Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Monday, April 30, 2018

Celebrating a very bookish birthday one slice at a time

Last week, my birthday arrived and no,I'm not about to give away my age(let's just say I hit one of the big numbers) but I am willing to talk about all of the great books that I received as gifts.

First off, my wonderful little sister gave me a trio of Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swenson culinary mysteries,along with a DVD featuring some of the Hallmark channel Murder, She Baked movies based on a few of them.

Ever since I happened to catch the first of these adaptations(Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder,which I'm currently reading),my craving for these sinister sweet tales of baker Hannah Swenson and her assembled family and friends,plus a love interest or two, has been strong. Yes, it's light hearted entertainment but very tasty indeed.

While I did get the second and third books in the series, I did ask for one that is a little further down the line due to having seen the movie version already.

Peach Cobbler Murder has Hannah being accused of killing a rival baker in town, Shawna Lee, owner of the new bake shop Magnolia Blossom, who is not as proficient at pastry as she claims to be.

Other suspects include Shawna's sister Vanessa, whose finances are a tad shady, but that still doesn't drop the tensions between Hannah and her police detective boyfriend Mike. Fortunately, her dentist beau Norman is more than ready to offer her back-up.

No doubt there will be plenty of changes from book to screen yet that makes the reading all the more fun. Sampling a few different flavors in story telling makes for a savory sweet experience on page, if you ask me:

That gift pack from my sister was a pre-birthday surprise; on the actual day, I went to the library. I did have a few returns to make(while renewing a couple of titles as well) but did borrow two books to enjoy on this occasion.

While that Hannah Swenson Christmas themed tale, Plum Pudding Murder, is slightly out of season(do have the movie though!), the time for a Dorothy Parker themed story is as eternally fashionable as a little black dress.

 In Dorothy Parker Drank Here, Ellen Meister follows up her delightful ghost romcom(Farewell,Dorothy Parker) with another charming haunting by the title blithe spirit. Her target this time is disgraced writer Ted Shriver, whose life span is quickly growing short.

If Dorothy can get him to sign the Algonquin guestbook that caused her afterlife residence on earth, he would be most congenial company indeed. However, she faces competition from a rather lively and alive source-TV producer Norah Wolfe, who has some career minded reasons for seeking Ted out. In order for both of these ladies to get his attention, they must work together to clear him of that charge of plagiarism which toppled his literary legacy.

Meister's earlier Dorothy Parker novel was a true cocktail of wit and emotion and while I may not be a drinking sort of gal, ordering another round of this salty goodness sounds good to me:

Meanwhile, the birthday fun continued into the weekend, as my sister and I went to see Avengers:Infinity War(which was amazing and I'll discuss it another time in depth) and after the movie, made a trip to a nearby bookstore.

One of my instant must haves was My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, about Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, wife of Alexander. Their romance and marriage came with many obstacles,some of which were of her husband's making, but their love for one another held that special bond of theirs firmly together.

Dray and Kamoie have teamed up before with another historical fiction about an unsung woman of history( America's First Daughter) and this latest literary collaboration promises to be quite the educational/entertaining encore:

Also, I was happy to add the debut YA fantasy novel that everyone's been talking about to my birthday pile of presents. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi sends it's leading lady Zelie on a quest to bring magic back to her homeland of Orisha.

Aided by runaway Princess Amari and her own brother, Zelie is determined to stay as many steps ahead of Prince Inan,sent by his cruel father King Saran to stop them, so that she can use the stolen scroll in their possession to awaken her own powers.

This book is already being compared to J.K. Rowling's now classic Harry Potter series and plans for two more entries in this saga are under way. I may save this one for that Sci-Fi Summer readathon coming in June but that sweet anticipation will only make my first reading of such an inventive epic all the more wonderful:

Much thanks to my family and friends who made this birthday so wonderful for me this year. I'm especially grateful for the sugar free chocolate cake that my mother baked for me(sugar free is a necessity in my life) that goes well with those Hannah Swenson books and certainly looks better than any of the crazy cake wrecks on Nailed It!, that's for sure.

Books, family and a slice of cake are just right for any birthday to be special, even as the number of candles goes up too much to be put safely on top of that sweet treat indeed:

Friday, April 27, 2018

Setting up some early summer reading with these May/June reads

It may seem too soon to talk about summer reading, especially since the weather outside has been extremely frightful well beyond the winter season limits.

However, summer does get fast forwarded a lot these days, from movies to TV to fashion, so planning ahead for your big beach reading TBR is not such a bad idea.

Now you don't have to get too ahead of yourself here-just take a quick look at these upcoming titles for May and June, in order to start your literary mixing and matching:


 LOVE AND RUIN: Paula McLain's The Paris Wife gave readers a fresh look at Ernest Hemingway's first wife Hadley and she returns to that story telling well to check out Martha Gellhorn, the third Hemingway bride, who was the only one of them to leave him on her own accord.

Martha was quite an independent spirit already when she met Ernest in a Key West bar in 1936. As a wartime journalist, she encountered him during coverage of the Spanish Civil War and their intellectually adventurous natures clashed but ultimately clicked together romantically.

However, each of them possessed an equally strong will that made it hard to find any sort of compromise in marriage, particularly on Hemingway's side. Nonetheless, Martha did what she could to keep their love on course yet refused to surrender her true self.

 I've always found Gellhorn to be truly unique beyond her spot on the Hemingway wife scale and McLain has proven in the past that she's more than capable of making such real life ladies live on the fictional page(May):

WELL, THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY: Comedian and social media commentator Franchesca Ramsey has been making many of us laugh and think with her YouTube videos(including hosting MTV's Decoded) and appearances on NPR,CNN and Comedy Central for a good long while now.

With her upcoming memoir, Ramsey not only chronicles her journey from blogger to internet sensation, she also discusses the ways in which we communicate in this high tech age and yet still manage not to really listen to one another on important issues.

A mix of sharp wit and heartfelt humor,Ramsey gives us insights on our ever confusing modern times with sincere enthusiasm for everyone to work together for the better. I first saw her work on the canceled-much-too-soon The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore and hope that this book urges others to watch how she hashes things out(May): 


THE PERFECT MOTHER: Aimee Molloy's debut novel goes inside a group of upper class mothers who wind up sharing more than baby care tips among each other.

The May Mothers of Brooklyn delight in bonds of new motherhood together yet it is Britt who encourages her sisters in babyland, Colette ,Francie and Winnie to take a night off during one hot summer to enjoy a grown-ups only romp.

Winnie is reluctant to go but gives in when Britt provides her with a babysitter for her son Midas. Their good time comes quickly to an end,however, when the sitter calls Britt to let her know that Midas was taken from his crib while she slept.

The citywide search for Winnie's son has her friends doing all they can to help find him but along the way, a handful of secrets and lies become exposed and considered for usefulness towards their mutual goal. This book has already been sold to the movies and should make for a stunning new read this season indeed(May):

THE WORD IS MURDER: Author Anthony Horowitz gets a bit meta in his new mystery novel as he becomes one of the characters in this modern day twist on Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes in this case being Daniel Hawthorne, a disgraced former DI who is asked to investigate the unusual murder of socialite Diana Cowper. Seems that the lady in question made her own funeral arrangements several hours before she was discovered strangled to death.

Hawthorne sets up a partnership with Horowitz, planning a true crime book about the case as the end result. Things get stranger than fiction as they go along, with a gruesome event from Diana's past bringing along some seriously deadly baggage and offering up a number of suspects who couldn't have possibly done it.

Last year, Horowitz's Magpie Murders gave readers a clever spin on Agatha Christie and I suspect with this book, the ultimate reveal is going to be more than elementary to any of the Watsons out there(June):


 THE BOOKSHOP OF YESTERDAYS: In this debut novel by Amy Meyerson, we meet Miranda, who finds herself inheriting the book store owned by her favorite uncle, Billy. She hasn't seen him in years, due to a fight between him and her mother that was never resolved.

Miranda does feel honored to be given Prospero Books, a store that she has fond memories of, yet wants to know more about Uncle Billy and why he fell out of touch. With only a mysterious book and letter to guide her, Miranda sets off on a strange scavenger hunt(much like the ones Billy used to plan for her) to learn the truth.

This story does sound like charming book bait for devoted readers and judging by a couple of names placed within this narrative, Shakespeare is bound to pop up but that won't be the only bookish clue that will keep the pages turning, I'm sure(June).

I hope this list will be a good starting off point for your future reading plans as summertime draws ever nearer. Also, it's important to take on new books that are not connected to a series as we all know just how long that wait for the next one could get colder than the winds of winter:

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Great American Read has a few popcorn page turners on their literary menu

Last week, the upcoming PBS series,The Great American Read, released it's list of a hundred books for it's viewers to consider voting for as their favorite novel with the winner to be announced this fall.

Already, this show is taking a few unexpected twists and turns-for one, the nominees have authors from other countries(the title suggesting that the premise is more about Americans reading than American authors) and some of the selections are quite pop culture friendly.

Yes, there are plenty of classics, from Great Expectations to The Great Gatsby, as well as book club picks such as The Lovely Bones, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and The Help. However, we also have a good number of genres on deck, from YA(The Hunger Games) to science fiction(Dune), horror(Swan Song) and mystery, to name a handful.

A good many of these books have also been made into movies, making them even more familiar with the general public. Let me highlight a few of them here for your bookish pleasure:

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE: If you are going to represent the mystery/thriller genre, it would be a crime to leave the grand dame of that arena out of contention.

Choosing this particular one was smart, as it is a standalone story not featuring any of her famous sleuths(and unlike certain sports teams, sensible enough to change it's culturally insensitive original title). 

The basic set-up has ten strangers brought together to a remote location for some dubious mutually beneficial purpose. One by one, they are eliminated by an unknown person, forced to turn to one another in order to survive. Yet, can they trust anyone around them at all?

Several film versions have been made for both the big screen and the small. I do like this trailer for an early 1970s adaptation, as it looks very old school B-movie in the best sense of the term:

THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR: Now, this one does take me back to those younger reading days of mine. The first in Jean Auel's Earth's Children series introduces us to Ayla, an orphaned young girl in prehistoric times who is raised by a tribe of folk that find her blond hair and blue eyes odd and off putting.

Over time, Ayla manages to find a place with her adopted people but the intended new leader of the clan is determined to drive her out and willing to go to any means to do so.

 Granted, these were books aimed at adults yet a lot of young people read them voraciously(myself included) and in a strange way, Ayla was a forerunner of some of the strong female heroines that we see today, such as Katniss Everdeen and Divergent's Tris Prior.

The one attempt at turning this book into a movie had Darryl Hannah in the lead role and while she did her best, that 1986 film was a major flop. Perhaps the time has come for perhaps a made for cable miniseries to revive this story for a new generation:

FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC: We are seriously into guilty pleasure territory with this infamous modern day Gothic thriller. This is the one that started it all, giving us the scary sad saga of the Dollanganger children, two sets of twins forced to live in their twisted grandmother's attic.

There are too many dark soap opera plot points to cover, so I'll just name a few: poisoned powdered donuts, punishment hair cuts, a mother pretending her four kids don't exist in order to get an inheritance and sibling love that goes way too far.

Love it or hate it, you have to admit that V.C. Andrews did have a flair for strange story telling there. The Lifetime channel did remake FITA(along with original movies of a couple of the book's sequels) but the 1987 Hollywood take on this tale is the one worth checking out, if you ask me:

  THE STAND:  As I stated before with Agatha Christie, it would be wrong not to have Stephen King represented in the horror category and a good majority of his devoted readers do consider this book to be his best work.

Whether in it's originally published form or the later restored cuts version, King's epic chronicle of the world as we know ending with a new one about to arise is an amazing journey to behold.

 From the porch of Mother Abigail in Nebraska to the Las Vegas kingdom that the sinister Randall Flagg sets up for his vicious pack of followers, characters on either side of this apocalyptic chessboard are not merely all good or all bad. Rather, they're people trying to figure out who they really are in the face of the ultimate adversity with some falling far and fast while others are surprised to be where they have landed.

I would like to see a new adaptation of this book, as the 1994 made for network TV miniseries was rather a mixed bag indeed. You could easily turn this into a Game of Thrones type of show(GOT is also on this list,btw) or a grand cable miniseries, the options are wide open there:

The Great American Read will debut on May 22, with a two hour special, and I am so pumped up for this literary conversation. While I was quite interested in this before the list was revealed, seeing this vast and varied selection has increased my excitement tenfold.

Already, there have been some eyebrow raising over some of the titles, with comments such as "How can that book(50 Shades of Grey, Twilight,The Da Vinci Code,etc) be considered great?!" I'm not immune to some of that speculation myself(Left Behind, for one) but I've come to realize that perhaps this show is not simply about promoting the "proper" books for people to read.

Instead, this is an opportunity to show that people read for all kinds of reasons and to not only reach out to diehard readers but to the casual ones as well. We should acknowledge that a book can be read for both art and entertainment and if you're most fortunate, a bit of both.  Granted, not every book on this list will fill those needs for everyone but freedom of choice is what our country values most highly and that should be reflected in our reading.

So, let us be truly open minded and open up to some old and new reads together with this promising PBS series.  Free people do read freely and perhaps the road towards a more united country can start with a few good book recommendations:

Friday, April 20, 2018

Taking fictional flight with a trio of female fantasy writers

Fantasy fiction, whether it's for adults or teens, has been on the quiet side for a while in terms of big league attention. Yet, new books are now on the literary horizon with three female authors blazing new trails for us to follow.

Tomi Adeyemi's debut YA novel, Children of Blood and Bone, is the first of a trilogy set in the kingdom of Orisha where magic has been outlawed and all practitioners of those mystical arts targeted for death.

Zelie is seventeen and marked by her white hair as a diviner(a person whose magical talents have not surfaced). Upon rescuing Princess Amari, she joins the quest to bring magic back into their world with the use of an ancient scroll, which could work best during the upcoming solstice.

Zelie's older brother Tzain joins them as they try to stay a step ahead of Amari's own male sibling Inan, who has been sent by their father King Saran, to stop her before a final item is found that would make all the difference in accomplishing their magical mission.

Adeyemi's book has become an instant hit, praised for the depth of it's characters, the strong world building with West African culture at it's narrative core and strong female leads as well as breathing new life into the genre. Film rights were sold in advance of publication,which means we have a wonderful new series to read along and watch for at the movies in the future.

She's being called the new J.K Rowling but my guess is that Tomi Adeyemi is not following in anyone else's footsteps here. Rather, she's breaking fresh new ground that will allow others to join her as a more diverse path of entertainment unfolds before us all:

Meanwhile, Madeline Miller has followed up her successful debut novel, The Song of Achilles. with Circe, putting the legendary sorceress center square in the storytelling spotlight.

From her awkward childhood among the glamorous yet greedy gods to her exile on a certain isle that becomes a port of call for many sea travelers, Circe struggles to find her own identity and place in the world.

 Eventually learning to wield magic that allows her power over false friends and enemies alike, Circe becomes more than just the wicked enchantress that her encounter with Odysseus made her out to be. She turns out to be quite the force to be reckoned with and then some.

Word of mouth for both Song of Achilles and Circe has been unanimous in reader joy for the gorgeous flow of the writing and how Miller makes these classical characters of Greek mythology come to vivid life on the page. I haven't read her works yet but I suspect that I will soon be able to join the chorus of bookish praise being sung in her honor:

Also, offbeat author Marisha Pessl tries her hand at the Young Adult genre with her upcoming summer novel, Neverworld Wake.

A group of college friends,who met in private school, take a road trip that leads them far from any mortal destination.  Our narrator is Beatrice, who has just finished her freshman year and while happy to be going to a concert with her old school pals, still shares their guilt over the unexpected death of a mutual friend.

When a near miss on the road takes them to the title location, the mysterious Keeper lets all assembled know that they will remain in their time loop limbo until a decision is made about who will be returned to the land of the living. Beatrice does her best to offer reasonable arguments to everyone on that score but the choice becomes harder and harder to make.

I'm familiar with Pessl's adult themed work, such as Night Film, and her mix of philosophy and surrealism with conventional sounding plots is intriguing to behold. How this will translate to a teen audience, I can not say but I would describe this story as a cross between Donna Tartt's The Secret History and the hit horror movie, Happy Death Day, if that helps:

There's much more out there but I think that these three ladies are definitely major ones to watch for. Like most genres, fantasy has seen it's share of ups and downs on the pop culture playing field yet it does always manage to rise back up just when we need it the most.

One of the best ways to look at reality is to check out what our fantasy realms have to offer and while not every new book has that take on things, you may find that there is plenty of crucial commentary beneath the seemingly shiny surface:

Monday, April 16, 2018

Springing Into Horror with Agatha Christie,the sisters Bronte and Kinsey Millhone

While spring itself is taking it's own sweet time in getting here, my Spring Into Horror readathon is fortunately in full bookish bloom. As of this morning, I've finished three books, started a new one and a good deal of the way into two more.

To start with, my first completed read was Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, which is already planned to be remade into a new Kenneth Branaugh film(following up his take on Murder on the Orient Express).

This is a Hercule Poirot story, where he is on vacation in Egypt and the messy outcome of a love triangle boils over into murder almost before his eyes. When wealthy heiress and newlywed Linnet Ridgeway is found shot dead in the head in her cruiser cabin, the first suspect to come to mind already has a seemingly solid alibi.

Linnet and her new husband Simon Doyle have been stalked on their honeymoon by Jacqueline" Jackie" de Bellefort,  a former friend who had been engaged to Simon and introduced him to Linnet, even asking her to get him a job on her estate.

However, Linnet saw an opportunity to marry a man who wasn't as wealthy as she was(who would have no choice but to let her be in charge)and stole him away from her gal pal.

Poirot is asked to assist early on with Jackie by both husband and wife, the former wishing that his ex-love would just "be sensible" about the whole thing. Granted, some of this behavior is not what it appears to be yet a good deal of discussion is given to the notion of how a woman should act under such circumstances and that she "ought to take it like a man."

I suspect that Christie was snarking on the hypocrisy of that attitude,given that most men of that time period(or nowadays) wouldn't be so accepting of a similar situation that did not end in their favor.

While this is mainly laying the groundwork for the murder that takes place later on, I found this to be an interesting bit of character detail offered up for the reader's consumption:

Anyhow, at the time of Linnet's murder, both Jackie and Simon were incapacitated due to an incident onboard the ship's bar that had her shooting Simon in the leg.

That doesn't completely rule them out as suspects yet Poirot does show some sympathy for Jackie's plight. Their conversations,both before and after the death of Linnet, have Poirot cautioning the distraught young woman not to let things go too far, more for her sake than anything else.

You do get the sense that M.Poirot is genuinely concerned for her well being, not merely because she isn't acting "feminine", rather that his years of experience tell him that Jackie is heading down a path of self destruction and the best he can do is offer her fair warning. That touch of humanity does make Poirot quite relatable indeed:

All in all, the book is a satisfying read, especially with all of the engaging side characters provided as other suspects such as the mother and son who may be connected to a gang of jewel thieves and the beleaguered daughter of a romance writer.

Just recently, I watched the 1978 movie adaptation of DOTN(with Peter Ustinov as his always excellent Poirot), which is a lot of fun despite the omission of a few minor characters(the mother and son) and rewriting of a couple of small plot points.

The main mystery is still intact and there is plenty of fun to be had with such feisty supporting players as Bette Davis and Maggie Smith(as a bitchy widow and her equally bitchy nurse companion) and in particular, Angela Lansbury as Salome Otterbourne, an over the top and down on her luck authoress with too fond of a taste for strong drink. The new version of DOTN is going to have a fine time casting someone just as charmingly scene stealing for that role:

I also finished Bloodstains with Bronte, the second book in Katherine Bolger Hyde's Crimes with the Classics series.

When former literature professor Emily Cavanaugh learns of a real murder at the murder mystery party she's hosting for charity, her thoughts immediately turn to the works of the Bronte sisters.

The prime suspect is her young housekeeper Katie, who found the body and has a very Heathcliff type of would be protector pursuing her. To make matters worse, Emily's insistence that Katie is innocent causes a riff between her and Luke Richards, town sheriff and renewed love interest.

The story is nicely done(although I figured out who the killer was way ahead of the characters) and I did like that Emily's conflict with Luke was partly resolved by the influence of a Jane Eyre reread. I prefer Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights(and so does Emily, which gives her bonus points in my book) so seeing that particular novel play a key role there was grand for me:

At the moment, I'm partway between The Terror(which is going to take much longer to read but well worth it) and A is for Alibi, the first of the late great Sue Grafton's Alphabet Mysteries.

Kinsey Millhone, her leading lady, is one savvy detective and definitely no one's fool. Her brisk take on the case of Nikki Fife, who went to prison for the murder of Lawrence, her vicious lawyer husband, has a strong no nonsense air about it.

 She knows how to talk to people and slowly yet surely gather her evidence, giving you the feeling that her job is more of a calling than anything else.

Even when she's doing a side case to check some possible insurance fraud, Kinsey has a real love for this work that shines through her professional persona. At this point, I know that I will finish this book and maybe read a couple more of this series, as the writing is surefire solid. Grafton never wanted her books to be adapted for film or TV( a wish which her family will honor) but if they were, Frances McDormand would be my choice to play Kinsey.

Granted, her cop in Fargo was more of a sweetheart than Kinsey but McDormand possesses that same sense of self confidence and surety that both of these fictional crime solvers have to possess in abundance. They certainly would be a great tag team for questioning folks, that's for sure:

I hope that everyone else taking part in the Spring Into Horror readathon is doing just as well or even better. Reading like this does relieve some of the tension out there these days, plus it adds a good jolt to your day.

This morning, I finished another Agatha Christie(The Body in the Library, a Miss Marple tale) and took up Cleo Coyle's new Coffeehouse Mystery title, Dead to the Last Drop. I don't know, it feels like the time to have coffee,coffee,coffee!:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The delights of de-stressing with culinary TV

As we all know these days, life can be extra stressful(especially if you can't avoid watching the news) and the seemingly everlasting winter weather isn't doing much to help mellow things out.

Fortunately, signs of spring are close at hand and if you're in need of simply relaxing TV, food shows are still a safe harbor to anchor your viewing vessel to.

A surprise big hit at the moment is Netflix's Nailed It!, a off the cuff and then some baking competition series. Hosted by comedienne Nicole Bayer with famed chocolate artist Jacques Torres as head judge, a trio of amateur bakers are tasked with recreating some elaborate treats, ranging from cake pop duos to full-on cakes that
feature sharks,princesses and even a certain presidential figure.

To say that these edible arrangements are not always done well is an understatement. However, the tone of the whole show is good natured humor and even some of the judges don't take themselves too seriously.

 I saw on one episode a guest judge help herself to some booze and a cooking pan she liked right out of the pantry and another episode had the extra judge leave in the middle of the taping to pick up his kids from school! Not sure if he made it back for the rest of the show(I need to finish watching that one) but considering just how much of a mess was being made of the final round cakes, perhaps he was trying to make a respectable getaway there.

Nailed It is only six episodes but it has been renewed for a second season, which should give any potential contenders a chance to brush up on their baking skills(or practice their creative explanations for the judges):

If you prefer some prime time bad cooking, Food Network will oblige with Worst Cooks in America:Celebrity Edition. Starting this upcoming Sunday, Anne Burrell and Tyler Florence have a bumbling bevy of celebs to teach a few basic culinary skills to and all in the name of charity(the winner's prize, that is, to their favorite one).

The kitchen contenders this time out include actors Bronson Pinchot and The Office's Oscar Nunez, plus comedienne Maria Bamford, LaToya Jackson and Daisy Duke herself, Catherine Bach. I adore Worst Cooks, both the regular and the celebrity seasons, since you do get to learn a few things along with the "recruits" and have a good laugh to boot during their boot camp training:

For quality baking skills, we do have the current season of Spring Baking Championship on Food Network as well.

Hosted by Cooking Channel's Ali Khan, the pack of pastry chefs competing for the big win have been challenged with mirror ball cakes, tiny sized treats and creating an edible picnic basket filled with goodies(that one was tough for many, I can tell you!).

Another joy in watching this show for me are the judges, particularly when Nancy Fuller and Lorraine Pascal needle each other(putting Duff Goldman in the middle as a playful referee). That American Idol panel vibe they put out here is the sweet icing on the competition cake indeed:

Speaking of Cooking Channel, they have a new season of their flavorful factoid series, Food:Fact or Fiction?, airing on the weekend.

Hosted by Michael McKean, the whimsical way in which food history is displayed is truly entertaining. Did you know that popcorn was at one time considered to not be suitable for movie theaters or that the original treats handed out for Halloween were called soul cakes?

Even foods that you've never eaten turn out to interesting to know more about. For example, I have not had either a Caeser's salad(which has nothing to do with Julius,btw) or a Cobb salad yet seeing how they were invented by sheer instant inspiration and then different restaurants fighting over the right to say they first made it makes me want to taste them at least once:

While food TV can't fill all of your escapist needs, that tasty corner of the pop culture world does offer you a certain amount of comfort. What's more inviting than a warm kitchen with delicious smells wafting from the oven and good friends to share them with?

Well, it's true that you do have to leave that comfort zone sometime but hopefully, when you do go back, there might be a sweet slice of cake waiting for you. Maybe even a beautifully prepared piece that will inspire your artistic appetite as well:

Monday, April 09, 2018

Library Haul madness adds more spring to my readathon steps

Last month, I thought that taking four books out of the library was a large haul for me. Well, I now have five titles on loan(one of which is left over from last time and has been renewed) and this borrowing madness may continue to grow, I fear.

Fortunately, a couple of the books fit right into my Spring Into Horror readathon as much welcome late entries. One of them is Bloodstains with Bronte, the second in Katherine Bolger Hyde's Crime with the Classics series.

We rejoin our leading lady Emily Cavanaugh as she is the middle of turning the grand house she inherited from her great aunt into a writers' retreat. While hosting a murder mystery fundraiser for a local clinic, Emily is shocked to discover that one of the actors involved has been stabbed to death and the bloody knife has been found in the hand of her young housekeeper Katie.

Katie's possible motive for the murder could be connected to a pair of young men who happen to be on the renovation crew, one of whom is determined to be her Heathcliff in a Wuthering Heights type of romance. Emily is determined to clear Katie's name with or without the help of her now boyfriend and local sheriff Luke Edwards, who is also hoping that Katie is innocent as well.

I did enjoy the debut book in this series(Arsenic with Austen, which I also first found at the library) and seeing that this literary mystery train is still rolling on, I'm more than happy to climb aboard. Wuthering Heights is not my favorite Bronte novel but revisiting it via this light and lively mystery tale makes me have a bit of a kinder view towards that sad story:

Meanwhile, my non mystery library loans include Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue(which is an amazing read so far) and Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin, set in present day Rwanda.

Angel and her husband Pious have moved to the capitol city of Kigali to better raise their five grandchildren,orphaned by a sudden car crash. To keep their family finances afloat, she has taken up cake making, a business that connects her to many people, such as Ken, who loves to throw parties and his driver Bosco on the lookout for love.

She encounters a good number of folks needing more than just the right dessert as a few of them are in need of some friendly advice as well. Angel is pleased to share what worldly knowledge she has, despite nursing a private pain in her own heart. This does sound like an emotionally engaging read with sweetness that extends beyond the tasty cakes our heroine makes and I'm eager to sample a slice of life story such as this.

Talking about foodie mysteries the other week got me to checking out Cleo Coyle's latest Coffeehouse Mystery book,Dead to the Last Drop. This would be my first Cleo Coyle read but I feel that I'll be able to click with this well brewed crew quite easily.

New York coffee house manager Clare Cosi decides to check in on the DC branch of her Village Blend shop and winds up making friends with First Daughter Abigail Parker. Turns out Abby likes to play jazz piano and that lands the both of them a chance to spend time together.

However, when Abby is kidnapped, Clare instantly becomes a suspect in more than one crime and she might need the help of her NYPD beau Mike Quinn in order to clear up this mess. Well, Washington is certainly the place for highly caffeinated hi-jinks and Clare could have it worse; Paris Geller could be on her team and she's not the one to make political folks feel at ease there:

Five extra books are really not a lot in the grand scheme of things,reading wise, yet having another TBR to handle can be tricky. Then again, the more, the merrier, right? It's hard to resist the bookish bounty on those library shelves and as it turns out, this is National Library Week! What better way to appreciate this literary privilege than having a solid stack of loans by your reading side?

So, Happy National Library Week and if you can get on over to your local branch, do check out as much as you can. Libraries are an important part of our country's freedom to think and fun places to be to boot:

Friday, April 06, 2018

Finding that One Book for all of One New York to enjoy

For the past several years, citywide reading programs have been cropping up all over the country,offering folks a chance to unite over literature that speaks directly to their community.

In New York City, it's year two for their One Book,One New York project that has four fictional titles and one memoir for readers to vote for as their selection this spring.

 Since I happen to be NYC adjunct(with my NY Public Library card and all of that), my interest is keen for this bookish event and with two of the nominees being modern classics( If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin and Esmeralda Santiago's When I Was Puerto Rican), I thought it would be good to highlight the also nominated trio of currently published novels to get a solid sense of what our choices are:

BEHOLD THE DREAMERS: This debut novel by Imbolo Mbue is set in the year 2007, where a new resident in Harlem is hoping that a new job will change the fortunes of his family.

Jenda Jonga has brought his wife Neni and their six year old son to the U.S. from Cameroon in search of a better life in New York. When he is hired as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a prominent executive at Lehman Brothers, Jenda is convinced that this man will be the one to lead him down the road of success.

The feeling becomes mutual, even giving Neni some work at the Edwards' summer home which will add greatly to the Jonga family's finances. However, the crash of Wall Street and Lehman Brothers in particular throws those well intended plans into utter chaos.

I've heard wonderful things about this book,including the ringing Oprah Book Club endorsement, and have been wanting to read it for some time. Fortunately at the library yesterday, there was a copy available(on display for One Book,One New York as it turned out) and it's now on my TBR.

This very true to today's headlines story has a lot of heart within it's pages and should make for an amazing and thought provoking read:

WHITE TEARS: Hari Kunzru's satirical look at hipster culture and cultural appropriation offers more than meets the eye, as his pair of musical wannabe leading men stumble into some possibly supernatural trouble.

Seth and Carter live in Brooklyn, making what Carter considers to be "pure" jazz music(if you rolled your eyes during La La Land, you'll know what I mean) for others to sample. As a lark, Seth records a man playing music in the park and that brief sound clip becomes the basis for what both guys use as the basis of a fictional lost album.

However, a mysterious man comes along to claim that the alleged made up artist in question,Charlie Shaw, was and is real. A few odd incidents follow this encounter, leading the two friends to seek the truth and face the scary consequences. This book sounds intriguingly snarky with a great beat that these foolhardy characters dance to at their own risk:

MANHATTAN BEACH: Award winning author Jennifer Egan leaps from short story land into novel territory with this tale of a young woman who steps perilously close to the true fate of her father.

When Anna Kerrigan was twelve years old, she accompanied her father Eddie to the Manhattan Beach home of Dexter Styles, a slick gangster. Eddie is there to demand that he be given a better job in Dexter's organization in order to take better care of his disabled younger daughter Lydia's needs.

Years later, Anna at age nineteen is working in the Brooklyn Naval Yard, now the sole supporter of her sister due to the mysterious disappearance of their father. She runs into Dexter at one of his nightclubs, falling into a brief romance that takes a dark turn when he realizes whose daughter she is.

Egan did extensive research into the New York of the 1930s and 40s in order to weave those details into the emotional narrative that takes these characters into uncharted country for them both. Doing such homework does pay off in the end, especially for the reader who gives the ultimate grade:

Voting is now open for One Book, One New York with the winner to be announced in May. Actually, having such great books to read and talk about makes us all winners, if you think about it. I hope that if you have a similar reading event in your neck of the woods, your choice of literary experience is as engaging and meaningful as this one promises to be:

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Ready Player One revvs up your reading engines for movies of the 80's

Judging by the box office numbers this past weekend, Ready Player One has clearly whetted more than a few pop culture appetites for the 1980s and beyond.

While you could binge watch a number of movies from that time to either catch up or refresh your memory, I find that reading a few good books on film is a more leisurely way to do that. To get yourself off on the right track, here's a trio of themed works that should do the job nicely:

LIFE MOVES PRETTY FAST: Writer Hadley Freeman takes a look back at that cinematic decade with movie fan love and offers a few eye-openers about some of those well known flicks and their content. Who would have thought that Dirty Dancing actually has some positive messages about feminism or that the original Ghostbusters could provide a solid platform for good adult friendships?

Well, she has and Freeman also highlights the sparkling intelligence of Nora Ephron's romantic comedies, how Eddie Murphy became a Hollywood superstar instead of a onscreen sidekick and the enduring legacy of John Hughes' teen films.

Reading this book seems like having a good conversation with a friend while re-watching one of your mutual movie favorites and having a bowl of popcorn on hand is certainly a good idea indeed:

BRAT PACK AMERICA: One of the big sticking points about movies of the 80's is that many people feel as if the settings of those films were as real as their own backyard.

To that end, Kevin Smokler takes a tour of fan favorite locations, some of which are harder to find than others. He does get to attend "Goonies Day" in the town of Astoria in Oregon, enjoy a Lost Boys beach tour and seek out the elusive Shermer, IL that John Hughes created.

Adding in interviews with actors and movie makers of the time, Smokler invokes that deep down nostalgia that film fans have that make these movies as memorable as they are(and yes, Virginia, there is no Shermer in Illinois):

DON'T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME: Speaking of John Hughes, it is hard to get away from his considerable influence when talking about the eighties on film. That's perfectly understandable as most of us from those days have at least one of his teen focused films that meant a special something to them.

To get some more personal perspectives on the Hughes phenomenon, Jaime Clarke brings together a series of essays by modern day writers such as Julianna Baggot, Tara Ison and Moon Unit Zappa as they examine a particular film that spoke to their sensibilities.

For me, one of Hughes' best work was The Breakfast Club and having Ally Sheedy(who plays my favorite character in the film) provide an intro for this book is a considerable bonus there:

Yes, I do know that many of the 80's references from the book did not make it into the RPO film(even Steven Spielberg has limits and one of them is copyright law) but I have no doubt that there is enough that made it into the final cut to count.

Besides, you can always pick up the novel and enter Ernest Cline's OASIS that way as well. Movie magic is a powerful force, no matter what era you find yourself attached to, and combining it with book love makes for a strong pop culture spell of true enchantment: