Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, October 30, 2017

Some scary Series-ous Reading rounds out my FrightFall reading for Halloween

This month of FrightFall reading(thanks to Michelle and friends over at Seasons of Reading) has been quite the page turning fun,making the wait for Halloween feel not so long.

With tomorrow being our last day, I have a pair of books going neck in neck towards the finish line, starting with The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig. I decided to combine my Series-ous Reading challenge with FrightFall on this one,which makes it sort of a two-for-one deal here.

 It's the eleventh book in her Pink Carnation series and yes, I did jump far ahead in my quest to respectably catch up with this set of books(have completed the first four) but since this particular story has a Halloween theme, it felt permissible.

Our heroine for this tale of terror is Sally Fitzhugh, feisty sister of "Turnip" Fitzhugh(a charming bumbler often mistaken for a spy at times in the Pink Carnation world) who we first met in the Christmas themed entry,The Mischief of the Mistletoe.

 Here, Sally is well out of finishing school and delighting in the joys of a London season of parties, yet bored with most of the proceedings. Taking up a dare from her friends during one such social occasion, she dares to sneak over to the mysterious manor home of  Lucien, the Duke of Belliston, newly returned to England and rumored to be a vampire.

While Sally does have a brief encounter with Lucien in his garden, no evidence of blood drinking tendencies appear to be evident. A good deal of the notion that Lucien is a vampire is due to the popularity of the Gothic novel The Convent of Orsino, written by the Pink Carnation herself as it happens! The influence of this vampire bestseller causes much stir among the young and fanciful set, sort of like Twilight for Regency era readers,if you will:

 Lucien is haunted but not by any form of vampirism. Instead, it's the death by poison of his parents,which many wrote off as a murder-suicide committed by his mother,that drove Lucien to leave the country at a young age and make his way in the world elsewhere.

Returning home, Lucien is determined to track down the true killer, which may overturn a few messy stones as,according to his uncle, his mother may have been a spy for France. In addition to that, Lucien tries to mend emotional fences with the rest of his family(especially his sister who is now a debutante) but to no avail.

Running into Sally is the least of his worries yet her presence at another party is most fortunate. Upon being given a mysterious note, Lucien heads out for a midnight appointment with Sally at his side where the two of them discover a dead woman, arranged in such a way as to point the finger of blame at him. Worst of all, a wound on her neck suggests a vampire bite.

As Sally provides cover for Lucien from the authorities(not to mention society), he is forced to team up with her to solve the case before the murderer strikes again.

 At the point that I'm at in the book, this pair of possible vampire hunters has run into a old friend from Lucien's past and a warning left with the deadly flowers of the title in a carriage. No doubt the real enemy is all too human but the Gothic lit element of the story is delightful,putting me in mind of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.

Granted, Lucien is far more grim than Henry Tilney and Sally a bit sharper than Catherine Morland was in that classic novel. However, they both have similar burdens to bear and do make for a charming couple that one can not help but to root for in the end:

The one book that I may likely finish before Halloween is done is Agatha Christie's Miss Marple:The Complete Short Stories. I was so inspired by these tales that I rented an episode of the BBC Miss Marple series(The Body in the Library) to watch over the weekend.

These round robin set of stories(one of which is actually a prelude to a crime in the making) ,where even Miss Marple finds herself struggling for a solution to a case at one point, are like a box of sinister sweets. You may suspect what fictional flavor is in each one but there's always a unexpected spicy twist right in the center of them.

Since this anthology is not as long as The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, the chances of my completing it before the witching hour tomorrow are very good indeed. I may have to watch a few more of those Miss Marple episodes as well, since they do feel like fine fall viewing there:

 Now to wrap up my FrightFall reading altogether. First, I must confess to one DNF(Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield,which I gave about thirty pages to but couldn't go on) and a book that I just didn't get to.

That one was Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit,which I may have to try at another time. I simply overbooked my reading time,so to speak, but at least Bellman & Black is a library book and can go back without any fuss.

On the positive side, I did finish five out of the nine that I intended to read and that includes Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King, which was a massive book to say the least. Out of the rest of the five, my top recommendations would be Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. If you're looking for new takes on well known horror themes, these are pitch perfect reads.

With any luck, my FrightFall this year will have six as my final score before all is said and done. Much thanks to Michelle Miller for setting up another fun readathon and for expanding the reading time this season! It's also great to check in with other readers and I hope that everyone who took part in Frightfall had a great time as well. Happy Halloween,folks and best wishes for plenty of treats rather than tricks on All Hallow's Eve:

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wrapping up a few bookish gift suggestions for Novemeber & December

I know that Halloween is just around the corner but before you know it, the holiday season will be fully upon us and the pressure to find the right presents for your loved ones comes along with it.

With that in mind, I have a list of six upcoming novels that should make suitable gifts for friends and family, not to mention some good reading for yourself there.

 After all, you're on somebody's shopping list,too-so make it easier for them with one or two of these November and December releases:

FUTURE HOME OF THE LIVING GOD: Louise Erdrich's latest novel takes a quantum leap in genre as she envisions a future world that is literally going backwards. With plants and animals from the prehistoric age turning up,along with vicious new viruses, society is in panic mode and a new religious order has taken over the government.

Due to the lack of successful births, pregnant women are being rounded up for observation,which puts Cedar, who is 26 years old with proof that her baby on the way may be in perfect condition, in serious jeopardy.

Going on the run, her options are to reunite with her Native American birth family for passage to Canada, hide out with the baby's father Phil or trust in her adoptive parents who have disappeared without a trace. As Cedar keeps a journal for her unborn child, she considers those choices and hopes that she has enough wisdom and courage to make the right ones for both of them.

While this is new storytelling territory for Erdrich, her foundation of solid writing and character development should make this book a true wonder to explore(November):

 THE RUINED HOUSE: Ruby Namdar's debut novel is set in New York, where celebrated academic Andrew Cohen seems to have it all. His career as a professor of comparative culture is thriving, his new girlfriend Ann is young and lively, Linda,his ex-wife, is on good terms with him and even their adult children have deep love and respect for their father.

Andrew is up for a major promotion as well, making him feel on top of the world. Yet, a series of strange visions,based upon an ancient ritual, cause his rather comfortable life to be tossed into turmoil. As his fortunes reverse, Andrew has to take a deeper look into himself and reconsider the path he's taken in life to see where his ultimate fate is supposed to be.

This book is making it's American debut in translation and back in 2014, won Israel's top literary award, the Sapir. It sounds like a blend of midlife crisis with mysticism, which could be an interesting recipe for a good read indeed(November).

THE REVOLUTION OF MARINA M: In 1916, sixteen year old Marina is a budding poet and daughter of a well-to-do family in Russian society. Drawn into the changes all around her, she joins in with her outsider friends to make Russia better for everyone,causing her father to ban Marina from his doorstep.

However, her faith in the revolution is severely tested as WWI begins, along with the rise of the new regime that becomes just as harsh as the one under the deposed czar was. Marina finds herself resorting to all sorts of ruses and risks to protect herself and her friends,not to mention beloved fellow poet Kolya.

Author Janet Fitch is best known for contemporary novels such as White Oleander and this is her first foray into historical fiction. Given her earlier work, this look at such a pivotal moment in time through the eyes of a resilient young woman should play like a heartfelt melody(November):

 THE LADIES OF IVY COTTAGE: The second book in Julie Klassen's  Tales from Ivy Hill series,set in the Regency era, focuses on Rachel Ashford, who must now make her way in the world with only the massive collection of books she inherited from her father.

Using those books to set up a subscription library sounds like a wonderful idea and as Rachel begins to arrange the numerous tomes on hand, she stumbles across a mystery that may require some special assistance.

Meanwhile, her good friend Mercy,whom she shares a home with, is convinced that the new male visitors to their cottage are much more interested in Rachel than her yet the true reasons for such attentions are yet to be revealed. Klassen loves to weave tender tales of homespun charm with smart ladies at the helm and this new chapter in her Ivy Hill stories will be a welcome one indeed(December).

 ENCHANTRESS OF NUMBERS:Jennifer Chiaverini's recent set of historical fiction works now has lead her to showcase Ada Lovelace, who is considered by many modern day scholars to be the first computer programmer.

Unlike other young women of her time, Ada was encouraged to study mathematics(mainly to avoid following in her poetic father Lord Byron's footsteps) and even upon her debut in society, found a man who appreciated her vast intelligence.

Charles Babbage didn't become her husband and instead their friendship developed into a working relationship in his pursuit of a calculation machine that would change the world. Ada's admiration of Babbage,however, was not a two way street as she eventually discovered to her sorrow. Yet her work lives on and this engaging novel gives Ada Lovelace the full vivid portrait of a scientific genius that she deserves(December):

 ELMET: A Man Booker nominee, this debut novel tells the tale of Daniel, who goes to live with his sister Cathy and their father John in a remote section of Yorkshire. The three of them live in their own little world,content for the most part but not without some struggles.

Those struggles get worse as the landowner arrives, demanding that they leave the property. This leads to John, who mainly makes a living as a fighter, to resort to drastic measures that appear to be Robin Hood like in nature at first. Yet, as things go on, Daniel realizes that this battle may not be won to anyone's liking there.

The author of this book,Fiona Mozley, was pleased enough that her first time work made it as far as the short list for the Man Booker and hopefully, the good word of mouth that her story of a family finding it's way out of a rock and a hard place situation will please her as well(December):

Gift giving should be a fun thing to look forward to and while your intended recipients may not want a book(or anything other than a gift card), there is always a good place to find the right suggestions.

My first choice is a book store,of course, but thinking of others is the important part of this tradition and not even the smartest digital assistant is no substitute for that special touch of thoughtfulness,no matter how charmingly competent she appears to be,Janet!:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Some made- for-TV tricks or treats to savor for Halloween flavor

We're this close to Halloween,which happens to fall on a week day this year instead of a weekend, and there are as many ways to anticipate it as there are varieties of candy to be handed out that night.

However, like those sugary delights, not all of them are going to be everyone's favorite seasonal sweet. Sure, there are the traditional treats such as It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, whatever Treehouse of Horror the Simpsons are up to and clip shows like Disney's Halloween Treat, that are enjoyable holiday standards but what is fresh and new,or at least inviting, for today?

Let's take a look and see what can sweetly or scarily shake loose for your Halloween pleasure, small screen style:

MICHAEL JACKSON'S HALLOWEEN: A hour long animated special featuring the music of the late iconic pop star is set to air on October 27 and frankly, I'm not sure who the target audience is for this.

Check out the plot synopsis: "The special follows millennials Vincent (Lucas Till) and Victoria (Kiersey Clemons), who meet “accidentally” on Halloween night and find themselves, along with Ichabod the dog, at a mysterious hotel located at 777 Jackson Street called This Place Hotel. Once inside, Vincent and Victoria are sent on an unexpected, magical adventure of personal discovery, culminating in a spectacular dance finale featuring an animated Michael Jackson."

Okay,I repeat-who is this for?! Yes, it's animated but since the leads are seemingly of legal age, it doesn't sound like it's for kids(which would bring about a whole slew of other issues but let's not go there). Is it for Michael Jackson fans? My best guess is that those folks would be happier replaying the Thriller video.

This project looks and sounds like a musical version of those Hotel Transylvania cartoon flicks, which is not a compliment, trust me. Sure, there's a certain nostalgia for Jackson's music yet this special feels incredibly carbon dated and I suspect that most of the audience tuning in will be ready to mock along than rock along:

SNL DAVID S. PUMPKINS SPECIAL: There's no question about who is this half hour holiday animated show is for, given that it's premiere will be at 11:30 this upcoming Saturday night.

Not much has been revealed about the special, other than Tom Hanks will be vocally reprising his role as the odd Halloween mascot, along with SNL regular Mikey Day(and former SNL alum Bobby Moyinhan), plus Peter Dinklage, who was not part of the original skit but is a fellow SNL host. That's just as well, since the weird randomness of the whole bit is what made this character work like a strange charm in the first place:

FOOD NETWORK: Say what you will about this cable channel devoted to edibles, they do know how to throw a culinary seasonal celebration up right.

From competition series like Halloween Wars(where pumpkin carvers,bakers and candy makers create amazing scary food dioramas) to the Halloween Baking Championship and themed episodes of regular shows such as Chopped, this holiday is well represented here. To be fair, their sister network,Cooking Channel,has a few Halloween items on their media menu as well, but mainly it's mostly former FN fare.

Apart from the Halloween competitions, I do love the Chopped Halloweens the best. Seeing either the assigned chefs or the judge tackle a mystery basket that's full of stranger things than usual is just good fun(not sure if it's good eating but perhaps with the right chef....):

I'm sure there will be other Halloween shows on the TV horizon as the day draws nearer but the one that most folks are excited for is the second season of Stranger Things, debuting on Friday,Oct 27.

I held out as long as I could from seeing the "final" trailer yet with the show less than two days away, the temptation was too great to refuse. I don't feel spoiled for the season, more like having an extra dollop of suspense syrup added to my order for a sequel sundae.

 Some Halloween treats are better when savored slowly but others are meant to be devoured quickly and ST2 is one of those that you have to do a bit of both to truly enjoy. Happy Halloween watching, fellow fiends!:

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Even Miss Marple wouldn't dare to wake these Sleeping Beauties this FrightFall

I know that I'm a little late with my FrightFall progress report this week but on the other hand, that brief delay gave me more time with Sleeping Beauties, which is a pretty lengthy read(a bit over 700 pages) for any time of year.

This novel is the first time that Stephen King has collaborated with his son Owen and I have to say that the two authors blend their narrative voices together seamlessly here. The idea for the novel came from Owen, who tried to hand it over to his dad yet the elder King insisted on the two of them working on it.

There's a dark irony to that, as the main threat of the story is a bizarre infection that only affects females. Women of all ages(even young girls and infants) are falling asleep with cocoon like webbing covering their faces at first and then their entire bodies. They appear to be breathing and functioning just fine,only they can't wake up. To attempt to remove the eerie coating over their faces or otherwise wake them spurs the trapped sleepers to react violently.

This phenomenon, known as "Aurora" after the Disney princess famous for napping, is happening all over the world yet the action here is set in the town of Dooling, West Virginia.

 A women's prison becomes the central focus of the afflicted residents due to a mysterious prisoner named Eve Black, who was detained there upon suspicion of  murder,  a crime seemingly committed in order to place her in custody. Eve has a number of amazing abilities that include mind reading, communicating with animals and incredible strength but most of all, she can go to sleep and wake up without being cocooned.

Word of Eve's immunity gets out and the restless men who now run the town are determined to get a hold of her for some answers. With things in chaos, Clint Norcross, the prison psychologist, finds himself in charge of the prison and also charged by Eve to be her protector, otherwise his wife Lila may never return from her unearthly slumber.

Stephen King has done social disaster stories on his own before(The Stand, Under the Dome) and clearly working with Owen has enhanced that dynamic tenfold here.

The descriptions of how the world at large reacts to this situation are scarily realistic, as men are torn between protecting their wives and children or sliding readily into chaos,with many of them having no practical knowledge of how to care of day to day tasks such as feeding their boys or laundry. Others simply go straight into warfare, the one thing they know all too well how to do on their own.

The women in this story are fighters, from struggling to stay awake as long as humanly possible(with the help of legal and illegal stimulants) to finding their dreaming selves in a strange new world to rebuild together. 

Two of the toughest are Warden Janice, whose TV reporter daughter Michaela arrives too late to see her mom before Aurora takes her, and Lila Norcross, the first women sheriff in the area who takes charge in both worlds, armed with a strong will and questioning nature that isn't always backed up by the men in her life. As it turns out, it is up to her husband and son Jared to keep things going although Lila was suspicious of Eve Black right from the start:

As to Eve, she appears to be a harbinger of the divine with her connections to nature(a strange tree heralds her arrival) and secret mission agenda that involves setting up a confrontation in Dooling that should decide the fate of the world.

However, her true motives are hard to discern and it's suggested that she is merely a vessel for a greater force that feels the need to test humanity every now and then. That doesn't make her a good guy, rather a messenger of the gods that wearies of her purpose as things go on.

At this point, I am on page 500 and raring to go forward here yet I don't want to rush headlong into the end game. Seeing this story play out in it's own steady yet readily engaging pace is a key part of the fun here.

While my weekend plans do have Sleeping Beauties firmly in the driver's seat, I think that I may have found the perfect road trip tune to go along with it. It's not a song that you'll easily find on the radio but trust me, this haunting number by ionnalee fits Sleeping Beauties as perfectly as a certain clear slipper fitted a runaway midnight party girl:

In between my bouts with Sleeping Beauties, I have been sampling some of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, in a collection of short stories taken from other published works featuring that lady detective.

So far, the first set of tales revolves around a "Tuesday Night Murder Club" where Miss Jane Marple and her writer nephew Raymond have joined a group of his friends in guessing the solutions to various unsolved crimes.

 From a tinned lobster dinner that lead to a fatal case of stomach ache to some moonlit playacting that went horribly and a smuggling case, Miss Marple has figured out the who,what ,where and why without losing a stitch in her knitting. I must confess that I have not read a lot of Christie(mostly seen a few film versions) yet I vastly prefer Miss Marple to her famous Inspector Poirot.

Don't get me wrong, Poirot does have his charms(I adore Peter Ustinov's take on him in such films as Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun) but the first Christie novel that I've ever finished was The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side,which was partly due to my enjoyment of the movie version that starred Angela Landsbury as Miss Marple. For someone like her to simply state the case in matters of murder most foul was rather a feminist move for those times.

While someone like Poirot can go where he pleases for the most part and can get respect,if not complete belief at times. for his findings with the authorities, an older woman who lives alone like Miss Marple has a tougher row to hoe in that department. Elderly people can be too quickly written off as confused and out of step, not to mention a woman even more so then and now.

 For Jane Marple to quietly yet firmly involve herself in such unseemly circumstances was considered abhorrent to say the least. That didn't stop her, of course and by using her low key yet knowable demeanor, Miss Marple made plenty of strides for other fictional female sleuths and I dare say, a few real life ones as well.

I should read a few more of the full Miss Marple novels in my future reading and watch more of the adaptations there. She has several made for TV series and it would be entertaining to compare and contrast some of those fine actresses like Julia McKenzie and Geraldine McEwan in their considerably unique takes on the character:

As this readathon winds down, I really need to pick up the pace on one particular book. Lauren Willig's The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is part of my Series-ous Reading challenge as well as FrightFall and my progress with that book has been slow due to my putting it aside for too long.

 That is not the fault of the story, which has a lovely Gothic theme complete with vampire novel references, but my own desire to indulge my fiendish literary habits elsewhere. That must be remedied and right soon in order to appreciate the Jane Austen fearsome flair that it holds:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Some meta movie treats for your Happy Death Day party

There are times when I'm happy to be wrong about something and the success of Happy Death Day is one of them. This seemingly all-gimmick and gore horror movie(strategically released on Friday the 13) ruled the box office over the past weekend, cutting off the Blade Runner sequel at the knees there.

Granted, Blade Runner 2049 was having box office troubles before Happy Death Day hit the multiplexes but it's take dropped down severely, due in part to this quirky little slasher film that got a great deal of good word of mouth.

Having a PG-13 rating(which lessened the violence somewhat) was a huge bonus as well,plus the fact that character development and a sense of humor were added into the mix. The plot is easily summed up as "Groundhog's Day meets a slasher movie" and from what I have heard, Groundhog's Day is referenced in the film, giving an extra meta flavor to the fearsome fun.

So, if you have seen HDD and want a bit more of that sassy scary style or haven't but still wanting to get into that gruesome groove, I have a trio of rentable recommendations that should fit the bill for a Halloween viewing party rather nicely:

THE FINAL GIRLS: Taissa Farmiga plays Max, who decides to honor her deceased scream queen mom's memory by attending a midnight showing of Camp Bloodbath, her mother's only claim to fame, with her friends.

During the screening, a fire breaks out and Max finds herself trapped within the cult classic slasher movie along with her buddies. To escape the cinematic death trap, they decide to stick with the "final girl" of the plot but she happens to be one of the first to die. That leaves Max to not only step up to the plate to save the day but to also try and save the movie version of her mother.

This movie is funny and scary, with a good amount of movie mockery that doesn't detract from Max's emotional journey. Like Happy Death Day, TFG is a PG-13, which limits the traditional slasher movie blood and guts action yet it has plenty of entertainment value on hand to make up for that. If you love old school horror with some heart, this is your golden bucket of popcorn to enjoy:

TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL: Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine play the title backwoods men who a group of college students on vacation take for murderous menaces right from the start.

Turns out the guys are good natured bumblers who become convinced that it's the vacationers who are the real threat. This set of misunderstandings gets quite a body count, as there happens to be a real killer in their midst who is willing to do them all in.

The rating here is R but the tone is more dark humor than slice and dice, with a nice touch of romance tossed in. T&DVE has won some film festival awards(along with a couple of Fangoria Chainsaw honors) and it's a shame that it didn't get a good theatrical release. Nevertheless, it's a giggleworthy goreshow gem to watch on home video:

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS: This movie is rather well known to most horror fans but just in case you haven't seen it, my synopsis will be moderate here.

The story starts off with your typical five pack of young folk(including Chris Hemsworth) out for a weekend getaway at the title remote location and a chain of horrifying events is set off as their stay progresses. However, this scary movie situation is being monitored and manipulated by outside forces for an unknown purpose that could affect the world.

While there's plenty of humor and horror to go around, the main pleasure of this movie is that it credits the viewer for being smart as well as worthy of a good original story, something that Hollywood needs to do in more than one genre. Whether you're re-watching or seeing it for the first time, The Cabin in the Woods is fine meta fare that packs a punch:

Of course, a good go-to here is Scream, the now modern classic in meta movie mania. I have to say that it does hold up pretty up as do a couple of the sequels(avoid Scream 3 at all costs!) and if you're looking for the original scary sauce in this genre side dish, it will more than satisfy that horror movie hunger. At the very least, Scream offers a good review in Fear Film 101 which should make your Happy Death Day cravings chilling calm indeed:

Friday, October 13, 2017

My FrightFall journey into Lovecraft Country w/ a fierce Firestarter at my side

Welcome to week two in my progress reports during the Seasons of Reading scary reading challenge(known as FrightFall) for the month of October.

I'm happy to say that I did complete Picnic at Hanging Rock last weekend, letting me check off two books on my list, with two more in the works as we speak:

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY(Still reading-nearly halfway through): Matt Ruff's 2016 novel of fantastical horror has gotten a lot of attention lately, due to it being adapted as an upcoming HBO series with Jordan Peele(the director of Get Out) as executive producer.

All of that attention is well deserved and then some, as this story seamlessly blends racism in the 1950s with the terrors that H.P. Lovecraft, a bigoted fellow himself, dreamed up. Our leading man is Atticus Turner, a black Korean War vet with a love of science fiction/fantasy books, who finds himself and his family becoming the targets of a bizarre cult.

When Atticus returns home to 1954 Chicago, he learns that his father,Montrose, was whisked away by a strange young white man to a rather isolated town with a name that sounds suspiciously like Arkham(the original publisher of Lovecraft's works). No one has seen or heard from Montrose in a while,which is very much not like him.

 Joined by his uncle George and Letitia, a childhood friend, Atticus heads out to rescue his father, who is being held captive by father and son Samuel and Caleb Braithwhite. The Braithwhites are the leaders of The Order of the Ancient Dawn, a cabal devoted to capturing the power of otherworldly forces and Atticus is crucial to their plans.

This is only one of the adventures that Atticus and friends face here,with one of my favorite characters being Letitia, a smart and strong willed woman who can think on her feet and deal with whatever obstacle is thrown her way, human or otherwise:

 One of the most terrifying aspects of the book is the constant threat of racial violence, from various encounters with the police in both the North and South to vicious home invaders trying to drive out their new African American neighbors. The story may be set in the 50s but it does feel frighteningly relevant in this day and age but it's more than just an allegory.

 Ruff creates sharply toned tensions and well developed characters that make this book hard to put down. I'll probably finish it by this weekend and highly recommend LCC to anyone interested in writing that weaves reality and fantasy so chillingly well:

FIRESTARTER(STILL REREADING,MORE THAN HALFWAY THROUGH): I chose this particular Stephan King novel to reread for this challenge due to watching the lackluster film adaptation over the summer.

While that movie is pretty faithful to the book, it's a dull,miscast affair that will hopefully benefit from the proposed remake being planned. Meanwhile, the story of pyrokinetic Charlene "Charlie" McGee is strangely reminding me of Game of Thrones.

Granted, they're in completely different universes but what Charlie goes through as she and her father are forced to flee from the government sanctioned agents of The Shop is no different than what Stark sisters Arya and Sansa are faced with as their family is hunted down by their regal enemies. From falling prey to dubious allies to giving into the lure of violence dealt by her own hands, Charlie is a bit of both Stark girls and like them, has to find her own way to survive.

You could even argue that John Rainbird,the Shop assassin who works his way into Charlie's trust, has a lot in common with Littlefinger. Both are way too obsessed with their female charges and very willing to use that emotional bond for their own personal ends. A main difference between the two is that Rainbird has the cunning confidence to let his chosen prey come to him, rather than openly court her affections like Littlefinger does with Sansa. Rainbird has the deadly flair of an X-Men villain in that regard:

However, the GOT character that Charlie would be most able to identify with is Danearys Targaryen, who like her was marked at birth for great and terrible things.

Both are pursued once their powers manifest themselves and at one point, captured with their loved ones threatened. While their quests are truly worlds apart, what Charlie and Dany truly want is to find safety and love despite their extraordinary abilities, goals not easily obtainable yet that doesn't stop them for long.

In the end, their captors realize much too late that they don't have the power to hold these powerful females for very long and that presumption will seal their fate with fire. Granted, Charlie is her own dragon(not to mention far younger than Dany when her journey begins) but I do think that the Mother of Dragons would have some good advice for this princess of power indeed:

With any luck, I should have both books finished by or before Monday. I hope to take up another Stephen King book next week(the newest one, co-written with his son Owen) and a set of Agatha Christie short stories featuring the incomparable Miss Marple. Poirot is all well and good but I can't help adoring that feisty little old lady and her clever ways:

Monday, October 09, 2017

A library haul and being patient for Sleeping Beauties to awake in my mail box

The start of a new month for me these days means another trip to the library, to stock up on some fresh reads as well as return my previous loans.

Out of the three books that I brought back, two of them had been completed(nothing against that third one but it was sort of an impulse choice that quickly fizzled out for me there),which is not bad at all.

This time, I kept my selections to two with the first one being a novel that I've heard nothing but the highest praise for. Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer along with the National Book Award for The Underground Railroad, with the added bonus of being an Oprah 2.0 Book Club pick.

However, it's more than the critical praise that has gained my interest in this story. Whitehead re-imagines the legendary network of slaves escaping to freedom in the North as an actual railroad, complete with station stops that are not as safe as they may seem.

Cora hopes to follow her mother's footsteps in fleeing from the plantation in Georgia that she was left behind at as a child. Accompanying a fellow slave known as Caesar, the two of them trek across state lines,making brief stays yet all the while heading forth due to the pursuit of Ridgeway, a notorious slave hunter who insists that his cause is just.

In a strange way, one of the books that I'm currently reading for the FrightFall readathon is putting me in the right mood for The Underground Railroad.

Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country takes place in a different time period(America in the mid 1950s) yet both books share similar themes of racism mixed with speculative fiction, showcasing the true horrors of the past that still reflect strongly upon the present day.

It also helps that The Underground Railroad is part of the regular fiction section in the library, giving me plenty of time to absorb the wonders of Whitehead's creative world without feeling rushed. A good book ought to be given the proper amount of time to appreciate all it has to offer:

Speaking of FrightFall, my second library loan certainly qualifies as a late entry on the dance card for this bookish midnight ball.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield takes place in 19th century England, where William Bellman has achieved a good portion of the good life, running a successful mill and having a loving family by his side.

However, due to an incident in his childhood that lead to the killing of a rook, William's good fortune begins to melt away, taking many of his loved ones to an early grave. In order to save his daughter Dora, the one child he has left, William makes a strange deal with a mysterious man in black who wants him as a business partner for a department store that specializes in funeral fare.

This is Setterfield's second novel and a long time coming as her debut, The Thirteenth Tale, came out in 2006. I thoroughly enjoyed that book with it's Gothic layers and hope that this new tale will be as engagingly eerie:

Meanwhile, I did actually splurge on a new hardcover that is also fit for FrightFall(which a couple of my fellow #FF readers have on their lists as well). Sure, I could've tried the library but a big release like this is already heavily reserved,not to mention only being available for a one week loan at best.

That limit is hard with a book like Sleeping Beauties, with a page count over 700 and some change. Stephen King does tend to get wordy at times, for better and for worse, but I have the feeling that this will be worth it.

For one. this is his first team-up with son Owen, which should be interesting in and of itself. Also, the plot is certainly creative as women all over the world are trapped in cocoons as they sleep, with their minds being taken to an alternate reality. Meanwhile, the men are trying to figure out what's happening and discovering that any attempts to break the women free from their strange sleep are deadly indeed.

The remaining awake female population does their best to cope and resist the lure of the mysterious slumber with their only hope being Eve Black, who may be the cause or the cure. You have to admit, this does sound like a hell of a ride and yes, the TV adaptation rights have already been sold. Reading the book will make that wait easier,although I'm still waiting for it to arrive in my mail box there:

Patience is a virtue and as this post shows, I do have plenty on hand to read. Yet, it's difficult to resist being all nervous-giddy-excited about the book that's on the way. I do get the same way when a book I reserve at the library comes in,making me calculate how soon I can pick it up and should I borrow another book along with that particular chosen one(I always do).

It goes along with the territory,I guess, this eager for more literary anxiety. The whole trick is to able to make it part of the regular balance of your life rather than letting it overwhelm your day. Not an easy struggle by any means yet don't be too harsh on yourself if you stumble now and then. We've all been there and ultimately, your book will arrive,making all that fuss worth your while and forgettable until next time:

Friday, October 06, 2017

Getting a glimpse of Certain Dark Things while attending the Picnic at Hanging Rock this FrightFall

This is week one of Seasons of Reading's month long FrightFall readathon and in honor of the new format, I thought it would be good to do a progress report post each week here at LRG.

So far, I've finished one book and halfway through another, which is not bad,I suppose. The pair of books that I started out with are miles apart from each other when it comes to delivering the scares yet are eerily effective in their own way:

CERTAIN DARK THINGS(finished): Silvia Moreno-Garcia's follow-up to her tale of musical witchcraft,Signal to Noise, goes all-out on the supernatural but keeps the emotional pace of the book down to mortal levels.

The setting is Mexico City, one of the few vampire free zones in the world, where Atl, the youngest daughter of an Aztec line of blood drinkers, takes refuge. Her family was wiped out by a family of Necro vamps, determined to take their territory and she barely manages to survive on her own, even with a genetic enhanced Doberman at her side.

With only one or two possible contacts to help her flee the country, Atl takes up with Domingo, a street kid who falls instantly in love with her. Bonding with a human is risky for Atl but the need for his blood and assistance is too great. Domingo is fine with Atl being a vampire and even being her "Renfield" but he hopes for something more as time goes on.

Meanwhile, Nick, the vicious eldest son of the Necro family is on the hunt for Atl, along with a local gang who prefers to keep the streets safe from all nocturnal invaders who recruit a new cop in town named Ana Aguirre, who has some experience in the vampire killing department.

 As Atl makes her plans to head out of Dodge,so to speak, the ultimate fight or flight instincts come up to the surface for all concerned.

As with her earlier novel, Moreno-Garcia showcases her gift for blending realistic characters with otherworldly elements and that ability is brought to the next level. As much as I adore Atl and Domingo as a couple, their relationship is not overly romanticized yet very touching. The pacing is brisk yet allows for some much needed character development time that pays off by the end.

The world building here is wonderful, complete with an informative glossary at the end of the book that relates various vampire myths from other cultures. Frankly, it's refreshing to see a more diverse view of vampire lore that the standard Hollywood version(which is playfully mocked here) and with more of the good word of mouth that the book has already gotten, Certain Dark Things should pave the way for other culturally creative works in this genre:

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK(still reading): This Australian novel by Joan Lindsay, originally published in 1967, is considered a classic in that country yet most Americans would know it best from the 1975 film adaptation directed by Peter Weir(which is about to be remade for streaming on Amazon).

We begin at Appleyard College, a proper girls' school in 1900, where the students and teachers are sent off to the title location as a Valentine's Day treat. During that trip, a trio of senior girls and one of their instructors wander off from the rest of the group and seem to vanish without a trance.

Apart from the hysterics of a younger girl,Edith, and the frantic days later search by a visiting Englishman named Mike, there are few clues as to what happened. Even when one of the girls does strangely turn up, there are more questions than answers to be found.

The story is a slow yet steady burn as just about everyone in the community is in an uproar over the bizarre incident. From the headmistress,Mrs.Appleyard, who is concerned about what this will do to her school's reputation to Albert, a local groomsman worried about the effect this has had on his friend Mike, the tension rises with each page turn.

This is not a book to be rushed through,although I consider it a bonus that my copy is the 50th anniversary edition with an introduction by acclaimed writer Maile Meloy(said intro I will read upon finishing the book,as suggested by the author). It may seem brief and sedate but appearances are deceiving, as the old saying goes.

I might even check out the original film before Halloween, as it's fear factor is held in the highest regard as is this sinister short novel of girls who are truly gone in the most chilling sense of the term:

Meanwhile, I've gotten a start on Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country,which is very intriguing so far and dipping into The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig(which also part of my Series-ous Reading challenge for the year).

There's still time to join in the FrightFall fun and more info, check out Seasons of Reading(there's a link in the first paragraph of this post) and yes, we do have a hashtag on Twitter(#FrightFall). Probably after I finish up with Picnic at Hanging Rock, my reread of Stephen King's Firestarter will begin although I may have to bring another SK book to this party.

Granted, this is a late selection but since King just released this special sleeper hit with the help of his son Owen, a little tardiness is not the worst thing to deal with here:

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Ken Follett stokes the flames of his Kingsbridge chronicles with A Column of Fire

One of the best literary surprises of the season has been getting a new chapter in what might rightfully be called the Kingsbridge Chronicles with Ken Follett's latest release, A Column of Fire.

This is the second sequel to Follett's epic novel,The Pillars of the Earth, which became a big bestseller long before it was chosen as an Oprah Book Club selection,not to mention a miniseries on Starz. The second book,World Without End, was also adapted into a made for cable miniseries and with any luck, this one will join them as well.

I've been reading ACOF,slowly but surely(it is a lengthy book,after all) and have been pleased to find that much like the earlier novels, there is plenty to savor and a trio of solid themes that link from one point in time to another:

THE CATHEDRAL: That particular religious building is at the hub of these books, from the beginning where plans to build it consumed most of the characters to the second book,where a partial collapse and the spread of a major diease caused major changes to how the cathedral was used.

In the current novel, the cathedral has been partly underused,due to Henry the VIII's reign and several of the abandoned parts of the building were pledged as collateral for a loan made by Alicia Willard, with hopes that she and her sons Ned and Barney could turn them into a viable marketplace for all of the local merchants to prosper with.

Unfortunately, that deal was broken by the Fitzgerald family(with help from the current bishop) and the Willards have no choice but to find another way to make their fortune,particularly Ned. Time and again, the cathedral has played a vital part in the fate of others and forced many characters to chose between it and their true desires:

FORBIDDEN ROMANCE: Lovers pulled apart by circumstance and social status are key elements in these books, such as Jack Builder and Lady Aliena from TPOTE, and the legacy of WWOE's Merthin and Caris leaves quite a mark for the current romantic couple to stand in.

Much like Caris, Margery Fitzgerald is being forced to marry a local noble man by her social climbing family,including her ambitious brother Rollo. While she would infinitely prefer to be with Ned Willard,who has been deeply in love with her for years, pressure from both her relatives and religion induce her to accept this unwanted engagement.

Will Ned and Margery find a way to be together, despite their changing fortunes and the matters of faith that divide them? Well, we shall see but if past performance is any indication, I think that true love will win out, one way or another:

TURNING POINT IN HISTORY: In each Kingsbridge novel, a pivotal moment in English history is set within the background of the overall story like the death at sea of King Henry I's heir in TPOTE and in World Without End, the fate of overthrowen King Edward II proves to be crucial.

In ACOF, the reign of "Bloody" Mary Tudor is near it's end, causing the once downtrodden Catholics to take harsh revenge against their formerly in power Protestant neighbors. When it becomes clear that Princess Elizabeth has the best chance to take the throne upon her sister's death, many quickly take sides both for and against her.

With his family fortunes spiraling downward, Ned Willard takes up an offer to join forces with Sir William Cecil(and late Francis Walshingham) as protectors of Elizabeth, who must fight against the Catholic forces aligned against her. That doesn't hold well with Margery, as her faith is what lead her to marry against her wishes yet she still holds firm to her beliefs.

The clash of religions in this time period did have a widespread effect that is keenly felt among the characters in ACOF and as Follett also gives us insight into some of the more regal players here, that perspective will be fully enhanced for all involved,including the reader:

With things as they are today, it's good to have a bit of history or historical fiction to look to for some comfort in that hard times can and will be dealt with for the better in the end. I know that the Kingsbridge novels are ultimately meant to be entertainment and yes, they are thumping good reads indeed.

However, in this day and age of prevalent uncertainty, something like a grand epic story from a steadfast storyteller such as Ken Follett does offer a good bit of relief and good reading in a weary world:

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Turning back time with page turners new and old

In times like these,when tragic events seem to strike at just about every moment, it can be hard to find solace for our troubles. One of the many places that people look to for emotional inspiration are books and not just for pop culture escape.

A good novel can give us a glimpse of what it was like for others back in the day and how the average person dealt with day-to-adversity as well as anxiety about the state of the world. That book doesn't have to recently written but a new story can take us back to a few older ones along the same line as I will attempt to show here.

 Recently released into paperback, Jennifer Ryan's The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is set in the title English village as WWII begins and with many of the local men called to military service, the church choir prepares to be disbanded. However, the women of Chilbury(lead by a female music professor) see no reason to give up their weekly worship via song and soon form an all-ladies' choir.

Their stories are told through journals and letters, like Mrs. Trilling, a widow who takes in an unmarried colonel while her son is fighting overseas, Miss Paltry, a midwife with limited scruples and secrets to keep and Venetia, whose romance with a newly arrived artist leads to more trouble than anyone expected.

As the war goes on, the women and girls of Chilbury learn to handle the hard times at hand as well as prepare for what may come, by sharing their hopes and sorrows as well as keeping a song in their hearts. Author Jennifer Ryan did a fair amount of research into what those days were like for folks back then and her blend of history and heart serves the reader well:

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is putting many favorably in mind of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which came out in 2008 and was co-written by Annie Barrows and the late Mary Ann Shaffer.

That novel also involved letters, as newspaper writer Juliet learns more than she intended to about the life and times of the island folk during their time of German occupation during the war.

From a request to find the works of Charles Lamb comes insight and intimacy from correspondence with the resourceful members of the "book group"(formed partly to cover up local gatherings to share the merger food supplies they manage to save from the invading forces at their doorstep) and their erstwhile leader Elizabeth, a plucky soul whose heart was in the right place even when she loved someone from the wrong side of the war.

The book is being adapted into a movie as we speak, with Lily James and Jessica Brown Findlay cast as Juliet and Elizabeth, a good sign indeed. With the film possibly being ready as soon as next year, it might be high time to reread this lovely tale of steadfast folk or discover the joys of it for the first time:

A book and film that I feel truly paved the way for both of these novels(and a good deal more) is Mrs. Miniver. Based upon a series of articles written by Jan Struther,  this fictional yet all too real leading lady represented the small town charms and standards that defined the English resolve to fight in WWII.

The book was published in 1939, with the Hollywood version following in 1942 and both are credited with gaining American sympathies towards joining the war. It didn't hurt that Jan Struther went on a strong lecture tour in the US for the book, not to mention that the movie won six Oscars.

Mrs. Miniver,however, wasn't just a piece of propaganda. It gave a human face to those over in England and elsewhere who did their best to stay true to their better selves during a time of ever increasing crisis. It also showed how even the most casual kindness to others can make a huge difference to even a small corner of the world:

So, as we move on to make sense out of the senselessness around us, it always helps to have a good book or two(or perhaps three!) to help us along the way. Looking back at those struggles in the past,even through fiction, and seeing how people cope then should offer us hope that we,too, can get through this together in the here and now.

Going back in time does have it's disadvantages, as numerous sci-fi stories and even the Outlander book and TV series show us. Sure, meeting a handsome Highlander sounds great but plenty of real world obstacles were thrown in that path to true love there. Perhaps it's best that we don't have any time machines or mystical portals to pass through as it may be best to take such a journey from the comfort of our couches: