Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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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: