Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, February 25, 2019

Marching into spring with some new reads

There are many reasons to look forward to spring and not just for the warmer weather.

Granted, the chilling winds howling outside my window right now seem to be announcing March's arrival(soon to be followed by April) yet my keen interest in the new seasonal cycle is for the books.

This set of upcoming titles have plenty of spring fever vibes; love in the air, a touch of history and something tasty to savor:


Lissa Evans brings forth the early struggles of  twentieth century feminism in her latest novel,Old Baggage.

Living in 1928 London, Mattie Simpkins is no longer on the front lines of the suffragette movement. Instead, she and her good friend Flossie are leading calmer lives, although she does miss some of the excitement from those days.

However, Mattie finds herself called back into action as an encounter with a former ally alerts her to a new generation being manipulated into supporting the cause of fascism. Teaming up with Flossie, she forms a group who call themselves Amazons, determined to encourage young women into seeking higher education rather than getting the traditional "Mrs." degree.

While this new group revives Mattie's spirits, one of their latest members, a woman named Inez, threatens to quickly undo all of her fresh efforts. This look at the old school fight for women's rights sounds as if it can teach us modern gals a little something about our struggles today(April):

First Daughter Alice Roosevelt is the leading lady of American Princess by Stephanie Marie Thornton, a young woman who makes quite the impact on Washington D.C. society with her independent ways.

Alice may not be as prim and proper as some might expect her to be but her offbeat approach to life made her relatable to others. From livening up a diplomatic mission by jumping into a pool fully clothed to taking an empress of China out for a good time,she proved to be a formidable asset to her family's political ends.

The one thing that came close to tripping Alice up was love,particularly her charming rogue of a husband whose ambitions in Washington didn't get in the way of his straying from his wife's side. Despite those personal heartaches, she continued to keep her head up and fight whatever good fight came her way.

Thornton's take on this Roosevelt diva offers us a new look at a woman who forged new paths for those that came long after her and promises to be a fun ride in the bargain(March).


Trent Dalton's debut novel, Boy Swallows Universe, is set around the outskirts of Brisbane during the 1980s where 12 year old Eli is doing his best to figure out life.

That's not as easy as it sounds, given that his mom and her boyfriend Lyle are small time drug dealers, his older brother August can only communicate by writing odd phrases in the air and Eli's best friend is Slim, a career criminal.

Nevertheless, Eli does his best to roll with the punches and life gives him plenty such as his mother landing in prison,leaving him and August to live with their alcoholic father. Over the years, Eli uses the lessons that experience and Slim have taught him to seek a way out of the dead end route set before him and comes close to breaking free.

The price for that ,however, is strongly connected to his past and might take away more than just his own future. Dalton made quite a splash with this blend of humor and pathos back in his homeland and should be well appreciated in this corner of the world as well(April):


In Tracy Garvis Graves' The Girl He Used To Know, the woman in the title is Annika, who runs into her former college sweetheart and wonders if this is a second chance for both of them at love.

Annika's status as a person on the autism spectrum made it hard for her to connect with people during her childhood but finding a good friend at college and playing chess opened up the world to her.

Jonathan was smitten with Annika at first sight during their first game(which he lost) and their relationship grew by degrees. Upon his taking a job in New York after their senior year, the two of them broke up but was that the real reason for their romance to end as it did?

With Jonathan newly divorced, the way seems clear for them to try again but is that an opportunity worth taking or was their reunion at the local grocery store simply a chance encounter at best? Graves gives his heroine the proper emotional respect that her condition deserves and gives the reader a compelling tale of modern love to appreciate(April).

We get a blast of the past with My Very '90s Romance, courtesy of Jenny Colgan. When florist Holly finds herself having to take a new roommate situation, she gets more than she bargained for with the likes of snarky Kate, Josh with his complicated love life and Addison, a sweet computer bound soul.

Holly manages to reassess her issues in life but is determined to get Addison away from his online isolation,where only his possessive girlfriend Claudia is in control of his choices. With some help from their mutual friends, Holly and Addison might make a cute couple in the best sense of the term.

Colgan is pretty much an expert at creating engaging characters with quirky charms and slightly grand schemes at improving their lives and loves, so this sounds like a truly sweet treat from her playful pen. It also has the flavor of a charming romcom from the era that gave us My Best Friend's Wedding as well as Four Weddings and a Funeral, one of which is better due to Hugh Grant, if you ask me(March):


 Living legend Ruth Reichl serves up another tempting memoir with Save Me The Plums that focuses on her ten year stint as editor in chief at Gourmet magazine.

Her intent was to bring the high end foodie magazine into the modern world of food by making their features old school elegant yet appealing to regular folks by offering internet accessibility and highlighting new trends such as food trucks and street eats.

Reichl's periodical tales include making a Thanksgiving Turkey chili for firefighters dealing with the aftermath of 9/11, publishing a controversial article on the most humane way to prepare lobster and dealing with writers of foodie fact and fiction.

 Her work gives you the feeling of being by her side as she dishes up a delicious taste of life with the added bonus of sampling some glossy great page turning goodness to boot(April):

It will be good to have some decent outdoor weather again, especially since that will be the best excuse to go out and get new books. Yes, going to the library counts as you might make a mysterious new friend while you browse,just as long as that person doesn't bite down on your bookmark!:

Friday, February 22, 2019

Is everything old becoming new again with these scary lady movies?

Scary movies crop up at all times of the year but this spring, I'm noticing a new species of fearful film flowers with a female driven focus.

For one, Greta is set to bloom in theaters this March, starring Chloe Grace Moretz as Frances, a young woman who returns a lost purse to the title character(Isabelle Huppert) and strikes up a friendship with the lonely woman.

Since Frances has recently lost her own mother, this new relationship quickly takes on a maternal vibe,which wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that Greta's motherly instincts have a lethal side to them.The film is directed by Neil Jordan, who has done stylish scare flicks before(Interview With The Vampire) and so far, there's good advance word on this tightly wound thriller:

Meanwhile in May, Octavia Spencer is springing forward as Ma, aka Sue Ann, a reclusive woman who is at first reluctant to get involved with a group of local teenagers asking her to buy them booze.

However, she not only picks up some alcohol for them but lets the kids party in her house on a regular basis. Sue Ann does have some rules, including no swearing and having a sober driver but the big one is that they are to stay in the basement and not go upstairs.

This seems like a sweet deal to the teens, especially Maggie(Diana Silvers) who requested the booze buy from "Ma" in the first place. However, this free ride to fun times does come with a price and it's more than any of them imagined it would be.

Tate Taylor is the director and co-writer on this movie and he's worked with Octavia Spencer before,particularly on The Help, so this appears to be a project created with her in mind. That's great as she's a talented actor who has played plenty of nice ladies onscreen and seeing her as a Big Bad sounds like frightening fun:

 While these movies do sound like a scary good time, I couldn't help but wonder "why do these "older women going after the young ones" plot lines sound so familiar?" It's like hearing a snatch of old music in the background of a new song that you can't quite identify right away.

Then it hit me-this appears to be a revival of what has been called in the past "hagsploitation" or "psycho-biddy", where older actresses turn to the horror genre as menacing leading ladies. Many feel this started with the 1963 camp classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, featuring Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.

The surprise success of that film lead to a wave of other similar scare flicks through out the mid to late sixties and early seventies and while most of those did have their terrifying divas stalk prey close to their own age, a few of the movies had the younger generation in their sights as well.

 For example, former Hollywood diva Tallulah Bankhead played a dour and deadly matriarch in 1965's Die,Die,My Darling!(known as Fanatic in the UK) where she held potential daughter-in-law Stephanie Powers captive on her remote estate. Sure, there are numerous differences between this and Greta but the theme of an older mother figure tormenting a surrogate daughter is powerfully the same:

As to Ma, the closest film in this genre that I could find to compare it with is Who Slew Auntie Roo? from 1971 with Shelley Winters in the title role.

Winters plays a seemingly well-off widow who brings orphan children to her mansion for the holidays but becomes obsessed with a brother(yes, that is the kid from Oliver!) and sister who gate crash the party. The little girl reminds Roo of her deceased daughter who she happens to keep in the attic.

Most of the movie is a weird riff off of the Hansel and Gretel story to say the least and while the young folks in danger here are decidedly younger than the terrorized teens in Ma, some of this sinister silly story line fits into this theme. Not to mention that like Spencer, Winters was also an Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress years before she appeared in this freaky fear fest:

To be fair, Greta and Ma clearly are made with bigger budgets and far less camp than those earlier films. Also, while many of the actresses back then went to this genre as a chance to still do some film work well after the heyday of their careers, Spencer and Huppert are well established women in their field and many would consider them to be in their prime.

What worries me is that if one or both of these movies does well, the films that follow could easily slide into the "crazy old lady" stereotype and as a gal who is no spring chicken herself, it's not a welcome reflection to see showcased in the pop culture mirror right now.

Then again, this might lead to better roles for women in horror-Kathy Bates did win a Best Actress Oscar for Misery after all-and I just hope that any other Hollywood diva that decides to get scary in the near future does so with the best of their talents on command but not entirely without a sense of humor:

Monday, February 18, 2019

My Series-ous Reading is no longer under The Black Moon but is Caught Bread Handed

As eager as I am to start a new round of Series-ous Reading(where I catch up on books in various literary series), I was honor bound to finish up a book from last year's list before beginning anew.

While I do enjoy Winston Graham's Poldark novels,as well as the current BBC/PBS adaptation of them, tackling The Black Moon proved to take much longer than expected. Granted, the plot lines were already known to me yet the pacing went between fast and furious to slow and steady.

The title refers to the birth of Elizabeth's child under that auspicious lunar event, a son that may bear the name of Warleggan but more than likely is not truly of that blood line. Since that secret is divulged to a certain someone very late in the game, I'm not going to get into all of that here.

 Instead, the story line that I'm focusing on for this write-up is the romance between Morwenna Chynoweth, a cousin of Elizabeth's who is taken on as governess to elder son Geoffrey Charles, and Drake Carne, younger brother of Demelza Poldark.

These two met by chance and under the umbrella of a bond with Geoffrey Charles, form an attachment that is chaste and sweet. They say opposites attract and in terms of social class,education and religion(Drake is a Methodist, which was controversial back then), they certainly are.

However, when it comes to temperament, Morwenna and Drake do share a sense of kindness and courtesy to one another,as well as a sense of obligation to others. It's that innate urge to do their duty by society and/or their loved ones that is both a strength and a weakness to their love:

Alas, the two of them are split up as Drake is accused of a crime he didn't commit(and is ultimately released) while poor Morwenna is dragged into an arranged marriage with the truly horrendous Rev. Whitworth, a sleazy widower with a foot fetish.

What does and doesn't surprise me is how all of Morwenna's family,even George Warleggan who only sets up this martial union to improve his social connections, are quick to tell her that she is "too young" to know her own mind about her feelings for Drake and decidedly not for Whitworth. Hmm, how is it that she's not old enough to chose a romantic partner yet it's more than enough time for her to get married?

Sadly enough, the only one who seems to not have a problem with their romance is Geoffrey Charles, who considers them both to be his friends. Yes, I do know that things will work out for them in the end but there's a lot of heartache until then,which is not fun to read or watch at times:

A bittersweet saving grace of the book is saying farewell to Aunt Agatha, that tough old gal who refused to leave her ancestral home despite the Warleggan takeover.

She spends a good portion of the time planning her one hundredth birthday party, using what funds she has left to her and getting everyone within earshot to do her bidding on the matter.

 Of course, George has to ruin her last good time but not without paying a price for that unpleasant pleasure as Agatha gifts him with one hell of a bombshell about his supposed first born son. The aftermath of her final departure will be taken up in the next book, The Four Swans, but I'll wait while before tackling that one.

It was a shame that Agatha didn't take Ross up on his offer to bring her to his home at Nampara. He and Demelza certainly would've given her the respect that she deserved as well as real affection. However, I think that part of what kept her going was her hatred of George Warleggan and some folks just can't give up a good fight, even right up to the end:

I must confess that while I was still struggling to finish The Black Moon in the new year, I just had to take up the first of my 2019 Series-ous Reading selections and am halfway through the book already.

Caught Bread Handed is the fourth culinary crime solving novel in Ellie Alexander's Bakeshop Mystery series, where we find Juliet "Jules" Capshaw back at her hometown bakery Torte. As she is busy helping her mom make the place a more financially viable success without compromising quality, her estranged husband Carlos is also lending a helping hand in the kitchen.

Jules is still trying to figure out the future of her marriage,not to mention worry a bit about her mother's romance with the local head detective known as The Professor, when a new business in town is stirring up major trouble.

Not only does the fast food franchise Shakesburgers stick out like a sore thumb in the Shakespeare festival themed town, owner Mindy has an attitude that is equally as sore and off putting. Folks are determined to make the restaurant move out of the downtown area, causing quite a showdown at the latest town meeting:

Jules has to leave the meeting early, due to having deliveries to make in the morning, but hears later about the big fight Mindy had with one of the townspeople that got a bit physical.

That story isn't the only shocker she experiences that day as Jules notices something wrong at Shakesburgers and walks in to find Mindy bleeding to death. Even though Mindy's business partner insists that it was a suicide, it soon becomes apparent that her demise was out and out murder.

With plenty of dilemmas already piled on her plate, Jules can't help but look into the matter before another untimely death kills everyone's appetite for good. I do like the way Alexander blends in the details of running Torte into her delicious detective tales, right down to plans made for a Spanish themed Sunday Supper club as well as working on sweets for a local pub called The Green Goblin to pair with their drinks.

At the point I'm at in the book, suspects abound but no clear cut way to the killer just yet. Who I am suspicious of is Carlos and not for Mindy's murder. I'm not buying that whole "Sorry I couldn't tell you about my kid before we got married" deal, which is a serious trust issue.

Yes, he explained somewhat to Jules in the last book about that but come on, your little boy is old enough for you to exchange letters with(which Jules found,which is how she found out in the first place!) but you felt it was too soon to let your intended wife to know either before or after the wedding? This isn't the eighteenth century,dude!

 Sure, he's very charming and a good cooking teacher,especially to Sterling, the tough looking but good hearted Torte apprentice, but that should not let Carlos off the hook for withholding such important information like that.

 I hope that if they really get back together that he earns Jules' trust the right way. Thomas, her former high school sweetheart, is keeping a respectful distance here but I don't rule him out as a possible future love interest.

No doubt that I will finish this tasty dish of a read soon,far sooner than The Black Moon, and the next stop for my Series-ous Reading will be at Hannah Swensen's Cookie Jar for a Fudge Cupcake Murder, followed by a trip to France where Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness will get Naughty In Nice and perhaps I might check out a Noodle Shop Mystery to sample Death By Dumpling as well.

Rest assured,however, that I will be visiting Torte again after this bloody bread caper to observe some Fudge and Jury along with A Crime of Passion Fruit. Just like those classic potato chips, you can't devour just one of Ellie Alexander's Bakeshop Mysteries without wanting a little more:

Friday, February 15, 2019

Revving up for the Oscars with some royal reads

With the Oscar race well under way and plenty of bad vibes about the omitting of certain honors on the awards show, it might be good to clear the negative air by reading a few books that highlight some of the major nominees.

For example, we have two cinematic contenders that feature British royalty in very different ways. The Favourite focuses on the reign of Queen Anne and the influence that certain select friendships made upon her decisions. The fight over who gets to be Her Majesty's best friend,fueled by jealousy,greed and love, has earned the movie plenty of praise for it's examination of female power dynamics with doses of snarky humor.

This dark satire is up for several Oscars, including Best Actress(Olivia Coleman) and two Best Supporting Actress spots(Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone) as well.

Meanwhile, we also have Mary, Queen of Scots, a more conventional costume drama which stars Saoirse Ronan as the title matriarch who clashes with her English counterpart Elizabeth I(Margot Robbie).

The movie has received mixed reviews at best, with many critiquing the historical accuracy of the script and debating which of the two leading ladies gave the better performance. To be honest, I would see both of these movies and enjoy them for completely different reasons, which is how it should be.

What is bothersome is that one of the two categories that Mary, Queen of Scots is up for(Hair and Make-Up) won't be shown during the Oscars live broadcast. At least some of this movie's work will be featured in Best Costume Design that evening.

*UPDATE: over the past weekend, the Academy has changed it's mind about not airing those four categories(Cinematography,Editing,Hair & Make-Up,Costume) and hopefully this will be the last of the last minute changes that the Oscars make this year.

Anyhow, since three UK queens are being represented on Oscar night, I thought that finding a fictional representation for each of them would make for nice bedside reading as we wait for the Academy Awards:

THE LADY ELIZABETH: Author Alison Weir is a historian whose vast knowledge of the period is artfully woven through her novels featuring royal subject matter. This take on Elizabeth, the unexpected Tudor heir to the throne, follows her childhood and early days as a lady of her turbulent father's court.

From living down the legacy of her executed mother Anne Boleyn to being accepted at times and rejected at other due to the whims and/or political schemes of those vying for Henry the VIII's favor, Elizabeth proves herself to be a formidable survivor.

Yet, the emotional cost of hardening her will does take a toll on her. Watching the rise and fall of her father's regal brides, Elizabeth prefers not to be placed in such a precarious position as any man's future wife, despite having a few romantic longings herself. Weir does adore this period and it shows in her writing while making such facts come to page turning life for readers and offers a good introduction to this most iconic queen:

THE OTHER QUEEN: When it comes to female focused  novels about royal families, Philippa Gregory is certainly a true literary queen indeed.

Her novel about Mary, Queen of Scots is set during the period when she is held as a "guest" of George Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and his wife, Bess of Hardwick. Bess hopes to earn herself a better place on the influence ladder by having Mary held on their estate while George finds his loyalties being slowly but surely divided.

Mary does what she can to use those standing in her way to escape from the trap her regal cousin has placed her in but to no avail as time drags on. Gregory tells the story from each of their points of view and captures the steadily growing twists and turns that fate has in store for all of them in the rather bitter end:

COURTING HER HIGHNESS: Renowned writer Eleanor Hibbert had several pen names for her work over the years and one of those was Jean Plaidy, who wrote this 1966 novel about Queen Anne as the last of a series chronicling the reign of the House of Stuart.

Fortunately, it's still readily available and can no doubt be read separately from the other titles in that series(although you might want to try a couple more).  The original title was The Queen's Favorites and yes , it does cover that point in Anne's reign when the influence of her best friend Sarah Churchill was challenged by the arrival of Abigail Hill.

While this novel may not have the sharp edges that the current film possesses, Plaidy/Hibbert was an author with strong narrative skills who knew how to make period pieces feel lively and engaging. I've read some of her work as Victoria Holt(gothic romances for the most part) and her take on royalty should be just as riveting and perhaps historically enlightening as well:

Well, this trio of books ought to be as entertaining as these Oscar nominated films are and hopefully one or two of the onscreen queens will be crowned with Academy Award gold that evening. As for more fictional film looks at British ladies in charge, you'll have to wait for the small screen as Starz plans to have a new Philippa Gregory adaptation on it's spring schedule.  

The Spanish Princess combines two of Gregory's books to bring a fresh face to the story of Catherine of Aragon, the first of the Tudor Queens to start off the pivotal path that the other wives of Henry VIII have had to follow. With any luck, maybe this miniseries might earn some Emmy love for next year, we shall see:

Monday, February 11, 2019

A freezing set of new reads fit for February

Despite the lack of snow at the moment, it's rather chilly in my neck of the woods which makes a few fear filled books seem all too perfect to curl up with.

My latest library haul had me grabbing a couple of literary fright fests that came out earlier last year. As much as I like Stephen King, sometimes it is best to catch up with him this way and The Outsider does have quite the spooky set-up.

Police detective Ralph Anderson is dead certain that well liked teacher and Little League coach Terry Maitland is the one responsible for the gruesome death of a young boy, with all of the evidence pointing right smack in that direction. Trouble is, there is also plenty of proof that Terry was nowhere near the victim and it's just as reliable as Anderson's case.

Before long, Anderson has to seek outside help in order to figure this strange situation out and things go from bad to worse to what the hell in no time flat. Can he and his new consultant Holly,a woman who is no stranger to unusual criminal doings, be able to solve this murder and perhaps others that have yet to happen?

King does enjoy genre blending and this mix of supernatural with straight forward police work does sound intriguing, to say the least. There are plans to turn this story into a HBO limited series in the near future but I would like to read the book first this time around.

Unlike some folks who vehemently dislike changes from script to screen(the big one for the upcoming Pet Semetery remake is not that bad, in my opinion), I'm at the stage in my entertainment life where a little compare and contrast is a good thing. Also, as time goes by,Stephen King continues to challenge his audience with newer sets of mind games and he should be appreciated for that effort indeed:

I paired that book with The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware, the second novel of hers that I've borrowed from the library. Our leading lady is Harriet, a fortune teller who is barely keeping her head above financial waters as a loan shark is breathing down her neck.

When a letter arrives saying that she's listed as a heir from a grandmother that she never knew, Harriet decides to take a chance and see if she can claim some of this fortune that fate seems to have tossed into her lap.

However, the matter proves to be more complicated than that and along with deceiving those assembled at Trepassen House who are actually family, she soon discovers that a tale of a trapped girl from the past may be a big part of what's going on with this remote estate. Solving this mystery could lead to riches or take Harriet down the path to ruin of a permanent sort.

Ware has been compared to Agatha Christie(The Woman in Cabin 10 did have some of that vibe) and this particular story feels as if Christie and Daphne Du Maurier decided to team up there. I do like a modern thriller with old fashioned themes,plus tarot cards play a huge part here and once upon a time, I dabbled in those as well. Fortunately, my tarot readings never stirred up the trouble that Ware's heroine finds herself in and hopefully can see a way out of before it's too late:

In addition to that deadly duo, a couple of upcoming thrillers arrived in my mailbox that should prove to be seasonably chilling as well.

I do have to admit that Serena Kent's Death in Provence may be more of a mild mystery sauce that a spicy suspense story. Penelope Kite decides to recover from divorcing her cheating husband David by buying an old house in need of repair that's located in the French provincial town of St. Merlot's

While settling in, Penelope stumbles across the body of one of her more disagreeable neighbors in the very swimming pool that they were disputing the ownership of. While the local police are doing an investigation, she can't help but use her resources as a former forensic assistant to get to the bottom of the matter before another body is fished out from the bottom of the pool.

Serena Kent happens to be the joint name of a husband and wife team who are planning to make this book the start of a lively new series. This combo of Miss Marple meets Under The Tuscan Sun could be one to watch for,especially as the warm weather returns.

Freshly out in paperback, The French Girl by Lexie Elliott has it's title maiden's body discovered after a ten year long disappearance, which sets off a number of fear factors for the six Oxford students who were the ones to last see her alive during a week spent at a remote farmhouse.

Out of that group, Kate feels the most tense, due to her jealousy of the girl named Severine back then which to Kate breaking up with her boyfriend Seb, and is reliving that time emotionally to the point of possibly seeing the ghost of Severine pop up in her current life.

Is it stress over the new business that she's starting up or does Kate know something about the death of Severine that she ought to confess? Reuniting with her old friends might aid her memory yet other forgotten remembrances might also return that could implicate them all?  While this does seem like poolside reading, The French Girl might be a good way to feel the heat of a murder yet unsolved during these frosty midwinter days:

So many mysteries to explore this early in the year and I'm still making plans for Spring Into Horror this April. At least that readathon will include mystery titles as well from one more than one subgenre there and while a mystery reading group might be fun to join, it also might be scarier than any page turning terror I've yet to encounter:

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

To play or not to play the list of Best Song Oscar nominees?

This year's Oscars are a bit shaky in their set-up, what with the whole "host-less" deal and talk about cutting down the number of awards being presented during the TV broadcast.

There were even plans to only have two out of the five Best Original Song nominees perform on stage(the two being preferred are the numbers from A Star Is Born and Black Panther).

Fortunately, Lady Gaga used her considerable clout to have the other nominees included, although there is still talk of them being only allowed ninety second versions. What is this nonsense? Bad enough that this is one of the categories that gets short changed regularly by the Academy with lackluster nominations(one year, only three songs were selected for consideration!) but shortening the time for the tunes that are not major hits is insulting to say the least.

In case they do go through with the mini version of these songs, I'm going to give all of the Best Song nominees a full outing here:


One of the things that amazes me about this attempt to limit the Best Song performances is that a tune from Mary Poppins Returns is on the chopping block.

Uh, folks, you do remember that this show is airing on a network owned by Disney,right?  Not a smart move to knock one of their major releases out of contention here,plus you ticked off Lin-Manuel Miranda(a pivotal MPR co-star and musical influencer) and he's pretty hard to bring down there.

As to the song itself, this is a melancholy melody that Mary Poppins sings to the new generation of Banks children in order to help them reconcile their grief over the loss of their mother and other changes in their lives. Sad but sweet, which makes me feel as if this is not going to be a winner in this category yet nevertheless it deserves to be heard:


This anthem for the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary RBG(which is nominated in that category) does have a lot going for it.

It's sung by Oscar winning singer/actress Jennifer Hudson and was written by multi-award winning composer Diane Warren, not to mention it's a solidly strong tribute to all people striving for a better tomorrow.

However, wins in the Best Song arena for documentaries are few and far between. The last time was back in 2006 for Melissa Etheridge's contribution to An Inconvenient Truth. Hudson has agreed to perform on Oscar night and she must be given a full amount of time to do proper justice to this song:


This tune from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the true underdog here. While the movie has gotten two other Oscar noms(Best Adapted Screenplay and Costume Design), it's mostly been available on Netflix, with a very limited theatrical run at best.

The song does have a hokey charm mixed with a touch of humor(as I suspect the movie does as well) and is nicely done. Yet, even with fans of the Coen brothers on board, I don't see this number riding home with the big prize.

It should provide a nice change of pace during the Oscar performances and yes, it needs to be given it's full running time. This is a less than three minutes song, come on, guys!:


There was no doubt about this song from Black Panther being showcased on Oscar night and rightly so.

 Director Ryan Coogler(who was robbed of a Best Director nom, in my opinion) chose Kendrick Lamar as the producer of the Marvel movie soundtrack and having SZA as one of the singers along with Lamar brings a perfect harmony here.

This song is also up for the Grammys, which will be awarded this upcoming weekend, and a win for either Record or Song of the Year will heighten it's chances for that Oscar gold. Regardless of that, this is a beautifully engaging number that captures the spirit of the film it was created for elegantly:


Yes, this signature piece from A Star Is Born is the front runner and also a big nominee at the Grammys as well. Honestly, I'll be happy with either this or All The Stars getting the Oscar(third choice would be "I'll Fight").

Yet, this song has struck a serious chord with audiences and even those of us who haven't seen the movie yet. The lyrics perfectly encapsulate the doomed romance between our leads and Bradley Cooper has a damn good range that compliments Gaga's powerhouse vocals to the extreme.

At the moment, Cooper has agreed to perform with Gaga at the Oscars but word is that he's feeling a bit shy about doing this song live. Since he did sing in Vegas with her recently, I think that Cooper will manage just fine that night. Academy, do not try and cheat anyone out of their performance time or he might suddenly get too tense to sing and we know you don't want that!:

So, Academy, let the songs be sung and stop trying to cut what you think is boring short. Plenty of people are just as invested in seeing who wins Best Sound Editing, Best Short Film and the other technical awards. Instead of worrying about how long the show is, commit to giving your international viewers some incredible entertainment which is appropriate for a night that's supposed to celebrate the best in cinema! Quality over quantity , that's the ticket.

To wrap things up, I'd like to give an honorable mention to The Hate U Give, which had a wonderful theme song that deserved consideration. "We Won't Move" by Arlissa is well suited to this heartfelt yet realistic cinematic reflection of the times we live in now and it's a shame that it won't be among the Oscar contenders that night:

Friday, February 01, 2019

Wrapping up a thrilling Winter's Respite of reading

With today being February 1st, that marks the official end of Seasons of Reading's first big readathon of the year known as Winter's Respite. 

Overall, I did pretty well despite replacing one of my intended reads with another. That last minute choice was a real winner as Kiersten White's Slayer brought back those delightful memories of watching new episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

This YA novel is set well after Season 7 and dovetails with an event in the BTVS comics where Buffy had to destroy the Seed of Wonder,the source of all magic in our world. As that fateful act occurred, the last Slayer was chosen and she happens to be the daughter of two Watchers.

Nina(short for Athena) is also a twin and while her sister Artemis trains to be an active Watcher, Nina is fine with her role as a Healer. They are living with what remains of the Watchers Council in a transported castle in Ireland,wondering what the future holds for their ancient legacy as the majority of Slayers out there(including the elusive Buffy) have no need for them.

When a hellhound attacks their compound, Nina's powers emerge and to say that she is less than thrilled is an understatement. She has no love for Slayers, especially Buffy, and Artemis is shocked that she wasn't the one tapped for this honor. Things get more complicated when their stern mother shows up, along with a mother and son Watcher team that Nina has a complicated relationship with.

As Nina ventures outside the protective zone that her family and friends have arranged for her, she discovers that not all demons are evil,that the powers granted to her are both a blessing and a burden and that people can not be easily judged. She even gets to the point where her long running resentment towards Buffy(who only appears in shared dream experiences) simmers down and Nina starts to understand why the break between Slayers and Watchers came about:

White really recreates the vibe of the original series while adding a few new twists of her own(you have to love a bright yellow happiness demon who's a huge Coldplay fan). The emotional hurdles that Nina faces with determination and a sense of humor make her a suitable Slayer as well as a very relatable teenage girl.

For new fans and older ones, Slayer is a fresh new start to this series and is the first of a trilogy, which is a nice bonus to boot! I do like getting an inside look at the Watchers and a few inside jokes along the way are fun.

.My edition of this book came with a short story featuring Faith,that other outsider of a Slayer,which had a few hints of things to come. I hope that either Faith or Buffy appear directly in the next couple of books as two Slayers are always better than one in facing off challenges from without and within:

Around the same time, I finished The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie which is one of her Hercule Poirot stories.

Here, Poirot is being taunted by a killer who sends him warning of his intended crimes and leaves a gruesome calling card at each scene; a copy of the ABC railway guide that also brings him to each victim in alphabetical order.

Not only is Poirot working with the authorities, he also has the aid and support of Arthur Hastings, an old friend eager to stop this rash of murders before the body count grows higher.

 By the two of them looking into those connected with the recently deceased, ties between any of those targeted appear to be remote at best yet by the time a crime is announced for the letter D, those links begin to slowly but surely appear.

As I read more of the Poirot books, I can see why he's such a favorite among Christie fans(although I still prefer the subtle sleuthing skills of Miss Marple) and this particular story divides itself between Hasting's point of view and the third person, a necessary narrative move. I did enjoy the way the plot came together by the end and while I probably won't see the recent BBC adaptation of this book, I might check out the version featuring David Suchet,which ought to be just as engaging if not more so:

I rounded things off with Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. This particular group of title characters meet up at a remote spa run by the strangely charismatic Masha who,along with her devoted assistant Yao, have a ten day treatment in mind for this bunch that switches tracks on them in more ways than one.

This story has plenty of twists worthy of a M. Knight Shymaylan movie(think more The Visit than The Sixth Sense) but is richly abundant with character development that enhances the up ending of their situations.

 One of my favorite characters is Frances, romance writer at a turning point in her career who is also dealing with the aftermath of a online scam that targeted her  heart along with her purse strings. Her forthright style comes in handy during certain tricky moments but her vulnerability about not only the crisis at hand, but where her path in personal and professional life is going, makes her truly endearing.

Also, the dynamics of the Marconi family, where daughter Zoe feels as if she has to always give more of herself to her parents during the anniversary of her twin brother's death, are strongly compelling. Not everyone has a dire tale to tell, as one couple deals with adjusting to unexpected wealth via a lottery ticket, a vain divorce lawyer has to decide whether or not to fully commit to his partner and a newly divorced woman is determined to remake herself in order to impress her ex-husband and his younger new wife.

This was quite the page turner and if it follows the adaptation route that Moriarty's Big Little Lies did, this story would make one hell of a miniseries there. At the very least, NPS is a good example of not diving into an intense intimate experience without looking into things a little further. However, it also showcases the notion of taking new chances on life and love, no matter what form those opportunities come in:

While I put aside The Clockmaker's Daughter(it just wasn't the time,pun slightly intended), I did finish up a couple of other books this month-The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes and The Matchmaker's List by Sonya Lalli. That puts my monthly total at eight books, which is a good start to my new year of reading if you ask me!

A huge thanks to Michelle Miller of SOR for another great readathon and I'm already making plans for the next one, Spring Into Horror. So far, a nice stack of scary reads are being piled up with a mix of cozy mysteries and female focused thrillers,plus a killer mermaid. So let us cheer for the fear to come with the warm weather and hopefully no real reader nightmares: