Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Some page turning tricks and treats to savor on my FrightFall journey

At this point, I'm at the half way mark for the FrightFall readathon and to date, my total of finished books is three, with two in mid-read and a couple of others awaiting their turn on the shelf.

The most Halloween themed of the former group is Kiersten White's The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, which takes the classic Mary Shelley tale of reanimation in a whole new direction.

We begin with Elizabeth, a ward of the Frankenstein family, going in search of eldest son Victor with her good friend Justine, the governess to the younger children of the household. It has been months since Victor has written to them and not even mutual childhood friend Henry has been able to get fresh word about how Victor is or the progress of his unusual studies.

Elizabeth is concerned about her position in the Frankenstein home due to his absence; as a young girl, she was brought into the family as a companion to the troubled Victor in order to keep him calm and collected. Now, that they both have grown up and he is able to make his way in the world, she fears being cast out without anywhere else to go.

She is not just motivated by the need for her own security(although that is a pressing concern) but worries about Victor's state of mind and their mutual affection for one another. For years, Elizabeth has known of his dark obsession with the mysteries of life and death and has been lovingly willing to protect him from any of the consequences that pursuit might place at his doorstep:

When she and Justine,with the help of a new friend Mary, do discover Victor's whereabouts, Elizabeth is both relieved and horrified.

Victor is gravely ill but still alive, What is more serious than that, his isolated location conceals some rather grisly experimentation going on there. Elizabeth is able to get him the medical help he needs while shielding her companions from the worst of the horrors inside his secret lab.

She feels more secure after destroying the lab and Victor's notes yet as it turns out, his tinkering brought a monstrous being to life. A wrathful creature that seeks revenge against his creator. Despite being told not to concern herself with any of that, Elizabeth is bound and determined to find the monster and stop him from ruining her future happiness:

Yet, despite her plans, a string of tragic events unfolds and Elizabeth finds to her true horror that things are not as they appear to be, especially when it comes to Victor and his creation. Finding herself trapped in a situation that leaves her very limited options, she decides to make new allies and find a solution that will reveal who the real monster in their midst is.

Keirsten White weaves a new and imaginative narrative from this classic cloth, echoing the themes of the original Frankenstein yet also evoking the feminist writings of Mary Shelley's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, as well. At times, her leading lady has the dark complexity of a Gillian Flynn character combined with the Gothic undertones granted to many a heroine of that genre.

It's a compelling read that explores the nature of a destructive co-dependent relationship , the meaning of real love and the role of women during that time period. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a well layered chiller with plenty of food for thought served up up with style and I highly recommend it indeed:

On the much lighter side, I caught up with the third title in Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness series, Royal Flush.

 Once again, Lady Georgiana Rannoch is called upon to do a little detective work for Queen and country and that duty calls her home to Scotland, where her brother Binky and sister-in-law Fig are being plagued with American guests. One in particular that is most troubling is also seen as a most unwelcome escort for the future king of England, Wallis Simpson.

What is quite distressing is the increasing number of "accidents" that target members of the royal family and an insider among that crowd  is suspected. Georgiana is eager to find the culprit as well as avoid being matched up with the annoying Prince Siegfried and keeping an eye on Darcy O'Mara, the dashing yet impoverished nobleman who may or may not be on Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Each entry in this series grows more and more entertaining, with a good dash of history and mystery given a twist of old fashioned humor. The romance between Georgiana and Darcy has a lovely screwball comedy vibe to it,adding the right note of fictional flavor here:

Speaking of flavor, I took a second bite of the Bakeshop Mystery series by Ellie Alexander and got a good taste of A Batter of Life and Death.

Our culinary heroine Jules Capshaw is given an unexpected opportunity to get both publicity and funds for the family bakery Torte by being a contender on The Pastry Channel's competition series, Take The Cake. Jules also has to host a couple of the contestants,the glitzy Southern belle Linda and vegan baker Nina,at Torte's kitchen as part of the deal, making the contest a little too close for comfort.

Competing for the top cash prize becomes more challenging when fellow competitor and very drunk chef Marco is found dead on the set, face down in a vat of buttercream, by Jules. Her last brush with murder left Jules a bit wary yet she still can't resist looking into the case. Can she find the killer before another contestant is cut for good?

The book and series so far has a really nice sense of place, making the Shakespeare festival driven town of Ashland feel very real and welcoming to the reader as well as Jules. I also like that Jules is a well developed person in her own right, with a solid love of cooking and family, plus her conflicted feelings about where her troubled marriage with cruise ship chef Carlos is heading(along with the potential for revived romance with high school sweetheart Tommy).

A nice bonus here is the whole baking competition concept; as someone who has watched several seasons of such shows on Food Network, this plot line is sinfully sweet and sassy. While the theme is not Halloween, this story has enough sugary scares to truly take the cake for holiday reading fun:

Right now, my FrightFall status has me diving into Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence and the next Her Royal Spyness book, Royal Blood(which sends Georgiana to Transylvania for a possible vampire encounter!). There's also On Thin Icing and The Silent Corner to explore and with any luck, one of the latter will be finished by All Hallow's Eve.

I do hope that everyone else taking part in FrightFall is having a good time with their TBR piles and getting ready for Halloween as well. In my house, we take part in a community trick or treat table for the neighborhood kids and figuring out our costumes is tricky, to say the least.

 I wouldn't mind a book related one but those can be difficult to explain,especially if there isn't a movie version involved. Oh well,  there's still time before the witching hour to make some dress-up magic!:

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