Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Finding a good book to fall into this November/December

We're now in the midst of autumn and this year, it's not just the holiday season that is fast upon our heels. A certain major event will be happening early next week and hopefully, things will go well on that front(I voted via absentee ballot and got it in early, along with my family) for all concerned.

How that night will turn out is a key factor in our collective attitude going forward to the end of this rather hectic year. Either way the die is cast, a good book is going to be a big help in getting through these most challenging times.

So, this short but snappy list of upcoming titles for November and December ought to be useful whether you're making a seasonal gift list or in the mood for a page turning delight:


THE STORY FLOWS ON...


 
In Philippa Gregory's second entry in her new Fairmile series, Dark Tides , her leading lady Alinor is now living with her daughter Alys in London of 1870.

Hoping to make a new life as a wharf owner, Alinor is still distraught over the passing of her son Rob, made worse by the manipulations of her daughter-in-law Livia. Suspicious of  Livia's claims, Alinor asks her granddaughter Sarah to go to Venice to find out the truth about Rob's demise.

Meanwhile, another blast from the past returns as James, the royal spy who abandoned her long ago, arrives to proclaim his desire to marry Alinor and claim their mutual child. She insists that the child is not his and any promises from those days have been broken completely.

Those worries, along with her brother Ned  making a new life in New England, are a heavy toll upon Alinor yet perhaps her gift of second sight might prove useful to seeking more than one solution. Gregory's knack for weaving intricate plot points into a story telling tapestry are well known and seeing her latest pattern laid out for these characters should prove to be elegant fictional embroidery at it's finest(November):

 


MAIDENS OF MYSTERY

 

It is an undisputed fact that Agatha Christie is considered "the Queen of Mystery" and yet one of the biggest mysteries connected to her has never been solved.

In the upcoming novel The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict, we get a fictional possibility as to what occurred during those eleven days in 1926 in which one of the most famous writers in the world seemed to have vanished into thin air.

Was she truly in danger or was this a planned happenstance, due to her husband Archie's constant betrayals of their wedding vows? As clues mount up and the police are fixing their sights on him as the prime suspect, Archie finds himself having no choice but to play out the hand that his wife has dealt him.

Questions abound-can Archie pull himself back from the brink before it's too late? Even if Agatha is fine and well, where is she and how is she able to manipulate things from her hidden location? Will things ever be the same between the two of them again, once this is all said and done with? 

Benedict does like to portray engaging women and Agatha Christie is quite the challenge yet I suspect that her literary solution to this real life puzzle will by the end form a solid picture for mystery fans to enjoy(December):

 


 
 


Speaking of Christie, Anthony Horowitz certainly celebrated the spirit of her work in his novel Magpie Murders awhile back and now he's bringing that vibe back again with a character from that book in Moonflower Murders.

After her harrowing experience with the final novel by late mystery writer Alan Conway, Susan Ryland has left the publishing world to live a more peaceful life on the island of Crete. Nonetheless, her knowledge of Conway's great detective Atticus Pund has a set of worried parents seeking her assistance.

Eight years ago, the wedding of Cecily Treherne and Aiden Macneil was marred by the murder of a guest at the hotel used for the ceremony. A foreign born maintenance man was blamed for the crime yet the bride felt that he was innocent.

With Cecily now missing, the Trehernes offer Susan a good amount of money to help in this case, particularly due to their daughter's use of the third book in the Atticus Pund series as a blueprint for solving this crime. Despite her better judgement, Susan decides to play detective and even consults that particular book to see what Cecily was thinking.

Perhaps, Cecily was too close to the truth and Susan's sleuthing might not render the results that the Treherne family is looking for. Yet, she may do some good and possibly bury her own demons from the past as well. Magpie Murders was an amazing read and it will be hard to top it but Horowitz ought to be more than capable of giving us another fun thrill ride(November).


A SINISTER SCOOP OF COZY MYSTERY

Ellie Alexander's Bakeshop Mystery series is rather addicting(to me, at least!) and it's good to see that we're getting another delicious slice of cozy mystery cake from her before this year is out.

Chilled to the Cone has professional baker and occasional detective Juliet Capshaw happy to add another business project to the already expanding ones centered at her family bakeshop Torte.

Setting up a pop-up ice cream shop during the spring season in Ashland sounds like a great opportunity yet before the the first scoop can be sold, a death lands on Torte's doorstep that puts the whole project into a deep freeze.

Can Juliet find out who killed the beloved street performer known as "The Wizard" to thaw out her new venture in time or will this meltdown lead to a chilling end?  This may not feel like ice cream season but Alexander is great at delivering a sweet surprise to her readers in any and all fabulous flavors(December):


 


Like I said at the beginning of this post, with any luck, things will start to look better for our future after next Tuesday and regardless of that, we need to hold each other up as best as we can. Still going to be a tough road ahead no matter what.

In the meantime, I'm going to try and take things in stride-if we can make to Thanksgiving without too much hassle, that'll be fine with me. While this upcoming holiday season is not going to be the same, we can always find comfort among the chaos with our loved ones, plus don't skip the rolls!:



Thursday, October 22, 2020

A Surprise Sunday book haul

 

Much has changed this year due to the sadly ongoing health crisis and that includes the getting of books.

What with shutdowns affecting both libraries and bookstores(not to mention issues with the post office, a rather overly maligned public service these days), having a new book to enjoy almost seems like a rare luxury at times. However, sometimes, things just work out well and for me, a blessing from the Book Fairy granted me a book haul on Sunday of all days. 

While it was understandable that my latest order from Better World Books would be a little late because of the most recent holiday, it was quite a pleasant surprise to find that light green bundle of goodness on my doorstep. 

One of the delights inside was Philippa Gregory's Tidelands, the first in a new series of historical fiction from her(so loving season two of The Spanish Princess,btw!). Set in 1648, Alinor supports her family with the talent of her healing arts, risking accusations of witchcraft from the newly empowered Puritans who have forced King Charles into exile.

When she meets James, a priest who also happens to be a spy, Alinor and her loved ones are drawn into a plot to free the former king with promises of better lives for all concerned. Her interest in helping James becomes more personal as time goes on, which places her heart as well as her life on the line. Can Alinor find true happiness for herself and her family or is this a path toward future ruin here?

I do like how Gregory puts the spotlight on women and their particular issues during these power struggles between men. Her characters are often engaging in or out of royal circles and by giving us this tale set among regular folk, it's easy to see how some things never quite change indeed:



The book that accompanied Tidelands was The Institute by Stephen King, a most unlikely pair, I grant you. Yet, I suspect that those two authors might get along well with each other on a few points.

The title location is where young Luke Ellis has been taken to by mysterious government forces who have killed his parents. Their interest in him is due to his psychic abilities, a special gift that he and many of his fellow inmates share.

Being manipulated by their captors to perform on command for future unknown purposes, Luke and his new friends become determined to break out. It's quite a risk since no child has escaped before but as things grow worse, any chance at freedom is the only viable option left.

King does know how to tap into the pulse of current fear and this story certainly does have a ripped from the headlines vibe to it. Yet, if anyone can mix the horror and humanity of a situation like this, he certainly can. The man wears the crown of literary terror for good reason:


Later that same day, I checked my e-mail and found a notification from my local library(which is still physically closed) that one of my ebook holds was now available.

Thanks to a kind gift from a family friend, I now have a new ereader that allows me to borrow books electronically and it's nice to have a little library loan joy back. The book in question is The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, which is so suitable for this scary season!

Our leading lady is Patricia, a 90's housewife whose main excitement in life is her reading group that devours true crime stories together. After a shocking encounter with an elderly neighbor gone suddenly savage, she meets a charming newcomer to town claiming to be that woman's nephew.

As James Harris breezes into her life and the lives of her family and friends, a string of disappearances on the other side of town soon leads to her own backyard, forcing Patricia to consider the possibility that James is not what he seems. However, getting anyone to believe her is another matter entirely as even her best book buddies are a little reluctant to take up stakes on her behalf.

Nonetheless, Patricia gears up to battle the blood drinking forces of evil at hand and she becomes a power to reckon with on more than one front. I'm reading this right now and it is a total blast, a combo of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and True Blood with a special love for old school horror. So loving this and if you get the chance to sink your teeth into one, do so with gusto!:


Considering all of the chaos swirling about us these days, it's good to have a book or two nearby to ground you to the world. Hopefully, our collective tomorrows will be brighter but in the meanwhile, we need to stay focused on what's right as well as take a moment to regather our strength there.

So, making the best of things is something that folks have done well in the past and should be good enough for our present circumstances. You might not be able to catch up on all of your reading at the moment but when you get a small special book bonus like I was given here, you need to make the most of it:




Monday, October 12, 2020

Booking some future fun reads for your cozy mystery shelf

 

While things are far from certain these days, you can at least rely on the power of a good book to help you get through the bad times. For cozy mystery fans like myself, a great way to find something to look forward to in the future is to check out the new releases that lie ahead for us in the new year.

For example, Ellery Adams will be bringing forth the fourth entry in her newest series entitled The Secret,Book and Scone Society this upcoming January. Ink and Shadows has Miracle Springs bookshop owner Nora dealing with a bit of censorship as a few of the locals object to the titles showcased in her Halloween window display.

Another target of this harassment is Celeste, whose new shop sells CBD oil based goods, and as disrupt acts and vague threats keep cropping up, Nora and her group of friends band together to calm the worsening situation down.

However, when a suspicious death occurs in town, the stakes become even higher. Is the cause of this untimely demise connected to the current wave of controversy or to a secret from Celeste's past that won't stay buried ? 

 This series is really growing on me with it's strong set of female friendships and engaging mysteries that are as inviting as one of the special scones made by Nora's baking buddy Hester, which are personally flavored to soothe your emotional appetites:



By March of 2021, you might be in the mood for ice cream and that's when A Game of Cones by Abby Collette is set to arrive.

The second book in the Ice Cream Parlor series has our leading lady Bronwyn "Win"Crewse feeling more confident about revving the frozen treat family business yet a fresh death on her doorstep promises to dampen that mood.

Not only does Win have to defend one of her good friends being unjustly accused of killing a new developer in town planning to set up a big box shopping mall, her flighty aunt, who pretty much ran the ice cream shop into the ground, is back to claim what she thinks is hers.

Fighting more than one battle on several fronts is challenging enough but Win is determined to save her friend, her new workplace and the day as best she can. Hopefully, the victory on all of these fields will not be bittersweet. I truly enjoyed An Inside Deadly Scoop, which launched this new series and this second sinister sweet sundae will definitely be worth the wait:


While Bakeshop Mystery series writer Ellie Alexander is going to have an ice cream themed book out later this season(Chilled to the Cone), her summer story for next June is rather warm brewed indeed.

In Mocha, She Wrote,  professional baker and amateur detective Juliet Capshaw is proud to have her top barista Andy take part in a coffee competition that could earn him a big pay day, along with some percolating prestige.

However, when the head judge is so appalled by Andy's initial offering that he spits that first sip out, his odds for a win grind to a halt. Even worse, that judge is found dead not long after, making Juliet's prize employee a prime suspect!

Can Juliet clear Andy of making a murderous cup of brew or are his chances of getting off truly a mug of mud? The wonderfully punny title is a nice tip of the hat to the classic mystery TV show, Murder She Wrote and while I suspect that Jessica Fletcher was more of a tea drinker, she would more than likely  appreciate this caffeinated crime scene:

 


 If you haven't read any of these cozy mystery series before, this is the right time to catch up and for those of us who have, putting in a pre-order or placing a hold at your nearest library might be a good start for your 2021 reading plans.

Whatever you choose to read, just remember that mystery books are the perfect present to give yourself. Unlike other "mystery" gifts, they'll keep you guessing for all of the right reasons and perhaps prevent a family argument or two:




Friday, October 09, 2020

My Series-ous Reading samples a sinfully good slice of Devil's Food Cake Murder

I know this latest installment of Series-ous Reading is a tad late but as one of my favorite comedians would say "Things have been crazy!"

Nonetheless, this challenge will go on and today's focus is on Devil's Food Cake Murder, which is the fourteenth entry in Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen culinary cozy mystery series. I'm still trying to catch up to my mom(who has read nearly every one of these books!) but at this point, I think that I'm gaining ground here.

This time around, Hannah is looking into the death of substitute minister Matthew Walters, who is covering for regular reverend Bob Knudson as he and his new bride Clare finally get to take their honeymoon(this romance has been a long running subplot and it's nice to see that story piece fit neatly into the overall puzzle).

Matthew is an old friend from childhood, who once staid with Bob's grandmother during his teens, along with his troublesome cousin Paul. Grandma Knudson is happy to host Matthew again but gets concerned when he reveals that his chocolate allergy from back in the day is long gone. That makes her wonder if this is the real Matthew as cousin Paul bears a striking resemble to him(very Patty Duke Show there!).

Hannah does check Matthew out and he appears to be legit(also you can outgrow/overcome chocolate allergies) which relieves both ladies greatly. However, it's not long before Hannah finds him dead at his desk, with a mynah bird overhead squawking "the wages of sin are death!"

Yes, the bird happens to also be a guest of Grandma Knudson's and that feathered friend provides a pivotal clue in the case. It's not long before Hannah gets her crew into gear to solve the murder mystery with assignments to her sisters Andrea and Michelle as well as Norman(who drops a major bombshell later on in the story), plus her Cookie Jar partner Lisa is gathering details to make her dramatic retelling of Hannah's latest deadly discovery a must-attend event. 

At this point, it is becoming a regular feature of Lake Eden; Hannah Finds Another Body(and/or her family does!)and much like a certain vampire slayer, she has her own Scooby Gang ready to take action on her behalf:



While Hannah does her best to figure out who the killer is, complications do rise up such as her fastidious mother Delores insisting on going undercover at a local dive bar(complete with rented costume!) and the "real" Matthew showing up, claiming that it must have been his ex-con cousin Paul who was done in.

Quite a stir occurs with that last bit, as the legitimacy of  local religious services(weddings, baptisms, etc) is under question, not to mention who exactly is after Paul. A big help is all of this comes from a rather unexpected source-Grandma Knudson, who also has a small Scooby Gang of her own.

Not only does Grandma Knudson figure out a few clues, she comes to Hannah's rescue when the true killer is discovered(no unmasking, alas) and even figures out what the murderer was searching for in Matthew's office that lead to his untimely demise. I swear, Grandma Knudson could be the next Miss Marple and maybe even give Hannah a run for her money in the small town detective game there:


What stunned me completely in this book was Norman's big revelation regarding Doctor Beverly, the former love of his life who has joined his dentistry clinic.

Ever since she came on the scene, Norman has been secretive with Hannah and clearly miserable about something. By the time the case has been resolved, Norman talks to Hannah alone, asking her to help him find his beloved cat Cuddles a new home.

Hannah wonders why and it's because Beverly claims to be allergic to cats. When questioned as to why that matters, Norman tells her that after he and Beverly broke up, she discovered that she was carrying his child(a girl named Diana) and never bothered to tell him about it. Now, after all these years, she's only willing to let Diana see him if Norman marries her!

What the what?!? Wow, that's so...what gets me is that Beverly has been openly dating Hannah's other beau, police detective Mike during this return to town and yet she's determined to set her hooks into Norman?! I am so getting Gilmore Girls Season Six flashbacks from this plot twist....:



Fortunately, Hannah can take Cuddles in as her beloved cat Moishe gets along great with Norman's kitty but the other news has her reeling back in shock to say the least.

With such a major emotional hit like that at the end, it's good that my current Series-ous Reading selection is Cinnamon Roll Murder, the very next Hannah Swensen book to follow! So far, our leading lady is dealing with the death of a keyboard player from a jazz band called Cinnamon Roll Six and Norman's plight hasn't been a big part of that yet.

However, I'm sure that something will happen on that front as even romantic rival Mike is concerned about what's going on there. For now, just thinking about the sweetness of cinnamon rolls is soothing enough for me:




Monday, September 28, 2020

At the midway mystery checkpoint on my FrightFall journey

 

As those of use taking part in this year's FrightFall readathon(held by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading) know, the reading time has been expanded to two months, which is perfect for setting that Halloween mood to me!

So far, I've finished one book on my TBR and in the middle of another, with a last minute add-on at hand. First things first-my completed FF read was The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, which starts off his series of 1950s British mysteries featuring Flavia de Luce.

Flavia is eleven years old, living with her two older sisters Ophelia  and Daphne and their widowed father in a declining estate known as Buckshaw. Her keen intelligence(her specialty is chemistry with an interest in poison) and dark wit make her an outsider in more ways than one among her family and the local residents of the nearby village.

When a mysterious stranger dies in their cucumber patch, Flavia is the one to discover him and get the police on the scene. As it happens, the dead man is an old school mate of her father's, which makes her remaining parent the prime suspect.

Since her sisters are both useless(I really don't like them)in this situation, Flavia takes charge of the case to clear their father's name, with the only clues being a dead bird left on their back doorstep that had a stamp attached to it's beak, overhearing an argument the night before between her father and his former friend and the last word of the victim(that she was able to hear) being "vale".

That last clue leads her to a scandal involving a stamp collecting club at Greyminster, the all boys school where her father became a lifelong lover of that postage item. While the official lead detective in the case, Inspector Hewitt, doesn't want her involved, he can't help but admit she has been making good progress in gathering evidence here.

Flavia is quite the hard to love type yet her quick thinking in certain situations is to be admired. Granted, she does enjoy unusual experiments such as seeing how long the slow acting poison in her sister Ophelia's lipstick will take to affect her(to be fair, it was payback for teaming up with Daphne to tie their little sister up and lock her in a closet, plus an insult regarding Flavia's family status).

However, she has a bit of a Wednesday Addams vibe that suits her well and made me cackle with wicked delight on occasion during this story:



Yet, when all is said and done, Flavia is still just a kid and she does get into some serious danger at one point, with the chances of her being found in the nick of time slim to none.

For one, what family she does have barely keeps track of her between her chronically withdrawn father who only seems to care about his beloved stamp collection and her older sisters with one on the constant lookout for a boyfriend and the other who sticks her head in books like an ostrich in the sand. Normally, I would like a bookish character like Daphne but she's very much a Mary Bennet in this regard.

 Sure, siblings fight but Flavia's bids for attention are obviously a lonely girl's way of coping with the lack of a mother during such a crucial time in her young life. That makes me most annoyed at her sisters, not to mention her father(who prefers to wallow in his grief rather than connect to his children).

The only other adults on hand are the much put upon housekeeper who insists on making custard pies that no one eats and Dogger, the gardener and old wartime companion of Flavia's father who is clearly suffering from shell shock(what PTSD was called back then).

 She doesn't seem to have any friends that are her age and her blunt manner at times tends to unsettle the grown-ups that she does come in contact with. Plus, she has no memories of her late mother, which troubles her deeply and you know a book is good when you want to yell at the other characters for not paying more attention to the needs of another(yes,Ophelia, you are the oldest and I mean YOU!).

While Flavia has the acid wit of Wednesday Addams, she also has the cleverness of Roald Dahl's Matilda and much like that literary heroine, she's stuck in a self involved family with little emotional support or encouragement of her scientific talents. This book was good enough to have me buy the next two in the series(which I will read later on) and hopefully, the de Luce family will straighten up and fly right when it comes to Flavia as we go on:


Meanwhile, I am in the middle of Chris Cavender's A Pizza to Die For, the third entry in his Pizza Lovers Mystery series. 

Sisters Eleanor and Maddy have enough on their plate at the Slice of Delight pizzeria as it is without getting entangled in murder but the latest demise in the town of Timber's Cove makes them highly listed on the menu of official suspects.

Newcomer to Timber's Cove Judson Sizemore was preparing to open a high end pizza parlor only a few doors down from the Slice. Unfortunately, his opening day was his last on earth and since he had a couple of run-ins with Eleanor before hand, Chief of Police Kevin Hurley is looking hard at the local rivalry here.

Eleanor, with the help of Maddy and a dubious ally, are able to find other suitable suspects such as Judson's sister Gina, who hopes to get all of their reclusive uncle Nathan's fortune and a couple of ex girlfriends, one of which claims to be pregnant with Judson's child! Will these extra ingredients help Eleanor make a spicy solution pizza or create a recipe for more death to follow?

I do like this series with it's comfortable cast of characters and tasty food vibes but mainly I enjoy the bond between Eleanor and Maddy, two sisters with different outlooks on life. Widowed Eleanor does like being a homebody and is not quick to reenter the dating scene despite the urging of Maddy(who has had three husbands and currently dating lovable lawyer Bob Lemon).

Yet, Eleanor is not a stick in the mud and willing to take risks that even reckless Maddy finds to be too much(such as that dubious ally I mentioned). Also, Maddy can prove to be a sweetheart when least expected and she always has her sister's back.  The two of them, along with their crew of loyal workers(one of which is the police chief's son!) create a warm emotional atmosphere that makes this pizza place a delicious spot for solving murders indeed:



While I did plan to keep my reading list short  for this readathon, I find myself adding just one more title to the pile.

Ruth Ware's The Lying Game has four friends reuniting for reasons that have nothing to do with happy memories. New mother Isa receives a message from  former school mate Kate and meets up with her other friends from that time, Fatima and Thea, due to a sudden discovery along the shore of the town of Salten.

Fifteen years ago, this quartet were the best of friends , sneaking off from their dreary boarding school to hang out with Kate's artist dad and her rather attractive brother Luc. Those secret trips lead to a deadly event that got the girls expelled from school and caused a major parting of ways among them.

With the recent find of a human bone, Kate has called them back to figure out what to do next. Isa feels she has the most to lose with a brand new baby daughter but the real truth is more revealing than any of them ever expected.

I did like The Woman in Cabin 10(one of Ware's earlier books) and have been trying to read more of her work ever since. The Lying Game certainly feels like a good sinister gateway to walk through for that:


I hope that everyone taking part in FrightFall this year is having  a fun time with their books and is ready for some Halloween bookish treats. I have a set of three holiday themed reads lined up that should make the upcoming witching season bright, despite the restrictions of the ongoing health crisis that's going to put the stop sign up for the traditional All Hallow's Eve hijinks.

Nevertheless, Halloween still can be fun and safe to enjoy indoors with some of your favorite candy and a viewing of Hocus Pocus(it's going to be on multiple times next month, it's The Christmas Story of Halloween, if you ask me) with the perfect scary book by your side. Brew up a batch of haunted snacks and savor the night,folks!:




Friday, September 25, 2020

The root of the evil that gives us Banned Books Week


 At this crucial point in our country's history, Banned Books Week is about to start as another reminder of the freedoms that we cherish as a nation. 

Nowadays, sadly, those freedoms are feeling few and far between with civil liberties being violated on a daily basis and what once were established norms of a supposedly mature society being tossed by the wayside.

Don't worry,folks-I'm not going to get into a big political rant(most of my regular readers probably have a good sense of my viewpoints in that regard) here. However, instead of listing current and past books targeted by censorship, I thought this would be the right time to talk about why books and authors are banned/challenged in the first place.

 

We all know the familiar string of excuses(foul language, sexual content, religious objections, etc.) and that old standby "Won't someone think of the children?". 

Protecting the young ones is both true and false, which I will get into in a moment. After much consideration on my part, I find that the real reason, past and present, for censorship like this is simply fear.

No doubt many of these dubious do-gooders would insist that they're not afraid of words on a page, only their influence on others. A half truth at best; what upsets them the most is that these words challenge their already established notions of how the world should be.

These are the type of people who loudly proclaim their love of liberty but when it comes to caring about the rights of people who are not of their social circle, that privilege is not deemed worthy of those who "complain" and "don't appreciate their country", conveniently forgetting that this entire country was brought into being by those who complained about unfair treatment by a government in the first place.

It's no wonder that books about rebelling against totalitarian regimes as The Hunger Games series and George Orwell's 1984 are often challenged. People like this say they're all for democracy but the past four years alone have shown us that they would actually prefer a Big Brother system that takes away any pesky protests about the way things are and simply spoon feed them propaganda, flavored with hate and heartlessness:



So what exactly are they afraid of? Well, that things like racism(the works of Toni Morrison), sexism(The Handmaid's Tale), bias against certain religions(The Kite Runner) and the LGBTQIA community(And Tango Makes Three) are problems that we need to work and make real generational changes that will last.

That's where the kids come into the picture; a lot of these people feel that the way they were taught by parents/school/church was just fine and what was good enough for them is good enough for their children.

Like the song says "children are our future" and many of these narrow minded minions don't want their offspring to change the world. After all, that would invalidate their beliefs, which is their ultimate nightmare, to be proven wrong.

While they accuse others of "thought control", that is exactly what they're after and one of the places where such battles begin is with books both in classrooms and libraries. We may not have those Fahrenheit 451 book burning mandates but trust me, there are many out there who crave them indeed:



So, what can we do about this? While there are numerous challenges to our freedoms all going on right now, intellectual freedom is one of the most important as it's a valuable component to tackling the other situations at hand.

Fighting back in the right way is key and be willing to face off against our own fears is a major step in that direction. Fear can be used against us not only by encouraging the weak to embrace chaos but also to cast doubt in ourselves and stun us into inaction.

Well, as a special litany in Frank Herbert's Dune teaches us, "Fear is the mind killer" and we must be ready to stand against it. It's not an easy task, I well know, yet by facing down such a powerful emotion , we will be the stronger for it. 

You don't have to do anything truly dramatic to overcome fear, even if it feels like an epic storm of woe is about to descend upon us. A small step, such as signing a petition or refusing to give into negative peer pressure either online or off, is just as great a victory:



A great benefit of Banned Books Week is that it reminds us that our right to freedom of thought and speech has always been a long and hard fought battle that we should never take for granted.

Adding that on to the huge bundle of burdens we are up against this year in particular may seem like too much. Yet, it's one that we can't give up on or put on the back burner until later. Keeping it safe from those ready to destroy such a valuable asset is an absolute must.

Banned Books Week begins this Sunday, September 27 and runs until October 3. Please bear it in mind as we make our mark in history by remembering those who took up this cause in the past. Let us honor their struggles and pay respect to those gone before us, on this and many other fronts. Freedom of speech is freedom of choice, something to hold onto in these troubling times:

 







Friday, September 18, 2020

Booking a few page turning options at the Movie Trailer Park


 As we know all too well these days, new film premieres are rather quick to change their opening dates(not to mention viewing formats) yet we are still getting trailers that make our cinematic mouths water.

Book adaptations are also included and whether a favorite of yours is set to debut on a screen that's big,small or streaming, that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the previews with a bag of popcorn at hand.

First up is Dune, based on the classic sci-fi series by Frank Herbert, starring Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atriedes, the heir to a spice mining fortune who finds himself in the midst of a trade war that also takes him on a spiritual quest on the planet Arrakis.

Other prominent cast members include Oscar Isaac as Paul's father , Jason Momoa as master swordsman Duncan Idaho and Zendaya as Chani, a resident Fremen of Arrakis who Paul falls in love with. It's been a long time since I read the Dune books(the first four, at least) and yes, that David Lynch version from 1984 fell very far short of expectations there.

However, this production is in the hands of Denis Villeneuve, best known for Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, and he seems to have a good handle on this genre. There's also talk of this film leading to a prequel TV series for HBO Max called Dune: Sisterhood, focusing on the Bene Gesserit which sounds awesome indeed:



Next up is Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, with Kenneth Branagh taking up the role of detective Hercule Poirot once again. In this tale, he becomes embroiled in a murder mystery involving a rather tangled love triangle between Simon Doyle(Armie Hammer), his new wife Linnet(Gal Godot) and Jacqueline de Bellefort(Emma Mackey).

Simon was engaged to Jaqueline but one look at her friend Linnet and that romantic journey changed paths. While on their honeymoon in Egypt, Jacqueline is stalking the two of them with her jealous fury not bothering to hide itself.

 When shots ring out on the passenger boat that they're all sharing,Poirot is ready and able to dive into this not so simple case of murder and deception. Like his last Christie adapation, Branagh is also directing this film with a solid all star cast that includes Annette Benning, Jennifer Saunders, Rose Leslie, Letitia Wright and Sophie Okonedo.

 I happen to be a big fan of the 1978 version of this story(Peter Ustinov is my ideal Poirot and I refuse to waver from that stance) so this movie needs to bring it big time. Also, Branagh wants to create a "Poirot cinematic universe" which is fine but he needs to include Miss Marple at some point if you ask me!:



Set to premiere in whatever theaters are open along with Netflix, a new version of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca is arriving in late October. 

Lily James plays the second Mrs. de Winter, who arrives at the intimidating manor house known as Manderly with new husband Maxim(Armie Hammer-what is it with this guy and period pieces?) and introduced to the equally intimidating housekeeper Mrs. Danvers(Kristen Scott Thomas).

With the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation firmly emblazoned onto movie history, this movie is going to have a tough time when it comes to making it's own mark. Hopefully, the cast and company of this production will do their best to up the game:



Meanwhile, the made for TV folk are at long last getting their second season of The Spanish Princess on Starz this fall. 

Based on Philippa Gregory's novel about Catherine of Aragon, this season showcases the young queen(Charlotte Hope) ruling and fighting along side King Henry(Ruairi O'Connor) as they defend England from enemies from outward and within their realm.

I have to say that Starz has been giving us some miniseries goodness with these Philippa Gregory adaptations and by expanding The Spanish Princess to more than one season, hopes for more historical fiction fare like this are high indeed:


Finding new entertainment to watch is going to be tricky for the foreseeable future yet it's the least of our real world worries. One thing is for certain; books and film will be ready, willing and waiting to help us bear the burden of these harsh times and hopefully not too long from now, give us something to celebrate better days with.

In the meantime, let's hunker down with a great stack of books and the streaming service/ TV channel of your choice(there are just too many of the former, folks-and budgets are a big issue right now!) and try to find a moment or two of peace to savor. Hey, it's not like we're trapped in a Stephen King novel after all(or are we....?!):





Thursday, September 10, 2020

How about Mansfield Park: The Musical?

I am at the midway point with my Jane Austen rereading of the Classic Six, which takes me to Mansfield Park, a novel that I feel is vastly underrated.

For one, the main bone of contention among Austen fans regarding this book is how mild mannered the leading lady is. Fanny Price stands apart from the other Jane Austen heroines in that she is not a daughter of the title household and constantly reminded that she is "not a Miss Bertram" by her horrible Aunt Norris(who we will talk about indeed!).

Being treated like a poor relation is not easy in any time period(particularly for women) and with Fanny not being prone to witticisms like a certain someone, it's hard for her to stand out but yet she does, using her inner strength to weather some rough times ahead of her.

Yet, what can be done to liven up the perception that MP is not a major player in the Austen game? Sadly, most of the film/TV adaptations have not done well by Fanny(except for the 1983 BBC miniseries) and often confuse the tone of the story.

There are few modern takes on Mansfield, including books and webseries, so I do think our best bet for a MP revival is a musical. Mary Crawford does play the harp and I'm sure a fun number can be done with that instrument!

Let's see what that might be like, in a jukebox musical fashion, and Fanny must be featured first in this regard.

Being an introspective character, finding the right song is a bit tricky for her yet I do think that "Stay(I Miss You)" by Lisa Loeb would work.

 For one Fanny opens up to very few people, one of whom is her cousin Edmund(yes, cousin marrying was the norm back then,folks,okay?) and he in turn makes her his confidante when it comes to Mary Crawford, whose savvy manner intrigues him but her slick morals do not.

 In talking his doubts over with Fanny, he's really trying to convince himself that she's the right one for him despite their vastly different outlooks on life(which is not very sensitive to Fanny, who is seriously yet secretly in love with Edmund-dude, read the room there!). I can picture her singing this after one of their talks regarding Mary in her white attic room, sweetly with a touch of sorrow:


Next on the mike is of course Mary Crawford, one half of the double trouble that arrives to Mansfield Park(courtesy of Mrs. Grant). Yes, I know many people consider her a secondary heroine but I firmly do not.

While she's not intentionally malicious, Mary's witty talk and sly sophistication hide a person who has seen a bad relationship up close and personal(her uncle bringing his mistress home after the death of his wife is so an AITA post in the making there) and refuses to be "taken in" in that regard.

Like her brother(who I have much to say about!), Mary refuses to adjust her views for anyone, even if the other person is perfectly justified in having them. She is genuinely puzzled by the fact that Edmund truly wants to become a clergyman and doesn't give that up out of love for her. To his credit, it's a true calling for him and not simply settling for second son status.

Mary, on the other hand, is good intentioned at times yet possesses a strong selfish streak that settling for anything less than what high society says is repulsive to her. Also, her social skills are more suited to the upper class game playing of London than the down to earth sweet style of country living at Mansfield. With that in mind, Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" suits her perfectly:


The second half of that dubiously dynamic duo is Henry Crawford, whose charms go a long way there. He and his sister both share a taste for snarky conversation and being unwilling to commit to someone who doesn't let them have their way.

Henry and Maria Bertram are very much alike in that neither one of them wants to make the first move towards making their on the side romance a more permanent arrangement. In fact, getting back at Maria for going through with her wedding to Mr. Rushworth is part of the reason that Henry fancies himself in love with Fanny to begin with.

I must say this now: Henry is NOT in love with Fanny; he is in love with the idea of being her romantic hero that would take her away from her ungrateful relatives and make her into his perfect on a pedestal bride. None of this takes Fanny's feelings into account at all(even Edmund fails her in this regard, transposing his thwarted romance with Mary onto her) and by people such as Mary insisting that Fanny can "reform" him is insulting in more ways that one.

At first, his ego can not abide that Fanny is not interested in him once her female cousins have left the neighborhood, making him want to "put a hole through her heart" but then upon, seeing that she is a serious minded person, decides that marriage is the best way to win her and get over Maria(bad idea all around). Is any wonder that a song like "The World's Most Handsome Man" by Robbie Williams seems to have been written for him?


Finally, we come to Aunt Norris, a villain worth a Disney song at least. My musical pick for her wasn't from that pop culture corner but I can assure you she is definitely the worst.

Her petty cruelty towards Fanny(a way of getting back at her sister for not marrying well as well as a long ago argument) combined with her bad match making skills in service of favored niece Maria is bad enough yet topped with her penny pinching ways, tendency to overstep her bounds(especially when it comes to Fanny) and quickness to excuse her own errors in judgement just makes her that much more loathsome indeed.

Hell, even the kids she does favor in the family don't like her much but they hardly hesitate to get her on their side for that play(including costume making, where she makes off with the extra cloth!). It's no wonder that Fanny dreads the idea of living with Aunt Norris once she's a widow but fortunately, that less than good lady would rather admit her former pear tree might not bear tasty fruit than keep Fanny that close to home.

Her company is barely tolerated by her ditzy sister Lady Bertram(who at times seems to be more alert than she lets on about things) and when her ultimate comeuppance arrives, it is awfully lovely to behold. Paramore's "Misery Business" just feels right for her:


 Well, who knows-we might see a musical version of Mansfield Park on Broadway in the distant future. Meanwhile, the book itself has plenty to offer in terms of  topics about family, fidelity and not underestimating the quiet folk among us.

Although, a musical certainly would be fun, especially those Lovers' Vows rehearsal scenes! Things would certainly gather up some considerable stream that might require an extra costume change or two there:




Friday, September 04, 2020

Sweetening the end of summer with my Series-ous Reading serving of Apple Turnover Murder

With summer technically over(I know the first official day of fall is a couple of weeks away), I am so looking forward to the fall season of crisp leaves, cool temperatures and hearty meals.

That is probably why my Series-ous Reading selection was Apple Turnover Murder , the 13th entry in Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen mystery novels. Granted, the story takes place in June but apple desserts just have that autumn flavor to them, in my opinion.

This time out, Hannah is busy as a bee during the early summer season yet can't help but to add some extra work by catering specially made treats to several charity events(a last minute request from the mayor's wife).

 Her business partner Lisa comes up with the idea for the title pastry, which is meant to tie in the theme of "turning over a new leaf", something that a new arrival from Hannah's past is clearly not capable of doing.

College professor Bradford Ramsey, who pops in at the end of the previous book Plum Pudding Murder(which I read out of order), acts as if he doesn't know Hannah from when she was a grad student having a secret romance with him. What he didn't tell her then was the real reason for keeping things on the quiet was that he was married, a most unwelcome surprise that caused Hannah to cut their relationship and her college education short.

Bradford happens to be one of her younger sister Michelle's teachers, making Hannah extra nervous about being around him, not to mention concern for her sibling's welfare. When Hannah does run into Bradford backstage at a local talent show, he not only remember her, he insists that they hook up again or his wandering eye will focus on Michelle!

Those are fighting words indeed and Hannah gives him what for on that score. However, their next encounter is awkward in more ways than one as she finds him stabbed to death with one of her turnovers by his sleazy side:


While Hannah is savvy enough to let police detective/occasional boyfriend Mike in on her past with Bradford, she doesn't do the same for gentleman caller number two Norman(which I'll get to in a moment).

 Fortunately, that omission doesn't impact the case which is tricky given the numerous suspects due to Bradford's wayward habits with the ladies, including a couple of ex-wives.

In this particular book, the murder in question is fitted tightly between two subplots, one of which has Hannah's middle sister Andrea in a panic. Seems as if her police chief husband Bill is being strongly recruited by a security firm and taking that job would require them to move to Florida, a fate worse than death in Andrea's eyes!

Look, I'm not crazy about warm weather all the time places either but leaving Lake Eden wouldn't be so bad for a small town gal like Andrea-sure, adjusting would be difficult yet it would also be an opportunity to widen her family's horizons there. After all, a real estate whiz like her would do well anywhere and if this was a good move for Bill to make, it would be worth considering.

Despite Bill's refusal of each offer(the whole thing turns out to be a weird scam), she still persists in freaking out over the mere chance that he might say yes-Andrea, honey, you're acting all wacky cake about this,seriously chill with some chocolate there!:


The biggest plot development,however, is between Hannah and Norman. As I said earlier, Hannah was right to tell Mike about her priors with Bradford(keeps her from being a suspect) but when given the same chance to tell Norman, she doesn't.

Now I know that talking about past relationships with a current significant other is tricky but the reason that Hannah holds back is shame. She has nothing to be ashamed of here(neither does her sister Michelle, who Bradford did flirt with, the lowlife!).

At this point in their "who will she choose" situation, Mike has already told Hannah that she would be better off marrying Norman(a bit of an eyebrow raise on such presumption!) and when informed about Bradford's prior romance with her, Mike is mad enough to wish that Bradford wasn't dead so that he could kill the guy(metaphorically speaking). In other words, he doesn't blame her at all and neither would Norman, I have no doubt about that.

Yet, Norman is also keeping something back from her. Upon returning from a reunion with some old dental school buddies, Norman is acting all distant from Hannah and even though he tries to help her out with the mystery, it's clear that he's going through the motions.

Hannah does,finally, ask him what is the matter and he tells her that there's a big decision that he needs to make but can't go into details just yet. We discover that this major choice involves his former fiancee Beverly, who is now going to join his dental practice and what does this mean for Hannah's relationship with Norman? We shall see.

I've been Team Norman for quite some time now but have to admit that if neither one of them is willing to open up to the other person about the past or the present, this is not a good sign for future happiness there. Honesty is a key ingredient in any recipe for lasting love, folks:


Yes, the murder does get solved but I am so concerned with whole Norman situation that my latest Series-ous Reading pick is the next book in the Hannah Swensen saga, Devil's Food Cake Murder.

As Hannah is trying to cope with Beverly being part of Norman's professional life(plus, everyone in town really seems to like her!), she gets a welcome distraction from Reverend Knudson's grandmother, who is rather suspicious of an old childhood friend of her grandson's being back in town.

I must admit that the book cover looks scrumptious, with a touch of a broken heart look in that sliced section(or am I reading way too much into that?). Regardless, any story with devil's food cake included is always  bound to be a delicious read indeed:


Monday, August 31, 2020

Fall into a new season for books this September/October

I know that I'm a tad last minute with this preview of upcoming Sept/Oct reads but better late than never, right?

While there is a lot going on right now and much to do, taking some time out for a good read is essential to your emotional health, in my opinion.

 Also, certain types of books are great for channeling your stress, whether it's a heart pounding mystery or a romantic look for love.


Speaking of the former, let's start our bookish journey on a chilling note...

DOUBLE DOSE OF TROUBLE:

 ONE BY ONE: This latest thriller from celebrated author Ruth Ware is set at a remote ski resort in France, where a group of corporate types decide to take a much needed relaxing retreat.

When Eva, one of the co-founders of the social media company Snoops, goes missing  at lunch, a search for her whereabouts by the staff is cut off by an avalanche. This sudden extra bit of isolation is made worse by the power and internet access being out as well and on top of that, another guest is found dead by not so natural circumstances.

With tensions rising, can the killer be caught before more loss of life occurs or will their rescue from the outside world arrive far too late? Ware's take on modern mysteries have a wonderful old school style about them which makes them nonetheless engagingly new tales of terror worth exploring(Sept):


 THEY NEVER LEARN: Author Layne Fargo introduces us to Professor Scarlett Clark, who teaches English at the highly esteemed Gorman University and has made a habit of killing off predatory men both on staff and in the student body.

While she made sure to make the demise of her latest victim, football star Tyler Elkin, look self inflicted, his status as an up and coming celebrity athlete has drawn some unwanted attention to Scarlett's schemes.

Doing her best to lay low, Scarlett attempts to charm the detective in charge of the case while trying very hard not to go after her next target. However, things become even more complicated when a student decides to go down a similar road of vengeance after her roommate is assaulted, bringing Scarlett closer than she'd like to being revealed.

I have to say that while I've never read anything by this writer before, this whole premise makes me want to snatch it up as soon as can be. If this thriller isn't picked up for a film/TV adaptation soon, hopefully it's reception among readers will hasten that pop culture decision(Oct):


 AN AIR OF HISTORICAL MYSTERY:

MURDER IS IN THE AIR: The twelfth installment in Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton series has our 1930s lady detective taking up an invitation to attend a garden party in North Yorkshire being held in the honor of Ruth Parnaby, who has been chosen as queen of the local brewery.

With her niece Harriet accompanying her, Kate is happy to bring the children at the party to the pony ride promised by the company but that joy quickly sours once the drayman meant to conduct the rides is missing and later found dead in the fermentation room.

A variety of suspects are available, including Ruth's father Slater, who didn't want his daughter to aid the brewery in any way. Even though he has an alibi, Kate can't help but think that Slater knows more than what he's saying.

I'm still at the far end when it comes to the Kate Shackleton stories yet I can say that dipping into just one of them instantly puts you at ease when it comes to backstory and characters. This particular tale sounds fitting for autumn and should quench your thirst for a historical mystery mug of mead rather nicely(October). 

AFFAIRS OF THE HEART:

LOVE YOUR LIFE: The leading lady of Sophie Kinsella's newest novel is Ava, who takes a trip to Italy in order to attend a writer's retreat. There, she meets "Dutch"(anonymous names are encouraged), who seems to be her romantic ideal.

Once they get back to England, however, it turns out that Dutch is actually Matt, the head honcho at a dollhouse company and the two of them are not as compatible as they each thought. For one, he hates clutter and she collects discarded furniture and books in abundance.

Other potential obstacles in their path to true love include Ava hating his art collection, Matt keeping his bedroom at ice cold temperatures and  worst of all, his immense dislike of Harold, Ava's sweet but not well trained beagle.

Can this lovelorn odd couple find a way to deal with their differences and make a happy medium together? No doubt the answer to that will be entertainingly found within the delightful pages that Kinsella magically brings together(Oct).


MONOGAMY: In Sue Miller's upcoming novel, Annie McFarlane is forced to reexamine her life upon the sudden death of her husband Graham.

Granted, since this was a second marriage for the both of them, she was well aware that Graham was not a perfect person. Nonetheless, Annie is surprised to learn that not only was he having an affair, his first wife Frieda was taken into his confidence about it.

Despite that revelation, Annie is determined to deal with this loss in the best way possible without compromising her own self worth. This look at love and marriage promises to have a bittersweet energy that should be a well taken journey of the heart(Sept):


Given the horrible headlines that we receive daily, finding a good book to read sounds more and more like a viable option. That doesn't mean that we ignore what's going on around us and mourn those great losses to our world(RIP to Chadwick Boseman, a remarkable actor and real life superhero).

Rather, we give ourselves a much needed break so that our collective spirits can be revived for what lies ahead. It would be nice to have a couple of good movies coming soon safely but then again, it does give us something to look forward to for next year.

Let us hope for better things in real life and in entertainment, where at some point, the new remake of Death On The Nile will be available to all, one way or another:

 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Making a merry musical RomCom Comfort Food meal for Bride & Prejudice

Welcome back ,RomCom Comfort Food friends and for our final film feast entree, we have a delightful fusion of love Jane Austen style, mixed with modern flair and a dash of classic musical fun.

One of my best movie going trips was joining some of the Jane Austen fans from The Republic of Pemberley and taking my younger sister along with me to see 2004's  Bride & Prejudice in a Manhattan theater.

My sister is not a Jane Austen person(she likes to jokingly call many of my BBC related shows "British comas"); she was into Bollywood films at the time and I like to think she got a little Austen knowledge out of that viewing.

The movie is a retelling of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, set at first in modern day India where the four Bakshi daughters(yes, Kitty is not included but Maya's cobra dance more than makes up for that!) are, in their fretful mother's opinion, in need of husbands.

While Lalita, the Elizabeth Bennet of this story(played by renowned Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai) is happy to see her older sister Jaya(Namrata Shirodkar) find a potential suitor named Balraj(Naveen Andrews) at a friend's wedding, she is less than thrilled with his buddy William Darcy(Martin Henderson).

For one, Darcy has a touch of the Ugly American about him as he finds the customs of the country out of date with some snarky encouragement by Balraj's sister Kiran(Indira Varma, who is a top rate Miss Bingley indeed!). While he's not malicious, his attitude is rather off-putting to Lalita for good reason.

Despite trying to keep the peace for her sister's sake during a resort outing, Lalita can't resist challenging Darcy on his presumptions about her country and culture:


Tensions further arise when a former friend of Darcy's, Johnny Wickham(Daniel Gillies) literally comes forth from the sea to catch Lalita's eye.

This potential triangle breaks up when Lalita and Jaya come home to find their mother getting all of her girls ready for a visit from their distant relative Mr. Kohli(Nitin Ganatra, a very memorable Mr. Collins for sure!).

Since her mother practically has Jaya married off already, all of Kohli's romantic intentions are focused on Lalita which leads to my favorite song "No Life Without Wife". It's fitting for this number to be set here, not long after Darcy's list of attributes for the ideal woman have been discussed. As her sisters gleefully mock her supposed future with Kohli in America, Lalita gets the chance to express what she finds to be the perfect man for her:


Once Mr. Kohli takes his unwanted marriage proposal elsewhere, Lalita does run into Darcy again.

With her family invited to attend Kohli's wedding in America, she meets Darcy on a connecting flight to London and then in LA, where the two of them finally start to kindle a spark of romance.

That brings us to "Take Me to Love", a tune that Lalita first begins at home when Wickham is no longer in the picture but upon seeing the better side of Darcy, the song is refitted nicely.

 There's tons of lovelorn imagery in the musical montage for this number that includes running through jet sprayed water and a stroll on the beach where a choir serenades the dreamy eyed couple:



 Well, if you know Jane Austen, you know how the rest of the story goes. If not, I would prefer to let you be pleasantly surprised by this charming adaptation.

Director Gurinder Chadha(first known to many for Bend It Like Beckham) is clearly a major Austen lover and by blending the musical style of Bollywood with this iconic tale, she brings many realms together for some good old fashioned romcom joy.

That's what struck me during this rewatch;how much joy is pouring off of the screen, from the elaborate dance number at the start of the story to the rollicking show stopper "Marriage Has Come to Town". While you can argue that Henderson's Darcy is not much of a match for Rai's Lalita, they do make a good couple towards the end and by then, the music rightfully takes over.

Joy is something that's been in short supply these days and the main reason that I started this new summer series in the first place. While we do have to keep an alert eye out for the problems hitting us hard right now, taking a break for some sort of relief is necessary and I hope that these silly little posts of mine are helping to make that happen.

Thank you all for attending this film food festival and perhaps we'll do it again some time. For now, let us share in the musical joy of love:





 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Taking our RomCom Comfort Food out for a pop culture picnic at Notting Hill

Thank you once again for attending our RomCom Comfort Food luncheon, where we will be taking our main movie meal to a most charming location, 1999's Notting Hill.

Hugh Grant stars as Will, a recent divorcee and owner of a small travel book shop in the title section of London. One average day, a famous movie star named Anna Scott(Julia Roberts) walks in to browse and both of their lives are never quite the same.

After an amusing exchange involving a shoplifter who asks for Anna's autograph(she signs a piece of paper saying "Dear Rufus, you belong in jail" which the guy takes as a good joke before offering her his phone number!),
Will literally runs into Anna a very short time later, spilling a huge cup of orange juice on her and then offering to take her to his nearby "house with the blue door" for an emergency clean-up.

As she fixes herself up, Will becomes more tongue tied and nervous with his banter(a classic Hugh Grant trait) and as they say goodbye yet again, his parting words describe the situation as "surreal but nice", which Anna clearly finds to be accurate as she returns to offer him a surprise smooch:


This leads to a few romantic complications, one of which has Will trying to meet up with Anna at a press junket for her new sci-fi movie called Helix(sounds pretty cool, actually) and having to pose as a reporter for Horse & Hound magazine(not a very sci-fi type of publication there).

Eventually, Will and Anna's first date is at his sister Honey's birthday party that is being held at the home of his married friends Max and Bella(not to mention the future Lord Grantham, Hugh Bonneville, whose character Bernie is totally dense about who Anna is!).

Once the initial shock of Will bringing a famous person to dinner is over, the rest of the party goes off rather well, with everyone at the end of the not-so-well-cooked dinner having a mock debate contest over who deserves the last brownie on the dessert plate. Anna feels comfortable enough to chime in and the whole scene is bittersweet yet beautifully brilliant for all concerned:


The romance between Will and Anna becomes an on-again, off-again affair due to the complications that arise from her celebrity status and his growing doubts about being able to fit into her world.

Now, I know that when people think of this movie, the line they recall and love the best is "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her"-a well done cinematic moment indeed.

However, my personal choice is from an earlier scene, where the two of them are having a quiet dinner out and happen to overhear a group of louts at the other table joke about Anna being an "actress" in the less respectable sense of the term. Will does his best to call these jerks out without reveling Anna's presence but to no avail.

She does appreciate his effort but suddenly gets inspired to confront the table of leering creeps herself and the whole thing is hilarious, especially when Anna expresses her conviction of the origin of their "friendly banter":


My favorite scene, however, is rather sad. It's a passage of time montage after Will and Anna have a major breakup that includes the media landing on his doorstep, which cause a big league fight over how to handle such things. His laidback approach just doesn't work for her, not to mention his goofy roommate Spike(Rhys Ifans, who steals countless scenes here) having an unintended role in this situation does not help matters much.

 This sequence is set to the classic "Ain't No Sunshine" by the late great Bill Withers and it's simplicity is sweetly sorrowful. Yes, it's far from happy but I can't help feeling that it sums up such a lovelorn loss so perfectly:



On a brighter note, my Jane Austen connection for this film is director Roger Michell, who several years earlier was the directorial hand on Persuasion, a made for British TV production that was released in theaters in America.

That well received movie got me to read Jane Austen for the first time and part of the reason that Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel. While NH and Persuasion are set in very different time periods, the approach taken to the difficulties of love has a similar feel as both stories are given realistic tones that enhance the heartbreak and the humor.

Michell even has two of the actors from Persuasion( Samuel West and Richard McCabe) play minor roles in Notting Hill, a nice bonus for us Austenites and while he hasn't done another adaptation of Austen's work(one of his latest works was a remake of My Cousin Rachel), his flair for bringing parted lovers back together is a delight to behold:


For our film feast finale, what's better than a musical and a Jane Austen themed one, no less?

Our last RomCom Comfort Food entree is 2004's  Bride & Prejudice, where director and co-screenwriter Gurinder Chadha has"Bollywood meet Hollywood" in a lovely modern take on Pride and Prejudice.

Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson are our leads as the Elizabeth Bennet/Mr. Darcy with Marsha Mason doing her version of Lady Catherine and Naveen Andrews being a rather lively take on Mr. Bingley, if you ask me: