Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, April 29, 2019

Getting ready to relax and read this May and June

At long last, the spring weather is upon us(despite the occasional chill) and we can make some fun plans that involve the great outdoors.

Of course, staying inside with a good book is a fine option as well and there are plenty of new releases heading our way this May and June that should set up a suitable late spring/early summer TBR to sit back in the shade with:


Jean Kwok's upcoming novel, Searching for Sylvie Lee, deals with two sisters in two different countries as Amy Lee leaves New York for Amsterdam in order to find her older sister Sylvie.

While this is Amy's first visit to the Netherlands, Sylvie grew up there, leaving at age nine when her family emigrated to the US. She returned recently due to the death of her grandmother yet their relatives in Amsterdam,particularly second cousin Lukas, haven't seen her lately and are growing as concerned about her whereabouts as the American side of the family is.

Amy is far from outgoing but has no choice in putting herself out there to track Sylvie down. During her impromptu investigation, she discovers a few secrets from the past that could explain where her sister went to yet also include another important member of the family into this mysterious mix. Having read Kwok's earlier engaging novels(Girl in Translation, Mambo in Chinatown), I have a wonderful feeling about this book that could blossom into a really big read for many to enjoy this season and beyond(June).


 A young couple takes a trip they won't soon forget in The Snakes by Sadie Jones as Bea and her husband Dan decide to go on vacation from London by driving around the countryside.

One major stop lands them at a desolate hotel,owned by Bea's rich yet distant family, where her shifty brother Alex is staying. While the place is a literal wreck that is crawling with the title creatures,most of which are not poisonous, what really makes Dan and Bea's stay unbearable is the sudden arrival of her parents whose wealth and obnoxious ways do hand in hand.

Cutting the family reunion short gets to be complicated,however, as Alex goes missing one dark night and the lists of suspects in his disappearance is rather short to say the least. Or, is there a more sinister ploy at play here that traps Bea and Dan as unwitting yet at risk pawns? This tale of familial foils that become as slippery as serpents sounds like the kind of good old school thriller that would make for a fiercely fine night at the movies indeed(June):

 Author Liv Constantine follows up her first novel(The Last Mrs. Parrish) with another tightly woven thriller, this time set in Baltimore.

 The leading lady of The Last Time I Saw You is Kate English, a well-to-do surgeon whose seemingly perfect life has taken a few brutal blows of late, what with throwing out her cheating husband Simon and the shocking death of her beloved mother.

To make matters worse, a threatening series of text messages,with the gruesome addition of some real world ones, sent to Kate are convincing her that she is the next target of a dangerous killer, possibly the one that murdered her mother as well.

So far, the only help she's getting is from Blaire , a childhood friend that Kate reunited with recently who happens to be a successful mystery writer. Can these two find the killer before it's too late or are things even stranger than they seem? A truly juicy suspense story can be hard to find but this latest outing from Constantine and company might fit the bill nicely(May).


 In Mistress of the Ritz, writer Melanie Benjamin introduces us to Blanche and Claude Auzello, who find themselves playing hosts to German occupying troops in Paris of WWII.

As manager of the renowned Ritz hotel, Claude is less than thrilled with these unwelcome new guests as much as his bold American wife is. However, unbeknownst to each other, Blanche and Claude join the French Resistance and use the hotel as a neutral zone for the cause.

Doing their best to help their country, the two of them keep a number of secrets and lies between them along with a few that are directly tied to their marriage. Towards the end of the war, a situation arises that demands a bit of truth telling from both of them to save the day. Benjamin's knack for making historical figures come alive on the page promises to make this new novel a brilliant blast from the past to embrace(May):


 A tale of young love during turbulent times in Iran is the heart of Marjan Kamali's novel, The Stationary Shop.

The title establishment, owned by kindly Mr. Fakhri, becomes the meeting place in 1953 for Roya, a young woman studying at university thanks to the new reforms in place, and Bahman, whose passion for politics is matched by his admiration for the poems of Rumi.

As their love blooms, the world around them rapidly begins to change, forcing them apart for many reasons. Mr. Fakhri does help them by being the go-between for a series of secret letters yet a chance for an elopement doesn't go off as planned.

Decades later, the possibility of a reunion is made available to Roya but is it worth the risk after all of these years? Such a heartfelt romance could be the bittersweet surprise read of the summer(June):

The literary lady of Kim Michele Richardson's new novel The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is Cussy Carter, a young woman in 1930s Kentucky whose coal miner father thinks ought to be married off by now.

Due to a genetic disorder that tints her skin a deep shade of blue, her chances at marriage are few and far between, which is just fine with Cussy. She prefers her work as a pack horse librarian, chosen by a government program to bring books and reading to the remote Appalachian regions of the state.

Despite the joy she feels from delivering books and advice to the folks on her route,who also appreciate her services, Cussy is made downhearted by a local preacher who accuses her of being evil because of her blue skin and even endangers her life. The opportunity for a cure could change her life for the better but at what price and who else might stand in her way?

This does sound like a story that needed to be told sooner as the pack horse library that Cussy was a part of was real and should inspire others to spread the love of literature as far and as widely as they can(May):

No doubt they will be even more great books to check out as summer arrives, but I do think that this set of fresh new reads should make for a fine start. There will even be a few movie tie-in titles, such as Where'd You Go Bernadette, that should combine both forms of entertainment together like a beautiful bookish bow around a buttery bag of popcorn.

Kind of an awkward metaphor, I know but hopefully, you can find a good book based movie that can make the impending summer heat all the more bearable:

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Having a book buying birthday blast

Welcome to this Special Saturday post, due to the fact that my birthday was a late in the week arrival! I had a very nice time, going to the movies and doing a little shopping,with some of the latter being books that I wish to share with all of you.

Truth be told, my book buying was a week long affair, between online,local finds and setting foot in an actual store. Hey, after a certain age, you should be permitted to make your birthday fun last as long as possible there.

Let's start with a pair of lovely hardcovers that I snapped up while making a donation at my nearby thrift store. Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl has a pair of heroines connected by bloodline and a necklace.

 After attending the funeral of her great aunt Sadie, London gal Lara finds herself receiving visits from Sadie's ghost(in the form of her younger self) who insists that she find a dragonfly necklace  that was her crown jewel back in Sadie's party days of the 1920s. Lara does her best but in addition to the necklace hunt, Sadie also offers her less than lively great niece some romantic advice, even setting her up on a date with a handsome American.

As a fan of the Shopaholic series,plus some of her stand alone work, this novel is a welcome breath of fresh and fun air. Also, it puts me in mind of a Glenn Close film from the eighties where her leading lady was possessed by the spirit of a sassy flapper(yes, I am that old!) and a good bit of heartfelt comedy like this is a real treat for this spring season indeed:

I wound up pairing that with Sweetbitter, the 2016 debut novel by Stephanie Danler that later became the basis for a TV series on Starz.

Our leading lady here is Tess, who is twenty one and newly arrived to New York from Ohio. She lands a job at an upscale restaurant, being allowed to do little more than clear tables or refill drinks yet seeing how well the full fledged servers are regarded, is eager to join their ranks.

With a few tips from new friends Jake and Simone, Tess gains real knowledge about food,wine and the late night party scene that many foodie folk partake in. While that doesn't helps her move up on the status ladder at work, Tess is thrilled to be a part of this seemingly sophisticated lifestyle.

However, that way of living has it's ups and downs, which she may not be able to bounce back from so easily. I haven't watched the Starz series(which was recently granted a second season) but restaurant related stories do interest me and perhaps the book will whet my appetite for the small screen main course:

As for my online purchases, I decided to go with Meg Wolitzer. After finishing her latest novel The Female Persuasion,making it the first book I've read by her, my desire to read more lead me to ordering The Interestings and The Wife, which earned Glenn Close a Best Actress Oscar nom but sadly not a win(what is it with me and Glenn Close references lately?).

The title character is Joan Castleman, married to a celebrated author who has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Upon their trip to Helsinki to attend the award ceremony, Joan thinks over her life and the choices she's made along the way, one of which gave her husband the career success he has now.

With a biographer threatening to reveal all of their secrets and her husband committing another act of betrayal, Joan struggles with the choice of openly dealing with the truth of her reality or taking it on her own terms privately. I'm glad to have Wolitzer's work to discover in my own way and will enjoy the movie once I have turned the last page on it's smartly written source material:

On my actual birthday, I treated myself to a huge slice of Comoran Strike with Lethal White, the fourth book in this mystery series from author Robert Galbraith(aka J.K. Rowling).

As we begin, Strike winds up reuniting with former partner Robin Ellacott as a stranger than usual case bursts into his office. A distraught man named Billy claims to have witnessed the murder of a child in his youth yet flees the scene when Strike wants to know more details.

While Strike does his best to locate Billy, another odd turn brings him to Billy's brother Jimmy, accused of exhorting a government official. Are these two crimes directly connected or a bizarre coincidence? Perhaps Robin's renewed presence can help in both matters but the issues between her and Strike are going to be much more complicated to solve.

This is a great series and I do wish Rowling would focus a bit more on it rather than doing those unnecessary back story edits to her Harry Potter world. However, talent is talent and following Robin and Strike on a fresh new adventure should be a rewarding read:

All in all, this was a good birthday and having such a fine TBR to engage in is the icing on the cake for me. The other highlight was getting to see Captain Marvel in theaters just before the cinematic arrival of Avengers:Endgame(which my sister and I will seeing next week).

No matter how old I get, a good superhero movie is something that I intend to never be too "mature" to appreciate and this one was damn fine entertainment. As I look forward to Endgame, I'm glad that I got to make Carol Danvers' acquaintance first and keeping my fingers crossed that this won't be the last time that she gets to shine on the big screen solo:

Monday, April 22, 2019

Strolling through Paris with a bookish passport

Given the state of current events, it's no wonder that when chaotic times are upon us that we turn to the past in order to find comfort and perhaps a sense of "this,too, shall pass."

Even for countries that are not our own, the urge to make some sense out of despair is just as keenly felt and as always, books are all around us that are suited for these situations.

With the recent fire in Paris that destroyed a good portion of the famed Notre Dame cathedral, many have turned to Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame , putting it on the bestseller list in France(and it won't be long before the book is on similar lists elsewhere).

The first publication of this Hugo novel actually encouraged restoration work on the cathedral, which was falling into disrepair during the 1800s and while funds are coming in for the recent fire damage to Notre Dame, interest in this iconic classic work is not solely relied on the need to preserve the impressive architecture.

 The human plight of Quasimodo, the shunned bell ringer of the title as well as the one of  Esmeralda, a woman doomed by the outsider class she belongs to, are relatable and all too real today, despite the social progress that's been made since way back when:

Even without the Notre Dame fire, Paris has been going through a rough bout of protests lately, which feel as if they are an inevitable part of that nation's history.

To get a long range view of that city's life and times, the 2013 novel Paris by Edward Rutherfurd showcases the creation of France's capital via the saga of several families through out the centuries.

 From the feuds between the noble houses of de Cygne and Blanchard to impoverished Thomas Gascon becoming a builder for the Eiffel Tower and then later America's Statue of Liberty that then leads to the art dealing Jacob family struggling to survive during the German occupation of WWII, the history of Paris is the creative canvas on which these various family portraits are displayed.

Rutherfurd is best known for his numerous saga novels about England such as Sarum and London but he's no stranger to depicting other major cities via their citizens like New York and Dublin. With Paris, he embraces his love of the fabled City of Lights for all to bask in it's glow:

Yet, with Paris in such turmoil at the moment, it can be hard to see why anyone wants to be there. Fortunately, we also have plenty of books that talk about the high points along with the low that also include some of the historic folk who made that city their home.

Paula McLain's The Paris Wife set that tone nicely with the story of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage, a good portion of that time spent in Paris. New bride Hadley had much to contend with, dealing with her husband's driving literary ambition and the follies of his friendships in the artistic community that thrived during the 1920s.

While their love didn't fully last, the memories of those early days in Paris lingered on for both of them. This novel was a popular book club selection(as well as inspiring me to spend a year reading the works of Hemingway) and it should be good for a starting point for readers to discuss the joys of Paris again:

No doubt, some will say "Aren't there enough books about America to read instead?" Well, if you believe that the world of books is an international realm of inspiration and imagination, such a point is rather moot at best.

To read a book,novels in particular, about another place and time in another part of the world offers you not only a bit of educational entertainment but a chance at gaining a greater perspective upon the moment in history that you're currently living in.

A prime example of this is another Victor Hugo literary legend, Les Miserables, which has never gone out of print and been adapted for many mediums including a beloved musical and right now, a PBS Masterpiece miniseries. This lengthy epic tale of  rebels, downtrodden souls and scoundrels facing such social issues as prejudice, abuse of women and children and overzealous persecution from authorities still resonates in our time with many of those sins of the past persistently clinging on to us centuries later.

Yet, the book does hold the promise of love leading to a better way of life and inspires readers to walk in the footsteps of Jean Valjean in order to do so. It's no coincidence that Paris is one of the centerpieces of Les Miserables as despite all of woes that the city is faced with, it continues to inspire the very best for all of us, even those who only visit Paris on the page:

Monday, April 15, 2019

My Spring Into Horror is baited with fishy fear that goes well with a cup of Coffeehouse Mystery

The halfway point of the Spring Into Horror readathon(courtesy of Seasons of Reading) is today and so far, my progress report has me checking off two completed titles,one book that I'm nearly half way through and another to be started before the end of this day.

Since I'm going more for quality than quantity, this feels like a good place to be at here. One of the books that I completed is also the first one that I've ever read by this author and it packs one hell of a punch indeed.

Mira Grant's Into the Drowning Deep is set a few years into the future,where a ship named the Melusine is setting out with a full crew of scientists,sailors and a pair of big game hunters to track down mermaids at the Mariana Trench.

This voyage is financed by Imagine, an entertainment company that sent out a ship several years earlier to film a reality show "search" for the mythical sea maidens but no one came back alive as the grisly film footage that they managed to get showed. While Imagine is hoping to make good on the bad PR that came from that prior trip, other passengers are looking for their own personal redemption such as Tory, whose sister Anne was the on camera personality on that fatal ocean journey.

Along with her is Dr. Jillian Toth, who has been telling folks for years that mermaids are real and more deadly than legend would have us believe, Heather and Holly, deaf twin scientists who specialize in aquatic studies(and have their older sister Hallie on board as their interpreter), Olivia, the new Imagine media spokesperson and the Abneys, a husband and wife team who openly love the thrill of the hunt.

Despite the number of scientists and gruesome evidence from that first mermaid expedition, many of  Melusine's crew and company don't really believe that any sort of "lovely ladies of the sea" will be found. Well, in one sense, they are right as what they do find is far from lovely,more like lethal who consider humans to be no more than a special brand of canned Chicken of the Sea treat:

When Heather uses her submersible to dive down into the depths, she is the target of an attack that's filmed live to the ship and that event not only proves the existence of mermaids but shows just how truly vicious they are.

As the assault against the Melusine increases in intensity, priorities change from gathering data for further research to fighting to survive, which becomes more urgent by the minute.

Yes, this story does have a bit of a B-movie concept to it but the writing is as sharp as the dagger like teeth in these mermaids' mouths. Mira Grant neatly develops her characters, bringing them to full life so that they are not simply props to be torn apart by the monsters(who have some inner insights of their own to share with the reader). Also, there is plenty of solid good science laced into the dialogue between various characters that feels natural rather than academic exposition.

Into the Drowning Deep is a rip roaring adventure into fear that engages as well as excites, with smart characters and page turning suspense. Plans are under way to turn this novel into a movie and if they do it right, the end results will be next level popcorn fare indeed:

Meanwhile, despite being a tea drinker, I am indulging in the first three books in Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse Mystery series.  Book One,entitled On What Grounds, introduces us to Clare Cosi, who has moved from the New Jersey suburbs to Manhattan in order to run The Village Blend, a well known coffeehouse owned by her former mother-in-law.

Clare is looking for a change of scene upon her divorce as well as wanting to be near her daughter Joy, who is now attending culinary school. What she didn't expect to find on moving day was one of her night managers dead in the back room. While the police seem to think this was a fatal accident, Clare is convinced otherwise and starts up an investigation of her own.

This has her clashing with Detective Mike Quinn, who is very married yet there's still a bit of vibe between them nonetheless. The growing facts of the case keep bringing the two of them together but it's complicated at best(one of those complications being Clare's ex-husband Matt, who has a part ownership of the Village Blend). One thing that does help to form a bond between Clare and Mike is that she's able to introduce him to a truly good cup of coffee:

After that case was closed, I went on to Through the Grinder and in the middle of it as we speak. While things are going well at the Village Blend, a number of the female regulars are dying under similar and suspicious circumstances.

Clare grows concerned about this, especially when Mike appears to be targeting a potential new boyfriend of hers, Bruce Bowman. It doesn't help that not only does Bruce have a connection with each of the victims, one of those ladies turned up at the Cappuccino Companion dating event held monthly at the Village Blend, the very one where she met Bruce.

Clare took part in that speed dating deal mainly to keep an eye on Joy, who decided to try and find a new romance there. As it turned out, Clare made a love connection of her own, most unexpectedly but could he really be a literal lady killer?:

After reading a later entry in the series that peaked my interest in starting from the beginning, I'm happy to say that the Coffeehouse Mysteries are a nicely caffeinated cozy read with a distinct New York flavor. My next shot of entertaining espresso will be Latte Trouble and probably after this readathon, I'll be sipping a cup of Murder Most Frothy as well as some of the other fun fictional flavors to be had in Cleo Coyle's bookish cupboard.

As for the rest of Spring Into Horror, I have a couple of Fiona Barton novels on hand(The Child will be next up) and I hope that my fellow SIH participants are enjoying their set of scary stories as well. Granted, you only have to read one scary book for this challenge but filling up on spooky tales is frightfully good fun that can be hard to resist:

Friday, April 12, 2019

When it comes to One Book,One New York this year, it's ladies first

It's near the end of National Library Week but one big literary party that will still be going on for the rest of April in my neck of the woods is the vote for One Book,One New York.

This year, the five nominated titles(which my fellow NY folk can vote online for) have the good fortune to be an all-female forum of fabulous authors. One of these books happens to be a personal favorite of mine and my top choice for readers all across the country:

Free Food for Millionaires was Min Jin Lee's debut novel,setting the stage for her future bookish glory with the acclaimed Pacinko. Here, our leading lady is Casey Han, a young woman and Princton graduate who feels adrift in her life and uncertain of what her future should be.

Being kicked out of her family home and catching her current boyfriend cheating on her, Casey camps out at a pricey hotel that threatens to put a sizable dent in her credit card. Thanks to renewing an old friendship, she gets an entry level Wall Street job that seems to put her on a better and more focused path. However, her taste for the finer things in life could be her eternal weak spot.

The story highlights other characters such as Casey's friend Ella, who has relationship troubles of her own and Leah, Casey's mother who is just learning to discover her own self worth. The whole book has a modern day Edith Wharton vibe to it, creating a vivid canvas that portrays class distinctions, the clash of generations and family love. While it's not directly connected to Pacinko, FFFM is a recipe for good reading that pairs up nicely with it's later literary companion :

Another wonderful book up for consideration here is Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson. Returning back home, twenty years after she left the old neighborhood upon the death of her father, eldest daughter August relives those early days in the 1970s when she and what was left of her family moved from Tennessee to New York.

Adjusting to the ins and outs of Brooklyn, August bonds with three other girls-Sylvia,Gigi and Angela-all of whom share the same burden of missing mothers in their lives and dealing with the ever growing attentions of men. While her friends found it hard to avoid certain pitfalls, August did what she had to in order to escape yet still troubled at the price that had to be paid for that way out.

Known best for her children's literature, Woodson showed that her creative landscape had many more peaks and valleys than some expected and her novel was properly honored as one of the best of 2016. It's become a celebrated look at life and love that should have a long shelf life indeed:

The most recently published of this group is Fatima Farheen Mirza's debut novel, A Place For Us, which is also the debut publication of actress Sarah Jessica Parker's new literary imprint in 2018.

While the story is set in California, one of the main plot threads has a West Side Story theme as secret lovers unexpectedly reunite at a wedding. Amar has returned to attend his sister's wedding, having run away from home in his high school years due in part to a forbidden romance with Amira, whose family had a higher social standing than his.

The sudden death of Amira's brother in a car accident only complicated things further and Amar felt that he had no other choice but to leave everyone behind. When he and Amira see each other again after so much time apart, both the good and bad of their mutual past promises to overflow and engulf the future of both of their families.

APFU has been praised for it's lyrical writing and the emotional levels that Amar and Amira,along with their circle of friends and family, have had to deal with from forces outside and within. Despite the West Coast setting, this tale of modern love holds the hope of a fresh start in life and one of the best things about New York is that it's the home of fresh starts:

This quintet is rounded out by Nicholasa Mohr's Nilda, a coming of age tale set in the Bronx during World War II and Just Kids, singer Patti Smith's memoir about her early career days in NYC during the 1970s.

All of these books should make for engaging reads(I know one of them definitely is!) and will be widely available at bookstores and libraries in the New York area for anyone to find.

The winner will be announced on May 3 and even if you're nowhere near New York, this is a great list of female focused books that should expand your literary horizons as well as provide food for thought perfect for any reading group get together on your spring/summer schedule:

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Will the new Joker movie be a poignant punchline or an ill-timed pratfall?

While Marvel's cinematic reign is still strong, the DC Comics film universe is still in the hit or miss mode, finding unexpected success in off beat takes on certain heroes such as Aquaman or more recently, Shazam!,which topped the box office this past weekend.

However, that may change as the release of a teaser trailer for one of the most popular members of Batman's Rogue's Gallery to have his own sinister spotlight this upcoming October is raising a few pop culture eyebrows. Simply titled Joker, Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a would-be comedian who lives with his ailing mother(Frances Conroy) and is literally beaten down by society at large.

As the trailer unfolds, Arthur's descent into darkness includes visits to Arkham hospital(as either outpatient or staff member, it's a bit unclear) as well as a growing obsession with Thomas Wayne, who is running for mayor. The look of the film has a strong Scorsese vibe, which is intentional as writer/director Todd Phillips claims Taxi Driver,Raging Bull and The King of Comedy as inspirations for this particular take on the Clown Prince of Crime:

I have mixed feelings about this movie at best-while it's a good approach to tackling this iconic villain and Phoenix is certainly an improvement over the last actor to play the Joker onscreen(the less said about Jared Leto's horrendous  Suicide Squad performance, the better), there are a few pieces to the puzzle that seem to be missing here.

For one, it's not entirely an original concept as the modern classic graphic novel The Killing Joke(adapted into an animated feature a couple of years ago) is also included as inspiration by Phillips and for another, the live action series Gotham did it's own spin upon the character with a similar edge.

What really engaged fans was Cameron Monaghan's performance right from the start as he aptly displayed a major characteristic of the Joker that has resonated throughout his many incarnations.

The ability to emotionally flip a switch and go from somewhat reasonable to outright dangerous with a deadly laugh is something that any version of this Big Bad should easily be able to do. The moment that is best described in the words of Stephen King as going from "out of the blue into the black":

Watching this trailer, I didn't feel that same sense of hidden menace and yes, this is only a teaser but still...

From what I've read about the film, Leonardo DiCaprio was originally considered for the role and based on his past work, that might have been the better choice. Joaquin Phoenix is more than talented enough yet he doesn't feel quite right here.

Another thing to consider is that ,according to Phillips, this is an origin story for a character that has no set origin story,apart from being dunked into a vat of chemicals that causes his transformation from mere threat to super villain. The whole notion of identity is truly a joke to the Joker, who only uses it to manipulate his enemies or beguile any potential followers, as Harleen Quinzel,aka Harley Quinn, can certainly attest to:

While Batman has a set in stone duel personality, the Joker is purposely a more fluid figure of fear, being an avatar of the trickster in many a mythology. He's been reborn several times from an arch criminal to a vicious schemer to an agent of chaos both in the comics and various adaptations, making him the perfect broken mirror reflection for Batman in any age.

There is concern that this new film might make him too sympathetic and I find that legitimate as part of the Joker's endurance as a character is the element of mystery. While he might start out as a regular guy early on in life, the fact that you can't always pinpoint his true persona is key to what makes him a threat.

That tone of mystery was a powerful part of Heath Ledger's legendary Oscar winning performance in The Dark Knight, with one of the running gags he trotted out were different tales of how he wound up so terribly scarred. Having a fixed backstory would ruin that core element for the character as well as the audience:

One last quibble; this Joker movie is meant to be a one and done deal(the studio wants this to be the first in a number of solo DC Comics film adaptations) but are fans really going to be satisfied with that?

Let's face it, the whole point of the Joker is to see him go up against Batman. That's what he was created for-one compliments the other. It's like having a Lex Luthor movie with no plans to include Superman. Sure, it might be fun but unless it totally redefines the genre(a pretty tall order there), old fans and new might feel cheated.

Then again, this new take on the Joker might be far better than expected and interest has certainly been peaked already. I just hope that the end result will be worth it as a larger than life villain like this on a standalone stage will be pressured to make that all important first impression be top notch, at standing ovation level for nothing less will do:

Friday, April 05, 2019

Starting my literary spring fling at the library

Yes, it's spring, despite the on and off nature of the weather out there, and my first thoughts were of seeing what books were in bloom at the library.

For this library haul, I went with a pair of nonfiction titles(in order not to distract too much from the Spring Into Horror readathon that I'm taking part in) and one Jane Austen themed novel.

My usual nonfiction reading has been in a slight slump but it's taking off rather well at the moment and having a couple of reads due back at a certain time should help me keep that pace going nicely.

The first nonfiction title that caught my eye was It's All a Game by Tristan Donovan, which covers the history of board games from ancient times to present day.

 I've already gotten into the first chapter where Egyptian tombs such as King Tut's had playing boards discovered among their treasures, with historians and even the founder of Parker Brothers being consulted about what kind of games they were meant for.

Other chapters include the origins of such iconic games as Monopoly and Operation while some focus on what made certain games popular during certain periods of time, from those centered around dating and marriage in the fifties and sixties to more personality driven ones in the 70s and 80s. Donovan also includes the timeless appeal of chess,which is sort of the little black dress of board games, and the newer types of games being created and/or revived in our internet age.

I do have some fond board game memories(including an off brand one called Peanut Butter and Jelly and yes, you were supposed to make sandwiches) and learning more about them should be engaging entertainment indeed:

 Speaking of engaging, I decided to take a chance on Katherine Chen's novel, Mary B, which takes the middle Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice as it's leading lady.

Mary tells her own story, starting from before the events of P&P as well as during and extending afterwards,where her secret talent for writing catches the attention of Colonel Fitzwilliam, her brother-in-law Darcy's beloved cousin.

As Mary is less than inclined to read too much into his interest, having been told for years that she is the least attractive of all her sisters,Fitzwilliam does truly seem to be interested in Mary's intellectual gifts and perhaps more.

 There have been other stories that highlight Mary(one of my favorites being Pamela Mingle's The Pursuit of Mary Bennet) and hopefully this book will give her the proper spotlight that she deserves rather than the usual Jan Brady treatment that this character gets:

To round things out, my final selection was Just The Funny Parts by Nell Scovell, a writer/producer/creator for television who has seen more than her fair share of behind the scenes sexist shenanigans.

She chronicles her early years in Hollywood, where being the only woman in the writers' room was considered a major achievement, as well as getting to work on such popular shows like Murphy Brown, Coach and The Simpsons.

However, all of that came with plenty of nonsense from those benefiting from the power of this still male dominated field, which lead her to go against David Letterman(who she worked for as a writer)and point out the lack of female influence in the late night show sphere.

The book seems very timely and smartly written,a combination that should make for a really insightful look into the TV trenches for women both then and now:

This start to my library spring reading season feels just right,although it would be better for me if I didn't resort to late night reading sessions in order to finish a book before it's due date. While I am happy that I did read that Meg Wolitzer novel right through to the end, getting a good amount of sleep is important for being able to focus the next day and not doze off during breakfast:

Monday, April 01, 2019

Death by Dumpling is a delicious addition to my Series-ous Reading menu

Happy April 1st,folks and it's not a joke when I say that the latest cozy mystery that I finished for my Series-ous Reading project was a tasty treat.

Vivien Chien's debut novel, Death by Dumpling, is set in Ohio, where twenty-something Lana Lee finds herself working at the family restaurant after the loss of her job and break-up with her less than faithful boyfriend. She intends this stint at Ho-Lee Noodle House to be a temporary gig at best,especially since her mom is insistent on Lana finding a new love as soon as possible.

When Lana brings a lunch order to Thomas Feng, the owner of the shopping plaza known as Asia Village where her family's restaurant has been since the beginning, she never expected that his regular order of dumplings would be his last meal. As it happens, Mr. Feng has a serious shrimp allergy and somehow, his usual pork dumplings were switched with that particular seafood stuffed version.

Right away, Lana is under suspicion but more so is Peter, Ho-Lee Noodle's daytime chef who normally delivers the take-out orders.While she can't believe that her childhood friend would ever do something like that, Lana is hearing talk that Peter was seen arguing with Mr. Feng in public. Also, Kimmy Tran,the daughter of the local video store owners, is fast to point out that no matter how nice Mr. Feng seemed, he did have some enemies at the plaza.

With Peter taking time off from work after being questioned by the police and rumors about Ho-Lee Noodle's part in this untimely death spreading ,Lana wants to find out the truth and with the help of her roommate Megan, starts to do a little investigating of her own. She has serious doubts about the official police investigation, especially handsome lead detective Adam Trudeau,not to mention that she knows the community much better and can make more in depth inquiries that can clear Peter's name a lot sooner:

As Lana searches for answers, she runs into even more questions as well as revelations about the past of some of her family's friends and neighbors such as Mr. An, whose failing business now appears to be successful, Ian Sung, the younger partner of Mr. Feng who is taking a huge interest in the plaza and in Lana as well and the widow Feng, Donna, who has a few secrets of her own kept from even her loved ones.

Despite being warned away from the case, Lana is determined to help her friend out of trouble, not to mention getting herself out of the funk that the current course of her life has put her in. Can she solve the mystery before the next poisonous dish is on her plate?

One of the key elements of any cozy mystery is a sense of place and people, which Chien brings to vivid life on the page. The retail realm of Asia Village is very much like a small town, where everyone knows your name,so to speak, and folks are happy to help each other out yet can't resist a bit of juicy gossip(The Mahjong Matrons are a great source for that and I hope they're more prominent in future entries).

Lana's home and work life are well established,along with her family interactions such as the rivalry between her and older sister Anna May, who is busy with law school but helps out at Ho-Lee Noodle's from time to time. The best bond in the book is between Lana and Megan, two good friends who support each,along with adorable pug Kikko(short for Kikkoman), in good times and bad. Plus, any friend who is eager to grab a flashlight for some Nancy Drew sleuthing time is a keeper, in my opinion!

Unlike most food related cozies, this story isn't reliant on cooking and recipe sharing and that's just fine. Lana does appreciate a good meal and many of the creative drinks at the astrology themed bar that Megan works at but it's not necessary for her to be a foodie. The behind the scenes restaurant details are relatable insider elements that suit the story well and add a richness to the inner dynamics of her family and their backstory:

All in all, Death by Dumpling whetted my appetite for more Noodle Shop Mystery novels and I've already started the second book, Dim Sum of all Fears, mainly due to my having picked up the newest entry that was released last week entitled Murder Lo Mein.

Another NSM title is set for this summer, Wonton Terror, and it's such fun to get in on the ground floor of a great new series like this. Don't get me wrong, the more longer running cozy mystery series that I have been reading(one of which is this month's selection that I'll get to in a moment) are wonderful books that I truly enjoy.

 However,to see the start of a new series with a new generation focused on crime solving is creative forward thinking that promises to keep this genre from getting seen as stale.

Also, I like retail and service industry themed stories(like Leslie Budewitz's Food Lovers Village books) which can be great settings for all kinds of engaging situations and they do very well in the cozy mystery category. I might highlight one of the Noodle Shop Mysteries again for this project but I'm having too much fun to hold off on another helping here:

For my next Series-ous Reading pick, I go back to Ashland for a slice of Ellie Alexander's Fudge & Jury, the fifth book in her Bakeshop Mystery series. There's plenty of chocolatey goodness to go around as Jules and her mother prepare for a major chocolate festival that unexpectedly adds a murder to the mix and doesn't that cake on the cover look delicious?

This is going to be quite the busy reading month for me,as I'm taking part in the Spring Into Horror readathon at Seasons of Reading ,plus catching up with my library books and near the end of the month, my birthday will arrive and that means more books for me!

So not complaining, I swear but the possibility of being overbooked is all too real and yet, this certainly is one of the better problems to have in life. One thing is for certain; even with my need to stay sugar free, my birthday cake will be a chocolate delight as lovely as the one on the F&J cover(only a sugar free version, of course):