Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, December 31, 2018

Taking a Winter's Respite to ring in the new year of reading

Happy New Year's Eve, folks and hope your celebrations to say farewell to this past year go off without a hitch. As for me, I'm checking my list of books set aside for the Winter's Respite readathon  over at Seasons of Reading.

Thanks to hostess Michelle Miller, this month long readathon gives us a chance to catch up with our TBR piles,dive into those books gifted to us during the holiday season(or picked up at an end of year sale!) and generally relax with some good reads. Most of my selections were Christmas presents and I'll be happy to open them up indeed:

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE: This debut novel by Gail Honeyman has become a much talked about book, recommended highly and chosen as a selection for Reese Witherspoon's book club(she's also turning it into a movie).

The leading lady of the title is living a very quiet life, going from office to home and not much else. Part of the reason that she keeps to herself is due to a rather troubled childhood which gave emotional as well as physical scars.

However, someone from work decides to befriend her. Raymond works in the IT department and appears to actually see Eleanor as a person instead of a figure to be avoided or mocked. Slowly but surely, she starts to join the outside world and begins to learn of the options out there in order to discover the type of existence she truly wants.

I have high hopes for this book but am willing to take it on it's own terms. Hype can work both for and against a novel but I have a feeling that this story is worth taking a chance on, much like it's heroine:

NINE PERFECT STRANGERS: Liane Moriarty's latest story is set at a wellness retreat, where a mixed bag of guests such as romance writer Frances, worried about her continuing career success, and young Zoe, staying with her parents as a means of coping with the anniversary of a tragic event.

As everyone gets to know one another, concern arises about the agenda of Masha, the director of Tranquillium House. Her odd requests and isolating programs for the attendees are certainly a distraction from their everyday woes but is there a method to her supposed madness or not?

I've enjoyed Moriaty's work in the past and like that she added a writer into the mix here for a bit of meta fun. From what I've heard about this book, some of the story is meant to be a bit satirical about the spa craze, which puts me in mind of T. C. Boyle's The Road to Wellville(a better book than the movie makes it out to be)set in modern times-should be interesting to see where Moriaty takes this concept there:

THE ABC MURDERS: My interest in Agatha Christie's works continues and yes, also spurred on by the news of a new adaption. This Poirot tale has him hunting down a killer who uses the alphabet to target his victims, placing all of London in a state of fear.

Poirot teams up with Inspector Japp, the official head of the investigation with his co-horts including Dr. Thompson a forensic psychiatrist determined to reveal the killer's motive and Inspector Crone, a man that harbors doubts about the effectiveness of Poirot's methods. Along for the ride is Poirot's old friend Arthur Hastings, eager to lend a hand as well.

While I am a Miss Marple lady, Hercule Poirot has grown on me a bit and even though I won't be able to see the current BBC version starring John Malkovich, it is a timely excuse to explore this engaging mystery:

In addition, I have Jasmine Guillory's The Proposal(thank you, Stacy, for that Bookish Secret Santa gift!) and a couple of titles released earlier this year, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes-Gower and Kate Morton's The Clockmaker's Daughter.

The latter takes place in an old English estate known as Birchwood Manor, a home lived in by many yet has only one true resident. Lily has walked the halls of Birchwood for decades as a protective spirit, looking to intervene when necessary for such folks as Edward, an artist dealing with a diamond theft on his property and Jack, a newly arrived photojournalist.

When an archivist named Elodie discovers a photo of Lily among her research into the history of Birchwood, that find leads to a reveal that brings more than one hidden story to life. Morton does love to weave elaborate yet emotional drawn tales and this winter may be a good time to dive into this one:

The Winter's Respite starts at midnight this January 1st and ends on the 31st of the month, so there is plenty of time to get those pages a-turning. Best wishes for a Happy New Year to Michelle Miller and all of the other reading friends who are signing up for this bookish beginning to 2019.

Also sending a Happy New Year to anyone taking part in any of the other wonderful readathons out there as well as all who are hoping for a fresh start on so many fronts in the year about to arrive. The coming cold season should be a grand time for bundling up in a cozy spot and diving into a good book that will keep your spirits warm and bright:

Friday, December 28, 2018

Ringing in a New Year of reading for early 2019

The end of 2018 is fast approaching and while there's plenty to look back on(for both good and ill), the time to focus on what lies ahead is here and now.

Out of the numerous pop culture arrivals many are eager to check out in 2019(including seeing which of the theories about Jordan Peele's upcoming horror movie Us will be correct!), books are definitely in the forefront,especially if you have a gift card or two to spend.

This set of new releases due on bookshelves near you for January and February are a mix of fiction, from magical history to murder mystery and emotional affairs of the heart. Hopefully, one or more of these literary delights will be a welcome sight for readers ready for a new read in the new year:


 The Witches of St. Petersburg: Author Imogen Edward-Jones highlights a lesser known pair of historical figures in this novel set in Czarist Russia and endows them with magical abilities that go further than they expected.

Sisters Militza and Anastasia,aka Stana, managed to marry well as princesses of Montenegro but are snubbed by upper class Russian society due to the humble origins of their home country.

 However, when Militza takes a prime opportunity to move up the regal social ladder by connecting herself with new czarina Alexandra, she does not neglect to bring her sister along for the climb.

Aided by their combined talents in dark magic,  Stana and Militza are easily able to make themselves powerful players in the court of Nicholas II. Yet, when a royal heir is in need of medical care, the sisters cast a spell to find a powerful healer which summons Rasputin, a man who proves to be more trouble than he's worth. Ridding themselves of him tests the limits of their skills and may prove to be the undoing of everything they've ever wanted.

Edward-Jones did a good amount of solid research into the real life  members of the Russian court to enhance her creative vision of magic and ambition that ought to make readers wonder the what ifs of that time very well(January):

 Slayer: In this YA tale from Kiersten White, the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is expanded on by the discovery of a new Chosen One, she alone who can fight vampires and go against the forces of darkness(yes, I am a fan if you didn't already know).

Starting from the time after the seventh season of BTVS as well as an event in the Buffy comics that lead to the wiping out of magic, the last of the Slayer line is to be found among the last of the Watchers, those who protected the world from mystical enemies.

Nina and her twin sister Artemis were happy in their training as the next generation of Watchers but when Nina realized that she was tapped to be the Slayer as well, her choices in life become more important than ever before. Magic may have died but that doesn't mean all threats from that realm are gone for good.

Having enjoyed White's take on the Frankenstein legend(The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein), I am thrilled to see what she does with vampires and their slayers in the hopes that a whole new audience will be happily introduced into this fandom fold(January):


 When You Read This: The leading lady of this Mary Adkins novel is Iris, a dying woman who writes a moving blog about her end of life experiences. She does this with the help of Smith, her boss at the small PR firm they had hoped to launch to great heights.

Instead, their dark sense of humor about the blog only serves to bind them together, making it hard for Smith to follow up on Iris' last wishes by using the printout of the blog content to publish a book. He decides to consult her sister Jade about the matter but Jade is less than thrilled with the whole idea.

Smith and Jade do wind up talking about Iris, who they both miss terribly, and soon discover much in common,including the need to find a way to deal with their mutual loss and find joy in life again. A blend of humor, heart and pathos told in modern day epistolary form, Adkins is giving us a smart yet sentimental shoulder to laugh and cry on(February):

 Big Little Love: In this mother and son tale, author Katy Regan first introduces us to Zac, whose biggest wish for his eleventh birthday is for his long since gone father Liam to show up to his party.

Zac's unhappiness is made worse by the constant bullying from his fishing village school mates, causing his mother Juliet to recognize a similar sadness in her self. By trying to improve both of their lives, she hopes to avoid dealing with some of the real truths about why Liam left in the first place.

However, Zac is bound and determined to find his father and with the help of his buddy Teagan, not only finds a few clues about the location of Liam but a look into the past that could change his views about his mother as well as his maternal grandparents for good.

 Such a story promises to go down a certain road but Regan offers a new fork in that fictional path that proves to be worth taking(February).


The Suspect: Best selling author Fiona Barton brings us another thriller with  reporter Kate Walsh on the case. This time around, she's looking into the disappearance of an eighteen year old girl named Alexandra in Thailand.

While the police seem to feel that Alexandra and the friend she was traveling with are simply being neglectful in updating their families about their current location, Kate has a more personal stake in feeling that there is something more sinister about this vanishing act.

As she recruits a few journalist companions to accompany her to Thailand, Kate soon learns that there is more than meets the eye here and it's quite a rabbit hole that she goes down in search of the truth. Barton is a rather intense storyteller and those seeking such a twisty tale will be well rewarded indeed(January).

Chocolate Cream Pie Murder: In Joanne Fluke's latest Hannah Swenson mystery, our leading lady is hoping that a TV special highlighting her beloved bakery The Cookie Jar will take the spotlight off of her personal woes.

Alas, things wind up going from batter to worse(sorry, couldn't resist the opportunity for a pun!) and Hannah seeks shelter at her mother's penthouse apartment with an old friend at hand, looking to solve yet another murder that fell into her lap at the least opportune time.

It's no secret that I've become a fan of this cozy culinary series yet I'm a long ways away from this deliciously titled entry. However, if you are wondering why books like this have such a sweet following, the answer is this: in a world of turmoil and what seems to be unending chaos, visiting someone like Hannah and sampling a few of her fictional wares is such a well earned relief. It's good to know that even murder can be made as sensible as a recipe for a good comforting pie(February):


Do have a Happy New Year and I will try to check in with you all before that clock strikes midnight next week(I do have a readathon starting on January 1st to talk about, after all!). Until then, keep a few good thoughts and a few good books on hand as we head into 2019 and a much better beyond :


Friday, December 21, 2018

Have yourself a Merry Christmas of Music

With Christmas being on a Tuesday this year, I have no intentions of blogging on Monday as the day before the holiday is best enjoyed with family.

Therefore, my annual holiday music playlist will be up today for your Yuletide pleasure and should carry LRG through the first half of next week(will be back before New Year's Eve with a book preview for 2019 and my reading list for Winter's Respite).

Let's get this party started off right with the modern day classic, Run D.M.C's "Christmas in Hollis"that holds the double distinction of being featured on the first A Very Special Christmas album and the soundtrack for the original Die Hard movie(celebrating it's thirtieth anniversary this year).

Yes, Virginia, Die Hard is a Christmas movie as is Batman Returns, however the latter does not feature any real seasonal tunes unlike John McClane's holiday hijnks,more good reason to bust some Christmas carols:

Next up is "Let It Snow" from nineties R&B group Boyz to Men, with the song being reimagined by singer Brian McKnight.

This particular tune was the only single released from their 1993 holiday album, Christmas Interpretations. It also received a Grammy nomination in 1994 for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group w/ Vocals(Sade won that year).

It's truly a cool take on a song that is routinely sung around this time with a lot of enthusiasm but not much more than that. Turning this tune into a sweet mellow jam is peppermint perfect indeed:

One of my all time offbeat favorite holiday songs is "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses and this year, I found a great cover version sung in style by Kylie Minogue.

It's one of the tracks from her first holiday album, A Kylie Christmas , that came out in 2015(which has an expanded version entitled The Snow Queen Edition that was released in 2016).

She also did a concert for this album at the Royal Albert Hall that December and this video is from that performance. You just have to watch, it's a total holiday party riot:

Our next number is from the soundtrack of the 1996 holiday movie The Preacher's Wife(a modern version of 1947's The Bishop's Wife) which starred Whitney Houston, who also generously contributed her musical gifts to the production.

"I Believe in You and Me" was the single released for the album and the film, with the song being nominated for a Grammy(as it was a cover version of a Four Tops song, it wasn't eligible for an Oscar nom). To this day, the soundtrack is considered to be the best selling gospel album of all time.

I know a lot of folks will be interested in seeing this movie right now due to the recent passing of director Penny Marshall(a very underrated talent,in my opinion) and I feel that this is a fitting tribute to both of these remarkable ladies to showcase this heartfelt melody:

Before this playlist is done,I'd like to wish everyone Happy Holidays and yes, as we speak, there is a whirlwind of chaos growing in strength out there in the headlines that we should be concerned about for the future of our country. However, we should not let that sordid mess ruin one of the few times of the year where friendship, love and family are the elements that bring us together.

Misery loves company but that doesn't mean you have to accept it's invitation to dinner. Now is the moment to embrace the true spirit of the season and make a concerted effort to share what's good in our lives with others.

That doesn't mean that we're ignoring what's going on,instead we chose not to let ourselves be dragged down into that particular pit of woe. Like the Whoville residents who went out to sing in the town square regardless of the Christmas eve raid by the Grinch, we know that this holiday is more than just the shiny tree, brightly wrapped gifts and dazzling decorations.

No, Christmas is meant to be much more than that. So in that spirit, let's strive to put a little more love in our hearts this holiday season and all the days afterwards. That will do much to help us all get through this thing together:

Monday, December 17, 2018

A belated birthday card to Jane Austen delivered by Darcy

Yesterday was the two hundred and forty third birthday of one of England's most beloved authors, Miss Jane Austen.  The esteemed lady who gave us six of the best novels about love,friendship and emotional perseverance has gifted us for decades with her wit and wisdom, her only thanks being the devoted love of readers such as myself.

 Unfortunately as it fell this year upon one of those dowager countess dreaded "weekends", I was unable to provide a proper blog celebration for her. To make amends, I felt that only a display of Mr. Darcys would do.

Granted, I am a Captain Wentworth woman at heart(he was my first Austen hero, after all) yet there is no denying the lasting appeal of Fitzwilliam Darcy, the leading man of Pride & Prejudice. While he may be possessed of a brooding nature, it is far and away from a Bronte style of melancholy,thank goodness(no Bronte hate here, I swear!).

Rather, he is an oyster that one must be patient with in order to see him open up and reveal his true worth and yes, Darcy does learn to be less of a presumptive person as time goes on, making him more of an admirable character. With this arrangement of Darcy portrayals, I hope to showcase this proud owner of Pemberley in all of his glory in the best sense indeed:

COLIN FIRTH: While many Austen fans first saw Mr. Darcy on the small screen in the BBC miniseries that cast David Rintoul in that pivotal part, a whole new wave of fandom was born when the 1995 made for British TV version gave us Firth.

To many, Firth and Darcy are one and the same. He combines the intimidating at times remoteness of the character with the steady wit and good humor that lies beneath his haughty surface.

What adds greatly to Darcy's demeanor in this adaptation is Jennifer Ehle's Elizabeth Bennet, whose lively charms are quick to draw out the hidden depths that he is bound and determined at all costs to keep in check. However, even on the dance floor, Elizabeth's good natured examination of him proves rather difficult to resist:

LAURENCE OLIVIER: Another iconic Darcy is the big screen version of him from 1940, where English acting legend Olivier played him along side the delightful Greer Garson as Elizabeth.

His Darcy does seem a bit more playful at times yet prompt when needed to be withdrawn. While there are plenty of flaws in this particular adaptation of P&P(the costumes alone are enough), the strength of the story comes from the chemistry between Olivier and Garson.

They take to the roles as proper yet amusing cohorts, giving the audiences their money and time's worth. Since this script is adapted from a stage play and both of the leads were established theater stars in their home country before heading off to Hollywood, this onscreen pairing seems truly meant to be:

DANIEL VINCENT GORDH: Taking a more modern approach, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries turned P&P into a must-watch webseries, wisely holding off on bringing Darcy on camera until we were well into the storytelling mix.

Gordh's portrayal of Darcy is very relatable as his stiff social attitude seems suited to the tech mogul persona given to the character. However, appearances are often deceiving in any P&P retelling proves and slowly yet surely, the warmer side of Darcy is revealed to Lizzie along with the online audience.

The whole ensemble cast of LBD is marvelous but the teaming of Ashley Clements' Lizzie with Gordh's Darcy is truly the icing on this digital cake:

ELLIOT COWAN: The offbeat BBC miniseries Lost in Austen had two worlds colliding as modern day reader Amanda Price(Jemina Rooper) changed places with Elizabeth Bennet, altering the fictional realm of P&P for both better and worse.

The Mr. Darcy she encountered there has much in common with Colin Firth's earlier incarnation, both in looks and personality. Yet, Cowan brings his own merits to the role, giving Darcy a broad heroic charm as well as a heartfelt sensibility that makes him as swoonworthy as his predecessor.

Cowan and Rooper make for quite the pair of opposites, keeping the inherent dynamic of P&P intact while adding a few fun touches,including a tribute to a certain wet shirt scene from the Firth era:

With that, I bid our Dear Jane another happy birthday in the hereafter and hope that the knowledge that her delightful stories have kept her immortal among us enchanted readers for generations past, present and future will be comforting to her spirit.

To conclude this parade of Darcys, here is Matthew MacFadyen's misty morning march towards Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Bennet in the most recent silver screen version of P&P. While the look is more Bronte than Austen, one must admit that this is a most charmingly romantic finale that even Jane herself might not mind:

Friday, December 14, 2018

Preparing to tune into a new batch of small screen period dramas in 2019

With the holidays fast approaching, a lot of our favorite TV shows are taking their midseason breaks and it feels as if it'll be forever and a New Year's Day before they return.

Yes, there are streaming options out there with plenty of programs to binge on but if you're more of a "watching in real time" person like myself, it's a bit more heartening to hear news of certain seasonal fare returning early this  upcoming winter.

For example, season 3 of Victoria is set to air on PBS this January with Her Royal Highness having to deal with the unexpected arrival of her sister Feodora as well as the antics of her Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston and pressure from Parliament to leave London for her own protection, due to the rise of the Chartist Movement during that time.

There will be other personal battles to deal with as well but rest assured, Victoria will see them through to the end with her dear Albert by her side. Granted, I know how their relationship ultimately ends yet I can't help rooting for these regal darlings to make it after all:

For another true to life look at a British marriage, the three part miniseries Mrs. Wilson, scheduled for March, has the distinction of the leading lady of this harrowing tale being portrayed by her own granddaughter.

Ruth Wilson stars here as Alison Wilson, a woman in post WWII England who believes she had a happy marriage with her husband Alec. However, upon his death, a strange woman comes to call and claims that she is the real Mrs. Wilson.

Confused and dismayed, Alison seeks the truth and discovers that Alec was not all that he appeared to be. This collision between the reality of love and the consequences of lies ought to be a suspenseful engaging treat indeed:

PBS is not the only place for historical drama as Starz plans to continue with their royal adaptations of Phillipa Gregory's novels featuring the rise of the Tudors.

Upon the heels of The White Queen and The White Princess, their next Gregory inspired miniseries will be The Spanish Princess(based on the novels, The Constant Princess and The King's Curse). No set date just yet but it should be around spring when it airs.

The titled lady in question is Catherine of Aragon, meant to marry Prince Arthur to seal the alliance between Spain and England. Upon the death of her newly wed husband, however, she has no choice but to make a claim that will allow her to marry his younger brother Henry instead.

As much as I enjoy stories about the six wives of Henry VIII, we don't always get a good look at Catherine of Aragon, who put up with a great deal in order to protect more than one country as best she could. Sure, Anne Boleyn was quite the diva in her day and I wouldn't turn down a fresh view on her. However, it's beyond time that Catherine of Aragon had her moment in the storytelling spotlight:

There is a more definite date for the premiere of another book adaptation, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. The six part PBS miniseries is set for April with a screenplay by acclaimed writer Andrew Davies.

It's a non-musical version, of course, with a cast of great actors such as Dominic West, David Oyelowo, Lily Collins and Olivia Colman. No matter how many times this epic story is told in pop culture, it always manages to resonate with modern audiences and this time, perhaps for many good reasons:

No doubt, many more tales of historical fact and historical fiction will appear on TV screens will be joining this quartet of period dramas. However, there is one that will escape the tidy realm of television by arranging a reunion for the residents of a certain beloved estate at a movie theater near you next year.

This should be quite the event of the season, particularly if you can imagine Dowager Countess Violet's reaction if someone dared to offer her a box of popcorn at the official film premiere:

Monday, December 10, 2018

Bookish Secret Santa, Golden Globes movie talk and a look at Avengers:Endgame

A lot of things have been happening on the pop culture front lately,so I thought that I would do a quick round-up on them here.

On the personal front, my Bookish Secret Santa package arrived over the weekend and I'm very grateful indeed. This gift exchange is held by Michelle Miller from Seasons of Reading and it's a way of a few folks to send each other holiday treats with a special book or two included.

In my package were a number of lovely items such as a beautiful snow flake ornament, Shea butter scented soap, a charming book of quotes and an Ugly Christmas sweater pen(it's so ugly that it's cute!).

 Among those goodies was a novel that I've longed to read for some time now, The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory The leading lady of this story is Nikole, who is stunned by her all of five months boyfriend springing a marriage proposal on her at a Dodgers game via the Jumbotron screen.

Upon turning him down, she finds herself in need of leaving the stadium safely as the mood in the crowd grows ugly fast. Brother and sister Carlos and Angela volunteer on the spot to get Nikole out of there, leading to what was intended to be a brief romance between Carlos and Nikole. However, that hook-up develops into something that could be much more lasting and all too real.

I thoroughly enjoyed Jasmine Guillory's The Wedding Date earlier this year and this book sounds like a fitting companion piece(some of the characters from TWD show up here). My thanks to Stacy Putman for sending me all of these presents and I will be sending out my own Bookish Secret Santa box this week that hopefully will be just as wonderful to my giftee as this one was to me:

Next, the Golden Globe nominations came out and there are so many calls for celebration here, with Crazy Rich Asians being up for Best Picture and Best Actress for Constance Wu(finally saw this with my family and we all loved it!) to Romi Malek up for Best Actor in Bohemian Rhapsody(saw that film recently and his performance as Freddie Mercury truly elevated the material).

A big stand-out for multiple nominations was A Star Is Born, with Bradley Cooper getting a Best Actor and a Best Director nod,plus Lady Gaga not only being up for Best Actress but a Best Song nomination for "Shallow" as well.

While I haven't seen this version of ASIB, word of mouth has been incredibly good on it and getting a couple of Golden Globe noms sets Lady Gaga on the path towards Oscar glory in a serious way. As a co-writer on "Shallow", she would get that award directly and the song is also nominated for the Grammys yet to land an acting award on top of that would be beyond nice.

 Not surprised about Bradley Cooper heading in that direction since Hollywood loves the whole actor-turned-director deal(to be fair, he does have quite the singing voice). However, this could be a major moment in Lady Gaga's career and I'm not alone in wanting to see her perform "Shallow" at the Academy Awards next year and claim a double win in the bargain:

Other nominees to cheer for in my house are Melissa McCarthy for her dramatic turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Spike Lee as Best Director for Black KKKlansman(a great movie that is also up for acting and best picture honors) and Incredibles 2 for Best Animated Feature.

However, I am concerned about overlooking actors in a certain big film and in particular Michael B. Jordan. While Black Panther did receive a Best Picture nom in the Drama section(something the Oscar should have as well but that's a conversation for another day) and two other noms in the music categories, none were given to the actors involved.

I know how "comic book movies" are perceived to critics and a select group of film watchers alike but one thing that even those folks agreed upon was Michael B. Jordan's brilliantly nuanced performance as Killmonger, the story's villain who was much more than a crackling cardboard figure for the hero to square off against.

His work here was compared to Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight and for good reason; both actors fleshed out the well known characters amazingly well and in Jordan's case, the true depths of his character's suffering were brought out, raising the level of the story for everyone involved. The drama in Black Panther is on a Shakespearean plane of existence and to ignore the contributions of the actors towards this is wrong in more ways than one.

I do hope that the Oscars will give Black Panther more than just the expected special effects/music nominations and respect the totality of the film's worth with Best Actor for Chadwick Boseman, Best Supporting Actress for Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira(all the women in this film deserve noms!), Best Director for Ryan Coogler and Best Supporting Actor for Michael B. Jordan, who gave a performance that will be a beacon for other actors to follow in years to come: 

Speaking of Marvel, the first trailer for the highly anticipated follow-up to Avengers: Infinity War was released.

Entitled Avengers:Endgame, this brief teaser shows us a dying Tony Stark alone in space, Black Widow and Captain America  dealing with the aftermath of Thanos' destruction and planning a possible countermove, along with the arrival of an unexpected ally(which is a relief upon seeing that end of credits scene in Ant-Man and The Wasp).

It's good that this first look doesn't give away too much,although the trailers to come may reveal quite a bit more. While I do know that certain erased characters will most likely find a way back to the MCU in order to make a few sequels, this still will be a major movie event in 2019 and one damn good reason to get ready for the new year indeed:

Friday, December 07, 2018

My last library haul of 2018

With all of the rush to get things ready for the holidays, it's hard to make time for yourself,let alone spend some quality moments searching for a book or two that's not meant to be a gift for someone else.

Even so, I did have a few literary items to return to the library(some of which I didn't get to really read,alas!) and of course, borrowed a trio that should hold me until the end of the year.

First up is Treble at the Jam Fest, the fourth book in Leslie Budewitz's Food Lovers' Village Mystery series. This time out, Merc manager Erin Murphy is getting the town of Jewel Bay prepared for a jazz festival that ought to hit the right note for residents and visitors alike.

Unfortunately, the main musical attraction, Gerry Martin, winds up taking a fatal fall off the cliffs of the nearby river, causing concern for more than ticket refunds. Erin does wind up looking into the matter and discovering a whole orchestra of suspects to audition. Hopefully, she can find the killer before the only music playing in town is the funereal variety.

I just finished Crime Rib(book two in the series) and started Butter Off Dead(book three) before reaching the library, along with being able to renew As The Christmas Cookie Crumbles, which happens to come right after this one. Oddly enough, the first book(Death Al Dente) is the one I haven't read yet or about to at the moment.

Yet, this series is easy as pie to get into and I look forward to enjoying all of the story telling gems that Jewel Bay has to offer,  perhaps even a tasty jam recipe to boot:

Next, I came across a copy of Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella and it was a welcome surprise indeed.

Sylvie and Dan Winter decide to keep their marriage as lively as the day they first wed ten years ago by giving each other little "surprise" gifts. That doesn't sound too bad, despite a few mishaps such as picking a truly awful sweater and setting up a reunion with the last person on earth the other wanted to see again.

However, Sylvie starts to wonder about a few of the secrets that Dan appears to be keeping from her that involve a hidden cell phone. As these surprises go on, she becomes less sure of the continued success of her marriage, not to mention the memories of her late father, who Dan seems to still resent.

Kinsella's light and humorous set-ups do tend to lead to emotional depth and deeper character development, as it was with an earlier library loan of hers that I read(My Not-So Perfect Life) this year. It was a good while since I read one of her novels but it's nice to have her literary voice to listen to again:

On my way out, I strolled by the biography section and plucked off the shelf quite the tasty looking read. My nonfiction reading has been in a bit of a slump lately, so this feels like the perfect dish to revive my appetite in this area.

The French Chef In America by Alex Prud'homme covers the "second act" of his famous culinary aunt Julia Child's life and times. As the co-author of her memoir My Life in France, he is quite familiar with her early days and this book showcases her career throughout the 1970s and early 1980s as she became more than a PBS mainstay.

From arranging the first televised viewing of a White House state dinner to not being shy about her political views when it came to feminism, Child grew to be a central figure in the food world, maintaining solid relationships with friends such as beloved editor Judith Jones and fellow chef Jacques Pepin as well as family. Her influence is keenly felt today and this book offers us a peek behind the culinary TV curtain to truly savor the woman she was:

No doubt this will be my last visit to the library this year and there is no doubt that I'll be back in 2019(I do have to return these books, after all!) for more. With all of the confusion and craziness going on in the world right now, it is so good to have a serene spot for some quiet contemplation and good reads like a local library.

I know that it's hard on libraries as well these days, with budget cuts and more demand for their services and resources, but I am truly grateful for this iconic institution for persevering in times like these and to all of the librarians and volunteers out there, thank you so much for all that you do. May your holidays be happy and best wishes for the new year as we honor and still need you very much:

Monday, December 03, 2018

Starting the holiday season off right with the Christmas Spirit readathon

I usually don't do a lot of Christmas themed reading but lately, some of that has been helping me get into the holiday mood all the better.

With that in mind, I joined in for the Christmas Spirit readathon over at Seasons of Reading which lasted two weeks.(SOR blogger Michelle Miller hosts a longer version at her other site). My goal was three books and I managed to finish two of them in time, not too bad,I think!

First up was The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen, part of the Her Royal Spyness series. Set in December of 1933, our heroine Lady Georgiana Rannoch,aka Georgie, is not looking forward to the holidays as she's stuck at her Scottish homestead with her dismal sister-in-law Fig and the rest of Fig's equally awful relations are due to arrive at any moment.

Fortunately, Georgie finds an advertisement for assistant hostess to a house party in the village of Tiddleton-under-Lovey in Devonshire, where Georgie's flighty mother also happens to be staying with Noel Coward. Arranging for her beloved grandfather to be there also, she packs up post haste and heads out for Tiddleton with the hapless yet sweet personal maid Queenie in tow.

Once there, she finds that the lady of the house, Lady Hawse-Gorsley, is in dire need of help as this holiday party is being held for paying guests(due to the low finances of the estate from the Depression) and wants to please them as much as possible with an old fashioned English Christmas.

Georgie is more than delighted to help out and at first, things go well despite the early arrival of the American family confused by British customs and the latter appearance of a haughty dowager countess who could give a certain Downton Abbey resident a run for her money in the snark department:

All is going well for Georgie, especially when one of the party guests happens to be Darcy O'Mara, the charming yet impoverished nobleman who may or may not be a spy. Turns out he's related to the Hawse-Gorsleys and is just as pleased to see her there.

However, a bizarre string of crimes that include murder seem to crop up on a daily basis and many of the locals are blaming the Lovey Curse, a legend that had a witch burned at the stake vowing revenge from beyond at the holidays.

Yet, Georgie suspects that these deadly occurrences are from a more firmly based in the real world menace , not to mention that a strange pattern based on a beloved Christmas song seems to be linking these lethal events together. With the help of Darcy, her retired police officer grandfather and even a hint from Noel Coward and her mum, Georgie sets out to stop the killer before New Year's Day approaches.

The story is quite fun, with a mix of humor and holiday cheer plus a dash of quaint English village charm that carries the narrative along nicely. Georgie is truly a leading lady worth following with her friends old and new here and the mystery is rather challenging to solve.

 After the story, a "English Christmas Companion" is included that explains many of the traditional British holiday games and activities(recipes are also given for plum pudding and such seasonal treats). It's a welcome touch indeed. If you like a good English themed holiday mystery,particularly set in a small country town, The Twelve Clues of Christmas is your golden ticket to ride:

The other book that I completed was Joanne Fluke's Sugar Cookie Murder, the first Christmas themed book in her Hannah Swensen mystery series.

 For the holidays, Hannah is hard at work getting all of the recipes ready for a local cookbook to be published and the final taste tests are to be held at a Christmas celebration at the Lake Eden community center. Hannah's less than culinary inclined mother Delores is even offering an antique cake knife with a Christmas tree shaped handle to be used at the buffet table.

That knife happens to wind up in a most unexpected place before the night is over as Hannah discovers it embedded in the bosom of Brandi Wyen Dubinski, the brand new wife of divorced resident Martin.

With a huge snowstorm keeping everyone trapped in the center, including such suspects as Martin's ex-wife and former in-laws, Hannah seems to have her work cut out for her but is this going to be as simple as pie to solve? The actual story is more of a novella, as the full Lake Eden cookbook is included here, which is fine for a light holiday read.

Despite the sugar cookies mentioned in the title, brownies actually become a plot point here as Hannah bakes a batch of jalapeno flavored ones for Mike that intended as sweet revenge. Seems that Mike has been making eyes at another lady(who turns up in the Fudge Cupcake Murder and appears in a later book) and even suggesting that her brownies are worthy of being sold at Hannah's Cookie Jar bakery, a romantic no-no if there ever was one!

While Mike and Hannah do resolve their differences, Norman is still in the picture(in more ways than one) and scores plenty of brownie points with me,particularly after pointing out to Mike that Hannah can drive a huge car very well in such bad weather. I do know that there is a brownie themed title in this series but for now, this cookie caper was a sweet enough treat:

Sadly, I wasn't able to get to As The Christmas Cookie Crumbles in time for the readathon. The reason for that being that I'm still in the midst of Crime Rib, an earlier title in Leslie Budewitz's Food Lovers Village mystery series.

Hopefully, I will be allowed to renew it at the library and have it read by Christmas Eve, as I do like Crime Rib and it's savory smart sleuth Erin Murphy. The atmosphere of the Montana town of Jewel Bay is just as appetizing and I so look forward to reading more about this fictional foodie community.

Happy Holiday Reading to everyone who took part in this Christmas Spirit readathon and this seasonal story time was as much fun as a Christmas cookie swap party. If nothing else, it's a good time to revv up your emotional engines for the true delights of the season:

Monday, November 26, 2018

The LRG List of Best Books I've Read in 2018

With Thanksgiving over and the big winter holidays yet to come all too quickly, it is time to reflect over what this year has brought us,pop culture wise, and give an assess of the best.

Plenty of people have already put out their "Best of..." lists by now but I felt this was the proper in-between time to get my selection of top books for 2018.

While there is still a good amount of the year left to catch up with some of the bigger titles out there(Madeline Miller's Circe is on that particular TBR for me!), this is a good rundown of some of the top novels that I've enjoyed getting to know here:

Science Fiction/Fantasy Double Feature

CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE: Tomi Adeyemi's debut YA novel introduces us to a whole new world of magic with Zelie, daughter of a diviner whose powers(along with the rest of her people) have been striped away due to the mystical edict of a vicious king.

When Zelie is given the chance to reclaim their magic,with the help of a runaway princess, she takes every opportunity and risk placed in her path to do so, finding new friends and unlikely allies along the way. Some of those risks are personal, including an unexpected romance that changes and challenges both her and the enemy in pursuit.

Children of Blood and Bone is the first in a trilogy, with Book Two intended to be released next spring. I know that I won't be the only one eagerly awaiting that second volume as well as more wonderful works of words from this author in the near future:

RED CLOCKS: In this all-too-real futuristic tale from Leni Zumas, America has passed a "Personhood Amendment", which bans any and all abortions along with in vitro fertilization. The border to Canada,where these laws are not enforced, is heavily restricted and guarded to women wanting reproductive freedom,especially teenage girls.

Among the four female characters in this story are a young woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy and fearful of the consequences in either direction, a high school teacher working on a lengthy biography hoping to become a single mother before the law fully kicks in and a reclusive healer being persecuted unjustly for only doing what was right.

The story lines are firmly grounded in character development, giving the plight of each woman a haunting depth that makes the reality of her particular situation very heartfelt and chilling to grasp. It's a subtle novel that offers food for thought and emotional costs to value as well.


THE GIRLS IN THE PICTURE: Author Melanie Benjamin showcases the early days of Hollywood through the eyes of two of it's most influential leading ladies both on screen and behind the camera.

Frances Marion intended to become an actress but quickly realized that her talents were best applied as a screenwriter, especially for rising star Mary Pickford. While both of them managed to achieve a bit of fame and fortune despite the limitations placed on women in the industry, their true struggle was to remain friends when certain life choices came between them.

Evoking old school glamour and serving up solid character driven drama, this fictional take on what Hollywood does to those ladies who dare feels very authentic and relevant to this day and age. At it's best, TGITP gives you an idea of what smart and savvy women collaborating on artistic excellence back in the day was like:

THE BAR HARBOR RETIREMENT HOME FOR FAMOUS WRITERS(AND THEIR MUSES): Debut author Terri-Lynne DeFino's look at this special last stop retreat for literary artists and it's residents is a real charmer in the best sense of the term.

When renowned author Alphonse Carducci takes his place among his former contemporaries and feels lost in more ways than one, contact with Cecibel, one of his caretakers, revives his writing spirits. He then secretly starts a novel that is quietly shared with his fellow writers(and one editor) all with the intent of pleasing only one reader.

As Alphonse gains a sense of purpose in the twilight of his life, Cecibel learns to overcome her own personal demons, which have left a mark not just on her face but her soul to boot. To top it all off, we get to read the work in progress and it's quite the thumping good read on it's own there.  If you haven't come across this enchanting novel, do so post haste! It's like listening to a beautiful melody tinged with emotional experience and fresh beginnings all at once:


THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL: Award winning mystery writer Sujata Massey introduces readers new and old to a vibrant new sleuth in 1920s India.

Perveen Mistry has the distinction of being the first female attorney in Bombay and the good fortune to be working at her family's law firm. When a case involving a trio of secluded widows arrives at the office, Perveen is sent out to talk to the ladies regarding their husband's will.

What seems to be a simple case of mismanagement turns to murder as the dubious trustee of the estate is found dead while Perveen is still on the premises. Other complications arise that force her to find the killer before it's late as well as deal with a menace from her own past that threatens her present day life.

This is the first time that I've read Massey and it certainly won't be the last. A second book featuring Perveen is due out early next year and it's so good to get in on the ground floor of a wonderful new mystery series in the making.

THE WEDDING DATE: In this lively modern day romance by Jasmine Guillory, a meet-cute turns out to be rather meaningful.

Strictly by chance, Drew and Alexa find themselves trapped in a hotel elevator with some tasty snacks and shared style of witty banter. As sparks begin to fly, Drew asks a huge favor of Alexa; to be the plus-one at the wedding of an ex-girlfriend that he's attending that weekend.

After that wedding party is over and done, they start up a real relationship which proves to be tricky due to long distance(for work related reasons) and being an interracial connection as well. Will love conquer all or was this only meant to be for just a little while?

Guillory brings a good sense of humor and charm to this engaging story that doesn't skimp on the sexy yet offers plenty of heart to the bond between the leads. She already has a new book out(The Proposal) and that will be a must-read for me in 2019 indeed. Finding a good romance novel can be as sweet as finding a first love and those in love with reading will appreciate the arrival of a fellow book lover turned writer in our midst such as her:

I know that it's been a trying year for so many reasons and there are those who think that focusing on reading may truly be a trivial pursuit in times like this. However, books and reading are what sustains people during such challenges, giving hope,guidance and a much needed moment of relief in order to let our weary spirits rest and revive.

Let us thank all of the writers out there for providing this most valuable emotional resource and cheer them on in the new year to come. Hopefully, more good books and less bad times lie ahead for us all:

Monday, November 19, 2018

My Series-ous Reading slices up a piece of Lemon Meringue Pie Murder

I was very happy to have finished up the next to last selection in my Series-ous Reading challenge, especially before the holiday readathon I signed up for got started(more on that in a moment).

Speaking of holiday, Joanne Fluke's Lemon Meringue Pie Murder does take place around a special summer occasion, the Fourth of July, where everyone in the town of Lake Eden is planning a big parade that baker Hannah Swensen will actually have a float representing The Cookie Jar in for the first time.

Her sister Andrea takes charge of the float(needing to keep busy during her pregnancy), which helps take a load off of Hannah, who is making tons of cookies for various events as well as working on the murder of Rhonda Scharf, who died in the house that Hannah's occasional beau Norman just bought!

 At one point, Andrea did want to make a red,white and blue Jell-o mold cake but couldn't find all of the right colors, which relieved Hannah greatly. Turns out that her younger sister is much better at schmoozing with folks while making her real estate deals than anything of a culinary nature:

As for the murder, for once Hannah was not the one to discover the body. That dubious honor fell to her mother who had accompanied her and Norman to the house in search of items to sell at her antique business.

One of Hannah's lemon meringue pies was found in the kitchen and appeared to had been left out long enough to attract ants, leading her to an unexpected clue in Rhonda's trash.

Norman had bought the house from Rhonda, who was planning to take a well earned vacation but wound up taking the long one that you don't come back from! The only good thing about Hannah's intrusive mother being on the scene is that she doesn't disapprove of her daughter looking into the case this time. Granted, her mom wanted to be the lead detective but quickly handed that job over to her eldest girl in order to concentrate on other things, like urging Hannah to marry Norman.

Meanwhile, we get to meet Hannah's youngest sister Michelle in this story, arriving home from college for the holiday summer fun.

Hannah does act very mother hen around her little sis, to the point of nearly freaking out big time over what turn out to be temporary body embellishments(fake tattoo and mouth fixture with gemstones).

As an older sister myself, I totally understand the protective urge regarding younger siblings there but Hannah did need to chill out a little. While Michelle is way more mellow than either of her sisters, she does have her feet on the ground when it counts:

While Hannah did find Rhonda's killer in the end, I was able to solve a more pressing mystery here and that was which love interest should I be rooting for, Norman or Mike?

For most of the series, Hannah is torn between sweet natured dentist Norman(who her mom prefers) and police detective Mike(who Andrea likes, due to her own husband being a cop). I know that many of the long time readers of the books have gotten frustrated over Hannah's romantic indecision but for me, the choice has been made clear and it's Team Norman all the way.

I can see both the pros and cons of either guy but it was a certain plot point in this book that helped me figure out who I'd like to see Hannah end up with. At the beginning of the story, Hannah decides to go on a diet,due to not fitting into a pair of new pants(turned out to be a shopping mix-up with Andrea) as well as perhaps encouraging one of her suitors to make a more romantic move.

I'm so not a fan of women feeling the need to lose weight for the latter reason but in this case, I was willing to put that aside in order to find out if either Mike or Norman would take a moment to tell Hannah "I think you're fine just the way you are."

 At one point, it's Norman who does make that type of statement and despite his building a house that is based on a design both he and Hannah dreamed up that naturally leads to most folks(and her mother) in town thinking they're going to get married soon, Norman wins in the truly good guy department.

Yes, Mike is sexy and charming but he doesn't even mention the drastic change in Hannah's eating habits(she switches over to salads and small portions rather quickly),which an alert detective should  make a polite observation of at least once, don't you think? Sure, Mike gives her plenty of push back that helps her solve those unofficial cases but Norman is not a doormat at all.  Instead, he's very supportive of Hannah in all of her endeavors and has a good sense of humor to boot

As I continue with the series, that may change but for now, Norman is the man I'm rooting for. Being patient with Hannah on this front is fine with me:

With the Christmas Spirit readathon from Seasons of Reading under way today until December 2, I will be encountering Hannah and company again with Sugar Cookie Murder soon.

For now, I'm starting things off with Rhys Bowen's The Twelve Clues of Christmas and if all goes as planned, will end with As The Christmas Cookie Crumbles by Leslie Budewitz. It's a short but sweet murder mystery ride to jump start my holiday cheer.

To complete my Series-ous Reading for the year, December will have me visiting Poldark country with The Black Moon, where Morwenna Chynoweth is first introduced and her troubled romance with Drake Carne shall begin. With the current TV show finished up for the year(and next season to be the last), this will be a fine way to revisit Cornwall indeed:

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Feasting on some Thanksgiving follies with Friends

A week from today, Thanksgiving will be upon us with folks gathering together to eat and engage with one another. Hopefully, the worst argument that day will be over what to watch on TV;football or Macy's parade? (I vote parade!)

One thing that most people do agree on in that category are Thanksgiving episodes from the nineties classic sitcom Friends. While some are better than others, those hilarious holiday get togethers could always be counted on to serve up the laughs.

To get into the Turkey Day mood, I have assembled a merry meal of Friends clips that should whet your comedy appetite and perhaps inspire a little binge watching before the big day:

TURKEY TIME WITH JOEY: When comes to an appreciative dinner guest for Thanksgiving, Joey Tribbini is your man. He's ready to start chowing down, wearing his good turkey pants and reliable for cleaning his plate more than once.

However, his prankster whims sometimes clash with meal time as the one where Joey put a whole turkey on his head in order to scare Chandler. The only person he really terrified was Monica, who wanted to get that bird in the oven without Joey's head being the stuffing:

POTATO PARTY: Speaking of Monica, you have to give the poor gal her due here. While she may be very controlling and set in her ways about most things, she is always the one doing the cooking on Thanksgiving and even chefs like her would like a little time off on that particular occasion!

The first year that Monica started making Thanksgiving dinner for everyone, she was given not one, not two but three different requests for different preparations of potatoes! Personally, I feel that lumpy mashed potatoes are the worst(not sorry,Ross!) and tater tots are fine but I have to draw the line at adding peas and onions(sorry,Phoebe):

 PRECIOUS PLATES: When it comes to the time that Monica was asked to use her good wedding gift plates on Thanksgiving, I'm kind of with Chandler on that one. What good are dishes that you're never going to put out for the purpose they were intended for?

However, I can completely understand Monica's concern over using them for the first time with this bunch. While giving Joey a "special" plate at dinner was a good move, clearing those delicate plates before Rachel and her sister went at it was quite the thrill ride indeed:

SWEETS TO THE NOT SO SWEET: To be fair, there was that one where Rachel helped out in the kitchen on Thanksgiving to try her hand at making an English trifle for dessert.

Unfortunately, that after dinner treat was memorable for all of the wrong reasons. Due to a mix-up with the cookbook she was using, Rachel did a mash-up between two staples of English cusine. a trifle and a shepard's pie.

That combo is something that not even the hardiest contender on Chopped would attempt. However, at least the guests assembled did their best not to hurt her feelings and one of them did actually like it(Joey, of course!):

Many feel that these Thanksgiving episodes of Friends lead to the modern day tradition of Friendsgiving(although that actual term wasn't in regular use until 2007, long after the show was over and done with). Regardless of that, it's hard to deny that these yearly riffs on celebrating the holiday in a non traditional way did possibly assist in making that concept a bit more mainstream.

Whether or not Friends can be seen as the root of Friendsgiving doesn't really matter. The whole point of both of those annual events is that Thanksgiving is a holiday to be shared with those you love, friend or family(by choice as well as by blood). It's not important what you eat, where you're at or who is at the table-what counts is being thankful for being together. That's a lesson we all need to learn and/or relearn these days with the help of our mutual Friends: