Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, May 24, 2021

Setting out towards the stars for this Sci-Fi Summer readathon


With the big holiday weekend coming up, making those summer plans is more timely than ever and as mine are of an indoor nature, I'm pleased to share with you all my TBR for the Sci-Fi Summer readathon this June!

Hosted at Seasons of Reading by Michelle Miller, this month long look at science fiction and fantasy is still a new item on the literary roster here yet it's a great way to challenge yourself if this particular genre is one that you haven't tackled too much on a regular basis.

 This year, my list of four titles happens to be all hardcover editions(two of which I won in a giveaway last year) and at least two of them are set in outer space, which is as about as sci-fi that you can get there!

That pair of books also happen to be the one that I received from VirtualCon, with Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie where two fellow classmates at an intergalactic military academy go on the run after one of them is discovered to be the heir to the despotic empire that rules the galaxy.

As they seek sanctuary and allies, the reluctant prince and his protector face a good number of challenges, including that his royal family is responsible for the death of his companion's parents and home world. Can these obstacles be truly overcome to save the universe and make right those things that have gone wrong? This book is the first in a trilogy and I hope that I enjoy it enough to check out the next entry in the series.

Speaking of series, the other Virtual Con prize book also appears to be the first in a duology. Lora Beth Johnson's Goddess in the Machine is set in the year 3102, the last moment in time that Andromeda aka Andra expected to wake up in.

When she and her family went off to live on a new planet, Andra was told that her cryonic sleep would only be a hundred years but it turned out to be a thousand years later instead, with everyone she knew and loved being long gone.

In order to return to Earth, Andra teams up with Zhade, an exiled prince looking to boost his social status by exploiting the popular notion that she's an awakened deity meant to save their world. Will Andra be able to find home somewhere in the universe and maybe true love as well?

This does sound cool and since the second book(Devil in the Device) is due out later this summer, my timing for this story could be perfect:

For something a bit more down to earth, Mike Chen's We Could Be Heroes has a rather unlikely pair of friends as our leads. When Jamie recognizes Zoe at his  memory loss support group meeting, it's not a sign of good things to come.

As it turns out, both of them woke up in unknown locations two years ago, each given only a one year apartment lease and a note that explains what their super powers are. Given such strangely similar circumstances, they decide to work together to achieve their goals-Jamie wants to steal enough money to retire to a remote island with his beloved cat Normal while Zoe just wants her memories back.

While Jamie is fine with using his mental powers to help Zoe, what he finds in her thoughts changes the game for both of them in more ways than one. I do love superhero themed novels and this story promises to be more than just an action packed adventure but also a powerful emotional journey well worth taking:


To make this TBR a true quartet, my last selection was The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang, the first in a trilogy that has been getting serious praise from critics and fans alike.

When orphan girl Rin passes the entrance exam to the Sinegard, the top military school in the Nikara Empire, no one was more surprised than she. Thrilled to be leaving a harsher than Cinderella life as well as being able to avoid an arranged and unwanted marriage, Rin is determined to make her mark but there is much against her.

Scorned by the student body, Rin works even harder to keep her spot yet her difficulties increase when she finds that she has a talent for shamanism, a powerful magic that is at best hard to control.

Gaining reluctant help from a teacher feared mad by others, Rin manages some grasp of her new found abilities only to learn that she has a connection with ancient gods thought to be long dead. Using that knowledge and sorcery skill is dangerous but with the Empire on the brink of another war, Rin may be their only chance at victory. Yet, what cost to her soul?

I am truly looking forward to this book as it's been awhile since I dived into an epic novel and series and this feels like the beginning of a beautiful book friendship:

  Sci-Fi Summer begins on June 1 and ends on the 30th(there is a link to the sign up post in the second paragraph of this entry, if you'd like to join in the fun) and I hope that  everyone involved with this seasonal challenge will enjoy their reading selections here.

I will be taking next week off , due to not only the Memorial Day weekend but my mom's birthday, which falls around the same time, and will see all of you in June soon. Science fiction and fantasy really do feel like summer time treats, whether it's a great book,movie, video game or song, which could combine for a great pop culture party indeed:

Monday, May 17, 2021

Setting up a sweet stack of summer beach reading


We are very close to Memorial Day weekend which, to many, is the official start of the summer season and signs are good for having a much better time outdoors and inside than last year.

With the announcement of rules being relaxed for the fully vaccinated (I am in that category but still keeping it cautious for now), more folks are making big vacation plans and the one thing that you need whether you are going to the beach or staying home in the shade is a good book.

So, this trio of new/upcoming releases might help you out in that department. Pair one or more of these novels with the cold drink of your choice and prepare to be properly entertained:

DIAL A FOR AUNTIES: Jesse Q. Sutanto's screwball romcom novel begins with Meddy(short for Meddelin) Chan dealing with the fact that her loving but overbearing mother has set up a blind date for her via a dating app.

Meddy is used to giving into to her mom and her mother's quartet of formidable sisters, even to the point of becoming the photographer for their mutual event planning business.Yet,this latest arrangement is way too much but when told that the man in question is running the hotel where the family business has been hired for a major league wedding, she once again gives in.

As the date winds down, Meddy not only finds the guy obnoxious , she soon learns that his expectations for the evening are totally different than hers. Fighting him off in the car, an accident occurs and Meddy is shocked to see that he's dead!

Going home for help, Meddy is both relieved and anxious than her mom and assembled aunts are very willing to help her get rid of the body, as long as it doesn't interfere too much with the wedding plans for the next day. Juggling both the big celebration and the need to stash the corpse before it's discovered in one of the coolers mistakenly brought to the hotel, Meddy runs into Nathan, a former love who is in charge of the event.

Can Meddy rekindle an old flame while discretely dispatching a dead man and making sure that the wedding of the year goes off without a hitch? Well, I'm the midst of this book right now and it's a pure page turning delight. Suranto gives this modern day story a classic fictional flair with dark comedy in the style of films like Arsenic and Old Lace as well as Clue. A perfect comedy cocktail flavored with family love and laughter:

THE SUMMER JOB: In this debut novel by Lizzy Dent, our leading lady is Birdy, who agrees to give notice for the title occupation on the behalf of her best friend Heather. 

However, once she arrives at the Scottish inn where Heather was to be a sommelier, Birdy can't see why she shouldn't take this golden opportunity and simply be Heather for the summer. Granted, she has no experience with wine pairing but the place looks to be a simply set-up vacation spot that won't give her too much trouble.

When Birdy arrives, it turns out that the inn has had a major upgrade and a renowned chef named James is at the culinary helm who expects her to know her vino. Can Birdy manage to be a suitable sommelier and a possible partner in love with James or will more than one summer be ruined?

This does sound like fizzy foodie fun, with a nice mix of romantic comedy. No doubt you can pair this summer themed story with a great vintage or a savory season of Top Chef:

LOVE SCENES: This behind the scenes story from Bridget Morrissey stars Sloane Ford, an actress who just lost her steady role on a TV show and her boyfriend to boot.

With a family legacy to live up to, Sloane reluctantly agrees to be a producer for a WWII drama that has her mother as a supporting member of the cast. In addition to that, her dad and stepsister are tag teaming as director and to top it all off, Joseph Donovan, a major star who undermined Sloane during a past project, is the leading man!

To make matters worse, her mother insists that Sloane be Joseph's acting coach, a task that she dutifully performs while expecting very little for her pains there. Surprisingly, Joseph  seems to have turned a new leaf and is starting to make amends for his past behavior.

When the lead actress leaves the film in midstream, Sloane is eager to step into the role yet her onscreen chemistry with Joseph is not enough to make their potential relationship work in real life. Will Sloane be the star of her own life or keep playing second banana to others, including Joseph?

I do love a Hollywood themed tale and this one has plenty of popcorn passion on deck. While movie watching in theaters is still a bit uncertain, Morrissey offers us some movie magic between the covers of this engaging read. After all, a book like this certainly could be the literary equivalent of Netflix and chill this summer indeed:

There is still a good amount of time to make your summer holiday plans and while you stay safe and travel wisely, picking the right reads are just as essential as choosing the right brand of sunscreen lotion.

Even if you keep closer to home, setting the right mood for your book reading is not impossible. A good chair, some excellent lighting and some snacks can make all the difference when it comes to enjoying the summer breeze with a breezy new book:

Monday, May 10, 2021

When you play A Game of Cones, your Series-ous Reading always wins

 Despite the chills that are still lingering in the air, spring is definitely here and all too soon, we'll have ice cream craving weather which makes my latest Series-ous Reading choice all the more seasonable.

This second book in Abby Collette's new cozy mystery series, A Game of Cones, has our leading lady Bronwyn "Win" Crewse, now in charge of the family ice cream parlor, attending a contentious town hall meeting where sparks and footwear flies at the head of a man bringing unwelcome news.

The local business owners of Chagrin Falls are not too happy to hear that a mini-mall is about to be set up in the downtown area, with a few stores shutting up shop to make way for Rhys Enterprises to start construction. Win is not thrilled about it either but not to the point of throwing a shoe at company rep Zeke Reyolds like her good friend Riya does to "show support!"

Zeke is found dead in an alley the next day, with Win now concerned that Riya might be considered a suspect in his untimely demise. Teaming up once again with Maisie-who has more of a motive due to her community garden being destroyed by the incoming mall,if you ask me-Win decides to look into the matter. I know Maisie is innocent, of course, but her eagerness to emulate her favorite British mystery shows like Agatha Raisin and The Queens of Mystery do tend to lead her down the wrong detective path at times:

Before she can focus on that caper,Win has to deal with two new visitors to town and both of them intend to impact her business career.

The infamous Aunt Jack(short for Jacqueline) returns with the express intent to take back the reins of Crewse Creamery, which she ran into the ground with mismanagement and an overabundance of inedible side lines such as lottery tickets and T-shirts for tourists.

While Win's grandfather reassures her that he has the final word on who runs the family business, Aunt Jack seems to be making plans to stay. Can Win keep her aunt at bay without causing a rift among her relatives?

 Meanwhile, an old friend from New York arrives to encourage Win to go back with her. Rory Hunter worked with her at the NYC ad agency that Win left and now, supposedly authorized by the higher ups, Rory is here with an offer from the company to take Win back with better pay and status. 

Win is not too sure about this sudden offer,especially when Rory appears to be hiding something regarding her arrival to Chagrin Falls. Nevertheless, she does recruit her assistance in looking into the other business owners in town to see if any of them had means or opportunity to eliminate Zeke.

Despite not being fond of the local coffee/tea shop(owned by a pair of twin sisters who have target shooting experience!), Rory is willing to help out and becomes keenly interested in one of the closing down businesses, an art galley that promises to sell her an authentic painting by a member of the legendary Florida Highwaymen, an object worth more than what they're pricing it at or so it seems:

As Win looks into the behind the scenes deals involved with the mall and the mayor's office, more troubling circumstances pop up that cause her to wonder just how messy this particular can of political worms might be. Can she find the killer before the killer finds her and is more than prepared to deal with any trouble at hand?

This follow-up to An Inside Deadly Scoop is a real sweet treat, giving us more of Bronwyn and friends/family in a most delightful way. Collette does create an inviting environment for her characters to thrive in and you would be pleased to join them on any escapade, murder related or not. Also, there seemed to be set-ups for future story lines put in place-the mayor, for one-and that should be good to watch out for in the next couple of books.

My only wish is that we had more time with Aunt Jack(who-semi spoiler- seemed to give up far too soon). However, she may very well come back and she did inspire a new ice cream flavor with candy  mixed in for the shop, so job well done there! All in all, The Ice Cream Parlor series is a great new addition to the cozy culinary mystery genre and one worth devouring on a hot or cold day indeed:

For this month's Series-ous Reading, I've chosen a debut cozy culinary mystery with plenty of fun and flavor.

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Masansala is the first in this author's Tita Rosie's Kitchen series, where Lila is now working after needing a reset to her life. Her aunt is warm and welcoming but the constant presence of former high school sweetheart Derek Winters is making the restaurant less than appetizing.

Derek is now a local food critic/blogger who persistently gives the place bad reviews and during his latest dining experience, drops dead during dessert! Lila finds herself blamed for his death and has no choice but to clear her name and save her aunt's business to boot.

So far, this book is a charming read that makes it hard for me to put it down at times. Like a judge at a culinary competition, I am tempted to clean my page turning plate yet want to savor the story telling goodness for as long as possible. New reads, like new dishes, are wonderful surprises that make your appreciation for such imaginative creations rise up even higher than before:

Monday, May 03, 2021

This Spring Into Horror readathon has been quite the lethal ladies' night of reading


Now that May is here, the end of Seasons of Reading's Spring Into Horror readathon has arrived as well. As usual for me, I didn't get to everything on my list but there was much to enjoy.

My first completed read was Samantha Downing's My Lovely Wife, where a supposedly typical suburban married couple takes up a new hobby to liven up their relationship. Only trouble is, that leisure activity is rather lethal to those pulled into their serial killer fun and games.

Narrated by the unnamed husband(who uses the alias Tobias while seeking out fresh victims), we met Millicent, the beautiful spouse of the title, who initiates this murder habit and goes far beyond with it than her life mate ever dreamed.

At first, these sets of  deadly trysts seem to be one or two times a year but when the body of Lindsay, their latest kill, is discovered by the police, Husband is terrified of being caught. Also, it turns out that Lindsay wasn't simply dispatched and disposed as they originally agree on. Instead, her demise is all too similar to Owen Oliver Riley, a local serial killer who vanished from the area years ago after getting off on a technicality in court.

Millicent insists that changing their standard procedure is an excellent way to throw the authorities off   track from their crimes, which her dear husband is not sure about yet eager to go along with there. While this sudden media attention adds a little extra spice to their shared slaughter fest, things start going way out of hand,causing Husband to have doubts about what his beloved bride really wants from him.

This story is a sinister thriller with more twists than a M. Knight Shyamalan movie and certainly more scarily suspenseful at times. Downing gives a vivid glow to her characters and the upper class world they live in, adding a note of satire to the proceeding that makes this domestic terror tale all the more riveting and real:

After that, I needed a little comfort food reading so I took up Eggsecutive Orders by Julie Hyzy, which had White House chef Ollie Paras trying to solve a dinner time death by poisoning before the annual Easter Egg Roll.

 I do like how as this series goes along, we get more character development from the supporting cast and that Ollie broke up with her jerk of a Secret Service boyfriend(never trusted that guy!).

My next read was also a comforting joy, the latest in the Noodle Shop Mystery series by Vivien Chien, Fatal Fried Rice.  While leading lady Lana Lee is great at managing her family's restaurant, her older sister Anna May loves to remind her that she can't cook any of the dishes that made Ho-Lee Noodle House the local legend that it is.

To show up her sister once and for all, Lana decides to take a community college cooking class in secret, planning to surprise everyone with her culinary skills. Unfortunately, she's the one who gets surprised by discovering the body of her cooking teacher, Margo Chan, not long after her first class.

With a new detective determined to think that she's behind this literal stab in the back(due to Lana's talent for solving murders placed in her path), Lana has no choice but to get involved despite the warnings from her law enforcement boyfriend Adam and her family(including her sister's legal eagle romantic partner!).

 Can she uncover the killer in enough time to clear her name and manage to learn a few simple recipes to finally get an one-up on Anna May?

I do enjoy the expansion of Lana Lee's world as the books go forth, with crime fighting friends such as her roommate Megan and the contentious Kimmy Tran(whose forthright nature makes her a great partner when it comes to confronting suspects!) and now that Anna's boyfriend is finally in the picture, hopefully her big sis can join this Scooby Gang at some point!

Oh, and yes, Lana does go back for another cooking class but is not too successful at the title dish, due to being distracted by sleuthing. Nonetheless, she does want to try again but at least she's not at a Worst Cooks in America level:

And yes, I did intend to read a Ruth Ware novel but as I tend to do with these readathons, a last minute change was made and this time, I truly don't regret it.

Layne Fargo's They Never Learn is set on a college campus, where literature professor Scarlett Clark makes it her duty to eliminate one male predator at a time, with both the student body and the staff being equal opportunity offenders.

Her latest kill,a prominent athlete on campus involved in a frat house sexual assault, draws the unwelcome attention of the local authorities as well as sets off an in-house investigation led by Mina Pierce, a top notch psychology expert.

In order to get ahead of the game, Scarlett makes herself part of Mina's team and while she finds an unexpected kinship with her, Scarlett is determined to throw both Mina and the cops off course as she plans for her next target to be taken down.

Meanwhile, Carly Schiller is a freshman looking to find her place in the world and her friendship with lively roommate Allison may be a good start for that. However, upon discovering Allison being assaulted during a rowdy party, things change between them. Carly wants to either get help or seek revenge for what happened while Allison just wants to forget the whole thing.

How the paths of Carly and Scarlett cross each other is something that I refuse to spoil but let's just say that it's a journey worth taking. Fargo creates an emotional atmosphere that doesn't conflict with the pace of the story, rather it enhances the range of the characters and their end goals. The growing tension of this tale is a live wire of page turning energy that made this an up-all-night book for me.

They Never Learn is one of the best books that I've read this year and I was well into it during Oscar season, reminding of a potential contender for the awards, Promising Young Woman(which did win Best Original Screenplay for writer/director Emerald Fennell).

While I haven't seen PYW yet, I do hope that Fennell considers this amazingly intense novel as her next project. They Never Learn would make for an excellent Patricia Highsmith pairing with that film indeed:


Well, I hope everyone else who took part in Spring Into Horror had as much fun as I did and thanks to Michelle Miller of Seasons of Reading for making this all possible.

While I didn't get to every book(I am making Final Sentence by Daryl Wood Gerber, the first in her Cookbook Nook cozy mystery series, part of my regular reading rotation), there's always a next time. Speaking of next time, my TBR for June's Sci-Fi Summer is being built and with two of my choices set in outer space, my reading for this challenge should be truly intergalactic: