Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, March 29, 2021

Jane Austen's Persuasion finds that love is all in the family


During the past year, I've been doing a reread of the classics, starting with Jane Austen and her Classic Six completed novels and yesterday, I finished that set with the first book of hers that I read for the first time over a decade ago.

Persuasion made quite the first impression on me and in truth, part of my motivation for taking up the novel was the 1995 film adaptation starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds(a version that I still prefer but would happily see a new cinematic take on it hopefully soon).

 It's odd,I suppose, that one of Austen's last books would be an ideal introduction but nonetheless, Anne Eliot's emotional journey was one that I did connect to rather well.

While the main focus of the plot is about Anne unexpectedly reuniting with former love Frederick Wentworth, who she was talked out of marrying by well meaning family friend Lady Russell several years prior, in reading this book again, a new theme popped out at me. Anne is not only looking to revive an old romantic love, she's also seeking a new family to love.(spoilers ahead!)

After all, the book begins with Anne's boorishly pompous father Sir Walter(a vain and careless with money sort) reading the only book that interests him; the Baronetage, a record of his family line. Much mention is made throughout the novel of the "Eliot way, The Eliot pride, the Eliot countenance" as if they are part of a royal lineage instead of the minor league nobility that they truly are.

When Sir Walter and his awful oldest daughter Elizabeth are faced with real financial troubles, one of their first big ideas on how to save money is not bringing Anne a present from their regular trip to London(which she clearly is not a part of ,ever!) and even when Anne does present some good options to help out in this situation, her word "means nothing, she is only Anne".

 You can see why Lady Russell is such a major influence in Anne's life as her father and older sister simply consider her a killjoy at best and mostly ignore her presence at worst. Granted, she is more inclined to be awed by those very notions of rank and superiority that make the other Eliots so unbearable yet she does at least appreciate Anne.

 It's also telling that Anne often feels more comfortable around other family groups such as her younger sister Mary's in-laws, the Musgroves. They are really delightful people, open and loving, who do make her feel welcome among them.

However, Anne’s visits tend to put her in the middle of many a family dispute, due to Mary’s tendencies towards claiming herself ill(cured by grabbing the attention she craves away from someone else) and insisting that everyone remember “whose daughter I am” resulting in disharmony. Anne does what she can be yet it’s a shame that she is put in such a position to begin with:

While Anne is given some respect and is sincerely liked by the Musgroves(Louisa Musgrove is overheard at one point to tell Captain Wentworth that the family would exchange her for Mary in a heartbeat), her reunion with the rest of her family in Bath shows a marked difference from such warmth of feeling in Uppercross.

Although her father and Elizabeth act somewhat inviting upon her arrival, Anne is mostly seen as a good way to round out their social engagements(a fourth at cards). The flattering manners of hanger on Mrs. Clay are more valued along with the reappearance of wayward cousin Mr. Eliot(set to inherit the family estate such as it is).

What really excites Sir Walter and Elizabeth is the arrival of very distant relations, Lady Dalrymple and her daughter Miss Cateret. Despite barely knowing these people, they are bound and determined to have them as acquaintances in Bath.

Anne is less than impressed with such “noble” relatives and is polite enough in their company yet not willing to give up the chance to visit an old school friend, Mrs. Smith for one of the Dalrymple’s tea parties:

During this period, Anne also finds new friends such as Admiral Croft and his lovely wife Sophie (who happens to be Wentworth’s sister) along with other sea faring compatriots of Wentworth like the Harvilles and Captain Benwick.

 She even regretfully wishes that such good people would be in her social circle already if not for heeding that long ago advice about marrying a man “with nothing but himself to recommend him”.

This makes me think of the modern concept of found family, which is generally seen as people not directly connected to each other making a family circle of their own. Some blood ties are included but it’s mainly created from a joint need for love and acceptance from a source other than the group they’re born into.

We see this more and more often in pop culture these days, from action movies(The Fast and The Furious series comes directly to mind) to TV dramas and yes, superhero shows where such unity is a real strength for the team at hand:

While Anne Eliot isn’t a superhero (although her skills at empathy and problem solving give her that potential), her need for a loving and supportive family is abundantly clear.

Yes, she does want to be Wentworth’s wife but Anne also wants to have a loving family as well.

 Marrying him brings her fully into a world where keeping company with the Crofts and Harvilles(plus the Musgroves who wind up being part of the bunch via marriage too!) is not seen as beneath anyone.

In a way, Persuasion has more than one happy ending as Anne not only reconnects with Wentworth, her true family gathers together at last.

This is a good way to wrap up my Austen rereading here(I plan to revisit Edith Wharton next) and when I return to these storytelling shores, may my former fondness for the work bring me to new creative realms of insight:

Monday, March 22, 2021

Getting ready to Spring Into Horror with a pack of Fearsome Females

 Spring is officially here and not just according to the calendar or newly bloomed flowers in your backyard. The sign-up for Seasons of Reading's Spring Into Horror readathon(hosted by Michelle Miller) has begun , a surer sign of warmer days to come for me.

April 1 is the start date and while all of your bookish choices don't have to be scary reads(you only need one), my TBR is pretty sinister, ranging from chilling thriller to cozy mystery, with a theme of Fearsome Females. Whether those ladies are meant to be frightening to the good guys or the Big Bads is another matter altogether....


Samantha Downing's My Lovely Wife focuses on a seemingly happy husband and wife who decide to liven up their fifteen year marriage with a shared hobby. 

Trouble is , their leisure activity is rather lethal for those who join them. Hubby likes to lure their potential victim in while wife Millicent is the one that dispatches of the chosen target. This tag team set-up takes a sharp turn as the body of last year's slaughter spree,Lindsay, has been found by the cops.

This puzzles Hubby as Lindsay was supposed to have been dumped in a swamp instead of being held prisoner until her untimely demise. Millicent quickly explains that she thought it would be better to have the disappearances blamed on a local and recently escaped serial killer rather than their usual murder routine.

Hubby is willing to go along with this method but things start getting out of hand and as it turns out, Millicent might be a little more into their gruesome game time than he truly is. I've heard a lot of good word about this book and very eager to see this suburban serial mom in action:

Ruth Ware is an author that I keep starting and stopping with when it comes to her books(I did finish The Woman in Cabin 10 ,which got me interested in her work in the first place.) but I'm hoping that will change with this readathon.

In a Dark,Dark Wood begins with crime writer Leonora "Nora" Shaw waking up in the hospital with no recollection of  what has happened to her or worse, what she might have done.

Nora slowly starts to remember attending a gathering at a remote location known as Glass House to celebrate the upcoming marriage of longtime friend Clare Cavendish, who she hasn't spoken to in ten years.

While she can't fully recall everything that occurred, Nora does know for a certainty that a secret from her and Clare's past came along for the ride and has risen from it's grave to haunt their present and future. Can she put all of the pieces of this mental puzzle together in time to prevent a further tragedy from taking place?

Ware is such a good writer with Agatha Christie energy to spare that I really want to reignite this storytelling spark there. I do have other books by her that I hate to see neglected. Plus, Ware seems to have great taste in subtle scares and I'm all for that:

Onward to the cozy mystery section and my first stop is the latest in Vivien Chien's Noodle Shop series, Fatal Fried Rice.

Amateur detective Lana Lee is very proud of how well she's running the Ho-Lee family restaurant despite her older sister's taunts about Lana's lack of culinary skills when it comes to Chinese food.

To prove her sister wrong, Lana secretly signs up for a community college cooking course, planning on surprising everyone with her meal prep prowess. Unfortunately, she's the one who gets the surprise by discovering her cooking teacher Margo Chan dead after class.

Being seen as a suspect is nothing new for Lana but now with her friends acting as her sleuthing squad, she is sure of finding out who really did Margo in. However, can can she come up with the killer in time to clear her name or is Lana's goose about to get cooked?

This series is such great fun that it's hard for me to wait until next month to dive into the storytelling goodness. Having Lana learn to cook is extra sweet as I'm a big fan of Worst Cooks in America but hopefully, the rest of her culinary classes aren't as hectic as the ones on the show:

Speaking of culinary clashes, I do intend to start The Cookbook Nook Mystery series by Daryl Wood Gerber(aka Avery Aames) right from the beginning with Final Sentence.

Jenna Hart is our leading lady, who decides to set up a cookbook shop with her Aunt Vera. For the grand opening, a popular celebrity chef named Desiree Divine is planned to do a signing of her newest book, which was made easier by not only Jenna's prior marketing job but Desiree being her former college roommate as well.

However, Desiree appears to be more trouble than all of the potential publicity is worth, especially when she is found dead. Due to her penchant for husband stealing among other bad habits, there's a full set of suspects to choose from and even Jenna is thrown into the mix as a possible murderer! Can she whip up a recipe to uncover the real killer or will her new career path lead Jenna right to prison?

I do have the next two books in this series(Inherit the Word and Stirring the Plot) and with any luck, might get to them as well. At the very least, I can enjoy reading more of DWG's tasty take on crime solving:

There's still plenty of time to sign up for Spring Into Horror(see link in the first paragraph of this post) and much thanks as always to Michelle Miller for making this page turning terror time possible.

As much as I do root for the good gals to save the day, it is difficult to resist savoring the sinister sassy vibes of a true villianess . It's not that I want them to win, just that some of that scary swagger can make a story all the more entertaining and a couple of books on my list should offer up just that:

Monday, March 15, 2021

Have a page turning St. Patrick's Day with these cozy mystery reads


St. Patrick's Day can be a generous holiday as it is usually declared that "everyone is Irish" on that occasion. However, even for an American of Irish descent like me, celebrating the day can be tricky if you don't have something green to wear or a party to go to(due to our ongoing yet hopefully to be beat back soon health crisis).

Despite those limits, fun can be found in the pages of a good book and for St. Pat's Day themes, the cozy mystery section has plenty of that on tap. I've got a trio of new and regularly available books that should make your Irish eyes smile with bookish glee.

First up is the latest from Leslie Meier's Lucy Stone series, Irish Parade Murder, where our leading lady is busy with family and work yet always on hand to solve a mystery. This particular case is on the work front as her reporter job at the local Pennysaver is threatened by the arrival of a new hire from a larger newspaper, Rob Callahan.

Lucy is determined not to let the arrogant new guy push her out, even pursuing her big story on the political fight over who gets to be the next Grand Marshall of the annual Hibernian Knights Society parade in nearby Gilead(whose small newspaper has been bought by Pennysaver owner Ted, looking to expand his press portfolio).

However, Rob finds himself in trouble as the subject of his look into local corruption dies in a car crash that points to him as the prime suspect. Will Lucy put aside her differences and help find the real killer while dealing with some personal bombshells involving her husband's family to boot?

I do enjoy the small town sitcom vibe of the Lucy Stone books and also have noticed the author's addition of real world issues into the mystery mix, which is a good way to keep this little literary corner of the world up to date and engaging. Plus, a little crime fighting action at a parade is fun to see:

Next up is A Catered St. Patrick's Day by Isis Crawford, where baking sisters Bernie and Libby Simmons are preparing for the title holiday at their upstate New York eatery, thinking that things have certainly been rather quiet on the sleuthing front for them lately.

All of that changes quickly as Bernie gets a phone call from her boyfriend Brandon to head over to his bar right away. What he shows her and Libby is a rather unexpected ingredient added to the traditional green beer served during this time of year, a floating body!

Fortunately, Brandon is not a suspect but Mike Sweeney, the dead man in question, made a pot full of enemies with his sleazy stock brokering schemes and one of them is the nephew of a wealthy lady realtor who asks the Simmons sisters to look into the matter.

As Mike was a member of the Corned Beef and Cabbage Club(which booked Brendon's bar for their holiday celebration), that group seem to be a good place to start. However, can Bernie and Libby find the murderer before another batch of killer brew is spoiled?

I just borrowed this book from the ebook section of my library(still waiting for the physical one to reopen!) and so far, it's full of lively energy from our sisterly detectives who party plan with the best of them and would never serve a bad meal or funky drink on any occasion:

To wrap things up, we have the newest entry in Carlene O'Connor's Irish Village Mystery novels, Murder in an Irish Bookshop.

When a new bookstore opens up in the village of Kilbane in Ireland,police officer Siobhan O'Sullivan is among the first to head over in search of a new read. Yet much to everyone's surprise,  customers are not allowed to enter without being able to prove to the new owners that they know their Irish literary history.

Even with such self limiting standards, the shop is hosting a big signing event of prominent new authors, including Deirdre Walsh, who complains more about the state of literature than actually producing much of her own.

Deirdre's main target of derision is popular romance writer Nessa Lamb,  whose torn pages from her books are discovered with the deceased Deirdre in the back of the shop right after a conveniently timed power outage. Siobhan is on the case but will she be able to close the book on it before another writer is sent to the eternal remainder table with no chance of return?

This series is new to me and does sound intriguing. Granted, this title is number seven in the series but it is hard to resist checking out any type of bookshop related mystery,especially an internationally inspired one:

Whatever you chose to read this St. Patrick's Day, I hope it brings you joy and livens up your holiday. Of course, there are many ways to delight in this day whether you bake some shamrock cookies, watch a horror marathon of the Leprechaun movies or simply indulge in a plate of corned beef and cabbage.

The latter is really more of an Irish American than an authentic Irish dish(hey, I have to say it in the interest of culinary honesty!) but if you like it, no worries. St. Patrick's Day is meant to just be a good time had by all, which we really do need these days:

Monday, March 08, 2021

My Series-ous Reading waves hello to The Long Quiche Goodbye

 With this year's theme for Series-ous Reading being Cozy Culinary Feast, there is just no way such a literary menu would be complete without a cheese course.  To that end, last month's selection was the first entree in Avery Aames' Cheese Shop Mystery ,The Long Quiche Goodbye.

Set in small town Ohio, we met Charlotte Bessette, who along with her newly divorced cousin Matthew, has taken over the family cheese shop and updated the place,adding a wine section(which is Matthew's specialty).

The official name of the shop is Fromagerie Bessette, due to her French emigrant grandparents who are somewhat retired yet not totally inactive when it comes to the family business. Charlotte's Grandmere and Pepere wanted to bring to their new country some of their beloved France to share with their new friends and over time, it became part and parcel of the town:

During the shop's grand reopening, a number of small dramas occur as obnoxious Ed Woodhouse and his wife Christine stir up trouble in more ways than one.

Ed owns most of the property in town, including the Fromagerie, and is selling it off without even giving the Bessettes a chance to buy their building. Christine is running for mayor against Grandmere, who also puts on many of the local theatrical productions that help bring in the tourist crowd. 

During the opening, Christine gets catty as her husband is off flirting with other women and picks a fight with Grandmere over her latest productions(a ballet version of Hairspray), causing quite a scene. Once the dust settles, Charlotte goes outside to find Ed stabbed to death with one of her own cheese knives,plus her beloved grandmother nearby covered in blood!

While Grandmere is obviously innocent(she was trying to use CPR on Ed,which explains the actual blood on her hands), local police chief Urso puts her on house arrest until a better suspect can be found. This causes a major stir in town that urges Charlotte to take up an impromptu investigation into the case to clear her grandmother's name. Can she save the day and the family shop before all is lost?

 I do like the way that Avery Aames arranges the place setting of the town and it's residents, even including cousin Matthew's twin daughters into the mix(showing how even the kids are affected by the charge against their great-grandmother).

 As this is the first book, it takes awhile for Charlotte to get into the full swing of things when it comes to sleuthing, not to mention a possible budding relationship with local cheese maker Jordan, but by the end, she does get everything well at hand here.

Among my favorite characters are Rebecca, a formerly Amish young woman who works at the cheese shop and seriously into TV crime dramas(she jumps to conclusions a lot but in a delightful way) and Grandmere, who I would totally vote for as mayor. The election campaign is a solid part of the plot with new widow Christine not letting up on her intention to take over(even at her husband's funeral!) and Grandmere doing ballet rehearsals/political rallies in her own backyard. It does add to the storytelling fun:


Well, this series is off to a good start and I do plan to read the second book Lost and Fondue(the cheese pun titles are part of the charm, with others such as Clobbered by Camembert, To Brie or not to Brie and As Gouda as Dead!) later on here. I may be a simple cheddar cheese and crackers kind of gal but I do enjoy this tasty look at gourmet goodies with a savory side of mystery to taste:

At the moment, my current Series-ous Reading serving is Hail to the Chef, the second title in Julie Hyny's White House Chef Mystery books.

Newly appointed executive WH chef Olivia ,aka Ollie, Paras is dealing with her first major holiday meal preparations ,starting with a Thanksgiving dinner that may prove to be disruptive to the First Lady due to the business agenda of her guests.

While she can deal with a delay in dinner service or a last minute menu change, Ollie finds herself growing concerned about the recent demise of longtime electrician Gene, whose passing is ruled as an accident. However, Ollie is not so sure and when a relative of the First Family dies under mysterious circumstances as well, she is determined to get to the root cause and get the root vegetables roasted on time to boot.

I'm a good ways into the story and it's getting good as gravy so far. Also, some of the plot will extend into Christmas and the famed gingerbread version of the White House seems to be a key ingredient to this mystery, making this whole thing seasonally sinister sweet :

Monday, March 01, 2021

Warmed up after a Winter's Respite of reading


While winter is still hanging about, spring is definitely in the air as we who take part in Seasons of Reading's Winter's Respite are happy to report. The numerous snow storms this past month alone gave us a good amount of time with our books and even allowed for a few substitutions along the way(more on that in a moment).

The first book that I took up and completed for this challenge was The Duke and I, the beginning of the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn that gained Netflix quite the wider audience indeed.

The heroine of this Regency romance is Daphne, the oldest daughter of the Bridgerton family who is having her third season out in society and finding it hard to find a suitor willing to think of her as more than just a friend.

She then teams up with the newly arrived Duke of Hastings, Simon, who has no interest in the marriage game for deeply personal reasons. The two of them decide to have a pretend courtship in public, in order to get Daphne's romantic prospects on a higher level and keep Simon from being bothered by matchmaking matrons.

Of course, Daphne's older brother Anthony is a good friend of Simon's and disapproves of this arrangement as he knows just how much the Duke is determined not to take a wife. Anthony eventually goes along with this but when Daphne and Simon reluctantly realize that this love game is getting all too real, things get truly more complicated that either of them imagined.

As expected, there are plenty of changes from the book to the streaming version(a certain subplot involving a boorish suitor is nonexistent here) and while I did enjoy the way Julia Quinn arranged great dialogue scenes as well as delightful interactions among the Bridgerton family themselves, I would have like a couple of speeches from the show to have been part of this story. Oh, well, we still have those smoldering lines of dialogue on screen to savor:

I regret to say that while I did start All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, I have not finished it yet(started that one rather late in the month).

However, I do intend to keep on reading it as the recent PBS miniseries adaptation was rather delightful. Also, Herriot's tales of his early days as a country vet in Yorkshire during the 1930s are heartfelt and enriching, blending humor and sadness at times yet never completely overrun by either sentiment.

Between dealing with ailing animals and their occasionally more troublesome owners, Herriot recounts his time with mentor/employer Siegfried, a man with immense talents and a contradictory nature, as well as Siegfried's younger brother Tristan, whose best skills seem to be for trouble making. That one story about him having to chase an entire herd of pigs through town is too funny!

This is a book that you really want to take your time with and I intend to do just that. Besides, the animal stories are truly grand indeed:

Speaking of best intentions, there were a pair of thrillers that I meant to get to but it was difficult to resist diving into the cozy comfort of the latest entry in Ellie Alexander's Bakeshop Mystery series.

Chilled to the Cone has successful baker Juliet Capshaw considering two major challenges in her life-the first to set up an ice cream pop-up shop as an extension of the ever expanding Torte bakeshop/restaurant. The other is Carlos, her sea faring chef husband who has come to her beloved town of Ashland to make their marriage sail smoothly again.

The ice cream shop seems the easier situation to handle but when a well known and well respected member of the local homeless community called The Wizard is found dead near their new location, Juliet prepares to solve the case by getting the scoop on her new retail neighbors to see who might have had it out for him.

I do like the growing cast of regular characters that Alexander has created here, from her steadfast staff members such as Sterling and Andy(who will be prominently featured in the next book entitled Mocha She Wrote) and Juliet's best friend Lance, who may have found love at last(we shall see!).

Another great thing is how Juliet works out things with Carlos, who did withhold major information from her early on in their marriage but truly seems to be making serious amends for that, so I'll give him a break for now. It's nice to see a mature relationship instead of romantic triangles in this genre for once. Plus, thinking about ice cream flavors(or in this case, concrete flavors-it's a form of frozen custard) is always good fun:

Just last night, I finished a last minute addition to this readathon and it was the first book that I've bought in person since our ongoing health crisis first began last year(granted, I got it at a pharmacy but that still counts!).

Susan Wiggs' The Lost and Found Bookshop focuses on Natalie Harper, who is able to leave the corporate job that she hates due to a family tragedy. With her mother now gone, she takes over the duel responsibility of caring for Grandy, her beloved grandfather and the title bookstore, which is drowning in debt.

With her grandfather refusing to sell the shop(he has full ownership), Natalie tries to keep the place going, not to mention the aging building from falling apart. The latter is greatly helped by Peach Gallagher, a "hammer for hire" whose young daughter Dorothy adores the shop and encourages Natalie to try and get famed children's book author Trevor Dashwood to do a signing.

Turns out Trevor is a local and happy to headline an event for the store. Also, he has a romantic eye on Natalie who is cautious about falling in love again. She and Peach seem to have vibes but both of them are unsure about the other in that department. Can Natalie find real happiness for herself as well as those she cares about, the one thing that her amazing  mother Blythe didn't seem to have?

This is the first time that I've read Wiggs and it won't be the last(already brought The Oysterville Sewing Circle, this time online). She really creates a well developed sense of place and people, making what would be obvious plot points in other hands feel fresh and new. Discovering a new (to me) writer is such a nice treat and one that I would gladly wish on others:

All in all, this was a good way to start the new year of reading and much thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for making this all possible. 

 Hopefully, I will stay more on track with the upcoming Spring Into Horror readathon where I plan to deal with some very wicked women, although none of them know how to use magic, thank goodness( sadly not able to watch WandaVision but can't resist a good villain theme song like this!):