Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, December 30, 2019

Setting up a New Year's brunch of new books for the start of 2020

It seems that we're just about done with 2019(thank goodness!) and apart from a tasty brunch to look forward to, a new book is the perfect thing to get your brand new year started.

Of course, my preferred brunch would be made up of books and this short yet savory list of upcoming reads for January and February of 2020 promises to be an appetizing menu for good reading indeed:


 Marie Benedict brings forth another overlooked lady of history with Lady Clementine, best known to many as the wife of Winston Churchill. Their marriage was a true partnership with Clementine helping her husband weather many a political storm even before he became Prime Minister.

With her assistance, Winston was encouraged to make major social changes such as support for the women's suffragette movement as well as crafting many of the speeches he gave to rally support from the government and the people.

However, balancing her family life with working with Winston was a real challenge, particularly as WWII loomed ever closer. Nonetheless, she persisted for the betterment of all. This engaging novel ought to be an enlightening surprise to those who think of Winston Churchill as a one man show-rather, he was the more prominent face of a dynamic duo that worked together to save the world(January):

In Allison Pataki's The Queen's Fortune, our leading lady is Desiree Clary, whose destiny becomes entwined with that of future ruler of France, Napoleon Bonaparte.

While her sister Julie is engaged to his brother Joseph, Desiree is swept off her feet by Napoleon, who promises to make her his bride. However, during his rise to power, she is supplanted by the older yet glamorous Josephine who eventually takes her place by his side upon the throne.

As Desiree stays within his social circle by marrying one of his  most valuable generals, Napoleon's ascent and ultimate fall from glory is witnessed by her to the bitter end. Pataki does have a flair for royal drama and this look at a potential queen cast aside promises to be a popcorn worthy page turner(February):


Gish Jen brings us to a not-too-distant future in her upcoming novel, The Resisters, where teen baseball star Gwen decides to use a golden opportunity to change her status for the better.

 As a member of The Surplus in AutoAmerica, she has no decent quality of life, unlike the ruling class known as The Netted. Her skills at pitching have caught the eye of a Netted recruiter who thinks she's their best bet to beat ChinRussia's team.

That chance would mean Gwen leaving her old friends behind, such as Ondi, who was punished by the government for sharing what they considered to be "forbidden" information online, as well as her family that resists the new way of the world as they sadly try to recall what life was like before. Will she do what is best for her or best for the next generation to come?

Gish Jen seems to be moving in a new direction with her work here and that sounds great, especially if we get an Orwellian take on A League of Their Own out of this creative change-up(Feb).

Megan Angelo's debut novel The Followers starts off in 2015 as celebrity reporter Orla makes a new online star out of her vapid roommate Floss. The instant success goes right to their heads but a bizarre accident called The Spill changes their lives, along with the rest of the world, for good.

By 2051, there are state sponsored celebrities whose lives are scripted for the entertainment of the internet masses and one of them, Marlow, decides to do a little research into her own backstory before tackling the pregnancy story line that's been issued to her.

As it turns out, Marlow's past is connected to Orla and Floss, making her rethink everything that her publicly viewed life has become. Will she be able to find her own tale to tell or forced to stick to the script no matter what? Angelo offers us a new way to examine our media obsessed and tech dominated culture with clever use of heart and mind(Jan.):


It's nice to be at the start of a new cozy mystery series and Ellery Adams already has the third entry in The Secret, Book and Scone Society series ready for the new year.

In The Book of Candlelight, the residents of Miracle Springs are doing their best with the torrential rains in their area that are causing the local inns to be overcrowded with travelers left stranded by flood waters.

Book shop owner Nora decides to help out, not to mention drum up a little business, and while she's eager to assist, the watery discovery of a dead body has her calling in her trio of good friends to find a killer.

The deceased is Danny, a pottery maker whose accidental death is anything but that. The clues to his demise may be linked to a rather old diary and the mysterious Inn of Mist and Roses, that takes Nora and company down a dangerous lane of inquiry that could put them all at risk. However, even the most sinister situations can be conquered with good, well meaning friends on hand and Adams provides that enchanting element in abundance(Jan):


 Happy New Year to all and I'll see you on the other side of the calendar page soon. There are so many wonderful stories to look forward to in 2020, both on and off screen, and while we have quite a bit of strife to go through, books can offer us plenty of hopeful heroes and heroines to inspire our journey together.

Speaking of heroines, I know that one of my all-time favorites will be returning to the silver screen with her golden lasso charged up and prepared for the necessary throwdown to come. With any luck, I'll be among the movie going crowds ready to cheer her on this summer:

Friday, December 27, 2019

Preparing to start a new year with a Winter's Respite readathon

Welcome back, folks, and I hope all of you are enjoying the holiday season as much as I am. As the new year approaches, there are plans to be made and mine begin with books, naturally.

To get things off to a fine start in 2020, Seasons of Reading(hosted by Michelle Miller) will have the Winter's Respite readathon for the whole month of January.

There is still plenty of time to sign up if you're interested and while fiction of all sorts  is strongly encouraged, nonfiction titles are perfectly fine as well. It's a nice relaxed way to join a few like minded friends in tackling your overgrowing TBR lists and/or your pile of holiday gift books.

My list includes some lovely novels that arrived under my Christmas tree along with one that I'll be reviewing for a blog tour related to Jane Austen and PBS. That last one may not be as easy to guess as you might think....

SANDITON: Yes, this is the upcoming PBS Masterpiece miniseries set to start on January 12 but this edition is not the unfinished work by Jane Austen. This book is a novelization of the Sanditon screenplay that was written by Andrew Davies(who also provides a foreword here) from author Kate Riordan.

As an uncompleted novel, which Austen was working on until her sad passing, there is much speculation as to what direction she might have taken it, given that the setting of the story was unlike any other in her prior books.

The title refers to a seaside town where locals such as the ambitious Tom Parker hope to expand their businesses and visitors like Charlotte Heywood and Georgiana Lambe seek their futures either with or without a romantic partner in tow.

I've been looking forward to this miniseries for months now and was very happy to be asked by Laurel Ann of Austenprose to take part in the blog tour for Riordan's adaptation.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the publisher who not only sent me a review copy of the novelization but the companion book, The World of Sanditon, to boot! I've already started reading that one and it's a delightful preview of the series as well as a nice refresher course in all things Jane Austen.

This indeed is a lovely way to start the new year and what better hostess than Jane Austen to make an old story feel so brand new:

THE WEDDING PARTY: Jasmine Guillory's third book pairs up a most unlikely couple-Theo and Maddie, who can't stand each other yet are willing to get along momentarily for the sake of their mutual friend Alexa.

That common bond leads them to a romantic encounter that lasts longer that either one of them expected it to. With Alexa's wedding approaching, Maddie and Theo decide to keep their possible relationship under wraps until then.

However, that secrecy is putting a strain on their personal and professional lives, leaving them both to wonder if keeping this secret is really worth all of the trouble.

I have to confess that due to having read the book that comes after this(Royal Holiday, which features Maddie's mother Vivian) already that I do know where this ends up. That doesn't mean that just because I know where the ultimate destination for these two characters is, I have no interest in their journey there. On the contrary, my curiosity is quite peaked, to say the least:

THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK: The leading lady of the title from Kim Michele Richardson is Cussy Mary Carter, a young woman living in Kentucky of 1936.

She has signed up for the Pack Horse Library Project, an idea that emerged from the New Deal in Washington, that intends to bring literature to those in rural areas. Due to her blue skin(a rare hereditary condition), Cussy has been made to feel isolated in her community but the book deliveries bring her more in contact with the world around her,allowing a few new friends to be made as well.

While the possibility of finding the cause of her skin condition and the chance for a new life are offered up to Cussy, she still has plenty of roadblocks in the way towards her future happiness,especially a wrathful preacher who unjustly blames her for the death of a relation.

This story has had a lot of good word of mouth, plus the Pack Horse Project was a real thing which makes this all the more intriguing to check out:

THE CHOCOLATE MAKER'S WIFE: Author Karen Brooks introduces us to Rosemund, who is living in the Restoration era of England and very willing to enter into an arranged marriage with a much older man in order to leave her disruptive household.

Her new husband ,Sir Everald Blithman, is happy to have her be the hostess of his new chocolate house which serves steaming hot sweet beverages to the elite. While Rosemund is eager to prove her worth, she soon discovers the true reason that Sir Everald wanted her as his wife.

As it turns out, Rosemund bears a striking resemblance to Helena, Blithman's late daughter who married Matthew Lovelace, a man that Everard considers his nemesis. This plan to irk his former son-in-law promises to backfire on him as Rosemund is less than thrilled to be a pawn in either man's privately declared war and has her own agenda in mind for the future of the chocolate house and those who benefit or suffer by it's merits.

This blend of historical fiction with the development of commercial chocolate sounds deliciously page turning and should go well with a nice cup of warm cocoa on the cold nights to come:

The Winter's Respite readathon begins on January 1st and lasts until the end of the month and while you can begin or end when you want to here, it is more fun to share this bookish time with good friends, in my opinion. Also, this is a great way to extend the holiday season-don't take those lights down yet, you may need them to read by!:

Monday, December 23, 2019

Some holiday tunes to set off the season right!

It's become a regular tradition here at LRG to put up a playlist for Christmas and since today is the day before the night before the big event, some seasonal tunes are in order, I do believe.

I also want to wish a Happy Chanukah to those out there who have just begun their celebrations, along with a Happy Winter Solstice greeting which may be a little late there and an advance Happy Kwanzaa(which starts on the 26th).

Yes, this Christmas jukebox post is also a herald for a small blog break but I do intend to have a post or two up before the end of the year(got a nice book preview for early winter 2020 in the works!).
For now, let's put on some music to dance around the tree with:

One of my favorite Christmas songs from the modern era is "Christmas In Hollis" from Run-DMC, a song that not only has a fun video to go with it but fits wells into so many other moments of media.

From being a contribution to the first A Very Christmas fundraising album to popping up on TV shows such as The Office and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and making appearances in holiday themed films like the should-be-undisputed classic Die Hard, this hip-hop tribute to Santa Claus has my spirits chilling just like a snowman:

Speaking of great movies, I felt that having an Elton John number would be the best way to honor one of the best movies that I saw this year(three times, as a matter of fact!).

It's wonderful to see Rocketman get some award show attention so far and hopefully, that will extend to some Oscar love early in the new year. For now, we ought to just be happy enough to "Step into Christmas" with the one and only Elton Hercules John:

I'm not a big podcast listener but this year, I have been enjoying Song Vs. Song  which is co-hosted by YouTube reviewer Todd in the Shadows and SyFy's Dany Roth. The basic concept is that they put up a pair of songs to debate the merits of such as "You Oughta Know" and "Criminal", with folks on their Patreon getting to vote for the winner.

Well, they did a holiday episode and the fight was between "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"(Rudolph won, of course). During their discussion, a number of cover versions of each song were mentioned and while it's oddly interesting to hear Fiona Apple sing "Frosty", I do agree with Dany that Kacey Musgraves has a good take on "Rudolph", very playlist worthy:

Another great cover version of a childhood classic is "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" from the Pointer Sisters. Their rendition of the song debuted on the A Very Special Christmas album(the first one was the best, in my opinion) and there are none to rival it.

Yes, I know others have done a good job with this number, even the evergreen holiday diva Mariah Carey, but the energy and joy that singing siblings Ruth, Anita and June gave to the song were hard to beat.

These days, Ruth has teamed up with her nieces Issa and Sadako to continue the group and while it's not quite the same, the heartfelt family vibe is very much alive there:

As an end piece, I went with the closing credits song from Scrooged and while it may not be thought of as a Christmas tune, I firmly believe that it counts. Especially as we are all entering a most uncertain new year indeed, the idea of "Put a Little Love in your Heart" seems to be truly fitting.

So, Happy Holidays, folks and see you all soon before the season ends:

Monday, December 16, 2019

Miss Emma Woodhouse invites you to a Jane Austen birthday party!

For many of us, Jane Austen's birthday is an early Christmas present as that good lady was kind enough to enter the world in December of 1775(making this the 244th celebration of her life and works).

As an Austen fan myself, I do enjoy honoring her special day and for this year's party, one of her finest leading ladies who has the distinction of having her particular story named after her, Emma, is the perfectly proper hostess for this occasion.

While I may not be as taken with Miss Woodhouse as many of my fellow Austenians are, I have grown to appreciate her numerous good qualities along with watching the various film/TV adaptations of her tale over the years. For this year's entertainment, let us take a look at some of those excellent visual visits to Emma's home of Highbury:

My favorite of the adaptations is the 1996 made for TV version starring Kate Beckinsale, who fully embodies the headstrong heroine in my mind.

The supporting cast has plenty of wonderful British actors such as Mark Strong who plays a rather firm yet endearing Mr. Knightley, a youthful Samantha Morton as eager to please Harriet Smith and Bernard Hepton makes for a delightfully nervous Mr. Woodhouse.

In fact, Hepton had played an Austen father figure before this production in a BBC miniseries of Mansfield Park(with Samantha Bond as his daughter Maria, who shows up here as Miss Taylor/Mrs.Weston). A nice little bonus there for British TV admirers!

With a script by Andrew Davies, who made a few welcome changes such as harvest dance to wrap the story up, and the film folk who made the quite successful Pride & Prejudice series featuring a certain wet shirted actor, this take on Emma is uniformly charming. I usually watch it around this time of year as I do consider Emma to be a Christmas movie(it does have a pivotal plot point during a Christmas party outing) and a birthday treat all in one:

Also in 1996, a theatrical edition of Emma was released with Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role, Toni Collette as Harriet and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley.

Granted, I'm not a big fan of this film but I do credit writer/director Douglas McGrath for having a nice flair for the comedic tones of the original novel.

Not to mention that many of the casting choices that were made, with Alan Cumming as the eternally ingratiating Mr. Elton, Ewan McGregor as the deceptively delightful Frank Churchill and Juliet Stevenson as the inevitably obnoxious Mrs. Elton, were well suited for the humorous themes focused on here.

It's also an elegant looking film, with even small scenes being brought to vivid life with rich colors and smartly selected settings that kept your eye most agreeably engaged:

One of the best modern adaptations was the web series Emma Approved, created by the same folks who gave us The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and this online saga also won an Emmy just like LBD did.

Joanna Sotomura's performance as Emma Woodhouse, lifestyle coach, is instantly appealing and her co-stars are a fine fit as well. Brent Bailey as her Mr. Knightley is a real charmer here.

What I really liked about this series(which had a brief revival last year) was how well they updated the story to a 21 century time period, with Harriet being Emma's office assistant, a sweetly shy gal with musical talent, Robert Martin turned into IT guy Bobby and Miss Bates as Maddie Bates , a family friend with a small accounting business of her own.

Out of all of the portrayals of Miss Bates, the well meaning yet incredibly chatty neighbor who can't resist praising her beloved niece Jane Fairfax to the skies, I truly adore this incarnation of her with a oddly flavored jam making hobby and keen financial sense:

While the most recent Emma adaptation in 2009 wasn't everything I hoped for,  I did find great pleasure in seeing  Jonny Lee Miller play Mr. Knightley.

Miller not only has wonderful chemistry with Romola Garai(who does a lovely version of Emma Woodhouse in this series), he is no stranger to Jane Austen country.

He's appeared in two versions of Mansfield Park, the first a small role as one of Fanny Price's little brothers in the 1983 BBC miniseries(the only decent adaptation of the book so far, in my opinion) and the other as Edmund Bertram in the eyebrow raising 1999 movie.

 His talents are better served in this version of Emma, making a perfect partner for Miss Woodhouse to match her considerable wits against here:

 To conclude this Emma themed party, we have the early gift of a fresh new film due out in 2020, with Anna Taylor-Joy as our handsome, rich and clever heroine. With any luck, this movie will set off a wave of Jane Austen interest that will sustain us throughout the year.

Happy birthday, Miss Austen, and thank you ever so much for creating such amazing female characters  in print that generation after generation can't resist reviving for us on screens big and small:

Friday, December 13, 2019

Making a merry meal out of my Christmas Spirit readathon

Yes, I am a bit tardy with this wrap-up of my reading for the Christmas Spirit readathon,hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading, but I hope to be forgiven due to the hectic nature of this time of year.

I did at least finished two of the three books that I selected for this holiday challenge and both titles gave me a truly tasty start to the season.

First up was A Cup of Holiday Fear, the tenth entry in Ellie Alexander's Bakeshop Mystery series, where Juliet "Jules" Capshaw is celebrating Christmas with her newly married mother and charming stepdad police detective that everyone calls "The Professor", plus her family of staff members old and new at the beloved family bakery Torte.

The whole town of Ashland,Oregon is more than happy to embrace the holiday spirit(which also helps the local economy) but other than regular grouch Richard Lord, the only other person around who has no interest in the festivities is theater director Lance. Jules is determined to get him into the swing of seasonal things but Lance is not too keen on that, especially since his family ties are rather frayed at the moment.

What does perk him up a bit is a murder that lands right in front of them, as the annual Dickens feast at the Winchester hotel is plagued by a number of mishaps, including the shocking death of Cami, an unwelcome guest planning to buy the hotel and tear the long standing building down. While Jules wants to help the present owners, Mr. and Mrs, McBeth, with their situation, she can't help but wonder if someone much too close to them is the chilly culprit.

I do like how Lance manages to regain the Christmas spirit with the opportunity to solve a case and that Jules didn't have to push him too hard into getting out of Scrooge mode. Their friendship is one of the high points of the series and just listening to their engaging debates is part of the fun here:

The mystery does get solved without too much ruckus, although there are a couple of dramatic twists and turns added in to keep the plot points lively.

What is always on focus is the holiday mood,from the local Christmas parade to the charming details of the Dickens feast that has live carolers, specially chosen ornaments given out by Santa to the guests and of course, appearances by Ebenezer Scrooge(wouldn't be right without that classic character around!).

Plus, this being a foodie mystery, the recipes described here are merrily mouth watering. I'm not much of a cook for many reasons but this is one book that does tempt a person to try making some of these sweetly scrumptious treats.

Or you could just watch Ellie Alexander's 31 Days of Cookies videos online this month as a holiday release special. Since her next Bakeshop Mystery won't be available until June of 2020(Nothing Bundt Trouble, I adore that title!), these videos are a good way to keep your reading spirits bright until then:

I then paired this delicious drink of detection with a nice slice of Christmas Cake Murder, courtesy of Joanne Fluke. Since this story is an origin tale of sorts, I don't have to worry about getting too far ahead of myself with the Hannah Swensen stories.

This book takes place while Hannah is home from college during the holidays, hoping to help her despondent mother Delores deal with the recent death of much loved husband and father , Lars. Thanks to a pair of local ladies, the chance to liven the spirits of a longtime resident of Lake Eden seems to do the trick.

 Elderly widow Essie Granger takes a bad fall and has to stay in hospice until a better living arrangement can be found for her. Her reminiscences of the Christmas Ball, once held at a hotel in need of revival, that also had a Christmas Cake parade inspires Delores to bring that tradition back. She recruits just about everyone about her to take part, especially Hannah who loves to bake.

Hannah is not only happy to see her mother take part in the world again but she's ready to make a major life decision for herself. Upon the disappointing romance that she had with a professor at her school, Hannah wants to leave college to start up a bakery of her own in town. Delores is more than thrilled at that notion and eager to help her daughter in that endeavor. Given their usual tension in the books, it's nice to see Hannah and Delores bond like this.

It's also great to check out the cake recipes that Hannah and friends are looking into for the parade of cakes, with a major one being an "unbeatable" lemon bundt cake. Bundts are perfect picks for this time of year as they make for excellent wreath cakes, if you ask me:

The murder part of the story occurs as Hannah finds a set of notebooks in which Essie was writing a "novel" that she allows Hannah and family to read.

The plot of that work in progress involves a woman on the run as her husband was targeted by gangsters. While Hannah is completely engrossed in the story, she has a sneaking suspicion that what she's reading is more than an attempt at fiction.

The overall story,however, is very laid back and a completely relaxing read for the holidays. It's fun to see Hannah before her official sleuthing days(and boyfriends to choose from!). Fluke does have several Christmas themed Hannah Swensen books and while I haven't read them all, this one may become my favorite, right after Plum Pudding Murder, that is!:

Thanks again to Michelle Miller for setting up this readathon(and again, sorry for the lateness of this post!) and I am making plans for Winter's Respite this upcoming January. In the meanwhile, if you are seeking a Christmas themed movie that hasn't been played over a thousand times on TV by this point, I highly recommend The Man Who Invented Christmas.

Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens plays a charming but not too sugar coated version of Charles Dickens as he struggles to write A Christmas Carol. Plenty of great English actors such as Christopher Plummer in the cast, with a nice whimsical take on the writing process and that old school British vibe makes for a delightful cinematic surprise here. Happy Holidays, folks with good reading to all and to all, a good holiday movie tonight!:

Monday, December 09, 2019

Molly Greeley shows us that Charlotte Lucas is more than The Clergyman's Wife

As any Jane Austen fan would attest to, it is quite the universal truth that Pride & Prejudice is the most popular novel that Miss Austen wrote and as such, there is no shortage of books that expand upon that story.

While many of those works focus on Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, we do occasionally get novels that talk about some of the supporting players(such as Mary Bennet) and it is so refreshing to see where those pivotal characters on the story sidelines end up.

One such tale is The Clergyman's Wife by debut author Molly Greeley. The title refers to Charlotte Collins, formerly Lucas, who was able to help both her friend Elizabeth and herself by accepting the marriage proposal of Mr. Collins, cousin of the Bennet family who is also heir to their estate of Longbourn.

We met up with Charlotte three years after the events of P&P, where she is reasonably content with her lot in life. While Lady Catherine's constant interference is almost a daily occurrence and her husband's eagerness to do his patron's bidding can be a bit much, Charlotte does have her own home to command along with the joy of having a thriving daughter named Louisa and keeping up a correspondence with her dear friend Elizabeth Darcy:

Nevertheless, Charlotte is rather lonely and longs for someone to truly talk to. That much needed friend turns up unexpectedly due to another one of Lady Catherine's endeavors.

A local farmer, Mr. Travis, is prevailed upon by Her Ladyship to assist in planting a set of rose bushes at the Collins' home. During his visits, Charlotte finds his company more than just agreeable as he is a man with a sense of humor and intellectual pursuits beyond his regular line of work.

Despite her reluctance to seek out his companionship, Charlotte decides to increase her role as parish wife and make a few home visits to those unable to attend church regularly. That list happens to include Mr. Travis' father, who was once a gardener for Lady Catherine's estate, and by bringing little Louisa along, she delights both father and son.

However, other occasions occur that throw Charlotte and the younger Mr. Travis together, making her quietly yet steadily nervous that their true feelings about each other may be revealed to the world:

Those emotional struggles come to a head as a not entirely unexpected life event happens, causing Charlotte to seriously consider what the next phase of her life should be and with whom.

This book is written in a lovely contemplative style, giving us clear insights into Charlotte's past as well as her present, all of which are in tune with the source material.

Greeley paints a delicate portrait of not only Charlotte but the small section of the world in which she lives, allowing a larger canvas for those with no choice other than revolving about Rosings, which is beautifully described and easy to see why walking those grounds would be worth dealing with Lady Catherine's vexing whims.

While Elizabeth and Darcy play a small part in this story, having Charlotte's viewpoint on that relationship is great to see and certainly grants the constant P&P reader a very nicely done perspective on that there:

While it does add greatly to the pleasure of enjoying this engaging novel, The Clergyman's Wife can offer considerable delights for those who have not yet read Pride and Prejudice with it's heartfelt depiction of a woman trapped in a social role and making the best of things as she can.

I am very happy indeed to have taken part in the blog tour for this wonderful book (you can find out more about the tour at Austenprose )and this touching tale of what could be is something that I sincerely believe Jane Austen herself would appreciate:

Friday, December 06, 2019

Meg & Jo prove that these Little Women are for all seasons

If you asked me "What is the first book that was imprinted on you as a child?", my instant answer would be "Little Women by Louisa May Alcott."

I still have the illustrated hardcover version that was given to me as a Christmas present low these many years ago(and yes, I do have a couple of other editions besides that one) and make a point of it to reread this tale of the sisters March every so often.

With that in mind, I must tell you that it's been a pure delight this season in reading Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra, a modern day retelling of the LMA classic. As the title indicates, the focus here is on the elder March sisters but Beth and Amy are included as well(plus, they're getting their own book-more on that later!) but instead of New England, this story is set in North Carolina, where Marmee runs a small farm as Father March is a military chaplain who works with displaced veterans during his off hours.

Although all of the girls are grown-up in this novel, we do get some flashbacks to their younger years and even a version of "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents", which you can't leave out of any Little Women themed story, not at all!:

All of the March daughters are living on their own and far from home except for Meg, who is a stay at home mom dealing with rambunctious twins Daisy and DJ. Her husband John was a coach at the local high school but left that job in order to take a better paying one as a car salesman.

Meg was working at the bank, enjoying the use of her practical skills in helping folks get much needed loans, but gave that up to be the traditional mother. It seems that neither of them are completely happy with this set-up and things get more complicated when Meg's mother starts having serious health problems.

While she wants to be all things to all of the people in her life, Meg is beginning to see that boxing herself into too many corners is not the best solution. She needs to be reminded of her innate greatness perhaps with the aid of a certain sister there:

Speaking of Jo, she's in New York pursuing her writing dreams, which have taken an interesting turn.

After her journalism job was downsized, Jo started up a foodie blog that is steadily growing a following. What pays her bills, however, is her prep cook position at Gusto, one of the most popular restaurants in the city.

Owner and head chef Eric Bhaer is as passionate about his food as he is about Jo, as the two of them start up a slowly simmering yet sexy romance. Trouble is, he despises the whole internet food scene with a particular scorn for "hipster bloggers."

While Jo hasn't been forthcoming with her true online identity, she is worried that telling him would cool their intimacy off for good. Yet, it's only a matter of time before that revelation needs to be made and the sooner, the better as it's only fair that Jo be as open about her artistic inspirations as Eric is:

Both sisters soon realize that they have to work together as their parents' situation, with some financial woes making Marmee's ongoing medical problems worse, is in need of all of the March women to make it work as best as possible.

The plot goes between Meg's viewpoint and Jo's, allowing a solid back and forward that anchors the reader nicely. While the settings and situations may be more modern in scope than the source material, Kantra keeps things on an even keel, putting the emotional growth of the characters first which is what makes Little Women such a compelling literary icon in the first place.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a follow-up to this book planned for release sometime next year entitled Beth & Amy, with the former being a singer/songwriter and the latter a fashionista in Paris. Meg & Jo has an excerpt to that book at the end of this one yet don't wait for both of these novels to be available at once as M&J will most assuredly whet your page turning appetite and should not be delayed at all costs!

With the approach of a new cinematic Little Women, it is wonderful to have a great companion book of sorts to enjoy while waiting for movie tickets and popcorn. Meg & Jo is a clever, engaging read that honors the legacy of Alcott while breathing a little fresh life into it's leading ladies, a pleasure not to be denied indeed:

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

My last Library Haul of 2019, plus a taste of Turkey Day Murder

Welcome back, folks, and I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving celebrations with as little as fuss as possible and plenty to eat.

 After my holiday festivities, the highlight of Thanksgiving weekend for me was making one last visit to the library for this year, at least.

Since this season is going to be rather busy,along with the weather getting more comic book villain chilly(in the aftermath of the first snow storm of the year as we speak), I needed to pick up a couple of titles that could last me until January,due to renewals, and my choices fell into the historical fiction realm.

The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory takes us to the infamous Lady Jane Grey, whose father placed her on the English throne in order to block Catholic Princess Mary from claiming the crown. While Jane's fate was quickly sealed, we also get a look at what happened to her two sisters, Katherine and Mary, who felt they would be safe from the royal wrath of the new Queen.

However, as Katherine makes a secret marriage and her sister makes similar errors in judgement, it appears that all three siblings may be reunited sooner than expected in a rather tragic way. It's been awhile since I've read Gregory yet I do like her work and watching the Spanish Princess miniseries on Starz earlier this year(which has a Part Two set for 2020!) has whetted my bookish appetite considerably here:

My other selection was a Fiona Davis title, The Address. The residence in question is the Dakota hotel in Manhattan, well known in the best and unfortunately infamous sense of the term.

In 1884, Sara Smythe leaves London to take a job as a maid in the Dakota and becomes professionally and personally involved with Theo Camden, the architect of the place. Her connection to him goes from being somewhat respectable to outright scandalous, taking her to an end that she may not have deserved.

Her story is discovered in 1985 by Bailey, a recovering party girl putting her energy into remodeling the apartment in the Dakota that she inherited. As Bailey digs more into the past, she finds that Sara's secrets have an unexpected link to her present day life. Can this renovation of a former glory bring a bit of closure to Sara's sad tale and show Bailey a new path for her future?

I have heard good word of mouth about Davis' books and thought this one would be a great way to check her out, so to speak. I also like that part of the novel is set in the Gilded Age, giving the story a backstage pass to an Edith Wharton experience vibe:

 Before that library trip, I downloaded a copy of Leslie Meier's Turkey Day Murder to get the spirit of the seasoning happy holiday and it was a fitting appetizer of a read.

Lucy Stone is our detective here, in the small Maine town of Tinker's Cove , and her part time job as reporter for the local paper brings her to a contentious town meeting where Native American activist Curt Nolan is angering opponents and allies of his cause alike.

When Curt is found dead at the local high school football game, there are way too many suspects to consider yet Lucy did promise one of his dear friends to look into the case. Between her sleuthing and Thanksgiving Day preparations, she has quite a lot on her plate but Lucy is determined to find a good solution for all concerned.

The small town setting of the story and Lucy's attempts to cope with the holiday hassles, such as her  fresh from college son Toby dropping in with some uninvited guests, was comfortably charming to read. While this happens to be the seventh title in her Lucy Stone series, Meier makes a new reader like me feel right at home in her little corner of the world.

Although the mystery elements were nicely done, the main appeal of the book is Lucy dealing with her everyday life, adding a cozy old fashioned sitcom feel to the story( her husband's attitude at one point, however, is rather too old school for my taste!). I have no doubt that I will be tuning into this holiday themed mystery series again, sometime soon:

Well, this has certainly been a nice start to my winter holiday season and yes, my Christmas Spirit readathon is doing well,too, with having finished up A Cup of Holiday Fear and taking a piece of Christmas Cake Murder for my next literary serving.

I do like this time of year despite the increasing cold temperatures or because of them, perhaps? After all , it is more comfortable to read indoors than out during December, especially since gloves do tend to slow down your page turning indeed:

Friday, November 22, 2019

Giving thanks for a Series-ous Reading slice of Key Lime Pie Murder

While I did chose Joanne Fluke's Key Lime Pie Murder as a fitting literary treat for my Series-ous Reading selection for this November, it's not exactly a fall season type of book. Mind you, that's on me not the author and this was a fun read regardless of that but I really know that this was a warm weather mystery that I saved for a rainy day there.

For one thing, the story is set in early summer as the town of Lake Eden is consumed with the annual Tri-County Fair and Hannah Swensen is doing her part to make the good times roll.

Business may be slow at The Cookie Jar but Hannah and her bakery partner Lisa are doing well enough with a fair ground booth, plus our leading lady was chosen as one of the judges for the various pastry contests being held at the fair.

The judging is going well and it helps to keep Hannah from worrying too much about her beloved cat Moishe(who is acting strangely, even by his usual standards!) there. However, when she discovers the body of Willa, a local home economics teacher who was one of Hannah's fellow judges, after dark upon leaving the fair, the good old summer time mood is definitely over.

I do love how the whole town throws itself into the festivities, especially when Hannah has to play magician's assistant in place of Lisa(she gets claustrophobic during a "lady in the box" trick) and Delores, Hannah's cheerfully determined mother, sets up a dunking booth for her favorite charity with the full intention of having all of her daughters take their turn in getting drenched for the cause.

One of the more amusing sub plots here is Hannah's determination to taste a deep fried candy bar, available at a booth run by a rather sweet natured lady, but not wanting anyone else to see her eating something so decadent. Granted, I wish Hannah didn't feel so self conscious about enjoying a guilty pleasure like this but I can safely say that she does get her sweet reward in the end:

As to Hannah's love life, we get a lot more of Norman here than Mike and hell, yes, I'm all for that.

The two main men in her orbit are back to their not-so friendly rivalry mode(after teaming up against a third guy looking to romance Hannah in the prior entry, Cherry Cheesecake Murder) but it's Norman who spends more time with Hannah, helping her with the new mystery as well as with Moishe.

Also, when Hannah gets upset about the way Mike and Norman casually talk about Willa's death-on the same night that she's found the brutally murdered woman, mind you-and kicks them out of her house, it's Norman who is the first to apologize.

Sure, Mike is a cop and his depersonalized take on murder is understandable yet Hannah only gets his true feelings on that by accidentally overhearing a conversation that Mike has with another police officer! It would have been better if he just told Hannah himself because this way just lets him off the hook too easily.

Look, Mike is a decent guy but Norman is the real keeper in my opinion. He not only gets Hannah and supports her in all of her endeavors, the man even had a special staircase built in his house for Hannah's cat to enjoy(a house they designed together,btw). I do know who she does end up with yet can't help but hold out hope for Norman to be the one when all is said and done. He's the Luke to her Lorelai in my mind, at least:

The murder mystery is solved in the regular manner of these stories(Hannah finds body, Hannah hunts for clues, Hannah winds up fighting off the killer) but it's well handled and we see enough of Willa in the story to have some true sympathy for her demise.

Even though this isn't a Thanksgiving themed story, there's plenty of family bonding moments and good friends on board to make this book feel just right for the season.

Plus, pie always makes me think of Thanksgiving -it's the official dessert of the holiday if you ask me-and what ever flavor you prefer, it's the perfect end note to the edible melody that we all share on this day:

I'll be back in December(taking a little turkey day time off here) with more book talk which includes a couple of blog tours for titles featuring Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and a modern take on Little Women, so watch this space!

Yes, the Series-ous Reading will continue as well and plans are under way for another round of this reading and reviewing in 2020.

 For my 2019 finale, I'll be diving into the first book of Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope series, Mr. Churchill's Secretary and the one that comes after it, Princess Elizabeth's Spy ,will be part of a special feature for Series-ous Reading 4.0-more details next month!

Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving to all and looking forward to meeting Maggie Hope to see how she starts her amazing WWII adventures. No doubt working for Winston Churchill will be quite the challenge but I have every confidence that Maggie will prove herself to be equally formidable:

Monday, November 18, 2019

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas Spirit readathon time!

While I am a strong advocate for the spirit of Thanksgiving, getting ready for the big winter holiday that's right around the corner in advance is just a smart thing to do.

With that in mind, my TBR for the upcoming Christmas Spirit readathon which is hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading(who is also having a longer holiday themed challenge at her other site) is ready to be revealed.

 Although your list for this readathon doesn't have to be made up of only Christmas themed books, I'm keeping mine short and sweet,particularly with the culinary cozy mysteries that are perfectly flavored for fun here:

A CUP OF HOLIDAY FEAR: This tenth entry in the Bakeshop Mystery series has Juliet "Jules" Capshaw planning to make merry with her pastry crew at Torte as they plan to attend a special celebration, a seasonal feast in the spirit of Charles Dickens, at the local Winchester hotel.

Jules and her mom have known the owners,Jon and Emma McBeth, for years and are surprised to hear that they're selling the place, especially to a rather obnoxious woman who is planning to make too many changes to the hotel and none of them for the better.

Nonetheless, the party is going well yet a sudden snow storm and a deadly discovery in the wine cellar has Jules taking off her Santa hat and putting on a sleuthing cap instead. Can she save Christmas present before someone else's future holiday plans are put on permanent hold?

I've been enjoying this series for quite some time and it's nice to have a holiday edition that's done with a Dickensian flair. As a bonus, author Ellie Alexander is doing a "31 Days of Cookies" video series along with a big giveaway at the end of it, a truly sweet gesture indeed:

CHRISTMAS CAKE MURDER: It may seem like I'm skipping ahead in the Hannah Swensen series but this story happens to be a prequel of sorts ,so it's more like turning back time sans Cher.

Joanne Fluke gives us an origin story here as Hannah is home from college, hoping to make the first Christmas season without her beloved father,who recently passed away, more bearable for her mother Delores.

During their busy holiday plans, they come across a unfinished manuscript for a mystery novel by local widow Essie Granger(who is in the hospital recovering from a fall).

 Mother and daughter read a bit from the work in progress each night, becoming more intrigued with the plot but not realizing that it's based on an actual scandal from the past. Will those secrets be revealed at the upcoming Christmas Ball, being revived in Essie's honor, or be buried even deeper than an unwanted fruit cake in the trash?

This sounds like a sweet seasonal treat and you just know the cake recipes included within this tempting tale will be lusciously lovely as well:

CHRISTMAS ON THE ISLAND: Jenny Colgan's novels are always a delight and when she sets up a series such as the Mure Island books, having a holiday story among them is like placing the perfect bow on a well wrapped present.

Mure Island is off the coast of Scotland, a small yet colorful village where the arrival of a wealthy new neighbor has sparked new life for the community. Part of that spark also comes from Flora, who has moved back home and found a new dream by opening up Cafe By The Sea, plus bringing her former boss Joel along for the ride.

While their romance is going smoothly, a major announcement that must be made by Flora could change the whole course of their future together. It helps to have her family nearby for support but their reactions can be as unpredictable as Joel's might be. Can she keep the good holiday feelings flowing or could this be the last Christmas for them both?

A Jenny Colgan Christmas is something to eagerly savor and who knows, maybe someday one of her wonderful books might become one of those holiday movies that folks clamor to watch every year:

The Christmas Spirit readathon begins on November 25 and ends on December 8, which is a good way to start your season off with some peppermint scented page turning. Also, with the weather getting colder, this is a good excuse to stay inside and read rather than venture out into the chilliness except perhaps for a sleigh ride or two:

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The LRG Best Books I've Read in 2019 List

It's that time of year when we get ready for the winter holidays and start putting out those "Best of..." lists and yes, this happens to be mine for 2019.

Mind you, this list is made up of books that I've fully completed reading(a lot of worthy titles are still in my current reading/stalled for the moment pile) and all of them are fiction.

With all of the chaos prominently featured in the headlines these days, I find myself seeking comfort from my best bet for just that, novels. Nothing against poetry or short stories(more into the latter than the former) but a novel is just suitably satisfying for my needs and perhaps yours as well:


 It's been a wonderful year for retellings of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, with top honors going to Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal.

Set in Pakistan during the early 2000s, the Binat sisters are all available to be wed, although independent minded daughter Alys prefers to pursue a teaching career rather than go husband hunting with her over anxious mother and giddy younger sisters Qitty and Lady.

While encouraging her beloved older sister Jena in finding love, Alys keeps running into Valentine Darsee, a man who may appreciate a good book but is as snobbish about status as most of his less than well-to-do neighbors. Can these two ever agree about anything other than literature, especially when one of them has made judgements that affect more than one person's chance for happiness?

This take on P&P is a delight, enriching the source material with modern insights and good old fashioned story telling that makes you wish for an adaptation just as grand as any starring the perfect Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet of your dreams:

Another engaging look at P&P is Uzma Jalaluddin's Ayesha At Last, where the narrative is evenly divided between Khalid, a shy young man whose traditional way of life can be isolating at times and Ayesha, starting a teaching career but who longs to pursue her dreams of poetry.

With Khalid's mother determined to get him married and Ayesha covering for her light hearted cousin Hasfa, the two of them often run into each other and find themselves clashing on so many things.

However, they both share a love of family which helps them to see the true nature of one another, with a little help from those who really care about their ultimate happiness. Set in modern day Canada, this refreshing romance celebrates love and life with a zest that's shiny and new and yet, embraces the best of classic Jane Austen there:


Speaking of blending the current with the classic, it was a real joy to have the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer be reborn in Slayer by Kiersten White.

Using a continuation of the BTVS story from the graphic novel series, this YA novel takes place after the age of Buffy as magic is being cast out of the mortal world.

However, one last slayer is called and her name is Nina, daughter of one of the few Watchers left and whose twin sister Artemis was always expected to take the title of Chosen One. Nina has never wanted to be a Slayer and is less than thrilled with this mantle,especially since Artemis is furious about this situation.

Yet, there are other things to worry about as Nina must make some hard choices and new friends in order to find out what is happening to the nonhuman beings still left in this reality. Filled with the wit and heart of the original series, this Slayer saga(it's the first entry in a trilogy set to give us part two next year,I believe) certainly has an old school fan like me riveted to read more:


The expression "tailor made" certainly seems to fit for folks like me when it comes to The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman.

In this whimsical wonder of a story, our leading lady of the title is living what she considers to be a very satisfying existence , complete with the perfect bookstore job, a cozy home with a cat and trivia contest nights with a select group of friends.

Her rather tidy life is turned upside down when a lawyer visits her one day to announce that Nina's supposedly unknown father has recently died, leaving her something substantial in his will. He also had another family, giving Nina a whole new slew of folks to deal, plus the captain of a rival trivia team has caught her eye and then some.

As Nina sorts out her new set of circumstances, we become enchanted with this buoyant heroine and her book loving ways,turning the pages eagerly to discover if she truly gets the ending that she deserves and you are well rewarded indeed.

Meanwhile, debut author Roselle Lim dazzles us with Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune, where an adult daughter returns home to make peace with her mother's memory as well as pay homage to the culinary legacy of her grandmother.

Natalie simply intends at first to wrap up the remains of her agoraphobic mother's life but seeing the fading status of the neighborhood as well as finding the legendary recipe book of her well renowned grandmother, she decides to reopen the long closed family restaurant.

In order to bring good vibes to her enterprise, Natalie prepares some of the book's dishes for her neighbors, hoping to cure their emotional ills along with hers. While that doesn't go exactly as planned, she finds a new sense of self and perhaps a true love of her life along the way.

Lim blends her own unique stew of magical story telling, food love and heart that makes you want a second serving right away. Fortunately, her next novel, Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop, is due out in 2020, making that wait a bit more bearable there:


 To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect upon picking up Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Sure, it was chosen to be a selection of Reese Witherspoon's book club and had gotten some solid praise,along with an adaptation deal, but it was one of those "okay, let me see for myself" reads.

Well, it turned out to be a stay-up-all-night to finish book and not just because I got it from the library. This fictional history of the title band from the 1970s gives each member of the group a chance to tell their side of their rise and fall story with intimate emotions and a song in their collective hearts.

The most compelling moments of this musical journey are centered upon Daisy, a talented singer who openly embraces her inner demons and Billy Dunne, a singer/songwriter who battles his on a daily basis. Their reluctant connection begins and ends the band yet it's not blaming anyone for what was perhaps meant to be. Instead, this tale of like minded souls who loved and hated each other plays on the page like a perfect duet of heart and soul:

Well, the year is not over yet and there's still plenty of great books to read out there. However, I feel that this is a pretty good representation of the best ones that I came across in 2019 and I hope that your own list was just as fun and fulfilling.

As we head onward towards a fresh new year, let us keep in mind that despite what ever turmoils and troubles that might be in our path, there is always a good book around to help us deal with that:

Friday, November 08, 2019

Some cozy mystery dishes to add to your Thanksgiving fictional feast

As Thanksgiving is on the holiday horizon once again, I do worry that it's getting ignored by those who see this heartwarming celebration as merely a speed bump on the Christmas highway.

With that in mind, I thought it would be good to highlight some Turkey Day themed reading and what better genre to do some one stop shopping in than cozy mysteries? Even if the series in question is not food related, there's still a good amount of seasonal sleuthing to be found here.

 So here are a few books that should pair up nicely with your traditional Thanksgiving meal, before and after dinner, to get you right into the savory spirit of things.

 To start, our main course is Murder of a Botoxed Blonde by Denise Swanson from her Scumble River books. School psychologist Skye Denison is less than thrilled by the prospect of spending her Thanksgiving at a health spa, where tofu turkey is on the menu. However, urged by her best friend Trixie(plus the chance to avoid playing hostess to a swarm of relatives), she decides to give the experience a decent try.

As the over emphasis on beauty treatments makes Skye feel uncomfortable, her stay becomes more tense when one of the glamorous guests is discovered drowned to death in a meant to be relaxing mudbath.

Teaming up with her friends to solve the case, Skye hopes to have a happy Thanksgiving with no more empty place settings at the table. Sounds like festive fun, although the prospect of tofu turkey is scary enough as it is to a meat eater like me:

Next up is Krista Davis' The Diva Runs Out of Thyme, the first in the Domestic Diva mysteries and the lady of the title is Sophie Winston who is planning some payback with a killer recipe for stuffing.

She intends no actual harm to her longtime rival in life and love, Natasha Smith, but the chance to earn a win against her in the upcoming Stupendous Stuffing contest this Thanksgiving is too good to pass up.

Unfortunately, the discovery of a dead body and superficial evidence tying her to the crime is putting a major crimp in Sophie's holiday plans. Can she find the true killer in time for the contest or will orange be the new black for Sophie's future Thanksgiving plans?

Granted, I'm not a stuffing fan but even I know the importance of that side dish to the occasion and no doubt this tasty read has a delicious recipe for both the stuffing as well as a solution to Sophie's situation:

Heading towards dessert, Leslie Meier serves up Turkey Day Murder for local part time reporter Lucy Stone in the Maine town of Tinker's Cover.

Lucy has quite a lot on her plate as it is with the holidays fast approaching, including preparing the classic pumpkin pie that she's known for.

Yet, when a dispute at a town meeting leads to the demise of one of the advocates for a project beneficial to the Native American community, she finds herself putting aside her apron for some Lois Lane action.

Yes, the title is Turkey Day Murder but since Lucy's pumpkin pie plays a prominent part in her meal plans, I felt that this was better off in the dessert category(plus pumpkin pie is my favorite Thanksgiving treat and worth fighting for on any occasion):

For our flavorful finale, Joanne Fluke and her feisty heroine Hannah Swenson team up to give us a Raspberry Danish Murder and yes, this story is set around Thanksgiving time.

Hannah is not in a festive mood, due to the disappearance of her new husband Ross(yes, I know that she didn't choose either Mike or Norman, not yet at least) and trying to distract herself from worrying by focusing on making as many Thanksgiving themed treats as she can.

While the customers at Hannah's bakery The Cookie Jar certainly appreciate her efforts, she needs more than a new way to make raspberry danish to occupy her anxious thoughts. When one of Ross' co-workers is fatally poisoned, Hannah sees this investigation as a way to find her missing husband and get some of the answers that she truly deserves here.

While raspberry danish is not a typical Thanksgiving dessert, I'm sure that any raspberry treat could be worked into a holiday menu somehow. After all, that shade of red does have that autumn feeling indeed:

I do hope that some of these titles inspire some Thanksgiving related reading and help to bring about more love for the holiday. While Christmas and the other winter festivities are crowd pleasers to be sure, Thanksgiving is a time to not just make a big meal and watch parades and/or sports on TV.

It's a time to think about the good things in your life and yes, that might be hard to do even under the best of circumstances(plus, the very troubling times we live in right now) but taking a moment to do just that can make all the difference in your outlook for what lies ahead.

Everybody needs a little time for comfort and closeness, which is what Thanksgiving is all about, in my opinion anyway. If a good book or any other entertainment can make that day a little better, that's a true Thanksgiving blessing in the best sense of the term: