Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, December 13, 2021

The LRG Best Books of 2021

Well, another year of reading is coming to an end and I am definitely looking forward to the start of a brand new one filled with wonderful reads.

This year has been a “best of times, worst of times” deal to be sure. However, I think that a good book at hand can make both situations better.

Whether it offers relief from the real world or helps you understand that reality a bit more clearly than before, books are powerful gifts to shared indeed. My top five picks for 2021 are personal preferences to be sure but maybe one or two of them might resonate with you for future reading:



Molly Greeley’s second Jane Austen themed novel focuses on a well known character from Pride & Prejudice, a young woman who is seldom heard from next to her indomitable mother.

Anne de Burgh, the only child of the infamous Lady Catherine, has been considered ill for the majority of her life. That sickly nature turns out to be due to an over abundance of laudanum, prescribed by doctors eager to please Lady Catherine’s wishes for a more pliable offspring.

After Anne chooses her to leave her mother’s house and detox, she finally begins to live a real life, one that gives her some unexpected options on where to find true happiness. Even with her inheritance intact, can Anne be the person that she truly longs to be?

I really enjoyed Greeley’ earlier work about P&P’ Charlotte Lucas Collins, The Clergyman’s Wife, but this one is even better with the depth and emotional journey taken by Anne, whose growing knowledge of herself causes much needed ripples in this classic story pond for those around her. I can’t wait to see what Greeley does next!

This modern take on the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks romcom You’ve Got Mail is a national follow up for Uzma Jaluddin as her first book, Ayesha at Last, was her take on Pride & Prejudice.

Instead of bookstores, it’s rival restaurants as Hana’s family cafe is being threatened by the arrival of  a huge commercial eatery right next door.

While she hopes for a career in radio, with a small podcast of her own, Hana is determined to protect the family business from Aydin Shah, the very handsome and charming owner of the rival restaurant.

Despite  her heartfelt attempts to save the cafe, she finds herself digging a little social media dirt against their competition  but quickly regrets it, especially when the biggest fan of her podcast is not happy with that tactic. She also is trying hard to not like Aydin, who may not be the instant villain of this situation. 

All in all, Hana wants to save the day but can she protect her own dreams as well as her heart? Jalaluddin is such a lovely writer who weaves humor and pathos together in a perfect design that Jane Austen herself would admire.

 This tip of the hat to Nora Ephron’s triple tribute to Shop Around the Corner, New York and Pride & Prejudice is a beautiful compliment to all of the above and then some:



In Chris Bohjalian’s historical fiction, the reality of a woman’s place in Puritan society during the early days of America is keenly felt.

Mary Deerfield does her best to find some joy in her marriage to Thomas, an older man who unleashes the worst of his violent temper towards her in private. When his acts of abuse become harder to hide, she flees to her parents’ house in order to get a divorce.

Unfortunately, despite the wealth and status of her own family, Mary has little influence in the matter. Worse of all, she is in danger of being charged with witchcraft, a claim that endangers her life.

Is she being set up by her husband and his indentured servant girl(who would love to be the next Mrs. Deerfield) or are there some supernatural elements at play here? Either way, Mary must make some hard decisions to preserve her freedom and life.

Bohjalian’s tale is a steady slow burn that mixes court room drama, historical settings and feminism in a hearty stew that simmers to a thoughtful and ultimately satisfying conclusion. A page turning dish suitable for all seasons.


Grady Hendrix has been on quite the roll with his style of pop culture themed stories featuring strong women at the helm. His latest one, a splattered yet sincere salute to the heroines of horror is definitely a cut above the rest.

Our leading lady here is Lynette, who has grown weary of the title meetings and is willing to stick with her self imposed strictly solo lifestyle, keeping company with a plant named Plant.

That option becomes not viable as the members of her unique group are being hunted down by unknown enemies. Having no choice but to rely on each other as the body count grows higher, Lynette and company have to battle a new set of personal demons as brutally as they can.

With the various slasher movie references mixed with dark humor and heartfelt twists and turns, this book could a rough ride for some. Yet, for those who do take a seat on this fabulous frenzy of a novel, it’s well worth the price of admission:



Writer and comedian Amber Ruffin teams up with her sister Lacey Lamar to share some insight and humor into the way too many to count racial incidents in their lives.

From being followed in stores to work place encounters  and best mistaken for  Black celebrities that they do not resemble at all, Ruffin and Lamar showcase the sad reality of racism with a strong sense of self and a few laughs to make these situations better to cope with.

As a fan of Ruffin’s work on Late Night with Seth Meyers and her own streaming series on Peacock, The Amber Ruffin Show, this book is a heartfelt reflection of the tough times  that she and her sister (who is equally as eloquent as her famous sibling in her storytelling sections) have dealt with on a sadly regular basis.

Over the past few years, it’s been hard for me to engage with nonfiction books due to the dire nature of the news headlines making that whole “truth stranger than fiction “ saying way too real.

However, this was the one nonfiction title that I was determined to read and I hope that others do as well for the excellent insights and savvy humor that Amber and her sister Lacey have graciously given us all:

These books and many others were wonderful to read this year and I plan to enjoy many more in 2022. 

So this is my last post of 2021 and I thank you all for stopping by to check my small corner of the pop culture world out. I also thank all of the authors on this list as well as the many others out there who have persisted in giving readers like me well needed respites during these difficult days.

While unity seems pretty much impossible right now on far too many fronts, a good story can be a great start to coming together and hopefully, that distance can grow smaller and smaller as time goes by.

Happy Holidays to everyone and see you in the new year:

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Booking a good time at the movies

 While we’re still at a crossroads between getting back to “normal “ and staying safe during the sadly still ongoing health crisis in the world, there are some sources of much needed entertainment relief out there such as the movies.

Whether you can find a theater that feels right for your level of comfort or prefer to stick with streaming services, there are some buzz worthy films around that have the added bonus of being book adaptations to boot.

A major one is House of Gucci, with an all star cast that includes Adam Driver, Al Pacino and Lady Gaga in a true crime story based on Sara Gay Forden’s 2001 nonfiction book.

The lynchpin of the real life and cinematic tale is Patrizia Reggiani(Lady Gaga) who marries into the Gucci family and has plenty of ideas about how to run the acclaimed fashion empire. 

Pushed out by family politics , she is bound and determined to gain control of the company, especially since the current heirs to the corporate throne are either incompetent or uninterested in maintaining the high standards of their legacy(including her husband!).

That drive does lead to scandal and murder, which should make for a hell of a movie at the very least. While the reviews have been mixed, most would agree that Gaga’s performance is well worth the price of admission:

Due out at a multiplex near you as well as Netflix, The Power of the Dog stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank, a surly rancher who feuds with his new sister in law Rose(Kirsten Dunst).

Phil’s vicious behavior doesn’t fully extend to Rose’s son Peter(Kodi Smit-McPhee) who he once mocked but reluctantly befriends over time. A number of secrets and lies become revealed which explains Phil’s aggressive nature and possibly seals his ultimate fate.

I don’t know how close to the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage this film is but director/screenplay writer Jane Campion is receiving some of the highest praise in her career here for it. Seems like a future Oscar contender for sure:

Now for something completely different indeed in Nightmare Alley, which has Bradley Cooper playing a 1940s era hustler named Stanton Carlisle.

Stanton has been learning a few extra tricks of the trade, thanks to carnival performers such as fortune teller Zeena(Toni Collette) and former top mentalist Pete(David Strathairn).

 Now, he’s aiming for bigger targets in high society, partnering with the innocent looking Molly(Rooney Mara) and savvy shrink Lilith Ritter(Cate Blanchett).

As his scheme starts to unfold, Stanton grows suspicious of Ritter’s intentions and begins to wonder if her endgame is far more ruthless than his.

Although this story was made into a Tyrone Powell film , director and co-screenwriter Guillermo del Toro insists that the original 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham was the direct inspiration for this current adaptation. That sounds right, given del Toro’s style, and seeing him take on a full on noir piece like this ought to be quite the game changer there:

I hope that by this time next year, the decision to see a movie at home or in theaters is less of a health based concern. At least, our options in this regard are getting better and more convenient for many people who want a taste of movie magic in their lives.

Meanwhile, having a good book to screen adaptation in any format is fun to talk about with friends and fans alike(not to mention a good excuse to get together for much needed rewatching!). While the book is usually better, a good movie version is not to be overlooked at all:

Monday, November 29, 2021

My Series-ous Reading gets a little cheesy in order to Inherit The Word


As this year of Series-ous Reading is coming to a close, I have to say that diving into this Cozy Comfort Food of mysteries has been fun. 

While I have made last minute changes to this bookish menu, the main fictional feast has been a very tasty and relaxing time indeed.

For this next to last page turning meal, Daryl Wood Gerber’s  Inherit The Word (the second entree of her Cookbook Nook series) had plenty on the plate to chew over. Jenna Hart, the widowed co-owner of the culinary themed bookstore set in the beachside town of Crystal Cove, is busy enough with playing host to the annual Grill Fest competition without a small mystery of a personal nature to deal with.

Her playful kitten Tigger happens to knock over a Lucky Cat statue given to Jenna by her late husband David (whose unusual death once had her suspected of doing him in), breaking it to reveal several gold coins and a key.

While she has no idea about where the coins came from or what this key unlocks, Jenna is given the perfect excuse to take her time finding out. During the first round of Grill Fest, whose theme this year is grilled cheese, one of the most contentious contenders, Natalie Mumford, is found dead right behind the shop!

Due to Natalie’s less than friendly nature, plenty of suspects abound but when the focus is on Lola, the mother of Jenna’ longtime friend, Bailey, Jenna finds herself looking into the case.

Granted, there were a good number of folks on hand that day who knew how to handle a panini press, which was the weapon of choice here. However, the grilled cheese contest may not have been the motive for murder:

As Jenna looks more into the case, Natalie’s family is appearing to be less than innocent. From melancholy daughter Ellen and her spendthrift lout of a husband Willie to Norah, the newly arrived older sister, money might truly be the cause of Natalie’s demise.

Meanwhile, Jenna has to ultimately face the mystery that David left behind and the solution to that puzzle spells out a shocking secret that changes her memories of him for good.

What I am really liking about this series so far is the setting of this small yet viable town that offers both lively activity and a peaceful retreat all at once.

Crystal Cove may be in California but it has Stars Hollow energy, with these Gilmore Girls worthy characters such as the eternally cranky Pepper Pritchett, Jenna’s Aunt Vera ,who  always is ready with a healing crystal and fortune telling based advice and Katie, the quirky chef at the Cookbook Nook’s cafe.

One of the nicest subplots in this story is a budding romance between Katie and Keller, an ice cream maker who sells by bike. I hope that this spark of love grows into something more with each book in this series:

Jenna has a potential love interest of her own, Rhett, who was unjustly accused of setting a restaurant fire years ago. 

While he’s mostly a supporting player of the emotional kind this time around, chances are that Rhett will become more of a leading man as time goes on.

I do plan to read the third Cookbook Nook mystery, Stirring the Plot, next year and despite the Halloween theme, probably won’t wait until October to do so.

This combo of mystery, cooking and books is the best recipe for cozy reading in my opinion. Plus, there are loads of cookbook recommendations sprinkled throughout the story and yes, recipes that include new versions of classic favorites like the grilled cheese sandwiches served up with a smile here:

For our final course in this Cozy Comfort Feast, dessert is definitely called for. 

With that in mind, I’m ready to have a slice of Joanne Fluke’s Weddings Cake Murder just as soon as I finish up  Double Fudge Brownie Murder first!

Hannah Swenson is about to get married but not to either one of her regular beaus, Mike and Norman. Instead, she’s walking down the aisle with Ross, a former college sweetheart and filmmaker who we met a few books back. I’m still Team Norman, regardless of that!

Anyway, Hannah is too busy to plan her big day as she’s competing in a Food Channel contest being held in New York. While her culinary skills are earning her big wins, those sleuthing talents of hers also make an appearance when one of the judges takes their last bite out of life.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the groom, seeing Hannah get married should be a sweet treat to end this round of Series-ous Reading right:

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Thankful for a Library Haul


With the holidays fast approaching, it feels like there’s not enough time to prepare for them as well as enjoy the delights of the season to boot.

However, getting something good to read is as important as finding the ideal vegetables for your Thanksgiving side dishes(my mom is a rutabaga fan)so a library trip combined with a little grocery shopping was fruitful on both counts.

The first book on my to-be-borrowed pile was Lucy Foley’s  The Guest List, which I had tried to read in ebook form last year but it was too popular a library loan to have for long.

The story is set on an island, where celebrity couple Will Slater and Julia Keegan are having their big wedding. The occasion is fraught with tension already from jealous members of the wedding party, not to mention a mysterious note given to the bride warning her about the groom , before a murder is announced during the reception.

The fact the Irish island where this wedding is taking place was formerly best known as the site of a gruesome massacre doesn’t inspire much confidence among the still living attendees. Can those who remain survive long enough to discover the killer in their midst?

This book happens to be a Reese Witherspoon book club selection and I tend to like many of those page turning picks of hers. Also, TGL has been favorably compared to the Agatha Christie classic, And There Were None, which adds some extra sinister spice to the party mix indeed:

The next novel that caught my eye was That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron. 

The title lady is Jennie Jerome Churchill, the mother of historic British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Well before he was born, Jennie was making a name for herself in more ways than one.

Jennie was an American heiress(one of those Edith Wharton style “buccaneers “)  who married Lord Randolph Churchill and became a very well received society wife, eager to advance her husband’s political career.

As time went on, it was clear to her that she was in a marriage of connivance and in order to find true affection, Jennie had to look elsewhere. That pursuit of passion did not affect her determination to advance the goals that her husband and then later on, her son had in mind to make the world a better place.

I’ve read several of Barron’s Jane Austen Mystery books and really liked them, so that alone makes this worth a try. Plus, this story sounds like a good way to learn a bit more about Jennie Churchill, a woman who seemed to know how to make the best of things while staying true to herself:

To round this library stack off, I went with A Wrench in the Works by Kate Carlisle, one of the books in her Fixer-Upper Mystery series.

Shannon Hammer is well known for her home renovation skills along with her knack for solving murders but her sister Chloe is more of a household name due to her popular show on the Home Builders Network.

When Chloe and her film crew come to their hometown of Lighthouse Cove for some special episodes, Shannon is happy to see her sister again after being ten years apart from each other.

 Yet, despite Chloe’s seemingly successful life, there are some hidden tensions and secrets that threaten to be revealed when her executive producer Bree is found as dead as a door nail.

Can Shannon use both sides of her toolbox to help her sister out of this sticky situation or is Chloe painted into a deadly corner with no way out?

Over this past year, I have become a fan of Carlisle’s Bibliophile Mysteries titles(reading one as we speak at the moment) and thought that checking out her other cozy mystery series would be fun. 

Also, some of these books have been turned into Hallmark Channel movies and this gives me good reason to watch a couple of them before the new year begins:

While I must confess to not having finished all of the books from my last library haul(the Stephen King book was read quickly) but I do have higher hopes for this TBR pile.

Mostly, I’m thankful to be able to visit my local library on a regular basis and that we still have the right to read freely, a right that is being challenged more and more these days. Things are bad enough as it is without simple minded folk attempting to force their particular brand  of narrow thinking upon all of society.

Hopefully, a celebration such as Thanksgiving can unite us in focusing on what positive energy we can bring to the collective dinner table as well as set up more chairs for others to join in and contribute to the mutual bounty. 

So, I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving and/or Friendsgiving to relax, have a great meal and spend a little time with your loved ones, perhaps watching a classic or sharing a fine read:

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Making a list and checking it thrice for the Christmas Spirit readathon


With Thanksgiving about a week away, it’s close enough to start making those holiday plans and that includes reading for me. Once again, I’m signing up to partake in the Seasons of Reading Christmas Spirit readathon (hosted by the awesome Michelle Miller).

The readathon and its  adjacent challenge has a great time span, starting on November 22 and ending in early January, which grants you plenty of page turning hours to have during this busy season.

My TBR will be small but sweet here, beginning with a very cozy stocking stuffer of a read:

EGGNOG MURDER: Having enjoyed Halloween Party Murder by this trip of cozy mystery authors-Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis and Barbara Ross-I thought that it might be fun to see how one of their happy holidays collections would be.

The title tale belongs to Meier’s Lucy Stone as she fears the recent demise of Dorcas Philpott via an allergic reaction to the classic seasonal drink may have been meant for the spouse of a good friend. Death by Eggnog from Hollis has Hayley Powell trying to discover who wanted eternally cranky librarian Agatha to  check out for good.

Barbara Ross wraps things up with Nogged Off as her crime fighting heroine Julia Snowden finds herself hosting an unexpected guest for the holidays and a deadly trip to take as well.

While I’m not a fan of eggnog, I can appreciate the nostalgic joy folks take from imbibing this occasionally spiked drink around this time of year. Much like the drink itself, this set of savvy sleuthing ladies can be entertainingly versatile when the situation calls for it:

IN A HOLIDAZE:  Writer Christina Lauren introduces us to Maelyn Jones, who is spending her holidays with her family at the cabin they share with the Hollis family 

As it turns out, Maelyn has had a longtime  crush on one of the Hollis sons, Andrew. Instead of finally telling him how she feels, Maelyn winds up sharing a kiss with his brother Theo and following the news that the elder Hollises want to sell the cabin, Maelyn is convinced that this is the worst Christmas of her life.

However, on her way home, she finds herself caught in a time loop that allows her to relive that holiday week and perhaps get a chance to change her life for the better. 

I remember hearing a lot of good word about this book and I’ve never read Lauren before, so this should be a real delight of a seasonal story there. After all, after the past couple of years, plenty of us would welcome the opportunity to have a redo of last Christmas:

CANDLELIGHT CHRISTMAS:  Part of the Lakeshore Chronicles series by Susan Wiggs, this holiday romance brings together two people not quite sure of heading into that heartfelt fire of emotion.

Darcy has just gotten out of a bad marriage when she meets Logan, a single father who wants to focus on turning the ski lodge that he bought into a viable business.

Thanks to India, Logan’s sister and Darcy’s friend, the two of them find themselves meeting up again and again. With a visit to his ski lodge during the holiday season, Logan and Darcy slowly realize that denying the chemistry they share together could be a huge mistake on both their parts.

I have to say that discovering the novels of Susan Wiggs this year has made my reading life a bit brighter and that makes me look forward to this book as much as any kid waiting for that special gift on Christmas Day.

Not to mention that the whole single parent falling in love during the snowy season theme makes me want binge some classic Gilmore Girls episodes (which I may do!):

There is still time to sign up for this readathon and thanks again to Michelle for keeping that reading spirit alive and well all year long.

Diving into the Christmas Spirit readathon does not mean that I’m fast forwarding Thanksgiving at all.

 On the contrary, my ThankFall Reading is going along quite nicely as I am now reading the second book on my list(A Cookbook Conspiracy) and had so fun with Ellery Adams’ Murder in the Cookbook Nook that I picked two more books in that particular series!

When it comes to the holidays, a little friendly feasting is fine whether it’s food, books or fun. Just be sure that in the food department, you take care where your recipes come from for a more deliciously digestible day:

Monday, November 08, 2021

Booking some back in time reading

I know that for many folks the challenge of Nonfiction November is a tempting one indeed.

As for me, I prefer my history with a side of fiction there. Yes, facts are important and well planned research is to be appreciated.

However, I’m not alone in wanting to imagine what those times in the past were like for both regular people and prominent folk alike and historical fiction is the ultimate immersive experience, if you ask me.

November just feels perfect for diving into a fresh batch of historical fiction and a recent release, The Pilot’s Daughter by Meredith Jaeger , is a prime pick on my reading list.

The story begins in 1945, as reporter Ellie Morgan is more concerned about finding her missing in action father(presumed to have perished in the war) than her upcoming wedding.

Her search takes her to the San Francisco home of her Aunt Iris with a stack of love letters written to her father by a woman who wasn’t her mother.

Iris is less than thrilled to stroll down this particular path on Memory Lane as it leads back to her days as a Ziegfeld Follies dancer in New York during the 1920s, where she had a few unsavory encounters. One of those secrets may have lead to murder.

Despite the risk of revelation, Iris joins Ellie in her quest to discover the truth behind those past and present mysteries. One of the most intriguing elements of this book is that part of the plot is inspired by an actual cold case involving the death of a rather popular Ziegfeld Follies entertainer, so there’s something for the true crime crowd to take in as well here:

 In the meanwhile, I am catching up with a title that was set aside in order to focus more on my current readathon books.

Katherine Parr:The Sixth Wife is naturally the final book in Alison Weir’s Six Queens series about the wives of Henry the VIII. Being the one who “survived “ tends to get her overlooked by history and pop culture but as it turns out, Parr has plenty going on her own life before Henry showed up.

Widowed twice, Parr hoped to marry for love the third time around as she and courtier Thomas Seymour formed a serious attachment. Knowing how dangerous it would be to refuse an offer of marriage from this particular king, she planned to use her unwelcome position as queen to encourage religious reforms and perhaps moderate Henry’s quick temper.

Her steadfast nature made her several enemies, one of whom attempted to have Parr tried for heresy. Nonetheless, even when Henry finally died, she found no easy respite from the aftermath of the Tudor reign.

Weir’s background as a historian really works well with  her fictional takes on the characters, blending both of her storytelling sides as skillfully as a chef creates a simmering stew of delights. While I do still have one book in this series left to read(Jane Seymour), this finale promises to be a grand one worthy of applause:

I got some great news in my email over the weekend, that I won a giveaway for Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest work, Velvet Was The Night (such a great mouth feel to this title!).

Set in Mexico during the turbulent 1970s, we meet Maite, a bored secretary who finds herself caught up in unexpected intrigue as a cat feeding favor for one of her neighbors becomes a missing person case.

She’s joined by a man who calls himself Elvis, whose reason for seeking out this vanished lady is potentially deadly and possibly political. As the two of them dive into the who, what , where and why of this joint venture, the main question is how much are they meant to be together.

Moreno-Garcia conquers every genre that she tackles and this mix of history and mystery sounds like a good page turning beat that your imagination can dance to:

I don’t know how soon Velvet Was The Night will arrive but I know it’ll be worth the wait. That’s the thing about historical fiction; all of these tales tend to marinate into wonderful mental feasts as time goes on and finding those recipes are a true treasure that never grows old.

Of course, the best compliment to any work of nonfiction is that “it reads like a novel!” and that holds true both on and off the page;

Monday, November 01, 2021

Finishing up my FrightFall with a side of Series-ous Reading

 While the season of trick or treating was a pretty quiet time for many of us again this year, there were still plenty of wicked delights to be had.

Mine came from the annual FrightFall readathon (hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading). I started with a trio of cozy mysteries stories entitled Halloween Party Murder featuring Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis and Barbara Ross. Since I’m familiar with Meier’s Lucy Stone series and Ross’ Maine Clambake mysteries, those seasonal tales were easily engaging there.

Lee Hollis’ Death of a Halloween Party Monster was my first introduction to her Hayley Powell mystery books and a good one indeed. Hayley is having an opening night party for her new catering business on Halloween with the theme of movie monsters.

Things seem to be going well, even with an obnoxious guest, music teacher Boris Candy, having too much fun scaring Hayley’s brother in law (and local police chief) Sergio with his Pennywise costume.

At the end of the party, Hayley is in the midst of cleaning up when Boris offers one last scare; his dead body in the freezer. Can she help Sergio find the killer before everyone is out the door and into the night?

The story was fun, with several amusing fights from a last minute arrival, who was rather appropriately outfitted as Cruella DeVil, that made the closed room caper move merrily along. That entry also included recipes and columns written by Hayley that showcased her character more in depth.

The Lucy Stone story had some good zip to it, despite the ending being a little dragged out and the Julia Snowden section from Barbara Ross played out well. With her niece Paige calling for help as a simple slumber party turns into an out of control teen takeover, Julia already expected trouble before she arrived to save the situation.

As it happened, the party ended even before the police showed up due to upstairs neighbor Mrs. Zelisko fatally floating downstairs. While none of the teen attendees were responsible for her demise, there was an uninvited guest who had unfinished business with Mrs. Zelisko, who was far from innocent in her own professional dealings about town.

Each story shared the Halloween party theme yet displayed their own fictional worlds separately. That made for a scary sweet platter of holiday reading treats that satisfied my cozy mystery cravings perfectly:

The night before Halloween, I finished Catherine House by Elizabeth Thomas and it’s a sinister slow burn of a read.

Our leading lady is Ines, who has been accepted to the title academy for their three year course of intense study. While the institute requires no contact with the outside world, many of their graduates have gone on to make major careers for themselves in science, art, politics, etc.That endgame seems to make the stifling inclusive nature of the place worth while or does it?

Ines is just glad to be somewhere that protects her from the consequences of a wild night out that lead to the death of a girl she barely knew. While trying to get motivated enough to pursue any serious academic goal, she finds herself intrigued by the secretive studies being held on plasm, the source of controversy by a former professor and allegedly no longer use for experiments.

As Ines goes on with her mix of hard studying and hard partying with her friends, she can’t help being curious about the plasm experimentation that is still going on at the school. That curiosity leads her down a few strange corridors that could be more dangerous than she expected there.

Catherine House is subtle with its storytelling suspense and at times is enchantingly gothic with a modern day flair. As a debut novel, Thomas presents a rather lively mind at work here and I look forward to seeing what she does next.

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix was the headliner for me this FrightFall. Once a member of a promising heavy metal band, Kris Pulanski finds herself decades later trapped in a dead end hotel clerk job with nothing to show for her musical career.

When Terry Hunt, the lead singer of her old band Durt Wurk, announces his farewell tour for his solo group Koffin, Kris is stirred by conflicting memories of the past, enough to pick up her guitar again and head out on the road to get the band back together.

That reunion tour is more terrifying that she expected as the fog begins to lift on the night that Durt Wurk signed off on contracts that ended their run and made Terry a superstar. A deal was made with supernatural forces that demanded the best album the band ever wrote to be shelved for good and perhaps an even more personal price be paid.

Hendrix has a great knack for blending nostalgia with strong female leads, plus a solid sense of humor that doesn’t undermine the fear factor in his stories.

 Kris is a great rock and rock warrior woman who not only has to battle with evil entities in the form of UPS delivery men and deal with band mate betrayal, she also has to save the world from utter damnation with music as her ultimate weapon of choice. 

Balancing that divide between heartfelt devotion and balls to read wall terror is hard as hell yet Hendrix makes it look so easy. Granted, it does help if you’re even a casual fan of old school heavy metal (guilty as charged) but I do think that this book could be a good gateway to that genre for newcomers. 

All in all, FrightFall was a fun ride and thanks again to Michelle Miller for making it possible yet again. If I had to recommend only one of my FF reads here, We Sold Our Souls definitely has the looks that kill:

I also wanted to give a shout-out to my latest Series-ous Reading selection, Ellie Alexander’s Mocha, She Wrote.

This new entry in her Bakeshop Mystery series has expanding culinary entrepreneur Jules Capshaw cheering on her top barista Andy in his first big coffee competition.

The Barista Cup has come to Ashland with Andy not only facing deadly serious competitors like five time winner Sammy and trendy Diego, head judge Benson Vargas already seems to have it for him. One of Andy’s early offerings causes Benson to spit out the drink, making his chances of winning appear to go down the drain:

Andy vows to redeem himself by making Benson a fresh cup which he is able to hand to the judge by the time the first round is done for the day.

Unfortunately, that was literally Benson’s last cup of coffee that was deadly to the last drop and while Jules knows without a doubt that Andy is innocent, proving that is a hard grind indeed.

Despite a potful of suspects on hand, trouble is brewing for Andy but can Jules rescue him before the beans are spilled for good? 

I have to hand it to Alexander for the wonderful way she has made this series stay so warm and inviting as time goes on.

 You don’t just tune in for the mystery adventure here, you have a good time in walking the streets of Ashland and meeting up old fictional friends like Lance, theater director extraordinaire and crime solving cohort and The Professor, the about to retire police detective ready with a Shakespeare quote for any occasion.

Even the occasional appearance by local nemesis Richard Lord is welcome and seeing new characters such as Rosa and Sequoia become part of the Bakeshop family is an additional treat to boot. Kudos to Ellie Alexander on yet another Bakeshop Mystery read and looking forward to many more:

At the moment, I’ve started this month’s Series-ous Reading pick and it’s the second book in Daryl Wood Gerber’s Cookbook Nook series, Inherit The Word .

Jenna Hart and her Aunt Vera are doing well with their cookbook themed bookshop/cafe but keeping interest going during the off season of their beach front town is tricky going to be sure.

When the opportunity to host the annual grilling competition arrives, Jenna is happy to oblige and with the challenge this year being grilled cheese, this event seems to be too good to be true.

Sadly, a fatal find happens during the competition with an old family friend being grilled about their possible involvement. Can Jenna save the day and the entire event from a complete murderous meltdown?

Grilled cheese may not sound exciting but trust me, there’s more to this savory sandwich and this story than meets the eye:

Monday, October 25, 2021

Trying out some ThankFall reading


I know that Halloween is almost here and that it might feel too soon to talk about Thanksgiving but then again, making more reading plans is suitable for all seasons.

With FrightFall nearly at an end and other big challenges such as National Novel Writing Month(NaNoWriMo) and Nonfiction November on the literary horizon, I thought it might be nice to embark on a small reading journey of my own this time around.

As some of you may know, I try to promote the spirit of Thanksgiving, which seems to be downplayed more and more each year, by mentioning pop culture themes on my blog to stir up those good Turkey Day vibes.

Well, for this year I want to encourage folks to seek out books that carry that sense of holiday joy yet don’t have to be directly about Thanksgiving. I’m calling it ThankFall Reading and the main requirement for any book that you choose for this challenge  is that it has to have connections to food,family/friends and togetherness.

My trio of ThankFall reads also happens to have a shared theme of cookbooks(sort of unintentionally intentional there) and yes, two of them are cozy mysteries:

Murder in the Cookbook Nook:  In this Ellery Adams series, Jane Steward runs a hotel known as Storyton Hall where bookish events take place, along with the occasional murder.

The case to be solved by Jane and company involves a cooking competition hosted by Mia Mallett, featuring a number of popular chefs. The most obnoxious of the bunch, Chef Pierce, is soon discovered in the hotel’s culinary book spot, leaving an open position in the competition as well as a pantry full of savory suspects.

I haven’t read this series before,however I am a fan of Adams’ The Secret, Book and Scone Society novels (just finished the latest one, Ink and Shadows) and being familiar with the author’s heartfelt character development and gently guided style of sleuthing, I have full confidence in starting the Book Retreat mysteries at this particular point:

A Cookbook Conspiracy:

Brooklyn Wainwright is better at restoring old books and finding killers than she is at cooking, a talent that her sister Savannah had in abundance.

When Savannah asks Brooklyn to rebind a cookbook from the 1800s as a gift for Baxter Cromwell, a famous chef who is opening a new restaurant, she’s happy to do so and attend the launch party to boot.

While the opening seems to be going great, things come to a sudden halt as the guest of honor is found stabbed to death. To make matters worse, Savannah is also on the scene with a bloody knife in hand and the gifted cookbook  has vanished into thin air.

With the help of her now retired British secret agent boyfriend Derek, Brooklyn is out to clear her sister’s name and retrieve that cookbook , which may prove to be the real motive behind this murder.

This title is the seventh book in Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile Mystery series, one that I have been reading way out of order(recently completed the newest entry,Little Black Book, thanks to a library loan).

It does help that Carlisle does make new readers feel welcome on the page and into the social sphere of her characters as they seek the truth of the murderous matter before them. Combined with a wonderful love of books and food, Brooklyn Wainwright is someone that I would love to share a shopping spree with any time of year:

Family Tree:  This Susan Wiggs novel introduces us to Annie Rush, who has awaken from a coma into a new life.

Annie was once the producer of a successful cooking show which starred her handsome husband Martin. Discovering his lack of fidelity just before the accident that took her down for over year is only the start of Annie’s troubles.

Working on recovering her health and memories, she finds support from her family back home on their maple farm as well as Fletcher, Annie’s high school sweetheart who has come a long way from his bad boy days.

 Finding her grandmother’s old cookbook has helped to revive the past in a good way but will it lead Annie towards a brighter future?

The works of Susan Wiggs have become a welcome joy this year for me and one that lightens my spirits without being watered down escapism. Rather,  what Wiggs does is set up a showcase for the struggles of life while offering a reasonably good and well earned outcome for her fictional folk. That’s not an easy feat to pull off and I salute her for it:

While this is just my personal reading challenge for November, I invite anyone else who likes this idea to give it a try for themselves. I’m not the type that is great at arranging readathons(like Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for example) but I do like making suggestions there.

What I really want out of ThankFall Reading is to hold on to some of the joy of life, that element being harder and harder to come by these days. Yes, things are still bad right now but they can get better, especially if we make the effort to help each other out through this instead of sowing more chaos.

Reading a good book may sound like a small self indulgent thing but it’s really not. It’s a way to rebound your sinking spirits and reconnect with humanity by reviving your empathy. Thanksgiving is more than just a big meal to get through, it is a time to embrace what positive things are around you as we head towards the end of another year together in the world.

If you give ThankFall Reading a chance, it might make what lies ahead a little less daunting. At the very least, you could have something to savor over a slice of your favorite holiday pie and perhaps someone to share that space with you:

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A good feeling for a Fall Library Haul


Despite the calendar dates, that beautiful bone chilling feeling of autumn has been hard to come by these days.

However, yesterday was much more in sync with the season, so much so that I was willing to face strong cold winds and a brief bout of rain to make a library visit.

Since we’re in the midst of “spooky season “, my first pick was Stephen King’s If It Bleeds, his most recent collection of stories. I’m not a big short story/novella person but his well told tales are always worth sitting around the collective campfire for.

While stories such as “Rat”, where a writer makes a pact with an unusual rodent and “Mr.Harriman’s Phone” which has a young man finding out that there’s more than he bargained for with his IPhone calling plan, the title feature is the main attraction for me.

The lead story focuses on Holly Gibney, the breakout star from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy and The Outsider. She is investigating a school bombing with her true target being the first reporter on the scene. As it turns out, there is more to that guy than just finding a good news story and he’s not alone in feasting on real life horrors.

Holly gets a bit of backstory here as well and she’s definitely a fictional person of interest that I’d like to know better:

In keeping with the October spirit, my next selection was My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier. I must admit that finding the recent movie tie in edition was a big incentive towards this(Rachel Weisz is quite eerily captivating on this cover!).

Also, I had just finished Kate Carlisle’s Little Black Book(her latest Bibliophile mystery) the day before and a good portion of the plot was hinged on secret messages place in a copy of Rebecca. That certainly put me in the right frame of mind here.

This Gothic themed love story in which young Phillip is possibly bewitched and definitely bothered by his attraction to his cousin’s widow is suitably sinister for this time of year and I might check out the movie if this read goes well:

With November not that far off, I do like to have a bit of historical fiction on hand and The Poppy Wife felt like the perfect find on the library shelf in that regard.

This debut novel by Caroline Scott takes place in the aftermath of WWI as Edie, a young British woman who is not sure if her husband Francis survived or not, decides to go to France in 1921 to settle the question once and for all.

She’s accompanied by Henry, her young brother in law who is still haunted by the death of his younger brother Will during the heat of battle. As the two of them get closer to learning the truth about Francis, they also must face the reality of their feelings about each other.

Scott is a historian who drew from her own family’s past as inspiration for this book, which should make for compelling reading. The true lure for taking up this storytelling journey for me, however, is seeing the depths of true love up against such an epic background like this:

With the way things are going these days, settling in with a good book is becoming more appealing and having my local library open again is a great comfort there.

Combined with the onset of wonderfully cold weather and the arrival of seasonal baking shows, this constant reader is planning on being as content as can be as the days go by:

Monday, October 11, 2021

A Fall Foliage of Reading


It’s better late than never as they say and that should apply to book preview posts as well.

Due to setting up a new late summer challenge (Autumn in August) and other matters at hand, my bimonthly book previews have fallen a tad behind.

Not to mention the growing concerns about a book publishing shortage, which is causing many release dates to be moved furthest and further back. However, all of that is no reason not to help spread the good word about upcoming titles for the rest of the season and to that end, let’s begin with a book that is arriving this week,  The Party Crasher by Sophie Kinsella.

Effie Talbot’s childhood memories have been upturned by her father’s announcement of selling Greenoaks, the long held family home. It’s bad enough that he divorced her well loved stepmom over a year ago and hooked up with Krista, who is way younger than him but now this?

As Krista is celebrating the sale with a “house cooling “ party, Effie declares that she will not attend yet this gathering could provide sufficient cover for her to reclaim a set of dolls that belonged to her grandmother.

Of course, such plans are never as simple as they seem and while finding her dolls,Effie unexpectedly uncovers a few secrets and lies along the way to possibly reconnect with her past and present life.

Kinsella is known for the good natured humor given to her character’s situations while not underplaying their problems as punchlines. This story feels like a solid example of her signature style that should provide welcome relief from your daily stresses indeed (Oct.12)


In Julie Tieu’s delicious debut, The Donut Trap, our leading lady is Jasmine, who left med school due to burnout and is now working in the family bakery called Sunshine Donuts.

While she does long to change her life, Jasmine never thought that change would come in the form of Alex, a guy she once met in school and has never run into since then.

Meeting up with him again sets off a serious spark between them that could lead to something more lasting. Can that happen,however, when a family dinner causes a commotion that promises to extinguish their spirits?

This look at life, family and the love of donuts sounds the perfect sweet treat of the season)November):

Abby Collette has shown a knack for crime solving stories served with edible intrigue and her new series , Books and Biscuits Mystery, is off to a fine start.

In Body and Soul Food, reunited twins Koby and Keaton decided to open up their own business , a bookshop with a soul food cafe.

This idea seems like a great way to begin their new lives in the small town of Timber Lake. Those dreams may be derailed unfortunately by the sudden demise of Koby’s foster brother who died in broad daylight in between light rail crossings.

While the police have no clue as to who and why, Koby and Keaton know only that they have to team up to discover what caused this sudden deadly  departure in the first place. 

Hopefully, they can find the killer before opening day of Books and Biscuits becomes a permanent closing day in more ways than one. Collette already has a fan in me with her Ice Cream Parlor mysteries (A Killer Sundae is set for next year!) and this double trouble detective tale is a welcome addition to her literary menu(Nov.).


Speaking of mysteries, the latest in Jane K. Cleland’s series of Josie Prescott Antique cozies should interest Jane Austen readers very much there.

In Jane Austen’s Lost Letters, Josie is surprised by an older woman who delivers a package supposedly from Josie’s late father without a word of explanation. The package in question not only has a letter addressed to her from her father , it also contains a pair of letters from Jane Austen herself!

Such items would be rare indeed and as Josie seeks out the mystery woman known as Veronica Sutton to learn what she knows about her father and these letters, she discovers that some secrets are deathly determined to be kept.

This series is new to me but the bookish combination of antiques and Austen is most inviting for further investigation (December):

Julia Kelly offers up a look at the end of an English era with The Last Dance of the Debutante.

In 1958 London, Lily is set to be one of the last young ladies to be presented at court, a honor that she doesn’t truly care about.

Wanting to pursue her dressmaking dreams rather turn into another society wife, Lily finds some support from her equally duty bound friends Leana and Katherine .

Yet with both her icy mother and monied matriarch of a grandmother united against her wishes, Lily’s situation is complicated even more by the discovery of a family secret that could ruin them all.

I’ve heard a great deal about Kelly’ books taking the historical fiction section by storm and it appears that her storytelling style is what truly grand excursions into the page turning past are made of(Dec.):

I hope this selection of fresh reads encourages some pre-orders and library holds for your literary season. Also, perhaps one or two of these tempting titles can give you some solace during these hectic times and let you enjoy a few holiday delights like decorating or baking a favorite dish. 

Reading is fundamental in more ways than one at any time of the year and a perfect way to relax in your own special way, despite what others think indeed!:

Monday, October 04, 2021

A Series-ous Reading serving of Blackberry Pie Murder


My Series-ous Reading start to the fall season brought me back to Lake Eden for a slice of Blackberry Pie Murder, the next in line for me in the Hannah Swenson series by Joanne Fluke.

This time out, Hannah is doing well at work but trying to plan her mother’s wedding to Doc Knight(who is a real sweetheart, I must say)is becoming a full time job.

The constant changes of plans, from food to flowers to bridesmaids dresses, is making more folks than Hannah frustrated but it’s she who is bearing the bridezilla brunt of it. Some of that tension may have been in play one morning as Hannah takes Lisa, her partner at the Cookie Jar bakery, to work during a thunderstorm storm.

The hectic road conditions and lightning strike that brings down a tree in their path leads to Hannah’s car hitting and killing a stranger. The man was truly a stranger with no one recognizing him at all. One of the few clues to be found on him was traces of blackberry pie on his shirtfront:

Despite this being an obvious accident, Hannah is charged with homicide and arrested by  the sheriff who is also her brother in law Bill(which ticks her sister Andrea off to no end!) since police detective  Mike, one of Hannah’s occasional boyfriends, refuses to do so.

I have to say that Mike generally annoys me most of the time but here, he does right. He not only refuses to arrest Hannah but takes an unpaid suspension as well based on principle. Norman, the other half of this love triangle, is on hand for emotional support and bail to get Hannah released before her arraignment, equaling things as usual.

Hannah being in jail is an interesting change of pace, although her time spent in a cell over the weekend isn’t too daunting. 

Plenty of folks bring care packages over to her and she doesn’t have to share space with anyone. It’s kind of a sitcom style of legal trouble which you know will work out in the end(or the next book in this case) but still a good bit of character development nonetheless:

The mystery here is who is the victim, which  gets into a rather elaborate plot that involves a returned runaway girl and a pimp with a diamond in his tooth(hey, Norman needed to use his dentistry expertise somehow here!), which is a little over the top but still entertaining.

At the very least, this book got me jumping right
into the next Hannah Swenson story, Double Fudge Brownie Murder, that I will be reading on my regular time. Yet, it will tie into the last book for this Culinary Cozy Feast challenge so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, I did see the new Hallmark Channel adaptation in what is now called the Hannah Swenson Mysteries (instead of Murder She Baked) entitled Sweet Revenge over the summer. Loosely based on Cream Puff Murder, it’s not as lively as the earlier movies and while some of the new additions to the series were fun(Hannah’s younger sister Michelle gets her onscreen  debut!) , others were odd to say the least like Norman getting a dog? 

Sorry but I adore the mini subplot of Hannah’s cat Moishe palling around with Norman’s kitty Cuddles  over the course of the books and hate to see that altered. 

Then again, it’s not too practical to have relay racing cats in a made for TV movie, which is in it’s own cinematic universe anyway. Having Hannah Swenson back on the small screen is a welcome  enough treat as it is:

Well, onto the current Series-ous Reading selection and this title is truly irresistible; Mocha, She Wrote by Ellie Alexander.

This latest entry in The Bakeshop Mystery series focuses on Andy, the beloved barista of Torte who is entering a major coffee competition for the first time.

While Andy has the skills to win big, one of the judges already wants to whittle him down to size and when that unpleasant fellow is found dead with one of Andy’s drinks in hand, Juliet is determined to prove his innocence. Can she show that Andy is good to the last drop or will his future be grounded up for good?

I’m not a coffee person but do appreciate the love of the morning brew and so far, this book is best part of waking up for more good reading:

Monday, September 27, 2021

My FrightFall TBR and the ultimate book terror


With October almost here, one thing is certain and that is the FrightFall readathon is about to begin! Thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading, the pumpkin perfect excuse to read something scary is at hand.

Of course, you don't have to make all of your book choices in the horror/suspense/thriller,etc but it is fun to do so. I decided to be a little smarter with my TBR as my tendency for these challenges is to pick four books and wind up finishing only three of them by the time it's over.

So, why not just pick three books, then? Well, why not-sure, I might read something extra before the end of the month that suits this challenge to a skeleton T(trying to be punny,sorry!) but for now, this sinister trio of page turning terrors should do nicely:

HALLOWEEN PARTY MURDER: This triple dose of seasonal cozy mystery stories has Leslie Meier getting the party started with the title tale that has her sleuthing heroine Lucy Stone on the haunted house scene.

Her new neighbors have set this scare fest up and due to a misunderstanding, Lucy is more than eager to get as many folks as possible to attend the horrifying housewarming event. However, when one of the holiday volunteers becomes an all too real victim, fun time is over for Lucy and all concerned.

Following that fearsome story is Lee Hollis'  entry, Death of a Party Monster, where restaurant chef Hayley Powell is happy to attend a costume party with friends and neighbors are dressed up like movie monsters such as Chucky and Freddy Krueger. 

Yet when the high school music teacher shows up as Pennywise, the local police chief reveals his fear of clowns. It's no laughing matter, especially when that Stephen King costume proves to be the literal death of that teacher and Hayley is the only one on hand to face the music there.

To round things up is Barbara Ross with Scared Off, as her niece Paige has a sleepover with her gal pals that quickly turns into a wild party with beer toting boys. As her aunt Julia Snowden heads over to stop the wild rumpus, the rowdy teens are frightened away by a ghost. Only trouble is, that ghost resembles Mrs. Zelisko, a nearby neighbor who is supposed to check on the girls and hasn't been seen all night!

I was lucky enough to win an early copy of this book(signed by Barbara Ross!) and saved it for this particular occasion. Being familiar with Meier's Lucy Stone books and having visited Ross' Maine Clambake Mysteries over the summer, I feel very thrilled to dive in here. Lee Hollis is new to me but I love the notion of a Halloween party with film fiend costumes so all in all, this set of Halloween flavored treats promises to be a page turning party indeed:

WE SOLD OUR SOULS: This take on musical hell from Grady Hendrix focuses on a heavy metal band known as Durt Wurk whose lead singer Terry Hunt sold out his group(and namely, lead guitar Kris Pulaski) to gain fame and glory for himself alone.

Decades later, Kris is stuck in a dead end job and finds that her former friend did make an actual deal with the devil that truly dooms her and the rest of Durt Wurk, not to mention the massive crowds of fans following Terry and his new band Koffin on their farewell tour.

To save her own soul, along with numerous others, Kris takes up her guitar once again to hit the road and call out Terry before he truly unleashes hell on earth.

Having read several of Hendrix's works in ebook form(including his latest, The Final Girls Support Group, which is beyond awesome!), I'm happy to report that my copy of WSOS is a physical one. While his quick paced writing is fun to enjoy in any format, having a Grady Hendrix novel on my bookshelf is the best sinister season treat for me:

CATHERINE HOUSE:  In this debut novel from Elisabeth Thomas, our leading lady is Ines, who agrees to spend three years of her life at this exclusive academic setting of the title. 

Those who have completed a full course of independent study at this institute have gone on to bigger and better positions in the world, making Ines appear to be fortunate indeed.

However, once she arrives, Ines notices an intense atmosphere that draws many of her fellow students into being part of a series of secret experiments being held in the basement. Experiments that may be more dangerous than curiosity was to the cat....

I've heard a lot about this book and the whole premise has a great modern Gothic vibe to it, plus it's said to be a good example of the genre known as dark academia(such as Donna Tartt's The Secret History). Smart,scary and secretive,all makes for quite the combo to create a good terror tale, if you ask me:

What's more terrifying than any of these books,however, is the ultimate threat to free speech and that monster's name is censorship.

 With so much misinformation swirling about these days and local school board meetings becoming battlegrounds for chaos seekers to spew their illogical wrath upon, protecting the freedom to read is more important than ever.

Banned Books Week started yesterday and ends this upcoming Saturday. Please take a moment to check out the ALA website as well as the official BBW21 site for more information. Knowledge is turning into a rare commodity right now and the way to halt that downward progression is through books, especially those that speak to communities whose concerns are overlooked far too often by the mainstream media:

As for FrightFall, it begins on Friday, October 1 and lasts until All Hallow's Eve(there is a link in the first paragraph of this post to sign up and learn more about it). While trick or treating might be put on hold again this year, due to the sadly ongoing health crisis in our midst, we can still have some holiday fun with a good book and a costume friendly film or two: