Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, December 28, 2020

Bringing in the new year with some brand new books


The end of 2020 is almost here and never have I ever seen a year that so many people are eager to be rid of as soon as can be.

The reasons for that are good and rather plentiful, yet one of the things that sustained during this horrible time were books. Fortunately, we have more great reads ahead of us, starting with January/February of 2021.

We are,after all, still going to be spending some time indoors, due to the chilly weather and sadly still ongoing health crisis, so perhaps one or two of these upcoming titles will go nicely with a warm mug of tea this season:


Greta Kelly's debut novel, The Frozen Crown, is the first half of a story featuring a warrior princess dealing with royal politics and hidden powers and from what I've read of this book so far, a sequel is most desirable indeed.

Askia has been battling the invading forces of the Rovan Empire in order to claim her rightful throne but to no avail. With very limited options left, she crosses the sea to visit an emissary of the Emperor Amiaan of Vishir to ask for assistance.

However, the reception she gets is rather chilly, requiring Askia to play the polite game of court intrigue instead of the direct approach that she's more comfortable. What's truly treacherous is the need to conceal the magical gift that she was born with as such powers are rare in this reality.

Askia is willing to do what she must to save her people but when a possibility of romance is thrown into the mix, how much is she willing to sacrifice for the good of all?   Kelly really seems to have caught some story telling lightning in a literary jar and opening it up is part of the page turning fun(January):



I fondly recall the engaging portrait of Charlotte Lucas Collins that Molly Greeley gave us in  2019's The Clergyman's Wife and now the author takes another look at a well known yet seldom heard from character in Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice.

The Heiress focuses on Anne De Burgh, the sickly and mostly silent daughter of the intimidating Lady Catherine De Burgh. While her mother has made plans for her whole entire life, Anne begins to wonder if her health problems are part of that plan as well.

Deciding to make a change, Anne goes to London to stay with her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam and discovers that she's not as helpless as she and others believed her to be. This sets the stage for many new avenues to explore, one of which may lead to a most unexpected happiness, if only her mother would not block her way.

Taking a new look at a character that has been easily dismissed before is not as easy as it sounds but knowing how wonderfully well Greeley did this in her first novel makes me most delighted to take this book up as soon as may be(January):


A modern day setting is part of the framework for debut author Lauren Edmondson's Ladies of the House, which places Austen's Sense and Sensibility heroines in Washington ,DC.

Daisy is dealing with the aftermath of her father, Senator Gregory Richardson, as best she can, not only for her mother and younger sister Wallis but her own political career goals as well.

However, her father left a bit of scandal behind and while Daisy struggles to keep his legacy as respectable as possible, matters are made worse when an old friend arrives in town to do a major feature on the late senator. In addition to that, Wallis gets romantically involved with Blake, a politician who is on the other side of the aisle in more ways than one.

Seeking peace with their father's past and hoping to make a better future for themselves, Daisy and Wallis do clash yet can each of them handle their present with a combination of head and heart? This sounds like a great way to examine Austen's themes while bringing  a pair of classic sisterly characters to modern life in the best way possible for readers old and new(February). 



Kristin Hannah's upcoming novel, The Four Winds, has us revisit the Great Depression through the eyes of Elsa Martinelli, who is still determined to keep her husband's family farm going.

When abandoned by her spouse, Elsa finds that her best bet to keep her children thriving is to leave their Texas home and head to California, where work is said to be plentiful.

Once she and her kids settle down in the town of Welty, they are treated with scorn and given low wages for picking cotton. As her salary gets smaller and times being tougher, Elsa finds herself at a crossroads as to whether or not fighting for her rights will be worth the trouble.

Hannah does have a solid connection to people from the past and the best of her work showcases that beautifully. No doubt that this book will be another fine example of her heartfelt handiwork(February):


In Better Luck Next Time , Julia Claiborne Johnson introduces us to Wade, who has fond memories of his time working at a resident cowboy at the Flying Leap Dude Ranch, which wasn't involved in cattle drives.

The Flying Leap was a temporary residence for women seeking divorce in Reno during the 1920s(you had to live within the state for at least six weeks in order to get a quick divorce) and Wade was meant to be a guide on the local trails as well as a dance partner for the ladies.

Some of his best times back then were with Emily, a soft spoken woman whose daughter Portia shows up unannounced and Nina, a tough talking pilot who takes Portia under her wing. While Wade doesn't wind up with any of them in the long run, he has great tales to tell of their wild times to last him the rest of his life.

This story has the flair of an old school film with snappy dialogue and engaging characters full of lively wit, which should be a good time had by all here(January):


Well, here's to the promise of a much better new year and much wicked pleasure in sending this horrid old one packing! I do believe that 2021 will eventually brings us towards a brighter tomorrow, so we must be patient and cautious as the mess of 2020 is cleared away.

I wish you all a safe and Happy New Year's Eve celebration with a special song that I think sums up our collective feelings about this event devilishly well:


Monday, December 21, 2020

Keeping my Christmas Spirit readathon page turning bright


As we get closer to a certain date in December, it feels like the perfect time to do a check-in on my progress with the Christmas Spirit readathon(hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading).

With the CR readathon being much longer this year, that gives me the gift of time to get in many more books than usual here. I first treated myself to a reread of Christmas Shopaholic, the most recent installment in Sophie Kinsella's entertaining series featuring Becky Bloomwood.

Becky is used to having her parents hold the major holiday celebrations but this year, her folks have announced that they're moving to the trendy neighborhood of Shoreditch, tapping their daughter for the dubious honor of hosting Christmas.

Since she does love to shop and arrange things, Becky is willing to give it a try. However, she is quickly overwhelmed by the need to make everyone around happy for the holidays. To make things even more complicated, Becky is determined to get her husband Luke the perfect present and is willing to join an all-male billiards club in order to do so.

Also on her plate is a growing feud between her mother and her mother's best friend, the reappearance of a former boyfriend turned musician with his overly ambitious girlfriend in tow and worrying about Jess, her environmentally inclined half sister who may or not be having martial troubles. Oh, and dealing with the fall out of a made up Swedish holiday along with hunting down a popular tree ornament and trying to store a bigger than expected order of smoked salmon on her front lawn.

I've read all the books in this series and Becky is pretty much an old friend, fun to drop in as she does her best to make things work for all concerned. I do love British humor and these books have a sweet blend of Absolutely Fabulous(a much nicer version) and Mr. Bean style antics that make Becky and company a delight to visit more than once:

For a fresh read, I chose one of Livia J. Washburn's Freshly Baked Mysteries, The Christmas Cookie Killer and this cozy culinary mystery did sate some of my seasonal appetite indeed.

Our leading lady is Phyllis, a retired schoolteacher and widow, who shares her home with a set of roommates including a widower named Sam. During the annual Christmas Cookie Exchange, Phyllis looks on her next door neighbor Agnes with a plate of her special lime sugar snowflake cookies, which are greatly appreciated so much so that Agnes asks to borrow her cookie cutters.

By the time that she returns, Agnes is dead on the floor, the victim of an attack that also has Phyllis receive a bump on her head for her troubles by the fleeing killer. While the police wind up arresting Randall, Agnes' grandson who has been hiding out in her attic due to legal issues, Phyllis is not completely convinced that he actually did commit the crime.

With the backup of Sam,plus a little information from her police officer son Mike, Phyllis sets out to see if someone closer to home have a reason to do Agnes in. While she does uncover some surprising secrets and lies among her nearest neighbors, that still doesn't help her narrow down her list of possible suspects. Can she find the true killer before the notion of Randall's guilt is fully baked in the eyes of the law?

This is my first time with this series and I do like the Golden Girls vibe of Phyllis and her live-in friends(even though the setting of the story is in the small town of Weatherford,Texas rather than Miami). More importantly, it's the feeling of warmth and family that binds many of the characters together within the plot,especially while sharing cooking time in the kitchen that has me wanting to taste more of this homemade story sweetness:

Also, I have a last minute addition,thanks to an ebook library loan, of The Diva Cooks a Goose by Krista Davis. I had so much fun with the first book in Davis' Domestic Diva series(set during Thanksgiving) that I skipped ahead to Christmas here.

Sophie Winston is the title diva and in this holiday caper, she has plenty of mysteries on her serving platter to handle. Who robbed an entire neighborhood of presents on Christmas Eve? Who left a basket containing two adorable kittens on Sophie's back step? Most important of all, who set a deadly trap in a music box for another potential domestic diva to unwittingly open?

That last victim was Bonnie, a local home organizer who was trying to break up a possible engagement between her son Beau and Shawna, one of Sophie's in laws, while also breaking up the marriage of Shawna's parents to boot! While the case becomes more tangled than a box of tree lights, Sophie balances her holiday fears and holiday cheers well enough to save the season.

I really appreciate how easy it is to get into the story lines and character history, not to much the not so friendly rivalry between Sophie and Nastasha, a Martha Stewart type of celebrity diva who is also dating Sophie's ex-husband Mars. Gives me Rory Gilmore/Paris Geller flashbacks of the fun kind.

I do plan to dive into this diva-licious series in the new year and hope that more books are coming our way, regardless of what time of year it is:

The Christmas Spirit readathon runs until January 6th, giving me room to add yet another ebook library loan(Mistletoe Murder by Leslie Meier) as well as pick up a physical copy of A Catered Christmas Cookie Exchange by Isis Crawford. I hope to finish the latter by next week, in for A Catered New Year's Eve there.

In the meanwhile, happy holidays to all and special thanks to Michelle Miller for keeping us going strong during this most trying year with good reading. I hope everyone taking part in the CS readathon is having a great time and that we all stay safe and stay home for the holidays.

Yes, it's not ideal but totally necessary to make sure that we can all be together for many more  celebrations around this time in 2021 and be able to attend next year's end of year parties to toast the better days to come. Being as safe and healthy as we can until our ongoing health crisis is halted is the best gift to give to each other.

 Normally, I put up a Christmas music video post during this week but instead, here's a postmodern twist on a modern day classic that should set the mood just right. I'll see you folks before the year is out and hope that you do get what you want for Christmas, one way or the other:

Monday, December 14, 2020

A Jane Austen birthday and a P&P anniversary all in one


It should be a truth universally acknowledged that when the birthday of a beloved author happens to coincide with the anniversary of an adaptation of one of her most popular works, both occasions must be combined for a true celebration.

As this year marks the 245th birthday of Jane Austen as well as the fifteenth anniversary of the most recent big screen version of Pride & Prejudice, I decided to treat myself to a rewatch of the 2005 film. After all, I am in the midst of a reread of the book, so seeing this movie again felt like I was completing a full circle.

While I do find the 1995 BBC miniseries to be the best book-to-screen version of this novel, there are some merits to this cinematic rendition. Granted, it doesn't have everything that a Jane Austen reader would want yet there is something to be said for what the film does have in abundance.

For one, Keira Knightley gives an excellant performance as Elizabeth Bennet(frankly, I never understood the objections to her being cast in this role). 

She not only connects well with her sisterly co-stars(particularly Rosemund Pike as Jane Bennet, a far cry from her future Gone Girl leading lady) and other talented stars such as Dame Judi Dench's Lady Catherine, Brenda Blethyn as a delightfully ditzy Mrs. Bennet and Donald Sutherland as a laid back Mr. Bennet, Knightley fully embodies the energy and lively spirit of the character.

Even in a scene with the dutifully dull Mr. Collins, who admires the boiled potatoes at dinner with about as much zeal as he does the marriageable merits of the Bennet girls to become his wife, Knightley's Elizabeth shares a bit of dialogue with her father that subtly mocks their obnoxious guest without missing a beat. It's smoothly done without her drawing too much attention to herself but she does sparkle in that moment nonetheless:


Knightley also has great chemistry with her major co-star, Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy. The two of them create enough romantic tension to cause the air around them to crackle with emotional electricity(maybe that's why Darcy flexs his hand so much here!).

Macfadyen's take on Darcy is decidedly moody,which I'll get into in a moment, yet he is more than capable of bringing the right amount of intensity when needed.

Both of these actors were at the time following in the footsteps of legendary stars such as Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier ,David Rintoul and Elizabeth Garvie, not to mention the iconic Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Taking on such roles is not easy for any actor, especially if there is a fan base already out to judge you beforehand.

However, this onscreen duo give their audience a set of striking performances that is well chorographed as any Regency ball dance arrangement:


This is a very visual movie, as director Joe Wright displays his full powers behind the camera with beautifully vivid scenes that highlight just how crowded the Netherfield and Meryton balls were, along with Elizabeth's inner turmoil upon reading Darcy's letter and later her joyof the outdoors with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner.

Such choices were made to attract a younger generation, which is not a wholy bad notion. In order to keep a classic alive, new admirers must be  shown that these stories can fit well into their lives and while some shortcuts were taken to achieve that, the overall themes of the story are still intact.

Yes, some of those scenes do have a touch of Bronte rather than Austen at times. To some, Darcy is too withdrawn and more like Heathcliff on the moors towards the end. I find that influence to be only a touch at best and besides, given that Jane Austen did enjoy a Gothic romance or two in her day, she might actually find this approach amusing. 

Also, that early morning arrival of Darcy in the mist is rather gorgeous and one that I would not give up viewing more than once:

So, does this version of Pride & Prejudice hold up well, fifteen years later? My answer is yes and particularly for those who find such period dramas to be "British comas"(as my younger sister often calls my favorite genre), this may change a few hearts and minds.

With that, I wish Our Dear Jane a very happy birthday and a happy anniversary to 2005's P&P adaptation. Even though it may not please everyone, pictures of perfection can make one sick of seeing them and we never want that to happen to Elizabeth and Darcy!

The best thing about any adaptation is that it encourages people to take up the original book and walk into a special realm of delights. In this case, that goal was completely achieved:

Monday, December 07, 2020

My Second Act of Series-ous Reading wins A Medal for Murder

 During this whole bizarre year, I have managed to keep to this Series-ous Reading schedule as well as stick to my secondary challenge of Second Acts, highlighting the number two title of certain bookish series.

Well, as they say, the best was saved for last with A Medal for Murder by Frances Brody, that set the pace for her lady detective Kate Shackleton. Kate is a widowed photographer in post-WWI England(she does hold on to some hope that her MIA husband is still alive) who has taken up sleuthing, with an ex-policeman Jim Sykes as her assistant.

While she specializes in missing persons, Kate does help out in other matters such as a pawnshop robbery where the owner wishes to discretely inform his clients about their items being taken. Since one of the parties involved happens to be in Harrogate, where Kate already had made plans to visit an old friend, she agrees to help out.

Upon arrival, her friend Meriel is delighted to take Kate to the opening night of her latest theatrical production , a play starring several local young people such as the lovely Lucy Wolfendale, who hopes to make this leading lady role a stepping stone towards bigger and better things.

During the show, an obnoxious business owner Lawrence Milner(whose son Rodney is also part of the cast) is in the audience and not shy about making his unseemly, not to mention unwelcome, intentions towards Lucy known. However, after the play, the elder Milner is found dead with a knife in his heart not far from the theater and Lucy is nowhere to be found.

 Along with being a witness to the body's discovery, Kate is further drawn into this strange situation by Lucy's grandfather and guardian, Captain Wolfendale, who is sent a ransom note for his granddaughter's safe return:

As it turns out, Lucy is faking her own kidnapping in order to get her grandfather to give her the inheritance that was promised to her long ago. With the help of Dylan, another young man in the show, she's hiding out at a remote location but that plan is starting to backfire in the worst way.

Meanwhile, Kate's inquiries are revealing some unexpected secrets from Captain Wolfendale's past, which could affect more than one future and may or may not be connected to Milner's demise, as he was a man despised by all, even his own son.

As these points slowly yet steadily draw together, Kate not only has to find the killer and Lucy yet also make a serious decision about what truths need to be brought to light and which should remain in the dark. I really like the emotional/moral complexity that Kate has to grapple with here, as just who the murderer is and why is not an easy answer with plenty of right and wrong issues to be debated.

This story has a wonderful Agatha Christie flavor to it, steeped in a bittersweet brew that finds a way to provide true justice for all concerned. While I'm more of a Miss Marple person than a Poirot(and I suspect Kate Shackleton would be agree with me), this does put me in mind of a certain Christie tale that dealt with similar issues and Brody honors that legacy well in her own unique way:

Before I get into the last on this list for 2020, let's take a look at my Series-ous Reading plans for the new year.

The 2021 SR theme is going to be "A Cozy Culinary Feast", featuring authors such as Joanne Fluke(still have a lot of Hannah Swensen books to finish!), Diane Mott Davidson, Avery Aames and Livia J. Washburn.

 I will keep an open spot for any new authors in this category and hope that all of you out there enjoy tucking into these tasty reads along with me.

To round out this year, I'm reading the third Kate Shackleton mystery, Murder in the Afternoon, where Kate meets her birth sister(she was adopted) and is asked to look into the possible murder of her brother-in-law. So far, this is an intriguing case and Kate's niece Harriet, who sadly found her father's body which later went missing, is a right clever girl that both her aunt and I wish to known better: