Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Monday, February 22, 2021

Springing forth with new March and April reads


It may be hard to believe,especially if snow is falling right outside your window at this moment, but spring is on it's way.

While this lengthy winter has clearly not been the most joyful time for many of us (sending good thoughts to those afflicted in Texas these days), at least we know that this persistently chilly precipitation will eventually end.

As you look forward to brighter days in more ways than one, another seasonal pleasure awaits you in the form of new books. My small list of upcoming titles for March and April should make for a lovely bookish bouquet or a nice addition to your literary garden:


Eileen Garvin's debut novel, The Music of Bees, introduces us to a trio of  unlikely friends who band together for a cause near and dear to their hearts.

Widowed beekeeper Alice literally runs into Jake, a troubled wheelchair bound teen in need of a new home in order to get away from his cruel father. Alice surprised herself by taking Jake in as well as hiring a new handyman, Harry, to fix up her place. She's not much of a people person to begin with yet it's clear that she needs more than her beloved bees for company.

Upon leaving her regular job due to being overlooked for a promotion yet again, Alice decides to focus on protecting the declining bee population not only of her Oregon small town but numerous other states as well from SupraGro, a pesticide that is doing such damage to nature.

With the help of Jake and Harry, Alice hopes to find true purpose in her life but the key to solving that problem may be closer at hand than she thinks. This sounds like a good heartwarming story that we all need right now which is not cloying sweet, more like a down to earth flavor that showcases the fragile yet resilient nature of life and love(April):




Author Abby Collette gives us a second scoop of her Ice Cream Parlor mystery series with A Game of Cones that has  Bronwyn "Win" Crewse solving a murder right along side creating new ice cream flavors for customers old and new at her family run ice cream shop. 

Attending her first meeting of local business owners, a ruckus occurs when Zeke Reynolds, spokesman for a Texas based corporation, announces his company's plans to open up a shopping mall in their area. That proposal does not go over well with anyone, even causing one of Win's good friends, Riya, to throw a shoe at Zeke in response!

That furious outcome gets worse as Zeke is found dead the next day, making just about every store owner a suspect in his untimely demise. Win teams up with Riya and Maisie, her murder mystery show obsessed friend, to find the killer but another new arrival in town offers Win a chance to reclaim her past life back in New York. Will she go back to that fast paced world or stay with her small town shop with a side dish of crime solving?

I did enjoy the first entry in this series(A Deadly Inside Scoop) and have been looking forward to this next book with the anticipation that one has for a special new brand of frosty goodness during a warm summer's day(March)

Meanwhile, there's another delicious new entree on Vivien Chien's cozy mystery menu on the way with Fatal Fried Rice. 

While Lana Lee is great at managing her family's restaurant, her own cooking skills wouldn't pay the bills if push came to shove. To stop family and friends from mocking her lack of culinary arts, she decides to take a cooking class in secret, planning to surprise everyone with a great meal made by hand.

However, it's Lana who is surprised by discovering the dead body of her cooking teacher Margo Chan. In order to clear her name, Lana has to hide her private investigation from police detective boyfriend Adam but will this secret plan backfire as badly as the one that got her into this mess in the first place?

Although this series doesn't include recipes, I do consider it a culinary cozy with strong retail vibes(which I do relate to). Even if Lana doesn't have any kitchen challenges ahead of her in the next book(Hot and Sour Suspects, due out this summer), her adventures always prove to be tasty experiences indeed(March):



Set in New York during the 80s, Astrid Sees All by Natalia Standiford  has it's two lead gal pals find themselves a reasonably affordable place to live, due to a boyfriend landing in jail for drug dealing, and the chance to figure out who they want to be .

Phoebe has always admired Carmen since their college days and her main motive for moving to NYC from Baltimore was to be her orbit. Carmen's party girl ways tend to leave Phoebe one step behind but upon the death of her father, she chooses to do more than keep up.

Calling herself Astrid, Phoebe turns herself into a fortune teller who uses movie tickets as her tarot cards, which allows her to stay within Carmen's social range. However, by dating one of her friend's boyfriends, that relationship becomes threatened, almost as threatened as the possibility of Phoebe being followed by a mysterious stranger.

Standiford is best known for her YA novels but I 'm sure that this change of shelf space will not turn off her regular readers; in fact, it may add some newcomers to her literary mix. Whether it be adults or teens, friendships are tricky to balance if someone has to be top dog instead of even steven and Standiford seems to know how well to keep those character plot point plates spinning in the air(April):


A new marriage comes with unexpected baggage in Peter Swanson's Every Vow You Break as Abigail is worried about keeping her bachelorette party fling a secret from her groom-to-be Bruce.

Trouble is, that intended one night stand Scottie insists on being a permanent part of her life to the point of demanding she call the wedding off.  Refusing that request, Abigail hopes that her honeymoon will be a well earned break from such stalker antics.

No such luck as Scottie shows up at the remote Maine island where she and Bruce are staying, turning what should be a romantic time in Abigail's life to one that may threaten the end of her time on earth.

Swanson does have a knack for creating tension filled dramas that can turn on a dime plot wise and this latest story ought to have it's share of page turning surprises indeed(March):


It may take a little more time for sunny skies to appear again but being patient does pay off eventually and having a good book on hand will help to make that time pass quickly. 

Plus, a good read is a great excuse for unplugging from the online world for a little while. Technology is a big part of our modern lives but taking a break from all of that is important for necessary emotional downloading and refreshing your spirit, which is also a big part of spring to boot:

Monday, February 15, 2021

Taking on an Ann Patchett Project


A few years ago, I gave myself the challenge of reading the complete works of Donna Tartt. Granted, that task was made easier due to Tartt having only three books(and the fourth will be well worth the wait) but it was a great reading experience indeed.

Well, I am going to take up a similar reading challenge up this year by launching my own Ann Patchett Project. Now, she has way more than three books but since I only have a trio of them on hand, this set number will have to do.

I decided to divide them by season and with winter hopefully almost over, this spring my first APP selection will be Bel Canto. Released in 2001, this story is set in a South American country whose embassy is taken hostage during a birthday party for a Japanese businessman named Mr. Hosokawa.

Disappointed that the president of the country did not attend, the hostage takers still stick to their demands while releasing several of the less prominent guests. The only female prisoner remaining is opera singer Roxane Coss, who was invited to entertain as Hosokawa is a huge fan of her vocal talents. 

During the prolonged siege, many emotional bonds are formed with Roxane's singing being a guiding light of support for those on either side of the conflict. As time goes on, will those newly made connections be enough to save them all?

I've heard much about Bel Canto but haven't read it(or seen the 2018 film version). My copy happens to be the ARC(Advance Readers Copy) that I saved from my bookselling days. The book has been highly praised over the years and added to many Best of lists yet it didn't feel like the right time to read for me. One theme that intrigues me here is the use of art,music in this instance, to help people going a difficult period of time together which is something that I think all of us can relate to right now:

This summer, I plan to pick up Commonwealth, which I did try to read but put aside for far too long. It's a generational story that hinges on a tell-all book that changes more than one life and reveal a few family secrets.

We start at a christening party in California, where family friend Bert sort of gate crashes the proceedings and decides to pursue his long hidden love for Beverly, mother of the baby being celebrated on that day. 

When Bert and Beverly do get married and move to Virginia, they bring together an assortment of  step siblings who reluctantly share a summer vacation together that leads to dire consequences.

The child whose christening day inadvertently set this chain of events off, Franny, grows up to fall in love with novelist Leo, who writes about her complicated family ties in a book that was popular enough to be made into a movie that Franny takes her aged father Fix to. A strange full circle to be sure.

Interestingly enough, Patchett doesn't think that Commonwealth would make a good film. Maybe because Bel Canto had a lot of mixed reviews when it was adapted or due to the slow yet steady style of the plot? Regardless, I think that it might be better suited to a cable/streaming mini-series which would allow for a more leisurely pace of story telling:


For the fall, The Dutch House will complete my literary circle here. I did manage to get a review copy before the pandemic was fully in place and to my regret, I just wasn't into reading it then(I also have unread library books on hand but hey, I may get to them yet!).

This novel is narrated by Danny Conroy, the son of the title house set in Philadelphia whose mother Elna left him and his older sister Maeve behind as the grandeur of the place truly overwhelmed her.

Oddly enough, Danny's stepmother Andrea was more in love with the house than any member of the Conroy family and was quick to push him and Maeve out into the streets once their father died. That doesn't end this story at all; rather it's beginning of something even more strange.

This tale of a love-hate relationship with a house and what it represents has a Howards End meets the Brothers Grimm vibe to it that makes me want to properly appreciate it. Also, Tom Hanks did the audiobook and you know something is good when it has the Hanks seal of approval there:


It’s not just the celebrity approval that makes me want to engage with Patchett’s work.  From what I have read of her, she does possess a nice turn of phrase and a talent for painting a richly detailed picture of her characters that can slowly draw you into their world.

Plus, Patchett loves books so much that she's the co-owner of a bookstore(Parnassus Books, which is still managing to stay afloat during our national health crisis). For an author to be so generous to her literary contemporaries that she's thrilled to promote their books just shows a generosity of spirit that I really want to support.

I might talk about these books once I'm done with them online and hopefully read more of her work after this, we shall see. In the meanwhile, it is good to have a small goal to get through these still rough times in front of us all:

Monday, February 08, 2021

Booking that special read as your Valentine's Day date


With Valentine's Day on the holiday horizon, love is most certainly in the air and with the success of Bridgerton on Netflix, romance reading is more firmly in the spotlight. I'm reading The Duke and I at the moment for a readathon and it's very engaging indeed

However, if you're not in the mood for a historically set love story, there are plenty of good contemporary romances around and I prefer the ones with a bit of a romcom energy to them. So, here are a trio of sweet suggestions for your heart shaped holiday reading:

Jasmine Guillory's latest, Party of Two,was one of my Christmas presents but I decided to save it for this particular weekend(although her books are great for any time of year!).  Our leading lady here is Olivia Monroe, who decides to leave her law firm in New York and head out to L.A. to start her own specialty legal practice. 

Upon arrival, she stops at the hotel bar and meets Max, a guy who shares her dislike of posturing behavior and delight in desserts. While he looks vaguely familiar, Olivia finds out later that Max is Senator Powell, a freshman in office with a keen interest in criminal justice reform.

Since they do have a lot in common, falling in love isn't that difficult but being put in the social media spotlight is. Things get trickier when a private story from Olivia's past comes into public view, which could jeopardize their relationship and careers. Can the two of them stay afloat in such murky waters or will they get off this particular love boat for good?

Guillory knows how to mix up a smartly sweet and sexy batch of storytelling goodness and I have no doubt that making my way through these tasty pages will have been worth the wait:

As a warm-up, I finished reading One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London this past weekend. This debut novel introduces us to Bea, a plus size fashion blogger with a solid online following and more than fair share of critics to boot.

Given her critique of the reality dating show Main Squeeze, Bea is truly surprised to be asked to be the next contestant. With the series having trouble in the ratings(along with the recent dismissal of the former producer engaged in controversial behavior), the new producer Lauren wants to take the show in a fresh new direction and Bea gives them the perfect opportunity to do so.

Bea nervously accepts, wanting a change in her life as well yet she's not just anxious about how the twenty five men competing for her hand in marriage will react to someone her size. She's still getting over a potential romance with a former co-worker who was happy enough to string her along but decided to marry someone else.

As she gets to know the guys(several of whom are jerks) Bea can't let go of her doubts even when men like Sam, a bit younger than her but full of upbeat charms or Luc, a very sexy French chef or even Asher, a sensitive soul who is willing to be a straight shooter when needed, give her sincere affection.

During the course of the show's taping, things come to light about many of the men and Bea as well, making this reality roller coaster ride hard to handle in more ways than one. Will Bea find her true love on TV or is this an emotional mini-series destined to be canceled?

This was  a real hard-to-put-down read for me; as Stayman-London taps right into the emotional discomfort that plus size women(myself included) feel about life and love. I also appreciate the depth given to many of the characters here, even with the reality show framework, and found myself rooting for many of them to have great stories to come well after this one ends for them.

It may be corny to say but Kate Stayman-London is a one to watch author and her next step into the literary limelight should be something wonderful to see:

Before I got to One to Watch, my ebook library holds granted me the chance to dive into Sophie Kinsella's Love Your Life, which had me even falling in love with the troublesome yet adorable dog Harold(and I'm a cat person) here!

To get back a bit, Ava is tired of being a copywriter and decides to attend a writers retreat in Italy , where everyone has agreed to not talk about their past and to call each other by self chosen names.

Ava winds up being more focused on Dutch, a last minute participant (he signed up for a martial arts class that was unexpectedly canceled). The two of them seem to be instant soul mates and plan on continuing their love fest once they go home.

However, real life changes everything. Dutch happens to be Matt, who runs the family dollhouse empire and while successful, is not happy at his job. He’s also uncomfortable around Ava’s rescue furniture and her wish to get him to turn vegan. Meanwhile, Ava is less than thrilled with Matt’s taste in artwork or his insistence that her beloved Harold needs dog training.

As each of them try to adapt to the other’s way of life, it becomes harder to hold on to what they had in Italy. Would a break-up be the worst option here or could it lead to a new chance at romance?

Sophie Kinsella has a great knack for writing one-off novels as well as series(her Shopaholic books are what got me into her work) and while LYL is clearly meant to be the former, I wouldn't mind a follow-up. The characters are great to hang with, especially both sets of Ava and Matt's friends, and the chemistry between the leads does explain why they still persist on making this relationship with it's Odd Couple energy work out for both of them.

Kinsella creates a real yet charming world for all involved and shows that starting over is just as important as starting anew, both in life and in true love:

I hope these suggestions help with your holiday reading and whatever you chose to enjoy Valentine's Day with, do take the time to have a little fun.

Personally, I think books make for excellent Valentine's Day gifts as they're easy to wrap, come in many delightful colors and textures with the bonus of tending to last far beyond the day in question. Plus, picking the perfect read for yourself or someone special is always a true act of love:

Monday, February 01, 2021

My Series-ous Reading salutes the State of the Onion

 While this new year has certainly given us a plateful of surprises, my new round of Series-ous Reading has been quite a comfort zone in comparison. This year's theme is Culinary Cozy Feast and our starter is a new(to me) series set in Washington D.C. at the White House kitchen.

State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy is the first in her set of White House Chef mysteries starring Olivia "Ollie" Paras. Ollie is a sous chef hoping to be promoted to the executive position upon the retirement of beloved mentor Henry.

 While she certainly has the skills for the job, there are a couple of obstacles in her way, starting with Laurel Ann Braun, a celebrity chef eager to add the White House spot to her brand, plus she has no chill when it comes to Ollie's talents.

The other difficulty is newly appointed "sensitivity director" Peter  Everett Sargeant, who is about as sensitive as a Mack truck when it comes to dealing with the WH culinary crew. He takes an instant dislike to Olivia and makes no secret about his preference for Laurel Ann as the next executive chef.

 Plus, a major league state dinner is being planned for two Middle Eastern countries about to sign a treaty that could change the game in terms of world peace and Sargeant is not making those plans go as smoothly as they should. His consistent meddling in the process and attempts at micromanaging with the representatives of the nations in question visiting the kitchen are hindrances in more ways than one:

Those challenges are pretty standard for most chefs but when Ollie finds herself taking down a potential threat to WH security one morning by using a frying pan to stop a fleeing intruder, her difficulties go quickly above her pay grade.

As it turns out, the man trying to gain access to the new President is Naveen, a former intelligence insider who wanted to give him a warning about a possible assassination plot planned by the Chameleon, a notorious hit man who may be targeting the upcoming treaty signing.  

Despite being asked by her Secret Service boyfriend Tom to not look into the matter, Olivia is concerned about any potential threat to the WH and the nation so she agrees to meet Naveen, who feels that the security agents have been compromised and only trusts her with the information that could prevent a major disaster.

Unfortunately, the Chameleon also shows up and gets between Olivia and Naveen permanently. As her personal safety and job security are both at risk, Ollie realizes that the best bet for saving the day on each of these fronts is herself:

This was a slight change of pace for me, with the semi-spy game action and dash of international intrigue, yet it didn't distract from the inside the WH kitchen plot points at all and wasn't openly political(the US president in this book is fictional, in a Harrison Ford kind of way) which works well for an ongoing series like this.

 Also, I really liked Olivia(who deserves a better boyfriend as Tom is a tad of a jerk at times) and her dedication to her work as a chef. Seeing what working at the WH kitchen is like is a solid part of the narrative and here's hoping that retiring head chef Henry shows up in some of the other books as well.

 Not that Ollie can't handle herself behind the stove but getting a few words of wisdom every now and then,particularly in dealing with that creep Sargeant(who is apparently going to be a regular workplace nemesis) from her former boss will be good to see.

So I will be reading more of these books, which have awesomely amusing pun titles such as Hail to the Chef, Buffalo West Wing and Affairs of Steak. Yes, White House menus and recipes are included in the end section and ought to be entertaining for those looking for fun foodie ideas. I do suggest avoiding appetizers involving cucumber cups, a menu item that kept being taken on and off the big state dinner plans for this tasty first fictional course:

For our next Culinary Cozy Feast offering, a cheese platter is being brought forward by Avery Aames to give us a taste of The Long Quiche Goodbye.

This introduction to the Cheese Shop Mystery books has Charlotte, along with her cousin Matthew, taking over the family fromagerie to update the shop into a cheese and wine must-stop for the ever growing tourist trade in their small Ohio town.

Trouble comes when their disagreeable landlord is found dead with one of the shop's knives sticking out of his chest not too far from their business. As Charlotte's beloved grandmother is seen as the main suspect, Charlotte has no choice but to clear the family name with a little help from a new friend.

This does sound like a mystery worth nibbling on, with a nice piece of cheddar and a plate of crackers on hand for page turning fun: