Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, November 22, 2019

Giving thanks for a Series-ous Reading slice of Key Lime Pie Murder

While I did chose Joanne Fluke's Key Lime Pie Murder as a fitting literary treat for my Series-ous Reading selection for this November, it's not exactly a fall season type of book. Mind you, that's on me not the author and this was a fun read regardless of that but I really know that this was a warm weather mystery that I saved for a rainy day there.

For one thing, the story is set in early summer as the town of Lake Eden is consumed with the annual Tri-County Fair and Hannah Swensen is doing her part to make the good times roll.

Business may be slow at The Cookie Jar but Hannah and her bakery partner Lisa are doing well enough with a fair ground booth, plus our leading lady was chosen as one of the judges for the various pastry contests being held at the fair.

The judging is going well and it helps to keep Hannah from worrying too much about her beloved cat Moishe(who is acting strangely, even by his usual standards!) there. However, when she discovers the body of Willa, a local home economics teacher who was one of Hannah's fellow judges, after dark upon leaving the fair, the good old summer time mood is definitely over.

I do love how the whole town throws itself into the festivities, especially when Hannah has to play magician's assistant in place of Lisa(she gets claustrophobic during a "lady in the box" trick) and Delores, Hannah's cheerfully determined mother, sets up a dunking booth for her favorite charity with the full intention of having all of her daughters take their turn in getting drenched for the cause.

One of the more amusing sub plots here is Hannah's determination to taste a deep fried candy bar, available at a booth run by a rather sweet natured lady, but not wanting anyone else to see her eating something so decadent. Granted, I wish Hannah didn't feel so self conscious about enjoying a guilty pleasure like this but I can safely say that she does get her sweet reward in the end:

As to Hannah's love life, we get a lot more of Norman here than Mike and hell, yes, I'm all for that.

The two main men in her orbit are back to their not-so friendly rivalry mode(after teaming up against a third guy looking to romance Hannah in the prior entry, Cherry Cheesecake Murder) but it's Norman who spends more time with Hannah, helping her with the new mystery as well as with Moishe.

Also, when Hannah gets upset about the way Mike and Norman casually talk about Willa's death-on the same night that she's found the brutally murdered woman, mind you-and kicks them out of her house, it's Norman who is the first to apologize.

Sure, Mike is a cop and his depersonalized take on murder is understandable yet Hannah only gets his true feelings on that by accidentally overhearing a conversation that Mike has with another police officer! It would have been better if he just told Hannah himself because this way just lets him off the hook too easily.

Look, Mike is a decent guy but Norman is the real keeper in my opinion. He not only gets Hannah and supports her in all of her endeavors, the man even had a special staircase built in his house for Hannah's cat to enjoy(a house they designed together,btw). I do know who she does end up with yet can't help but hold out hope for Norman to be the one when all is said and done. He's the Luke to her Lorelai in my mind, at least:

The murder mystery is solved in the regular manner of these stories(Hannah finds body, Hannah hunts for clues, Hannah winds up fighting off the killer) but it's well handled and we see enough of Willa in the story to have some true sympathy for her demise.

Even though this isn't a Thanksgiving themed story, there's plenty of family bonding moments and good friends on board to make this book feel just right for the season.

Plus, pie always makes me think of Thanksgiving -it's the official dessert of the holiday if you ask me-and what ever flavor you prefer, it's the perfect end note to the edible melody that we all share on this day:

I'll be back in December(taking a little turkey day time off here) with more book talk which includes a couple of blog tours for titles featuring Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and a modern take on Little Women, so watch this space!

Yes, the Series-ous Reading will continue as well and plans are under way for another round of this reading and reviewing in 2020.

 For my 2019 finale, I'll be diving into the first book of Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope series, Mr. Churchill's Secretary and the one that comes after it, Princess Elizabeth's Spy ,will be part of a special feature for Series-ous Reading 4.0-more details next month!

Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving to all and looking forward to meeting Maggie Hope to see how she starts her amazing WWII adventures. No doubt working for Winston Churchill will be quite the challenge but I have every confidence that Maggie will prove herself to be equally formidable:

Monday, November 18, 2019

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas Spirit readathon time!

While I am a strong advocate for the spirit of Thanksgiving, getting ready for the big winter holiday that's right around the corner in advance is just a smart thing to do.

With that in mind, my TBR for the upcoming Christmas Spirit readathon which is hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading(who is also having a longer holiday themed challenge at her other site) is ready to be revealed.

 Although your list for this readathon doesn't have to be made up of only Christmas themed books, I'm keeping mine short and sweet,particularly with the culinary cozy mysteries that are perfectly flavored for fun here:

A CUP OF HOLIDAY FEAR: This tenth entry in the Bakeshop Mystery series has Juliet "Jules" Capshaw planning to make merry with her pastry crew at Torte as they plan to attend a special celebration, a seasonal feast in the spirit of Charles Dickens, at the local Winchester hotel.

Jules and her mom have known the owners,Jon and Emma McBeth, for years and are surprised to hear that they're selling the place, especially to a rather obnoxious woman who is planning to make too many changes to the hotel and none of them for the better.

Nonetheless, the party is going well yet a sudden snow storm and a deadly discovery in the wine cellar has Jules taking off her Santa hat and putting on a sleuthing cap instead. Can she save Christmas present before someone else's future holiday plans are put on permanent hold?

I've been enjoying this series for quite some time and it's nice to have a holiday edition that's done with a Dickensian flair. As a bonus, author Ellie Alexander is doing a "31 Days of Cookies" video series along with a big giveaway at the end of it, a truly sweet gesture indeed:

CHRISTMAS CAKE MURDER: It may seem like I'm skipping ahead in the Hannah Swensen series but this story happens to be a prequel of sorts ,so it's more like turning back time sans Cher.

Joanne Fluke gives us an origin story here as Hannah is home from college, hoping to make the first Christmas season without her beloved father,who recently passed away, more bearable for her mother Delores.

During their busy holiday plans, they come across a unfinished manuscript for a mystery novel by local widow Essie Granger(who is in the hospital recovering from a fall).

 Mother and daughter read a bit from the work in progress each night, becoming more intrigued with the plot but not realizing that it's based on an actual scandal from the past. Will those secrets be revealed at the upcoming Christmas Ball, being revived in Essie's honor, or be buried even deeper than an unwanted fruit cake in the trash?

This sounds like a sweet seasonal treat and you just know the cake recipes included within this tempting tale will be lusciously lovely as well:

CHRISTMAS ON THE ISLAND: Jenny Colgan's novels are always a delight and when she sets up a series such as the Mure Island books, having a holiday story among them is like placing the perfect bow on a well wrapped present.

Mure Island is off the coast of Scotland, a small yet colorful village where the arrival of a wealthy new neighbor has sparked new life for the community. Part of that spark also comes from Flora, who has moved back home and found a new dream by opening up Cafe By The Sea, plus bringing her former boss Joel along for the ride.

While their romance is going smoothly, a major announcement that must be made by Flora could change the whole course of their future together. It helps to have her family nearby for support but their reactions can be as unpredictable as Joel's might be. Can she keep the good holiday feelings flowing or could this be the last Christmas for them both?

A Jenny Colgan Christmas is something to eagerly savor and who knows, maybe someday one of her wonderful books might become one of those holiday movies that folks clamor to watch every year:

The Christmas Spirit readathon begins on November 25 and ends on December 8, which is a good way to start your season off with some peppermint scented page turning. Also, with the weather getting colder, this is a good excuse to stay inside and read rather than venture out into the chilliness except perhaps for a sleigh ride or two:

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The LRG Best Books I've Read in 2019 List

It's that time of year when we get ready for the winter holidays and start putting out those "Best of..." lists and yes, this happens to be mine for 2019.

Mind you, this list is made up of books that I've fully completed reading(a lot of worthy titles are still in my current reading/stalled for the moment pile) and all of them are fiction.

With all of the chaos prominently featured in the headlines these days, I find myself seeking comfort from my best bet for just that, novels. Nothing against poetry or short stories(more into the latter than the former) but a novel is just suitably satisfying for my needs and perhaps yours as well:


 It's been a wonderful year for retellings of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, with top honors going to Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal.

Set in Pakistan during the early 2000s, the Binat sisters are all available to be wed, although independent minded daughter Alys prefers to pursue a teaching career rather than go husband hunting with her over anxious mother and giddy younger sisters Qitty and Lady.

While encouraging her beloved older sister Jena in finding love, Alys keeps running into Valentine Darsee, a man who may appreciate a good book but is as snobbish about status as most of his less than well-to-do neighbors. Can these two ever agree about anything other than literature, especially when one of them has made judgements that affect more than one person's chance for happiness?

This take on P&P is a delight, enriching the source material with modern insights and good old fashioned story telling that makes you wish for an adaptation just as grand as any starring the perfect Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet of your dreams:

Another engaging look at P&P is Uzma Jalaluddin's Ayesha At Last, where the narrative is evenly divided between Khalid, a shy young man whose traditional way of life can be isolating at times and Ayesha, starting a teaching career but who longs to pursue her dreams of poetry.

With Khalid's mother determined to get him married and Ayesha covering for her light hearted cousin Hasfa, the two of them often run into each other and find themselves clashing on so many things.

However, they both share a love of family which helps them to see the true nature of one another, with a little help from those who really care about their ultimate happiness. Set in modern day Canada, this refreshing romance celebrates love and life with a zest that's shiny and new and yet, embraces the best of classic Jane Austen there:


Speaking of blending the current with the classic, it was a real joy to have the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer be reborn in Slayer by Kiersten White.

Using a continuation of the BTVS story from the graphic novel series, this YA novel takes place after the age of Buffy as magic is being cast out of the mortal world.

However, one last slayer is called and her name is Nina, daughter of one of the few Watchers left and whose twin sister Artemis was always expected to take the title of Chosen One. Nina has never wanted to be a Slayer and is less than thrilled with this mantle,especially since Artemis is furious about this situation.

Yet, there are other things to worry about as Nina must make some hard choices and new friends in order to find out what is happening to the nonhuman beings still left in this reality. Filled with the wit and heart of the original series, this Slayer saga(it's the first entry in a trilogy set to give us part two next year,I believe) certainly has an old school fan like me riveted to read more:


The expression "tailor made" certainly seems to fit for folks like me when it comes to The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman.

In this whimsical wonder of a story, our leading lady of the title is living what she considers to be a very satisfying existence , complete with the perfect bookstore job, a cozy home with a cat and trivia contest nights with a select group of friends.

Her rather tidy life is turned upside down when a lawyer visits her one day to announce that Nina's supposedly unknown father has recently died, leaving her something substantial in his will. He also had another family, giving Nina a whole new slew of folks to deal, plus the captain of a rival trivia team has caught her eye and then some.

As Nina sorts out her new set of circumstances, we become enchanted with this buoyant heroine and her book loving ways,turning the pages eagerly to discover if she truly gets the ending that she deserves and you are well rewarded indeed.

Meanwhile, debut author Roselle Lim dazzles us with Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune, where an adult daughter returns home to make peace with her mother's memory as well as pay homage to the culinary legacy of her grandmother.

Natalie simply intends at first to wrap up the remains of her agoraphobic mother's life but seeing the fading status of the neighborhood as well as finding the legendary recipe book of her well renowned grandmother, she decides to reopen the long closed family restaurant.

In order to bring good vibes to her enterprise, Natalie prepares some of the book's dishes for her neighbors, hoping to cure their emotional ills along with hers. While that doesn't go exactly as planned, she finds a new sense of self and perhaps a true love of her life along the way.

Lim blends her own unique stew of magical story telling, food love and heart that makes you want a second serving right away. Fortunately, her next novel, Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop, is due out in 2020, making that wait a bit more bearable there:


 To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect upon picking up Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Sure, it was chosen to be a selection of Reese Witherspoon's book club and had gotten some solid praise,along with an adaptation deal, but it was one of those "okay, let me see for myself" reads.

Well, it turned out to be a stay-up-all-night to finish book and not just because I got it from the library. This fictional history of the title band from the 1970s gives each member of the group a chance to tell their side of their rise and fall story with intimate emotions and a song in their collective hearts.

The most compelling moments of this musical journey are centered upon Daisy, a talented singer who openly embraces her inner demons and Billy Dunne, a singer/songwriter who battles his on a daily basis. Their reluctant connection begins and ends the band yet it's not blaming anyone for what was perhaps meant to be. Instead, this tale of like minded souls who loved and hated each other plays on the page like a perfect duet of heart and soul:

Well, the year is not over yet and there's still plenty of great books to read out there. However, I feel that this is a pretty good representation of the best ones that I came across in 2019 and I hope that your own list was just as fun and fulfilling.

As we head onward towards a fresh new year, let us keep in mind that despite what ever turmoils and troubles that might be in our path, there is always a good book around to help us deal with that:

Friday, November 08, 2019

Some cozy mystery dishes to add to your Thanksgiving fictional feast

As Thanksgiving is on the holiday horizon once again, I do worry that it's getting ignored by those who see this heartwarming celebration as merely a speed bump on the Christmas highway.

With that in mind, I thought it would be good to highlight some Turkey Day themed reading and what better genre to do some one stop shopping in than cozy mysteries? Even if the series in question is not food related, there's still a good amount of seasonal sleuthing to be found here.

 So here are a few books that should pair up nicely with your traditional Thanksgiving meal, before and after dinner, to get you right into the savory spirit of things.

 To start, our main course is Murder of a Botoxed Blonde by Denise Swanson from her Scumble River books. School psychologist Skye Denison is less than thrilled by the prospect of spending her Thanksgiving at a health spa, where tofu turkey is on the menu. However, urged by her best friend Trixie(plus the chance to avoid playing hostess to a swarm of relatives), she decides to give the experience a decent try.

As the over emphasis on beauty treatments makes Skye feel uncomfortable, her stay becomes more tense when one of the glamorous guests is discovered drowned to death in a meant to be relaxing mudbath.

Teaming up with her friends to solve the case, Skye hopes to have a happy Thanksgiving with no more empty place settings at the table. Sounds like festive fun, although the prospect of tofu turkey is scary enough as it is to a meat eater like me:

Next up is Krista Davis' The Diva Runs Out of Thyme, the first in the Domestic Diva mysteries and the lady of the title is Sophie Winston who is planning some payback with a killer recipe for stuffing.

She intends no actual harm to her longtime rival in life and love, Natasha Smith, but the chance to earn a win against her in the upcoming Stupendous Stuffing contest this Thanksgiving is too good to pass up.

Unfortunately, the discovery of a dead body and superficial evidence tying her to the crime is putting a major crimp in Sophie's holiday plans. Can she find the true killer in time for the contest or will orange be the new black for Sophie's future Thanksgiving plans?

Granted, I'm not a stuffing fan but even I know the importance of that side dish to the occasion and no doubt this tasty read has a delicious recipe for both the stuffing as well as a solution to Sophie's situation:

Heading towards dessert, Leslie Meier serves up Turkey Day Murder for local part time reporter Lucy Stone in the Maine town of Tinker's Cover.

Lucy has quite a lot on her plate as it is with the holidays fast approaching, including preparing the classic pumpkin pie that she's known for.

Yet, when a dispute at a town meeting leads to the demise of one of the advocates for a project beneficial to the Native American community, she finds herself putting aside her apron for some Lois Lane action.

Yes, the title is Turkey Day Murder but since Lucy's pumpkin pie plays a prominent part in her meal plans, I felt that this was better off in the dessert category(plus pumpkin pie is my favorite Thanksgiving treat and worth fighting for on any occasion):

For our flavorful finale, Joanne Fluke and her feisty heroine Hannah Swenson team up to give us a Raspberry Danish Murder and yes, this story is set around Thanksgiving time.

Hannah is not in a festive mood, due to the disappearance of her new husband Ross(yes, I know that she didn't choose either Mike or Norman, not yet at least) and trying to distract herself from worrying by focusing on making as many Thanksgiving themed treats as she can.

While the customers at Hannah's bakery The Cookie Jar certainly appreciate her efforts, she needs more than a new way to make raspberry danish to occupy her anxious thoughts. When one of Ross' co-workers is fatally poisoned, Hannah sees this investigation as a way to find her missing husband and get some of the answers that she truly deserves here.

While raspberry danish is not a typical Thanksgiving dessert, I'm sure that any raspberry treat could be worked into a holiday menu somehow. After all, that shade of red does have that autumn feeling indeed:

I do hope that some of these titles inspire some Thanksgiving related reading and help to bring about more love for the holiday. While Christmas and the other winter festivities are crowd pleasers to be sure, Thanksgiving is a time to not just make a big meal and watch parades and/or sports on TV.

It's a time to think about the good things in your life and yes, that might be hard to do even under the best of circumstances(plus, the very troubling times we live in right now) but taking a moment to do just that can make all the difference in your outlook for what lies ahead.

Everybody needs a little time for comfort and closeness, which is what Thanksgiving is all about, in my opinion anyway. If a good book or any other entertainment can make that day a little better, that's a true Thanksgiving blessing in the best sense of the term:

Monday, November 04, 2019

My October readathon has come to a FrightFall end

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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