Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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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:

Monday, November 04, 2019

My October readathon has come to a FrightFall end

Here we are in the early days of November and yet I must look briefly back at Halloween, which heralded the end of the FrightFall readathon(hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading). My finale was short and sweet, with sadly one book left unfinished but hopefully not for long.

The last book that I did complete was The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco by Laura DiSilverio, the first in a series and ironically enough, the last one from that trio that I read.

The title group is a book club set in the small town of Heaven, Colorado and our leading lady is Amy-Faye Johnson, who is building up her event planning business quite nicely. As the story begins, she rescues a kitten on her way to a meeting with a new client, which sets things off on a topsy-turvy vibe.

That vibe gets even more wonky as Amy-Faye learns that her new client Madison Taylor is planning a wedding and that her intended groom is Doug, a former beau of Amy-Faye's who she has had an on-again,off-again relationship for years. With Madison being the one to announce the upcoming nuptials, it's clear that Doug is definitely over her but Amy-Faye is not so sure that she's done with him just yet:

A welcome distraction from that problem for Amy-Faye is her Readaholics meeting to discuss Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, their latest selection.

The group includes such biblio buddies as Brooke, who is hoping to have a baby via adoption much to the objection of her snooty in-laws, Lola, the gentle hearted florist raising her younger sister with the help of their grandmother(she becomes the owner of Amy-Faye's rescue kitty,btw) and Maud, whose love of mystery books reflect her deep suspicions about the world at large.

While the talk is a lively one, the follow-up meeting to watch the classic film version is delayed due to the shocking discovery made by Amy-Faye the next day. Another Readaholics member, Ivy Donner, is found dying by poison in her own kitchen. The authorities later rule her death as a suicide, which all of her friends find rather hard to believe, particularly Amy-Faye, who decides that it's her duty to find out who the killer is.

The story is well paced,allowing the other members of the group to contribute to the case(especially Maud, with her computer skills and tendency to see conspiracies  almost everywhere) while keeping Amy-Faye at the center of the action. Plus, weaving in elements of The Maltese Falcon into the overall arch of the mystery is nicely done.

My only regret is that there are only three books in this Book Club Mystery series and because of a library loan, I've read them out of order and now I'm done. Perhaps Laura DiSilverio will bring these characters back in the near future but until then, I do recommend checking The Readaholics series out as it's the stuff that bookish dreams are made of:

Meanwhile, as of this writing, I have not yet finished Gaudy Night but still intend to keep it in circulation among my regular reading. In a way, it might be best to do that as Dorothy Sayers is not a writer that you want to fast forward through.

The plot features Harriet Vane, an author whose casual romance with Lord Peter Wimsey(the main detective in Sayers' novels) not only helped her from being executed for a crime she didn't commit but now may be of some use in a new mystery she's landed herself in.

Upon attending the college reunion event of the title held at Shrewsbury, Harriet notices some strange drawings and notes left for her on campus. Thinking that they are due to her past notoriety, she discards them yet some time later, she gets a request from the Dean to quietly look into a string of odd occurrences that have popped up at Shrewsbury since Gaudy Night ended.

 Acts of vandalism, including the burning of collegiate robes, and vulgar notes with vague threats keep happening and since Harriet is a mystery writer, it is thought that she might have a better insight into who might be doing all of this. She does her level best ,however, it soon becomes clear that she is in need of serious assistance in this matter and fortunately, Lord Peter is able to provide just that. In addition to that, Harriet has to examine the mystery of her own feelings for Lord Peter, a man she is drawn to yet is uncertain of committing to when it comes to marriage.

This is my first major attempt at reading Sayers and I do enjoy the leisurely elegance of her writing, so taking my time with Gaudy Night feels like a good call:

All in all, this was a good FrightFall to be had and much thanks to Michelle at Seasons of Reading for hosting another wonderful readathon. Later this month, SOR will have the Christmas Spirit readathon and yes, I do have books ready for that!

I hope that my fellow FrightFall readers enjoyed their page turning terrors as well but weren't frightened too much. Scary stuff is fun at times but if it makes you crawl into your favorite hiding place,too reluctant to come on out, that might be a sign to take your literary fear fest down a level there:

Monday, October 28, 2019

Preparing for the holidays with some November/December reads

Halloween is only a few days away but the end of the year with it's holidays is much closer than we think. Between getting that turkey dinner ready and selecting those potentially perfect presents, this could reasonably be considered the most stressful time of year.

Despite that, good times are meant to be had and whether you're in gift giving mode or just in need of a little portable entertainment, we have quite a number of new books arriving this November and December that should suit you fine.

My small handful of recommendations is rather fiction friendly yet it dips into history, mystery and a touch of magic to make your seasonal reading bright indeed:

PAGE TURNING MAGIC: After the success of The Night Circus, many have been waiting for another amazing novel from Erin Morgantstern and it appears that our patience will soon be well rewarded.

The Starless Sea gives us Zachary Rawlins, a dedicated book lover who once found a doorway into a mystical realm known as The Harbor on The Starless Sea, where stories truly come alive. Having lost his chance to explore this strangely wonderful realm years earlier, he joins up with a secret society in order to regain entry.

While Zachary is able to enter The Harbor, he discovers that it's in disrepair and in need of revitalization. Part of the problem is that the secret society he's in wants to close all of the doors for good so with the aid of Mirabel, whose motives are as secretive as her past, and Dorian, a society member who has broken away from the group's goals, Zachary takes up the quest to save the bookish day.

This sounds like a fairy tale written for readers to embrace and no doubt that many of them will want to see how this enchanting tale ends, happily or otherwise(November):


 In Caroline Scott's debut novel The Poppy Wife , our leading lady is Edie, whose husband Francis never came back from the WWI front and while she's had time to deal with his loss, her doubts about his demise resurface when a photo of him arrives in the mail.

Determined to know the truth, she recruits Francis' younger brother Harry to accompany her on a trip to France in order to trace what may have been  the final footsteps of their mutual beloved.

However, with Harry's haunted memories of the past and the possibility of Edie finding answers to questions many would prefer she not ask, this search for closure promises to be both painful and enlightening all at once. Scott was inspired by her own family history to write this emotionally compelling story and it may inspire others to find the fact within their own familial fictions(November).

Pride and Prejudice fans have enjoyed quite the literary year in 2019 with so many wonderful P&P retellings and author Molly Greeley has another fresh take on Jane Austen's iconic novel to add with The Clergyman's Wife.

The lady of the title is Charlotte Lucas, now settled into the role as Mrs. Collins, who spends her days at Hunsford being the dutiful "helpmeet" of her dull husband and dealing with the nearly daily demands of his patroness, Lady Catherine De Burgh.

Charlotte does find some joys in life, mainly her young daughter Louisa, but when she encounters Mr. Travis,one of Lady Catherine's tenants, her firmly held notions about the practical nature of marriage are seriously put to the test. Was her friend Elizabeth right all along about marrying for love and if so, is it too late for Charlotte to change her own fate?

It's good to see a familiar story with new eyes and Charlotte's perspective is a welcome one indeed. There is a blog tour planned for this engaging twist on P&P and I am fortunate to be included in that line-up, so watch this space, as they say! Meanwhile, let us all look forward to being pleasantly surprised by the spotlight to be shined upon our dear Charlotte this season(December): 


 M.C. Beaton's upcoming Agatha Raisin adventure, Beating About the Bush, has the spunky lady detective taking on an unexpected client while diving into some corporate capers.

Agatha is asked to look into the goings-on at a factory in the Cotswalds that had a recent fire but also stumbles across what appears to be a human leg clad in the same sock and shoe as Mrs. Dinwiddy, the secretary to the factory owner Mr. Morrison.

As it turns out, the leg in question was a fake but when Mrs. Dinwiddy turns up dead, the culprit being blamed is a donkey named Wizz-Wazz, who Agatha likes much better than the folks at Morrison's. Determined to prove the donkey's complete innocence in the matter and get to the bottom of what's really happening at the factory, Agatha is on the case yet can she handle more than one crime at a time?

Having caught on to the delights of Agatha Raisin due to the current British TV series, this new mystery sounds as smart and funny as the episodes that I've seen on screen. Of course, books and TV do have different standards but in this instance, this series does well on either medium.

 However, that doesn't mean you should avoid the new book for the show-in fact, they ought to go great together like spiked tea and crumpets(December):

 Beatriz Williams is known for having her historically set novels have interconnecting characters but when it comes to her upcoming book The Wicked Redhead, the literary ties are a direct hit.

In this follow-up to her previous work, The Wicked City, we catch up with on the lam lady Ginger Kelly and her federal agent lover Oliver, who have fled to Florida upon the aftermath of their dealings with Prohibition gangsters.

A favor is called upon them both from Oliver's decidedly upper class mother, Mrs. Marshall, who is taking care of his younger brother Billy, who was caught up in their prior mess. Ginger is requested to help with his recovery by playing the part of his pregnant fiance.

While Ginger is less than thrilled with this situation, she is willing to go along with it. It would help if Oliver was standing by her side but his new undercover assignment has him keeping more than an understandable distance from her. Will this all work out or are Ginger and Oliver about to part ways for good?

This book is intended to be the second in a trilogy and while I do need to read the first one, Beatriz Williams knows how to make any new reader feel right at home in her past meets present world of feisty female characters(December):

I hope that everyone has a great holiday season and takes the time to savor the year's end, starting with Thanksgiving, a day that doesn't get the full attention it deserves these days. I know that I've said this before but I think a gentle reminder can't hurt.

Thanksgiving is a good way to slow down and appreciate what you do have in life, with a nice meal and some good folks to share it with. It's a time where the whole point is to enjoy yourself in the comfort of your own home, where ever that may be, and try not to fret about anything too much even if your turkey is deep fried instead of roasted(turkey doesn't have to be your main course but that's a whole other topic there). Savor the goodness, folks, and do it with laughter if you can:

Monday, October 21, 2019

Giving an early thanks for some fall reading finds

No doubt you're familiar with the old saying about a blessing in disguise and that was certainly true for me in a bookish sense this past weekend.

I made a trip to the library sooner than I had intended, due to one of the books that I borrowed last time having a hold put on it, and while rushing my reading of that title was a tad irksome, it was worth the increased pace.

So, upon returning that particular book, I wound up replacing it with two more that I hope will last a bit longer on my TBR. The first one is Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart, which follows up her fabulous Girl Waits With Gun a couple of years ago.

We are reintroduced to Constance Kopp, a New Jersey woman in 1915 who lives with her two sisters, the mild mannered Norma and dazzlingly ditzy Fleurette. Constance, due to her unexpected adventure with a local gangster, has been made a sheriff's deputy which was a groundbreaking role for a lady in those times.

Unfortunately, when she is assigned to guard a high priority prisoner named Baron Von Mattheisus, the devious con man escapes her custody. While Constance can handle being demoted to jail matron, the effect of the incident upon Sheriff Heath, who she must admire from afar since he's married, fires up her detective skills and she vows to hunt down the escapee on her own.

I fondly recall enjoying the lively energy that Girl Waits With Gun had and have wanted to take up more of the Kopp Sisters titles(there's two more books after this one) but didn't have the right opportunity to do so. Well, now is as good a time as any and learning more about Constance Kopp, who was a real person, in this fictional fashion is truly good old school fun:

It was also fun to come across Jennifer Chiaverini's latest historical fiction entitled Resistance Women. This novel chronicles four female friends who worked together in Germany during WWII to take down the Nazi regime.

Mildred moved to Germany from America to reunite with her native born husband Arvid but the political change in the country has made it difficult for both of them to find work and be happy. Meanwhile, Greta returned home from her studies aboard to become a writer for the theater, an art form under direct attack from the new government.

Along with Martha, the daughter of a diplomat who is playing in dangerous waters, and Sara, who is rethinking her impending marriage to a man outside of her Jewish faith, these ladies join a secret network of resistance fighters that gather information to help bring down the Nazi reign. Their work is vital and risky, with one false move from anywhere being enough to endanger them all.

I've read several of Chiverini's stand alone historical novels and she has a great flair for making the women of history spring to vivid life on the page. This new work, which has three of it's major characters based on actual people, should be as riveting as any classic espionage thriller set upon the silver screen:

 I was also lucky in a thrift shop find around that time as well, with Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen, set in New York of 1965 as Helen Gurley Brown becomes the editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan magazine. Her daring new approach to women's issues in print is shaking things up, to say the least.

The leading lady of this novel, however, is Alice, a new hire at Cosmo, who is very impressed with the changes that Gurley Brown is bringing. She's hoping that her dream to be a major photographer can be a reality with such an amazing example right in front of her.

As Alice becomes part of the Cosmo scene, a few of her new friends want her to join them in taking HGB down but she is determined to have no part in their plans. However, that refusal could make Alice a target as well, dooming her future career plans. Will she be able to stick to her principles or have to make a compromise that disappoints more than just herself?

I've heard this book be called "Mad Men meets The Devil Wears Prada" and since I like both of those pop culture sensations, this ought to be some twisty dramatic fun. Who knows, this story might lead me to some more fine stories along the same lines, we shall see:

As for my new library loans, I'm hoping to keep them with me until Thanksgiving is over and done with(renewals are a library patron's best friend, in my opinion!). Don't get me wrong, I have no intention of depriving someone of such good reading material but I would like to have a nice amount of time with them, plus it would be easier on my budget not to make another trip back right away.

Granted, this is far from a big league problem yet it is a challenge needing to be met. While it's not as daunting as say, attending four Thanksgiving dinners on the same day, any reader worth their salt should be able to do this and not have to skip the bread rolls either:

Friday, October 18, 2019

Having a FrightFall-ly good time

My reading list for this year's FrightFall readathon is short but rather sinister sweet ,with a last minute change that I'll get to later on here. At the moment, I have gotten halfway through my intended reads and felt it was time to do a progress report of sorts.

Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived In The Castle was quite riveting, so much so that I finished it on Day One. The story is told by Merricat(Mary Catherine) Blackwood, one of the few family members that survived a mass poisoning. She and her older sister Constance, along with their wheelchair bound Uncle Julian, live in virtual isolation upon the family estate and rarely have visitors.

Merricat ventures out twice a week to get supplies from the nearby town and is often met with ridicule and scorn, as the locals believe that Constance got away with murder(she was legally acquitted of the crime). Other than that, she's fine with their singular lifestyle and spends a good deal of time setting up protective spells and charms on the estate.

However, that sad tranquility is broken when a distant cousin named Charles comes to visit. His side of the family kept their considerable distance during the past tragedy but now, he suddenly has the urge to reconnect with them,most likely to see what money they have on hand.

While Constance is eager to have some more family around, Merricat is less than thrilled(not to mention Uncle Julian, who is easily confused at times) with this disturbance in her world. Charles is determined to have his way and finds Constance to be agreeable yet Merricat's insistence on making her displeasure known at his presence sets up a slow building war of wills:

The book reads like a slow moving nightmare, practically for Constance as her good nature is taken advantage of time and again. We never get her direct viewpoint yet at times you can sense her desire to break free of the emotional trap that she's in.

Yet when it comes to choosing between Merricat and Charles, neither option gives her a better choice. Merricat's rock solid need to remain in control of what she believes is her own private realm is formidable and proves to be more powerful than Charles' greed for the family fortune.

I was inspired by the recent film adaption(which I hope to see at some point) to get this book in the first place and it's an elegantly woven tale of home bound terror that creeps up on the reader with the gentle speed of subtly taken poison. This was Shirley Jackson's final novel and quite the chilling end note indeed:

After that cold blooded read, it was a welcome relief to head back to Ashland,Oregon for another taste of the Bakeshop Mystery series.

Live and Let Pie by Ellie Alexander has her leading lady Juliet "Jules" Capshaw settling back into Torte, the beloved family bakery,  upon completion of an expansion which brings in new business and the need to hire new help as well.

The fresh faces at Torte, such as Rosa and Marty, turn out to be great additions to the team. Unfortunately, head coffee maker Andy is having trouble with Sequoia, who has vast experience in the field yet her way of doing things seems to bother him way too much.

Since he's usually a happy-go-lucky guy, Jules is concerned about him, especially when Andy discourages Sequoia from introducing a trendy new drink, cheese tea. Granted, I find the concept of cheese tea a little weird myself but when it comes to food and drink flavors, sometimes you don't know until you try it!:

However Jules has a lot more to worry about than staff problems as the discovery of a skull in a local lake and the sudden death of Edgar, the curmudgeonly owner of a hotly sought after piece of property in town, appear to be connected.

I do like that Jules is able to not only engage in crime solving(with the over eager assistance of theater director buddy Lance) but also take some time to deal with other matters such as the Andy situation and helping her newly married mom find a new house to live in with Jules' now stepfather and appreciative police detective Doug,aka The Professor.

These subplots are just as vital as the murders and gives the overall story line some nice layers of emotional nuance. This entry in the series does make my wait to read the next book A Cup of Holiday Fear,which I've set aside for the upcoming Christmas Spirit readathon in late November, that much harder to bear but then again, my wait to read the 2020 release Nothing Bundt Trouble will be considerably longer!

However, as they say, some things are worth the wait and a fresh from the creative oven Bakeshop Mystery book is one of those page turning delights. My patience will be well rewarded here, making the time between books easy as pie to handle:

As is now becoming my usual practice with readathons, I decided to swap out Lethal White for Dorothy Sayers'  Gaudy Night to finish this readathon with, along side The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco.

 I hate to be fickle but due to a library loan that my borrowing time was limited upon, it was best to tackle the decidedly shorter mystery book of the two.

Plus, I treated myself to a lovely limited edition known as "Olive", which took up a mystery theme in their selections this year. This particular novel is a standout in Sayers' stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, a nobleman with quite the talent for sleuthing.

The major focus here is on Harriet Vane, a mystery writer who owes her life and freedom to Lord Peter due to his prominent role in preventing her from being condemned to death for a crime she didn't commit. Harriet attends the title event( a college reunion of sorts) and despite a bit of awkwardness about her recent troubles, seems to be doing rather well among her old friends and acquaintances

Unfortunately, a series of strangely threatening notes and other odd occurrences cause her to call upon Lord Peter for help before something truly dire happens. I tried to read this book years ago but didn't get too far with it. Yet, time seems to have prepared me to appreciate Sayers and I'm looking forward to reading even more of this well crafted tale.

We have over a week or so with FrightFall left and I think it's doing rather splendidly(see, these set in England books make me break out the fancy talk!). I hope that everyone else is having just as fine a time as I am, with plenty of scary stories that are easy on the eyes, at least:

Monday, October 14, 2019

Agatha Raisin offers up The Quiche of Death for my Series-ous Reading pleasure

While my FrightFall readathon is raging on, I've finished up my Series-ous Reading selection for this month and it's quite the English treat indeed.

Having discovered the ITV adaptation of M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin mystery series(via Netflix), I was curious to sample the first book which was made into the pilot movie for the show, The Quiche of Death. Granted, I did read one of the later titles over the summer entitled The Dead Ringer but sometimes it's best to begin at the beginning.

Our leading lady here is far from the meek and mild type, despite her rather quaint name. Agatha Raisin is a tough as nails Londoner who use to run a very successful PR firm. Having made a good amount of money and then some, she takes an early retirement by selling her business and buying a cottage in the small town of Carsely, set in the Cotwalds.

She's always wanted a home like this, due to her rough and tumble childhood, but the reality of such a laid back way of life throws Agatha for a loop.

 Feeling the need to connect with her new neighbors, she decides to enter the annual quiche competition judged by Reg Cummings-Brown, who is quite the man about town despite being married to Vera, who has a good fortune of her own.

When Agatha loses the contest(to Mrs. Cartwright, who suspiciously wins every year), she's less than thrilled even though her quiche was actually store brought from a deli out of town. She leaves her entry behind and the next day, Reg is found dead in his own living room, having had Agatha's dish as his last fatal meal. Once she confesses her contest cheating, Agatha is legally in the clear but the local folk cast an even more dubious eye on her:

Determined to still make a go of it in Carsely, Agatha winds up playing detective to discover who the killer is. She also joins a local ladies' society but that's not enough to make her feel more at home with everyone.

Agatha is not the most friendly type, more apt to make enemies than friends, yet she does get some emotional support from folks such as Detective Bill Wong, who gently insists that she not get involved in the case and Roy, a former employee of hers who thinks that solving the crime will make Agatha a popular lady indeed.

One of the strong points of the book(as well as the TV show) is the solid set of supporting players around Agatha, people with hidden and not so hidden quirks of their own that give a fully fleshed out dimension to the story lines put in place here. Roy in particular is charmingly over the top yet he balances out Agatha's blend of insecurity and forceful self confidence:

Despite having seen the pilot episode first, I did enjoy the book very much on it's own merits. The changes from script to screen were minor at best(some of them due to updating the tech elements since TQOD was released in 1992) and the twist of British humor into the overall plot was smartly done.

In fact, if I were to describe the series, I would say "Ab Fab meets Miss Marple"-as in Absolutely Fabulous, one of my favorite English comedy shows. In particular, Roy and Agatha have a real Patsy and Edina vibe(yes, Agatha is definitely Edina without Saffy) which makes their small town sleuthing adventures all the more fun. Just imagining those two gal pals trying to live a suburban lifestyle is too funny for words!:

All in all, Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death is a delightful read that, whether or not you've watched the show, is a must read for those who adore cozy mysteries with a British flair.

I do plan to read the second book(Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet) but not until next year as part of the Series-ous Reading line-up for 2020. In the mean time, I'm holding off until November for the next to last book for our 2019 titles which brings me back to Hannah Swensen.

My delay is not only because of my need to complete as much of the FrightFall readathon as I can(plus a library loan that is due back sooner than expected) but that Key Lime Pie Murder sounds way more suitable for Thanksgiving, which is pie season in my humble opinion.

Granted, the story takes place during a summer fair and key lime is not considered a traditional Thanksgiving pie flavor yet why not? From what little I know, there is an air of mystery surrounding the origins of key lime pie and that's enough to satisfy my inner sweet tooth for culinary crime solving there:

Monday, October 07, 2019

A bounty of biopics to set off the autumn award season right

A major sign that fall is upon us are the big league dramas that arrive at the movie theaters, some of which clearly meant to be seen and noticed for Oscar nomination consideration.

One category that's surefire to get such attention and acclaim is the biopic, where actors showcase their skills in being fictional yet realistic versions of legendary figures from the past.

Some are better than others when it comes to the sincerest form of flattery but at the moment, we have a trio of performances that promise to be more than just cinematic imitations.

For example, Renee Zellweger is gathering up favorable reviews as the title character in Judy and yes as in Garland. This portion of the Hollywood icon's life is set in 1969, where she had trouble making ends meet and has to travel to London for an exclusive tour at Talk of the Town.

Her substance abuse problems have taken a toll on her, making it hard to be with her children and for American producers to want to work with her. As Judy struggles to keep herself together in order to complete her theatrical contract, a new romance in her life is not helping to maintain her professional needs.

This film is based on an award winning stage play(called End of the Rainbow) and it wouldn't be too surprising to see the movie get a Best Screenplay Adaptation here yet it's Zellweger who is bringing folks to the multiplex for her heartfelt portrayal of a woman who spent most of her life putting on a happy face for audiences but never able to find her own true joy in this world:

Meanwhile, just released in theaters(with streaming on Netflix due by October 25) is Dolemite Is My Name, starring Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore who brought his comedic character Dolemite to life on the silver screen.

Moore had to self finance the movie, something that he was no stranger to as his raunchy comedy albums were also sold that way. His outrageous style of humor did give him a small amount of fame yet by making Dolemite the star of several blaxploitation films, he achieved a level of influence upon future generations that is still felt today.

While this is seen as a good comeback vehicle for Eddie Murphy , there is a solid supporting cast along side him such as Keegan-Michael Key as Dolemite screenwriter Jimmy Jones, Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed and Wesley Snipes as director D'Urville Martin. Whether you see it on the big screen or the small, this sounds like a great way to celebrate the power of movie making no matter what it takes:

Speaking of the small screen, we're getting Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood in November. Matthew Rhys co-stars as a cynical journalist doing a profile on the humble  children's TV
host who finds himself pleasantly surprised by how authentic Fred Rogers truly was.

This is a tricky film release, due to the success of the Fred Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? last year. With that movie fresh in the minds of most of the target audience for this flick, a lot of compare and contrast will be taking place here.

However, Hanks has become a rather lovable figure with folks who is almost as respected as Mr. Rogers himself , so this may be a perfect match of artist and subject, we shall see:

While it's hard not to get a bit jaded with some of the fall films out for award show contention, it's also refreshing to see that some of the big biopics out there appear to be quality material that intend to engage moviegoers with insight as well as nostalgia.

Of course, if you're more inclined to stay home, you won't be biopic deprived. HBO is planning to air a miniseries starring Helen Mirren as one of history's most memorable royal ladies, Catherine the Great, a true queen and formidable diva indeed. A good biopic can do more than just entertain, it can inspire and perhaps this look at a woman in power will be a good object lesson in more ways than one: