Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, June 29, 2020

Enjoy your summer staycation with these July/August reads

With the July 4th weekend not that far off, it's reasonable to make a few plans for summertime entertainment around this time.

However, despite the reopenings that are happening, chances are that your best bet for a safe and healthy vacation will be remaining close to home and mainly indoors.

That's not a bad option, since there are plenty of new books about to be released within the next two months to provide the much needed amusement we need for these warm weather months. I have a lovely quintet of July and August titles ready for your beach bag or cozy corner of the couch:


Roselle Lim follows up her charming debut, Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune, with a new enchanting novel that sends it's leading lady to France.

In Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop, our title heroine has the ability to see the future for others, a talent that annoys rather than pleases her. Vanessa would prefer to be just another accountant who has a fair shot at finding love, something that her supernatural gift doesn't allow for.

Upon a series of ill timed predictions, Vanessa decides to try living in Paris with her Aunt Evelyn(who shares her otherworldly talents) to hopefully learn how to control her powers as well as avoid the professional matchmaker hired by her parents.

Perhaps a change of scene will help but it may take more than crossing an ocean to get Vanessa on the right path for her future life and towards possible real romance. I did adore Lim's first book and this one sounds as delectable as a plate of  Parisian marcarons(August):

Speaking of fun follow-ups, Not Like the Movies takes up where Kerry Winfrey's prior novel, Waiting for Tom Hanks, left off. This time, it's Chloe, the quirky waitress who inspired her best friend Annie's screenplay that is fast becoming a major motion picture, who is in the romcom spotlight.

Despite what her friends and potential movie goers think, Chloe insists that she's not in love with Nick, the gruff but soft hearted coffee house owner she works for. For one thing, she's far too busy looking after her father , who had to be placed in a retirement home due to his Alzheimer's condition, not to mention her twin brother Milo popping back into her life.

For another, she doubts that Nick has any romantic feelings for her but that's far from the case. Can Chloe wake up and smell the coffee when it comes to her heart?

I'm planning a double review of WFTH and NLTM(hopefully sooner than later!) but I can tell you right now that if you loved the first book, the sequel should be popcorn perfect for you indeed(July).


Author Finola Austin introduces us to Bronte's Mistress, the Bronte in question being Bramwell, the only brother of the three scholarly sisters who will become beloved writers one day.

He is not the main figure in this story,however-that portion falls to Lydia Robinson, who is grieving the untimely death of a daughter as well as her own mother,both within the same year.

Bramwell and his sister Anne join her household as educators to Lydia's remaining daughters and with her family in disarray, she finds the young man's company a most welcome relief. His charm and wit, along with lively interest in the arts, makes their considerable age difference a remote obstacle to their hidden love affair.

What does threaten their romance is Lydia's current marriage, grown cold but still very much alive in the eyes of society. While she does long to give into their mutual passion, Bramwell's erratic nature and his sisters' use of literary inspiration could ruin more than one life and that may be too high a price for either of them to pay.

This certainly is a side of the Bronte legend that we don't get to see too often and for any fan of Victorian literature, such a sorrowful love story is hard to resist there(August):


The upcoming entry in the Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen, The Last Mrs. Summers, has newly married Lady Georgiana off on a gothic adventure without her husband Darcy by her side.

Instead, she's teamed up with best gal pal Belinda as visitors at the stately manor of Tony Summers in Cornwall. He has just remarried despite the shock of his first wife's death via a fall over a cliff.

As a former flame of Tony's, Belinda is not suspicious of these circumstances but Georgie soon learns that the current Mrs. Summers has concerns about the demise of her predecessor and fears that she may become the late Mrs. Summers as well as the last!

While the new Mrs. Summers may be wrong about that fear, there is clearly something going on as the formidable housekeeper Mrs. Mannering is determined to keep everyone in line and then some,not to mention Tony brazenly attempting to rekindle his brief romance with Belinda.

When a staff member is found dead, Georgiana has to spring into action or her good friend Belinda will be more than just a suspect in the case. This spin on the classic Rebecca should be most entertaining as this series has a good blend of humor and terror that makes for truly page turning thrills there(August):

For something a bit more serious, Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees should fit the bill nicely.

In post-WWII, Edith Graham, a schoolteacher in search of a more interesting life, is recruited as a spy to work in Germany during their reconstruction. In fact, it's her cousin Leo who does the recruiting, hoping that she can help catch a notorious war criminal all too well known to their family.

Using the alias Stella Snelling, Edith poses as a cookbook author with a popular culinary magazine column that allows her to pass along coded messages in her recipes.

As her ruse becomes more successful, she is getting closer to her target but also deeper into danger. Can Edith achieve her objective in time or will she write her own recipe for disaster? Such an intriguing premise promises to be a real riveting read this summer or any season for that matter(July).

Please do have a happy July 4th, folks and despite the terrible times we're living in, joy can be found and taking a break from the daily stress is vitally important to your overall state of well being.  Any good book that allows you a moment or two of relaxing fantasy is a true blessing from the literary muses, if you ask me:

Monday, June 22, 2020

How my Sci-Fi Summer is more about the journey than the destination

We're approaching the end of the Sci-Fi Summer readathon(hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading) and yet, despite having finished only one book so far, I feel very complete.

Don't get me wrong, I do intend to have more than one done by the time July 1 is here. However, in taking my time with these particular flights of fancy, I think that it allows me to appreciate the effort taken to make such creative works come to vivid life on the page as well as the imagination.

Take the book that I have been able to place on the Read section at Goodreads due to this challenge; Gods of Jade and Shadow is not the first novel that I've read by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and certainly won't be the last yet it does feel like a true epic brought to glorious life, a definite turning point in her literary career.

The story is set in 1920s Mexico, where Cassiopea Tun and her mother live as servants in her cruel grandfather's house due to his disapproval of her late father's occupation as a teacher and poet. One day while the rest of the family is on a outing and she is left home as a punishment for a perceived slight against her horrible cousin Martin, Cassiopea opens a locked box in her grandfather's bedroom and unintentionally releases a Mayan death god.

Hun-Kame' was imprisoned by his twin brother Vucub-Kame'(with the aid of Cassiopea's grandfather, who was rewarded with wealth) for decades and now seeks to reclaim his throne in Xibalba, the land of the dead. To do that successfully, he must find certain body parts, plus a jade necklace, that have been hidden among his treacherous brother's allies. Cassiopea has no choice but to help him as a piece of bone binds the two of them together, for better and worse.

While the details of the time period and the mythology are expertly woven, it's the character development elements that truly spin this story telling cloth into literary gold. Moreno-Gracia shows the gradual progress of each of the players in this game, from Hun-Kame' slowly engaging with the humanity that comes from being bound to Cassiopea, who in turn finds her forceful personality being put to the test again and again in ways she never imagined.

Even the villains of the story, Vucub-Kame'(who betrayed his brother over what he felt was best for their kingdom) and Martin, who finds himself a somewhat willing pawn against the cousin he always envied and despised, are given real depth and nuance. This book may have the trappings of a fairy tale but it's so much more than that. Gods of Jade and Shadow redefines the quest story with lyrical style indeed:

At the moment, I'm working my way through Sarah Pinsker's A Song for a New Day, which just won the Best Novel award at the Nebulas(top honors for science fiction writing,btw) and it's a scary joy to behold.

I say scary because the futuristic setting is very close to what we're going through right now. One of our main heroines is singer Luce Cannon, a rock singer in the time Before who's starting to make a name for herself with a hit song and tour that is being derailed by massive terrorist threats that shut down society, along with a nasty new virus.

Luce is used to being an outsider, having left her ultra-raditional family to pursue her musical dreams, but what drives her sound is being able to perform in front of an audience, something that is rapidly becoming an illegal activity:

Rosemary Laws has grown up in the society After, where people use technically enhanced hoodies to  work,attend school and hang out with friends while staying at home. Her parents moved to the country to avoid the hazards of city living when she was still a child and at age 24, Rosemary has not interacted with anyone in person for most of her life.

Her customer service job at Superwallys leads her to an opportunity to attend a rock concert via StageHoloLive that awakens Rosemary to what live music is like, even in a virtual setting. She is then inspired to apply for a position at SHL and is hired as a new music recruiter, an exciting yet daunting challenge.

Despite having little contact with the underground music scene, Rosemary is determined to explore this brave new world and when given a hint as to where to find the next new sound, she takes off into what is the unknown for her; a major city, which frightens Rosemary and her protective parents for very different reasons:

I'm up to the part where Luce and Rosemary have met up and I can't wait to find out what happens next. While many features of this book do mirror some of our present day situations, that doesn't make this story off-putting at all. Instead, it showcases the need to persevere during such trying times and keeping something like music as a way to push forward towards a better world.

When someone can write a book about the terror of changing times that makes you long to read it all the more while in the midst of said times, it's no wonder that Pinsker has won a major award already. Even without a prize, you know this is an amazing author to watch out for.

Also, still reading The Left Hand of Darkness, which is an immense novel despite the three hundred page count. Ursula LeGuin's tale of Genly Ai, an envoy from a federation of planets, struggling to make the world of Gethen agree to join their united ranks does demand that you take your time with this intergalactic realm.

While Genly has trouble picking up the social cues of Gethen's residents, partly due to the people being of one gender(except for procreation periods and even then folks do not take up the same sexual identity each time), he runs into political intrigue that affects the course of his mission.

A potential ally of his,Estraven, becomes exiled upon displeasing the king of Karhide and that departure leads to Genly striking out on his own, seeking a possible answer to the question of the success of his assignment. Meanwhile, Estraven is in search of answers as well as to who orchestrated this exile and for what ultimate purpose:

It's an interesting book but not a fast moving one(at least to me) so taking my time with it feels like a good move here. You wouldn't want to rush through a five course meal just to get to dessert , after all.

Well, I hope to have at least three or more books completed for this readathon and hope that everyone else taking part is enjoying all of their reads as well. Once this challenge is over, my summer reading will be a little less structured yet still smart and fun. Science fiction is tricky to get into sometimes , yet when well done, is always worth the page turning journey:

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Making a summer meal out of these culinary mystery treats

While this is not definitely the ideal summer many of us had in mind, there is still joy to be found within the pages of a good book.

Given the fact that indulging in fabulous food also goes along with this particular brand of seasonal fun, the culinary mystery genre is the perfect go-to for indoor entertainment. I've found a trio of current and upcoming titles that ought to whet your literary taste buds and then some:

First up is a debut mystery from Abby Collette called A Deadly Inside Scoop, set in the town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio where Bronwyn,aka Win, Crewse comes home to revive the family ice cream parlor.

Due to the shop needing major repairs, Win is unable to reopen the business until December, where a snowstorm shuts down the opening day plans. To cheer herself up, she goes out to collect a bit of snow for one of her famed grandmother's recipes and uncovers a frozen corpse whose demise was not from natural causes.

Turns out the body is that of Stephen Bayard, whose dirty dealings in town included conning Win's grandmother Kay out of her shop. When her father is considered a suspect in the case, Win is highly motivated to find the real killer, with the help of Maisie, her addicted to British murder mysteries best friend. Can she save her father as well as the shop from being destroyed by Bayard again?

This just sounds deliciously fun, with ice cream recipes as the cherry on top of this sleuthing sundae. The book was released this May and the sequel(A Game of Cones,nice title!) already planned for next year. Plus, the idea of ice cream made from snow is a chilling pleasure to behold during the hazy days to come:

Something that pairs up nicely with ice cream is cake and Ellie Alexander has Nothing Bundt Trouble to serve up by the end of June.

This latest entry in The Bakeshop Mystery series has Juliet "Jules" Capshaw looking into a cold case from the 1980s. This time around, she gets some help from a most unexpected source: her late father.

Coming across his journals, Jules not only learns the origins of her beloved family bakery Torte but gains a few clues into a hit and run incident that nearly tore their small town of Ashland apart. Should she be digging up the past like this or stick to the present day concerns all about her?

Getting some extra backstory and world building is a special sweet bonus for fans ready to devour this new slice of mystery cake. Interestingly enough, Alexander has an ice cream themed book due this fall called Chilled to the Cone-winter ice cream seems to be a new trend in this genre and I like it!:

If you're in the mood for a more savory story, it's not too early to put in an order for Vivien Chien's Killer Kung Pao that'll be ready this August.

In this new addition to the Noodle Shop Mysteries, restaurant manager Lana Lee is handed another plate to balance as she witnesses an altercation between two cars in the parking lot of the Asia Village mall(which is a small town into itself).

It's bad enough to get in between tough cookie June Yi, owner of a local tea shop/bakery and determined Mah Jong player Mildred Mao over a fender-bender but when one of the ladies in question winds up dead during a pedicure, Lana has no choice but to solve the case before more havoc breaks loose.

These books are wicked good and I'm glad we have more to come, with the promise of Fatal Fried Rice next March! Of course, it's best to take each story telling course as it comes and this mystery dish should be suitably satisfying this summer indeed:

Having a few great books on hand does take the edge off of anxiety, I've found and while we must keep an alert eye on the headlines, this will be a stressful summer and there's nothing wrong with a little relief from the heat every now and then.

So, think of food themed mysteries as having a picnic with your favorite author and/or their delightful characters, sharing a sandwich and maybe some engaging insights as well:

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Emma and the merits of Mr. Knightley

One of my personal reading challenges has been to catch up to some of the major classics of literature,usually by reading a bit each morning(or day, depending on how things are going).

While I won't get into the big league titles that I've completed-the latest one was The Forsyte Saga-over the past few years, that section of my bookshelf has gotten pretty full at this point. So much so that it felt like the right time for a good reread.

Naturally, I went to Jane Austen since it's been a long while for me to have done a proper revisit with the Classic Six there. I started with Emma,thanks to the new movie which was nicely done, and I must confess that as charming as she is, Miss Woodhouse is not my favorite of the Austen leading ladies. She's a bit too self satisfied for my taste yet I've grown to appreciate her story.

During this current reread, I find myself taking another look at a different major character who does have his fans but is not as beloved as Mr. Darcy. I speak of Mr. Knightley, whose first name is George but I quite agree with Emma that calling him Mr. Knightley sounds more natural.

He is a proper leading man that provides the much needed balance to the heroine, matching her ready wit with a sly observation or two. Mr. Knightley can and does at times come off as snarky and overbearing but that's not there is to him, not at all:

For one thing, most of his concerns about Emma have to do with her character -he does respect her intelligence when it comes to education(even keeping a reading list that she made long ago for a few years!) and other matters.

What worries him is her occasional lack of direction and need to interfere in the lives of others, particularly Harriet Smith. Granted, Mr. Knightley doesn't think much of Harriet beyond her being "pretty and good tempered" but he has a strong point regarding Harriet's uncertain background not being a guarantee that her future would be secure elsewhere in life.

He's also very knowledgeable about what Mr. Elton's martial ambitions are, as opposed to Robert Martin, a man "so in love" that he could not be talked out of finding a more financially beneficial partner.  Yes, that sounds cold but back in those days, marriage was considered more of a business deal in some respects(a notion not entirely departed from in certain quarters today).

Emma's intentions are somewhat well meaning when it comes to trying to pair up Harriet with Mr. Elton but she's also playing around with other people's feelings in a way that ultimately backfires on her as well as Harriet. No matter what time period it is, creating a sock puppet romance for your own personal pleasure is wrong and Mr. Knightley is very much in the right to call Emma out on this:

Also, he is the only one in Emma's immediate circle who bothers to course correct her when necessary.  Mrs. Weston,aka Miss Taylor, is right when she says that despite her flaws, Emma is "an excellent creature" yet she often yields to the persuasion of her former pupil at times.

Mr. Woodhouse is of no help in such matters, being overly concerned with everybody's health(and mainly his own) and her older sister Isabella is much like her father, not to mention living in London with her own family to take care of.

In some ways, Emma is like a only child, given that Isabella married and left home while she was still a little girl. Due to her innate cleverness, most of the people in Emma's life assumed that her character was not in need of extra attention.

Mr. Knightley, as not only a family friend but related to her by marriage as well, seems to see it as his duty to urge Emma towards the right path every now and then. He doesn't force her to do anything other than reflect upon her own behavior, which Emma does do at certain moments, and makes up with her after their arguments.

He's not flawless,believe me-I find it amusing how much he can't stand Frank Churchill(who is to him as Jane Fairfax is to Emma; a person each feels gets too much praise and credit from others) to the point of a rant about that "trifling ,silly fellow" to Emma in one chapter. Personally, I think part of the reason that Emma likes Frank is that it annoys Mr. Knightley to no end!

What really makes me consider the merits of Mr. Knightley all the more this time around is his steadfast nature. Running a farming estate such as Donwell Abbey has him in a position of serious responsibility, which he takes to very well.

 In addition to maintaining the land and looking out for his tenants such as Robert Martin's family(Robert even asks for Mr. Knightley's advice concerning his first proposal to Harriet), he takes additional measures to help out the Bates family,particularly when Jane Fairfax shows up for an extended visit.

 Despite what Mrs. Weston speculates, I believe his interest in giving the Bates an extra hand is the added expense of Jane staying with her aunt upon the family budget rather than any possible romance with Miss Fairfax. He knows their family income well enough to offer what socially acceptable assistance he can, such as the use of his carriage and a surplus of apples. Emma herself admits that "he's not gallant but he is humane".

What really impresses me is that he is willing to admit that he's been wrong. When Harriet is in need of rescue from social embarrassment, thanks to Mr. Elton(who so deserves his awful wife!), Mr. Knightley is quick to remedy the situation and later tell Emma that he had misjudged her friend's character greatly. It may not seem like much but that kindness to Harriet on that particular occasion was a truly generous gesture that went a long way towards uplifting that young lady's spirits, plus her social standing.

In this day and age when so many people in positions of potential and/or unwarranted authority stubbornly cling to outlandish statements and ridiculous notions despite all evidence otherwise, a man like Mr. Knightley is infinitely preferable company, a good leader and a fine example for others to follow:

While my top Austen men will remain a tie between Captain Wentworth(hey, my first JA book was Persuasion!) and Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley is high up on that list for me these days. My favorite quote of his-which I'm badly quoting here- is "There is one thing a man can do if he chooses and that is his duty." I so wish more folks would take up that stance in the socially responsible way!

Meanwhile, my next Jane Austen reread will be Sense and Sensibility, a book that I haven't explored for far too many years now. It's nice to have my own Jane Austen book club as comfort during these troubling times and I hope that others can find a similar source of solace as well:

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Devouring some Cream Puff Murder for my Series-ous Reading self care

I know how stressful the world is at this moment, with yet another tragic event along side our current health crisis to deal with. As much as I am saddened by both dire situations, part of coping with these changing circumstances is taking some time to unwind from the ongoing anxiety and like many of us, reading comes in handy there.

So, my latest Series-ous Reading selection, Cream Puff Murder by Joanne Fluke, is a welcome light hearted relief. In this story, Hannah is getting ready for the release party to honor her mother Delores' debut Regency novel.

Unfortunately, the specially made dress that Delores wants her to wear for the event doesn't fit right, so Hannah has to go on a quick diet(usually not a fan of plot lines focusing on Hannah's body size but since losing weight for a special occasion is relatively reasonable , it gets a pass here).

In addition to eating from a more balanced meal menu, she and her little sister Andrea join the local workout spa called Heavenly Bodies(which sounds so eighties, doesn't it?).

Exercise is not something that Hannah is all too fond of but over time, she starts to get the hang of things.While getting used to exercise equipment is one thing, it's quite another to deal with Ronni Ward as her aerobics instructor.

It's no secret that Ronni loves being as friendly as can be with the guys in town-to the point of causing a few fights at local restaurants among jealous spouses!-but is the exact opposite with women. Her nasty approach towards her female students ruffles many feathers, including Hannah, who calls her out during one session.

What's truly annoying is that guys like Mike Kingston,Hannah's occasional beau, insist that Ronni is not as bad as some people think. I'll talk more about Mike in a moment but first, we have to get our main murder mystery and yes, Hannah finds the dead body of Ronni in the Heavenly Bodies' hot tub one early morning workout. Going to the gym is awkward enough without finding a corpse not far from a plate of overturned cream puffs that you made for someone else!:

Due to the fact that Ronni also had a receptionist job at the local police department, most of the cops have to step back from the murder investigation. An investigator from out of town is recruited to aid in the official case, which means Hannah is getting some not so-secret tips on how to find the killer from her exiled friends.

That list  includes Mike, Hannah's brother-in-law Bill and her Cookie Jar partner Lisa's husband,plus the rookie cop that youngest Swensen sister Michelle is seeing in a long distance relationship(a lot of ladies in love with the law in Lake Eden, it seems).

The most persistent helper here is Mike and he truly is at his worst with Hannah when it comes to their relationship. Granted, I am more of a fan of Norman, the sweetheart of a dentist that Hannah also dates, but Mike goes way over the line and then some this time out.

For one, he keeps waking up Hannah(who has to keep early hours as a baker) at midnight for snacks to be brought down to the parking lot of her condo to offer his advice on the case. Once, I can understand but Mike does this several times, potentially waking up her neighbors to boot!

 Also, he pushes a set of books about detective procedure on her and insists that she really needs to read them in order to properly solve the crime. Uh, excuse me-so far, she's found a good number of killers by now without any formal training, many times way before you do, so maybe you need to reread those books yourself,okay?

On top of that, Mike constantly claims that he had no idea that Ronni was flirting with him or that they had any sort of romantic interest in each other. Yet, when he discovers that Hannah spent the night at Norman's(in a separate bedroom), before she can clarify that situation, Mike immediately drops the dime that he and Ronni hooked up-"Guess this makes us even,huh?"

No, it does not,Mike! While Hannah is dating two men, she has been open and honest about the extent of each relationship with each of them.  She does her best to not lead either one of them on and doesn't pit one against the other.

Mike, however, wants to be able to see other women but still act innocent about it and expect her to always buy that line of bull. At best, he treats Norman as a friendly rival(even having Norman deliver Hannah info on his behalf when he's not making midnight snack runs at her place) and has the nerve to assume the worse when it comes to Hannah and Norman.

Meanwhile, Norman is not only nice and helpful when it comes to Hannah's cat Moishe(whose subplots in these books are charmingly cute), he even has sugar free desserts prepared at the restaurant that their families are having a murder mystery planning meeting at. Yes, Delores has a small part in solving the case and she has fun while doing it!

When it comes to this love triangle, Mike Kingston is such a Logan Huntsberger(and yes, I prefer Jess as Rory Gilmore's boyfriend in the series) and I'm glad to see that Hannah is starting to cool down when it comes to romance with him:

As to the main mystery, it does get solved well and while I did want a bit more about Delores' novel, it was amusing to see so many of her friends and neighbors insist that they were the leading man and lady in her story! This was a welcome cream puff of a delight to read indeed:

As for my first summer Series-ous Reading selection, my pick is a last minute addition to my Second Act reading in this category.

After finishing A Slice of Murder by Chris Cavender recently, I decided to have another helping with book two in the Pizza Lovers Mystery series that is titled Pepperoni Pizza Can Be Murder.

Our leading lady detective is Eleanor Swift, sole owner of A Slice of Delight pizzeria in Ridge Town,North Carolina due to her beloved husband Joel passing away two years ago.

With the help of her madcap sister Maddy, Eleanor runs her business as best she can, when not dealing with dead bodies, that is. For this second outing, one of her other workers is accused of murdering his brother who is found dead in the pizza place's kitchen and yes, these two boys did not get along to say the least.

I may not be a fan of pepperoni pizza(I'm a plain cheese pie type of gal) but I did like the bond between the two sisters and the comforting atmosphere of the setting, so savoring a fresh slice of mystery from this story telling eatery sounds good to me: