Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, April 26, 2021

Setting up for summer with some May/June new reads


Even though the weather outside is still a tad on the cold side, summer is on it's way and that means new books to read!

Whether you do plan some sort of outdoor activities(depending on the ongoing health crisis that is not over by a long shot yet) or intend to stay cool inside near any type of AC, having a book on hand is as essential as a cold drink during those warm temperature times.

With that in mind, I have a few upcoming May/June releases to recommend that you keep an eye out for as you make those vacation plans:



Beatriz Williams goes back in time once again to introduce us to Our Woman in Moscow.  The woman in question is the twin sister of Ruth Macallister, who is pretty much running a modeling agency in New York of 1952, despite being officially a secretary.

When Ruth gets a visit from FBI agent Sumner Fox regarding her sister Iris, who defected to Russia with her husband Sasha several years ago, it becomes apparent that a reunion is in the best interest of all concerned.

Flying to Russia under the guise of helping Iris during her pregnancy, Ruth does her best to get both Iris and Sasha out of the country before the KGB catches on to the double dealing spy business that they're in. However, such carefully made plans tend to go awry yet Ruth is determined to do what she can to protect more than one innocent life in the balance.

Williams does have a way with well developed female characters that makes their seemingly standard situations much more complex and emotionally nuanced than one might think at first glance. I have no doubt that this will be the case here(June):



Fresh off of his critically acclaimed novel Real Life, Brandon Taylor is about to set forth a short story collection,Filthy Animals, that should be seen as a modern day John Cheever arrangement.

Many of the stories here are connected by Lionel, who we meet in the engaging opening story Pot Luck, where Lionel, a college math proctor, is seeking to reconnect with the world after a suicide attempt. While at the title party, he finds himself bonding with Charles, a dancer who is in a relationship with Sophie, who Lionel also feels a kinship with.

As this triangle goes forward, Lionel's unease at balancing both of these newly formed connections is felt throughout the book. The other stories here showcase a distraught private chef/babysitter and her less than happy charge, a pack of turbulent teens seeking trouble and then finding it in a rather violent manner and a young woman having more than her fair share of coping with her physical and emotional health.

While I'm not a big short story reader, this collection is a compelling book that ought to bring all of the reluctant readers to the yard(June).

Another set of short stories due out soon is a creative twist on the usual fairytale lore , courtesy of Majorie Liu.

 The Tangleroot Palace showcases such delights as Amish vampires in After the Blood, a supervillian in need of a hero to face down in The Last Dignity of Man and an apprentice witch looking to free herself from her vindictive teacher in Sympathy for the Bones.

One of the big showstoppers here is The Briar and the Rose, a reinvention of the Sleeping Beauty story where a woman warrior finds it difficult to allow her enchantress employer to take possession of the title princess. Liu is well known for her incredible literary craftsmanship in such works as Montress and this set of short but sinister sweet tales should be more amazing than any blockbuster fantasy film on the cinematic horizon(June):




When it comes to cozy mysteries, a new dish is always welcome and in Mia P. Manansala's Arsenic and Adobo, we meet Lila, who now works at her aunt's restaurant after a rough break-up with her fiance.

Lila is more than happy to be at Tia Rosie's Kitchen but with the persistent presence of former high school sweetheart Derek, now a food blogger who constantly gives the place negative reviews, things get less than appetizing.

 Upon Derek's untimely demise due to food poisoning, Lila is seen as the prime suspect in the case and she has no choice but to clear her name.

 Aided by her best friend Adeena, Lila looks into other factors such as the fact that Derek was the stepson of Ed Long, the restaurant's landlord who has been looking to shut Tia Rosie's Kitchen down for awhile. Was Derek's death a means to that end or are there other intriguing ingredients to be found for this recipe for murder?

Starting a new series is always fun and when it comes to culinary cozies, such savory sleuthing is too tasty to resist:(May)


On the other hand, getting cozy with an old favorite is just as fun, which is good for the next entry in Ellie Alexander's Bakeshop Mystery series.

Mocha, She Wrote puts it's storytelling spotlight on Andy, Juliet Capshaw's top barista who is hoping to make coffee his ultimate career. The announcement of a major coffee competition coming to their beloved town of Ashland has everyone excited,especially when Andy is selected as a contender.

However, things go from brew to worse as the head judge finds Andy's initial entry to be truly tasteless. When said judge turns up dead with that same unlikable latte in hand, Andy finds himself in seriously hot water. Can Juliet save the situation before her favorite worker is ground up by the system?

While I'm not a coffee drinker, I do appreciate the caffeinated love that folks have for their beverage of choice and this newest cup of criminally good  java should be a stimulating read indeed:(June)


As much as I enjoy spring, summer time does have it's charms and having a good book to look forward to is definitely one of those.

So are summer movies and whether theaters become safer to enter or you just settle down on your sofa with a bucket of buttery popcorn, that is one delight worth waiting for. Personally, I'm happy to now have HBO Max in order to have a front row seat for such sumptuous film fare like In The Heights this June!:

Monday, April 19, 2021

Pairing up some Oscar related reads

 The Academy Awards are right around the pop culture corner,folks, and I have to say that I'm not as thrilled about them as I usually would be. My low level of enthusiasm isn't due to a favorite film/actor/director not being nominated or anything like that.

It's more about the real world events of last year(not to mention current goings-on) that have dulled my movie joy a bit. However, I'm willing to bolster my cinematic spirits for two reasons-a) since the show will go on, I should try to rally and b) the Oscars are on my birthday this time out.

 Feels a bit ironic that the one year that my favorite award show airs on the day of my birth is the one year that I'm not feeling the film love. Nevertheless, I thought that a good way to perk up my Oscar energy would be to pair a few books with some of the nominated movies.

The books and films in question are not directly related to one another but as we go along, the central themes of each do share a seat across from one another in the aisle:


A major nominee in the Oscar race this year is Promising Young Woman, starring Carey Mulligan as Cassie, who has left medical school in anger and disgust over the treatment of her best friend Nina, a victim of sexual assault.

Her quest for revenge takes a dark turn, similar to the leading lady of Layne Fargo's They Never Learn where Professor Scarlett Clark selects abusive men in both the staff and student body of Gorman College to eliminate. 

Her latest kill gathers some unwanted attention from the authorities, giving Scarlett no choice but to make herself part of the investigation in order to keep it from pointing in her direction. Meanwhile, freshman student Carly is attempting to find help for her roommate Allison, who was drugged and assaulted at a frat party on campus.

As Carly grows more determined to seek justice for Allison, her path gets closer to Scarlett's and it's only a matter of time before their worlds collide but who will survive the collateral damage?

PYW is nominated in five categories, including Best Actress for Mulligan and Best Director for Emerald Fennell(who also wrote the screenplay which is up for Original Screenplay as well). While I haven't seen the movie yet, word of mouth is very good on it and I'm currently reading They Never Learn, which seems like the bookish Poison Ivy to this film's Harley Quinn spirit:


A favorite topic in Hollywood is naturally tales of old school film makers and Mank, which has Gary Oldman playing legendary screenwriter Herman J. Mankowitz during his time working on the script for Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, is catnip to those cinematic tastes.

The novel that I think would go well with this movie is set in an earlier part of Hollywood but does involve a pair of iconic stars , one in front of the cameras and the other behind the scenes.

 The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin follows the friendship of 1920s screen star Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion, each of them sharing their professional and personal struggles in the early days of Hollywood and beyond. While Mary's celebrity works both for and against her at times, Frances has only her fierce determination and  quick wit to get what artistic footholds she can. Over time, their bonds break yet a chance to reconnect decades later is made possible,if only each woman will take it.

Mank is up for several awards on Oscar night,with Oldman as Best Actor, Amanda Seyfried for Best Supporting Actress and Best Picture. How well the movie will do that night, I'm not sure but I can vouch for The Girls in the Picture as a great read that should contrast this male centric movie nicely:


Switching over to the Best Animated Film category, while I do think Disney's Soul will be the big winner, the Celtic charms of WolfWalkers are rather engaging.

The story is set in Ireland of 1650, where Robyn Goodfellowe accompanies her father to Kilkenny to destroy a pack of wolves threatening the area. Robyn winds up befriending Mebh, a local girl who roams free in the forest and is one of the title beings, those who are human by day and wolf at night as their human form sleeps.

While Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale is set in medieval Russia , the two tales have much in common. Vasya is the fifth child of a overlord of a small village, whose mother passed on mysterious abilities to. As she grows older, Vasya spends more and more time in the woods and comes across magical beings who may be far too interested in seeking out her growing powers.

However, her father decides to remarry and his new wife Anna, who sees supernatural creatures that others can not, fears Vasya and plans to have her sent away. That plot must be stopped as Vasya is the only one who can protect her people from the ancient demon that has awakened to end the world.

The Bear and the Nightingale is the first in a trilogy and as it happens, Wolfwalkers is the third film in director Tomm Moore's Irish Folklore features(the first two are The Secrets of Kells and Song of the Sea).

 Wolfwalkers has won a few awards such as the L.A. Film Critics Assn, The New York Film Critics Circle and The National Board of Review, yet that doesn't always lead to Oscar gold. Nonetheless, it looks like a greatly creative work that ought to enchant audiences of all ages:

The Oscars are set to air on April 25(yes, my birthday!) and while I haven't seen most of the movies up for awards, I do have a few good guesses as to who will win.

For one, the late Chadwick Boseman as Best Actor in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom,which I did see this past weekend and it was marvelous. Best Actress is pretty much between Viola Davis in Ma Rainey and Andra Day for The United States vs. Billie Holiday(I think Andra might take home the gold this year) and Daniel Kaluuya should won Best Supporting Actor for Judas and The Black Messiah.

As much as I would like to see Maria Bakalova win Best Supporting Actress(I did see the Borat sequel and it's actually better than the first movie), more likely it's between Seyfried in Mank and Yuh-Jung Youn for Minari.

When it comes to Best Picture, it looks like Nomadland might be the winner(director Chloe Zhao seems a lock to win Best Director) but front runners have been changed in mid stream before. Since I don't have a favorite here, I just hope that a truly amazing film that surprises everyone wins.

What I would bet on is for "Fight For You" from Judas and The Black Messiah to take the Best Song category. It's best competition here is "Speak Now" from One Night in Miami and while I do appreciate the musical style of Leslie Odom,Jr, the lyrical energy that H.E.R. gives to this song is undeniable and it will be wonderful to see and hear this sung live on Oscar night. See you all then!:


Monday, April 12, 2021

Eager for Edgar nominated mystery reads

 Although I am a big fan of cozy mysteries, I do enjoy checking  out other more intense books in that particular genre and a good place to look for recommendations is the annual Edgar Awards.

The Edgars cover both fiction and nonfiction(including TV) but since I'm more of a novel reader, the quartet of nominated titles that I'll be focusing on here will be from the fiction categories. One of these books I've already read and happens to be up for Best Debut Novel, a category that is wickedly hard for me to resist:

Stephanie Wrobel's Darling Rose Gold is loosely based on a true story but this tale of a mother-daughter reunion is set in the fictional realm.We start with Patty Watts , who went to prison for the systematic poisoning of her young daughter Rose Gold, whose testimony against her in court sealed that deal .

Five years later, Patty is out on parole and manages to reconcile with Rose who offers her a place to live with herself and newborn son Adam. Patty is happy about this and already planning to regain her position of parental power but that may not be as simple as it seems.

For one thing, Rose has brought the childhood home of her mother for them to reside in which holds rather bad memories for Patty there. Also, everyone in the area knows all about Patty's menacing maternal instinct and is keeping a very close watch on her. Yet between Patty and Rose, a war of wills is going on that has no direct witnesses and whoever wins, the consequences will be dire for all involved.

This was one of the most chilling books that I read last year and it will be surprising if DRG is not made into a movie or miniseries sometime soon. Wrobel showcases a steady hand at building character driven suspense and her next novel will definitely be worth looking out for:

Another Best Debut Novel nominee, Catherine House by Elizabeth Thomas seems to be a blend of old school Gothic with modern day academic terror and a dash of sci-fi. Set during the 1990s, Ines is drawn to attend the title educational institution after a disastrous senior year of high school that leaves her very few options for a better future.

Students at Catherine House are meant to spend three years of intensive focus on their studies with no connections to the outside world. If successful, this time apart promises to be the gateway for them to gain good connections to the upper echelons of society and beyond. 

However, Ines begins to notice that something strange is going on as when those found breaking the rules are sent to the Tower for "restoration" and return changed, perhaps due to CH's secret experiments with something called plasm. Is this experiment intended to create something for the betterment of others or for the betterment of certain others only?

This does sound intriguing and it's good to see mystery stories do a bit of mix and match here. Being fresh and new in any well known genre is a challenge yet it appears to be one that innovative authors like Elizabeth Thomas are more than willing to take on:

Although Alyssa Cole's When No One is Watching is up for Best Paperback Original, this well established romance author's debut into the thriller section of the bookshelf does showcase her strengths as a writer in any genre she chooses to set forth in.

When Sydney returns to her grandmother's beloved Brooklyn neighborhood, she's not happy about the steady encroachment of gentrification all around her to the point of starting her own local tour group to share the true history of the area.

During this time, she crosses paths with Theo, a new neighbor looking to connect with his new surroundings as well as with someone way less toxic than his entitled girlfriend. Between the two of them,  they start to notice some strange things that are making the departure of certain long term residents be more than just moving on to greener pastures.

Will Sydney and Theo be able to uncover what's going on or wind up being permanently evicted from existence? This sinister city story is very real in feel and offers more than one audience to share in the tense page turning experience indeed:

Heading back to the Best Debut Novel category, we have some historical fiction with Murder in Old Bombay by Nev Marsh.

Archie Agnihorti is an army captain in Bombay of 1892, recovering from a wound during his service. During his convalescence, he becomes interested in two things-a tragic double death featured in the local newspapers and the works of Sherlock Holmes.

Convinced that the untimely demises were not self inflicted, Archie reaches out to the family of these two recently departed to offer his services in tracking down the killer. While his help is eagerly accepted, Archie finds plenty of obstacles in his path towards justice.

 Will the spirit of Holmes and Watson be enough to guide Archie to the true culprit or can his own innate resources be of greater use in this matter? As a fan of historical fare, this engaging novel could be the start of a wonderful new series that brings genre readers even closer together:

The Edgar Awards will be presented on April 29th(via Zoom) and best of luck to all of the nominated works. While we will have to wait a bit longer for the cozy mystery crowd to give out their top honors(known as The Agathas, set for July), it will still be great fun to see who wins here and to get an idea of what's to come within this genre.

Of course, whether it's cozy, suspense or thriller, playing armchair detective is grand entertainment but safest to engage in at home. No matter how clever you are, it takes a talented writer to save the (hopefully) imaginary day, not to mention find that pesky missing item that everyone is looking for!:

Monday, April 05, 2021

My Series-ous Reading is proud to say Hail to the Chef

 I do love getting into a new series and for my latest Series-ous Reading selection, it was good to discover that the second book in Julie Hyzy's White House Chef Mystery titles,Hail to the Chef, is as delicious a read as it's presidential predecessor.

Newly appointed executive WH chef Olivia "Ollie" Paras is preparing to handle the holidays for President Campbell's administration on her own, a nerve wracking deal as it is without the constant bomb threats coming into the building.

During one of these shelter in place moments, Ollie is put in with the First Lady and her nephew Sean, visiting for Thanksgiving. Sean is prepared to back his aunt up over the potential sale of a company that her family has held a quarter interest in since it was originally founded.

The First Lady doesn't want to sell but one of the dinner guests Treyton Blanchard,a rather ambitious senator whose family is also part of the deal, is determined to get her to sign off on it. Once Ollie and company are given the all-clear, she's ready to head back to work yet the danger is not far from over as the good natured head electrician,Gene, is literally shocked to death.

On top of that, Thanksgiving dinner is unexpectedly delayed as Sean appears to be a no-show. While the meal is eventually served, FL Campbell is feeling very much pressured by Senator Blanchard to sell and with the president unable to attend as well, Ollie sympathizes with her greatly. When news arrives of Sean's demise(declared to be self inflicted), the tension in the air is all too palatable:

Between Gene's lethal accident and Sean's sudden departure(which Olivia has serious suspicions about), it's clear that more than the kitchen pots are brewing up something and unlike the menu, it's not any kind of tasty treat.

Ollie finds herself looking into more than one mystery, all the while dealing with Gavin, whose official duty is to run bomb training safety classes for the staff.

 Since her schedule is super busy, she has plenty of reasons to get annoyed over being made to attend Gavin's class but as it turns out, she does have a knack for picking up on things that others don't notice in time. Will that skill be fine tuned enough to save the day and the holiday season at the White House as well?

I really like Ollie, whose determination at doing her job(whether assigned or not) is admirable and endearing,particularly having to run a major league kitchen like this. The banter among the other chefs such as Bucky, always counted on for a gloomy prediction or two, Cyan, the savvy sous chef and Marcel, the temperamental pastry chef who frets over the placement of the annual WH gingerbread house,are well placed ingredients that make this story as entertainingly good as it is.

A major part of the plot centers around the gingerbread house,which is really cool as these official culinary creations are such a sight to see(or imagine in this case) and worthy of an important scene in any such story:

My only quibble is that Olivia's Secret Service agent boyfriend Tom is such a Negative Norman when it comes to her potential detective skills. Sure, he's not in this story much but I just got started on the third book in this series(Eggsecutive Orders) over the weekend and his attitude is really ticking me off here.

Since I'm not reviewing that one for the blog, I won't get too much into that except to say that his support of Ollie, who finds herself thrown into these situations for the most part, is seriously superficial and I won't be surprised if she tells him to take a hike at some point!

Anyway, I will be continuing this series on my own and this dash of Washington intrigue is a sweet touch of storytelling spice into the usual cozy mystery fare. Also, having a set of WH recipes at the end of each book is an appetizing bonus to be sure:

Speaking of new series, this month's SR selection is A Game of Cones by Abby Collette, the second entry in her Ice Cream Parlor Mystery series. Considering that we're close to warm weather time where frozen treats are most keenly wanted, this is a picture perfect choice.

Browyn Crewse is hoping that she can focus more on getting the family ice cream shop up and running instead of dealing with murder. Unfortunately, the body of a corporate representative, who is bearing the bad news about the arrival of a mini mall in their area, is found in a nearby alleyway.

With the possibility of one of her friends being seen as a suspect(not to mention her mystery show loving gal pal Maisie eager to solve the case), Browyn has to pause in scooping out the latest ice cream flavor to get the scoop on the real killer.

Yes, recipes are included here and while homemade ice cream is not something I've ever tried to make, it would be nice to have a place to sample such frosty sweetness(although the only risk I'd like to run into here is brain freeze):