Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, January 25, 2021

Tuning into a new year with Northanger Abbey


The start of this new year has been surprising to say the least. Fortunately, I have a good literary companion for this blend of chaos and clarity in Northanger Abbey.

Yes, I am still rereading Jane Austen's Classic Six and this next to last of her completed works offers a lot of refreshing moments with young Catherine Morland whose first visit to Bath showcases her unique brand of wide eyed innocence with unintentional insights into social norms.

At this point in my reading, Catherine is preparing to stay at the title residence with her new friends,the Tilneys and eager to see how spooky this remote country estate is. Being a fan of Gothic novels, Cathy has quite the expectations of a sinister looking castle with hidden rooms and secrets to be uncovered.

Thinking on a modern day version of this story(Val McDermid has written a good one,btw), I do think that Cathy would be a huge mystery reader as well as into paranormal romance books. After all, she does become rather interested in how the former Mrs. Tilney passed away, even getting her new friend and daughter of the household Eleanor to engage in a bit of sleuthing there:

While that mystery comes to it's own conclusion, you would have to consider what pop culture influences a present day Cathy Morland has and it wouldn't just books. What shows would she be watching on either regular TV or streaming?

Granted, most of the shows Cathy would like probably would be book based and an obvious choice is the current CW rendition of Nancy Drew. This series has it's lead girl detective in her post-high school years, with a "Drew Crew" that includes ex-boyfriend Nick, former high school rival George and new to small town life Bess.

Much like Riverdale, the show has a much darker take on it's iconic young adult sleuth with family secrets revealed, class struggles on display and a touch of the supernatural. No doubt that the Catherine of our times would relish this show and devour it(along with tie-in titles) gleefully:

Speaking of Riverdale and the supernatural, I'm pretty sure that Cathy would have some streaming access back home and checking out The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix.

Unlike the sitcom cute 90's show, this Sabrina Spellman takes on the forces of darkness directly, such as her obnoxious principal Hawthorne,  possessed teacher Mary Wardell who intends to groom her for evil and various witchcraft inclined peers clamoring for power positions with Lucifer himself.

Of course, Sabrina has the support of her aunts Hilda and Zelda, not to mention a certain feline guide to the spirit realm. High school and horror with a dash of morbid humor certainly would be catnip for our Ms. Morland indeed:

Yet, the question remains; what series of books and shows would Kathy's other new friend Isabella Thorpe introduce to her? I suspect that A Discovery of Witches, which is available on cable and streaming, might be their version of The Mysteries of Udolpho.

This series, based on the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness, has historian and reluctant witch Diana Bishop finding herself caught up in a quest for a long lost magical manuscript.

With the aid of Matthew Clairmont, a vampire seeking the knowledge from the book to protect all nonhuman beings from destruction, Diana taps further into her suppressed abilities and learns more about her own powers, not to mention those who fear her awakened potential.

I can easily picture Cathy and Isabella watching this show together on their IPhones, reading the books just far enough to not get spoiled for future plot points. With season two involving time travel to the Elizabethan era, these girls would be in Hot Topic heaven:

The moral of sorts that many people take from Northanger Abbey is to not get too carried away with your reading material when it comes to real life, yet I really don't think it's about anti-genre reading. Instead, I believe it's about being a more thoughtful person and learning to read people as well as any book.

Still, it would be fun to have a Cathy Morland, Girl Detective series either in print or online. A less intense take on Veronica Mars, if you will(I do like that show, which was canceled way too soon). Hopefully, if that ever comes to pass, this Modern Ms. Morland should be a more savvy investigator than her Austen inspired incarnation turns out to be:


Monday, January 18, 2021

Getting ready for a much needed Winter's Respite readathon


While the start of this new year has been stunning in more ways than one, there is some comfort to be had by making plans for good reading.

To that end, I am happy to report that my TBR for Seasons of Reading's first readathon of 2021, Winter's Respite, is all set to go. Since February is a rather short month, it seemed best to keep this stack of books small but not too short. page number wise.

For those new to Winter's Respite, the time period is from February 1st to the 29th with both fiction and nonfiction encouraged. This time around, I am including a nonfiction title that also happens to a recent TV adaptation along with a very popular fictional one of late:

THE DUKE AND I: This is the first of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton books that the Netflix series is based upon and uses as the centerpiece of the show. While it is set within the Regency period, it's a tad more spicy than Jane Austen(think Georgette Heyer with a twist of lime) but Austen fans who enjoy an extra bit of liveliness should find the show most delightful.

We are introduced to Daphne Bridgerton ,  a young woman in search of beaux during the London season, who makes an unusual bargain with Simon, the notorious Duke of Hastings. They will make a show of being a courting couple in public, in order to attract more eligible suitors for Daphne and keep away any matchmaking mothers from Simon, who has no desire to marry.

The plan seems to be working out well for both of them, despite Daphne's brother Anthony being less than thrilled about such a rake(also a good friend of his!) squaring around his sister. However, the one thing that neither of them counted on was falling in love with each other.

Having nearly finished watching the Netflix version(just one episode to go!), I am very much looking forward to this book and while I know that not every plot point in the show will be in the novel(there are several Bridgerton books after all), I do hope that Simon's declaration of love for Daphne to the Queen will be in the original story.  So far, it's my favorite swoonworthy scene:

ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL: James Herriot's stories about his days as a veterinarian in the Yorkshire countryside during the 1930s have been adapted for television before, from the 1970s to the 90s, with folks just coming back time and again to relive these heartwarming tales.

The newest version airing on PBS right now is what inspired me to take this first in the series up and add it to my readathon pile. Plus, this is not just a book of cute animal antics; Herriot also chronicles the rough and tumble times that many of the farm folk had in dealing with maintaining their worn down lands and keeping their ailing yet necessary for work animals going.

How much of the latter will be part of the latest TV take, I do not know but given how long lasting this particular book is, the page turning should be as satisfying as the tuning in for next episode will be:

THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART: I'm rounding out this list with a pair of thrillers,one of which is a carryover from a prior readathon(The Dry by Jane Harper) that I hope to get to this time.

The other is Peter Swanson's debut novel, a suspense story with old school noir charms. It's been years since George has seen Liana, the college sweetheart who told him her name was Audrey.

That wasn't the only lie she told him or con that she pulled on him back then. George thought she was long gone yet she turns up in his local pub one night, looking for a favor and perhaps more. He knows that getting involved with Liana/Audrey is not the wisest choice but it's one that he's compelled to make.

I discovered Peter Swanson's books last year(Eight Perfect Murders was on my personal best books of the year list) and at the moment, I am in the middle of The Kind Worth Killing, which I borrowed from the library in ebook form and wound up adding to my regular ereader roster.

 His work is fast paced, smart and sinister savvy, the kind of stories that need to be movies but some reason are not just yet. At least we have his books to devour in the mental movie theater that never closes:

There is plenty of time to sign up for Winter's Respite(there is a link in the second paragraph of this post) and much thanks to Michelle Miller at SOR for making this all possible.

Look, I know that the world is getting even more treacherous right now but hopefully after the inauguration this week(finally!), we may start to see brighter days ahead. It is going to take some time and hard work for things to reach the somewhat better mark but I have no doubt that we can do this as a united front and nation.

In the meanwhile, it's good to take a break from some of this daily madness and reading certainly is a great way to do that. Also, a bit of wacky fun like binge watching your favorite shows or eating ice cream during the winter is safe, stay at home good times that we can all appreciate:


Monday, January 11, 2021

Spending some page turning time with the Tudors


Even before the horrifying events of last Wednesday, I was already having the urge to read some historical fiction with a Tudor theme. Mainly Henry VIII,whose royal misdeeds have certainly made quite the mark on history.

When talking about novels featuring the Tudors, Philippa Gregory is always reliable to provide in that regard. Three Sisters, Three Queens features Catherine of Aragon and her sister in law, Mary but the main focus here is on Margaret, who become the Queen of Scotland but still never got over her deep rooted envy of her brother's celebrated wife.

Upon the death of her husband James(killed during a rebellion that Catherine had to command English forces against during Henry's absence), Margaret was made Queen Regent and planned to guide her young son to the throne of both Scotland and England since a male heir to that kingdom had not been produced.

Unfortunately for her, Margaret fell in love with a Scottish nobleman  and secretly married him, breaking what little peace there was among the ruling clans of the country. Having to flee in the dead of night without her children, she sought protection from her brother but even the pledged united front promised by him and Catherine can not keep Margaret from indulging in her impulses for instant gratification and power.

This is a book that I meant to read long ago but the time felt right recently, due to the final season of The Spanish Princess on Starz. A good portion of Margaret's story was well woven into the plot, showcasing the powerhouse personality that she was. While it would've been great to have Three Sisters, Three Queens be a miniseries on it's own, I am glad that some of this engaging book found it's place here:

As it happens, one of my Christmas gifts this year was part of Alison Weir's Six Tudor Queen series of novels.

 Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait gives the storytelling spotlight to Henry's fourth wife, a woman often overlooked by history. While her regal husband was allegedly disappointed in seeing the actual Anna over the painting version of her, she was someone with secrets of her own to keep and some of those were perhaps romantic in nature.

Even after her divorce from Henry, she was still caught up in the intrigues of the court and accused of making alliances against heiress to the throne Mary Tudor by favoring her younger sister Elizabeth. Nevertheless, she persisted in staying as much above the fray as possible.

While I'm still in the midst of the Catherine of Aragon novel in this series(yes, I did read the Anne Boleyn book first!), I am most keen to meet her Majesty of Kleve and share a literary song and dance with her indeed:

Meanwhile, I decided to treat myself to the next in line entry by Weir, Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Princess.

Katheryn was the next to last wife who sadly shared the fate of wife number two. She was very young and carefree, set up by her ambitious relatives into this doomed marriage, hoping that she could give the aging king that male heir so desperately longed for.

Unlike her previous sister wives, Katheryn had no political savoy and pretty much threw caution to the wind in the love department. What she really loved about being Henry's queen was all of the perks that came with it(sort of a medieval mall chick if you will).

Granted, she wasn't very clever yet that did not mean that Katheryn deserved the tragic ending that she received. The fact that she really had no ill intent makes her demise all the more pitiful, if you ask me:

I also have the Jane Seymour book in this series and planning to do a reread of Philippa Gregory's The Boleyn Inheritance(which features both Anna of Kleve and Katherine Howard) at some point. The final book in Weir's Six Tudor Queens saga(Katherine Parr,aka She Who Survived) will be out later this year.

But why the Tudors now, you may ask? Well, for some reason, reading about a overly privileged ruler of a country who had multiple wives and a growing sense of paranoia just feels really relevant to our times as of now. To be fair, Henry VIII was far better educated and more charming than any modern day counterpart of his could ever hope to be.

To get a little real world here, what happened last Wednesday was history making in the absolutely worst sense of the term. Such an act of treason can not and should not abide. While it may take far too much time, I do believe that consequences will be handed out and that we will unite as one nation to make things right. However, justice must be served first.

Even reading fictional accounts of the Tudors show us the need for keeping those in power in check. Yes, it was a much different time period with a very different system of rule yet we are supposed to learn from the mistakes of the past.

While the terrors of the Tudor dynasty did lead to Elizabeth I and her amazing achievements, she was the last of that line. Perhaps that was for the best but if someone had done something other than the expected, who knows if the Tudors could have improved as leaders over time and continued?

I am no historian, just a reader of historical fiction. However, I do appreciate a good story and the Tudors certainly gave us that. I highly doubt the same will be said for those currently trying to undermine our democracy today. Hopefully, we will be spared the horror of a musical version of their high crimes-Henry VIII and the women in his life are far more engaging in that regard:

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

The end of one year of Series-ous Reading and the dawning of a Cozy Culinary Feast for the new year


Happy New Year,everyone and glad to be back here with more great books to talk about. I'm especially happy to announce another year of Series-ous Reading, in which books in a series(mostly mystery) are highlighted.

Before I get into the theme for this year, let's look at the last title of last year from Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton detective series, Murder in the Afternoon.  Set in post WWI England, Kate is a former military nurse and widow, who still holds out hope that her MIA husband may yet be alive.

She's settled into a life that allows her to pursue her love of photography and now with the help of a former policeman, Jim Sykes, Kate also does some detective work that mainly focuses on missing persons.

Getting a knock on her door in the early hours is becoming commonplace but when she opens up to find Mary Jane Armstrong, who is in need of someone to find her missing husband Ethan, what shocks Kate the most is being told that Mary Jane is her sister.

Kate has known for years about being adopted from her parents yet unaware of who her biological family was or that they knew anything about her. Despite her surprise, she is willing to do what she can here and perhaps learn something about her own past.

 Mary Jane is desperate to find Ethan, who was last seen at his stone mason work by his children. Harriet, the oldest child, discovered what appeared to be his dead body but by the time she was able to get an adult to help, Ethan and his tool kit had completely disappeared. Those in authority are quick to claim that Harriet is making up stories ,however, her version of events doesn't waver.

She's not the only young girl being overlooked when it comes to telling the truth. During the investigation, Sykes comes across a child servant named Millie who works at the farm of Bob Conroy, Ethan's best friend, and may know much more about what's going on than she's given credit or intelligence for:

With Ethan being involving in union organizing and Mary Jane having an unusual connection with her former employers(who happen to be the local lord and lady of the manor), the list of suspects is getting longer by the minute.

When another mysterious death occurs and Mary Jane's freedom is threatened, Kate's determination to find the truth becomes firmly set in stone. Not only is Mary Jane's fate in jeopardy, the future of her new found niece and nephew are on the line as well.

I've read several of the Kate Shackleton books at this point and Brody's sturdy yet delicate portrayal of characters caught up in their own chain of events and hard to take back actions is lovely to behold. The added addition of personal stakes to this story make leading lady Kate all the more vivid as a person in her own right, not to mention a most thoughtful detective to boot.

Kate's continuing hopes about her husband Gerald possibly being alive are sadly compelling yet showcase the humanity of the character in a tenderly done fashion. Having not read all of the books(or read them entirely in order), I don't know when or if this dynamic changes but it does make Kate truly a wonder of a woman in that regard and one I do want to follow on her next adventure:

For this new year of Series-ous Reading, our theme is Cozy Culinary Feast and that means plenty of food related mysteries in the cozy section of the fictional pantry. 

Many of the authors selected for this mystery menu are well known favorites such as Joanne Fluke and Diane Mott Davidson but I have a few fresh faces to add to the list.

To start, my first literary course will be State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy, which begins her White House Chef mystery series. An up and coming chef, Olivia "Ollie" Paras has enough on her plate as it is without taking down a potential threat to the Commander in Chief with a frying pan.

Despite her more pressing problems of competing for an open top spot in the White House kitchen staff and dealing with an obnoxious celebrity chef, Ollie finds herself doing some side work as a sleuth, which also threatens her romance with a Secret Service agent as well as the free world. Can she save the day and a state dinner in time?

Since we are thankfully heading into a brand new administration in Washington(despite what some might wish to think), I thought this particular series would be fun to explore. Don't worry, not planning on getting political here but a fictional foodie look at the White House might actually be worth checking out: