Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Springing into some new books for March & April of 2017

Despite those mixed weather reports from our official groundhogs, it looks as if spring will be arriving very soon. The warmer days will be good for many activities, including reading out of doors, something that I've never been drawn to myself , which requires buying a new book or two.

Granted, March and April are not always seen as the major pop culture release months yet I do see that changing. From event movies to major TV miniseries and brand new books, this season is more than just a warm-up for the summer delights to come:

 In Elizabeth Kostova's upcoming novel,The Shadow Land, our leading lady is traveling to Bulgaria in order to recover from the loss of a loved one and finds something completely unexpected in her luggage.

Alexandra quickly realizes that the funeral urn in her possession must belong to the elderly couple she helped get into a cab and is determined to return it as soon as can be. However, that good deed does not go unpunished as her search brings about unwanted attention from those dedicated to protecting a family secret that she had no idea of stumbling across.

Aided by a rather helpful taxi driver named Bobby, Alexandra soon finds herself on an adventure that takes her into the dark currents of European history. Kostova has a flair for blending mystery and old world mood like a fine tea that should satisfy anyone with a taste for such literary brew(April).

 For a story that's set further back in history, we have The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown, the witch hunter in question being Matthew Hopkins who was well known for his brutal body count in England during the 1600s.

In this debut novel, his widowed sister Alice comes to live with him, having nowhere else to go and especially with her expecting a child soon. Her impression of their hometown of Essex is one of fear as her brother's grim occupation terrifies everyone, herself included.

Wanting to know why Matthew has taken up this cause, Alice learns more of their family history and finds a truth that must be revealed in order to spare more innocent lives. However, confronting that dark secret could also threaten her own life in the bargain. This sounds like an intriguing imaginative look into why some prefer their enemies to be magical rather than merely mortal(April):


 Food writer David McAninch finds more than he bargained for when he takes an assignment to the remote countryside of Gascony in France to write about the fine art of cooking duck.

Being a fan of French life to begin with, he discovers that Gascony has much to offer and even winds up moving his whole family over there to experience it better. Duck Season chronicles that period of eight months for him where McAninch learned to cook many of the local dishes with his neighbors as well as tend sheep, hunt pigeons and work in a vineyard.

Even if you're not as big of a Francophile as the author, this gregarious look at such a homespun life and cuisine certainly could whet your appetite for French food, including the infamous duck comfit(March): 


 Looking for love is never easy, even when it seems to be so near and yet so far. That's the conundrum for the couple in Kate Eberlen's Miss You as Tess and Gus meet by chance during a trip to Florence and keep running into each other over the course of sixteen years.

As time goes on, each of them face similar challenges and choices in life as loved ones grow ill and depart, new responsibilities must be taken and chances for romance grow slim. Yet, somehow, Tess and Gus are meant to be together despite the tricks that fate plays upon them both.

This British debut novel is set to arrive in America this spring and should be a lovely read to relish as  love is in the literary air(April):

In Kate Alcott's The Hollywood Daughter, a young woman learns the difference between reel love and real life as her cinematic icon makes a startling declaration of love.

Jessica Malloy has always been thrilled to have her Hollywood studio father work to make Ingrid Bergman one of the biggest movie stars in the world. She worships Bergman to the point of wishing that the actress was her mother instead of the cold parent that she feels she has.

When in 1950 Ingrid Bergman does not hide her illicit love affair with director Roberto Rossellini nor the baby she has with him out of wedlock, Jessica's idol shatters before her along with her own notions about her family. If you enjoy old school Hollywood lore, this story seems like the matinee read to devour a bowl of popcorn with(March):


 Rare book expert Rebecca Romney has made her mark with fans of the hit reality series Pawn Stars and for this collection of tales from literary history entitled Printer's Error, she teams up with researcher J. P. Romney to share their knowledge of the printed word with readers and viewers alike.

From debates over if Gutenberg actually printed the Bible to Charles Dickens fighting for royalty rights for writers everywhere, this set of essays shares a wealth of book facts as well as celebrates the bookish folks who did their part to making literature come alive.

While I haven't watched Pawn Stars, I have no doubt that Rebecca Romney is one of the highlights of that show and that her take on books old and new here will be a page turning entertainment indeed(March):

I'm sure that many more wonderful books will blossom this spring, filling many a holiday basket or growing like a garden on bedside stands. Just be sure not to get too carried away with your reading or you'll be wasting those lovely days of sunshine by making those last pages linger too long:

Monday, February 27, 2017

You need to Get Out and see this sinister social horror story

This weekend, I saw my first new movie of 2017 in theaters and it was a shockingly good film indeed. Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a young photographer who is nervous about meeting his girlfriend Rose's(Alison Williams) family at their remote country home.

For one thing, she's white and hasn't told her folks that Chris is black. Despite her reassurances that her parents are pretty liberal, he's still unsure about what kind of reception awaits him.

Once they do arrive, there is the standard "meet the parents" awkwardness, especially from Alison's dad (Bradley Whitford) but so far, it's nothing that either Chris or Rose expected yet it's still early in their visit for trouble to begin:

As time goes on, Chris is sensing an underlying strangeness all around him, from Alison's mother(Catherine Keener) who insists that her hypnotherapy would cure him of his smoking habit to the few other black people that he encounters at the family home over the weekend with their stilted speech and stiff manners.

Things come to a point after an incidence at a garden party, where Chris detects a sure sign that something is really going on and it's not just his imagination. I won't say anymore about the plot because it's better to go into this film without too many spoilers to fully enjoy it for the first time.

Many people have had said that there is a 1970s vibe to this movie and I definitely felt that while watching Get Out. Yes, it is a horror movie but more of a suspenseful build up is created here, with a steady sense of dread mixed with humor that makes the reveal all the more terrifying.

One of the strongest elements of the story is Chris's rising unease about what is happening which he is willing to explain away to Rose when she tries to placate his fears either with jokes or outrage,which undercuts his level of certainty. It's the sort of character arch that you would see in fear films from the late sixties and early seventies such as Rosemary's Baby, where the lead character starts to wonder if their suspicions are as real as they seem to be:

 One film from that time period that even writer-director Jordan Peele has referenced when discussing Get Out is The Stepford Wives and not just for the suburban setting.

Like that earlier film did with addressing the tensions arising from that particular wave of feminism, Get Out explores our still current issues with racism and refuses to simply display obvious examples of bigotry. Rather, it peels back the polite veneer of alleged acceptance and shows the true threat that a false front can hide with it's seemingly innocent questions and cringe worthy comments.

Some of the most Stepford moments come when Chris is trying to interact with the African American staff employed by Rose's family and one guest at the garden party, whose out of sync style of speech and attitudes are made extra chilling by their calmness:

This is Jordan Peele's debut as a director(he previously co-wrote the comedy Keanu) and he handles this film like a seasoned pro.

 As a fan of his former comedy series Key and Peele, I knew he was a fan of horror movies and it certainly shows.There is humor here but only when needed, a solid sign of smart story telling.

One of the best things about Get Out are the subtle nods to other genre films(at one point, I was reminded of Deliverance) that don't distract from the main focus of the plot or make the movie feel unoriginal. On the contrary, the film has a fresh energy to it that I hope other filmmakers embrace and are allowed by Hollywood to expand upon.

 With all of the positive reviews from audiences and critics alike(not to mention a strong set of box office numbers for it's opening weekend), Get Out will surely lead to more opportunities for Jordan Peele to make the films he wants to make.  I know that I'm not alone in wondering what he'll do next and glad to see that in troubling times like these, we are getting the films that all of us need to see:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Some pre-Oscar Night thoughts

Well, folks, Oscar night is almost upon us and if you're like me, this is your Super Bowl. Granted, I haven't seen all of the nominated films and yes, the show will run long but it's a grand entertainment that I wouldn't want to miss out for anything.

It is interesting to see that ,despite the multiple nominations for a certain film, that many of the wins for the main categories are not so predetermined. That's good as a sweep does tend to take the fun out of things especially for a movie with a little too much insider love being lavished over it.

So, as a long time Oscar watcher, I have a few thoughts and hunches about what may win,lose or draw this Sunday but please don't take these as predictions. My guesses are pretty much fifty-fifty there. However, for some of these, I do hope that I'm right for the artist's sake:

VIOLA'S YEAR: In the acting categories, we do get the sense that it is one particular person's time to be honored and for this year, Viola Davis is more than due her Oscar.

This is her third nomination, for Fences, which is up for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay(I would be surprised if it didn't win that one), and even though Suicide Squad wasn't a major summer hit, her performance in that film is seen as one of the highlights. Not to mention that she's truly killing it every week on How to Get Away with Murder(I know some film folk still hold TV work against movie actors but that standard is starting to fade away).

It also looks as if Denzel Washington will be joining her for a win, as Casey Affleck doesn't seem to be as quite the shoo-in for Best Actor as he once was. That would be awesome to see, as this movie was truly a labor of love for all involved:

A HIDDEN WIN?: Speaking of some bets that are no longer sure, many are speculating that La La Land may lose out in some categories to Moonlight, which is gaining more and more of a stronger following.

If that happens, that's great but for some strange reason I feel that there is a chance for Hidden Figures to take home Best Picture. The movie has slowly yet surely amassed a solid audience even before the nominations were announced and has won a few awards already, including the SAG for Best Ensemble Cast.

Hidden Figures only has three nominations in total, which does make it hard to maintain a lead here, but there was just a certain something in the air that night when the cast got that SAG award, an amazing feeling of love and support that makes me think that we might see a real surprise in this category. Could be wishful thinking on my part but either way, Hidden Figures is definitely a story worth celebrating:

 OVE-LOOKED?: The Best Make-Up category is one of my favorites, as it does get some of the most odd nominations. This year, we have Star Trek Beyond, Suicide Squad(more on that one in a moment) and A Man Called Ove, which is also up for Best Foreign Film.

A Man Called Ove is based on a Swedish novel by Fredrik Backman and it's the story of a cranky old man whose only joy in life seem to be tormenting his neighbors. However, his interactions with a new couple help him to remember what was good about the world.

The book has become an international bestseller and while it may sound like a simple tear jerker, this story has gotten good reviews from film and literary critics alike. While it may not win any awards on Oscar night, A Man Called Ove sounds like a movie to look out for and could be a true cinematic gem:

SINISTER SING ALONG: I do find it amusing that Suicide Squad is up for an Oscar and a Razzie(more than one in the latter case) this year. The movie wasn't everything that I hoped for but it did deliver in the Best Make-Up category.

It also could have had a Best Song nomination, since a couple of the tunes on the official soundtrack were written just for the film as rules mandate. Certainly, "Heathens" by Twenty One Pilots was an outstanding number, judging by the recent Grammy wins for that song.

Plus, it's a wickedly fun musical ride that offers plenty of menace and mirth, which the movie should have had more of. At the very least, it would have been a blast to see it performed on the Oscar stage:

As to my other Oscar guesses, it's likely that La La Land will get about half of the awards that it's up for(Best Director is a certain there) and along with Emma Stone for Best Actress,  Mahershala Ali will get Best Supporting Actor for Moonlight. Also, Zootopia for Best Animated, Moana's "How Far I'll Go" for Best Song(keeping my fingers crossed on that one) and Manchester By The Sea for Best Original Screenplay.

However it goes, Oscar Night is intended to be a celebration of the best in cinema and with any luck, the end results will reflect that.  That goes for Jimmy Kimmel as well, who should be a good host even if he falls back on a Matt Damon joke or two:

Thursday, February 23, 2017

An enchanting trio of reads that tell a tale as old as time

Coming up on the spring movie calendar is the live action version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson as the bookish Belle and Dan "Downton Abbey" Stevens as her title companion.

 Like many readers, this particular rendition of the romantic fairy tale does strike several positive notes for me with it's lively songs,  the strong and smart heroine and allowing a friendship to develop between the two intended love interests before making that big emotional commitment. Plus, Belle gets a gorgeous library as a token of love, what could be better?

To get into that literary spirit, here are a fine trio of books that will set the movie mood perfectly. First, go back to the beginning with a collection that not only has the original story but several from other cultures as well.

 Edited by Maria Tatar, Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales about Animal Brides and Grooms From Around the World is set up into three categories; Model Couples From Ancient Times, such as Cupid and Psyche of Roman myth, Charismatic Couples In the Popular Imagination like the feisty heroine of Norway's East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Animal Grooms, which puts a different spin on the social standards of the story.

Checking out the many similar yet unique takes on this legend offers a richness to the material and plenty of fresh food for creative thought in the bargain. This collection is due out in early March, which should give you more than enough time to discover it's delightful introductions to a new age of once upon a time:

 If you're looking for a novel that uses the Beauty and the Beast theme in a new way, then Sarah J. Maas has a fantasy series for you.

 A Court of Thorns and Roses is set in a realm where a narrow border divides humans from Fae, a truce that young huntress Feyre inadvertently breaks by killing a wolf who happened to be a shapeshifting fairy. To mend the breach, she is exiled to the kingdom of Prythian as a guest of Tamlin, one of their High Lords.

As Feyre gets to know Tamlin and the Fae much better, she learns of a blight that is threatening to destroy their magic and set free a horde of dangerous creatures upon both of their worlds. In working to save her new friend, she discovers a power stronger than magic, that of love.

 Sarah J. Maas has quite a following among teen and adult fans alike and her use of prior mythos to enhance her storytelling skills is charmingly impressive. Hopefully this will one day be a movie to marvel at:

Meanwhile, for a blend of modern times and magical beings, Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni shows you the beauty to be found in misplaced immortals living in America during the early 1900s.

Chava, a female golem, was made to be an obedient bride for a lonely man emigrating to America but her intended husband dies before they reach New York. Alone and on her own, she manages to pass for human yet struggles to control her powers on a daily basis.

Along the way, she encounters Ahmad, a jinni freed from confinement by a kindly tinsmith and who is still furious about where he has ended up. The two of them forge a friendship and possibly more, only to have what happiness they have together threatened by a ruthless mortal magician(think Gaston if he had powers).

This glowingly written novel is more that just a fairy tale but it's charms do weave a spell upon you as this special pair of hearts learn to beat as one:

The new Beauty and the Beast will be in theaters by March 17, giving us all plenty of time to rediscover the magic of that story by stacking up a pile of books that would impress Belle quite a bit there. After all, her true idea of treasure is an endless supply of books and a good friend to share them with and a good read is a grand start to that:

Monday, February 20, 2017

A nice little literary vacation with a library haul stop on the way

Well, we have another long holiday weekend to enjoy here and what better way to relax than picking up a few good books? While not every book that I selected for this occasion is light reading, all of them promise to be smartly soothing for the soul.

For example, the leading lady of Jenny Colgan's Little Beach Street Bakery is definitely looking for a change of scene and she certainly gets one after taking up residence in a remote seaside village in Cornwall.

Polly Waterford is trying to rebuild her life after her last boyfriend and their joint business venture have gone their separate ways. She decides to focus on her love of cooking, mainly bread making, to keep her spirits up and soon, it becomes clear that her destiny is to start up a new bakery and perhaps a new love as well.

So far, this story is as delightful as the other Jenny Colgan titles that I've read and if all goes well, I may have to get the sweet sequels to this tasty tale to boot:

With the Oscars coming up, I thought it would be good to read one of the books that the nominated films are based on and Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly fits that bill perfectly.

The author grew up around many of the people who knew the talented trio of women that the book focuses on, each of them who worked for NASA as mathematicians(also known as human "computers") during that critical era of the Space Race in the fifties and early sixties. Her narrative of this previously untold story has an intimate ring to it that highlights their personal struggles in this arena.

 Dealing with both racial and gender bias of that particular time period, these ladies,including Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughn, persisted in doing their utmost to having our country make international history.

 Since such an inspirational story like this can influence generations to come, I really hope that this film does well at the Academy Awards but at least the book will also be on hand to offer more insight into the lives of these remarkable women:

With this being a holiday, my big outdoor excursion was to the library both to return and pick out new reads. One of those was In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume, an author I haven't read since my teens.

This novel is intended for adults as it tells a tale told by numerous characters who were all affected by a triple set of airplane accidents in Elizabeth, NJ during the early 1950s. These deadly crashes occurred within a short time frame that left long lasting impact upon the locals, especially Miri Ammerman and her mother Rusty.

I'm only a few chapters in yet this book does feel a lot like the Blume novels that I devoured in my youth(one of my favorites was Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself) and that is a plus in it's favor. Blume's knack for creating vibrant characters that you can connect to in times of troubles is a rare gift among writers and one that she appears to use wisely and well here:

To accompany that book,  I chose Susan Vreeland's Lisette's List which also has a blend of fact and fiction as the young woman of the title finds herself moving to Vichy,France in 1937 in order to care for her husband Andre's grandfather Pascal.

 Instead of becoming bored in such a remote locale, Lisette finds herself embracing the art world, due to Pascal and his artist friends such as Cezanne and Pissaro, who have given him some of their paintings out of appreciation for his help in mixing the materials for their paint colors.

That collection is endangered when the Nazis sweep though France and with Andre enlisting in the fight against such invaders, it is up to Lisette to protect the family art as best as she can. I fondly recall reading Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue years ago and this sounds like just as beautifully crafted as that book was:

Well, I'll still be reading these books for some time to come but it is fun to plan a little literary R&R time when the right date falls on the calendar. Having a stay at home vacation(for the most part) does have it's advantages, one of the best being no worries about how many books you can cram into your suitcase-you always have room for more in the comfort of your own home!:

Friday, February 17, 2017

Futuristic fiction that offers you present day food for thought

Truth is getting stranger than fiction lately, as we nearly have daily proof of. While I don't believe in "alternative facts", I do believe that reading about alternative realities can help us figure out how to deal with the rapidly changing circumstances of our times.

For one, time travel sounds like the perfect solution yet as the leading man of Elan Mastai's new novel All Our Wrongs Todays discovers, things like that never work out as smoothly as you want them to. Tom Barren comes from a version of 2016 where flying cars,robot maids and other marvels have made the world a better place to be.

Yet, he finds himself dissatisfied in life and love, so when he gets the chance to make an unauthorized time trip back to a very pivotal day, Tom takes it and accidentally causes that reality to be undone, leaving himself and the rest of us in the world we all share now.

 Even though his personal set of circumstances are somewhat improved, Tom is determined to reset the time line which only makes everything get even odder than before. This smart engaging story sounds like a grand read and a good lesson in learning to make do what you have before you:

For those still trying to figure out how we got to this point, the works of Octavia E. Butler seem to be ringing a few bells of clarity.

Particularly her Earthseed novels, which begins with Parable of the Sower that has  Lauren Olamina had fled her formerly enclosed community due to it being destroyed by wild folks addicted to setting fires.

 During her travels to find a new way of living in a world ravaged by environmental problems and social disarray, Lauren carries the hope of a new faith that could unite people into creating a brighter tomorrow for all.

Unfortunately, that faith is severely tested in the follow-up book,Parable of the Talents, as a newly elected president of the country demands a wipe out of any other religion than his own.

 Lauren's new society is attacked, it's residents brutalized and their children taken away in order to save them from being raised in "heathen" households. Such direct assaults are hard to handle, even if you're not suffering from hyper-empathy as Lauren does, yet she does find the strength to go on and reclaim her life and those of her friends.

Octavia Butler was an amazing writer who explored the impact of race and gender inequality in her work and was considered one of the finest in her field during her lifetime. Despite her passing away several years ago, it feels as if her voice is growing stronger with every new reader that takes up her books for solace and inspiration:

There are many people who think that if they had direct knowledge of what the future holds, their choices to prevent upcoming disasters would be easy ones to make. Well, they ought to read Stephen King's modern classic The Dead Zone and perhaps think again.

As Johnny Smith realizes that his reward for coming out of a lengthy coma are visions of what is to come(along with the true nature of the people around him), he does try to use these new psychic powers for good. However, the outcome of even those well intended interventions can bring about as much pain and suffering as if he had no advance warning of them at all.

His ultimate decision arrives with the handshake of an up and coming politician, whose future reign as president promises a true doomsday. While no one should make such a drastic move to alter the course of events, this iconic novel proves that being forewarned and being forearmed is not the same thing:

When all is said and done, I can honestly say that one of the few positive things that I see going on right is a return to reading. Whether your motives are for gaining knowledge, expanding your cultural horizons or just some much needed stress relief, picking up a book is the best way to tackle any obstacles up ahead and that is what will make for a more meaningful future for us all:

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love is a Jane Austen battlefield

Happy Valentine's Day,folks and what better way to celebrate the spirit of romance than checking out a few lively debates?

Particularly those match-ups arranged by Miss Jane Austen, who knew that the course of true love couldn't run smooth without an occasional argument between good friends or frenemies to settle any troublesome matters that promise to get in the way of their happiness.

I have a few examples in mind, from Austen inspired stories, that demonstrate this notion quite keenly. First up is Emma Approved, a modernized retelling of Austen's famous matchmaker whose instincts in love are not as sharp as she believes them to be.

In this particular installment, Emma is elated that her client, Senator Elton, appears to be romantically interested in her personal assistant Harriet due to purchases of theater tickets and hard to find yogurt. However, her business partner "Snarky" Knightley is doing his level best to warn her about the misreadings she's making of Elton's character, advice she really ought to heed:

Next, we have Lost in Austen, in which modern day Amanda Price finds herself replacing Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. It's both a dream come true and a bit of a nightmare, as the world of the book is changing all around Amanda and not for the better.

In trying to keep certain romances on track, she has gotten the attention of Mr. Darcy but not in a positive way. His very nature casts a suspicious eye on Amanda and as a gentleman, he gives her more than fair warning of his fury if her actions prove harmful to his friends:

Speaking of P&P, one of the best inspired confrontation scenes in romcom history comes from You've Got Mail, the delightful Nora Ephron movie where rival booksellers Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly are online pen pals in love.

As Joe finds out during a real world outing that his intended date is the woman he's been publicly feuding with, he backs out at first. Yet, he returns to the restaurant where Kathleen is unknowingly waiting for him and their forced chat turns out to be rather revealing.

 It's appropriate that Kathleen has a copy of Pride and Prejudice on hand, as she does Elizabeth Bennett proud in her denunciation of her unsuspecting romantic partner's prejudices:

And finally, if you're in the mood for some actual fisticuffs, Bridget Jones' Diary has it's two leading men duking it out in the streets.

Granted, their fight is not just about winning the hand of our leading lady, they have some past history that needs serious closure,although perhaps not with a closed fist(yet Mark Darcy is charmingly forceful in that regard):

Well, I do hope that you all are enjoying a less chaotic Valentine's Day that these fine fictional folk, that's for sure.

However, if this whets your appetite for more Austen inspired battles, please take full advantage of my one-day-only holiday sale on my entertainingly evil e-book,Fanny Price; Slayer of Vampires, with it's half off discount at Smashwords today. Just use the coupon code WZ37G for your sweet special download deal.

Okay, commercial over. One last thing that I will say about today is that you shouldn't feel left out of the joys of the day due to lack of a partner. Love is not only about romantic attachments, it's about cherishing the special people in your life. Also, like Jane Austen, you can always take solace in that one devoted love that keeps on giving; books and their wonderful stories that make any true heart flutter with everlasting joy:

Monday, February 13, 2017

Stocking up on cinematic clues for Stranger Things 2

Out of the numerous Super Bowl commercials vying for attention this year, the one that engaged genre fans the most was the teaser for Season Two of Stranger Things, which is arriving this Halloween.

Between that and the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly,that has a nice cover story with preview pictures, eager viewers are searching for clues about what's to come and given that the teaser is less than forty seconds long, it's not as easy as it sounds. Nonetheless, there are hints to be had and while I am a new fan of the series, I do have a few ideas about what was shown.

So, here are a few films that may be helpful to watch(or re-watch) that I think might prove to be very relevant as to the continuing fate of our ST friends:

GHOSTBUSTERS: This one is a given, since the boys are seen in Ghostbuster outfits for trick or treating and with the new season set in 1984, this was the big summer movie of that year.

With all four of these D&D playing pals knowing full well that the supernatural is more real that most people think, I can imagine that this particular film really spoke to them( along with adults like Will's mom, for one) and maybe even encouraged them to try and build a few spirit catching devices of their own.

After all, that door to the Upside Down is not completely closed and it will take a few motivated experts and/or self starters to work towards any new visitors from that realm stopping in for a spell:


 DREAMSCAPE: Another paranormal themed film that came out in the summer of 1984 was this thriller starring Dennis Quad as a psychic recruited by scientists for a  secret project involving going into people's dreams.

At first, the intentions of the program are to help folks with sleep disorders but a sinister government agent decides to use this work to create the ultimate hitman and one of his targets is the President.

Since this was the second movie that year to be granted the PG-13 rating, I don't know if our pre-teen protagonists would have seen it(if they did, more than likely they sneaked in ). However, with more of Eleven's backstory being promised for S2, there may be a few highlights from this film that might pop up in an episode or two:

CHILDREN OF THE CORN: Yup, this cult classic came out in 1984 and I highly doubt that any of our young quartet saw this one as it was R rated. Trust me, it earned it's rating and then some, with plenty of bad reviews and yet, a long line of sequels following in it's campy goreshow wake.

So,why do I include it here? Well, there was a brief shot of a farmer type hitting something hard in the ST2 teaser that brought this to mind for me. Not to mention that Stephen King is one of the major influences on this series and even an awful short story adaptation like this did leave a permanent pop culture mark.

Plus,there are quite a few residents of the Upside Down that could be as awe inspiring to the easily lead as He Who Walks Behind The Rows was:

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND: This film would be rather familiar to our ST bunch, due to it being a 1977 release(with a special edition having a theatrical run in 1980). Not to mention that there is a clear shot in the the S2 teaser that is a callback to an iconic scene in this movie.

I do wonder if Will takes some time to watch Close Encounters, as he would relate to the characters being pursued and taken by otherworldly forces from their homes. It might also be a movie he'd want to avoid due to being triggered by those very scenes.

With Steven Spielberg also being another big league influence on the series, you know that this was referenced for a specific reason but somehow, I don't think that it will be a good sign for our ST folks there:

No doubt, we will get even more hints as newer trailers come along and hopefully, more pictures as well. All of this speculation is pretty fun and I just hope that the growing fan hype doesn't overwhelm expectant viewers too much. I trust the Duffer brothers to give us a good show and will be happy with whatever is coming next.

 Waiting until Halloween feels like such a long time(especially these days when we're all in need of a good distraction) but at least we do have time to watch a few good films to get us into that 1980s spirit that Stranger Things and it's fans thrive on so well:

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Snacking on the Santa Clarita Diet

In addition to catching up with many of the renowned Netflix series now available to me, I'm also engaged in checking out some of the newer programming such as their latest horror comedy, Santa Clarita Diet.

The show stars Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as Sheila and Joel Hammond, a husband and wife team of realtors living out their humdrum lives in the California suburb mentioned in the title. Sheila wishes that she could be more of a confident person but that particular wish is granted in the worst way possible.

After literally painting the walls puke green at a house showing one day, Sheila finds herself to be a member of the undead and soon develops a taste for human flesh.

 Joel, and to some extent their teen daughter Abbie(Liv Hewson) and the boy next door Eric(Skyler Gisondo), does his level best to help her adjust to this bizarre new lifestyle.

A cure for this condition is being looked for yet Sheila is a bit reluctant to go back to her old normal. For one thing, she prefers to feast on bad people(with plenty of candidates lining for that menu plan) and the lack of restraint that comes with her new undead status is quite exhilarating.

However, it also puts her loved ones in danger in more ways than one. Sheila's ultimate struggle is to maintain a balance between embracing her zombie joy without destroying her family in the process, not something she can talk about with her usual set of friends there:

She's not the only one trying to deal with such a major life change. Joel is so used to being Mr. Laid Back Guy that when called upon to be more proactive, he fumbles the gory ball tossed to him just about every time.

In between covering up his wife's deadly dinner plates and searching for the cure, Joel's feelings of inadequacy are reaching a point of no return that could make him even more dangerous than Sheila. I've only seen six out of the ten episodes at this point but where I last left off, things had gone from bad to worse to "oh, hell no!"

Santa Clarita Diet is broken up into half hour episodes, making it feel very sitcom style and the whole look of the show has an ABC Network feel to it, if they allowed major league swearing and buckets of gore, that is. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with cursing and violence when needed yet I do think that some of blood and guts showcased in the earlier episodes could've been dialed back a bit.

What does make SCD work is the chemistry of the cast. If  Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant  could sell houses as well as they do these roles, they would be running a real estate empire by now. Abbie Hammond is already my favorite character, with her mix of sarcastic teen angst and growing empowerment and if there is a season two, I hope that sweet geeky Eric survives to lend his much needed support:

If SCD does intend to have more than one season, they might want to take a few notes from iZombie(which will return for a third season later this year to the CW).

Granted, that series does have the advantage of an hour long format and being based on previously developed source material, yet from episode one, iZombie has had a firm grasp on world building and character development, which SCD is a bit weak from what I've seen so far. While it is still early days there, Santa Clarita Diet does need to strengthen that core element in order to make that fearsome flight of fancy stay on the air.

Also, the limits on language and violence that iZombie has to work with gives both the writers and the cast steady boundaries that needed to be subverted creatively. SCD would do well with an ounce of similar restraint that allows for the characters to have a few quiet moments together that offer plenty of laughs as the high tension ones, perhaps even more so:

 So, would I recommend Santa Clarita Diet? Yes, if you're into satirical horror or looking to quell those cravings for new episodes of iZombie. This show isn't laugh-out-loud funny but it is weirdly amusing and worth watching.

I should finish up SCD by this weekend and look forward to what's next and new on the Netflix horizon(waiting until Halloween for S2 of Stranger Things is going to be hard!).

Hopefully, these last bloody bites will be frightfully filling and funny bone solid until we meet the Hammonds again, although I'm not sure that I want these two to be knocking on my front door in their plastic poncho best there:

Monday, February 06, 2017

Getting into the Grammy mood with some good reads

February may be a short month but it's jam packed with plenty of award shows, including the Grammys set to air this upcoming weekend.

 Now, if you're like me and don't feel quite up-to-date with the music scene, a good way to get into the spirit of things here is stacking up a pile of musically themed books to get your toes a-tapping.

A fine example is Windy City Blues by Renee Rosen, set in Chicago during the late 1950s. Leeba Groski starts working at Chess Records, run by her neighbor Leonard, and at first, it's strictly just another job for her.

 After seeing and getting to know the many amazing artists that are flocking to the label such as Muddy Waters, Etta James and Chuck Berry, Leeba finds encouragement to pursue her own dreams as a songwriter. She also falls in love with Red Dupree, an African American guitarist whose friends are as less than thrilled about their relationship as her Orthodox Jewish family is.

On the cusp of the growing Civil Rights Movement, Leeba and Red must strengthen their love during such troubled times through the power of their music. I've never read Renee Rosen before but she does appear to write about Chicago quite a bit,so this should be an engaging read with solid background knowledge. While the book isn't out until later this month(2/28,to be precise) it sounds like a timely page turner that you can reserve for your after party entertainment:

For something to read a little sooner, Alexander Chee's The Queen of the Night is readily available in paperback. This gorgeous tale of Lillet Berne, the ultimate diva who travels from one country to the next and one identity to the next with only her incredible voice as her constant guide, is a true opera in the best sense of the term.

Don't be daunted by the opera setting; this story has plenty of open doorways from folks who love historical fiction, fans of epic romance and those who enjoy watching the highs and lows that mark the path of a musical legend:

If you're looking for music with a personal touch as well as a touch of magic, Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Gracia should hit all the right notes for you.

Most of the story is set in 1988, when a fifteen year old Mercedes "Meche" Vega discovers that she can use music to cast spells that can change her life for the better. Aided by her two best friends Sebastian and Daniela, Meche feels powerful and in control for the first time in her life.

Yet that power comes with a price and it could cost her a friend or even worse. This is a beautifully written novel that sings a song of regret and love, the kind that you can't resist playing just one more time:

Of course, a list like this wouldn't be complete without having Nick Hornby's contemporary classic, High Fidelity, on it.

 While High Fidelity has become a pop culture realm where you can find the walking,talking definition of a die hard music fan(to the point of snobbery), the deeper notes of the novel takes the reader as well as frustrated in love leading man Rob on a journey towards maturity.

Accepting maturity doesn't mean you have to give up certain cherished interests there, what the story showcases nicely is that you need to make what you truly love work for you. In other words, music is supposed to reflect your life , not the other way around and Hornby sets up that mixtape message up perfectly:

Hopefully, any one of these books will give you the right beat to enjoy the Grammy awards and in my opinion, finding that special song is much like finding a great book.

 Flipping through the racks or shelves gives you a rush as each title with it's colorful covers briefly engages your eye and interest and when you do finally stop to select that perfect one to take home with you, it can become a truly memorable moment in your life, much like winning an award:

Friday, February 03, 2017

My Series-ous Reading allowed me to enjoy The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor

My year of Series-ous Reading(reading books from various genre series) has gotten off to a good start with Jane and The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor. This is the first book in author Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen Mystery series, which has thirteen titles to date.

Having read a few of the later entries, it was good to go right to the beginning where the initial premise is that a set of journals written by Jane Austen were accidentally discovered in an old house and being published with footnotes. Those notes are quite informative at times, even to those familiar with the ins and out of Regency lore(a couple of legal terms were very enlightening to me).

Once that set-up is laid out for the reader, we get right into the story. Jane is introduced to us at age 28, having just accepted and quickly rejected the marriage proposal of Harris Bigg-Wither, a rather awkward period in her life. To avoid dealing with the recriminations of her family for that, she's taken to a spree of visits with friends and has decided to join a new acquaintance Isobel Payne, the newly wed Countess of Scargrave, in attending the Christmas celebrations at her husband's estate:

Before Christmas Day,however, the Earl is struck with a mysterious illness that does him in. Isobel is grief stricken,so Jane stays by her side to offer comfort, having no inkling of foul play as the Earl was considerably older than his recent bride.

Yet Isobel's maid has secretly left the estate and is sending notes to the authorities that claim Isobel and the young heir to the Scargrave title, Fitzroy Payne, are responsible for the Earl's death.

There are plenty of other suspects about, including several relatives of both Isobel and the Payne family, all looking to make what fortune they can from this tragedy. As Jane starts to play detective, another murder implicates her friend and she must do what she can to save her hostess from being officially sentenced to death.

As this story is placed well before Jane began her publishing career, you can spot many elements that will be added to her novels, most noticeably Pride and Prejudice. Many of the scenes in the book are rather engaging in the formal manners of that time, especially when a truly flighty cousin of Isobel's, Fanny Delahoussaye, is on the prowl, along with her obnoxious mother Hortense, are on stage and in full catty mode:

One character that is introduced here is somewhat of a Darcy but with a sneaky side that recalls a few of Austen's more roguish leading men.

Lord Harold Trowbridge has business dealings with Isobel that make him look like a despicable fellow but as it turns out, he is not as bad as first appearances make him out to be. I know from reading some of the later books that Lord Harold becomes an occasional ally of Jane's in her crime solving pursuits and there is quite the hint of attraction between them.

I do like that bit of chemistry ,mainly from arguing, that rises up during most of their scenes and look forward to seeing more of that as I go on with this series. Lord Harold and Jane's original team-up reminds me of season one of Castle, yet in my head, Lord Harold talks more like Ewan McGregor than Nathan Fillion(gents who I adore somewhat equally-can't help it, Fillion has the home field advantage here):

All in all, Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor is a solid read that does make you want to read more of Austen's detective adventures. The mystery does take it's time to resolve but settled it truly is by the end in a satisfactory way.

It does help to know a good deal about the life and times of Jane Austen(as well as being able to overlook the fictional flights of fancy taken here) but Stephanie Barron has a good grasp on Jane's writing style and makes that narrative voice both engaging and believable. I will be delighted to spend more time in her company as this reading challenge goes forth.

In the meantime, my next selection of Series-Ous Reading is the third book in Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series, The Deception of the Emerald Ring. This tale of Regency spies is lighter in tone so far than the JAM novels yet I'm sure that there will be plenty of romantic intrigue to give it just as much story telling tension to savor: