Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Thursday, April 27, 2017

A slice of Birthday Book Haul cake with a lemony Library layer

So, my birthday was the other day and it was a very nice day indeed. My sister and I went to lunch, I watched an episode of the new MST3K(The Christmas That Almost Wasn't) and we had a lovely family dinner. All in all, a pretty good time.

While my actual birthday cake did not have a book related design, I did get a sweet haul of books as gifts. Before that, I did pick up a couple of promising reads at the library a couple of days earlier, making this a rather rich pile of literary goodness to enjoy. I'll start with my library selections as the icing to my delicious platter of reading treats:

THE TAMING OF THE QUEEN: With Starz showing a new miniseries based on the works of Philippa Gregory, I was in the mood for one of her regal re-tellings and while this particular book is not connected to the War of the Cousins novels that have been adapted lately, it is vintage Gregory material.

The queen of the title is Kateryn Parr, the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII and this marriage was her third go-round. While her family is delighted to have Kate in such a high position to promote their agenda, she is less than thrilled for many reasons. One of those reasons is Thomas Seymour, a brother in law of Henry's who is loathe to give her up.

Kateryn is well aware of the need to stay on her mercurial husband's good side, which is not easy considering his need to be seen as the dashing young man he once was rather than the ailing older glutton he has become. While watching her step, she manages to make a few moves of her own by using her intellectual nature to make a few changes for the better.

My first Philippa Gregory was The Other Boleyn Girl and although I've read several other of her works, I still enjoy her Tudor tales the best. This look at the last of the infamous brides of Henry the Eighth should be enlightening as well as engaging:

THE PRICE OF SALT:  This Patricia Highsmith novel was the basis for the 2015 movie Carol, which I meant to see but have not so far. I'm hoping that reading the book will lead me in that direction, as the film version of Talented Mr. Ripley had me reading Highsmith in the first place.

The 1952 novel was published under a pen name, as it depicted a romance between an older woman,Carol, whose marriage is dissolving and Therese, a young shop girl who impulsively starts up a friendship with her.

The two of them fall in love and try to keep their relationship a secret, not an easy thing to do as Carol's ex husband is looking for any excuse to deny her custody of  their daughter. In a way, it's sad that such themes are still seen as controversial but the intense power of Highsmith's writing rises above any small minded views on such things and I look forward to catching up with both the book and film:

Now for my birthday books, which I thank my little sister for most sincerely. I was truly delighted to see Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a book that I have been waiting for ever since I read her first novel Free Food for Millionaires.

In this book, she traces the lives of several generations of a Korean family that finds their fortune in Japan, with one son pursuing his scholarly ambitions while the other does well with a chain of gambling parlors that feature the pinball like game of the title.

However, there are a few secrets and lies to be discovered along with the cultural displacement that comes with living in a country that is not seen as your true homeland. The reviews, both print and word of mouth, have been wonderful and this book is definitely going to be the gift that keep on giving for me:

Also happy to receive Fredrik Backman's Britt-Marie Was Here, as I recently finished A Man Called Ove(need to see that movie too!).

The leading lady of this novel often resorts to cleaning and organizing messy homes as a way to connect with others but has a mess on her own hands upon finding out about her husband's adultery.

 Britt-Marie decides to move out and settles down in the small town of Borg, a place that barely functions as a community with little to no resources for the few remaining citizens there. Keeping herself busy by restoring the abandoned community center, Britt-Marie gets to know the locals well, including a couple of orphaned children looking for someone to coach their failing soccer team.

It may be too soon to tell but I have a feeling that Backman is going to join the ranks of my favorite authors there, with such heartfelt characters and story telling skills that bring true delight:

 When this book was given to me, I had to start it right away(which is not cheating on my Spring Into Horror readathon since it's non-fiction, in my mind anyway).

 While I'm not sure if Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine was a source used for the FX series Feud, it certainly provides plenty of extra insights into what made Bette Davis and Joan Crawford battle on and off screen the way they did.

This edition is an updated one, with two new chapters and a photo spread, and it's like stepping into the pages of a glossy movie magazine from the golden days of Hollywood. Unlike those zines, this book is not shy about showcasing the behind the scenes tension or expanding the biographical backgrounds of two of the biggest cinematic divas and what drove them to fight for top billing in more ways than one:

This was a great birthday and for that, I wholeheartedly thank my family and friends.  Granted, some of them would say that I have enough books to build a house with and/or decorate one but that sounds like the perfect compliment to me:

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sharing my birthday with some new books

Tomorrow happens to be my birthday and this year, it happens to fall on a Tuesday, that one day of the week reserved for new books to be released.

 As a lifelong reader, I find that connection to be the luscious literary icing on my celebration cake, so I thought it would be fitting to highlight a few of the new titles set to arrive on shelves in time for my special day.

First up is Bear Town by Fredrik Backman, set in a small Swedish town where high school hockey is the major sport that rallies the residents. When one of the star players on the team is charged with a serious crime, the town becomes strongly divided and more than one future is on the line.

I recently finished Backman's best seller,which was also adapted into an Oscar nominated film, A Man Called Ove, and it's the intricate development of his characters that makes his writing shine. No doubt that Bear Town will be a winner along the same lines, doing for hockey what Friday Night Lights has done for football:

Next, we have Jamie Brenner's The Forever Summer, where Marin Bishop decides to get over the break-up with her fiance,followed by the loss of her job, at her grandmother's B&B in Cape Cod.

Turns out, Marin isn't the only member of the family who packed trouble in her suitcase as her parents announce that they're getting a divorce while a young woman named Rachel contacts her and claims to be her half-sister.

As she tries to figure things out, Marin takes a chance and bonds with Rachel as they,along with Marin's mother Blythe, shares this summer opportunity to figure out the next stage in their lives. Sounds like a good beach book to take along with you as the warm weather days fast approach us.

Another big author with a new novel out is Elizabeth Strout,whose latest work is written in the interconnected story style of her award winning book Olive Kitteridge.

Anything is Possible also has ties to Strout's prior novel, My Name is Lucy Barton, as several of the characters are from the same small town that her leading lady came from. The scope ranges from Lucy's embittered siblings to an adult daughter finding her estranged mother to be happy in another country and a school janitor finding an unexpected consequence to a new friendship.

Elizabeth Strout has a lovely knack for taking a poetic approach to her prose, making her books practically sing out their humble yet heartfelt stories. It's too soon to tell if this latest one will be an award winner but I'm sure many of her readers will consider it a true prize all the same:

To wrap things up, Wendy Wax gives us a new entry in her Ten Beach Road series with One Good Thing. As the four feisty friends who created the reality house flipping show Do Over fight to regain control of their program, other personal problems threaten to distract them from their main goal.

Maddie is torn between her rock star boyfriend,whose career is on the fast track to revival, and her troublesome ex-husband while Avery has issues on her home front and workplace, due to a renovation of a cottage owned by the woman who helped them out with their last project.

On top of that, Nikki is put on bed rest for the latter half of her pregnancy while Kyra is seeking redemption for the risk she took on their dream by considering a bail out from her son's father that comes with a very personal price to pay. Definitely some prime real estate for your leisure time reading fun.

 There will be plenty of other great books to look forward to tomorrow(and I'll be getting a few as presents, that's for sure) but I'm glad to share my birthday with these wonderful new releases.

So, I'll be checking in later this week and hope that anyone else having another year of living to celebrate with me gets the perfect gift, particularly if it's chosen by a good friend or two who always remember that it's the thought that counts:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Setting up for summer reading with these May and June new reads

I know that we're still in the early stages of spring but summer is not that far off,folks, and it never hurts to plan things a little early,especially when it comes to entertainment.

While we appear to have a seemingly endless amount of blockbuster films and riveting TV ready for our pop culture consumption, there are also a wave of fresh new books ready to join our leisure time TBR piles that could get easily lost in the shuffle for shelf space.

So, here are a few of the upcoming titles for May and June that should make for fun summer reading(and maybe a Mother's Day gift or two):

A DAZZLING DEBUT: In Diksha Basu's first novel, The Windfall, we meet the Jha family of East Delphi, who are used to their modest lifestyle among their housing complex neighbors and friends. When Mr. Jha sells his website for more money than they ever dreamed of, everything feels as if it has to change overnight.

As the elder Jhas plan to move to the wealthy side of town, their son Rupak in America is holding off on letting his parents know about his failing grades at college as well as his very American girlfriend. His father Anil, on the other hand, is overly eager to fit in with his new rich neighbors by buying all sorts of luxury items such as a crystal studded couch, while his wife Bindu is hesitant to adapt to such an elaborate house that requires a guard at the gate and a swimming pool.

 Meanwhile, A family friend, a young widow named Mrs. Ray, is finding a new chance at love due to the Jha's move but can all of these changes really be for the better? I was lucky enough to win a reader's copy of this book from Library Thing and must say that it was a true joy to read.

 The characters are heartfelt and engaging, with plenty of good humor mixed in with a dash of pathos to round things off just right. The book is due out by June 27 and for anyone who enjoys a good rags-to-riches tale with a touch of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House should be all set for the season(June):

ADVENTURES WITH AUSTEN & BRONTE:  We've got some time traveling to do in The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn, as a pair of modern day scholars journey to London of 1815, hoping to claim the full manuscript of Austen's final work, The Watsons.

While posing as a wealthy brother and sister, Rachel and Liam are able to slip into Jane's social circle due to an introduction to Henry Austen, a connection that proves to be more than a simple means to an end with Rachel.

 Things get more complicated as Rachel's bond with the Austen family gives her a bit of guilt regarding Jane's future, not to mention the romantic tension that develops between Rachel, Henry and Liam. This time traveling tale sounds like the kind of lively and imaginative diversion that many of us present day Austen fans love to indulge in(May):


Author Sarah Shoemaker shows us a different side to Charlotte Bronte's classic Jane Eyre by introducing us to Mr. Rochester, who we meet at age eight when he is sent away from his beloved Thornfeld Hall to school.

His father makes it clear early on that the estate is intended for older brother Rowland and that Edward must find his fortunes in Jamaica. While there, he finds more heartbreak and betrayal, not to mention a doomed romance with Bertha Mason, a relationship that becomes nearly impossible to break free from.

This background development of such an iconic figure in literature is no easy task and while those who already adore Jane Eyre may be more drawn to this book, it should offer some interesting insights for the uninitiated that might find this new take on the classic novel a welcoming sight indeed(May):

 MAIDENS OF MIGHT: For a new look at comic book lore, Hope Nicholson showcases The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen, where leading ladies of comic art are given their just due.

Yes, Wonder Woman,Bat Girl and Super Girl are highlighted but many other not as well known female characters get their time in the spotlight such as Torchy Brown, one of the first African American comic strip stars who was created by an African America artist, Miss Fury, whose costume may remind you of a certain feline heroine, and Gwen Dylan, a zombie heroine who now has a hit TV show.

With a timeline that reaches back to the 1930s, genre focus that includes graphic novels and online comics and beautiful illustrations, this tribute to comic book women of all ages is an excellent addition to any comic book fan as well as a good guide to learn more about fierce females such as Amanda Waller before the next big movie adaptation(May):

 DOMESTIC DRAMAS: In All The Best People by Sonja Yoerg, a legacy of emotional problems is passed down to more than one generation, starting with Carole LaPorte, who feels that she has a good regular life with her family in Vermont of 1972.

Everyone sees her as a perfectly content wife and mother but when Carole starts to show signs that the mental illness which lead to her mother being institutionalized is upon her, she does her best to hide what is happening.

However, her eleven year old daughter Alison is aware that something is wrong and seeks answers via Tarot cards and a glass box that once belonged to her grandmother. Can this cycle of denial and inadequate coping be broken and hopefully, for the better? An emotional journey for the women of one family that perhaps offers comfort to many readers as well(May).

Edan Lepucki follows up her amazing futuristic novel California with another intriguing dark tale in Woman No. 17, The title refers to an artistic photo taken of Lady Daniels, who is working on a memoir about raising her unusually gifted son Devin and needs a nanny to look after her new toddler while doing so.

The nanny in question, known as "S", has a hidden agenda of her own and while the two women develop a friendship, that bond is not enough to get beyond the upsets that occur as each of them attempts to take the reins of family power. Sounds like a smart slow burn that promises to make this story a riveting must-read(May):

 WEDDING BELL BLUES: The heroine of Sarah Dessen's upcoming novel is Louna, a girl whose regular summer job is helping out in her family's wedding business. Trouble is, she is getting sick of dealing with lovelorn clients and wants to focus on more serious matters as she prepares for college in the fall.

Yet fate keeps throwing a certain someone her way, Ambrose, a charmer with the ladies who finds himself considering sticking with just one person, namely Louna. Yet, despite his sincere attempts to win her over, she has plenty of reasons to hold off on having a summer romance, including the sorrowful memory of a past love.

If you're in the mood for a rom-com type of story that has those bridal trimmings, this may be the sweetheart read to make your heart skip a beat there(June):

There will be many more books to choose from this summer season, no doubt. The trick is to stay focused on what you want and not be distracted by all of the other options for amusement out there. Not easy to do, especially these days but turning that last page of the really amazing book in your hand will make it all worth it:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Enjoying a rollicking Return to the Satellite of Love

Cinema snark fans rejoiced this spring holiday weekend, as Netflix gave us a basket full of giggleworthy goodies(and songs!) with Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return.

Fourteen new episodes of the classic camp fest are now available for your viewing pleasure, with a new cast and crew but the same old flair for movie mockery. Joining bots Crow and Tom Servo is Jonah Heston, the latest Gizmonic employee to be snatched up for bad film duty by a new generation of Dr. Forrester(Felicia Day) and henchman(Patton Oswalt).

While the sets are a bit more snazzy and a slew of celebrity cameos pop up when least expected, the show wisely keeps true to the mission of making awful movies tolerable with endless jokes, pop culture riffs and sheer goofiness. I watched three of new MST3K episodes over the course of the weekend and boy, were they ever MST-ie worthy:

REPTILICUS: A Danish monster movie,re-edited for the American market, from 1961 is the initial outing for the Satellite of Love crew and there's plenty of comedic material here, from a slow moving open to a monster that makes the puppet work of Kukla,Fran and Ollie look like Jim Henson.

With heavy dubbing, an overabundance of blonde women who seem to do nothing more than hover around the youngest man on the monster hunt team and backgrounds so fake that Jonah and the bots sing "Xanadu" more than once, this sad attempt at a European version of Godzilla is rightfully put in it's place:

CRY WILDERNESS: The second feat of endurance for Jonah and his robot friends was this bizarre 1987 film that has an annoying kid named Paul share a bond with Bigfoot.  He gets a mystic message from his forest dwelling buddy that his park ranger dad is in danger and heads out to save the day, mostly by whining.

Why is Paul annoying? Well, he does tend to ignore any attempt by an adult to avoid danger and gets easily frustrated when they refuse to believe him about Bigfoot, even though he has a magic necklace that can summon the badly costumed guy, which would clear up some of that nay saying there!

Of course, the only grown-up who does listen to him is a sleazy bounty hunter type,eager to make money by bagging Bigfoot as the ultimate trophy. This would be a simple plot, if not for the over reliance on stock footage of animals and odd tonal shifts from laughing at raccoons to dealing with cranky locals. Quite a challenge indeed but Jonah and company manage to get through this movie without sobbing in despair:

STARCRASH: I skipped ahead to episode six, as any sci-fi flick from 1978 that has Christopher Plummer and David Hasslehoff playing father and son must be given top priority.

You do have to wait until halfway into the movie before either one of them shows up(Plummer arrives first,btw) but there's plenty of science fiction cheese spread to make those patience cracker snacks munchable fun.

We have an action heroine named Stella Star who dresses like Vamperella at times, a robot helper with a country western accent and a sidekick with unexplained magical powers who fights cavemen with a not-an-official light saber.

The intermission skits, where Jonah dresses up like some of the characters from the film, are great fun and personally, I could have done without the Jerry Seinfeld bit. One of the best running jokes was that the gang kept thinking the movie was over during any major explosion onscreen and trying to leave, which you could hardily blame them for:

All in all, I think this new take on MST3K is great fun and I look forward to checking out the rest of the bad bunch, which includes such gems as The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, Yongary:Monster From the Deep and The Loves of Hercules with Jayne Mansfield.

 Plenty of pop culture misery to feast upon here and who knows, maybe Netflix will allow for some fresher fare to be featured as well? We shall see but in the meantime, let's repeat to our selves that it's a just a show and we really need to relax, so welcome back, Mystery Science Theater 3000, welcome back indeed:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Feud's frenzy of female fear flicks

Those of us watching the latter half of FX's Feud:Bette and Joan are being treated to the cinematic aftermath that came from the unexpected success of Whatever Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

As per typical Hollywood thinking, studio executives were quick to jump on the bandwagon to make their own version of that film, giving birth to a subgenre known by such names as "pycho-biddy","hag horror"  or "Grand Dame Guignol" (that last one, I kind of like) but ultimately called "hagspoltation".

Right now, the series is focusing on the making of  Hush..Hush..Sweet Charlotte, which was meant to reunite Bette Davis and Joan Crawford(along with director Robert Aldrich) on screen yet Crawford left the project under contentious circumstances. While we'll get to see all of that in the remaining episodes of Feud, our main feature today is those horrifying films that most of the WEHTBJ players found themselves in:

STRAIT-JACKET:  Joan Crawford wasn't getting a lot of great offers,despite her increased profile in Baby Jane, so taking the lead in this William Castle ax murderess movie was a matter of paying the bills there.

She plays Lucy Harbin, a woman sent to a mental institution for twenty years after brutally slaying her cheating husband and his mistress. Upon reuniting with her adult daughter Carol(Diane Baker), a new crop of gruesome killings starts up with Lucy looking awfully like the prime suspect.

The movie did well dollar wise, due in part to Crawford doing a promotional tour for it that was well recreated on Feud(as well as the official trailer) and even the critics felt that she gave a better performance than the script called for, which should have been a bit of comfort to Crawford but probably was not:

LADY IN A CAGE: Olivia deHavilland took over Crawford's role in HHSC and she was certainly no stranger to this new wave of female fear films.

The cage of the title is an elevator installed in the home of wealthy widow Cornelia Hilyard(deHavilland) who uses it instead of the stairs due to recovering from a broken hip.

Left alone one weekend by her son, the elevator stalls in mid-air and the only response to her emergency alarm is a local drunk,who unintentionally attracts a gang of thugs(lead by a young James Caan) to the house.

The invaders torment their captive while trashing the place until the lady of the house decides to fight back. This sounds a lot like a prelude to many of those "woman trapped in the house" films like Wait Until Dark and Panic Room, if you ask me. Judging by the trailer, deHavilland was willing to be a good sport about doing films like this and did her part in playfully promoting it to the hilt:

THE NANNY: The British film industry was also eager to take a slice out of this subgenre pie and a year after HHSW was done, Bette Davis starred in this Hammer Films production.

Her Nanny character is presumed at first to be a loving family caretaker  for the Fanes but the young son of the household lives in fear of her, refusing any of the food she makes and locking himself in a distant room from her.

Since the boy has recently been discharged from a home for troubled children, no one is willing to be on his side. However, a few of the other family members start to see why Nanny is more of a menace than a maternal protector. Davis received excellent reviews for this role and it's considered to be one of the better non-supernatural Hammer films to this day:

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE?: Even director Robert Aldrich couldn't resist having another go at the genre he helped to create. Towards the tail end of this trend, he was the executive producer of this modern Gothic tale that had Ruth Gordon and Geraldine Page at each other's throats.

Page played Claire, an impoverished widow who supplements her income and fertilizes her pine trees by knocking off her housekeepers once they have made financial investments in her name.

 The latest victim,Miss Tinsley, has an Aunt Alice(Gordon) stopping by to find out what did happen and getting quite the gruesome answer indeed.  The movie did modestly well yet has turned out to be not much of a finale to Aldrich's trilogy of female fear fests:

I know that for these women, movies like this were considered a down slide in their once glamorous careers, which was part of the appeal to them, but in a way, these films were somewhat subversive.

For one, they proved that women could open a film on name value alone and granted, this was cheesy fare at best,however actresses like Bette Davis did make a concerted effort to give a good performance and demanded changes in order to produce a better entertainment value.

  Also, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte did garner a few Oscar nominations and one of it's co-stars,Agnes Moorehead(yes, the mother-in-law from Bewitched) got a Best Supporting Actress nom and a Golden Globe win for her work here.

That helped to pave the way for future horror films such as Silence of the Lambs and Misery to be seen as Oscar worthy material.

While this brand of exploitation lost it's flavor of the month status, it gave up and coming actresses in the horror genre role models to look up to. Instead of being seen as a cinematic dead end, over the years many women have made horror movies their launching pad and plenty of them take pride in their scream queen days, ladies like Jamie Lee Curtis, Heather Langenkamp and Barbara Crampton have become divas in their own right.

So while Joan and Bette,as well as some of their contemporaries, did feel imprisoned by this genre and rightly so, it turns out that the ladies are having the last laugh on the men who manipulated them. Sure, those guys made the money but they're not the ones who are fondly remembered for making wicked lemonade out of the cinematic lemons Hollywood was handing them:

Monday, April 10, 2017

A few Masterpiece meals for your Sunday night viewing menu

With more new shows and films set to air on the major networks,including cable, during this spring season, it's good to keep in mind what's to come on PBS as well.

 As one of the folks who thoroughly enjoyed the miniseries Victoria(and delighted about season two!), I am still eager to get more period drama to watch and Masterpiece Classic has some choice cuts of cinematic meat to savor.

One of those is Dark Angel, which stars Downton Abby darling Joanne Froggatt as Mary Ann Cotton, a woman believed to be one of the first female serial killers in Britain as she poisoned three of her husbands during the Victorian era. She was captured and convicted in 1873, with the motive being to collect on her spouses' insurance policies yet there was more likely much more to it than that.

Based on the book by David Wilson, Mary Ann was suspected of many more murders yet it took a long while for anyone in authority to suspect that a member of the "gentler sex" could do such a thing. The film sounds intriguingly sinister and seeing Froggatt in a role that's miles away from her DA character is a special treat to boot:

Another new entry on the horizon is My Mother and Other Strangers, a series set in 1943 where the Coyne family, lead by mother Rose(Hattie Morahan), whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of an US Air Force base near their small village in Northern Ireland.

The service men who come to town bring more than a set of new ideas and customs, they also offer a chance for romance among the locals. Some of those new relationships, however, have the potential to be as dangerous as the fighting overseas is. This series has done well enough in the UK to warrant a second season, so it may be worth investing a little time in when it airs on PBS this season:

Many of us still wish that Poldark was a summer series,as it was when it first aired in America. Yet, the announcement of the third season due to premiere this coming fall(October 1,to be precise) is good enough to keep us steady until then.

There's much to speculate about during this waiting period-can Ross and Demelza move forward together without the past getting in their way? Will Elizabeth adjust well to life with Warleggan and will she have any explanations to make once her baby is born? Will we see more of Verity and less of Caroline(sorry, I just can't stand her) there?

Most important of all these questions, who would win in a fight; Aunt Agatha or Warleggan?(my money is on Agatha). Plenty of good talk to sustain us over the spring and summer until then, I think:

For now, we have plenty of PBS Masterpiece to enjoy, including re-airings of Wolf Hall and the final season of Home Fires. It may be hard to squeeze in so many good shows but quality entertainment must and should be appreciated, particularly when it's endangered by the possibility of a lack of funding due to small mindedness.  Hopefully, wiser heads will prevail on that front but let us not be too quick to overlook the tasty media morsels that your local PBS station will be serving up:

Friday, April 07, 2017

My Series-ous Reading unravels Jane's Man of the Cloth

I must confess to feeling rather satisfied at the progress of my Series-ous Reading challenge as the second book in Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen Mystery saga, Jane and The Man of the Cloth, was finished today.

That makes the first three books in that particular set of mysteries completed(the third having been read for a prior challenge) and I look forward to more but not just yet. Before I get too ahead of myself, let's talk about this Jane Austen adventure which sends our heroine and her loved ones to Lyme Regis for a bit of seaside fun.

Their arrival starts off with a bang, as the coach they're traveling in is overturned during a storm, complete with a large tree blocking the road. With Cassandra injured and her parents in danger of being made ill by remaining out in the storm for too long, Jane seeks refuge at the nearest house, which happens to be High Down Grange.

High Down is the property of Geoffrey Sidmouth, a rather taciturn man who nonetheless lends a helping hand and give the Austen family some shelter until Cassandra is well enough to be moved.

 As grateful as she is for such assistance, Jane can not ignore the odd atmosphere around High Down and the secretive nature of their host, especially when it concerns his French cousin Seraphine LeFevre, a woman of mystery given to walking alone at all hours and always looking towards the sea:

Jane hopes to learn more about Seraphine and Mr. Sidmouth during her sister's convalescence in town but most of the information available is idle gossip supplied by such ladies as Mrs. Barnewell, a take no prisoners type of matron, and Miss Crawford, whose brother has a fondness for fossil digging, an interest shared by Jane's father.

For more regarding Mr. Sidmouth's reputation, Jane finds a rather chatty source in meeting Captain Fielding, a retired Navy man with an injury that limits his mobility yet not his mind.

 He suspects Sidmouth of being the local smuggling ring leader known as the Reverend, as the nickname "Man of the Cloth" refers to bringing in silk, an item restricted by the current troubles with France. While Jane does agree that Mr. Sidmouth's overprotective nature regarding his cousin and Captain Fielding(who had an encounter with that lady that no one wishes to speak of), she is not quite sure of being ready to convict him of such crimes without proof:

When Captain Fielding is found dead some time later, shot through the heart on a country road, Jane is shocked yet wondering if Mr. Sidmouth had something to do with it. She did witness him being rather sympathetic to a band of local smugglers in an early morning attempt to catch them out and couldn't help considering that his interest in the matter was self motivated.

 Connections to the murder are made to a bizarre incident involving a hanged man which leads to Sidmouth being arrested and Jane going forward to seeking the truth of the matter.

 As her limited yet resourceful investigations seem to prove, Sidmouth and Seraphine are keeping smuggling secrets but for better purposes than those eager to set them up for crimes they didn't commit:

I have to say that while this story began at a slower pace than the previous book when it came to the mystery element, the air of adventure and discovery as Jane went off on her own there more than made up for that.

It was good to see Jane be creative and use what sources she had on hand to figure out the case and for the most part, rely on herself(with some aid from a surprise guest towards the end), no small feat indeed. The romantic feelings she did develop for Sidmouth were gently portrayed and considering the setting, a hint of what inspiration lead her to write Persuasion later on life.

Jane and The Man of the Cloth was a delightful read that went well with the waning days of winter and I do plan to visit Stephanie Barron's literary detective in the warmer seasons to come. In the meantime, my next visit is a "Series Sampler"-the first book in a series I've never read before-and hopefully, I will have completed Anne of Green Gables well before the latest adaptation arrives on Netflix this spring:

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Preparing to Spring Into Horror with another great readathon

A sure sign that winter has ended for me is the announcement of one of my favorite readathons from Seasons of Reading, Spring Into Horror which begins on April 17 and runs until the 30th.

Sign-ups have already begun, with the hashtag #SpringHorrorRAT ready for use on social media. If you haven't done this particular one before, the guidelines are easy to follow. You have to read at least one scary book, whether it be a cozy mystery,Gothic thriller or straight out horror story, in order to join in.

So far, I have three books lined up and each one covers the sinister spectrum on more than one fear front, in my opinion. Here's what I have on my terrifying TBR at the moment:

THE DEAD ZONE: It has become a habit of mine to reread Stephen King novels for this readathon and this season's pick is rather timely to say the least. It was the basis for one of the better film adaptations of King's work and a long running TV series to boot.

The leading man of TDZ is Johnny Smith, a school teacher whose life seems to be perfectly ordinary until the night he and his serious girlfriend Sarah are in a car accident. Johnny winds up in a coma for five years,awaking to a new world and a new set of psychic powers.

At first, he uses his abilities to help solve crimes and prevent terrible disasters but the emotional toll that it takes on Johnny(not to mention unpredictable outcomes to his actions) make those choices harder and harder to make. When he happens to shake the hand of up and coming politician Greg Stillson, Johnny is faced with a decision that could not only affect their lives but the future of the world as well.

This is a book that I haven't read in a good long while and revisiting this story in the times we're living in now makes TDZ all the more chilling there. However, I do feel that this is a look back worth taking and maybe I'll even re-watch the movie,we'll see:

MISS TREADWAY AND THE FIELD OF STARS: I've been looking for the right time to read this interesting mystery and this particular readathon seems to be picture perfect.

 Miranda Emmerson's debut novel is set in London during the 1960s where theatrical dresser Anna takes it upon herself to search for missing American actress Iolanthe Green. She was the last person to see Iolanthe that fateful night and even though official interest in the case has waned, Anna is bound and determined to find her and the truth as well.

She picks up a few offbeat allies along the way,all of whom have one thing in common-each has left their past behind in search of a better life in London.  As their mutual path takes them into some treacherous territory, Anna and her new band of friends must embrace their own haunting secrets as preparation for what's to come of their investigation. This certainly sounds like what folks use to call a "thumping good read" and should go well with a strong cup of tea:

A LONG FATAL LOVE CHASE: This unsung classic from Louisa May Alcott has been on more than one of my TBRs over the years and it's high time that it joined the other LMA titles on my "have read" shelf.

The plot has hapless bride Rosemond fleeing from her charismatic yet cruel husband Phillip Tempest, adapting a number of disguises along the way and finding a new love as well. Think of it as an old school version of the Julia Roberts thriller Sleeping with the Enemy.

This book was actually written two years before Little Women was published, yet held back from the literary world until 1995, when many of Alcott's "blood and thunder" stories started to become more well known. I know full well that Alcott and Jane Austen were not contemporaries but I do think that Jane would've appreciated this Gothic adventure of LMA very much, given her own taste in terror reading:

Since this is a two week readathon, I'm leaving a little room for perhaps another book or two, depending on my page turning pace. Seasons of Reading always makes these bookish events fun and engaging while not tiring you out too quickly as a dance marathon ultimately does. Granted, the one dance marathon I know best is from Gilmore Girls but unlike Babette and Morrie, I don't intend to tap out early:

Monday, April 03, 2017

Celebrating 20 years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer bouts

One of the pop culture highlights of this year is the fact that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is celebrating it's 20th anniversary.

When it first began in 1997, this series about a young woman learning to live with her destiny to destroy vampires(and other evil creatures) gave inspiration along with entertainment not only to the teen audience it was supposed to target but to many of us "grown-ups" as well.

It was a show that flipped genre norms while addressing many social issues relevant to more than one age group,along with some romance, action and tons of good humor. As a way of reliving that small screen magic, I've selected a few of my favorite Buffy throwdowns, those one-on-one battles that showcased the Slayer at her best. So, in no particular order, here are five of my personal picks for "Buffy Vs..."

BUFFY VS. DRACULA: It was smart of the show's writers to wait until Season Five for our Slayer to face off against the most iconic vampire of all time.

 Not only was Buffy's mode of attack well established by that time, she had enough perspective to figure out how best to deal with Dracula, whose method of enthralling his prey threw her off her game at first.

 Once she got a real taste of Drac's power, that jump started her inner warrior goddess skill set into hyper drive. And of course, she was savvy enough to remember that he was fond of repeat appearances:

BUFFY VS. SPIKE,DAYTIME EDITION: Out of all the vampires that Buffy has gone up against, Spike has remained one of her best sparring partners, so to speak.

 From their first encounter in "School Hard" onward, William the Bloody was tops in landing those instinctive blows, verbal and otherwise, that made any fight between him and Buffy worth watching. This particular one from Season Four has the distinction of being their only daylight battle due to Spike finding a certain magic ring that made him invulnerable to sunshine, among other things.

If that wasn't bad enough, he used his most vicious weapon during the fight, that sharp tongue of his as he mocked Buffy's current romance troubles. That wound up backfiring on him, as Buffy was pushed to the breaking point and willing to risk getting a bit burnt in order to take Spike down:

BUFFY VS. ADAM: Personally, I've always thought that Adam from that same season was one of the underrated Big Bads of the Buffyverse(the other being Glory in the following season).

Sure, he didn't fully mesh into the overall scheme of things in that first year of college for Buffy and the gang but then again, in a way he did. The focus of that season was keeping true to family, even if your paths in life were diverging and a mutual threat like a demon human robot hybrid was as good a reason as any to get the band back together.

To ultimately defeat him, Buffy and her friends performed a bonding spell that combined all of their best abilities into one, giving her nearly god like powers. True, a price was paid in order to work that magic but it was well worth it just to see Buffy in Matrix mode:

BUFFY VS. DARK WILLOW: I know that Season Six didn't always go over well with fans, as it's take on Buffy trying to deal with the dullness of the real world after returning from a blissful afterlife had it's ups and downs.

However, once Willow lost control of her magic, due to the death of her beloved Tara, everyone was on board for that wild ride. Upon taking out Warren, the leader of the nerd herd that been trying to be the local Big Bads in town, she went full on Kill Bill to wipe out the remaining members of that sad trio,regardless of their innocence in Tara's demise.

Attempting to save her friend as well as the hapless henchmen, Buffy had no choice but to get into a full on fight with Dark Willow, which was a big deal in more ways than one. In the end, that showdown only managed to stall the wrath of Willow until she found a more suitable target to take down:

Of course, the all-time champion of Buffy fights is Buffy Vs. Angelus in the Season Two finale, where even when his soul was restored, she had no other alternative to delivering that final blow in order to literally prevent hell on earth.

That mix of intensity with heartbreak became the trademark of any Buffy season and what made that show stand out from the crowd of other supernaturally themed TV series that followed in it's wake. There's talk of a revival and/or a reboot yet I truly don't know if that's really necessary.

Granted, that never stops anyone from doing so but in this case, we really don't need to wrap things up anymore than they have been(with the comic book series filling in nicely there). With Buffy proving that she stands the test of time, maybe just this once we could let her legacy rest in peace: