Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, July 31, 2020

Have your own Comic Con at home with some literary heroines of legend and lore

Last weekend gave us Comic Con@Home, a noble attempt to let comic book,science fiction and fantasy fans enjoy some of their annual get together fun. 

While the end results were mixed at best, there was still some entertainment to be had, including a few upcoming and about to be released books.

For those of use who didn't get to join in for CC@H, I have a pair of bookish recommendations with comic book themes. Let's start with Hench, a novel by Natalie Zina Walschots where super villains hire tech support like Anna, a young woman who sees these temp agency gigs as par for the course.

However, an encounter with a bad guy known as the Electric Eel and a superhero that goes wrong is not what she bargained for. Especially when the so-called "good guy" leaves her near death and in need of a rescue that Anna doesn't receive:

Once she's recovered from her injuries(not to mention newly unemployed), Anna decides to use what skills she has to extract revenge on superheroes running around with their powers unchecked.

Landing a spot with a major league villain known as Leviathan, Anna showcases her supreme data analysis talents to the point where she's allowed to do some field work.

Getting a prime opportunity to take down a big name superhero seems like an evil dream come true yet her personal life is turning into a never ending nightmare.

Can she make a real difference or is she still a cog in the superhero/villain machine? This novel sounds amazing yet it won't be available until September. Well, it's not too early for pre-orders and as a hench woman fan myself, such deadly divas are worth being on the look out for:

If you'd rather read something much sooner, comic book historian Tim Hanley has just released  Betty and Veronica: The Leading Ladies of Riverdale,which explores the dual history of these iconic gals.

From the start, the tomboyish Betty Cooper and the regally rich Veronica Lodge were set up as rivals for the affections of title hero Archie. However, over the decades , the girls have become friendly adversaries and joined forces to deal with sexism, zombies and serial killers in different forms of media.

Hanley has great skill in highlighting female characters in comic book lore, from Wonder Woman to Catwoman, and I have no doubt that this in depth look at these classic cartoon frenemies, now known to a new generation thanks to the Riverdale TV series, should be a must-have read indeed:

So, even if this year's Comic Con wasn't what you hoped for, be assured that comic book stories and the characters that we adore will still be there, ready and waiting for it to be safe for all of us to return together.

In the meanwhile, we do have plenty to look forward to and with any luck, long put-on-hold films like The New Mutants will finally see the light of a movie screen near you:

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Tuning into the realness of Sense & Sensibility

Having finished up with Emma as part of my Jane Austen Classic Six reread, I've moved on to Sense & Sensibility which was her first published novel.

I will confess that I relate very much to this particular story as I am the eldest of three children born into a second marriage(and yes, I am most definitely an Elinor).

 As it's been several years since I've read the original book, part of my struggle is to filter out the differences from the adaptations to the text. For one, I completely forgot about Lady Middleton(then again, Austen doesn't give her much to do which explains why Emma Thompson left her out of her excellent 1995 screenplay).

However, in traveling down this road again, I do feel that a good modern take on this tale of two sisters(poor Margaret doesn't get much to do either!) would be a reality TV series. After all, most of those shows are centered around family drama and S&S certainly has an abundance of that!

It could be called The Dashwood Sisters(with a Hamiltonesque theme song that would give Margaret her "Peggy" moment) and with all of the dialogues in this story, we could start things off with their brother John Dashwood and his wife Fanny plotting on cheating the girls and their mother out of a reasonable portion of the family estate:

Another element of the reality show genre is people reluctantly living together and when the current set of Dashwoods have no choice but to accept John and Fanny moving in and taking over, simmering tensions do arise indeed!

Supporting characters are a must and S&S has plenty of engaging ones such as Mrs. Jennings, who loves to overtly make matches, along with her equally chatty daughter Mrs. Palmer(who more than makes up for her dull older sister there). Then later on, we get Lucy Steele, whose subtle schemes cause quite a bit of uproar and she would love to be on camera, giving sly smirks and winks to the audience.

However, the main troublemaker would, in my opinion, be Fanny Dashwood, the awful in-law who never hesitates in making her displeasure known to her relatives. If anyone among this group is capable of turning over a table(or inspiring said action), it is truly her:

Meanwhile, bad romances are a big attraction to this type of show and boy, does S&S have a good deal of that!

From the slow building romance of Elinor and Edward Ferrars,which is awkward enough considering he's the brother of the fiendish Fanny, that goes off track for more than one reason*cough*Lucy Steele*cough* to the stunning train wreck that is Marianne and Willoughby, right up to where she nearly dies for love, we've got a few seasons worth of set-your-DVR material here.

The fact that Col. Brandon's backstory plays a huge part in Willoughby's romantic double dealing adds more fuel to the fire there. Of course, the extra cherry on top of this scandalous sundae is that public reunion of Marianne and Willoughby in London, the kind of scene that would certainly cause a furious flurry of Twitter threads and TikTok reactions to accompany it:

Unlike those shows,  however, Sense & Sensibility does have a reasonably happy ending. For the record, I have no problem with the men that both of the Dashwood sisters ended up.

Willoughby and his smooth talking ways would've ruined Marianne sooner or later and I don't particularly care for his last minute mansplaining to Elinor(while her sister is seriously ill, no less!).

Speaking of Elinor, I get why she would forgive Edward for his prior engagement. Yes, he should have said something early on but he also wanted to do right by both Elinor and Lucy. It's been fodder for many a debate and would no doubt amuse a reality show fanbase greatly.

Perhaps someone will take this idea and make a fun webseries for Austen folks to enjoy, like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries or Emma Approved(hey, I can dream, can't I?). For now, I'll just visit with the sisters Dashwood on the page and let my imagination create a reality show of it's own:

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Some Gothic chills to cool down your summertime reading

As it is the midst of summer, with the scalding weather that comes with this season, this is a great time to stay inside and read. Keeping cool next to a fan and/or AC gets even easier with a nice chilling book flavored with Gothic flair to take a dive into.

A fine example of that is The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis(now out in paperback), the first in a series of mysteries featuring the literary sisters Bronte as detectives, with their brother Bramwell on hand as their assistant.

The first mystery the Bronte ladies have to tackle is the disappearance of Elizabeth Chester, the second wife of distraught husband Robert, whose governess Matilda was a former schoolmate of Charlotte and Emily.

Matilda found the bedroom of Elizabeth drenched in blood yet no body was discovered. Since the first Mrs. Chester died under suspicious circumstances, she fears the worst and asks her old friends to look into the matter. Since Charlotte and Emily, along with Anne, are seeking some inspiration for their bookish pursuits and truly concerned for the residents of Chester Grange, they take up the case and make inquiries that could lead them to answers as well as real danger.

I had the pleasure of reading this book earlier this year(thanks to my local library) and even if you are not overly familiar with the Bronte sisters' full set of works, this suitably spooky tale is a good way to get to know them better indeed:

If you prefer a hardcover for sturdier shade, Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Mexican Gothic has much to offer. When 1950's socialite Noemi goes to visit her newly married cousin Catalina on the behalf of her concerned father, the reception she receives at High Place, the decaying mansion home of the Doyle family, is far from welcoming.

As her stay goes on, Noemi grows to share those parental worries about Catalina's decreasing mental and physical state, not to mention the underlying strangeness of her cousin-in-law's family. A twisted method to the Doyle madness surrounds her yet Noemi is bound and determined to get to the source of all of this menace before it can destroy her and Catalina.

Already, this sharply sinister novel has become a best seller with both critical and reader reviews of praise following in it's wake. I have no doubt that this book will be become a major player on those best books of the year lists to come:

Meanwhile, we have another dazzling debut before us with Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas. Set in 1996, college student Ines feels that she is most fortunate to be at the titled school, seeing as how it's alumnae roster includes
renowned writers, scientists and political figures.

However, all attendees are required to shut themselves off from the outside world for three years(no summer breaks)-no music, TV or even contact with family allowed. Since Ines is trying down to live down some of her past extracurricular activities from her last school, she is willing to give what seems to be an austere lifestyle a chance.

This strict adherence turns out to be not as strict in some regards, which leads Ines to be sent to the Restoration Center where the "cure" is far worse than any perceived problem. Can she break free of the strange group experiment that is this school or will Ines be the all too perfect case study here?

This certainly sounds intriguing, with a blend of The Secret History meets Frankenstein in a modern terror tale that makes you shudder while turning pages:

Granted, many folks still think that Gothic lore is only fitting for Halloween but as this trio of fear filled fiction shows, that particular slice of genre can always be in literary style. Hopefully more Gothic themed stories will flourish due to such new stories as these and no doubt, the sisters Bronte will make their presence well known as this trend takes center stage:

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Serving up some RomCom Comfort Food this August

As some of you may know, during the month of August my blog usually celebrates Bad Movie Month, a time to cheerfully mock those pitiful examples of cinematic failure.

Well, this time out, my heart is just not into it. Given the ongoing health crisis and other continuing disasters in our country right now, that style of humor feels a bit too bleak for me right now.

 Not to mention that with movie houses being shut down(glad to see the drive-in theater coming back at least) and major films having their offline/online release dates pushed back -even as far as two years from now in some cases!-this is a much needed yet not easy to bear pop culture sacrifice for the greater good.

However, that doesn't mean I won't have a movie themed series for LRG this summer. For the first time ever, we are proud to present RomCom Comfort Food in August, with a selection of films straight out of my personal DVD library that I haven't see in quite some time. This feels like an excellent excuse to revisit these lovelorn laugh fests and maybe a couple of them are your favorites as well(two of them are Jane Austen related!):

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING: I first saw this movie in 2002 on an airplane(my one and only trip to England) and it was part of a double feature with a Colin Firth film but I enjoyed this one a bit more.

Heading home that summer, there was nothing more American than watching this delightful tale of Toula(Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the screenplay), a woman in her thirties trying to balance her relationship with her large and lovingly loud family with dreams of a different life.

Pursuing her own happiness, she falls in love with Ian(John Corbett), a sweet natured school teacher who is more than happy to get along with Toula's huge set of relatives as long as he gets to be with the woman he loves.

We have Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson as executive producers here to thank for this charming take on the wedding story(yes, much good comes from them both!). While a short lived sitcom and a many years later sequel didn't fare as well as the original film, this engaging sleeper hit still stands the test of time:

CLUELESS: I'm not sure  if I read Jane Austen's Emma before or after seeing this teen satire but having that book as the inspiration certainly helped me out during my bookseller days.

Saying that Emma was the old school version of this 1995 hit movie did sell a few copies(then again, I also told teenage customers that Northanger Abbey was a good companion piece to the Scream slasher movie series) and to be fair, writer/director Amy Heckerling did a great job in making that classic novel fit into a Beverly Hills high school setting.

Another benefit to the durability of this film is the chemistry between Alicia Silverstone as Cher, the dippy diva of her social set and Paul Rudd as Josh, her former stepbrother who still checks in on her and Mel, the cranky yet lovable dad well played by Dan Hedaya. There is a remake being planned yet that does seem like a truly clueless idea, if you ask me:

NOTTING HILL: This 1999 movie is nearly a perfect blend of all of my favorite things-a Hollywood actress(Julia Roberts), a nervously charming book seller(Hugh Grant), a small book store set in London, loads of quirky characters such as Spike(Rhys Ifans), the wonderfully weird roommate.

This film happens to be written by Richard Curtis, who also wrote the hit romcom Four Weddings and a Funeral(which also has Hugh Grant romancing an American, Andie MacDowell) and I while appreciate his writing, I vastly prefer NH over 4WAAF any day of the week.

For one, I love the connection that Grant's even toned character makes with Robert's celebrity seeking a semblance of regular life, a world that both of the actors are very familiar with and yet don't feel as if they're being major league meta about this story. Instead, we get a smartly written romance delivered with fine British comedy flavor:

BRIDE & PREJUDICE: I have fond memories of seeing this film back in 2004 with a group of Jane Austen fans from the Republic of Pemberley(plus my little sister, who was into Bollywood at the time) in a small Manhattan movie theater.

While I can't remember the name of the theater, I do recall the fun we had watching this blend of "Bollywood meets Hollywood", courtesy of Jane Austen and Gurinder Chadha, the director and co-writer who made her cinematic mark a couple of years earlier with Bend It Like Beckham.

A romcom musical is truly a decadent delight, with the Pride and Prejudice themes being the extra sprinkles on this singalong sundae. While Aishwarya Rai is more than a match as Lalita(Elizabeth Bennet) for co-star  Martin Henderson's Darcy, that doesn't throw the story off at all. Rather, it gives this internationally known leading lady her rightfull spotlight to showcase her amazing talents:

Well, I do hope all of you will join me in some romcom relief this summer and who knows, this may become a regular LRG feature, we shall see.  While being part of a shared experience is what makes going to the movies so magical, hopefully it won't be too long before we can all gather together with our favorite cinema snacks in hand to enjoy a good film and feel safe. Until then, let us share some comfort with each other while remaining apart:

Thursday, July 02, 2020

My Series-ous Reading takes a second slice of Pizza Lovers Mystery

My theme for this round of Series-ous Reading has been highlighting the second title in a mystery series, which is just as important as the first, for what I call Second Acts.

It's like comparing the first season of a TV show to the second, where most of the awkward moments have been smoothed out and major arcs are beginning to take focus. I bring up TV because the tone of Chris Cavender's Pizza Lovers Mysteries has that friendly feel of a beloved sitcom or lighthearted drama.

Upon reading A Slice of Murder, it was only natural that book two would be an entry(a last minute one but nonetheless...)here. Pepperoni Pizza Can be Murder has widowed pizza parlor owner Eleanor Swift, along with her sassy sister Maddy, dealing with another case of unexpected death as she does her best to serve up slices.

This time out, the death dealing is way too close for comfort as the body of Wade Hatcher is found in the kitchen of her place, A Slice of Delight, with one of Eleanor's best rolling pins as the murder weapon. Wade happens to be the brother of Gregg, a regular employee at ASOD, whose relationship with his sibling has never been on the best of terms.

In addition to a prolonged battle over a family inheritance, Wade decided to get back at his brother by flirting with Greg's former girlfriend Katy, timing that encounter just so in order to have Gregg walk in on them both. This ,of course, lead to a fistfight with Gregg's current girlfriend Sandi becoming furious over the whole situation as well. Under these circumstances, Gregg is not inclined to talk to the cops once his brother's murder is major news:

You can't blame Gregg for avoiding the police, since Sheriff Kevin Hurley was all too quick to blame Eleanor for the murder of a less than desirable customer on her delivery route(in A Slice of Murder) and now is fixated on Gregg as the killer.

Considering that Wade owned money to a local loan shark and was skimming off the books at his accounting job, you might want to widen your suspect pool there! I really can't stand Kevin, as his status as former high school beau of Eleanor's (who cheated on her back then with the woman he later married!) makes him get way too personal in Eleanor's business at times.

Mind you, Eleanor is no shrinking violet, even managing to keep her cool during an armed robbery after hours and her sister Maddy always has her back, whether it's gathering information on potential suspects or using what pull she has over ex-lovers to get what she wants. Eleanor will not be bullied, not by Kevin or anyone else but she can get in over her head upon hunting down a killer.

What I really like about these books is the sense of camaraderie among the characters, from the banter between Eleanor and Maddy to the loyalty shown by employees Gregg and Josh(Kevin's son, who fights with his dad over when and if he can work at ASOD due to whatever case is being investigated) and their various friends.  The connections feel authentic and draws you into the story with amiable style.

Also seeing the pizza parlor day-to-day concerns as part of the story line is a nice bonus; it does help that Eleanor can make her own hours when it comes to chasing down clues and suspects.

Worries over how the latest murder can affect her profits and handling a vengeful customer claiming that a bug was in her food all add to the engaging background here,plus Eleanor truly does love making pizza(recipes are included at the end of the story) and that alone makes this a mouth watering read indeed:

So,yes, the Pizza Lovers Mystery series is one that I will be reading more of and may be including more reviews for next year's Series-ous Reading(I'm thinking an all culinary crime TBR!). After all, who can resist a good slice of pizza, especially when it comes with a side of charming characters and some tasty laughs along the way?:

Meanwhile, my Series-ous Reading selection for July is Frances Brody's Death of an Avid Reader, which is the sixth title in her series of Kate Shackleton mysteries set in post-WWI England.

Yes, I do intend to read the second book(A Medal for Murder) as part of my Second Acts feature but it's hard to resist such a tempting title for a bookworm like me! Anyway, I did start this series with book seven(Death in the Dales) so it only makes sense to work my way backwards here.

The plot of this particular mystery has Kate being hired to find the secret daughter of a noble woman whose husband is close to death's door. This search brings to Kate's attention the death of a librarian who may have been murdered and a possibly innocent man being blamed for that crime, all of which connects to the long lost daughter.

So far, I'm enjoying the book very much-the cover art for this series is just gorgeous!-and it's nice to have a bookish mystery to cool off with these days: