer out there for that. Hopefully by this time next time, our greatest national crisis will be where to put all of the new and wonderful books that are sure to come out in our personal libraries: