Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Get ready for a Super Bowl of Reading!

This weekend, some serious Super Bowl celebration will be under way as viewing parties packed with food,friends and a good sized TV will make merry all the day and night long.

As one of those folks who are not into sports, I do wish everyone else invested in the big game a lot of fun and may your favorite team(for this particular Super Bowl) win.

However, to my like minded book lovers, I propose that each of us find our own special form of entertainment during this time by setting up a Super Bowl of Reading. It's very simple; pick a pair of books to read back-to-back in whatever genre you chose and judge for yourself which one is better.

You can do this with a friend or two, if you want, and you don't have to wait for the day of the actual Super Bowl to start. Just make next Monday your deadline,with the prize being reducing your TBR pile by two(or more, if things work out that way). I'll showcase three examples of literary match-ups that should make for great competitive reading indeed, just to get you all started:

FINAL GIRLS VS. THE CHALK MAN: These two thrillers have quite a bit in common, as both are debut outings(in FG's case, the first time for that pen name) with lead characters haunted by tragic events in their past which are coming back to threaten their present.

For Riley Sanger's Final Girls, it's Quincey Carpenter, one of a trio of women who survived horror movie like massacres and is now trying to lead a quiet life.

When news of the death of her fellow Final Girl Lisa proves to be under suspicious circumstances,along with the reappearance of the other FG Samantha, she begins to wonder if a new killer is out there hunting them all down. I'm reading this one at the moment and so far as the collective word of mouth has promised, it's a fast paced and engaging read.

The quick pace of FG ought to allow me to meet up with The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor before the end of the workday week. The leading man of that terror tale is Eddie, a mild mannered school teacher in a small English town.

The odd arrival of a note with a piece of chalk at his home brings back unwanted memories of when he was twelve years old back in 1986. Eddie and his boyhood friends found the body of a dead girl, with that discovery leading to more tragic results.

Now, in 2016, Eddie fears that those past errors are truly returning as a new body count begins along side the re entrance of an old pal that he hoped never to run into again. My hunch is that both of these books will make for fine page turning chills here but we shall see which one has more of that winning killer instinct indeed:

CLASSIC ADAPTATION SHOWDOWN: To get a head start on the spring TV season, there are a couple of time honored titles set to hit the small screen that make for great reading.

My personal favorite, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, is scheduled for PBS Masterpiece in May, with the likes of Angela Landsbury and Emily Watson on board.

This tale of sisters has had many a film version/miniseries made from it,about as much as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice(more on that in a moment) but any new take on such a heartfelt book as this is worth watching, not to mention a good excuse for rereading!

Meanwhile, Starz plans to air E.M. Forster's Howards End this April. Hayley Atwell will be starring as Margaret Schlegel, who the Wilcox family suspect of tricking their recently deceased mother into leaving her the title country house.

As Margaret knows nothing of that bequest, she considers the attentions of widower Henry Wilcox(Matthew Macfadyen) to be honorable with their unexpected romance leading them both to marriage. That union stirs up several conflicts, including a secret affair as well as a relationship between Margaret's younger sister Helen and a troubled clerk named Leonard Bast.

While Howards End hasn't been adapted as much as Little Women has(the most notable version being the 1992 film with Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins), both should make for great television and interesting books to compare and contrast. While the tone of each is very different, both are female centric stories that challenge society's notions of propriety in their own unique way:

BATTLE OF THE AUSTEN INSPIRED: It is a truth universally acknowledged by readers that of the six novels by Miss Jane Austen, the one that is most tempting to recreate on the page is Pride and Prejudice.

With that in mind, there are numerous P&P inspired books to choose from,almost enough to fill up an actual library with,so in the interest of simplicity, I suggest a pairing of Eligble by Curtis Settenfeld and The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by the creators of the popular web series.

Both re-image the Bennet sisters in modern day America, with Settenfeld's suitors being doctors(one of whom appeared on a Bachelor type of reality show) and the Darcy of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries being the head of a tech empire.

 Each have their own brand of wit and romance, with the Eligble characters being a bit older than the LBD cast. Settenfeld's take on P&P was part of a publishing project that made over four of Austen's books yet it stands on it's own rather well, in my opinion.

You could argue that The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet has an advantage by being attached to the web series(or disadvantage, come to that). Nevertheless, both offer a fun new look at this timeless tale although if it comes to a battle of the Lydias, I'd place my bet on that plucky LBD gal:

If you do take up the challenge of the Super Bowl of Reading, do remember to have fun with it,especially if read-a-long buddies are involved. Snacks are encouraged, bookmarks will be essential and no trash talking, please(unless you really want to do that in lieu of cheers). Reading is always fun and fundamental, not to mention the ideal indoor sport, if you ask me:

Friday, January 26, 2018

Having much to celebrate at the upcoming Oscars party this year

Earlier this week, nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced and for once, there was much to rejoice about.

While certain films and entertainers were overlooked(Wonder Woman,on both counts for me) or underappreciated(The Big Sick deserved more than a Best Screenplay nod), a good deal of others were honored,some of which had more than earned their time in the spotlight.

It's clear that the younger and more diverse membership that has been encouraged to join the Oscar voting ranks are starting to make their voices heard,a marked improvement indeed from the days of #OscarsSoWhite. Let's go over a few of highlights and perhaps a guess or two as to who will win big on that special night:

GLAD FOR GET OUT: Jordan Peele's debut film had been making appearances at several awards shows but there was some doubt as to how many Oscar noms it was going to receive.

Fortunately, fans of the massive hit movie were not disappointed as it claimed four major spots, with Peele up for three,including Best Picture(he is one of the producers as well as director and screenwriter). Leading man Daniel Kuyuula joins him as a first time nominee for Best Actor and it would be amazing if he and Peele both won that night.

It's been awhile since Hollywood nominated a scary movie for such big league honors and with the searing social satire that accompanies the terrifying moments on screen, Get Out proves itself to be an instant classic. With one or two solid wins on Oscar night, it would show future film makers that quality material can be recognized well within it's time:

A FANTASTICAL FRONT RUNNER: When it comes to gathering numerous nominations, The Shape of Water is already a winner.

 From international film festivals to critic's choice circles and the Golden Globes, this offbeat tale of love has been given overflowing acclaims and a few wins, including a Best Director for Guillermo Del Toro, who is also up for that award at the Oscars,with 12 other noms along side that one.

My only concern here is that the generous amount of nominations might not guarantee any big wins or any wins at all;it's happened before at the Oscars and it might again here.

 On the other hand, the cinematic affection for this film is sincere and despite the occasionally fickle nature of Academy voters, I think that true love might win out in the end with a couple of awards for TSOW by the end of the night:

A SERIOUS SUPPORTING ACTRESS RACE: This particular category should be quite the showdown, as we have four out of the five nominees in die hard contention for the award here.

While Phantom Thread's Lesley Manville is simply in the "it's a honor just to be nominated" section, the front runner at this point is Allison Janney for her role as the vicious stage mother in I, Tonya.

 She's gotten several awards,including the SAG, for this part and with a solid legacy of awesome acting behind her, it really feels like this is Janney's year. That wouldn't bother me much if it was not for Mary J. Blige being up for her role as long suffering Florence Johnson in Mudbound, a movie that didn't get enough nominations in my opinion.

On the other hand, Octavia Spencer is up for her third  nomination in The Shape of Water(a record making one at that) and Laurie Metcalf has been getting some award love as well as the mom in Ladybird. So, even if Janney wins, as she seems destined to, it won't be an easy victory to claim there:

SOMETHING TO TRULY SING ABOUT: The Best Song category is one that I both love and hate at times but this time out, we really do have a great line-up here.

From the heartwarming sweetness of Coco's "Remember Me" to the inspirational tone of "Stand Up For Something" from Marshall right to the crowd pleasing celebration of The Greatest Showman's "This is Me" and even the delicate romance that "Mystery of Love" from Call Me By Your Name invokes, we have winners all around. Not a clunker in the bunch.

My hopes,however, go to "Mighty River" from Mudbound. For one, Mary J. Blige,who shares a writing credit for the song as well as performs it, should have been nominated for "The Living Proof" from The Help back in 2011. It would also make her possible loss in the Best Supporting Actress category a bit more bearable(although if she won both, that would be incredibly cool!).

Overall, this song is a heart-achingly beautiful reflection of the film's themes; the struggle to meet life's challenges and the power of love to help make that hard road smoother to walk upon. That's what any best original song for a film ought to be and this one certainly is:

There is not too much to lament about at the Oscars at this point, although it is a puzzler as to how The Boss Baby landed a Best Animated nod(really,folks, you couldn't do better than that?).

 We do have more women represented in major sections with Greta Gerwig up for Best Director and Mudbound's Rachel Morrison nominated for Best Cinematography(the first woman to ever be up for that award) and smaller films such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Call Me By Your Name being prominently featured.

Of course, more needs to be done in terms of better representation yet this is a pretty decent start. Things are never going to be perfect but we can appreciate these first steps towards an improved playing field for all artists everywhere.

In the meantime, there's plenty of other film award shows to whet our cinematic appetite for the big movie fest on March 4, including that sassy sour dessert,The Razzies, which will be deciding just how bad honors can go to Transformers: The Last Knight(up for several dubious awards), the dreaded Emoji Movie and the terrible Tom Cruise version of The Mummy. To those who are miffed that The Snowman and The Book of Henry were overlooked, come on, people-even bad movie watching has it's limits!:

Monday, January 22, 2018

Getting in the Oscars mood with a trio of Hollywood style reads

We are definitely into movie awards season here, with the SAG awards having just finished up last night, the Razzie nominees being announced today and tomorrow morning bringing us the nominations for the 90th Academy Awards.

To keep your film fan spirits fresh, I have a threesome of fiction that evokes the spirit of Old Hollywood to recommend. First up is a current release by Melanie Benjamin entitled The Girls in the Picture, the two girls in question being silent film era diva Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion.

The two of them meet in 1914 and  become good friends as both struggle to find a place within the growing entertainment hierarchy of Hollywood. As Mary reaches the height of fame as the reigning queen of cinema and Frances digs in her heels to climb up that same ladder, their bond is tested through good times and bad, romances and break-ups and the toll that time takes upon each of them.

Benjamin is known for her detailed portraits of influential women in times past and this duet of ground breaking ladies from the beginnings of the American film industry, one in front of the camera and the other behind the scenes, sounds like the fitting literary tribute such cinematic icons richly deserve:

Next, we find another double pairing in Adriana Trigiani's All the Stars in the Heavens with rising star Loretta Young falling for her leading man Clark Gable on and off screen while making The Call of the Wild in 1935.

Along side Loretta is her personal secretary Alda, a young woman straight out of the convent who is learning how to make her way in the wider world. With both women having to make choices of the heart that could affect their lives forever, they look to one another for consolation and support.

The story also weaves in a few celebrity cameos from the likes of Spencer Tracy,Myrna Loy and David Niven, all of which feel delightfully natural. Trigiani charmingly evokes the romance of movie star life back in those days but doesn't skimp on some of the tough realities that even famous star crossed lovers had to deal with:

For the finale, Agatha Christie and Miss Marple showcase some film diva flair in The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side.

When a resident of St. Mary's Mead dies by poisoned cocktail at a soiree hosted by newcomer and screen idol Marina Gregg, suspicion as to whom the deadly drink was really intended for shifts to the famous actress.

Several suspects pop up, including Marina's catty co-star in her current comeback film,Lola Brewster. Yet, with the aid of good sense and a sharp eye and ear for detail, Miss Marple is able to see her way to the truth. However, will she be in time to prevent another murder?

I just watched the 1980 film version of this book(the title shortened to The Mirror Crack'd) again over the weekend and while the original story doesn't have all of the acid tongued dialogue that the movie has between Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak, both are still fine examples of old school mystery and rivalry:

No doubt, there will be plenty of books to catch up on once the Oscar nominees are announced tomorrow. However, for those of us simply thrilled to have something positive pop culture wise to look forward to, a bit of reading about the film days of yesteryear will be enough to whet our cinematic appetite:

Friday, January 19, 2018

The brillance of Black Lightning vs. the cluelessness of the new Heathers

One of the bright spots of the new TV season for me this week has been the premiere of Black Lightning on the CW and I'm not alone in that. This latest take on the DC Comics world puts it's title hero into situations that are very real world and yet balanced with the fantastical framework of the source material just right.

Our leading man Jefferson Pierce(Cress Williams) is not the standard young hero starting out,which Greg Belanti and company have done quite well enough in their other superhero series.

 Instead, he's a man who retired from the crime fighting game in order to protect his family and decided to serve the community by becoming a dedicated high school principal instead. While he has achieved much, the rise of the criminal gang known as the 100,along with crime boss Tobias Whale(Crondon), has put the city of Freeland in even more peril than it first was.

Between that level of unrest and the need to look out for his daughters,college student Anissa(Nafessa Williams) and feisty teenager Jennifer(China Anne McClain), Jefferson brings his electrical powers out of storage.

Mind you, his girls are strong and smart but there are some threats that they can't face without powers(although there is a hint that one of them may share their father's metahuman talents) and a few that even special abilities are unable to counter. In the first five minutes of the first episode, Jefferson is subjected to police profiling with his children forced to watch in horror, a scene that many have experienced in real life.

However, his ultimate motivation in donning the mantle of Black Lightning again is to be a champion for those opposed and targeted by everyday villains, those who think that violence is the first and last solution to every situation. As Black Lightning, Jefferson shows them that fire can be met with serious fire right back at them:

However, the show is more than just awesome throwdowns. Plenty of emotional drama and character development elements are set up here that should enhance the external threats that Jefferson Pierce and his loved ones will be facing. Wisely, the CW will be replaying this premiere over the weekend not only to pick up more viewers but to give those already on board another chance to relive the joy that comes with the promise of more to come:

Sadly, my small screen joy turned to fury upon watching the trailer for Paramount Network's upcoming TV series Heathers. 

Based upon the 1988 cult classic film, the show re-images the vicious high school clique of original mean girls with the lead Heather being a plus sized fashionista and her cohorts as a gender non binary person and African American.

The newcomer to the group,Veronica, is still a white girl(a blonde instead of a brunette) and she teams up with the shifty new kid in town,J.D., who insists upon violently taking the Heathers crew down. So, two standard issue white teens plot to eliminate a trio of popular kids who are usually the ones being marginilized-what's wrong with this picture, I ask you? Well, a lot to say the least!:

According to the showrunner for this reboot, the original Heathers were "aspirational" and "they’re the people you would want to be" with J.D. being the true villain.

While I do agree that J.D. and his desire to bring about chaos makes him the bad guy, he is the greater evil to the Heathers' lesser evil. That is the twisted moral choice that Veronica in the original film has to make; stop the wrath of bitchy girls and blowhard jocks from tormenting outsiders such as heavy set  Martha "Dumptruck" Dunnstock and those deemed to be gay or go all in on her new boyfriend's murder spree?

The dark humor in that film,cleverly written by Daniel Waters, mocked many things such as the hypocrisy of social concern for troubled teens by adults while ignoring their kids' real problems and easily swayed teens to any cause by media attention.

 Those themes could be revisited in a modern day setting(particularly in this age of advancing social media) but this new version clearly does not get that the real victims in Heathers were those like Martha,whose desperate cry for help is discounted in favor of focusing on her more popular classmates' demises. That plot point is what causes Veronica to serious doubt her course of action even more than she already had and I serious doubt that this show is planning on doing that right.

Granted, you can't always judge a show by it's trailer(I had my doubts about Supergirl that first season due to it's initial teaser) but some things you can tell will be badly done from the start. The best thing that can come out of this impending and rather offensive looking series is that a new generation might be inspired to check out the original movie to see social satire done right:

Well, that's the balancing act that TV offers us-ground breaking material on one hand, seriously miscalculated schlock on the other. At least we have great shows like Black Lightning to offset lesser attempts at entertainment and good ones to look forward to such as season two of Glow on Netflix. Now that's a show that knows how to rally those on the sidelines of society with humor and heart,something a few other TV folks could learn a lesson from there:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Winter's Respite update: Finders,Keepers edition

Well, I find myself at the halfway point in Seasons of Reading's Winter's Respite readathon and pleased to report that my total of books completed for this challenge is also at the halfway mark.

Granted, it's the quality that really should count rather than the quantity yet it is a nice start to the new year to have a small accomplishment tucked under my bookish belt. Instead of going over each book that I've read thus far, I thought that a deep dive into one that I read for the second time would suit the occasion best.

While I do tend to add a Stephen King reread to these challenges(such as The Gunslinger, which will be featured in my first Series-ous Reading 2 post later this season), most of those are books that I haven't picked up for many years. Finders,Keepers is a much more current read but one that really needed another look at right away for me.

 This novel is the second installment of King's Bill Hodges trilogy, that began with Mr. Mercedes and fittingly finished up with End of Watch.

While Finders,Keepers is meant to be the meat of this particular story sandwich, at most times, it really feels like a dinner for one that just happened to be included on the Mr. Mercedes menu. I don't consider that a negative at all, in fact it's the strength of the book.

The central spoke of the plot wheel here is about a legendary writer,John Rothstein, (sort of a cross between J.D. Salinger and John Updike)who became a recluse after completing his trio of Runner novels featuring his rebellious hero Jimmy Gold.  One night, Rothstein is awoken by a gang of home invaders, with one of them interested in more than just the money stockpiled in the house.

That introduces us to Morris Bellamy, an always angry young man barely out of his teens who latched on to Rothstein's Jimmy Gold as his personal icon.

 Driven by his disappointment in the final Runner novel, where Jimmy seems to settle into standard suburban life, Morris wants to punish Rothstein for letting Jimmy "sell out" and his level of fury sparks enough of Rothstein's own tank of rage fuel to the point where Morris kills him, something his less than literary inclined partners expected.

Morris, as it turns out, is quite the sociopath with a blend of psychopath tossed in for good measure as his background of middle class resentment comes complete with an abandoning father, a mother with dreams of her own crushed and eager to crush her son's illusions about Jimmy Gold as well, plus a tendency to be a black out drunk with violent impulses.

However, Morris is stone cold sober when he kills Rothstein and then later, his two cohorts in crime, eager to do nothing more than hole up somewhere to read all of the hidden notebooks recovered from Rothstein's safe. That plan goes awry when Morris winds up in prison for a different yet just as heinous crime, with the only thing holding his interest in life is the thought of those Rothstein notebooks hidden away(along with a good amount of cash) in a trunk and buried under a tree near his childhood home.

Decades later, Morris finally receives parole and his only goal is to get his hands on his personal buried treasure. When, to his horror, he discovers that the contents of the trunk have already been claimed by another, Morris sets out on a course that he believes is righteous revenge.

 This unwavering conviction of his, that he is entitled to those notebooks, shows that despite his advancing years and grey hair replacing his once vivid red locks, Morris is still the same twisted teenager who takes the catch phrase of Jimmy Gold "shit don't mean shit" as a license to do ill onto anyone who gets in his way:

The true hero of this novel is,fortunately, Peter Saubers, who finds the trunk by accident at age 13 and at first, is only interested in the money.

With his family in dire financial circumstances(due in part to his father being one of the victims of the City Center attack in Mr. Mercedes) and the strong possibility of his parents close to getting a divorce, Peter figures out a way to send small payments to his folks over the course of several years.

The money is a secret blessing that gets them through the tough times yet when Peter's younger sister Tina wants to attend a good private school, the cash cache has dried up. During this time, Peter has read the notebooks(that contained two more Jimmy Gold novels that change the course of the character) and becomes a major fan of John Rothstein's work.

While he would prefer to donate the Rothstein writings to a literary institute, the need to help his sister out drives Peter to try and sell a few of the notebooks to an unscrupulous rare book dealer. That plan goes down a dangerous road as Morris Bellamy learns of Peter's possession of the notebooks and brutally targets him and his family.

At one point, a casual reference is made to John D. MacDonald's thriller, The Executioners, which was adapted into the classic thriller movie Cape Fear(not to mention remade by Martin Scorsese back in the 90s). King slips that in for a reason and not just because he's a fan of John D. there.

The plot of that book revolves around a lawyer who did wrong by a client who he knew was guilty. When the client is released from prison and full of righteous fury,  the lawyer finds himself on the defense,along with his family, in a true literal sense. Peter's actions towards the money and even the notebooks is understandable yet like the lawyer in Cape Fear, he has to face off against a determined enemy who feels that Peter has wronged him and all must pay:

That's when Bill Hodges and friends step in to help,which does work out well into fitting this story into that particular fictional universe.

While I have a sneaking suspicion that Stephen King had this novel on the back burner for awhile and felt that it would be easier to slip it into this trilogy, that gives the reader an unexpected surprise jolt into thriller country and makes this part two all the more interesting there.

It also plays upon the theme of reader obsession, one that King has touched on earlier with Misery. I like that both Morris Bellamy and Annie Wilkes are two tainted peas in a pod when it comes to their favorite characters as it shows that deadly devotion to fictional worlds cuts across class lines.

 After all, just as many folks fixated on The Catcher in the Rye and ill-used it as dark motivation for their evil deeds as any mainstream genre title has been. Peter finds himself not only afraid of what Morris will do, he also fears becoming just like him with the Rothstein books as well.

Yes, Misery and Finders,Keepers do make for unlikely bookends but they do fit scarily together. If those two "number one fans" ever did meet, Morris would probably sneer at Annie's beloved Misery as a "commercial sell-out", but that would be to his peril indeed:

So, all in all, Finders,Keepers was a riveting read well worth revisiting. While I did enjoy that thrill ride, I am relieved to be in much calmer waters with Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan's The Royal We.

Don't get me wrong, I had fun with FK and it was also exhilarating to climb aboard Murder on the Orient Express with Agatha Christie, not to mention get reacquainted with King's Gunslinger. Yet, with everything going in the world these days, a nice mental vacation is necessary.

Going to this book right after Daisy Goodwin's Victoria(finished in time for the season two premiere of the PBS series) is just delightful. This unlikely romance between American college girl Bex and future Brit king Nick is smart and funny, with plenty of verbal charm exchanged freely.

In a way, this novel puts me in mind of those later seasons of Gilmore Girls, when Rory hung out with the Life and Death Brigade(of which I am not a fan and any book that can make me think fondly of them is a success with me) and Logan,of course. Hopefully, Bex and Nick will have a better romantic ending than those two yet just as well written:

Friday, January 12, 2018

Getting the royal real deal on PBS Masterpiece's Victoria

One of the highlights of the winter TV season is the return of Victoria on PBS Masterpiece,starting this upcoming Sunday. This second season goes further into the life and times of one of  England's most iconic queens as well as her relationship with her beloved prince Albert.

That romance is the focus of the official companion book for season 2 fittingly entitled Victoria & Albert: A Royal Love Affair. Co-written by writer/producer Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan, we get more insight into the regal couple's lives through their diaries and journals, along with intricate details about the historical recreations done to make this series sparkle with life onscreen.

While I am enjoying Goodwin's fictional take on Victoria in book form at the moment, this tie-in tome sounds like an ideal read,not only for me but for the many fans of this historically heartfelt show.

Victoria and Albert were quite the power couple of their day but more than that, they were two young people in love who needed to work together for the betterment of their country, a standard not easily set. However, their struggles of the heart are well documented as this lovingly illustrated volume clearly showcases here:

If that book whets your appetite for more nonfiction fare about the queen herself, Julia Baird's Victoria The Queen is a scrumptious biographical feast indeed.

Baird's approach to her subject is that of a woman who defied as many conventions as she is said to uphold, a working mother that insisted upon being heard despite the delays in her direct control and even during her advancing years, still managed to shock and surprise those around her.

Rather than depict Victoria as a historical figurine from a bygone era, Julia Baird reveals the queen as an early forerunner to our modern female leaders who ,sadly, are still making strides to be taken as seriously as they should be:

However, if you'd prefer to snack on an untold tale regarding one of her post Albert relationships, Victoria & Abdul by Shrabani Basu ought to do nicely.

Abdul Karim was sent to serve at Queen Victoria's court during the latter days of her reign and she immediately took a liking to him. While he was eager to teach her to read and write in Urdu as well as expand her knowledge of India, many in the royal household considered him an unwanted influence upon Victoria.

That included her eldest son, the Prince of Wales, who was anxious to see his mother dethroned. Nevertheless, she persisted in that friendship which her family attempted to wipe out of the record after her passing.

 The story was recently adapted into a movie starring Judi Dench,once again portraying the older queen in a frowned upon relationship(Mrs. Brown) that could get her another Oscar nomination. I plan on seeing the film but the book might offer more tidbits of insight into this offbeat bond:

There are but a handful of the books out there about Queen Victoria and yet I feel that this tidy little trio ought to make a good start. In the meanwhile, it will be quite the relief from our present day political woes to be able to embrace our dear Victoria and her struggles in office for a good number of Sundays to come:

Monday, January 08, 2018

Bracing against the bitter cold with a chilling book haul

Between the mini blizzard we just had on the East Coast(I prefer to call it a "snow-nado") and the record cracking cold temperatures that came after it over this past weekend, it has not been ideal to go out for anything, let alone book shopping.

Thanks to the internet,however, I was able to acquire a bit of a book haul and the unintentional theme was mystery. While one of these titles is a review request from Blogging for Books, the other three are Better World Book purchases and by the time they arrive in my mailbox, some of the heaps of snow around my doorstep should be melting away:

LONG BLACK VEIL:  At the start of Jennifer Finney Boylan's thriller, a group of friends are forced back into each other's company due to the tragic event that broke them apart.

 In 1980, Newlyweds Casey and Weiler,along with their college buddy Tripper, join in with a trio of former school mates plus a few others into exploring an abandoned prison in Philadelphia. During their excursion, they become locked inside and during their escape, someone from their party goes missing.

Years later, a body is found on the prison grounds and Casey, now a renowned chef, is charged with murder. One of his friends from back then can spare him from unjust prosecution but at the cost of revealing a secret that will shatter the life she has build with her unknowing family.

 From what I have heard about this book, the story is mostly character driven rather than a simple whodunit, which sounds good to me. Some of the best thrillers, such as the works of Patricia Highsmith, are darkly etched portrayals of people struggling to deal with precarious situations that they can't easily get away from but this book sounds less cynical than those novels. It should be an engaging mental outing to explore this mix of mystery and emotional drama:

A IS FOR ALIBI: The recent passing of beloved author Sue Grafton has been keenly felt among her devoted fans,for whom the alphabet now ends in Y. For those such as myself who haven't read any of twenty six titles in her Kinsey Millhone series, giving them a try seems to be a good way to honor her literary legacy.

We meet Kinsey in this first outing as a private detective hired to look into the eight year old murder of a divorce lawyer. The lawyer's wife Nikki went to prison for his death but upon her release, insists that she was innocent all along and want Kinsey to clear her name.

The set-up is promising but I suspect there's more to it than that and I look forward to seeing what Kinsey is all about. My condolences to Ms. Grafton's loved ones as well as her numerous readers who will miss her dearly:

DEATH ON THE NILE: Upon the success of his remake of Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh is planning to film a new version of this Agatha Christie Poirot tale, which starred Peter Ustinov as the dapper detective in the 1978 Hollywood adaptation.

Much like Orient Express, the central location of the suspects in a suspicious death is on a moving vehicle(a steamer ship) and several red herrings are served up,such as a love triangle between a heiress, her new husband and his former love interest.

I love the 1978 film,especially Ustinov as Poirot, and am interested to see what Branagh will do with the story. Of course, there were changes from the book, which makes me eager to read it as I find that such tweaks often give me the joy of having two stories in one neat package to unfold:

EVIL UNDER THE SUN: I don't if Branagh will follow DOTN with another Agatha Christie but this book was made into a very fine Ustinov outing back in 1982 and should be on his list there.

Here, Poirot is staying at a remote island resort(that man loves his vacation time, doesn't he?) when one of his fellow guests is found dead upon the beach. Arlena Marshall was a much sought after actress,personally and professionally, and the fact that she was in the midst of many people who would like to see her done away with is an odd one indeed.

Don't get me wrong, I still favor Miss Marple as a Christie sleuth but it's only fair to check out Poirot in print as well. I wonder if Branagh will remake a Miss Marple story-Judi Dench would be perfect for the role,although Angela Lansbury did a fine job in 1980's The Mirror Crack'd. Then again, I'm getting ahead of myself-enjoy the book first and then see if a new movie is made after:

One good thing about the extreme cold is that it gives you a very good excuse to stay in and read. Hopefully, it's not so freezing that your light source and heat source are one and the same. It's better to just be able to bundle up with blankets and sweaters by a cozy lamp and perhaps a warm drink to sip between page turns:

Friday, January 05, 2018

Winners to watch for at the 2018 Golden Globes

With winter comes one of the best pop culture viewing events, film award season that starts this weekend with the 75th Golden Globes. While the GG does cover TV as well, it's their movie nominees and wins that help determine who and what has the best shot at the Oscars this year.

There are many films hoping to get their first major awards here or at the very least, get enough good buzz going for the rest of the season. I have my eye on a particular quartet of movies,two of which deserve more attention than the Golden Globes are giving them, and interested in seeing if how they fare here will foretell their Oscar fate:

Mudbound: Based on Hilary Jordan's 2008 award winning novel, this adaptation tells the story of two families in the Mississippi Delta during the 1940s.

For the most part, the McAllans, lead by less than savvy would-be farmer Henry(Jason Clarke) with his much put upon wife Laura(Carey Mulligan) and the Jacksons, who have worked on the land for generations with hopes by father Hap(Rob Morgan) to become owners, have little to do with each other's lives.

 Yet, with the return of two of their family members from WWII-younger McAllan brother Jamie(Garret Hedlund) and eldest son Ronsel Jackson(Jason Mitchell), an unlikely friendship is formed that changes all of their lives.

 As Jamie and Ronsel struggle to deal with post-war life, they begin to relate to one another as regular human beings outside of the racial roles that their society has forced upon them.

However, even that brotherly bond is frowned upon severely and sadly, leads to violent consequences and emotional turmoil for both families. It's a compelling film with an amazing cast and superb direction by Dee Rees(who also worked on the screenplay with Virgil Williams).

 The story is not simply centered on the Jamie/Ronsel relationship(although it becomes a major spoke in the plot wheel), character development is shared among Laura,who does her best to cope with a living situation she is not allowed much,if any, say in to Hap's dreams of a better life on his own terms and his wife Florence(beautifully portrayed by Mary J. Blige), torn between helping her loved ones achieve their goals and compromising her vow to care more for her children than other people's offspring.

Mudbound is up for Best Supporting Actress(Mary J. Blige) and Best Song(again,Mary J. Blige with "Mighty River") at the Globes and other award shows are already tapping this film for honors but this incredibly moving film should receive serious Oscar love. The movie is in limited release at theaters but is available for streaming at Netflix(who also produced it).  If you have access to this film in either format, Mudbound is a true must-see this season:

Get Out: This seeming typical horror movie has a sharp social satire edge to it that not only has kept it from being ignored for it's early-in-the-year status but given the movie a shot to compete in the Best Comedy/Musical categories.

It is a shame that writer/director Jordan Peele was not nominated for Best Screenplay or Best Director(which,at the GG, is not separated into Drama and Comedy/Musical,unlike most of the main film categories). Hopefully, both of those guilds as well as the Academy Awards will not neglect him in that respect.

Get Out is up for Best Picture and Best Actor with Daniel Kuluuya, who plays leading man Chris with solid emotional flair. Having him get a similar nomination at the Oscars would be awesome, as his performance is a key element in drawing the audience into that growing sense of unease that his character slowly but surely embraces during his visit to the too good to be true family of his new girlfriend. It takes the Stepford Wives metaphor to a whole new level and then some,thanks to Kuluuya's relatable take on the role:

The Shape of Water: Guillermo Del Toro's homage to The Creature from the Black Lagoon is the front runner at the Globes, with seven nominations that include Best Picture,Best Actress(Sally Hawkins) and Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer.

Already, folks are saying that this could be the new La La Land in terms of being the big favorite at the Oscars and even tho I haven't seen it yet, that would be fine by me.

I did see La La Land on DVD and while it was technically lovely, the romance at the center of the story came off as hollow as a plastic Easter egg. That relationship seemed more like one that wasn't meant to be than that was, despite the musical hoopla that accompanied it. While Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were a fine enough onscreen couple, buying into the notion of their great love was a deal breaker there.

The one thing that La La Land lacked with all of it's old school movie gloss and glow was sincerity, something that even the least of Del Toro's work always has in abundance. This tale of a mute cleaning woman who rescues an aquatic being from the clutches of a 1960's secret lab and it's vicious leader feels truly heartfelt just by watching a small scene or two. If it does well here and at the Oscars, that would be wonderful to see:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri: This movie is also a major contender with six Golden Globe nods that include Best Picture, Best Director and Screenplay(both by Martin McDonagh) and Best Actress for Frances McDormand.

Out of all these,McDormand has the strongest chance to get an Oscar spot as her character is the most talked about of the film. She plays Mildred, a grieving mother so fed up with the lack of progress by the police into finding her teen daughter's killer that she places a very eye catching message on the title billboards.

The part was written with McDormand in mind and it clearly shows, highlighting the raw power of righteous anger and determination that many a frustrated woman has tapped into lately. While her fellow actors Sam Rockwell(who is up for Best Supporting) and Woody Harrelson have been duly noted for their work here, this is Frances McDormand's time to shine in the cinematic spotlight once again:

We shall soon see how this all plays out,both at the Golden Globes and the Oscars, and with any luck, the truly talented will win. The Globes ought to be entertaining at least, with Seth Meyers as host this time around. He's become quite the late night rising star and perhaps his ascent will go even higher with this big night of stars indeed:

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Bundling up with some good books for a Winter's Respite

Happy New Year,folks, and I hope you've all gotten a good start off to 2018 there. I am most fortunate to begin this brand new year with a Winter's Respite readathon, hosted by Michelle Miller of Seasons of Reading.

This literary get-together has gone from a week long event to a month long one, giving us all more time to read and share our bookish thoughts with each other. With the subzero conditions most of us are experiencing,weather wise, right now, that is a perfectly timed great idea.

I'm going to continue with some of my regular reading(plus start my Series-ous Reading 2 project) as well as join in on the readathon fun, so let me show you a few items from this particular TBR, starting with Murder on The Orient Express, Agatha Christie's ultimate mystery classic.

This locked room case has quite an unique twist, as the title train becomes snowbound just as the murder of a suspicious passenger,Mr. Rachett, has been discovered. Nearly everyone on board is a suspect except for famed detective Hercule Poirot, who happened to take this trip in order to give input on another case. This is the first Poirot novel that I've read and so far, the pacing is excellent.

Granted, I did see the 1974 film adaptation(with my renewed interest being peaked by the recent  movie version starring Kenneth Branaugh) and have watched a couple of other Poirot headlined films,including Death on the Nile which also headed for a fresh new remake as well.

 However, experiencing the story on page has a crispness to it that allows you to absorb the plot on it's own terms. All star casts are fun but at times, can be a little distracting when looking to see whodunit.  At some point, I'll catch the latest cinematic version but for the moment, taking this mystery train word by word is turning into a true thrill ride:

 For more old school style mystery, I'm heading from shore to ship with Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House by Stephanie Barron. We find Jane Austen visiting one of her naval brothers,Frank, in Portsmouth in 1807 where her sleuthing skills are called upon to help one of his fellow officers.

Seems as Frank's good friend,Captain Tom Seagrave, has been accused of murdering a French officer after he surrendered his vessel, a serious violation of the Articles of War. To prevent Captain Seagrave from being unjustly hanged, Jane seeks a witness for the defense among the French prisoners of war held at Wool House, a task that endangers more than one life.

Having enjoyed catching up with Barron's Jane Austen mysteries last year, it is nice to go on a bit more with the series and with Persuasion being my favorite Austen novel, hearing more about British naval captains is a true treat indeed:

In addition to rereading the first two books in the Dark Tower series for my Series-ous Reading 2 challenge(already underway with The Gunslinger), I thought that I would revisit a more current Stephen King read.

Finders,Keepers is the second book in the Bill Hodges/Mr. Mercedes trilogy and in some ways, it's almost a stand alone story. It begins with the robbery and murder of reclusive author John Rothstein, whose iconic coming of age Runner novels have motivated the demented Morris Bellamy to take revenge for being disappointed in the journey of his literary hero.

A major part of the take from the robbery are Rothstein's notebooks, which contain two unpublished Runner books, but before Morris can read any of them, he is sent to prison for a different crime. The only thing that keeps him going is the thought of retrieving his literary loot. Meanwhile, many years later, a young boy named Peter Saubers finds the trunk containing the notebooks and money from the heist, the latter he uses to help his financially troubled family.

Peter does wind up reading the books and becomes a major fan of Rothstein's work. However, as he grows up, the money runs out and selling those notebooks could provide for his family even more. By this time,Morris has gotten parole and is determined to find those notebooks at all costs.

 The events of Mr. Mercedes do tie into the story but it's a great thriller with book lover themes which can be appreciated by die hard readers everywhere:

For something a little less intense, I chose a book from my latest library haul that fits right into a rather joyous real world event.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan was originally inspired by the union of British Prince William and Kate Middleton but with his younger brother Harry about to marry American Megan Markle, this regal romance feels right in tunes with the present times.

Our leading lady is US. born Rebecca "Bex" Porter, who falls in love with Nicholas, Prince of Wales who happens to be in line for the throne of England. Their love is true but the immense spectacle of media scrutiny(made worse by the antics of their publicity seeking siblings) causes Bex to doubt if following her heart is worth being followed by the public eye for the rest of her life.

This sounds like a good romantic romp and I'm hoping for something along the lines of Notting Hill, that charming Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts movie where falling in love with an international film star is just as tricky as a royal affair,plus some humor mixed in for silly sweet flavor:

These aren't the only books I intend to get to during this readathon but with any luck, I will have finished them up before the month ends. With the chance of more snow to come this week in my neck of the woods, curling up with a good book sounds cozier by the minute.

 Perhaps an episode or two of Gilmore Girls in the background would really set the readathon mood off ,preferable one with Lorelai's sense of snow in full affect, a sense that I share in spirit: