Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, June 14, 2019

My Sci-Fi Summer reading has turned into quite the royal rumble

So far, my pace in the  Sci-Fi Summer readathon has been pretty good and I thought rather quick for a two week challenge.

As it turns out, I have more time to read here as moderator Michelle Miller(from Seasons of Reading) has recently announced that this special bookish event is now a month long,which also moves July's High Summer reading to August. In addition, not all of your books have to be sci-fi and/or fantasy, other genres can be part of the mix.

It's a good idea whose time has come and while I did drop one intended book off my initial list, a library loan has taken it's place(more on that later). In the meantime, I was able to finish the first three books in Kendare Blake's Three Dark Crowns YA fantasy series, which are scarily addicting but oh so fun to read!

 The first book introduces us to the island nation of Fennbirn, where in every generation, a set of female triplets are born to be queen. Each one has a particular set of magical abilities and are raised apart from one another in communities that favor that young queen's powers.

At age sixteen, all three are brought together to fight to the death for the throne. Dominance over the island by a certain powerful group is also determined by which queen wins.

For the past several reigns, the Poisoners have maintained control over Fennbirn, placing a huge burden on Katherine, whose ability to absorb and survive the affects of various poisons given to her over the years is weak at best. 

However, the odds on favorite to win the throne back from the Poisoner crowd is Mirabella, one of strongest Elemental queens to come in a generation. While she is reluctant to destroy the sisters that are remembered only in her dreams, there is no denying that her control over lightning,wind and fire make her a force to be reckoned with:


The one sister who cares least about the throne is Arsinoe, a Naturalist whose powers have yet to manifest. It's only through "low magic" that she has been able to produce a familiar in time for the first ritual meeting of the three, a brown bear that she has limited control over.

Arsinoe's whole goal is to survive,period. With the aid of her best friend Jules Millone,who is far more powerful than most of the Naturalists, she is trying to do just that despite the increasing odds that she will be the first to die.

 With the return of a childhood friend Joseph(banished to the mainland for attempting to sail Arsinoe off of the island) and the arrival of William"Billy" Chatsworth, a potential royal suitor, the situation gets more complicated and gruesome risks are taken. When the sisters display their talents at the Quickening, a number of plans for and against each sister go awry, creating more conflict than ever before.

In One Dark Throne, much has changed for the sisters with the most dramatic being for Katherine, who was tossed into a deep pit known as the Breccia Domain(formerly used to dispose of defeated queens) and managed to make it out alive.

That move was made by Pietyr, a cousin of the powerful Arron family of poisoners, who thought that he was sparing her from a horrifying death due to a betrayal plot. Katherine's survival has given her a new life, so to speak as well as a change in her personality.

She is no longer the meek and mild mouse that the brutal life of poisoning has made her,rather Katherine has become a mysterious and deadly enemy who is all too willing to destroy her sisters in any way that she can:

By the time we get to Two Dark Reigns, Katherine has been crowned and her new rule is unsteady, with the protective mist that surrounds the island acting out in strange and violent ways.

Her sisters Mirabella and Arsinoe, along with Billy, have escaped to the mainland and are presumed dead by those on Fennbirn. They are doing their best to adjust to the very different way of life where women are not placed in any positions of power.

 Mirabella does not want to ever return to her homeland but Arsinoe is being haunted by dreams from a long ago queen that urge them both to go back home. Meanwhile, a rebellion is growing against Katherine and those whose magical gifts are in the minority want Jules to be their leader and new queen. She is beyond reluctant to do so but when push comes to shove, she can't help but join the fight:

This sisterly saga is truly compulsive reading, with a solid amount of character development and a rich world built by the author that feels so fresh and vibrant. If I didn't have to wait for the fourth book(Five Deadly Fates) to arrive in the fall, I would be reading it right now.

As it is, I am moving on to other things for this readathon and since we can add different genres, my current read is The Satapur Moonstone by Sujita Massey, to be followed by The Readaholics and The Gothic Gala by Laura DiSilvero. With TSM being a library book that happily came to me via hold, it's a good thing that Sci-Fi Summer was expanded like this, so thank you, Michelle! Choosing between a theme and a new read is difficult but fortunately, I and my fellow readathons can now enjoy the best of both literary worlds:

Monday, June 10, 2019

This year's Bad Movie Month has quite the Marvel-ous line-up

One of the traditions here at LRG is that August is known as Bad Movie Month, where once a week during that time, we take a look at some of the saddest examples of cinematic story telling.

For our theme this time out, inspiration is drawn from one of the better displays of long term story and world building.

No matter if you're a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe(MCU) or not, we can all agree that Avengers:Endgame was one of the major movie events of the year, rounding off over a decade of superhero films that successfully interconnected with each other as well as their respective audiences.

However, not all of the actors in those films have a solid stack of quality work on their resume. So, we then embark on what I'm calling Avengers:FilmFail. Since there are numerous characters in the MCU, our focus will be on four of the main Avengers-Iron Man(Robert Downey,Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow(Scarlett Johannson). Each of chosen cinematic stinkers has one of them in a starring role with perhaps a co-star from the MCU who, one way or the other, joins in the dubious fun:

DUE DATE: For Robert Downey Jr., I chose this 2010 road trip comedy and I can hear some of you saying, "Hey, this movie was a box office hit! How can it be one of your bad movies?"

Well, for one thing, just because a movie is financially successful doesn't mean that it's good-keep in mind, that Transformers flick that had King Arthur's knights in the mix(that will be important later on in this post).

Critics were less than thrilled with this movie as RDJ teams up with a "look how weird I am!" Zach Galifianakis as two unlikely companions forced to take to the road together, thanks to a misunderstanding at the airport. Yes, a terrorist joke is the cause.

As Downey struggles to get home in time to witness the birth of his first child, Zach plans to scatter his recently deceased father's ashes but little things like a "Stage Name ID" and a run in with the Mexican police tend to slow them down. This attempt at combining The Hangover with Planes,Trains and Automobiles sounds more a barrel full of headaches than hearty laughs. Also, Jamie Foxx, who played a villain in the Amazing Spiderman sequel, shows up to make this pick a bit MCU adjacent:

RED DAWN(2012): This remake of the 1984 warhawk movie was awful enough to earn a Razzie nomination and while the original film has the distinction of being the first American release to get a  PG-13 rating, this version made headlines for changing it's invaders from Chinese to North Korean(insert your topical joke here).

Hemsworth takes on the role originated by Patrick Swayze, as returning Marine Jed, who goes home just in time to help the locals fight back against the invading army suddenly at their doorstep. Why any invading force would go after a small town instead of a major city is beyond me but hey, gotta follow that original formula!

For a MCU connection, we have Adrienne Palicki(who played Bobbi Morse on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made for TV series) on board. As for the other actors, this is probably not the worst item on their resume but certainly not one any of them will want to highlight in the future either:

PLAYING IT COOL: I must admit that Chris Evans's performance as Captain America is one of my favorites in the MCU and I thoroughly enjoyed his take on Johnny Storm in those earlier Fantastic Four films.

However, while one of his FF co-stars(Ioan Giffurd) is the cast of this barely released 2015 romcom, this movie certainly doesn't sound fantastic. Evans plays a frustrated screenwriter who has to write a script for a romance before getting to work on the action movies that he prefers.

Feeling sour on love, he meets up with what seems like the perfect woman for him(Michelle Monaghan, who plays RDJ's wife in Due Date-is that a wild coincidence or what?), only she's engaged to someone else. Hilarity is supposed to occur but given that this film was pushed into VOD as soon as possible, that's more of a threat than a promise.

For a direct MCU connection, Anthony Mackie,aka The Falcon, was cast as Evans' agent and while those two always have great chemistry on screen, this isn't supposed to be a bromance. Then again, maybe it should have been-might have made things a whole lot better!:

THE ISLAND: Just listen to the premise of this 2005 big budget film: Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor are residents of a futuristic, isolated community where everyone dreams of winning a lottery that will take them to the title location for a chance at the good life.

But, surprise,surprise!-the two of them are clones, created as spare parts for rich folks, which was also the basis of a 1979 sci-fi flick called Parts: The Clonus Horror, which the studio had to play an out of court settlement for due to not getting those pesky rights to the previous material first.

What really sunk this movie at the box office and with critics,however, can be summed up in two words and one name-Michael Bay, who later on gave us that Transformers meets King Arthur film(see, I told you that was important to remember!). What could have been a decent sci-fi thriller turns into a big loud, blow-em-real-good type of movie that has an off kilter aftertaste, sort of like a peanut butter and sand paper sandwich.

The MCU link here is Djimon Hounsou, who appears in Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel and for a MCU adjacent, the late great Michael Clarke Duncan, who was the Kingpin in Daredevil. While Johansson has made eyebrow raising bad choices in her film career since then, hopefully she learned not to make the same mistake twice. Then again...:

I was happy to see Avengers:Endgame and look forward to the next batch of MCU films that will start a new set of adventures for all concerned. Even so, you can't help but tease the ones you love and Avengers:FilmFail is out to do just that this August, so with tongue in cheek I say Excelsior!:

Friday, June 07, 2019

Setting up more summer reading in the shade of a library haul

Even though I am in the midst of a two week readathon(Sci-Fi Summer hosted by Seasons of Reading's Michelle Miller), getting more books to read is a vital necessity. Granted, not as vital as food and water but still, pretty important to my emotional health there.

Besides, I had to make a library trip, due to the fact that a book I placed on hold became readily available. Sujata Massey's The Satapur Moonstone is the second title in her new mystery series set in India of the 1920s and after enjoying the award winning The Widows of Malabar Hill, this was a definate must-read.

Once again, leading lady Perveen Mistry is asked to assist in a legal situation where only one of the few female lawyers in the country will do. In the small state of Satapur, the current ruler Jiva Reo is just ten years old, due to the untimely deaths of the prior maharajahs within the past two years. The remaining maharanis are in charge of Jiva and are debating whether or not he should be sent abroad for his education.

Since these regal ladies do not deal with men outside of their family, the British government, in the form of Sir David Hobson-Jones, wants Perveen to intervene for them. While she is not thrilled about putting forth the British agenda, Perveen is concerned about the young maharajah and sees this as a good opportunity to find out about the circumstances around the deaths of his predecessors. However, can she save Jiva from harm without risking her own safety?

With The Widows of Malabar Hill being such a literary treat, this book is as irresistible as a second slice of ice cream cake(hey, it is summer after all!) yet far more enriching than that chilly delight to be sure.

I paired that up with Clock Dance by Anne Tyler, where the modern day heroine of this story is Willa, who at age 61, leads a rather quiet life with her second husband Peter in Arizona.

When an unexpected phone call from a former girlfriend of one of her sons is a request for help, Willa feels inspired and with Peter in tow, takes off for Baltimore. There she meets Denise, a single mom with a nine year old daughter Cheryl and their dog Airplane, who is recovering from a broken leg due to a shooting incident in the neighborhood.

As Willa bonds with Denise and lets the locals keep their mistaken belief that Cheryl is her granddaughter, she also thinks back to her younger days and how bold she was then. While she can't be exactly as she once was, Willa considers the possibility of being less low key than she has been in her life lately.

Anne Tyler is an author that I read at on and off over the years but most of the time, she provides a smartly calm breath of fresh air that clears the cluttered cobwebs of my mind nicely. While her book covers may look mild mannered, her stories have more of an emotional wild side so as they say, it's what is on the inside that truly counts:

As to my Sci-Summer reading, I have added a new book that arrived today in the mail that I will most likely get to this weekend. Two Dark Reigns is the third entry in Kendare Blake's Three Dark Crowns saga that features a trio of magically powered sisters who must battle to the death to become the one and only Queen of the island realm called Fennbirn.

At this point in the story, one sister has claimed the throne while the other two are in hiding on the mainland, adjusting to the rather patriarchal way of life there. Meanwhile, an ally of one of the hidden sisters has discovered a power of her own that causes many to shun her yet attracts a group of rebels who want her to be their leader.

I would say more but I'm deep into the second book,One Dark Throne, right now and don't want to come across any major spoilers. What I can say is that this series is seriously addicting, the stay-up-all-night kind of reading that I really need these days. There is a fourth book due out this fall(Five Dark Fates) and that will be a tale that I will eagerly snatch up when the time comes:

Along side that series, I picked up a few more cozy mystery titles and that includes The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco by Laura DiSilverio. Having recently finished the second title(Poirot Puzzle), I thought it best to go back to the first book to see how it all started.

Amy-Faye Johnson supplements her busy life as an event planner by being a member of a mystery themed reading group, where she and her friends delight in solving those fictional crimes together.

When Ivy, one of the Readaholics, dies under suspicious circumstances that the police believe was self inflicted, Amy-Faye decides to take a page from her favorite literary detectives and find out what really happened. Can their latest book selection, The Maltese Falcon, be of any assistance in solving the case or should Amy-Faye and company stick to the bookish sidelines here?

Given that there are three books so far(and yes, I ordered number three, Gothic Gala, already), clearly Amy-Faye has more reading and sleuthing to do. I do like the good natured tone of this series and that classic mystery novels are a solid part of the theme of each book. That element certainly inspires some rereading as well as watching the great movies made from these iconic works:

Summer is supposed to be a slow down period but a reader's quest is never truly completed. As much as I'm eagerly devouring my Sci-Fi Summer books, plans are under way for the next big readathon, High Summer, which starts in July.

 My list is being made as we speak, with the newest Beatriz Williams novel, The Golden Hour, as a major pillar of that reading pile. Don't get me wrong, I love having a focal point for my reading but I do need to slow myself down a little at times to properly savor the sweets of the written word before me. Then again, it's better to have too much than too little when it comes to reading at any time of the year:

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Tuning in this summer for some page turning TV

With the arrival of summer comes the departure of most regular TV. Whether it's a seasonal break or the last hurrah, not being tied to your favorite shows has the advantage of being one of those pop culture pauses that gives you time to catch up on other things.

Since this is also that time of the year to tackle one or two of those stacks of books you've been meaning to get to, it would be nice to combine some of that reading with a new TV series to watch. Fortunately, I found at least three brand new TV adaptations that should make for good summer time reading as well.

First up is NOS4A2, which debuted on AMC this past Sunday and promises to haunt that prime time slot for awhile here. Based on Joe Hill's novel, Ashleigh Cummings stars as Victoria "Vic" McQueen, a young girl on the verge of graduating high school and trying to decide where she can take her talents as an artist in life.

Much to her surprise, she discovers a strange new talent that allows her to find that which was lost and to travel far beyond her reach via a covered bridge that only appears to Vic.  This new ability of hers attracts the unwanted attentions of Charlie Manx(Zachary Quinto), who also uses supernaturally hidden passage ways to take captured children to his twisted "Christmasland", where he feeds off of their innocence in order to maintain an unnaturally long life.

Recruited by a librarian with a special skill of her own, Vic tries to stop Manx from hunting down more kids, not to mention keep him from taking her out of the running permanently. Having read the book myself along with watching the first episode, I can truly say that this is one terrifying thrill ride that you don't want to miss:

I'm also looking forward to The Rook, set to start on June 30 as part of the Starz line-up. Adapted from the novel by Daniel O'Malley, the story begins with Myfanwy Thomas(Emma Greenwall), who wakes up on a dark street with no memory and surrounded by dead bodies.

Turns out, she had her mind wiped during a mission for the Checquy, a secret agency that she works for which specializes in supernatural people and events best hidden from the general public. Having no idea who is actually a friend or an enemy, Myfanwy has to track down the threat from within on her own.

If  I had to give this book a Hollywood pitch, it would go a little like this: "think Jason Bourne meets Men in Black and X-Men with a touch of Doctor Who". Hopefully, this upcoming series does much better than my attempt to summarize this amazingly creative story and with any luck, we might get a second season based on the second book(which I haven't read yet but really need to):

Arriving much sooner, Netflix is ready to begin their new version of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City on June 7.

Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis will be taking up the roles they played in an earlier adaptation of this iconic trio of novels set in San Francisco dealing with a variety of folks looking to change their lives for the better or just find a place that will accept them for who they are. Among the new cast members are Ellen Page(playing Linney's daughter) and Molly Ringwald in an unnamed yet reoccurring role.

I have to admit that I've heard plenty of good things about Maupin's Tales of the City books but haven't gotten around to them yet. Perhaps this new series might change all of that and there's no doubt that I won't be alone in doing so:

Pairing up a book and a movie is not easy as it sounds-it's more along the lines of finding the perfect wine to complete a fine meal. However, finding a good small screen adaptation can help you ease the guilt of just not being in the mood to read right now, which is something that every reader (myself included) experiences from time to time and nothing to feel bad about. Don't fight it when it hits, just let it ride until that literary lightning strikes you again:

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Rocketman soars as a movie musical extravaganza of the heart

Last night, I was lucky enough to attend an advance screening of Rocketman, the new biopic about legendary singer Elton John. It was quite the packed house and I predict that SOR level will be the standard seating when this movie premieres this upcoming weekend.

First off, it was a wise move to have a new face,acting wise, play the lead role here. Taron Egerton(best known as Eggsy from the Kingsmen films) really gets to shine here, not only being easily believable as Elton but at times, you forget that he's an actor playing a part. His emotional range makes you feel like the true Elton John is onscreen, sharing his heartfelt joys and sorrow with a song or two at the ready.

The plot of the film is told in an offbeat fashion, suiting it's subject perfectly. We begin with a costumed Elton entering a building in majestic form, only to discover that he's attending a group therapy session to deal with his numerous problems.

He then starts to narrate his life story, using his vast catalogue of music as emotional stepping stones, so don't expect chronological order in that department. The rest of the film follows him from shy and lonely young Reginald Dwight to the epic musician that he becomes, battling his inner demons who are along for the ride.

The musical interludes are well blended into the film, making this whole production feel like an adaptation of a Broadway show that decided to skip a stage run(although, it could be taken to that format rather smoothly). It makes sense, given that Elton John, who is one of the executive producers of the movie, has done several theatrical musicals over the years and this allows him as well as the other filmmakers the creative freedom to bring this special story to vivid cinematic life:

The other actors are well cast here, such as Jamie Bell who plays Bernie Taupin, Elton's longtime friend and musical collaborator. Their relationship is a vital element to the overall story and both Bell and Egerton are in perfect sync throughout the film.

Even in scenes where they're not directly dealing with each other, you feel the bond between Elton and Bernie, sharing good times and at key points, growing apart. Their connection is one of the best here,enhancing the emotional stakes for all involved:

Other stand out performances include Gemma Jones as Elton's doting grandmother Ivy, who is a welcome delight here to many fans of British cinema like me and yes, she's in the Bridget Jones and Harry Potter movies to boot.

 Also, to get a bit more Brit flick fangirl here, she's the mother from Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility(with one of her co-stars from that film,Harriet Walter, making a brief appearance as a music teacher) so all those boxes are checked!

Even more so of a presence is Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton's mother Sheila and I have to say that she is damn good at playing horrible people. Between this and her prior role as Hilly Holbrook in The Help, BDH is a villianess for the ages.

Granted, his father is a terrible person as well but his mother,as portrayed here, is a nightmare with her cold hearted  disinterest in anything that doesn't engage her attentions, combined with a pack of passive aggressive critiques that instantly flow from her lips. You can see how psychologically destructive she was to her son over the years and a key contributor to his future issues in life:

No, this isn't a movie where Elton John blames his parents for everything but he does acknowledge their influence in his development and on the choices he makes over time.

You might think that with Elton John as executive producer, some of his less than attractive behavior might be glossed over. Instead, the movie does strongly highlight his struggles with various addiction(drugs,alcohol,shopping), a dysfunctional personal and professional relationship with his music manager and his bouts of unchecked rage.

Unlike last year's Bohemian Rhapsody(more on that in a moment), Rocketman feels unrestrained when it comes to showing a warts-and-all version of it's leading man. Perhaps with Elton around to give the nod, screenwriter Lee Hall felt freer to focus on those aspects fully and some of the best musical numbers in the film are centered on those downward spiral moments.

Speaking of Bohemian Rhapsody, the big question here is "Is Rocketman a better movie?" To that, I have to say yes in many respects. While both movies featured talented actors in the leading roles who do justice to the real life subjects, Egerton, unlike Rami Malek, does not have to bring the material up to a higher level all on his own.

Rather, Taron Egerton is conducting an orchestra of talented cast and crew, from the costumes to the music and the direction of Dexter Fletcher(who, ironically enough, completed the directing duties on Bohemian Rhapsody after the removal of it's controversial director). Hopefully, this movie will be remembered when Oscar nomination time is upon us as there will be plenty of people all too happy to remind the Academy if this is not so!

If you can see Rocketman in theaters either this weekend or sometime soon, I fervently recommend that you do as it's well worth the price of admission. Certainly more obtainable than a Broadway musical and just as entertaining,plus Egerton does his own singing for the film. He's truly a rising star with this film and I look forward to seeing him climb to even greater heights, careerwise(and yes, he ought to be Oscar nominated, I'm saying it now!):

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Plating up some Peach Cobbler Murder for my latest serving of Series-ous Reading

As I mentioned in a prior post, I've gotten my mother hooked on the Hannah Swensen series by Joanne Fluke and she's way ahead of me at this point. That is still the case yet I do not consider this a competition, plus we do agree that Hannah's cat Moishe is a delight and that her mother can be a bit much at times.

My latest Hannah Swensen slice of mystery dessert for my ongoing Series-ous challenge is Peach Cobbler Murder, where Hannah is facing both personal and professional competition from the same source; Shawna Lee Quinn.

Shawna has always had eyes for Mike,Hannah's occasional suitor, and now with the help of her newly rich sister Vanessa, she's opened a bakery right across the street from Hannah's beloved Cookie Jar. With a number of gimmicks, The Magnolia Blossom Bakery has cut severely into the Cookie Jar's profits, so much so that Hannah fears she may have to go out of business:

Despite reassurances from family and friends that her baked goods are superior to Shawna's(including the Magnolia Blossom signature dish, Southern Peach Cobbler, which tastes suspiciously store bought), Hannah is worried about her future with the Cookie Jar and Mike.

Fortunately, there are more pleasant concerns to deal with such as the wedding of her bakery partner Lisa to local traffic cop Herb Beeseman. The whole town pretty much shows up to the ceremony yet while Mike promised to be Hannah's first dance partner at the reception, he turns out to be a no-show,along with Shawna Lee, who had plans to bring several servings of her peach cobbler as a "wedding gift."

While dropping off some reception leftovers  at the Cookie Jar, Hannah notices that the lights are still on at the Magnolia Blossom and can't resist checking in to see if anyone's there. Once again, Hannah has found another body as Shawna Lee was shot while heating up her definitely from a supermarket freezer cobbler(the box it came in was on the front counter!) and being her rival, Hannah is also a prime suspect for this particular murder:

Fortunately, she's not a suspect for long and with the aid of her loved ones, Hannah seeks out who really did Shawna Lee in. One possibility that presents itself is that the intended target may not have been Shawna but her sister Vanessa instead.

Turns out Vanessa inherited her fortune from a way older than herself husband who died not too long into the marriage. In addition to that , Hannah's mother Delores has a few suspicions about her latest beau, Winthrop, a supposed "English lord" and needs her daughter to check him out for her.

Hannah is more than happy to look into Winthrop for Delores, as she and her sister Andrea don't trust him much in the first place. However, that sidebar investigation offers up some information that bears deadly fruit upon Shawna Lee's less than peachy keen demise.

It's always fun to hang out with Hannah and friends, although Mike keeps annoying me. He is so clueless about why Hannah might not like him spending so much time with another woman while claiming to just be "friends" yet when Norman is around(Hannah's other suitor and a better choice, if you ask me), he gets more green skinned than the Hulk. Sure, sometimes he and Norman are buddy-buddy but that is usually a pretense for competing for Hannah's affections.

Hannah does get a pair of marriage proposals by the end of the book and I know already that she's not ready to chose between them. That's fine with me as I think Mike just made his as an apology for making her jealous over Shawna Lee and saying "marry me!" as a way to fix that is just not cool.

I do understand that Norman wouldn't want to lose out on Hannah,especially to Mike, but a proposal needs to be fully sincere, not simply a way to beat someone else to the punch. I am still rooting for Norman but this wasn't the right way for him to become her steady and hopefully, he figures that out in the next book.

Well, I'll see soon enough and in the meantime, I think that the lesson to take away from this engaging entry is "If  you are going to open your own bakery, make your own food!" You don't have to be a professional to taste the difference but the proof is clearly in the pudding, or in this case, cobbler:

Meanwhile, for my summer of Series-ous Reading, I plan to spend some time with the delightful Miss Phyrne Fisher, the fantasti lady detective created by author Kerry Greenwood.

One of my Christmas gifts this year was an omnibus edition of the first three novels in the Miss Fisher Mysteries entitled Introducing the Honourable Phryne Fisher and it was a welcome sight to see under my holiday tree. These books have been the basis of a TV series starring the charming Essie Davis as Miss Fisher, an unflappable flapper with a flair for crime solving and an eye for the gents.

She's a real pistol, in the best sense of the word, and for some true fun in or out of the sun, Phryne Fisher is most decidedly the gal to lead the way indeed. Oh, and there's a Modern Miss Fisher Mysteries to be aired soon(featuring a niece of Phryne's as the lead) but I may revisit the original for a little compare and contrast, not to mention a good time that I recommend you all to take up as well:

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Some of my May reading is in the midst of new June delights

One of the perks of being a book blogger is getting to read books earlier than the average reader and before you become all green with envy, keep in mind that this can be both a blessing and a curse.

Early editions can quickly pile up into mountains of reading just as much as newly bought books can(and the same goes for ebooks,too!) and sometimes you don't want to read a certain book too soon since you can't talk about it right away but waiting too long is tricky as well.

However, some books are too good to hold off on and being given the opportunity to not only read but to spread the joy to others about them makes it all the worth while. I am fortunate enough to have a pair of upcoming June titles(one in physical form, the other as an ebook) to be in the middle of right now that I simply have to talk about them so that you can keep an eye out for them for your summer reading list:

NATALIE TAN'S BOOK OF LUCK AND FORTUNE: The title tome in Roselle Lim's debut novel is a recipe book, written by the grandmother of our leading lady Natalie, whose cooking was legendary in the section of San Francisco's China Town where her restaurant was the crown jewel of the neighborhood.

While she never knew her grandmother, Natalie also has a passion for cooking and pursued that dream as best she could, causing a rift between her and her agoraphobic mother, one that didn't get a chance to heal before her mother's recent passing. Coming home, Natalie isn't sure how to deal with the regrets of the past and to her surprise,  finds a good amount of support from her mother's remaining friends,many of whom also remember how wonderful her grandmother's food was:

During her stay, Natalie quickly sees how the old neighborhood has changed and not for the better, with many of the local businesses going in a downward spiral and a vulture of a real estate lady lurking around to snap those buildings up for greedy gentrification purposes.

Since her grandmother's restaurant is abandoned yet still intact, Natalie decides to reopen the place and when granted the collection of recipes, is encouraged to help three neighbors using certain special dishes in order to gain good luck for this endeavor. She is thrilled to help and starts by preparing purposely chosen meals for folks such as Elder Shin, whose bookstore is in decline and needs to regain his courage, and the Chius, a husband and wife who have allowed their financial woes to affect their marriage.

Natalie isn't just relying on the magical property of her grandmother's food to achieve her goals but every little bit does help to bolster her own courage and make peace with her mother's memory. The smells from her test kitchen alone are breathing new life into the whole area and bringing new friends as well:

One of those new friends is Daniel, who was drawn to Natalie's work in progress restaurant by the irresistible scent and flavor of the family dumpling recipe yet seems to be interested in more than just her cooking.

As sweet and charming as he is, Natalie is unsure of herself in this department, having walked out of a prior relationship due to having abandonment issues from her still absent father.

Yet her longings for love are all too real and I suspect that Natalie's appetite for a new life will include a taste of true love on the emotional menu there:

At this point in the novel, Lim's charming story feels as fabulous as a five course meal; sweet without being cloying, nourishing yet not overwhelming and most importantly, deliciousness that makes you want to savor every beautifully written bite.

There are touches of magic within the plot(birds that make timely appearances, the vivid effects of her grandmother's food upon people) but done lightly and delicately, framing the focus of the story with an elegant hand. I have no doubt that by the time I reach the end of this page turning feast for the soul, that my literary hunger will be sated but I wouldn't say no to a second helping, shelf wise.

MRS. EVERYTHING: I've read Jennifer Weiner for years, starting with her debut novel, Good in Bed, and have kept up in an on-again, off-again fashion with her work since then. Given that long term attachment to her writing, I have to honestly say that this upcoming novel may truly be her masterpiece.

That may sound like hype but trust me, it's not. Weiner's heartfelt saga of two sisters, Jo and Bethie Kaufman, is told with her usual blend of humor and love of family, following these very different yet connected siblings throughout the decades.

As Jo comes to grips with her sexual identity during the 1950s and into the later eras, her sister struggles between her need to be seen as "the good girl" and being part of the new social changes all around her yet seemingly out of reach. While their differences do divide them at times, the deep love that binds them can't help but bring them back together at some point.

Granted, I'm still in the 1960s section of the book but the emotional resonance from each sister feeling trapped in her own situation, from Jo's deep longing for her deceased father as the one person in the world who completely understood her to Bethie's inner loathing due to a family member taking vile advantage of her that leads to the early stages of an eating disorder, is palatable and poignantly portrayed.

This book feels emotionally personal to the author and I am sure that it will make readers feel the same way. With any luck, it may be seen as one of the best books of the year. True, I haven't finished it yet but my bookish senses are telling me so and they're never steered me wrong and are not about to start now:

As luck would have it, both of these books are set to be released on June 11 and picking both of them up is certainly a viable option. Happy as I am to be able to read such wonderful books first, I will envy those who get to discover their story telling delights at a library or bookstore a little bit later.

Early reading has it's ups and downs but it's a dilemma that one can happily embrace and will always be rewarded, thanks to patience and the pleasure of a well crafted tale, plus the promise of more to come:

Monday, May 20, 2019

Some final thoughts about the final season of Game of Thrones

Last night, I joined in with the rest of the faithful viewers for the very last episode of Game of Thrones, a series that has gone beyond the five books written so far by G.R.R. Martin as it's source material.

Yes, it was an episode to remember and despite the numerous cries of disappointment  and for some, resignation, I have to say that this was as fitting a finale as we could get.

Should this season have been longer, in order to establish more firmly certain plot twists? Absolutely and I think that many of the disheartened out there might have been able to deal better with those developments if they had made this a ten or even twelve episode run instead of the six we got.

However, this is what was given to us and unlike a video game, there are no do-overs here. When the last books in the Ice and Fire saga are at last published, a stronger sense of closure might be gained. Having read the books and enjoyed the HBO adaptation, for better and for worse, I have a few parting thoughts that I will try to keep brief at best(fingers crossed):

THE DEATH OF CERSEI: One of the big takeaways from the next to last episode,"The Bells", was how despised Queen Cersei Lannister met her fatal end.

True, I would've liked her to have been blasted by dragon fire or cut down by Arya or a number of other payback scenarios yet this was the fate she deserved. To be abandoned by the few lackeys she had left,along with an army that had no real love or loyalty for her and to die no better than one of the smallfolk she ruled over with only her tormented twin brother Jamie to join her.

Cersei would have preferred to be captured or taken down publicly to further cement her image as a powerful figure instead of a resentful ,entitled person who worked within the very system she hated but was never as smart as she thought she was.

That whole High Sparrow takeover a couple of seasons back was due in part to her foolishly giving away power and responsibilities that didn't directly interest her and once the fallout personally affected Cersei, she went full nuclear option via Wildfire,which is bad governance any way you slice it.

What Cersei really hated was being a cog in the machine, a mere spoke on the wheel as it were. Yet, that is how she went out , living her own worst nightmare of her own making. She should have known better than trying to make an escape(as should have Jaime and Tyrion) at that point because as she once told a doomed Ned Stark, there are two options when playing the Game of Thrones and neither of them allow for a safe exit:

DANEARYS JOINS THE DARK SIDE: What truly troubled fans much more in that episode was seeing the beloved Mother of Dragons turn her fire power upon the innocent residents of Kings Landing, especially when it was well established that victory was hers.

If we had a couple of prior episodes to develop Dany's growing despair, that move might have seemed inevitable  but as it is, I can sadly understand it. Her whole life has become a quest to reclaim her family's dynasty and while she was able to break free from her terrible brother(who so got what he deserved) and the many along the way who tried to control and/or destroy her, Dany has kept a steadfast pace towards that damned Iron Throne.

Once she finally arrived at Westeros, the reception was chilly and even though an alliance was made in order to defeat the mutual enemy that was the Night King and company, Dany sensed rightly that her ascendancy wasn't a sure thing.

 Between losing two of her dragons and longtime loyal allies Jorah Mormont and Missandei, not to mention her own nephew/love interest of the moment Jon Snow having a more solid claim to the throne than her, Dany most likely felt "Why should I do all of this liberating for people who will be quick to toss me aside for a local boy?"

That doesn't excuse such mass slaughter but you do have to consider that she learned most of her battle strategy from conquerors such as the Dothraki and the Unsullied, social orders that rarely settled in more than one place.

Oddly enough, Dany had something in common with the late king Robert Baratheon; they both prefer the battlefield to the board room.  Her reign in Meereen was a total disaster because while her intentions were good, Dany had no real ideas about how to govern people. Tyrion arrived far too late to guide her towards a more moderate approach.

Once she burned down Kings Landing, I knew that she was going to die by someone's hand(and it took quite a bit of talking to get through to Jon Snow, seriously!) and while I did want her to be a benevolent warrior queen, Daenerys was too much of a warrior to transition into a peaceful ruler. That vision she received in the House of the Undying(and yes, it wasn't same as the one from the book) showed where her heart was always going to be and like she once told Jorah, hers was not a gentle one:

THE FATE OF TYRION: From season one, I chose only three characters to root for until the very end; Dany, Ayra and Tyrion. Turns out I did pretty well there in terms of survival time.

Tyrion's long journey has certainly been a hell of a ride, taking this at surface level snarky underdog and raising his strengths and weaknesses to their best and worst levels yet never making him a one note personality. Rather, he's one of the most nuanced characters in this story who used what skills he has to not only keep him alive but to make him a most valuable player in the game.

Realizing his fatal error with Dany, Tyrion did what he could to make that right but even that power talk with Jon Snow wasn't enough to redeem him and he's smart enough to know that. When he put up Bran as the new king and said that Bran has "the best story", he wasn't talking about what we the audience know , he meant the story to be told to the remaining citizens of Westeros and after the various wars they've been through, a back from the dead young man with a mild mannered touch of mysticism would go over better than any of those remnants of the nobility assembled in that council.

Keeping Tyrion as the Hand of the King was the right choice as it's a role he was born to play. Tyrion enjoys solving problems and getting folks to make suitable compromises as we saw in the second season when his own father gave him that task(and begrudged him for doing it so well). Also, it gives him a chance to repair the damage done to Kings Landing and while they're a long way from the democracy that Samwell Tarly suggested, Tyrion's notion of future rulers being chosen by group decision rather than birthright is a small step in the right direction.

All in all, Tyrion is finally where he ought to be and I have no doubt that Westeros will thrive under his influence. I also have no doubt that when he told Jon Snow that he was to be sent to the Night's Watch as punishment for killing Dany, Tyrion knew that Jon was going to rejoin the Wildings. He and Jon always managed to understand each other and this was the right parting gift indeed:

To wrap things up, I know full well that many of the fans feel that the female characters, particularly Dany this season, got shafted in terms of being power holders.

Instead of debating that, let us focus on the success stories of the sisters Stark. While I may not have been fond of Sansa in the beginning, she has grown by leaps and bounds over these past seasons, turning the tragedies of her life into triumphs.

No longer a pawn on someone else's sadistic game board, Sansa has claimed her own realm and will be a great Queen of the North, forging her own legacy for others to follow. As for Arya, she became the queen of her own destiny, no longer bound to seek revenge for the dead. Unlike the rest of her family, Arya has seen what life is like beyond the shores of Westeros and is setting sail to know more. She might still be an assassin but one that will more than likely seek justice for those in need rather than kill for the thrill or for cold hard coin.

Combined that with Yara Greyjoy ruling the Iron Islands and Brienne as head of the Kingsguard, we do have some wins on that side of the board. No, it's far from perfect but since Arya was one of my favorites from day one, I am willing to take comfort in that.

One thing that we can all agree on is that Game of Thrones was a game changer for both television and the fantasy genre, redefining both mediums and highlighting what needs to be changed for the better in future pop culture endeavors. I am happy to have been part of this audience and despite how you may feel about where things ended up, I hope that you are as well.

As for the next big show, I recommend a look back at a miniseries that helped to pave the way for this one. I,Claudius is also based on books(just two, and it's historical fiction) and like GOT, displays the results of where a pursuit of power can take a family. There's a ton of great performances, shocking moments and hints of the dark divine that makes this series just as gripping, even without dragons in play:

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Setting up my beach reading blanket for some Sci-Fi Summer fun

Whether you take a long trip, a weekend visit or just stay put, all summer plans do allow for reading time and readathons work well with that.

The next one on the Seasons of Reading schedule(hosted by Michelle Miller) is Sci-Fi Summer, a two week event that kicks off in June. Sign-ups have already begun and you can follow the link in the earlier sentence to find out more and hopefully join in the fun.

Yes,I am on board and working on my TBR as we speak. Since this is a short readathon,my stack of books is small but substantial, I think. Also, you are allowed to read fantasy as well as science fiction which works for me as I do have more of the former than the latter on hand at the moment:

THREE DARK CROWNS: This first book in Kendare Blake's YA fantasy series takes us to Fernbirn, a land meant to be ruled by one of three sisters in a ritual battle to the death.

While Mirabella is in full power with her storm bringing abilities and Katherine is able to withstand poison, Asninoe's talents as a naturalist don't make her the odds-on favorite to survive, let alone win. However, things are not always what they seem.

I do like this concept, harsh as it may sound, and have heard good word of mouth about this author, so this feels like a good place to get to know her work. Also, when a certain HBO series is over and done(I will not be talking about that at this blog until after the finale!), a fresh new race for a throne will be necessary:

ONE DARK THRONE:  Yes, I did pick up the second book already(hey, it was my birthday and I was in a book store, it couldn't be helped!) and if this turns out well, the third one will be on my purchase list as well.

As this entry begins, the game has definitely changed and not just for the three royal sisters. With the favored Mirabella no longer being the expected winner, alliances have shifted among supporters of each sister, both friend and enemy alike. No matter how many maneuvers are made, the fate of all involved still lies in the hands of the true players of this deadly game.

One of the elements that interest me about this series is the female focused drama, something we don't often see done well,especially in this genre. It may too soon for me to tell but I have the strong sense that this story will give me plenty to talk and think about indeed:

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES: Truth be told, I've been reading this book on and off for years(and yes, the other two titles in the All Souls Trilogy are on one of my TBR piles) and only getting so far with it.

The writing is lovely and the concepts are great fun, as reluctant witch Diana Bishop comes across the legendary Book of Life, a volume that's been missing for centuries, and while she wants nothing to do with it, no one is letting her off the hook that easy.

From broody yet charming vampire Matthew Claremont to sinister head of the witches' branch of the Congregation(basically, a supernatural United Nations) Peter Knox, she finds herself beset on all sides, discovering powers that she never knew she had access to.

As Diana learns more about her abilities and her family's past, Matthew appears to be the only one she can really trust in more ways than one. I don't know why my reading has been stalled with this series but it does help that AMC is now airing the British made for TV adaptation lately. My interest has certainly been jump started and this readathon is a great time to give this book another go there:

I might add another book or two before June 1 and perhaps even an actual science fiction title to boot. This really is the right time of year to engage in these genres, as our summer movies show us. I know that I'm not the only comic book fan looking forward to the rise of the Dark Phoenix at the multiplex this June and the wait has been a long time coming yet this time, our pop culture patience will be well rewarded:

Monday, May 13, 2019

My Series-ous Reading is given a tasty verdict from Fudge & Jury

Being a major league chocolate lover(and yes, sugar free versions are very satisfying), it was hard not to resist the next entry in Ellie Alexander's Bakeshop Mystery series for this latest round of Series-ous Reading.

Fudge & Jury has our culinary heroine Juliet "Jules" Capshaw,along with her mother Helen, running a booth at the Oregon Chocolate Festival, an annual event that not only attracts new business and keeps up with old contacts, prizes are awarded as well.

While Jules is happy to showcase her sweets and drum up more business for the family bakery,Torte(which is being renovated during the festival), she is quickly displeased by fellow exhibitor and judge for the festival Evan Rowe.

No matter how well crafted his chocolate creations are, Evan's snobbery and vicious critiques, especially of a food blogger whose Unbeatable Brownies are new to the circuit, are an appetite killer. Unfortunately, upon tasting one of Torte's display cakes, he goes into anaphylactic shock and dies on the spot. Turns out that Evan had a dangerous allergy to nuts yet the cake he sampled was free of that fatal ingredient.

Evan's demise brings about a number of questions such as "Where was his Epi Pen?" and "Where was his assistant Carter at the time?" along with wondering if, due to rearranging the supplies at Torte, could a nut based product have unintentionally ended up in that last piece of cake Evan ate? This possibly deadly error could not only affect the future of Torte but the whole Chocolate Festival to boot:

 It's not long before the festival is able to safely reopen and while Jules' cake is cleared of suspicion, she can't help wondering if Evan's death was more than an unhappy accident.

None of the other sweet treats that Evan tried that day,even the brownies that he harshly disliked, had nuts and yet his death was directly linked to his allergy. Jules does a little investigating and discovers that Evan has quite a few secrets, one of which could jeopardize the rest of his chocolate making career.

That's far from the only major item on her agenda as pressure mounts from the expansion of Torte, the wait for her mother's beau(the charming head police detective known as The Professor) to pop the question and a not so surprising romantic overture from Thomas, her old high school boyfriend and detective in training.

Maybe I'm being overly picky but I just can't warm up to Jules' estranged husband Carlos(who went back to his cruise ship chef job by the end of the previous book) and have some hope that she ends up with Thomas at some point.

Carlos is a charmer, to be sure, but I'm a Jane Austen gal and sweet talkers who keep secrets for reasons that only benefit themselves are typically not the best bet for future happiness. That whole "I just couldn't tell you about my son" deal still sticks in my craw.

Thomas, on the other hand, sincerely regrets breaking up with Juliet back in the day and clearly, his feelings for her have never wavered. I also appreciate that for the most part, he hasn't interfered with Jules' reunion with Carlos(although, his jealousy did flair up a bit). I know that she doesn't need a man to complete her but I can't help feeling that Thomas is meant to be Captain Wentworth to her Anne Elliot(as it happens, Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel):

Back to the book at hand, I thoroughly enjoyed this melt in your mouth mystery as well as seeing more of the other folks in Jules' world such as her staff at Torte,who click together so smoothly it's hard to imagine any them, particularly Sterling, ever leaving. I don't know if that's going to happen in a future book but I certainly hope not!

It's also fun to see Jules having a partner in crime like Lance, the engagingly over the top theater director, and for their friendship to blossom as it has. A platonic bond like this nicely off sets any of Jules' love interest plot points, not to mention that Lance is quite the scene stealer in the best sense there! Trust me, I will be revisiting Torte some time soon as there are still plenty of questions that need answering about Jules and company:

In the meanwhile, my next Series-ous Reading selection is Peach Cobbler Murder by Joanne Fluke, which was also adapted for Hallmark Channel's Murder She Baked mystery movies.

I did see the movie but more importantly, I have to keep up with my mother when it comes to the Hannah Swensen books. She's been on a reading kick lately and while I'm happy to share my books with her, Mom is ahead of me on this series! Granted, she's skipped a Christmas themed entry or two but I need to be in synch with her on this in order to have a proper chat about them.

Perhaps I can get her to watch the movies with me(I do have all of them on DVD) and make this a book club of two there. It makes sense that a series like this would hook my mother's occasional reading interest; it has three elements that we both enjoy-food, family and fictional murder mysteries to solve:

Friday, May 10, 2019

When it comes to book hauls, luck was a library lady for me!

I'm sorry to report that my last library haul was a bit of a bust-only one out of the three books that I borrowed was read to completion(the other two, I did give a good try, honest!).

However, better one than none, I suppose and in making a sooner than expected visit to the library this week,  my unexpected trip paid off quite nicely. In the new releases section, a copy of Sophie Kinsella's I Owe You One was easy to spot, almost as if it was waiting for me.

The leading lady of this story is Fixie Farr, youngest sibling of the family that has run an up-to-now successful home goods shop in West London. When their mother takes an extended vacation in Spain, Fixie finds herself being the only sensible person on hand who is aware of the troubles that the business is having.

Between the ludicrous schemes of her older brother and sister, along with the sudden appearance of an ex-boyfriend hoping to rekindle their romance, Fixie has enough on her plate as it is. That platter of problems threatens to overflow as she makes a connection with Seb Marlowe, an investment manager whose IOU keeps them in constant touch. Is Seb  her tipping over point or the promise of a better path in life for them both?

My reading luck seems to pop up with Sophie Kinsella titles lately, as Twenties Girl landed in my lap the other week and now this. Perhaps the universe just knows when you need a few good reads and Kinsella is a perfect fit for me right now:

My lucky library find was not a fluke, as Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy was also available barely a shelf away.

This prequel to the classic Anne of Green Gables focuses on the younger days of stern foster mother Marilla Cuthbert as she tackles the responsibilities  of home and family due to the sudden death of her mother.

When given the chance to see more of the world, thanks to her maternal aunt Izzy, she travels to Nova Scotia to work for the Ladies Aid Society by helping out at an orphanage that also serves as a depot for the Underground Railroad from America.

Torn between her new found independence and the possibility of making a life back home with long time love John Blythe, Marilla finds that there is more to consider than her own heart in the choices that must be made. As someone who only discovered the joys of Green Gables a few years ago, I am very open to a story like this that offers a good deal of backstory to a character that seems harsh on the surface but has more emotional nuance to share with those she truly loves:

There were a couple of other interesting books that pinged my regular reading radar but in the end, I decided to take a chance on a new cozy mystery series.

The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle is the second entry in Laura DiSilverio's Book Club Mystery series and since there are just three books at the moment, this is a good enough place to start.

Amy-Faye Johnson is an event planner whose book group also likes to solve murders as well as reading about them. Their latest selection is Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, which is giving them plenty of food for thought discussion wise.

When Amy's brother Derek is under suspicion for the sudden demise of his temperamental business partner for his new pub, she and the rest of her reading group decide to follow in the footsteps of M.Poirot and see if they can stop Derek from being railroaded right into jail.

This concept sounds like great fun and I hope the book talk also includes the movie adaptations as well(the latest remake of MOTOE wasn't much to write about, in my opinion. In that regard, the 1974 version did a much better job there):

So, my literary luck should result in perhaps finishing all three books before returning them to the library-hope springs eternal, as they say. Given the hectic nature of current events, the most stable thing in the world right is a good book worth reading and this new trio ought to add greatly to my TBR oasis indeed.

In the meantime, I wish you all a happy weekend of reading and a Happy Mother's Day to all of the maternal types out there. Regardless of age, moms are still people,too and gals who just want to have fun every now and then, so let them take their strut on the catwalk!: