Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, February 24, 2020

Put a Spring in your step with these March & April reads

Looks like those early spring weather predictions are coming true and as the outdoors becomes more enticing, just remember that your best walking companion is a book.

Not that you should block your vision while taking a leisurely hike or stroll through the park-books are great for those pitstop moments when you need to pause for a drink of water there. Better yet, if a nice shady tree happens to be on your path, a book is the very thing to have on hand for just such a spring time occasion!

So, I have a few recommendations for the upcoming March/April releases that should be suitable for some outside and/or inside reading this season:


The title of Louise Erdich's latest novel, The Night Watchman, refers to Thomas Wazhashak, whose job it is to guard the local jewel bearing plant that maintains the livelihood of the Native American residents of Turtle Mountain,North Dakota.

However, he has a higher duty as one of the tribal councilmen and in 1953, Thomas heads to Washington in order to testify to Congress regarding a new bill that would erase the current treaties his people have with the U.S. government. That potential new law could displace his entire community for generations to come.

Joining him on this trip is his niece Pixie, whose life is turbulent to say the least. Saving up as much money as she can to leave Turtle Mountain  and her alcoholic father for good, word of her older sister Vera's disappearance has Pixie putting her work and home life on hold to find her. While Vera proves hard to locate, Pixie does find the chance for a love of her own but can she pursue that quest along side the one for her sister?

Erdrich is well known for her mastery of heartfelt stories edged with realistic touches and this upcoming novel should strike several chords of literary brilliance in that regard(March).


Some murder mystery classics are given a gruesome spotlight in Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson, thanks to a blog post that bookstore co-owner Malcolm Kershaw lives to regrets.

During his early days at Old Devils Bookstore, he wrote up a list of mystery titles that had what he felt were the best fictional murders that could be gotten away with. Unfortunately, his now settled life is overturned by a visit from FBI agent Gwen Mulvey, who informs him that three of the murders that she's looking into have connections to his former reading recommendations list.

While Malcolm never intended for books such as Double Indemnity, The A.B.C. Murders and The Secret History to be used as blueprints for actual murders, things are more complicated for him as Malcolm has a connection to one of the inspired deaths that he's not willing to share with the authorities. Instead, he plans to do what he can on his own before another literary themed crime is committed.

This sounds like a lot of page turning fun, especially if you're a fan of old school murder mysteries, and should make for a great movie at some point as well(March): 

For something even more marvelously meta, Grady Hendrix has The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires all ready for your next group read.

Bored Charleston housewife Patricia Campbell decides to liven things up by getting her gal pals to form a true crime themed book club which goes over well enough with them. It's not long before Patricia finds herself rounding up her bookish buddies to solve a series of real life murders in their midst.

The main suspect here is James Harris, new to town and quite the charming fellow. However, his aversion to sunlight and some mysterious disappearances give Patricia pause as to just how nice of a neighbor he really is. Can Patrica and friends find out if James is a serial killing vampire or just a serial killer who thinks he's a vampire before raising some serious stakes here?

Hendrix is a devotee of nostalgic horror as his prior novels(My Best Friend's Exorcism, We Sold Our Souls) has shown in abundance. With this fresh take on fanged fiends, we might have a great excuse to binge watch True Blood again (April):


In Actress, author Anne Enright introduces us to Katherine O'Dell, a renowned Irish  star of film and theater whose life story we learned from her daughter Norah.

To begin with, Katherine wasn't Irish-she was a London girl that started her theatrical career early in life and her rise in fortune was one paved with heartbreak and moments of despair. The pressure to stay to on top of her game combined with continuing poor choices in men lead Katherine towards a tragedy worse than any she ever had to perform in.

As Norah learns about the life and times of her famous mother, she examines her own emotional journey and one great mystery; the identity of her father. Enright's haunting tale of life and art from a mother/daughter viewpoint promises to be engagingly challenging to experience(March).

Debut writer Aaron Jackson showcases The Astonishing Life of August March, which chronicles the story of a man literally born to the theater but not exactly a part of it.

Young August was raised by a kind hearted laundress when his actress mother left the newborn backstage after giving birth to him during intermission. Over the years, he learned all of Shakespeare's plays due to listening to so many performances but being raised in secret became a problem upon the death of his foster mother and the destruction of the playhouse where August grew up.

His quick study skills lead him to a life of crime, only to be rescued from that by the actor Reginald Percyfoot, who enrolls him in school. August's flair for the theater provides him with more interest than a formal education yet will his talents take him down the proper road or one that leads to his doom?

This book sounds like Monty Python teaming up with Charles Dickens and that ought to be a show worth checking out. Hopefully, Jackson will bring us future flights of fancy here(April): 

As the warmer days approach, our love of reading can go hand in hand with enjoying the fresh bloom of the season. Just be sure to pack your reading material properly as well as lightly-it can be done!:

Friday, February 21, 2020

Following up a Second Act of Series-ous Reading by Dying For Chocolate

The first of my Second Acts for this year's Series-ous Reading challenge went so well that I felt an immediate follow-up was necessary. Plus, the title of Diane Mott Davidson's book 2 in her Goldy Bear series, Dying for Chocolate, was perfect for Valentine's Day this month.

Goldy is a divorced mother who is practically raising her preteen son Arch on her own, which is a good thing considering that her vicious ex-husband has a name whose initials rightly earn him the nickname of The Jerk.

In order to make a living in Aspen,Colorado, she's become a caterer and is starting to get a good reputation for her culinary skills. Unfortunately, way too many obstacles are piling up in her path.

 For one, The Jerk has been lurking around Goldy's neighborhood so much that she's had to put in an expensive alarm system and to pay for that, she's taken a live-in private chef position with General Bo Farquhar and his wife Adele(whose sister Marla is another ex-wife of The Jerk). While Goldy is able to still run her business,not to mention get Arch into a good private school nearby, she is being threatened with a lawsuit from a rival catering company with a name similar to hers.

On top of all that, negative reviews are appearing in the local newspaper about her culinary commissions, written by a critic known only as Pierre. Goldy is being given a chance to respond but it's frustrating not knowing who this person is, especially when they keep getting the menu items wrong:

One of the few bright spots in Goldy's life is a new romance with Phillip Miller, local psychologist who happened to have a member of the Farquhar household(sponsored student Julian) as a patient.

Their relationship has been going on for a short time yet it's shocking for Goldy to witness Phillip driving dangerously on the road which leads to his death.

With no signs of intoxication, auto malfunction or bad weather to account for his on-road behavior, she becomes convinced that his accident was no accident at all. Her semi-regular beau, police detective Tom Schultz ,agrees but wants her to be careful about looking into the matter.

Meanwhile, Goldy still has work to do and that includes an "aphrodisiac" dinner party for neighbors Weezie and Brian Harrington. It's hard enough to be professional under the circumstances but at times, it feels as if it weren't for bad luck, Goldy would have no luck at all!

Things are bad enough with a pair of last minute guests who happen to be vegetarians and having to talk the hostess out of being made to wear a sexy French maid outfit during dinner service but Goldy also has to fend off the sleazy advances of host Brian, whose roving eye falls on a rather younger woman at the table instead of his own clearly annoyed wife. Yes, the dinner party winds up being badly reviewed in more ways than one indeed:

As it turns out, Weezie and Phillip were working on a local land project together, which many in town considered to be a pretense for an affair.

While a hidden romance between those two was not the case, Goldy discovers a good amount of secrets and lies that include her own employers on the list of suspects. Can she find the killer before the next flavor on her menu is fatally delicious?

Diane Mott Davidson has the distinction of being one of the big culinary crime queens in this particular mystery genre. While many have followed in her literary footsteps, I feel that her set of 17 mysteries(the last one was published in 2013, with no current plans for future books) is more in line with someone like Cleo Coyle than Joanne Fluke.

While DMD did begin the mixing in of recipes within her mystery novels much like Fluke, her leading lady Goldy has a more gritty back story, unlike Fluke's Hannah Swensen, that is more in line with Coyle's Clare Cosi, with troublesome ex-husbands(although The Jerk is far worse than Matt Allegro), raising a child on their own and dealing with money problems.

 Both series also share a wry sense of humor at times that borders on cynical yet their female leads are determined not to let any bad situation get the best of them.  Mind you, I haven't read all of the books in either series(this is actually the second Goldy Bear book for me) but it's not hard for me to imagine Goldy and Clare swapping recipes and detective stories over a cup of coffee together.

I do intend to read more of DMD's books in this series, as Goldy is an engaging heroine and it would be nice to see her finally end up with a good life(Tom is a good soul mate, the Luke to her Lorelai in my opinion).

It's a shame that DMD hasn't had a new book out in quite some time but who knows, she may surprise us all in that department. If not, she's certainly made a tasty mark on the genre that will encourage a fresh batch of culinary crime fighters to bake up some savory stories:

Speaking of Hannah Swensen, the next selection for my Series-ous Reading is  Carrot Cake Murder, which places Hannah at a friend's family reunion. While her contribution of the title cake to the festivities is appreciated, finding one of the relatives dead next to a sweet slice is a bit much for all concerned.

Don't worry, I have more Second Act reads to come but it's good to take a mini break every now and then during a project. Not to mention that I'm still trying to catch up to my mom with these books-she's ready for the latest one, Coconut Layer Cake Murder(which arrives next week!) while I am stuck at the far end of the dessert table, so to speak.

Oh well, it's not a bad place to be at, really. Granted, I'm not into carrot cake as a sweet treat but it does sound like the right delight to start the spring season off with:

Monday, February 17, 2020

Tuning into some small screen suspense stories

They say that we're getting an early spring this year(if the majority of recent groundhog reports are to be believed) and while the promise of warm weather is inviting, a number of rainy days are also included in that bargain.

So, if you're in the mood to curl up with some book based mystery shows during those washed out weekends, there are a trio of small screen delights to sample soon.

First up is a new adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse , set to stream on Amazon Prime next month that stars Rufus Sewell as Mark Easterbrook, who finds himself on a hit list that includes a recently murdered priest.

 Having no idea what this is all about, he and a good friend decide to check out a few leads on their own, bringing them to the small town of Much Deeping and to the local inn where the weird sisters trio of owners might have the answers he needs. However, will Mark get that information in time to keep himself from being permanently crossed off?

This Christie story is not part of her regular detective tales from Poirot or Miss Marple(although it was adapted for a Miss Marple series some years ago) but her stand alones have proven to be even more chilling there. From the trailer, this version has a bit of a Wicker Man/Midsommar vibe to the mysterious proceedings that should add quite the extra eerie edge:

 Meanwhile in May, HBO will airing a limited series called The Undoing whose cast features Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland.

Based on the novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, Kidman plays Grace Fraser, a therapist that seems to be living her best life with the publication of her first book and a happy family in the upper echelons of New York City.

That blissful existence is shattered as her husband Jonathan(Grant) vanishes and news of a shocking nature that has him at the center of it is hitting Grace from all sides. Wanting to know what's been going on herself, she  decides to ask a few questions that lead her to making some hard choices that will determine not only her fate but that of her young son as well.

 This does sound intriguing and Nicole Kidman has been having great luck with HBO adaptations lately, so this certainly ought to be one to watch for:

If you don't want to wait that long, NBC has a new show on Friday nights that you might like to catch up on. Lincoln Rhymes: Hunt for the Bone Collector is based on the popular detective book series by Jeffrey Deaver , which was also a 1999 film adaptation starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.

This time around, Russell Hornsby plays the title character, a brilliant criminologist who was severely paralyzed while searching for the elusive serial killer. His extreme injuries put him into early retirement yet Lincoln is still consulted by the NYPD on certain cases. His assistance is reluctantly given due to bitter resentment about his situation, not to mention that the Bone Collector escaped justice.

Years after the Bone Collector's last kill spree, a potential copycat brings Lincoln the chance to get back in the game with the help of promising rookie police officer Amelia Sachs(Arielle Kebbel) who becomes his eyes and ears in the field. Their work together has caught the interest of the Bone Collector, who wishes to take down his nemesis and his allies once and for all.

I've been watching LR:HFTBC since it first aired and it's a good ,smartly done crime drama there. The actors have a nice chemistry on screen and there are episodes that focuses on cases other than the Bone Collector's(who we see living his twisted secret life as a doting husband with a gruesome addition to his wine cellar) that allow for further character development.

Since this is a midseason debut, I'm not sure if it'll get a second season but it certainly deserves to. Do check it out, it's a fun thrill ride in more ways than one:

As much as I like to see more good thrillers on TV and/or streaming, it would be nice to have a cozy mystery or romantic suspense series back on the air as well. I'm probably not the only one who would like something along the lines of Murder She Wrote, Castle or Bones around, that's for sure.

Then again, we do have Agatha Raisin(still waiting for S2 from Netflix!) online with a third season, so that is a small comfort indeed. Still, let us hope for new crime solving capers in our entertainment future:

Monday, February 10, 2020

Enjoying some TV worthy period dramas in print

 This time of year is a period drama fan's dream as most of the big TV series in that genre arrive to relieve us from the mid winter blues and prepare for spring.

With PBS Masterpiece airing Sanditon at the moment with plans to have World On Fire this April along with Starz premiering season five of Outlander this upcoming weekend, the historical fiction feast is plentiful indeed.

However, you don't have to wait for Sunday nights for such dramatic delights. There are some wonderful new reads on the literary horizon to tune into as well such as Above The Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen.

Our leading lady is Bella Waverly, whose aristocratic father's spendthrift ways have brought the family down to near poverty levels, forcing her to be the sole provider of income as a scullery maid. She does,however, find happiness in learning to cook and when an unexpected opportunity comes for a position in the kitchens of Queen Victoria, Bella takes more chances than one to claim it.

Slowly but surely, Bella makes a name for herself (even though she has to use another person's name and cut what ties she has left with her own family) among the male dominated staff, gaining a bit of praise from Her Royal Highness to boot.

The promise of becoming a pastry chef and the possibility for romance is within her sights but when joining a royal trip to France ,Bella's entire future is threatened by a regal guest fatally succumbing to a mushroom dish that she played a small part in preparing. Can Bella find the killer and clear her name, only to have more of her true secrets revealed?

I've been reading this book, via a Netgalley arc, lately and it's an engaging page turner that puts me fondly in mind of the PBS series Victoria, particularly that story line with Her Majesty's maid falling in love with the talented and ambitious chef. If you like Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness series(and yes, I do!), this stand alone novel is a wonderful addition to her literary world:

Speaking of series, I was finally able to watch the Downton Abbey movie over the weekend and yes, it was a welcome homecoming there.

That put me in mind of author Jessica Fellowes( who is the niece of DA creator Julian) whose Mitford Murder Mysteries were a great library find for me last year. Most recently, a third entry in that series has been released that I hope to catch up to at some point soon.

The Mitford Scandal is set in London of 1928 and while Louisa Cannon no longer works for the Mitford family, she finds it hard to quit their orbit. As a server at an upper class function, she not only runs into heiress Diana Mitford being swept off her feet by a very potential suitor, the tragic death of a maid occurs and Louisa fears that she has seen an important incident regarding that seemingly accidental demise.

Before her own potential police detective suitor Guy Sullivan can take charge of the case, Louisa is offered a job as Diana's personal maid and takes it, bringing herself closer to Guy and deeper into danger. These books are such fun, especially since they feel like alternate world versions of period mysteries like Miss Fisher's Murder series, only with Phryne's sweetly determined companon Dot and her police officer beau Hugh being the main crime solvers:

If you would rather double down on the drama instead of mystery, then I have quite the bookish triple play for you.

Over the past few years, a trio of historical fiction writers, known as Team W, have teamed up to create collaborative novels that showcase their considerable story telling skills quite nicely.

 The latest offering from authors Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White is All The Ways We Said Goodbye, set in Paris at the famed Ritz hotel where three different heroines touch base at different points in time.

 We start with Aurelie as she and her American mother witness the beginnings of WWI during their stay while a WWII Resistance member named Daisy persists in visiting her grandmother at the Ritz while shielding her from the dangers of her war work. By the early part of the 1960s, Babs journeys to Paris in hopes of finding out the true identity of a Resistance member called La Fleur, whose name she has seen on a hidden love letter and wishes to discover more about her.

I am very familiar with Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig(need to check out Karen White!) but have yet to tackle this set of Team W titles so far. With such good word on their prior works as The Forgotten Room and The Glass Ocean, this is a situation that I need to remedy before the year is out. These ladies are proof positive that team work makes the dream work indeed:

Well, I don't know if any of these books will become TV and/or film adaptations in the not too distant future but they certainly are prime material for just such treatment ,if you ask me. For now, we can take pleasure in turning these compelling pages and relaxing with the current crop of TV period drama delights.

 Outlander alone should be extra exciting and who knows, we may get a Lord Grey spin-off series some time soon! Period dramas are hearty fare that can only be improved by expanding the historical horizons and hopefully, more of us will do just that. After all, our favorite leading ladies want more than what the world is placing before them as "proper" and we the fans should follow their lead, so to speak:

Monday, February 03, 2020

Wrapping up my Winter's Respite reading and other bookish concerns

My first readathon of the year, Winter's Respite(hosted by Michelle Miller from Seasons of Reading) ,ended last Friday and it was a great way to kick start my reading there.

Since I already reviewed one of the books on that TBR separately,due to it being part of a blog tour, this wrap-up post begins with The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory.

This novel is part of a set of sorts that began with The Wedding Date and followed by The Proposal but it can work as a stand alone read although you might want to check out the other titles afterwards. The romantic leads here are Maddie and Theo, who find each other repulsive and only tolerate the other's presence in public due to having a mutual friend, Alexa, in common.

Maddie has been Alexa's gal pal for years and Theo works with her at the mayor's office, which throws both of them together when Alexa announces her engagement and insists that Maddie and Theo help with the wedding plans.

While Maddie and Theo are happy to join in, even willing to put up with one another for Alexa's sake, they wind up having a one night stand that changes the nature of their adversarial relationship. Surprised at their sexual chemistry, they continue to hook up privately with the deadline being Alexa's wedding for these trysts to end.

Yet, a couple of unexpected incidents pop up that make each of them wonder if this is more than just a fling but neither one wants to be the first to bring up the question of real love. Guillory has a great way with creating romantic tension that doesn't skimp on sexy moments and allows for solid as well as engaging character building along the way. Granted, I read the earlier books(along with the one that comes after TWP, Royal Holiday, that highlights Maddie's mom) so clicking into this realistic romance vibe was easy for me.

However, I would recommend this to a newcomer and yes, it's a great Valentine's Day read. This novel also brought back great memories of the TV sitcom Living Single, where snarky Maxine Shaw and snide Kyle Barker found themselves in a similar situation that ended up rather well there:

Next on my Winter's Respite list was Kim Michele Richardson's The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, a fictional story with some real world connections.

The title lady is Cussy Mary Carter, who lives in the Kentucky mountains with her father during the hard times of the Great Depression era. She and her family are considered outsiders, despite having deep roots in the community, due to a genetic condition that gives them blue skin.

Nevertheless, Cussy finds purpose in life upon becoming a Pack Horse librarian, a government initiative meant to spread literacy in rural areas. She also makes friends among her patrons on her book delivery route and even gets some respect from those who appreciate Cussy's kind gestures in bringing more than books at times-when she can, food, medicine and messages to be mailed are part of her Pack Horse service.

However, Cussy is put upon by deliberately ignorant folks, such as a local preacher obsessed with "healing" people born different and a library matron determined to keep the more intelligent Cussy in what she deems "her place" . Even the local doctor who insists on testing Cussy for a possible cure to her condition is condescendingly callous to her needs at best.

Despite all of that, she persists in finding what good she can in the life given to her and discovers that being loved for her own self is not impossible. This book is a true page turner and although Cussy has some rather sad moments in her life, you can't help but follow her every step of the way.

Included in the bonus materials at the end of the book, information about the Pack Horse Library and photos of the actual women who did brave the rough terrain in order to spread the love of reading to remote areas provide inspiration to modern day readers:

So, I completed three out of the four books that I intended to read(made progress with the last one, The Chocolate Maker's Wife by Karen Brooks, that I have made part of my regular reading), plus a couple of library books to boot.

I consider this another successful readathon and much thanks to Michelle for setting up such much valued reading time. The next SOR event is Spring Into Horror and I'm making plans for that as we speak.

Meanwhile, thanks to finishing some of my library loans, I was able to make a quick trip to return and borrow a pair of light hearted reads. The one that I am currently in the middle of is The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson, a romcom delight indeed.

Children's librarian Charlotte Gorman has no real interest in her identical twin sister Ginny's beauty pageant lifestyle but decides to be supportive and share her vacation time with her sis on a major competition in Florida. Charlotte plans to spend a good amount of time at Harry Potter World when she's not cheering her sister on but her bookish activities are forced aside when Ginny has a allergic reaction that swells up her face.

The Miss American Treasure pageant is all important to Ginny as it was the crown jewel in their deceased mother's beauty queen career. The thought of not being able to compete is so upsetting to her that Charlotte, against her better judgement, winds up taking her sister's place. This is only meant to be a temporary fix yet Ginny's facial problem is taking it's own sweet time to heal.

Much to her surprise, Charlotte does better than either she or Ginny thought she would, plus some of the other contestants are very nice and supportive of one another. A major hitch to this switcharoo is that Charlotte finds herself falling for one of the judges, a man with a love of literature who could be the Darcy to her Elizabeth Bennet. However, knowing the truth about her would be damaging to not just this budding romance but to Ginny's beauty queen dreams as well.

This is such a charming read that really relieves my spirits during these troubling times and after I turn the last page, I might take the time to watch Miss Congeniality, a cinematic treat that suits this sisterly story perfectly(and yes, the movie is mentioned in the book!):

To round things out, I decided to check out a book that I've heard a lot about, Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

Granted, it helped that my local library is going to screen the movie adaptation this spring and the big display they had set up for that event made it hard to miss but I am curious to see what all of the fuss was about.

The plot takes place in Seattle, where celebrated architect Bernadette Fox lives in near isolation with her husband Elgie Branch and their daughter Bee. Internet access makes it easy for her to keep most of the world at bay but over time, Bernadette starts to feel creatively closed in.

With a family vacation on the horizon that she doesn't want to go on, Bernadette takes off for parts unknown, causing Bee to use the Internet to search for her missing mom. If I like the book, I may see the movie before the library showing. From what I know of this story, it's got a good amount of snark and satire with a touch of heart so this might be a tasty comedy meal to savor until spring arrives:

 While I do hate to end this on a sad note, I would be remiss to not send my condolences to the loved ones of suspense author Mary Higgins Clark.

She passed away on January 31 at the age of 92, leaving a legacy of over 50 mystery novels since her first one in 1975, Where Are The Children? Over the decades, she worked with co-authors on several books including her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, who has a mystery series of her own.

This departure is a bit personal for me, with Mary Higgins Clark  not only being one of my mother's favorite writers, but I was fortunate enough to meet her both as a customer and later as a bookseller. In fact, I first met her at the bookstore where I eventually wound up working at.

My younger sister and I were making a casual visit to the store that day and discovered that MHC was finishing up a book signing. Having no idea that she was going to be there(plus, didn't have enough money on me for the hardcover she was promoting), I grabbed a paperback anthology from the mystery section that had her name on it and asked her if she would sign it for my mother's birthday.

She was more than happy to do so and kind enough to chat with my sister for a bit, making a good impression on her indeed. During my time working at that bookstore, my mom did get a chance to meet MHC and Carol Higgins Clark as well, with that group photo that I took of the three of them holding a special place of honor in our home.

When our store did book signings for both mother and daughter(they really had a nice sense of teamwork at these events), both ladies were a pleasure to work with. I wasn't the only one on staff who thought well of them and their fans appreciated their charm as well. It is a shame that she is no longer with us but her books will be around to remind readers of her savvy writing skills and good nature for a long time to come: