Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A very bookish birthday party indeed!

This past weekend, I celebrated my birthday at home and yes, it was a rather good time despite the current health crisis that we're all living through right now.

I did enjoy a sugar free chocolate cake, had a lovely home cooked meal with my family and finally got to watch the new adaptation of Emma(which I'll talk about at the end of this post). What more could I ask for? Being grateful for what I have is important and it's the best gift you can give to yourself, in my opinion.

So, when it came to presents, of course books were part of that equation! While I didn't get only books(a couple of DVDs and a Funko figure were also included), the ones that were given to me were like having special guests arrive to make this party a bit more entertaining , so please let me to introduce them properly here:

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE: This celebrated novel from renowned author Celeste Ng is set in the suburban enclave of Shaker Heights, where artist Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl
move into and find themselves caught up in the doings of their well off landlords,the Richardson family.

When matriarch  Elena Richardson decides to interfere with a local controversy involving an adoption, Mia finds herself not only on the opposite side of the issue but in danger of a secret from her own past being exposed by Elena. Knowing a few things about what goes on in the Richardson household gives Mia some leverage yet this is a fight that doesn't make anyone a winner in the end.

This is one of those books that I've been meaning to get to for sometime and now is the right moment for such a great read to be on hand. Since it'll be awhile before I can check out the limited series Hulu adaptation(which sounds excellent), it'll be great to have this first impression made on paper:

GODS OF JADE AND SHADOW: Silvia Moreno-Garcia sets her spell binding story in Mexico during the 1920s where small town girl Cassiopea goes off to the big city not as an adventure of her own accord but as the bound companion of a death god.

She has accidentally released Hun-Kame',aka the Supreme Lord of Xibaba, due to a minor act of rebellion against her controlling grandfather, and now has no choice but to aid him in his quest to retake his seat of power in the underworld.

The mystical bond between them leaves them both vulnerable to death, an advantage that the twin brother of Hun-Kame' wishes to exploit, using Cassiopea's obnoxious cousin Martin as his unwilling servant. Can this blend of magic and family ties let those among the living to take back their freedom from their immortal manipulators or will all involved be doomed to perish?

Moreno-Garcia has a wonderful knack for making literary magic with both human and enchanted characters, bringing each to vivid life on every page. She also has a new novel entitled Mexican Gothic coming out this June(which I've been reading via Netgalley) and if you haven't tried any of her books yet, what are you waiting for, seriously?:

THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE: If there ever was a time for a fresh new tales of dragons and intrigue, this is surely it and Samantha Shannon is certainly stepping up to the plate here!

Her massive saga begins in a world where dragons are either revered or feared depending on where you live. The priory of the title is run by women mages who do not believe that the line of sacred queens in the realm of Berethnet is the only source of protection from the threat they all dread called The Nameless One.

Instead, they seek one who can draw from a different fount of elemental power and that may be Tane, a young dragon rider who lives in a country that bans sea travelers to enter it's waters.

Nonetheless, she takes a risk that unexpectedly connects her to Queen Sabran IX, who has the throne of Berethnet and yet needs to be protected from the truth about her position in the royal bloodline of power. I don't know if this book is intended to start a new series or simply be a solid tale in it's own right but regardless, this certainly sounds like a amazing ride worth taking:

CHOSEN: I thoroughly enjoyed Kiersten White's revival of the Buffyverse(aka Buffy the Vampire Slayer) last year with Slayer and it was hard to wait for the next installment!

To recap, this series is set in a post-Buffy reality where Nina, the daughter of Watchers, has been tapped as the last of the Slayer line. Her twin sister Artemis was expected to be given the mantle but fate had something else in mind.

Now, with Artemis out on her own, Nina is doing her best to keep what's left of the demons no longer connected to magic and humanity from tearing each other apart. It's a struggle for both sisters yet things would be easier if the remaining forces of darkness weren't determined to make their claim on what little magical power is left on the table. so to speak.

White is a real Buffy fan who knows how to write this story in a way that blends the previous mythos with original content , plus a sense of fun. I not only look forward to reading this book , there is news that her take on a Mary Shelley classic(The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein) may soon become a TV series,yes! That should be engagingly awesome to say the least!:

To make this bookish birthday complete, I watched the latest version of Emma, starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the formidable Miss Woodhouse.  All in all, I would say that this is a good take on the story, with Taylor-Joy being well cast here.

Visually, this is a gorgeous film and I did enjoy Mr. Woodhouse's increasing use of fireplace screens(a lot like a pillow fort!) and found that bit to be a smartly conceived running joke. Bill Nighy made for a solid Mr. Woodhouse while  Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley did well there although he felt more like Emma's contemporary rather than much older than Emma as originally written.

I also adore Tanya Reynolds as the awful Mrs. Elton(who we didn't get enough of, if you ask me!) and Mia Goth was a very credible Harriet Smith. My only off note was a pivotal scene between Emma and Mr. Knightley(slight spoiler) where she gets a nosebleed after he tells her his true feelings. Apparently, the directer Autumn de Wilde went with this because she's prone to nosebleeds during stressful moments but it just really pull me out of the whole scene there.

Regardless, I did like the movie and hopefully when the world situation gets a whole lot better, we can have more new takes on Jane Austen. In the meanwhile, this one was a charmer and Taylor-Joy was definitely born to be an Austen heroine. Her performance was a wonderful delight to behold that added some extra pleasure to my birthday party indeed:

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Setting up summer reading for May and June

Despite the ongoing health crisis, summer is on the way and while we may not be able to head out to the beach or the movies, we can still take comfort in the shade of a good book.

With many small and large bookstores shut down(causing numerous author tours and literary events to be canceled/postponed), putting out the good word on new books is more important than ever before.

Granted, it's not on the  same level as medical needs yet keeping our spirits up and imaginations focused on something other than current headlines is vital to helping us get through these terrible times.

This set of five titles due to arrive this upcoming May and June might be just as refreshing as a warm weather vacation or a cool way to spend a holiday weekend sometime soon:


Jennifer Weiner follows up her phenomenal novel Mrs. Everything with a seemingly more lighthearted fictional tale just in time for the relaxing read season.

The leading lady of Big Summer is Daphne , a plus size influencer whose online presence and message of body acceptance is taking off towards a very lucrative fashion line endorsement deal. However, a far from welcome blast from the past is about to disrupt her future plans.

Socialite Drue was once a good friend of Daphne's who had no shame when it came to using and abusing her trust. Daphne broke things off with Drue many years and is truly surprised when her former gal pal shows up to beg Daphne to be the maid of honor at her upcoming wedding to a reality show star. Seems that she has no one else to turn to for such a major life event and while Daphne is less than thrilled about this, the media exposure could be great for the both of them.

Of course, things soon get out of hand, with Daphne trying hard to not fall into those same old patterns of catering to the poor little rich girl. However, Drue's life isn't as picture perfect as it seems and both former friends may have to take a new look at what lies ahead for them separately and together.

I've been reading this story(via Netgalley) and so far, it's a savvy sweet treat that you want to enjoy slowly in order to make the page turning fun last longer. If you're a fan of smartly written female friendships, it would be cruel to deprive yourself of such a suitable summer read(May 5):


In Mexican Gothic, author Silvia Moreno-Garcia takes the slow burn of this genre and turns up the heat. Set in the 1950s, Noemi is a free spirited society woman whose lively social life is interrupted when her father sends her off to check on her newly married cousin Catalina.

Catalina's letters to her family showcase a steady decline in her spirits and possibly her sanity due to living at the immensely isolated manor known as  High Place with husband Virgil Doyle, heir to a silver mine that's seen better days.

Noemi is honestly concerned about her cousin before taking the trip and her dread increases upon meeting the Doyle family, whose cold manners and casual bigotry mask an even greater threat to both women. Despite what the Doyles may think of her, Noemi is more than a match for this mysterious folk and their sinister homestead.

Yes, also reading this one from Netgalley and this engaging tale of terror should be a must-have for your TBR this and any season. Moreno-Garcia has a wonderful flair for reinventing those tried and true story lines to create amazingly awesome new worlds of literary wonder that any reader of fantasy and fear ought to appreciate(June):

A pair of strangers find themselves having no choice but to trust each other in Jessica Barry's Don't Turn Around.  Restless bartender Caitlin is at the driver's wheel, taking the secretive Rebecca across the late night Texas roads to New Mexico, with the latter determined to get as far away from her husband as she possibly can.

When a mysterious truck with an unseen driver starts after them, it's hard to tell if this attack is random road rage or a purpose driven mission to take one of the other of these women down for the count. Figuring that out becomes moot as the murderous intent of their mutual foe grows more deadly with every mile.

While I'm not too familiar with Barry,whose last book FreeFall did very well with fans and critics alike, this plot combo of the 1971 cult classic Duel with the ground breaking Thelma & Louise sounds like a thrill ride worth jumping onboard for(June).


Natalie Jenner introduces us to The Jane Austen Society in her debut novel, which takes place in the village of Chawton in a post WWII England.

 A local farmer and his doctor are founders of the group dedicated to turning the cottage that Jane Austen once lived in, thanks to her brother Edward Knight and his estate, and making it into a museum in Austen's honor.

Other members of the group include widowed schoolteacher Adeline and Frances, a descendant of the Knight family whose housemaid Evie has been fatefully cataloging the vast array of books in the library of the Great House.

Unfortunately, Frances is not able to directly inherit either Jane's former home or the Knight estate as the will left by her father favors a male heir. Nevertheless, this band of bookish friends are set upon their mission to give Austen the tribute that she deserves and will not be set back by such old fashioned notions. Inspired by Jane's enchanting characters, the group intends to make their mutual as well as their unique dreams come true.

This book is such catnip to us Jane Austen admirers(not to mention some like me who have been to Chawton!) and I hope to take part in the blog tour for this lovely literary salute to Austen and her readers soon. Meanwhile, such a wonderful delight ought to inspire a visit to your home library to revisit the works of Our Dear Jane to widen your appreciation of this new addition(May):

 After the success of her previous novel Pride,Prejudice and Other Flavors, Sonali Dev brings us more modern day Jane Austen goodness with Recipe for Persuasion.

Aspiring chef Ashna is doing her best to keep the restaurant that her late father started still viable, a passion that is not encouraged by her mother who prefers that her daughter pursue a more suitable cause in keeping with her own feminist goals.

Refusing to give up her dream, Ashna signs up for a cooking TV show that unexpectedly reunites her with a past love. Her former high school boyfriend Rico Silva has become a renowned star of Brazilian football and is now her partner on Cooking With The Stars.

Working together like this is awkward at best yet it feels as if their long ago romance might be simmering back to life. However, are these emotions worth stirring up again or is this menu plan for love a one sided affair?

As a fan of Jane Austen's Persuasion(the first one of her books that I read and fell in love with), this retelling sounds incredibly appetizing to say the least(May):

I hope this preview can give someone out there a good start to setting up a summer reading list. While I know that most of this time indoors may make you want to read less(it's happened to me), especially with summer on the horizon, it is one of the few things left to us that can be relied upon for knowledge, entertainment and much needed relief from the storm all around us.

Yes, summer time won't be the same as it once was, so we simply have to redefine what summer is for these times. We can certainly do this-with prequels, sequels,reboots and revivals galore in our pop culture, taking something old school and putting a new spin on it is a talent that we've mastered to near perfection(or to detrimental levels, some would say).

Surely, we can find a new groove to carry us through to the better times to come and with any luck, books will lead the way or at least, give us a break from the new beat on the dance floor:


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Checking in on my Spring Into Horror page turning progress

While my Easter reading holiday went well enough, I am glad to get back to the Spring Into Horror readathon, especially now that I have some progress to report.

The first book that I completed was a last minute add-on that really paid off, thanks to a prize from the First Look Book Club. Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel is an unusual mother-daughter story to say the least.

The title heroine was a victim of her mother's twisted need for attention and control via doses of ipecac syrup for nearly eighteen years. Mother Patty was ultimately found out and sent to prison , leaving Rose Gold on her own for the first time in years.

Five years later, Patty is released from jail and is thrilled to be staying with Rose Gold, who she has reconnected with. While she's not happy that her daughter testified against her in court, Patty is willing to forgive her in order to get back in the emotional driver's seat here. Especially since Rose now has a newborn son named Adam.

That may be harder than she thinks as Rose has sharpened her own claws and is ready to take on her mother in more ways than one. To start, she brought her mother's childhood home for them to live in, a place that holds dark memories for Patty. Also, Rose keeps her bedroom door locked at all times, which drives Patty to distraction.

That mixed reception from her daughter is compounded by the town wide rejection of Patty's return as she also manipulated so many people by using her daughter's "illness" to gain money, sympathy and friendship over the years. This slow yet steady stand-off between the two blood bound women is bound to lead to a most bitter end but will there truly be a winner?

Wrobel is a debut author who writes with a solid surety and the pacing of this book is excitingly electric. You can pitch this as "Sharp Objects teams up with Gone Girl" but that only scratches the surface of this scarily slow burn of a page turner:

On the less intense side, I was able to finish Ellery Adams' The Book of Candlelight , the third entry in her The Secret,Book and Scone Society series.
All of the stories take place in the North Carolina town of Miracle Springs where a quartet of women gather together in friendship and some mystery solving.

The center of this group is Nora, owner of Miracle Books where she practices some "bibliotherapy" for those who need it. During a terrible weeks long bout of rain, her business is booming, so much so that Nora has no choice but to replace the unique shelf items that she sells along with the books at the local flea market.

A beautifully made bowl catches her eye during that visit, made by Danny, a Cherokee potter who along with his wife Marie, love their handcrafted work as much as each other. While Nora is pleased to meet him and buy that bowl, their second encounter is sadly tragic as she is the one who discovers Danny's body floating in the overflowing river a few days later.

Determined to do right by Danny and his grief stricken wife, Nora decides to look into the matter even though it's being written up as an accidental death. With the help of her friends June, Hester and Estella(along with a new buddy, Sheldon Vega), it turns out that Danny's demise was no accident indeed.

Oddly enough, a new inn in town may hold some of the answers that Nora and company are seeking yet when another person is found dead, can those secrets of the past be revealed in time to protect the ones who are in dire need of it in the present?

I really enjoy the positive energy of this series, which radiates great charm and solid character development among the regular and new players in this story.

The friendship between the four female mainstays is the spine of each story but it's also nice to see personal changes for the ladies such as a growing romance for beauty salon maven Estella, heartfelt baker Hester overcoming some fears to bond better with the man in her life and an unexpected reunion for spa attendant/sock knitter June.

Naturally, Nora is front and center but you just know that she'd gladly share that spotlight with her gal pals(and new employee Sheldon is a marvelous addition here!). Also, the backstory of this mystery brought in a charming romance from long ago, which was anchored by an Elizabeth Barret Browning poem, that would make for a lovely tale on it's own merits. I love how literature always manages to pop up just right in this series:

At the moment, I'm in the middle of Egg Drop Dead, the fifth book in Vivien Chien's Noodle Shop Mysteries. As manage of her family's restaurant, Lana Lee decides to expand their business by taking on catering jobs, the first of which being for Donna Feng, the silent yet prevalent partner in the Asian Village mall.

When Donna lashes out at Alice, the new nanny for her rambunctious teenage daughters, during the event, Lana hopes that will be the worst of things to happen. Unfortunately, that incident is only an awful appetizer as Alice is later found dead in the family pool.

Given her past experience with sleuthing, it's not surprising that Donna wants Lana to look into the case. However, as more and more clues are leading down a path that's deadly than even Lana has walked before, it may be time to let the experts handle things. Yet, can Lana really leave Donna in the lurch, so to speak, without a true ally to step in and help save the day?

I'm happy to report that not only is there another Noodle Shop Mystery due out this year(entitled Killer Kung Pao), Chien has been given a contract for three more books! We already have the titles and there's so pun-tastic: Fatal Fried Rice, Hot and Sour Suspects and possibly my favorite one of all, Misfortune Cookie. With everything so off kilter these days, it's wonderful to see such a good writer get the appreciation she deserves and then some:

Meanwhile, I've started Fiona Barton's The Suspect for my next new Spring Into Horror read and as for my Easter reads, both of the Lyssa Kay Adams Bromance Book Club books were completed(and yes, I look forward to reading book three, Crazy, Stupid Bromance this fall). The Kiss Quotient, I decided to add to my current reading rotation as a necessary break from the tension in my fictional and all too real world that we see daily apart and yet together there.

One thing that I am so glad to have right now is a good book to read and whether or not you're doing a reading challenge or just sick of binge watching stuff(Tiger King was truly engaging and godawful at the same time), grabbing a book is your best option in times like these. Stay safe and keep working through those TBR piles, folks!:

Monday, April 06, 2020

Planning some romcom reading for Easter weekend

While I am currently enjoying my page turning time with the Spring Into Horror readathon( already finished one book and in the middle of two more as of this writing!), I must take a bit of a mini-break next weekend.

Since we're all indoors due to the current health crisis, my Easter weekend plans involve watching a good movie with my family and reading a trio of romantic comedy type of books. Since one of them also has a sequel, this is almost a truly cinematic inspiration here!

First up is The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams, where baseball star Gavin Scott is in need of good advice to fix his ailing marriage. His wife Thea is not only sick of playing the role of happy baseball wife and deferring her own dreams in life, she also informs him about the lack of satisfying game play on his behalf when it comes to their love life.

With his family on the verge of divorce, Gavin is willing to do just about anything to make things right. Turns out that some of his fellow athletes have the perfect solution for him; reading romance novels. The literary group of the title uses the relationship plot lines in such books as Courting The Countess to become better mates to the women in their lives and they insist that this fictional fountain of emotional knowledge can work for him as well.

Gavin does give the book and it's points about romance a try with the results being more successful than he ever imagined. However, the time comes when he has to follow his own playbook and make all the right moves without a safety net at hand. Can Gavin be the romantic hero that his new found friends say he can be?

I do like the concept of appreciating the merits of an often misunderstood genre and even though I haven't read Adams' previous works, I get the feeling that there's some smartly written sitcom story telling that is worth tuning into here:

To that end, I've already bought the second book in this series(book three is due out in the fall), Undercover Bromance.  The unofficial leader of the Bromance Book Club is Braden Mack, whose charms don't quite match his ego when the opportunity to be of real help to a new lady in his life.

Pastry chef Liv(the sister of Gavin's wife Thea) decides to blow the whistle on Royce, the sleazy celebrity chef at her current job, which earns her a firing but no actual consequences towards the culinary creep.

Braden, inspired by the romantic suspense novel that is the new TBBC selection, insists that he can get the goods on the guy with the aid of his bookish crew. While Liv is suspicious of Braden's interest in her, she reluctantly agrees to let him and his buddies pull off this caper in order to take down Royce once and for all.

Yet not everything goes as planned and Braden's notion that he has all the answers is put to the test. Can he save the day or better still, realize that when it comes to life and love, he still has much to learn. I'm sensing a bit of an Ocean's Eleven vibe with this one, which should be fun indeed:

To round things off, I have Helen Hoang's The Kiss Quotient. Stella Lane is excellent with numbers at her job but not at dealing with people, which makes her mother's demand that it's time for her to start looking for a husband and producing grandchildren a problem hard to figure out.

Based on a casually callow suggestion from a co-worker, Stella decides to get some "practice" by hiring a male escort. Michael Phan answers the call but her nervousness about the whole thing leads her to asking him to take things slow.

Michael agrees, despite having a bad experience with a former client who got too attached to him. As they get to know one another, it becomes easier to reveal their inner insecurities and find themselves being accepted for who they truly are. How this unexpected relationship will last in the outer world among their family and friends is the real challenge that Michael and Stella face.

Having read The Bride Test(which is somewhat connected to this book) last year, I already know that I'm in for a good solid entertainment filled with heartfelt writing and an engaging couple to root for:

This may not seem like Easter themed reading, I know, but this holiday in my household is mainly an excuse to indulge in chocolate(sugar free, in my case) and besides, spring in and of itself is meant to be a romantic season.

So, with that in mind, I look forward to a happy Easter weekend of good reading with some fun romcom antics to keep me amused during this less than cheerful time in our lives. A little lightness is necessary to keep your spirits going and romantic comedy is picture as well as page turning perfect for such occasions: