Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, July 31, 2017

My literary hightlights from the High Summer Readathon of 2017

Once again, I've been having a wonderful time with the Seasons of Reading bookish events, with the annual High Summer Readathon allowing all who partake a good two weeks to indulge in page turning.

Unlike my last readathon, I added in my current loans from the library to this particular TBR and it's paid off in abundance. I was able to finish Fiona Barton's The Widow rather quickly, thanks to the high octane pace of the writing, and dive deeply in to Alison Weir's take on the most famous Tudor Queen.

Anne Boleyn, A King's Obsession is the second novel in the author's continuing series on each wife of Henry the VIII and yes, I did mean to start with the prior Catherine of Aragon book but someone got to it before me on my last library visit, so I went straight to Anne's story.  This particular tale takes us through Anne's time at the courts of Burgundy and France, where she saw many regal women speak of female independence yet also saw just how those words were only words when push came to shove.

Upon Anne taking a place in the court of Queen Catherine, she witnessed her own sister Mary being subject to King Henry's advances and yet when that focus was turned on her, Anne winds up choosing to use his one sided attentions to her advantage.

Despite the long trials and tribulations in eventually becoming Henry's queen, Anne still held on to the hope that it would all be worth it to have a child of hers take the throne of England(granted, she thought such offspring would be male as Henry wanted it to be, but fate's a funny thing there).

The pacing here is a tad long, as Alison Weir is also a historian as well as a historical fiction writer and her details about the events of Anne's life are as neatly woven as the designs on a medieval tapestry. However, this is an interesting take on Anne Boleyn and even if you're very familiar with the wives of Henry the Eighth, there are plenty of engaging developments within the story to keep your interest going. I do plan to check out that Catherine of Aragon book and to look forward to the rest of Weir's Tudor Queens series:

The first book that I did finish for the HSR,however, was Arena by Holly Jennings. The story is set in the year 2054, where competitive virtual reality gaming is a true sport that is just as fiercely competitive as any other, complete with pressure from sponsors and owners and a fast track lifestyle encouraged for the players.

Kali Ling is one of the best in the field and becoming the first female captain of her team upon entering the RAGE tournaments is ground breaking to say the least. Trouble is, part of the reason that she got that spot is due to the death of the previous captain(who was also her lover) Nathan from a drug overdose that is swept under the rug.

She not only has to figure out a winning strategy against the opposition team that almost took her group out of the running, Kali has to deal with a replacement player named Rooke, who is insistent on her relearning the basics of Taoism as a way of coping with stress. Part of Kali's stress comes from denying a growing addiction to VR, to the point where she's having trouble telling the difference between the real world and the virtual.

I like that the story here was more than video game action(although that is a compelling element of the overall plot and done well,in my opinion) and that it turns into a character study. Kali does have a romantic relationship with Rooke but it's depicted as a tale of two equals seeking to help each other deal with their problems in life in a healthy manner than just a "you saved me" scenario.

 Arena does have a sequel out,Gauntlet, and I might check it out at some point. In the meanwhile, seeing a video game heroine with strength of mind and body certainly gave me a new perspective on that genre and hopefully, more female friendly leads will follow in her wake:

For a truly seasonal selection, I went with Jenny Colgan's Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery, where Polly Waterford and friends seem to be doing well at their island community of Mt. Polbearne.

However, when the formerly grumpy owner of Polly's bake shop passes away, her disagreeable relatives take over(particularly a nasty piece of work named Malcolm) and want Polly to simply sell pre-made goods instead of her amazing homemade bread and pastries that folks all around flock to.

Eventually, Polly is fired and has to quickly find a way to make money as the lighthouse she lives in has a pretty expensive upkeep. In addition to that, her boyfriend Huckle goes back to America, not only to earn enough money for them both but to fix the problems that his feckless brother Dubose has left behind on a farm run by his girlfriend Clemmie and beloved pet puffin Neil is injured by a cat. Don't worry, Neil is okay but Polly sadly realizes that he needs to be with his own kind.

Polly finds herself running a food truck of sorts as well as making an unexpected friendship and finding out just how strong she can be on her own. Jenny Colgan has quite the charming way with her stories of women seeking self satisfaction as well as love in their lives and the best parts of this book are Polly embracing the joys of baking, a beacon of bread making that is truly inspiring as well as appetizing:

Unfortunately, I didn't have any unread holiday books on hand to take part in the Christmas in July portion of the readathon(not to mention the need to finish the Anne Boleyn book, due back at the library this week!) but I hope that a merry reading time was had by all who did. My goals were well met, as I completed five out of the six books that were on my TBR, so my thanks to Michelle Miller for setting up another fun time for reading.

I do have to say that this readathon was one of the high points of my summer and while many of the splendors of summer is engaging in outside activities, there's no reason why you can't have the same fun with a book in hand. Although, some of us may be more suited to strolling through a book than taking a walk in the great outdoors:

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Setting up your fall TV reading list

I know that it is still summer yet those back to school sales are not that far off,folks, so the time to look ahead to fall entertainment is now. With that in mind, I have a trio of upcoming TV series that happen to be book adaptations as well, combining two great tastes that tend to taste great together.

First up is Netflix with Alias Grace, based on Margaret Atwood's 1996 historical fiction about a notorious murderess in 19th century Canada. Grace Marks was a housemaid accused and convicted of killing the wealthy man she worked for and his mistress,who happened to be the housekeeper.

Grace was sent to a local mental asylum as part of her life sentence yet must also serve as maid to the governor during the week, Over a decade after Grace's conviction, a budding psychiatrist,Dr. Simon Jordan, is allowed to practice some new techniques on her in the hopes of proving her innocent and finding out what really happened. Grace has no choice but to submit but what is discovered is shocking in more ways than one.

I've read this book a long time ago and happy to have a good reason for a reread. This miniseries was filmed in Canada and stars Sarah Gadon in the title role. I'm not familiar with Gadon yet am well acquainted with director Mary Harron( American Psycho,The Notorious Bette Paige) and curious to see how this offbeat tale will be brought to life this November:

Next up is season three of Outlander, which is naturally based on the third book in Diana Gabaldon's series entitled Voyager. Here, we follow Claire back in the twentieth century, hoping to find out if her beloved Jamie truly survived the Culloden massacre and where she could find him by once again going back in time.

You have to give Starz a heaping amount of credit for making such an elaborate plot line work as smoothly as this one does that not only pleases the book fans but brings in a new crowd interested in the human drama as well as the time travel/historical fiction aspects of the story.

I've held off on reading Voyager in order to be surprised by the new season,although come September, I might just read along with the show in order to keep that momentum going:

Speaking of momentum, the third season of Poldark is set to air in the US by October and there is plenty to deal with, as Elizabeth is married to the hated Warleggan and due to give birth to a child that is not her new husband's, for one.

I must confess that I'm a bit behind in reading the Winston Graham books on which this current series is based(two books behind,to be exact), However, I do believe that the upcoming season will use the plot points from the fifth and sixth novels,The Black Moon and The Four Swans.

As convenient as it is for the show to double up on the books, it can make things tricky for those of us trying to catch up. On the other hand, it's also a good excuse to pick up those gorgeous tie-in cover editions,so, maybe this is a bookish blessing in disguise?:

With the world in various states of chaos at the moment, it is a comfort to have some good reading and viewing to look forward to. It does occur to me,though, that all three of these book and TV series are set in the past,which is fine but it would be nice to have something a bit more contemporary on this horizon as well.

For example, it's wonderful that Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes will be airing soon but alas, it's on a streaming channel that many of us don't have access to. Oh well, perhaps it will be out on DVD at some point, giving us a golden binge watch opportunity for the future. In the meanwhile, I hope that the next Stephen King small screen adaptation arrives on a more accessible avenue of entertainment:


Monday, July 24, 2017

Comic Con delights abound in the Movie Trailer Park

This year's Comic Con at San Diego has wrapped up, leaving in it's wake a considerable number of trailers and promos for both film and TV genre fare to discuss and debate.

For those of us unable to attend, this pop culture platter of previews has plenty to savor but let's not get too overwhelmed here. I'll start with the latest look at the upcoming Justice League movie, set to hit theaters this November. The trailer is already placing Wonder Woman in a more prominent position, while showcasing Cyborg and The Flash quite nicely.

From what is shown of the story line, this gang of superheroes(including Aquaman and yes, Batman with a good dose of Alfred) is teaming up to save the world from outer space invaders Steppenwolf and his crew of planet Apokolips soldiers loyal to supreme leader Darkseid in search of hidden objects with immense power and yes, this does sound a lot like that upcoming Infinity Wars movie from Marvel, doesn't it?

It's no secret that this epic plot is DC's version of that major Marvel event but in my opinion, Infinity Wars will be the far better film due to having earned the cinematic momentum by building up their fictional film world. As much as I hope Justice League is a decent movie, I think it would have been wiser to develop more investment in many of the newer characters first:

 Meanwhile, Marvel is premiering a new TV series by having an IMAX-only limited run in movie theaters first. Marvel's Inhumans were introduced to mainstream audiences on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D series and intended to have their own big screen film at one point but plans changed.

This show will focus on the intergalactic royal family, led by Black Bolt(Anson Mount) and Medusa(Serinda Swan) who take refuge on Earth after being ousted by a military coup.

Early previews for this series had mixed reactions from the fans but this new trailer seems to have calmed some of those concerns. Still, it may come off a bit hokey and not in the good sense of that term, so it's a fingers-crossed situation for the Inhumans at moment:

A much more promising prospect is the second season of Stranger Things, which released a full trailer at Comic Con and boy, did they give us a lot to unpack!

We've got Will going in and out of the Upside Down, a Ghostbusters trap that may have caught something all too real, more spooky disturbances and the possible return of Eleven. No sign of Barb so far, yet it's too soon to count her out here.

Placing the story line this time around at Halloween of 1984 is a great choice, along with adding Vincent Price's Thriller narrative to this trailer for total popcorn flavor to the horrifying delights soon to come:

 Back at the multiplex, a new trailer for Kingsmen: The Golden Circle was featured, with the British spies seeking serious aid from their American counterparts(known as Statesmen) upon the destruction of their headquarters\ by new villainess Poppy(Julianne Moore).

Joining in the fight are Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry whose character is named Ginger Ale(not sure whether to laugh or wince at that moniker). Colin Firth is also on board, his mentor character's death having been greatly exaggerated, I suppose.

I did like the first Kingsmen movie and this one should be good fun, although I hope it has more to offer than a simple replay of it's cinematic predecessor:

 One of the biggest trailer premieres at Comic Con,however, was for Ready Player One, based on Ernest Cline's novel about a not too distant future where the best place to be is the virtual reality realm known as OASIS.

As fans of the book are well aware, turning this story into a movie is tricky, due to the massive pop culture references from the eighties that are key to the plot, from video games to iconic films such as War Games and Back to the Future.

Fortunately, having Stephen Spielberg as your director opens many doors and no doubt a good number of favors were cashed in to make this ultimate modern day adventure come to life for the silver screen. RPO is set for 2018, giving us at least one good reason to hope for the future and by the time that Comic Con arrives next year, we may have other causes for celebration but for now, I'm thankful to see such a world of pure imagination being prepared for our arrival:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Honoring Jane Austen's legacy with a tea cup full of P&P flavored humor

Today is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's departure from this earth, an occasion marked by her fans with fond remembrances of her life and works. A solemn moment, to be sure, yet I do believe that the lady herself would not mind a little bit of laughter in her honor as well.

After all, this is the woman who had one of her characters proclaim "For what we do live but to make sport for our neighbors and be laughed at them in our turn?" as well as have another one say that "Follies and nonsense,whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.” 

Both of those lines come from Pride and Prejudice, the most celebrated of Austen's novels, and with that in mind, I have arranged a quartet of parody pastries for your Austen amusement, a little satirical snack,if you will, to liven up the tone of this somber event:

A MOST REFRESHING REFRESHER: Let us begin with a riveting recap of P&P, in a laugh fest of a lecture from Professor Sparky Sweets from his acclaimed Thug Notes series.

His most amusing analysis shows us the immense irony lying beneath the surface of what could easily be seen as a simple love story, not to mention that Darcy and Lizzy both acted the fool at times:

SOME POSH DANCING PUFFS: The fine fellows of Mitchell and Webb were kind enough to serve up a lovely silly soufflé of a skit where Darcy, Elizabeth and the always charming(not) Caroline Bingley chat about dancing.

Debating the merits of the conga vs. freestyle disco is entertaining enough but the true moment of joy comes when Darcy finally says to Caroline what many of us have longed to tell her for a good number of years and it was well worth the wait indeed:

A BEEFY BITE OF TIME TRAVEL: Worlds do collide in rather an odd fashion in this Impressions Show skit where the time traveling lead of the British series Ashes to Ashes runs into Mr. Darcy and finds him guilty of being "an arrogant fancy pants".

Quite the scurrilous charge, especially with Wickam as the chief witness to such a crime. However, all's well that ends well as DCI Hunt is delighted to investigate further, starting with the Bennet sisters:

A RATHER LOADED BINGLEY BUN: This is a new recipe for laughter (to me,at least) from a group known as Pineapple Shaped Lamps, who image what Darcy's BFF aka Mr. Bingley's version of internet communications would be like.

Quite naturally, these drunken texts would be in a more tangible form than our modern day editions, not to mention that servants would have to deliver many of these misguided missives. Also, that it would be rather easy for anyone else to read them and unlike the naive Jane, catch on to their true meaning far too quickly:

I do wish everyone a good day of Jane Austen reading and remembering, along with looking back with merriment at the pleasures she has given us with her lively wit and delightful story telling. Even her unfinished works bring us plenty of happy thoughts and hopefully, we will always look to Jane Austen for those much needed bursts of humor that make the hardships of life all the more bearable:

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Female Fab Four at this year's Emmys

The Emmy nominations were announced last week and for once, I'm actually excited. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of good TV out there but when it comes to award shows, they rarely highlight programs that I watch.

Part of my joy comes from certain ladies being nominated and on top of that list is Leslie Jones, up for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy series, along with her SNL co-stars Kate McKinnon and Vanessa Bayer(who, ironically enough, is leaving the show).

Leslie is one of my favorite people on Saturday Night Live,due to her strong comedy timing(yes, she gets a little nervous during the skits every now and then but who hasn't on that show,seriously?) and full commitment to whatever concept is being presented, whether it's flirting with Colin Jost during a Weekend Update bit or a short film following her fictitious relationship with a fellow cast member.

In fact, I do wonder why Leslie isn't given more time on SNL. Sure, Kate McKinnon is amazing but they are giving her some major overtime there and Leslie has the chops to create a reoccurring character or two here, come on, Lorne Michaels! She is one of your star players, take her off the bench!:

SNL has a record number of nominations this year, due strongly in part to Melissa McCarthy, who is in the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series category for her spot-on Sean Spicer impersonation.

I've always been a huge Melissa McCarthy fan yet this incredibly uncanny take on the press secretary has truly exceeded any and all expectations. Those skits have become a humor highlight for those of us dismayed by current events and gave us a good opportunity to release our collective tension through laughter.

No doubt she'll win and probably Alec Baldwin, who was also nominated for his Trump skits this season (although, if you ask me, there is someone else on another channel that is doing a way better job in that department) will get an award that night. It would be shocking if she didn't win but I find it hard to believe that would happen. Any entertainer who can make such a major media impact as her performance has deserves to be honored by her peers indeed:

In the drama categories, the Netflix series Stranger Things has garnered a good chunk of Emmy noms, including one for Millie Bobby Brown in the Outstanding Supporting Actress section(yes, Barb got nominated,too, for Guest Actress).

Her role as Eleven, the enigmatic girl with a taste for Eggos, is one of the main heart beats of this story and for such a young performer to create a character as vivid as this one with a minimum of dialogue is quite a feat. I haven't seen acting on this level for some time now, on the big screen as well as the small, and hopefully, this is the start of a wonderful long term career for this talented young lady:

Meanwhile, the third season of Fargo was the first one for me, as I gave this F/X series a try and boy,howdy, this show was definitely worth watching.

Apparently, the Emmys agree as S3 was given a solid number of nominations in the Limited Series categories, including one for Carrie Coon as Lead Actress. Playing Gloria Burgle, the steadfast police woman with little faith in technology, she was a heartfelt heroine whose moments were subtle yet supremely breath taking to behold:

That category is going to be tough, as Carrie Coon is up against both Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as the leading ladies of Feud: Bette & Joan. I have to say that F/X is certainly becoming a powerhouse when it comes to ground breaking and quality TV these days.

The Emmy awards will be handed out in September, giving many of us a chance to catch up on some of the shows being touted here. Feud in particular is a grand character study on the perils of Hollywood for women, which is still sadly relevant today and a major must-see in my opinion.

Overall, what I'm really happy about are the many opportunities for women on the small screen, whether it's network, cable or streaming. Sure, many more strides need to be made and it would be nice if the silver screen followed suit but for now, let us hope that someday in the future, a series like Feud: Bette & Joan is a depiction of a bygone era that's truly gone for good:

Friday, July 14, 2017

Tim Hanley is your purr-fect guide to The Many Lives of Catwoman

Comic book based heroines do have a rough road to travel down as they have to fight more than just the usual batch of bad guys. Part of their daily dose of obstacles are sexism, exploitation and badly written live action roles from Hollywood.

However, those foils can be overcome via time and persistence but what if your leading lady happens to be a villianess or more of an anti-heroine? The game is set up a bit differently there yet not impossible to play to win. In Tim Hanley's latest comic book character history, The Many Lives of Catwoman, he details the numerous twists and turns that this "felonious feline" has taken over the years.

The character was introduced into the Batman comics in 1940 and she quickly become one of the most popular enemies of the Caped Crusader, particularly due to the flirtatious cat and mouse games they played with one another.

Known by numerous aliases, her most persistent name was Selina Kyle and her M.O. was that of a jewel thief who had a fierce fondness for cat related items as well. While her outfits and various methods of crime changed over the years, Selina's teasing relationship with Batman pretty much stayed the same:

Unfortunately during the comic book censorship craze of the 1950s, Catwoman was kept out of the Batman series for about thirteen years due to concerns over her image. Oddly enough, she paid more of a penalty for such fear-mongering than many of the male characters under scrutiny at the time.

Thankfully, the campy Batman TV show in the sixties brought her back from pop culture exile. Once again, Selina became the bad girl belle of the Batman ball due in part to actress Julie Newmar's sexy sass in her depiction of the "Princess of Plunder."

While Lee Meriweather(who played Catwoman in the TV movie version) and Eartha Kitt in particular, gave the role their own special nuance, Julie Newmar is still considered to be the quintessential version of this frisky frenemy:

 Catwoman also came back to the comic books, even having her own separate story line in a series of her own by the seventies and 1980s. Yet, she also was showcased as less of a thief and more of a former "working girl" turned street vigilante.

The character was redefined once again by a live action version, this time in the now iconic Batman Returns in 1992. Hanley devotes a full chapter to this film, complete with behind the scenes info and makes a very credible argument for the notion that Catwoman was the only major character who completed a full emotional arch and achieved success in her goals, unlike her distracted male counterparts:

A full chapter is also given to the infamous flop that was the Catwoman movie in 2004. Starring Oscar winner Halle Berry and credited with several writers, the film was universally panned by audiences and critics alike as well as a highlight of the Golden Raspberry awards.

Hanley goes over the twenty year development that lead to this cinematic catastrophe, with scripts that bordered on ludicrous to begin with(an early one had Catwoman sent to a town called Oasisburg with amnesia to fight a cult of superheroes lead by Captain God) to producers who insisted that Catwoman had magical powers(she doesn't).

Hanley states the case that this film was a wasted opportunity and an easy excuse for Hollywood executives to not greenlight any female driven superhero movies for far too long. Hopefully, that all will change with the success of the Wonder Woman movie, giving Catwoman a chance to climb out of the kitty litter penalty box on that account:

 In addition to other live action takes on the character, such as Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises and a young Selina Kyle on the TV series Gotham, the book also showcases the animated versions of Catwoman, both for the small screen and video games.

The comic book/graphic novel incarnations of Catwoman are prominently featured as well, including an arch that made Selina the head of a mobster family in order to clean up some sins of the past. It's interesting to see the influences that various artists and writers have had over the character, which Hanley chronicles in engaging fashion.

As someone who has read Tim Hanley's previous works about Wonder Woman and Lois Lane, I was more than eager to snatch this comic book catnip up and happy to report that it is a fine read indeed. Much like his other books, Hanley gives the reader a fully formed look at the character and her pop culture fortunes over the years, adding new insights into the material and shining a spotlight on certain myths that don't hold up in full focus.

The Many Lives of Catwoman is an excellent portrait of one of the most celebrated and debated pop culture creations of our time and yes, a purr-fect way to look beyond the cat suit and into the heart of such an independent subversive spirit:

Monday, July 10, 2017

A few page turning recommendations from stars of the small screen

As any reader knows, looking for a new book recommendation can quickly become an overwhelming literary avalanche of suggestions from dozens of friends,family and reviewers,each one clamoring for you to pick their specially selected book.

I find it always helps to narrow things down a bit in order to gain a sense of clarity and while some might find celebrity book club selections to be a bit too mainstream, often times that dose of star power can really highlight a promising book by a perhaps not as well known as they should be author.

A prime example of this is the latest Oprah Book Club 2.0 selection, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. This is a debut novel that talks about immigration and the American Dream, giving a human face to those very topics that are high on the current events list at the moment.

The story begins in 2007, where a recent immigrant from Cameroon, Jende Jenga, considers himself lucky to have been hired as a chauffeur to Clark Edwards, a wealthy Wall Street executive. Jende lives in Harlem with his wife Neni and their young son and eager to make a better life for them all, including Neni taking a job in the Edwards household.

 By tying their future to the Edwards family, however, Jende and Neni find themselves becoming more involved that they wish to with their employers' lives and fortunes, particularly when the financial crash of 2008 occurs. I've heard wonderful things about this thoughtful and emotionally engaging book and having someone like Oprah highlight it on the shelves is a true bonus for any new author indeed:

Meanwhile, actress Reese Witherspoon is no stranger to scooping up good books to make movies and TV shows,such as HBO's Big Little Lies,from.

Nowadays, she has her own book club(featured on Instagram) and her new featured selection is The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. The title refers to a spy ring that began in France during WWI, with all of the female operatives going by the name of Alice.

We follow a new recruit to the network,Eve, as she undergoes espionage training in 1915, hoping to do her part against the German forces. Under the tutelage of Lili, the renowned "Queen of Spies", she is able to achieve her goals but suffers for decades afterward, due to a betrayal that destroyed the network.

In 1947, Eve is now alone in her despair and drinking heavily when a young American named Charlie St. Clair comes barging into her life. Charlie has been sent to Europe in disgrace, due to her out of wedlock pregnancy, and hopes to find her cousin Rose who disappeared during the height of the Second World War.  Since Rose had connections to the French Resistance, Eve may know of a way to find her and possibly find some sort of redemption as well.

This certainly sounds like it would make a great movie/miniseries and even if Witherspoon doesn't option it, The Alice Network should make for a grand summer adventure in reading:

Another literary minded actress,Sarah Jessica Parker has become the honorary chairperson for the American Library Association's Book Club Central and her first pick is Stephanie Powell Watts' No One is Coming to Save Us.

The story is a modern take on the classic themes of The Great Gatsby, as JJ Robinson returns to his home town of Pinewood in South Carolina with plenty of money and plans to build an elaborate mansion, the better to court his former high school sweetheart Ava with.

However, those plans are not as easy to pull off as time has changed many things and many people in Pinewood, especially Ava, who is married to Henry, a man whose furniture business is failing and her mother Sylvia, seeking comfort for her lost son Devon via regular phone calls to a young man in prison.

By marrying an All American book like Gatsby to a present day look at how those American dreams are affecting the African-American community, Powell Watts appears to have created a new classic for generations to come.

This novel has gotten considerable praise already and it's author has won several awards for her previous short story collection,We Are Taking Only What We Need. This extra promotion,however, is quite an honor and not just because of Sarah Jessica Parker(who is also running a literary imprint for a major publisher as well). Having the ALA place your work in such a spotlight is something that most library patrons can only dream of and no doubt being the first one chosen is the cherry on top of the sweet successful sundae:

You don't need to look to celebrities for good reading ideas, of course, but they do attract more attention to newer works that could use some extra media love. If you prefer someplace a little more bookish for fresh suggestions, there are a good number of them around such as Book Reporter, Book Page and naturally, Book Riot to seek out those literary treasures that may be buried on a shelf near you.

 In the end, it may not matter where you heard about a potentially good book just as long as you find it or it finds you for a wonderful experience together:

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Setting up my picnic TBR for the High Summer Readathon

With the rest of the summer season before us, it's a good time to make those plans for fun that doesn't have to be in the sun and what better way to do that than a readathon?

Seasons of Reading is already asking for folks to sign up for their High Summer Readathon, a two week event that also includes a 48 hour Christmas in July reading romp as well.

 Sounds like an excellent opportunity to catch up on some of those "been meaning to get to" books and so far, I have a decent short list of titles that I'm reserving for this occasion. Most likely, I'll include a few other books(depending on my reading speed and life events) but at the moment, this quartet of reads is my starting point:

RICH PEOPLE PROBLEMS: This is the third book in Kevin Kwan's series of high society satires set within the Asian community. Upon hearing news of his grandmother's possible demise, former favored grandson Nicholas Young heads to her grand estate in Singapore, hoping to make amends to her before it's too late.

Unfortunately, the rest of the family shows up to fight for a piece of the inheritance,causing more misunderstandings and mishaps than a reality show. In addition to that, there are a couple of other dramas involving a secret affair and a stepmother/stepdaughter competition for social media fame.

It's probably best to read the first two books,Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend, to get the flow of the story lines and characters if you haven't yet but have an interest in this book. Trust me, this delightful trio of snappy social snark mixed with honest emotion is a luxury vacation all in it's own and I look forward to seeing what Kevin Kwan does next:

SUMMER AT LITTLE BEACH STREET BAKERY: Having enjoyed a few of Jenny Colgan's previous works,including the book prior to this one, it only makes sense to save a summer themed title for this particular readathon.

As we rejoin Polly Waterford, she seems to be living the sweet life at her seaside bakery until the owner of the building passes away and the new folks in charge are less than thrilled with the quaint nature of the place.

That leaves Polly no choice but to take her business elsewhere, as in a van that becomes a bakery on wheels. Other dilemmas pop up, as her beekeeper beau is keeping a secret or two and her darling pet puffin causes some unintentional trouble. Nevertheless, Polly will find a way to sort things out and as in many of Jenny Colgan's charming stories, mix in a recipe for tasty treats and true love along the way:

BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE: I have to say that Fredrik Backman is an author that I'm so happy to have gotten into and the reason that I take my time between his books is to make the joy of reading them last longer.

The leading lady of this story was a supporting player in Backman's My Grandmother Says to Tell You That She's Sorry, who was not the most likable neighbor to say the least. Britt-Marie has left her husband and moved far away to the remote town of Borg, with little to recommend it other than a main road.

Her knack for cleaning and forthright nature soon lands her a job at the soon to be demolished recreation center as well as a coaching position for the local children's soccer team. Will the softer side of Britt-Marie shine thought? Perhaps but not without a bit of a fuss, which is what makes her such an engaging person to watch.

 I know that there's more to come from Backman(he does have a new book out at the moment) and there is a novella of his that I haven't read yet. Yet, like a wonderfully strange sweet treat, I can't help but wonder how long such novel goodness will be around:

ARENA: For something completely different, I thought I'd try this first book in a new sci-fi series. Our heroine, Kali Ling, is the first female captain of her virtual reality team, a game that has become a real blood sport in the year 2054.

Her team is a major competitor in the RAGE tournaments run by the Virtual Gaming League , which are shown worldwide. Kali is pleased to be given such an honor,despite the death of the previous captain via overdose, and fiercely determined to become the best there is.

However, RAGE takes a harsh toll on it's players, as each of them feels pain when they have a virtual "death" and that leads them to drug abuse, hard partying and a disconnect from reality. With the help of a new player named Rooke, Kali struggles to break free of that vicious cycle and see where her real enemies are. This certainly sounds promising and ought to be an intriguing take on video game adventures indeed:

There's plenty of time to sign up for the High Summer Readathon as it runs from July 17 to July 30 with the Christmas in July event being held on the last weekend. That holiday themed portion of the readathon is optional(I might not do the Christmas reads myself) and the whole thing is simply meant to be a time to just relax and read.

You can follow the HSR on Twitter(#HSreadathon) and yes, there is a Facebook group as well. What with the warm weather and the chaotic nature of world events these days, finding a good way to de-stress is vitally important for your emotional health, not to mention taking you to a place of literary zen:

Monday, July 03, 2017

A look at the muses of might that inspired Netflix's GLOW

I am pleased to report that one of my summer TV viewing goals has been completed, thanks to a weekend binge watch with my sister of Netflix's GLOW, loosely based on the mid-1980's women's wrestling series.

The show is fun and at times funny yet not devoid of real drama between the characters with standout performances by Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and Marc Maron. Even if you didn't grow up with the actual GLOW series, there's plenty of nostalgic entertainment to go all around.

The series also manages to capture the wild and wacky(as well as sadly stereotypical) nature of the wrestling characters created by and for the girls and some of the fun factor in watching this version is seeing which actual GLOW personalities are being fictionally showcased here. To that end, this is my short list of who is actually who in the ring:

ZOYA/NINOTCHKA: On the Netflix series, Alison Brie plays Ruth, a struggling actress who is holding on to her spot on the GLOW line-up by the skin of her teeth.

In order to make herself indispensable, she creates the perfect heel(a villain in wrestling terms) to go up against one of the better wrestlers, who also happens to be her former best friend, becoming Zoya the Destroya, a ruthless Russian.

Zoya is clearly based on Ninotckka, who was said to be a former colonel from Russia and who loved to ridicule audiences with her Soviet supremacy shtick. She was played by actress Lori Palmer and often displayed a nice sense of comic timing during the mini-skits that the show had the girls do in between matches. Ninotchka was one of the few characters to last during the entire four year run of the original show, thanks to her unbridled zest for over the top villainy:

LIBERTY BELLE/AMERICANA: Betty Gilpin plays Debbie,  a former soap opera actress whose marriage is falling apart and is eagerly recruited by the director of GLOW as the main headliner.

She becomes Liberty Belle, an All-American champion who goes up against Ruth's Zoya with a rather personal motivation indeed. While reluctant to take the role, Betty eventually embraces the power of Liberty Belle as she steps into the ring.

To old school fans, this character is meant to be Americana, the feisty fighter for freedom who took on all enemies of democracy but especially Ninotchka. She was played by Cindy Maranne and only lasted for two seasons, with her red,white and blue banner taken up by other characters such as the Southern Belles and cheerleader Susie Spirit. Nonetheless, Americana was a real fan favorite who still has s bit of a following there:

MACHU PICCHU/MT.FIJI: One of the supporting players on Netflix's GLOW line-up is Britney Young as Carmen, who comes from a family of established pro wrestlers.

While she has the legacy and physical strength to become a formidable female champion, her father is dead set against her joining up but defy him she does and takes the name Machu Picchu with some backup from one of the show's backers.

To me, it seems that she's based upon the legendary Mt. Fiji, played by Emily Dole, who was not from a family of professional fighters yet was an Olympic contender in the early 80s. Before GLOW, did a small role in the film Personal Best, along with several other top athletes. Later on, she also made appearances on Mama's Family and Son In Law with Pauly Shore.

Mt. Fiji was always one of the heroines of the show, the one that came to many a tag team partner's rescue(including her own sisterly partner called Little Fiji) and had a winning personality to match her winning moves in the ring. She was a solid standard for the entire run of the GLOW series and a real sweetheart who never failed to showcase her strength when called upon:

SHEILA THE SHE-WOLF/DEMENTIA: Quite the memorable character is Gayle Rankin's Sheila, who just doesn't don this wolf girl outfit for her wrestling gig. It's a full time persona that she guards fiercely, even from her reluctant roommate Ruth, who is more that willing to understand.

There were a few supernatural based characters on the original GLOW, including one called the Princess of Darkness, but my best bet is that Sheila is taken from Dementia, who was played by two different actresses(Michelle Duze and Nancy Daley) during the second and third season.

Dementia was sort of a Friday the 13th meets William Castle's Strait-Jacket, as she often came out in a cage wearing a hockey mask and carrying an ax. Other times, she would have a doll or other toys that distracted her from the bout that she was taking part in and wasn't the best tag team partner to have there. Then again, she wasn't the best one on one fighter either but always oddly interesting to watch:

As of this writing, there is no confirmation of a second season for GLOW but I can't see why there wouldn't be. This is a smart and savvy show that focuses on female relationships in and out of the ring with plenty of satirical knockout punches to pack for a few more rounds.

 It's also good to have an excuse to relive those goofy glory days with the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, who are being honored as the awesome misfit maidens of might that they were. Give them a Season 2,Netflix! We certainly could use some women warrior power anywhere we can get it these days: