Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, August 12, 2019

Avengers:FilmFail tries Playing It Cool for Bad Movie Month

Welcome back, folks, for another round of Bad Movie Month where our theme this time out is Avengers:FilmFail, reminding those stars of the less than super roles they've played in the past.

Sadly, I have to highlight Captain America himself, Chris Evans, for the alleged romantic comedy Playing It Cool, which I call alleged due to this being neither one of those two categories.

Evans plays a screenwriter with no name(seriously, he is never called by name by anyone and the same goes for his love interest, which I'll get to in a moment) who has to finish punching up a romcom screenplay before he can work on the action film that he's more interested in.

Evans gets pressured by his agent(Anthony Mackie, aka The Falcon) to hurry up, with promises of getting to go on location to pick up attractive women and yes, I'm being polite here. Let's just say his descriptions are gross on the level of a 80's sex comedy and leave it at that.

Anyway, Evans mopes around, reading trashy magazine articles as research because his history of bad relationships makes it hard for him to write about love. First off, shouldn't a screenwriter watch a few movies set in this genre instead? Hell, TCM alone has plenty of classic material to inspire a decent script!

During his moping, Evans goes to an event with one of his buddies(Topher Grace) and winds up meeting a mystery woman(Michelle Monaghan) that he's instantly attracted to. No, she also has no name either and you would think that a first meet would be the time to introduce yourself, right? Well, they hit it off and for some reason, decide to have fun by randomly hitting on older people at the party. This is supposed to be cute and funny but it comes off as really weird and mean instead:


Evans keeps trying to meet Monaghan again in a lengthy sequence that is made extra tedious with pointless narration. See, this movie wants to have it both ways; complaining about standard movie tropes while using as many of them as possible to pad the story line.

In addition to endless narration(Sorry, Chris Evans but even you can't make boring cliches sound interesting), there's also bits where our leading man imagines himself as the main character in other people's stories, which gets amazingly awkward when one of his friends relates a plot line from a K-drama!

At one point, Evans talks to his grandfather(who conveniently dies later on so that he can find Meaning in Life and Love) who takes a break from calling him a term related to a cat to tell the "how I met your grandmother" tale that a)Evans and Monaghan pop up in as the leads and b) turns into an actual cartoon about WWII, which had me wondering if I was watching a bad episode of Adult Swim!

In between his attempts to woo Monaghan, Evans hangs out in weird places(a gun range and then a bowling alley straight out of The Big Lebowski) to consult with the motley crew that make up his friends such as Grace, who is also a screenwriter that leaves copies of Love in the Time of Cholera in random spots, claiming that it's his "art." How the hell is someone else's book YOUR art?! Granted, Evans calls him on that at a later time but Grace's argument seems to be somehow justified nonetheless.

Along with Grace, Evans hangs out with Aubrey Plaza,who sounds like she's intentionally over enunciating her lines and Luke Wilson, who enjoys giving crappy advice. By the way, these characters do have names but I don't care to give them. Trust me, they're not worth knowing:


Evans and Monaghan do wind up in a relationship, which is complicated by her already having a boyfriend(Ioan Gruffudd, the original big screen Mr. Fantastic). It's very on-again, off-again and oh so boring beyond belief!

The dialogue itself is so mind numbing that I found myself wishing I was watching a Lifetime made for TV movie instead. At least those movie have memorably bad lines!

Given the number of reasonably well known actors that pop up in this dismal film such as Patrick Warburton, Beverly D'Angelo(very briefly) and SNL's Kyle Mooney, I'm guessing that the writers and/or the director were pretty well connected to get this movie off the ground but also given the fact that this dull as dirt clunker was shelved for a couple of years, their considerable clout ran out once someone who was not their friend took a good look at the end results!

For one thing, it's hard to sympathize with Evans' plight as he is pursuing a woman who is seeing someone else and the little that we see of the other guy, his only fault seems to be that he's not as cool as Evans:



Also, I find it hard to root for a romance that begins with a first kiss right after the gal tells the guy how she buys birthday cards for herself to send from her dead dad(who killed himself right before her birthday,btw). Kind of sets a morbid mood there, in my opinion.

Yet that revelation clicks with our leading man because his mother left him as a child with a goodbye note attached to his favorite cereal and after hooking with Monaghan , Evans can eat Captain Crunch again. That just leaves a weirdly unpleasant taste in my mouth, sort of like peanut butter and sushi.

Anyhow, the rest of the movie falls into the usual cliche pit, complete with racing through the city to stop Monaghan from Marrying The Wrong Guy and I swear, for a hour and a half long film, this whole end bit felt longer than a Ken Burns miniseries!

Well, hopefully the next installment in Avengers:FilmFail is not as torturous as we join Robert Downey, Jr. on his road trip with Zach Galiafinakis  in Due Date. We shall see,folks, but my expectations are lower than before after watching this moanworthy mess:


Friday, August 09, 2019

Scooping up some sweet late summer book releases

I know everything's been rough these last couple of weeks, not to mention dealing with the humid dog days of summer, but there is one joy that we can cling to with certainty and that is books.

August does have the reputation for being slow and sluggish, especially pop culture wise, but there are page turning treasures to be found and with this being National Book Lovers Day, it's the perfect time to recommend some new books.

First up is The Wedding Party, the newest romcom from Jasmine Guillory. Theo and Maddie share a friendship with Alexa(the heroine of Guillory's The Wedding Date) but little else in common, each finding the other barely tolerable. That all changes when one fateful night, the two of them become one in the intimate sense of the term.

This leads to a continuing yet quiet relationship, where they both agree to keep Alexa and other mutual acquaintances in the dark about their new found appreciation of one another. However, when Maddie and Theo are both invited to Alexa's upcoming nuptials, they decide to make that occasion their endgame. However, will they both want to stop playing by then or take things to the next level?

I really love how Guillory is creating this interconnected world of friends and lovers that doesn't require you to read each entry in exact order. Also, her stories of people trying to make love work with all of the everyday issues around them are so engaging, using heart and humor to keep the plot lines on an even yet entertaining track. Yes, this is one party you want to get an invitation to!:


If you're feeling the flavor of mystery, Vivien Chien has a fourth helping of her Noodle Shop Mystery series to serve up soon. Wonton Terror takes Lana Lee and the Ho-Lee Noodle House folk to the Asian Night Market that marks the start of summer for Cleveland.

While the festival is fun for many reasons, Lana and friends find some tough competition for their famed menu from a new food truck, Wonton on Wheels. Since the owners happen to be long time friends of her parents, Lana feels that this will be a friendly rivalry at best.

However, an unfortunate attack on the food truck leads Lana back into sleuth mode which tests the new levels of trust made with her police detective boyfriend Adam. Worse yet, the investigation becomes very personal as a few secrets from the past are added to the suspenseful stew of events. Can Lana solve the case without stirring the family pot too much?

I just finished book three, Murder Lo Mein, the other day and already have this next one on pre-order. This is such a charmingly delightful series that it's hard to wait for another visit to Ho-Lee Noodle House at Asia Village but this side trip to the night market will be worth my patience indeed:


If a mix of mystery and 1930's screwball comedy is more your style, Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen might do the trick.

The latest in the Her Royal Spyness series takes Lady Georgiana "Georgie" to Kenya on honeymoon with her beloved Darcy. While she's thrilled to go, some of her traveling companions are less than welcome such as former frenemy Rowena Hartley and her brother Rupert, visiting their newly ennobled father Lord Cheriton.

During their stay, Georgie and Darcy also run into the obnoxious Wallis Simpson(still hunting down Prince Edward), get invited to an overnight party that's wilder than expected and find their host Lord Cheriton as a meal for the big cats of the title the following morning. Can the newlyweds have some romantic moments together while dealing with the outdoor and indoor dangers about them?

This is a great series for those who like Downton Abbey and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries that just bubble over with fearsome good fun. Reading out of order is fine but once you try one of these dashing adventures with the sweetly sassy Georgie, you will go back for more!

For full on historical fiction that's female forward, you can do no better than Philippa Gregory, who is launching a fresh saga set in England during a time of turmoil.

The leading lady of Tidelands is Alinor, a midwife with two children who has to fend for herself as her fisherman husband has vanished to who knows where. With her skills at herbal remedies, she can make a decent living but in England of 1648, Alinor has to walk a fine line or be accused of witchcraft by the Puritan forces  who have recently taken over the country.

To complicate things further, she meets James, a Catholic priest in hiding who is still loyal to the exiled court of King Charles, now living in France. By helping James, Alinor may be able to gain some favor that could help her family yet she risks her heart by falling in love with him. Turns out the feelings are mutual but so are the dangers from the rising political tides beyond their control.

Gregory has a deft hand when it comes to showcasing strong women in history and with this first in a new series, promises to give us heroines of the past who can inspire us to hold fast to the fights we face in the here and now:


I hope you all can delight in National Book Lovers Day and embrace some cool breezes before summer is truly over and done with. As for me, I do like making book recommendations when I can but even my list of picks gets rather overwhelming-then again, this is a good problem to have!:


Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Bad Movie Month premieres Avengers:FilmFail on The Island

Welcome,folks, to this year's Bad Movie Month, our annual salute to sorry cinema.

Our theme for 2019 is Avengers:FilmFail, due to the overwhelming success of the MCU that culminated in the triumph that is Avengers:Endgame, it only seemed right to remind ourselves of the less than stellar performances that four of the big players in this series have given us in the past.

First up is Scarlet Johansson, aka Black Widow(and also known as "ScarJo"), a lady who has been rather vocal about her choices when it comes to film roles. Too bad she wasn't that particular in 2005 when the script for The Island came her way. Trust me, she would've been better off playing a tree than in this big,loud and stupid mess, courtesy of Michael Bay!


Johansson is the co-star here, playing Jordan, the best "friend" of Ewan McGregor's Lincoln where both of them are confined to an enclosed facility due to the outside world being contaminated by some sort of virus/plague/whatever(it's never really explained).

Lincoln is having weird Altered States on acid type of dreams but his biggest worries in life are not being allowed to have bacon at breakfast, a left shoe that goes missing and a cranky guy on his morning elevator ride who complains that he still hasn't been chosen to go to the island!

The breakfast issue gets somewhat solved, as Jordan uses her charms on the food server lady to get some extra portions and the guy complaining about being stuck in the facility, which is pretty much a luxury hotel set-up, is dealt with but we never find out about that shoe. Some mysteries are best left alone, I guess.

Everyone in the jump suits is just waiting for the lottery to announce that he or she gets to go to the title location, the one place on earth still safe to be at. Of course, it's not what it seems to be and when Jordan's number is called, Lincoln is sad to see her go. Particularly since he's always told to "watch the proximity" whenever he gets too close to Jordan like home schooled teenagers at a chaperoned prom:



The big secret is that there is no island, it's just a ruse to keep them in line as they're all clones who are considered "products" due to the mad science doings of Sean Bean, made for rich folk to use as spare parts.

There's a whole lot of stupid that you have to buy into here, as later in the film, it's explained that the reason for making a little community for the clones is to keep the organs functioning but couldn't that be done another way, like making headless bodies, for example? If you have the tech to make full grown replicas of human beings that takes less than an hour, I would think that this wouldn't be that hard to figure out there!

Also, the clones are supposed to be as educated "to the level of a fifteen year old" but for what purpose? There's no mention of brain transplants and in the beginning of the story, we see a clone class reading Dick and Jane books-if they're supposed to be refugees from a pre-existing world, why would they have to start with the basics?

In addition to that, they're intended  to be not "programmed" for sex yet early on, there's a pregnant clone lady who turns out to be an unknowing surrogate mother. How is that explained to the others and if you're supposed to repopulate the world, why would you be discouraged from sex? No wonder that at least Lincoln caught on to the false front but perhaps if Sean Bean and company had just given him some bacon every now and then.....

Anyway, Lincoln saves Jordan from the organ chop shop and the two of them venture out into the real world and this being a Michael Bay movie, the first point of civilization they arrive at is a strip joint!

There, Lincoln finds Steve Buscemi(one of the workers at the clone farm who hangs out in secret with him) using the men's room and yanks him out of the stall to confront him about the whole "I live in Sector Five" story that Buscemi has given him over the years. Yes, this does lead to an unfortunate misunderstanding about meeting in the men's bathroom from a guy who walks in on this-so not funny then or now- and thankfully, it's brief!

Buscemi is no stranger to cashing a paycheck in cinematic crap like this(he was a welcome sight to see in Con Air) but it's a thankless task in this movie to be the one to let Lincoln and Jordan in on their doomed clone status. He's forced to drop truth bombs such as "Just because people want to eat hamburger, that doesn't mean they want to meet the cow."

 Too bad he couldn't say what my mom(who kindly suffered though this movie with me) said when constantly asked by his unexpected guests, "What are we?" Idiots for being in this movie, that's what!:


Granted, expecting this movie to be at all original is perhaps asking too much, considering that it was sued for copyright infringement by the makers of the 70s B-movie Parts: The Clonus Horror(settled out of court before the trial began).

However, it is down right criminal how underwritten Johansson's role is. At one point in the story, she makes a video call to her original version's home and the OG Jordan's little boy answers,saying his mom is in the hospital . He then asks Jordan "Mom, is that you?"

That thread is dropped quicker than a hot potato and the closest we get to a conclusion is when Sean Bean mentions that the OG Jordan is comatose and brain dead, making the intended organ harvest pointless but still planning to do it anyway. Uh, hello, sub plot much?

Why not have Jordan and Lincoln ,who are betrayed by Lincoln's original source material-a real creep who leers at Jordan like she's a piece of Wasbu beef-find the kid and maybe the husband of the first Jordan to help them out? Maybe set up a love triangle between Lincoln and Jordan's husband, who is torn between saving his wife and being attracted to the fresh new version of her? I know, I know, this is a Michael Bay movie, no character development allowed!

Still, the best she gets is being able to read lies in people's eyes,along with killer kick boxer moves that come in handy for the endless chase and destroy sequences that make up a good portion of this flimsy flick. Given that this movie runs nearly two and a half hours, I think that dropping one or two action scenes would've allowed for a little more nuance, even if hover bikes are involved:


As you may guess, The Island was a major flop at the box office with it's failure blamed on marketing rather than the lazy story telling and over reliance on blowing things up real good.

It was not only a waste of ScarJo's time and talents, this movie also gave fine actors like the late Michael Clarke Duncan and Djimon Hounsou not much to work with. Sean Bean did his fair share of mustache twirling as the villain of the story, with wince worthy lines such as "We have a product on the loose!" and the classic cliche, "I brought you into this world and I can take you out" when having that all too expected showdown with Lincoln.

You might think that ScarJo would try to steer clear of badly written sci-fi scripts after this but given that she later starred in the likes of Lucy in 2014 and then Ghost in the Shell(a wrong choice for so many reasons) a couple of years later, clearly the answer is no to that question! Well, if you persist on making the same mistakes over and over again, you need a thicker skin to handle the blowback, honey.

Join us again for another Avengers:FilmFail when we see Chris Evans aka Captain America, try his hand at romantic comedy in 2015's Playing It Cool. The good news is one of his Avenger co-stars, Anthony Mackie, is in the movie and the bad news is that this film was sitting on the shelf for a long while, making it perhaps staler than it already was:


Monday, July 29, 2019

All set for a High Summer of reading

Thanks to a welcome change-up in the schedule, Seasons of Reading is now holding it's annual High Summer readathon in August, giving us something cool to do during this decidedly heated end of summer time.

It's not too late to sign up and join in the bookish fun, which starts on August 1 and ends on the 31st. Since there's no set theme, you're free to read what you want, old ,new or simply stuff you need to clear off your TBR.  I try to keep my goals simple and it does help to mix in a couple of short reads along with a thick title or two. Anyway, here's my reading list for HSR:

 For my literary appetizers, I'm starting off with a pair of tasty cozy mysteries. Murder Lo Mein is the third book in Vivien Chen's Noodle Shop series, starring Lana Lee, the reluctantly dutiful daughter who is now managing her family's restaurant.

Making the best of her new situation. Lana has Ho-Lee Noodle House enter a noodle tasting contest, which should get them plenty of good attention there. Unfortunately, the local food critic serving as judge winds up dead after a fatal fortune cookie message,his final resting place being a dish of lo mein.

Lana, with the help of a few friends, is more invested than ever in solving this case but will that determination cost her that blossoming romance with Det. Adam Trudeau, not to mention her own life?

This series is a delightful feast of detective deliciousness and I'm happy to report that a fourth book(Wonton Terror) is due out this August, along with a fifth(Egg Drop Dead) to be released early next year. Unlike some of the food related mysteries that I read, this one doesn't include recipes but that doesn't mean that there isn't plenty to savor:


Along side of that, I have Ellery Adams' The Whispered Word, which is the second in her A Secret,Book and Scone Society mystery tales, set in the small North Carolina town of Miracle Springs, devoted to providing healthy retreats for all visitors.

Book store owner Nora Pennington loves to select the right books for the weary souls who stop to browse but one new customer needs more than just a good book to help her out. As Nora and friends work together to assist the young woman called Abilene, a suspicious death in the area may prove to reveal those secrets that their new acquaintance is desperate to hide.

This series has a lot of what I like; good book talk, food and strong female friendships that truly save the day. A third book is in the works(The Book of Candlelight in January of 2020) and hopefully, we get to see more of these savvy ladies of a certain age showcase their wits when it comes to taking down the bad guys:


Moving onto the main course, The Wife by Meg Wolitzer tells the tale of Joan Castleman, the second wife of acclaimed author Joe Castleman who is about to receive a major literary award for his lifetime of work overseas.

During that trip, Joan is being interviewed by a young reporter about her husband's career but it becomes all too clear that his interest is in Joan's contributions to Joe's writing, which may be more substantial than many people may realize.

I've been putting off seeing the movie version, which earned Glenn Close a Best Actress Oscar nomination that she surprisingly didn't win, in order to judge this novel on it's own merits. No doubt that the film will do justice to the book yet I think I might appreciate it better after engaging with the original recipe edition:


For my rather decadent dessert, I'm having a double serving of Beatriz Williams which includes her latest novel, The Golden Hour.

Not only does this book include the infamous couple who define the term "royal scandal", The Duke of Winsor and American divorcee Wallis Simpson, the story also provides leading lady Lulu with quite the backstory.

Lulu not only had a troublesome first husband to deal with, her second spouse is a spy for the British, caught behind enemy lines. Her purpose in being in the Bahamas during 1941 is not merely to do a profile on the Duke and Duchess but to find a way to rescue her husband as well. It sounds very Casablanca, in the best sense, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, The Wicked City is set at two points in time with two different heroines, where in 1988, newly separated wife Ella has just moved into a Manhattan apartment and hears jazz music play late at night from the empty building next door.

That very same apartment that Ella now resides is where Ginger "Gin" Kelly lived in 1924. The building next to her place had a speakeasy set up in the basement(where Ella is hearing the late night tunes) and upon being caught up in a raid, Gin finds herself involved in an investigation with Prohibition agent Oliver Anston.

Turns out, Gin's stepfather runs a bootlegging business that stretches back to their Maryland home town and she's a perfect pick for playing double agent. Can she pull this off without a hitch or will her past truly haunt the present day occupant? I've been reading to read this for awhile and now that the second book(this is the first in a trilogy) is scheduled to be released this fall, there is no time like the present, as they say!:


Thanks to Michelle Miller, for setting up another great readathon, and I hope that everyone who signs up has a relaxing time with  their chosen books this end of summer season.

Any excuse to stay indoors during the upcoming heat waves is fine by me and yes, I know there is this concept of "reading outdoors" but in my opinion, such a pastime is only done well truly once in a blue moon. I prefer to page turn by some well cranked up air conditioning, the way the reading gods intended:


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Getting popcorn ready for the fall at the Movie Trailer Park

With summer movie season starting to wind down, it's time to prepare for the fabulous films of the fall. Traditionally, autumn releases are meant to be less intense,not to mention award show friendly, but lately, we've gotten movies that can be just as jolting as warm weather blockbuster fare, if not more so.

First up, we have the second half of Stephen King's monster mash epic appropriately titled IT: Chapter Two. Set twenty seven years later after their original encounter with Pennywise, the grown-up members of the Losers Club reunite in their hometown to destroy the otherworldly predator that has risen again.

The casting for the now adult monster hunters looks great, with Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh, James McAvoy as prominent writer Bill Denbrough and Bill Hader as Richie Tozer(I've seen him on Barry, his HBO series, and the guy does have a nice flair for drama). Of course, Bill Skarsgard is back as our Big Bad and like the first installment, this fearful follow-up will be rated R.

As much as the made for TV miniseries back in the nineties was awkwardly amusing, only a big screen version would do to bring this most chilling and meaningful novel of Stephen King's to true vivid life. Even the slight changes made from the source material that are bound to be here will be fine as they were for the first film, I have no doubt. All in all, we are in for a scary sweet pre-Halloween treat indeed:


Turns out we're getting a double dose of King as Doctor Sleep is set to arrive in time for Thanksgiving. This sequel to the modern classic The Shining has Ewan McGregor as the adult version of Danny Torrence, the psychic boy who barely escaped from the supernatural clutches of the Overlook Hotel.

Danny's powers are still strong yet they lead him to an even stronger psychic, a young girl named Abra(Kyliegh Curran) who is being hunted by a gang called the True Knot run by Rose the Hat(Rebecca Ferguson). The True Knot fuel their strange gifts by feeding off of children with "the shining" and Rose can sense Abra's abilities from miles away.

With Danny having made a mess of his life in a manner similar to his late father's, helping Abra seems like a good step towards redemption. However, will his gifts be powerful enough to save her from dark forces that are not bound by location?

A big change from the book is the connection made to the Kubrick film version, an adaptation that King is famously known for being less than thrilled with. However, the director of this movie did consult with King about this and it's understandable to link the two, given the iconic status of the earlier film, for present day audiences. How well this will do is uncertain but as someone who did read Doctor Sleep, I think it's going to be worth a look there:


For something even more frightening than back-to-back Stephen King movies, the holiday release of the beloved Broadway musical Cats might do the trick.

Just the trailer alone has horrified worldwide audiences online, due to the freakish CGI used to make the actors look like genetic mutations that escaped from a mad scientist's lair rather than felines brought to magical life.

Yes, the cast is great(with the exception of Rebel Wilson, who I consider to be a screeching pratfall of a performer at best) and Jennifer Hudson is a perfect choice to play Grizabella, the Glamour Cat. However, the bizarre look of the characters is off putting, to say the least.

As someone who was lucky enough to see the stage version of Cats twice, I totally get why many Broadway fans are happy to see this movie finally hit the multiplex. Yet, it would've been better if the same cast was selected to voice an animated adaptation(which was planned in the 1990s but sadly abandoned), which would give a much more creative and welcoming atmosphere for this story to be able to reach out to new audiences as well as old:


If you're looking for something very literary and possibly Oscar worthy, The Goldfinch, based on Donna Tartt's award winning novel, is your golden movie ticket.

This dark Dickensian tale follows Theo,(Ansel Elgort) who as a child (played by Oakes Fegley) witnessed a museum attack that took his mother's life and left him with a valuable art treasure that he has taken with him on many a strange life adventure.

This is not an easy story to condense but the cast has some great talents such as Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright,Denis O'Hare and Sarah Paulson, plus some positive feedback from the trailer release alone, so this could be a strong film this season,here's hoping!:


There will be more major movies to enjoy before the end of the year and with any luck, a couple that will bring movie goers that good feeling and sense of unity from a shared experience that we all seem to be missing in these turbulent times.

At least one thing is certain and that is many of us will be visiting Downton Abbey again this fall , only I do not think the Dowager Countess Violet would approve of popcorn eating during her scenes. Then again, she need never know of such a thing and why would we unnecessarily upset her so?:




Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Enjoying some Jane Austen modern makeovers with a slice of Cherry Cheesecake Murder

As the heat waves approach us, keeping cool in the shade of a good book is more vital than ever before.

Fortunately, I was recently able to catch up with a pair of Jane Austen themed novels as well as dive back into a cozy culinary series(more on that later) in order to embrace the warmth of good writing rather than the warmth of the day.

As it happens, both of the Austen related books have two things in common; they're set in modern times and each one adapts a fresh version of Pride & Prejudice. First up is Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, which takes place in Canada where our title heroine is beginning her career as a substitute teacher. She would much rather pursue her ambitions as a poet but practical concerns and family obligations push her into this traditionally safe profession.

At age 27, Ayesha is considered too old for the marriage market, which is fine with her. However, one of her neighbors, Khalid, who is rather conservative in dress and manners, finds himself attracted to her strong outspoken nature while his mother is firmly on the hunt for a suitable wife for him,according to her standards.

More than one situation throws Ayesha and Khalid together, giving their respective group of family and friends plenty of chances to encourage them as they slowly yet surely fall in love. Plenty of complications arise as well, with enemies from the past and present haunting Khalid and attempting to get in the way of his possible romance with Ayesha.

What I really loved about this book was the delicious rom-com flow of the story that used P&P as a guideline but not a rigid structure. A solid blend of humor and heart went into these characters, such as Ayesha's grandparents who subtly influenced certain plot points and Khalid's party hearty co-worker, who winds up bettering himself a bit as he tries to help his friend.

I also liked how the female characters were fully developed, particularly in the relationship between Ayesha and her cousin Hasfa, who is so the Lydia Bennet of this story. While they do care about each other, Hasfa is rather spoiled and selfish at times, taking advantage of her cousin's generosity, to the point of having Ayesha pretend to be her for an event planning gig that compromises her integrity.

When Ayesha finally does confront her about that and a few other things, it's not pretty but it was also necessary for both characters to truly get to the next emotional level for themselves and the story arc. That push-pull of their relationship makes their bond more sisterly, which reflects on the JA source material nicely:


The romance between Ayesha and Khalid is not to be discounted, however, and it does help to see his side of things here. While Ayesha learns how to take more chances in life and not just settle for lesser dreams, Khalid finds out a few truths about his own family, especially his older sister who was sent packing due to a secret that his manipulative mother was determined to hide(his mom is such a Lady Catherine!).

Seeing the two of them find a place of mutual love and respect in order to be together is lovely and having a few Shakespearean quotes sprinkled throughout the story, courtesy of Ayesha's literary grandfather, really rounds out this enchanting tale of true love, Austen style:


Meanwhile, Sonali Dev's Pride,Prejudice and Other Flavors is not just serving up some Jane Austen goodness, this book is meant to be the start of a series of Austen influenced stories set in California that features the Raje family.

Trisha Raje is a brilliant neurosurgeon, still dealing with the guilt of an incident from the past that could upset her brother Yash's political future. As their father is determined for his son to make a distinctive mark in the world, his harshness makes it difficult for Trisha to stay in touch with her family.

Try as she might,though, her family duty pulls her into the current campaign to get Yash into higher office which has her run into DJ Caine, a talented chef who left England to help his sister Emma, an artist with a serious health condition.

As it turns out, Emma happens to be Trisha's patient, which brings them both together more often than either of them would like. No matter what the situation, they just can't help clashing like water and fiery oil, to say the least:


The one thing that they can agree on is food as DJ has high culinary standards and Trisha tends to be rather hangry at times. She does appreciate his cooking, even if her growing feelings for him make her incredibly tongue tied, and he can't resist liking someone who fully enjoys the effort that he puts into his life's work:


A huge barrier to their friendship and potential romance is Julia Wickam, a former friend of Trisha's who betrayed more than one trust. Julia claims to be making fund raising documentaries for the critically ill and wants to use Emma as her next subject. That , along with other complications and secrets that are insisted upon to be kept, makes both Trisha and DJ more conflicted about any feelings that arise between them.

This story is very engaging, with the P&P elements blended lightly into the overall story but still detectable nonetheless. This is one of those up-all-night reads, where you have to make yourself go to bed despite wanting to see what's about to happen on the next page or in the next chapter. This is the first time that I've read Sonali Dev and I'm looking forward to more of the Raje family saga indeed.

At the moment, I'm indulging in the next Hannah Swensen title on my list, Cherry Cheesecake Murder, which I was saving for my Series-ous Reading challenge but the need for a relaxing read was just too great. Plus, my mom is way ahead of me with these books and I ought to keep up with them and her!

The main plot has Hannah and friends being thrilled that a Hollywood movie is being made in their beloved town of Lake Eden but when the film's director finds himself on the wrong end of an alleged prop gun, the hunt for a killer in their midst is on.

I do love small town movie making story lines but what really liven up things for me was how Hannah dealt with the pressure of having both Mike and Norman propose marriage to her(that happened at the end of the previous book). Everyone in town kept calling her on the phone, demanding that she make a choice so that either Mike or Norman would stop moping around. Hello, what about Hannah's needs, here?

This was very Stars Hollow and I liked how Hannah became all Luke Danes in publicly taking this issue on, which was really nobody's business but their own. Then again, that is how small towns go, I guess but sometimes, you have to tell folks to stand back and let a person breathe there:


Well, I hope all of you are having a good reading time this summer and if you're in the mood for a new take on Jane Austen, one of the titles above will suit your bookish needs.

 Speaking of bookish needs, I'm still making adjustments to my readathon list for August-long books are great but a shorter title or two might help me meet my goals better. Decisions, decisions! At least this is the good kind of dilemma to deal with, if you ask me:


Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Making it a cool summer with some good books

With the July Fourth holiday over with, the rest of the summer is a relatively quiet time where the main focus is to beat the ever increasing heat.

 That didn't stop me from making a visit to the library-books were due back,after all!-and I managed to pick up a few promising titles that should hold me over for awhile.

One book that I've heard quite a bit about is The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, where a quartet of siblings are given the precise date of their deaths by a fortune teller on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1969.

 This dubious yet rather exact information leads the Gold children to take all sorts of chances in life, since each of them has their own due date set by fate already. Brother and sister Simon and Klara team up to take off to San Francisco in the latter portion of the 1970s, where one of them decides to look into magic, particularly talking with the dead.

Meanwhile, decades later, their elder brother Daniel uses his connections as a military doctor to track down the fortune teller, who is on the FBI wanted list for fraud. Varya, the oldest of all her siblings, is a researcher seeking the key to increasing the human life span. While she has more of an emotional bond with the simian subjects of her experiments than actual human beings, an interview with a journalist sets off a change that could alter the whole course of her life.

This novel was on a good number of Best of the Year lists in 2018 and does offer a truly intriguing premise; how different would your life be if you knew just how long you had to live it? It's certainly worth a try and perhaps I'll get a few more reading suggestions out of this promising read as well:


 A pair of mysteries also found their way onto my library checkout; Cleo Coyle's A Shot in the Dark and The Dead Ringer by M.C. Beaton.  The latter is the latest Agatha Raisin entry, where our leading lady is asked to attend the arrival of a rather handsome bishop in a neighboring town.

This bishop attracts a lot of female attention, some of which leads to either a strange disappearance(of heiress Amber, who was said to be interested in marriage) or an untimely death such as one of the lady bell ringers at the church he was visiting.

Agatha is interested in both of these cases while trying to balance her love life and help out a few folks in need of her guidance, in her opinion. Can she manage it all out before things get more complicated than usual?

While I have read several of Coyle's Coffee House books before, this is the first Agatha Raisin novel that I'm reading(and yes, I do have the first two books in the series on hand). Well, at this point I have four library books at home and if you have that many taken out, you should start reading one of them at least!

Anyway, even though this title is further on in the series, I did finish watching Season One of the British TV series(which is great fun) and this ought to tide me over until Season Two is available:


Of course, the library wasn't the only place for me to get new books for the summer. Thanks to Library Thing, I won a copy of The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner, which chronicles the beginning of the end of the Russian monarchy.

Princess Maria Feodorovna of Denmark was destined to marry one son of the czar yet an unexpected turn for the worse leads her to wed his brother Sasha. As she joins the family, conditions under the rule of her father in law Alexander II lead the country into a realm of despair and uncertainty.

Maria does her best to keep her loved ones safe and secure, a mission that grows more difficult when Sasha's troubled reign is handed off to their son Nicholas, whose wife Alexandra is being strongly influenced by devious new advisor, Rasputin. Can she guide her family into calmer waters before it's too late?

I do like historical fiction but haven't read much about Russia in this genre, so this should be a good introduction to that. At the very least, I might watch the acclaimed Nicholas and Alexandra movie from the seventies, which sounds like a grand companion piece to this story:




However, I was unable to resist a book sale or two so, along with a Beatriz Williams novel that I've been meaning to get to, Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce is making it's way to me as we speak.

Set in WWII London, Emmeline, aka Emmy, Lake is hoping to do her bit for the war effort by becoming a Lady War Correspondent. However, her new job at Women's Friend magazine has Emmy being the assistant to Henrietta Bird, a popular advice columnist who demands that "unsuitable" letters from readers be tossed away.

Moved by the plight of those desperate letter writers, Emmy secretly answers them, using the Mrs. Bird byline. While she is helping to boost the moral of those waiting women at the home front, Emmy does run the risk of being found out and sent off in disgrace, not to mention her advice giving urges could lead to some personal disasters as well.

This charming novel should make for a great summer read, plus I do like the notion of someone with a plucky can-do spirit trying to spread joy in troubled times. That's something we all could use more of these days, that's for sure!:


Hopefully, these new finds will satisfy my bookish needs as the temperatures climb higher and higher. Best case scenario, my book buying budget will not be exceeded by all of the great deals being showcased out there.

Of course, there are some books that don't need a sale to be purchase worthy but it does make resisting temptation all the harder when that special book you've been waiting for is at such a good price! Perhaps I'm not alone in wanting my resolve in such matters to be as solid as a block of ice instead of being as prone to melting as ice cream, especially in summer:



Monday, July 01, 2019

Wrapping up a readathon and other summer book plans

With the expansion of the Sci-Fi Summer readathon(thanks to Michelle at Seasons of Reading), I was able to add a couple of non theme related titles to my immediate TBR and since one of them was a library book, that really came in handy.

The other book was the third in a series and oddly enough, the second one that I read from this author. Laura Disilverio's The Readaholics mysteries all take place in a town called Heaven in Colorado(a recent name change, in order to attract the tourist trade) where a book club that focuses on mystery novels  winds up solving a few murders in their own backyard.

In The Readaholics and the Gothic Gala, leading lady Amy-Faye Johnson is using her event planning skills to arrange a local literary event,The Celebration of Gothic Novels, being hosted by a book shop called Book Bliss(love that name!). It's a theme that Amy-Faye and friends are in the mood for, having chosen Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca as their latest book club selection.

The Gothic Novels celebration has three modern day authors in attendance; grand dame Constance Aldringham, spunky Francesca Bugle and debut darling Mary Stewart. While most of the scheduled events go well, with only a few odd mishaps that are cleared up rather quickly, it's the costume party held at the golf club that produces the most excitement.

Two unexpected guests cause quite the uproar, with the first being Eloise Hufnagle, who insists that Mary Stewart stole her manuscript, making her surprise bestseller a fraud. As Eloise makes her getaway via dousing various party goers with (fortunately) fake blood, Amy-Faye is asked to go to the manager's office where a deceased stranger breaks up the party for good. Is Eloise to blame for this shocking surprise as well?:



Turns out that the stranger is an out of towner named Trent Van Allen, who Amy-Faye noticed showing up at the celebration events all day. He certainly didn't appear to be a gothic reader and in fact, had a rather shifty past.

Since the murder weapon was a stake swiped from Lola, one of the Readaholics at the party, Amy-Faye and company feel honor bound to discover who the killer is.

Secrets and lies abound with the newcomers to town as Constance's daughter Allyson has had prior trouble with the law, Mary Stewart and her accompanying brother/bodyguard Lucas are not who they seem to be, plus Francesca and Hollywood producer Cosmo Zeller are all too anxious about the upcoming adaptation of her bestselling novel, Barbary Close.

With Amy-Fay getting a tip from Van Allen's girlfriend Sharla, who has good reason not to go to the cops, it appears that the motive for murder is blackmail. But, which of the authors is being targeted and is it a secret worth killing for?:


I really like this series and hope there are more books to come. Amy-Faye and her Readaholic friends are great fun, especially Maud, a lady who's clearly lived a pretty interesting life and has some wild tales to tell! Another bonus is that the club does take the time to discuss their recent read(as well as watch the film version) and that each book plays a part in solving the main mystery.

I do have the first book to read,The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco, and while it's weird to read the first one last, this appears to be working for me. With Gothic Gala being published back in 2016, it might be the final one in this series, which would be a shame. Perhaps there's another Readaholics meeting being planned as we speak but if not, at least this was a grand gothic time worth having:


With Gothic Gala and Sujita Massey's The Satapur Moonstone(a wonderful read) being completed and Sci-Fi Summer finished until next time, I'm going to try and just have a few relaxing reads this July.

There are plans for a Christmas in July readathon but I am going to sit that one out and join up for the High Summer event this August. That month is going to be busy for me, with Bad Movie Month and setting up a fall book preview ,too,but no rest for the wicked as they say!

In the meanwhile, I have a few new books to explore such as Pride,Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev. In this present day take on the iconic Jane Austen novel,  Trisha Raje and DJ Caine seem to come from very different worlds as she is a talented neurosurgeon devoted strictly to her work and he's a chef /actual DJ that's hired to cater a major event for her family.

The two of them take an instant dislike to each other yet what they do have in common is DJ's younger sister, who is dealing with medical problems that require Trisha's skills and DJ's support. As they find themselves growing closer, a certain lady with the last name of Wickam does her best to split this potential for new love apart.

I do like a fresh blend of Jane Austen storytelling with modern day flair and this novel promises to be an engaging read, filled with fine writing and accomplished women galore:


Also, I'm going to be sampling some of M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin mystery series. thanks in part to enjoying the BBC TV series that it inspired on DVD.

We are introduced to Agatha in The Quiche of Death, where our leading lady has moved from London to a small village in the Cotswalds, having taken an early retirement from her successful PR firm. It's been a childhood dream of hers to enjoy a quiet country life but she's not fitting in as well as she thought she would.

Agatha decides to enter the local quiche contest, using a store bought pastry from out of town, as a means to making a good impression. That backfires as not only does her entry not win, it poisons one of the judges! Not wanting to reveal her cheating at the competition, Agatha decides to get to the bottom of the mystery before another deadly bite is taken.

The show is charming, with a nice bit of whimsy and potential romance, and with the first two books in the series, I will most likely have another cozy mystery author queuing up on my shelves to enjoy:


My blog posts might be light this month but I will pop in from time to time there. My thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for another great readathon(will sign up in August and yes, I have a TBR all set for High Summer!) and a Happy July Fourth to all.

I do know that I read a lot of  mysteries(cozy and otherwise) but I have no plans to start any amateur sleuthing on my own, I promise! Some things are best left to the experts or to those delightful fictional folk who make all of that page turning a suspenseful sweet treat indeed:


Monday, June 24, 2019

Setting up some summer day reading for July & August

Since we're fully into summer now, making rest and relaxation plans during these hot and humid months are vital.  Whether you're putting up your feet at home or packing up for a big road trip, books are part and parcel for your entertainment needs.

During this July and August, quite a few new reads are expected to arrive on a bookshelf near you and while it may be daunting to keep track of them all, perhaps this list of recommendations can make that particular task more of a pleasure than a chore:


RIDING THE READING WAVE:

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to finish reading The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman and in my opinion, this was the best way to start my summer.

The leading lady of the title is enjoying what she deems a rather happy existence, with a great job at a indie bookstore, an apartment loaded to the brim with books and competitive fun as a member of a bar trivia team called Book 'Em Danno, plus a cat.

Nina's world gets a few sudden jolts as a visit from a lawyer brings her news of the death of her father, a man she never knew, and a whole slew of relatives, one of which has very blunt opinions about Nina's possible inheritance from the last will and testament. In addition, there's a guy on a rival trivia team(You're a Quizzard, Harry, such a great name!) who is catching her eye but he doesn't seem to be much of a reader, a major check in the negative column.

Nina does have some anxiety problems, which are set off by all of these new changes. Can she learn to adjust to this new set of situations or will she retreat further away from them?  This is the first time that I've read Abbi Waxman and this book is a wonderful introduction to her witty ways with words and people.

I highly encourage any and all bookish types to add this enchanting novel to their summer reading and while this story is set in Southern California, there a bit of a New England Stars Hollow vibe to it that should delight fans of a certain beloved TV show indeed(July):


 For a look into the not so distant literary past, Karen Dukess takes us to The Last Book Party, set in the summer of 1987.

Eve Rosen longs to be a writer as celebrated as Henry Grey, who is practically a living legend at the New Yorker, yet being an editorial secretary at his publishers is enough of a thrill for her.  Getting to meet him and his seeming elite family at his home during a business gathering is pretty much a dream come true.

In order to get closer to the Greys as well as her literary ambitions, Eve leaves her job to work for up and coming author Jeremy Grand as his research assistant. Jeremy went to school with Henry's son Franny and while his talents as a writer are attractive, what he knows about the Greys is less than pretty. Eve learns that lesson the hard way at a book party which is both a beginning and an ending for all involved.

With such rapid changes to the world of publishing, Dukess gives us the gift of reflection upon a somewhat more innocent time that offers plenty of secrets and lies for the page turning(July).

HISTORICAL BLASTS FROM THE PAST:

Laura L. Sullivan offers a different take on The Three Musketeers with Milady, the villainous dame of de Winter. Here, we get her back story as Clarice, a young woman introduced into the intrigues of the court of King James I, mainly for the benefit of her absent nobleman father.

Using her skills for deceit and murder, Clarice makes her way through less than polite society, despite being made into a pawn by various men in her path for their own power games. By the time she does run into D'Artagnan and friends, she has lived more than one adventurous life and is ready to take on more.

If you're a fan of Milady de Winter (and yes, I am), this novel is a dream come true and for those not yet familiar with the classic Dumas tale, this is a good way to make the acquaintance of those fine fellows and the most deadly diva in literature(July):


 In Karen Brooks' The Chocolate Maker's Wife, which takes place in London of the 1660s, Rosemund Tompkins considers it to be her good fortune to be sold into marriage to Sir Everald Blithman, a nobleman who has just opened a chocolate drinking establishment for the upper class.

While happy to get away from the abusive men in her family, Rosemund soon learns that her new husband considers her more of a daughter, as in she resembles his deceased daughter Helena. Further more, Helena's widower, Matthew Lovelace, was never considered to be good enough for her and her father blames him for the early death of his beloved child.

Rosemund contents herself with being a good wife by educating herself on the newly flourishing chocolate trade and becoming a charming hostess at the drinking house. Even when she finds herself an independent woman of means, Rosemund does her best to take life as it comes but it's not without a few obstacles both in and out of her control. This lively look at a woman in the flow of history who makes her own way forward is quite the savory sweet treat(August).

Beatriz Williams can always be counted on for a great read that highlights amazing people in history and in her upcoming The Golden Hour, the infamous Duke and Duchess of Windsor play a key role.

Reporter Lulu Thorpe is covering the doings of the former heir to the English throne and his wife Wallis Simpson as they set up shop in the Bahamas during the early 1940s. Her ultimate goal is to help her current husband Benedict , an undercover agent for the British,escape from a German prison camp but she still has a job to do and highlighting the Windsors is a necessary evil.

Lulu is no stranger to trouble, having had to ditch a troublesome prior husband, and yet, this plight of her beloved Benedict may be trickier to deal with. A connection from his family's past might be the unexpected key to his freedom, if only she can find it in time. Williams is truly crackerjack when it comes to such stories and her portrayal of the Windsors should be a delightful dish on this literary menu(July):


 FIRE AND FLIGHT: This pair of late summer releases have very different ways of dealing with matters of heart and soul yet each works well for their particular set of fictional situations.

In Lisa Lutz's The Swallows, newly hired teacher Alex Witt is going through some hazing at Stonebridge Academy, a private school in Vermont. As she begins to deal with the bordering on nasty harassment, a student named Gemma informs her of a website where the boys of Stonebridge brag about their sexual conquests, complete with a ranking of their female classmates.

Not wanting to make waves yet unable to ignore the issue, Alex becomes an unofficial advisor to Gemma, who is forming a group of her peers that are planning to take the boys on, especially since they know the patriarchal power system that runs the school certainly won't. As remote as she hopes to be from all of this, Alex finds herself caught up in the maelstrom that eventually ignites but is not unhappy about which side she's on.

Lutz is known for her sharp satire mixed with savvy storytelling and while this novel is set several years before the rise of the push back movement against misogynistic behavior that we see today, this vivid tale of payback rings strongly true to the times(August).


The leading lady of Katherine Center's Things You Save in a Fire is Cassie Hanwell, whose determination to get over the turmoil that entered her life at age sixteen lead her to become a top firefighter in Austin, TX, ten years later.

An unexpected encounter with someone from her past sets off a chain of actions that has Cassie starting over in a Boston firehouse, living with the mother who left her a decade ago.

Dealing with a new crew and a mom that wants to reconnect before her health problems get worse, Cassie has enough on her plate without being attracted to a rookie firefighter named Owen, who is quite friendly but they're competing for the same spot in the firehouse, thanks to budget cuts.

That's not the only reason that she wants to hold off on making emotional bonds yet fate seems to have other things in mind for her, despite Cassie's determination to be an emotional island fortress. Perhaps she has to discover how to rescue herself. This poignant novel of love, loss and self healing sounds like the perfect reading escape for any time of the year(August):


 I hope you all have a great summer and enjoy whatever good times you have planned, especially for the big Fourth of July holiday that is just around the corner. As for me, that holiday is going to be spent in a certain small town where a new mall has opened and along with the fireworks, Stranger Things will be bringing the noise as well as the fearsome funk:


Monday, June 17, 2019

Planning a ladies' night at the movies this summer

While we're in the big blockbuster movie season at the moment, it's a good idea to take a serious look around at the upcoming film schedule to see if there is anything on the cinematic horizon that's a bit more bookish and female focused.

At the very least, you might find a small treasure just waiting to be discovered or a merely a not on the major radar movie that needs a little extra attention to gain a sizeable audience. For example, a different take on Shakespeare's Hamlet is due out later this month entitled Ophelia, starring Daisy Ridley in the title role.

From being taken in as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Gertrude(Naomi Watts) to becoming the secret love interest of Prince Hamlet(George McKay) as the royal family deals with major upheavals,including betrayal of the most intimate kind, Ophelia has to rely on her own wits to find a safe passage for herself. However, such maneuvering often comes at a terrible price but will she be willing to pay that cost?

Based on the novel by Lisa Klein as well as the iconic play, this vision of Hamlet's Denmark could be an eye opener even for those who think they know this story inside and out. Perhaps a new set of eyes could make this tragic tale more poignant than ever before:


 Arriving in August, Vita & Virginia puts the spotlight on two main members of the famed Bloomsbury Group in England of the 1920s.

Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) is determined to befriend the reclusive writer Virginia Woolf(Elizabeth Debicki) in order to liven up her dreary social life but their connection turns out to become much deeper than that.

The growing affection between them is strong, with neither of their seemingly conventional marriages getting in the way, and eventually their bond becomes the inspiration for one of Woolf's most innovative works, Orlando.

Adapted from the stage play by Eileen Atkins(who used the actual correspondence of these remarkable women as source material), this movie may be a great introduction into the Bloomsbury mystique as well as inviting those devoted to this special circle of friends over for some engaging drama:


Also set for August but a little closer to modern times, The Kitchen stars Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elizabeth Moss as a trio of wives living in Hell's Kitchen during the 1970s who share two things in common; their husbands are in prison and they're facing hard financial times.

Tired of scrapping by and barely making do with what little is given to them, the ladies decide to be their own mob bosses and surprise themselves by being more than just as good as the men. In fact, they're far better.

However, even these strong willed women have to deal with the aftermath of a life of crime but perhaps they can make it work on their own terms. This movie is based on a DC/Vertigo graphic novel by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle that should be reissued in time for this movie to make it's mark on the big screen.  Why this is set for so late in the summer movie game, I don't know but it could be a savvy sleeper hit, we shall see:


Well, it's good to see some girl power on the silver screen this summer and not just in the fall in time for award show season. Although, we may get a bit of mega movie fun when back to school season starts that should be delightfully wicked indeed, particularly if you're fond of villainous leading ladies, which I so am!: