Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, February 26, 2018

Springing forth with new March and April reads for 2018

It still has the feel of winter outside yet mark my words, spring is well on her way with plenty of sunshine,holiday outfits and wonderful new books to read.

Sure, this season does seem to grow shorter and shorter each year but that's all the more reason to cherish it when it does unfurl it's pastel petals. Granted, I'm a spring baby,so I am far from impartial, however, there is so much magical energy in the air that it's really hard for anyone to truly resist.

To that end, here is a six pack of upcoming titles for March and April ready to blossom at a bookseller or library near you:

AN UNSUNG WOMAN OF HISTORY: Writing duo Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie have teamed up once again to highlight a lady of historical yet nearly hidden importance in their latest novel, My Dear Hamilton.

Yes, this is the story of Eliza Hamilton, one of the famed Schyuler sisters who happened to fall in love with a rising star of the American Revolution. While he wasn't the only potential politician in her life(Eliza also caught the eye of future president James Monroe), Alexander Hamilton was the man to whom she gave her heart to in marriage.

The struggles of their life didn't end with the war, as Eliza did her best to counsel her husband during his numerous feuds and remain loyal to his interests, even when they conflicted grievously with her own personal dignity and happiness.

Dray and Kamoie gave us a solid engaging read with America's First Daughter(about Thomas Jefferson's eldest girl Patsy) and no doubt that this book will be a charming encore(April):

YOUNG MEN OF INDECISION: In Jonathan Evison's Lawn Boy, we meet Mike Munoz, who knows that he wants more out of life but doesn't know what exactly.

His job as a lawn mower is truly dead end and getting other work is made difficult by having to help look after his disabled brother Nate.  Mike's mom has troubles of her own, including a live-in boyfriend that's a drain on the family finances.

Getting fired forces Mike to seek a new job as well as figure out what to do with the unfocused ambitions that he does have that are blocked by the social class and circumstances that he's stuck in. Evison blends a good amount of humor with the hard times that his leading man has to deal with, reminding me of another literary fella who had more than his fair share of troubles but did find his way towards the good life that he wanted.

I don't know if Lawn Boy will ever be made into a movie but a What's Eating Gilbert Grape for this generation certainly would be welcome right about now(April):

Author Uzodinma Iweala follows ups his acclaimed novel Beasts of No Nation with a look at personal truth and consequences in America. Speak No Evil introduces us to Niru, a high school senior and track star in Washington DC, on the fast lane heading for Harvard in the fall.

When his strict,traditionalist parents discover that Tinder and Grindr messages from men are on Niru's phone( due to apps put there by his friend Meredith), their horror at his sexual identity turns to violent retribution and a summer trip to their home country of Nigeria  that leaves severe emotional scars.

Years later, Niru and Meredith meet again, with unfinished business between them to say the least. Dealing with such harsh realities and complex truths would be daunting for any writer but Iweala has shown that he's more than up to the challenge here(March).

FLAVORFUL MEMORIES: In Viola Shipman's The Recipe Box, a burnt out sous chef rediscovers her culinary passion.

Samantha"Sam" Mullins thought that getting away from the family orchard and pie making business in Michigan would let her become a cooking legend in her own right. However, working for a cruel, demanding boss who knows nothing about the pastries that Sam labors hard to make yet passes them off as his own dashes many of her hopes.

Quitting that job, she heads home to spend the summer working with her mother and grandmother who share their own stories of personal struggles along with the recipes that have lasted for several generations. Slowly but surely, Sam revives her kitchen spirits and possibly even finds a new love ready to appreciate all that she has to give.

Shipman has had good word of mouth from her previous novels such as The Charm Bracelet and I sense a very positive page turning vibe as this new book arrives freshly baked from her imagination oven(March).

JUST A BIT OF TURBULENCE : Chris Bohjalain flies into some uncharted fictional territory with The Flight Attendant as his leading lady wakes up to find a dead man she somewhat remembers from the night before next to her in bed.

Cassie Bowden has never considered her drinking to the point of blacking out to be much of a problem before but now with the police,the FBI and a Russian assassin who regrets leaving a witness behind all after her, the time has come to take serious and sober control of her life.

Bohjalian has jumped around before in genre,ranging from dramatic mysteries to historical fiction, but this seems to be the closet he has come to thriller country. This should be interesting to see, as his talent for thoughtful characters and flair for emotional high points ought to add something extra to the typical thrill ride there(March):

TO DEGRASSI AND BEYOND: Fans of the Canadian teen drama Degrassi High(which has carried on to more than one generation) will be delighted to learn that we now have an insider's look into that series.

Producer Stephen Stohn chronicles his journey into music and then television in Whatever It Takes, offering lessons on just how hard the world of entertainment can be yet giving engaging behind the scenes info about what goes into the show in every incarnation of Degrassi.

Canadian pop culture is often taken for granted yet Stohn has worked with many breakout artists such as K.D. Lang and Drake, proving that our neighbors to the North have plenty of talent on tap indeed. Degrassi watchers will recognize where the title of this book is from and perhaps even sing along to the show's theme as they turn the pages in delight(March):

I hope that a couple of these books will be a good literary companion to you as Spring makes her glorious arrival. Reading is one of those activities that go well with any season and has no problem taking place outdoors(although Mother Nature might want to grab some of your attention with her floral presence and it would be wise to do so when she shows up):

Friday, February 23, 2018

Parting from PBS' Victoria is a sweet sorrow that gives us more to savor

For many of us this weekend, the major departure from our TV schedule will not be the Winter Olympics(congrats to all of the winners) but the season 2 finale of Masterpiece's Victoria.

This second outing with the iconic queen and her beloved Albert has given us plenty of insights into history, such as the Irish potato famine, prime minster Robert Peele's stand against his party to repeal unfair trade laws and Her Majesty's visits to Scotland and France.

 We also saw the final farewells to Victoria's beloved "Lord M" along with her faithful canine companion Dash, witnessed the aftermath of Prince Albert's complicated family affairs and the departure of Lehzen, Victoria's childhood protector. Quite a lot to unpack in seven episodes(it does feel like this series was much longer and I mean that in a good way) but thankfully, we have a third season to look forward to.

To prepare myself for the Victoria less Sundays to come, I plan to watch a prior BBC-made miniseries about her Royal Highness and her great love.

Victoria and Albert stars Victoria Hamilton(known best as the Queen Mother on Netflix's The Crown as well as Lark Rise to Candleford's Miss Ruby) as the queen, Jonathan Firth as Prince Albert and much to my pleasant surprise, Diana Rigg(who is a major supporting player on the current Victoria) as Lehzen.

This two part series covers Victoria's early days but focuses primarily on her romance with Albert, including his growing public responsibilities and their growing family, right up to his death which put her in deep mourning. I haven't seen this miniseries before and very anxious to see how it measures up to the latest Victoria show. Not as anxious as she was to propose to Albert but anxious nonetheless:

I also find the older Victoria just as interesting as the younger,so earlier this month, I checked out the film that is up for two Academy Awards(Costume and Make-up/Hair Design) this year. Sadly, Judi Dench is not nominated for her leading actress work here but we'll get to that soon enough.

Victoria & Abdul is set near the end of her life, when she was going through the motions of her dull daily routines. What gave her fresh interest in life was meeting Abdul(Ali Fazal), a clerk from India who was tapped to present a ceremonial coin for the Golden Jubilee.

At first, Victoria was simply delighted to have someone new around her(and yes, she found him rather handsome to boot) but started to gain an interest in the culture of India from the conversations she had with Abdul, who was more than happy to give her a broader view of his homeland:

Eventually, Victoria decides to make him a permanent part of the household by engaging Abdul as a language teacher(she learned to read and write Urdu) and later as a spiritual advisor.

Over time, their bond grew stronger, even when she discovered that he was married(Abdul's wife and mother in law were sent for ), not to mention the various scandals that her staff and relatives searched in vain for to pin on him.

One of the strengths of the movie is the blatant hypocrisy of the royal household, who consider Abdul an unwelcome outsider at best. Accusing him constantly of unduly influencing the queen is rich, coming from such a pack of social climbers who are envious of anyone having Her Majesty's complete attention, let alone a foreigner:

 Included in the hypocritical attacks was Victoria's eldest son Bertie(Eddie Izzard),a pompous fool who was shameless in trying to drive a wedge between his mother and Abdul. Granted, she wasn't the most loving of mothers but his actions were less about her welfare and more about his eventual ascension to the throne.

While I have no doubt that some historical tweaks were made here, the basic story holds up rather well and does manage to give the viewer a glimpse of what it was like for the people of India under English rule. Faval and Dench do have great chemistry on screen, which makes it easy to understand why these two would have developed such a devoted attachment to one another.

It does help tremendously that Judi Dench has portrayed Queen Victoria before, in a rather similar story(Mrs Brown back in 1997). She does know this lady well, showcasing the various emotional layers of such a powerful woman who was isolated by her position and needing to seek the friendship of someone that did seem to care about her as a person rather than a monarch. She did get an Oscar nomination for Mrs. Brown and it would've been nice to have her get one for this cinematic bookend as well:

If you do go through some Victoria withdrawal, I highly recommend Victoria & Abdul(along with Mrs. Brown) as a good cure for that pop culture ailment. As for me, I not only have the V&A miniseries to watch but a copy of Julia Baird's Victoria biography to tide me over until next time.

I do find it fitting that the second season finale is a Christmas episode, as this series has become quite the gift that keeps on giving to fans of British fare as well as those finding welcome relief in seeing a competent ruler that was truly interested in the welfare of her people:

Monday, February 19, 2018

Black Panther steps into the spotlight for a new age of superheroes

One of the most anticipated films of this year has turned out to be a roaring success and not just based on the record breaking box office totals.

 Black Panther has been receiving positive reviews from audiences and critics alike as massively as seats have been filled in movie theaters around the country and across the globe. My sister and I started our cinematic new year off with Black Panther at a matinee showing that was next to the last one sold out that day.

It's rare for a matinee screening to be sold out that rapidly, even for big ticket fare like the Star Wars franchise, so we knew right away what a major deal we were walking into here. My sis hadn't even seen Captain America:Civil War(which introduced Black Panther into the current Marvel Cinematic Universe) but caught on quick to the plot line unfolding before us.

With out giving out any major spoilers, here is the basic story: upon the death of his father, Prince T'challa(Chadwick Boseman) returns home to the hidden African nation of Wakanda to ascend the throne.

 To outsiders, Wakanda is simply a small country of farmers but thanks to the power of vibranium,a metal that also was used to create Captain America's shield, their technology is far ahead of the rest of the world. It's a place that has never known Western colonialism nor suffered under foreign oppression.

Keeping Wakanda safe is T'challa's main priority and with the help of his scientist sister Shuri(Letitia Wright) and his protective queen mother Ramonda(Angela Basset), along with former love interest and spy Nakia(Lupita Nyong'o), plus general of the royal female guard known as the Dora Milaje, Okoye(Danai Gurira), he goes forth to hunt down an old enemy.

That prior foe Ulysses Claue(Andy Serkis) unexpectedly leads them to a newer and possibly greater enemy, Erik "Killmonger" Stevens(Michael B. Jordan). Killmonger has a secret connection to Wakanda and plans to use their advanced weapons for his own revenge based agenda. That's all you really need to know beforehand to enjoy the action packed and emotionally charged pace of the movie. For a movie that runs a little over two hours, the steady beat of the plot points makes that time seem short:

There are so many good things about this movie that it's hard to know where to start: the beautiful looks of the settings,especially in Wakanda, and vibrant costumes, the kinetic energy between the characters, the excellent character development given to Killmonger( Michael B. Jordan having worked with director Ryan Coogler in prior films such as Creed made all the difference).

I guess for me, having so many strong female characters was my personal favorite. Yes, they were working for a male heir to the throne but out of dedication to higher principles rather than merely having a man in charge.

At one point,(semi-spoiler) there's even a brief conversation between two of the ladies about whether or not to support a new regime due to who's in charge and frankly, I wondered if this kind of debate is going on in real life higher offices because if it's not, it should be and with as much candor as this fictional discussion had.

Anyway, my favorite of the female characters was Oyoke, a woman who brooks no nonsense in any of the situations thrown her way and her loyalty is as fierce as her battle stance is at any given moment. I would love to see Oyoke get a solo movie somewhere down the line and not just an appearance in the next Avengers film. Perhaps that may happen, we shall see:

One of the best things about Black Panther is that it's opening the door to more diverse representation in mainstream genre films and proving that audiences will most definitely come.

I know some people out there are already unhappy about that and to them I say "You don't know the true nature of fantasy". A major pillar of any fantasy/scifi forum, whether it's film,book or television, is that sociopolitical subjects can be showcased in a format that allows everyone to examine them more objectively.

From the space alien/race relations metaphors on the original Star Trek TV series to the crisis based themes found in Lord of the Rings, fantasy in particular has reflected the conflicts of the culture at hand. Rather that simply be escapist entertainment(which is not a bad thing when needed), solid fantasy fare has much more to say about what's going on around us.

Hollywood needs to embrace this fully instead of shying away, as they often do. I wish that DC Comics would add more of this to their movie line-up(the only exception so far has been Wonder Woman) but their CW shows have caught up better with the times.

 On series such as Supergirl, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, we have plenty of smartly written female leads, interracial relationships(both platonic and romantic),multicultural characters given true depth and gay/bisexual representation,all of which enhances each series and the characters involved.

The newest addition to this small screen universe is Black Lightning, a show that is grounded in real world issues as much as Black Panther is and also a wonderful comic book adaptation being well respected and appreciated. This is the wave of the future,folks, let us catch it in the here and now!:

Hopefully, Black Panther is a sign of better movies to come and not a one and done deal. Our fictional heroes need to be relevant and relatable in order to properly resonate with audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

This movie is amazingly good,plus the soundtrack is full of great tunes(many of which are by Kendrick Lamar and friends). I honestly can't find any fault with this and will even admit that Black Panther had a tighter third act than Wonder Woman did(and I adore WW!).

If you have the chance to see this in theaters, take it, I beg of you. Black Panther is both high quality and thoughtful entertainment, which is what we deserve from Hollywood and should demand more often. Having more great superheroes to look forward to can help us get through the tough times ahead and bring us all together in a way that clearly our real world leaders can't or won't:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Treating myself to some post-Valentine romantic reads

Yes, Valentine's Day has come and gone but that doesn't mean you have to tuck away those romance themed novels until next year. If anything, a good love story is truly soothing for those moments of real world stress(which we are sadly experiencing more and more of these days).

Since my Valentine's Day plans were limited, due to a sprained knee(which is getting much better,thankfully), I chose to treat myself to a little online shopping for a few fictional literary treats. While one of the titles is actually a Blogging For Books request, all three of my picks do have a romantic theme yet each of them differ in style as well as substance:

THE LADIES OF IVY COTTAGE: This second entry in Julie Klassen's new series focuses on Rachel, an impoverished gentlewoman who moves in with her friend Mercy Grove,who runs a private girls' school. Rachel takes a teaching position at Mercy's college but all too soon, it's clear that she is not cut out for the job.

However, Rachel did inherit her father's massive book collection and is encouraged to start a circulating library in the village. While that notion does please her, a mystery crops up as she sorts through the books and Rachel finds herself relying upon the man who inadvertently caused her financial distress for assistance in this matter, with perhaps a promise of love surprising them both.

Despite the old fashioned setting of Klassen's stories, she does feature heroines who are seeking to be more than just wives and mothers(although she doesn't rule that option out at all). While her leading ladies do want to find true love, they also want to be appreciated as capable women on their own merits as well:

THE WEDDING DATE: This debut novel by Jasmine Guillory has been getting a lot of good buzz and it sounds like smart and savvy romcom fun.

Alexa and Drew have quite the meet-cute as the two of them become trapped in an elevator at the same San Francisco hotel. While Alexa was simply on her way to a girlfriends only party, Drew is expected to attend a wedding and is without a plus one.

She agrees to help him out of this tricky social situation and their one time only date slowly yet surely starts to turn into something much more.  With both of them having careers that allows them limited free time on the weekends to date and each of them having very different social circles, this modern love may not be as easy as their first "date" was to arrange.

I am so looking forward to checking out this delightful book and hope that it will be the first of many wonderful reading engagements with Jasmine Guillory. Finding a new author to enjoy is harder than going on a blind date, if you ask me:

WHITE FUR: Jardine Libaire's novel has several elements to juggle, starting with the story being set in Manhattan during the latter half of the 1980s.

When Yale student Jamey meets up with working class Elise, their connection is instantly physical and leads them both down an emotional path which separates each one from their friends and family. Their passion is strong enough to keep them together but how long can that flame stay lit before it burns them both out?

This book is being touted as a sexy,modern Romeo and Juliet, due in part to the intricate writing style of the author, and that certainly sounds intriguing.  It would be sweet to savor a well heated romance, indeed:

Different degrees of romance, to be sure, but each of these books has much to offer in that category. Granted, I'm not the biggest romance reader, or the most knowledgeable, yet the one love that I completely do understand is of books and for that, I will always swipe right:

Monday, February 12, 2018

Pairing up some Austen inspired media treats for Valentine's Day

With Valentine's Day not too far off, the rush to get gifts can be hectic and in some cases, not always applicable to those who can't enjoy the traditional candy and flowers standard.

To that end, I say, why not do a book and a movie instead? Both are gifts that keep on giving and usually in good supply this time of year. Whether you're thinking of a special someone or just looking to treat yourself, pairing up a nice novel with a fun film can be great shopping.

Since Jane Austen tends to be extra popular for this holiday, I have matched up a trio of Austen inspired books and movies to provide a nice example of where your Valentine's present picks can lead to.

 First up is Curtis Sittenfeld's Eligible, her modern day take on Pride & Prejudice, set in Cincinnati,Ohio with a Lizzy Bennet that's in her early forties, a Bingley who was once the lead on a reality dating show and Mr. Darcy as a top surgeon whose personality appears to be as cold as his scalpel.

I happen to be rereading this book at the moment(just had to buy myself a paperback copy after enjoying the library loan hardcover) and it is fast paced,witty and rather realistically romantic.

My match for Eligible would be the film adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club, which may sound strange yet please do hear me out on this choice.

Both books are fine plays on the Jane Austen mystique and do share a lot in common. Each one has heroines who are ladies of a mature age dealing with real world as well as emotional issues, with leading men that may or may not be good for them at first. Also, The Jane Austen Book Club has it's own version of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, in the form of stubborn dog breeder Jocelyn and sweet natured science fiction fan Grigg and unless we get a movie version of Eligible, will make for very fine stand-ins in this regard:

Next up is The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn, in which a pair of unlikely time travelers journey to the Regency period in order to make the acquaintance of the legendary writer herself.

Their mission goal is to find those lost letters of Jane's(before her sister Cassandra burns them after her sibling's demise),along with the completed manuscript of The Watsons and bring them back to the future.

However, for Rachel and Liam(posing as brother and sister), things become more complicated than either of them expected. On top of that, romance pops up in a most inconvenient manner for themselves and their mission.

The best movie match-up for this story is the British miniseries Lost In Austen, where modern day Londoner Amanda Price finds herself literally transported to the bookish realm of P&P.

Reluctantly standing in for Lizzy Bennet, Amanda does her best to keep the central story line on track yet plot points do start to go off course in spite of her efforts. Yes, romance with Darcy does happen but that's not the only love affair that takes a very different direction from what was written:

For our last hook-up, we begin with The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay. Two good friends, Mary and Isabel, decide to take a well earned break from their lives by visiting a Jane Austen themed English estate in the city of Bath.

While their trip proves to be fun, Mary becomes concerned when Isabel seems to be blurring the line between play acting and reality. To add more confusion to the mix, Mary's boss Nathan stops in to offer his assistance both personally and professionally to the situation.

Such a story brings to mind Austenland(based on the Shannon Hale novel) and while the movie is a bit more adult natured than Reay's book is, both do deal with the notion that it is possible to enjoy too much of a good thing and that includes Jane Austen:

If you do go the Austen route this Valentine's Day, I wish you much joy and if your preference is for original recipe than a remix version, that's a grand book and movie combo in and of itself. Romance and Jane Austen do go hand in hand, especially for those willing to take a chance there:

Friday, February 09, 2018

Walking those first steps towards the Dark Tower for some Series-ous Reading 2

In launching a new round of my Series-ous Reading challenge, I felt it best to keep one set of books as the main focus this time out.

Since I happened upon a good number of titles from Stephen King's The Dark Tower saga at a local rummage sale last spring, that certainly did seem to be a sign to try and go down that particular literary road.

I did read the first two volumes in the series,The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three, years ago but didn't get too far with the rest of the books. With the series now complete, revisiting those two fantasy novels was necessary to get this party truly started.

The Gunslinger isn't exactly a novel; more of a collection of interconnected stories that feature our reluctant hero,Roland, the last warrior of his kind in pursuit of the ultimate enemy, the man in black.

The first sections of the book have the feel of a classic spaghetti western, as they use to call them, with Roland telling a stranger who gives him food and shelter for the night of his time in the remote town of Tull.

There, he takes up with lonely bartender Allie while a recently revived from the dead man delivers a message from Roland's adversary(whose dark magic brought him back) and another grim messenger awaits him, with the intent to set a deadly trap for Roland to avoid or fall into.

Before Roland is ready to take up his quest again, bullets do fly fast and furious and it's not hard to see why one of the early inspirations for the character was Clint Eastwood's The Man With No Name:

However, that cold cinematic figure is not enough to define Roland. His relationship with Jake, the young boy from a not too distant Earth, slowly yet surely reveals the true heart beneath the duty bound fighter.

Their bond is not an easily developed one as Roland knows that Jake was tossed into his path as a temptation to stray from his goal and the boy is all too aware of that fact as well. During their time together, Roland and Jake share moments of frustration and anger towards one another yet neither can truly quit the other as the journey goes on.

By the time a hard choice has to be made,  a sad yet mutual understanding is held between them and while this is not the last emotional connection that Roland will make along the way, the first cut is the deepest indeed:

Towards the end of The Gunslinger, you really do get a fuller sense of the mythos that King is building here,especially when Roland does his dealings with the Oracle in the Mountains(whose prophecies do a fair amount of table setting for what's to come).

That mix of many worlds is at the heart of the whole Tower quest, which gets quite the jump start in The Drawing of the Three as Roland must call forth a new band of traveling companions. At the moment, I'm at the part with Eddie Dean, a man on a bad mission who is just as surprised as anyone to be summoned for a world saving deal like this.

Eddie is in a long line of unlikely allies,some of whom begin as bad guys(Spike in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, for instance) or just less than inclined to be on the side of the angels(Captain Cold's character arch in the Arrowverse).

 Yet, in the right circumstances, such a person can be the right one to have by your side when the fight becomes the worse. Granted, I haven't watched The Walking Dead in a good long while but a guy like Eddie Dean, criminal junkie, could be just as reliable as Darryl Dixon is on that dark journey as well:

Well, my return to the road that leads to The Dark Tower has gotten off to a decent start there and as the rest of the year moves on, my time with the books shall be well reflected. However, I will be making a couple of pit stops along the way, with the Poldark novels that I am also far behind in reading.

Hopefully, by the time that the next season of the PBS series arrives, I will be more in tune with the dealings of the Poldark family in print and that includes tackling Jeremy Poldark once my reading of TDOTT is at an end:

Monday, February 05, 2018

Recovering from a cold with a book haul or two

Like many a book lover, nothing will stop me from getting the book I want and that includes a bout of inclement weather that leads to a nasty head cold.

Some things are worth a little inconvenience,although I could do without the congestion.

Anyway, my main reason for making this latest library haul was to pick up a copy of Cheryl Strayed's Wild that was on hold for me. Yes, I know this book has been out for quite some time now(long enough to be adapted into a Reese Witherspoon movie and a plot point on Gilmore Girls:AYITL) but it feels like the right time for me to check it out.

Even with it's popular success, opinions are varied about this memoir in which Strayed chronicles her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail, a thousand mile journey that seasoned hikers consider daunting. As a means to clear her mind upon the death of her mother and other personal issues, that trip does sound a bit much yet if you think of it as a spirit quest of sorts(don't know if Strayed felt that way,just my own notion), this is certainly the physical and emotional challenge to take there.

I haven't seen the movie and will probably wait until I finish the book to watch it. I'm sure it's a fine adaptation but like Lorelai Gilmore, I'm a book person first,so it'll be better to experience Wild that way in the beginning:

Since I already had another library book on renewal(Lilac Girls) at home, Wild got paired up with Falling by Jane Green. I've been reading plenty of mystery/thriller lit lately and need something a touch lighter to sooth my spirits.

Falling's leading lady is Emma, an English woman who jumped the pond in order to pursue a high profile career in Manhattan. She makes another jump into a new life in Westport,CT, by choosing a beach rental house as the start of her home improvement business.

Fortunately for her, new neighbor Dominic happens to be eager to assist in rebuilding the house and interested in a little romance as well. Emma is drawn to him but resistant for many years, including not wanting to interfere with Dominic's tentative bond with his son Jesse. However, love may be able to smooth over those potential rough spots.

With Valentine's Day coming up, this sounds like a nice,relaxing read and Green does know her way around a solid romantic story structure. Yep, this definitely is the type of book to curl up with a warm cup of tea by:

Of course, a library trip is not enough to console my seasonal cold ridden self, which lead to buying a few literary items online.

Part of my current reading joy these days has been Melanie Benjamin's The Girls in the Picture, about the long term bond between movie queen Mary Pickford and ground breaking screenwriter/director Frances Marion. It's a smartly written and timely novel that really brings old school Hollywood to life.

Naturally, upon realizing that I have a new author's work to explore, I needed to own another one of her books and chose The Swans of Fifth Avenue as my next stop into Benjamin country. The swans in the title refer to a group of high society ladies in New York during the 1950s and 60s, lead by queen bee Babe Paley. Her preferred escort was Truman Capote, who eagerly took part in their social scene and exchanged many a confidence among this superficial circle of friends.

However, it was Paley who took the heat when Truman publishes a thinly veiled version of a hushed up scandal as a magazine story, causing several rifts and matters of trust to be shattered. This slice of socialite pie certainly does sound appetizing and more juicy than any dessert should be:

Also, this was a good opportunity to add another Miss Marple book to my small Agatha Christie collection and I went with The Body in the Library.

I've only read this story once,back in 2012 to be exact(thank you,Goodreads, for that date!) and even seen a TV adaptation of it. The plot is simple enough yet quite challenging as Miss Marple's dear friend Dolly Bantry is anxious to discover just how the dead body of an unknown young woman wound up in her home library.

The solution is not hard to reach at first but it's only the start of a greater mystery to be unfolded. This promises to make for an excellent reread(perhaps during Spring Into Horror this April?) and the stylish book lined cover art makes this ideal as a gift to reopen again and again:

Well, hopefully this cold will have run it's full course before the end of the week and I can relax with my books a bit more. It helps to think about the warm weather to come in the spring, along with a special new PBS series called The Great American Read. Now that's going to cause many new trips to the library and not just for me!:

Friday, February 02, 2018

Warmed up to a new year of reading due to a Winter's Respite

The first Seasons of Reading challenge of the year,Winter's Respite, is officially over and by finishing five out of the eight books that I had planned for this event, my success rate is pretty good there.

I might have been able to squeeze in another book before the end but it took longer than expected to get through The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan, which is not a bad thing.

Yes, the novel is clearly inspired by the regal romance of England's Prince William and Kate Middleton(and given more relevance these days with another British royal wedding on the way) yet these characters are not paper dolls for the authors to play with. They're fully thought out,relatable people that you connect with and want to follow on their emotional journey.

From their first meeting at Oxford to a friendship based on binge watching a cheesy supernatural show and then a secret relationship that unexpectedly goes public, American Rebecca "Bex" Porter and Nicholas Lyons, young heir to the English throne, are a charming couple without being picture perfect. They make mistakes and trust the wrong people(some of whom are blood relatives) at times and yet, manage to find their way towards each other.

Clearly, Cocks and Morgan did their homework and then some on the lifestyles of the royally connected as many of the details of acceptable regal behavior(including suitable wardrobe choices) are well featured. Also, the harsh toll that massive and truly invasive press coverage/brutal public opinion can take on someone, whether they be to the manor born or average person, is strongly displayed:

The Royal We,overall, is a love story and it's sweetly told, especially in those chapters when Nick and Bex are able to share a private moment together. The chemistry between them is sparkling with shades of true tenderness and desire.

Going into this book, I was hoping to have a bit of a Notting Hill feel to the story and The Royal We does have a good deal of that, with offbeat friends, the tricky nature of dating someone famous and seeking a path to true love despite everything else.  Even with the obvious differences, watching Notting Hill and reading The Royal We are an ideal pairing, much like tea and scones:

Speaking of media related reads, I did have a lot of with Daisy Goodwin's Victoria, which is based on the first season of the Brit imported series airing on PBS.

While it does focus more on the title queen and less on the subplots with the palace staff than the TV show does, we get much more personal insight into Victoria's conflicting inner emotions as she ascends the throne. More importantly, we get to see both sides of the growing bond between the new queen and her first prime minister, Lord Melbourne.

Victoria and her "Lord M" clearly had a connection that ,in another time and place,could have been a deeper romance. However, it was a love that wasn't meant to be and thanks to this companion novel, well worth reliving in print:

As I consider my TBR for this readathon, I went rather British in my selections(except for Stephen King) and have no regrets on that score as Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express was one of those high points.

As it was my first Poirot book, this introduction to the droll yet stylish detective made a solid impression with me. The experience of meeting such an iconic character in their original literary surroundings,rather than a cinematic counterpart, is one that deserves any reader's full attention and on that score, M. Poirot is a charmingly formidable fellow.

With his dapper mode of dress,fastidious nature and careful eye for detail, Poirot puts his powers of perception on full display here and while I still prefer the homespun keenness of Miss Marple, this was a suspense driven train ride that made every anxious mile a page turning pleasure:

My thanks to Michelle Miller for giving us all a good opportunity to start our reading year off right and I look forward to the next big event in the spring. In the meantime, I will keep up with Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House and Drawing of the Three(which is part of my year long reading challenge there) as well as enjoy other great books that fall into my path.

I also hope to enjoy some of the great movies coming out this year that are based on books(and that does include Black Panther,oh yes!) and will keep my fingers crossed for that switch to the silver screen to not be hopelessly lost in translation: