Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The High Summer Readathon, a Library Haul and other bookish blog plans


Even though the summer seems to be half gone, there's plenty of warm weather time left to enjoy and if you're like me, staying in the shade is certainly the best option.

With that in mind, next month brings us the High Summer readathon from Seasons of Reading(courtesy of Michelle Miller). Beginning August 1 and ending on the 31st, you are encouraged to do as much page turning as possible to soothe your spirits or cool off during the latest heat wave, whichever arrives the soonest!

My TBR for this readathon will be small with Jennifer Weiner's Big Summer and Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern to start with(yes, there's a bit of a theme there!).

The main titles for this particular challenge will be a Larry McMurtry double feature starring The Last Picture Show and it's follow-up, Texasville. The former was a huge breakthrough novel for McMurtry that became an award winning film in 1971.

TLPS chronicles the emotional triangle between best friends Sonny and Duane,along with local beauty Jacy during their last summer together in the small Texas town they call home. Between bouts of fighting, bad romance choices and sudden departures, these three find their own way to set about deciding the path of their future lives.

The sequel Texasville takes place about thirty years later , reuniting the trio and their remaining friends and ex-lovers back in their old home town. The film adaptation,which did have the original cast and director back on board, did not get the warm reception that the first movie did(then again, neither did the book).

Oddly enough, I read Texasville years ago without having read TLPS(my intro to McMurtry was Terms of Endearment) so probably much of the character content and references to past events missed me by a mile.

 Well now is the perfect time to remedy that and with McMurtry no longer with us, the best way to appreciate his legacy is by reading one of his best known works and yes, it's perhaps underrated companion piece:

In addition to the High Summer readathon, another wonderful book related event has occurred for me and that is the grand reopening of my local library branch!

I went there yesterday and it was so good to walk through those doors again. I only hope that recent resurgences in our sadly still ongoing health crisis doesn't force it to close down once more(btw, I and my immediate family are fully vaccinated and I encourage everyone who can to do the same).

Not only was I able to finally return my pre-pandemic loans-I confess that I read just two of the four that I borrowed-but I made my first library haul of 2021 as well. All of them are mysteries and I began one of them already, The Book Supremacy by Kate Carlisle.

This series has a bookbinder, Brooklyn Wainright, as it's detective heroine and in this 13th entry of the Bibliophile Mysteries, she's celebrating her honeymoon with new husband and regular love interest Derek Stone in France. Brooklyn and Derek are having the time of their lives yet when they go home to San Diego, it turns out that something they bought in Paris is more sinister than your standard souvenirs.

Brooklyn's purchase of a first edition of Ian Fleming's The Spy Who Loved Me(a bit of a gag gift as Derek used to work for MI6) was rather a lucky buy that upon appraisal is worth far more than what she paid. While agreeing to let the book be displayed at a spy themed shop run by an old pal of Derek's, a break in and subsequent murder proves to Brooklyn that this Bond book has more secrets than what's between the covers.

While this is my first time with this series, getting into the plot and characters is relatively easy and readily engaging. With any luck, Brooklyn may become a new favorite literary leading lady of mine:

I paired that with another Kate Shackleton novel by Frances Brody entitled A Snapshot of Murder and the beginning of a newer series from Ellie Alexander.

Death on Tap introduces us to Sloan Krause, a top notch craft beer brewer who changes her place of employment due to her husband Mac getting way too friendly with one of the barmaids.

She decides to work at Nitro, a direct competitor to Mac's family business but when Sloan finds the brew master dead in one of Nitro's beer tanks, her life changes yet again. Mac is the prime suspect and despite her disgust, Sloan finds that she has no choice other than finding the true killer to help her family, in-laws and all.

I do like Alexander's Bakeshop Mystery series yet since I'm not into beer, I haven't picked this one up before. Giving Sloan Krause a fair shot should be fun and hopefully as intoxicating as her other mystery treats:

Last but not least, for those of you who check out my Series-ous Reading posts, the next review will have to wait until September. Taking it easy during these increasingly overheated days seems right to me(my fall book preview will be in September as well). The wait will be worth it, folks.

Rest assured that I am still reading those Culinary Cozy Feast books there and plan to serve up a double platter of fishy doings with Barbara Ross' Clammed Up(which I did like quite a bit) with Killer Crab Cakes by Livia J. Washburn not long after Labor Day.

Instead, my big blog focus will be on Autumn in August, my new end of summer film festival that starts next week with The House of Mirth starring Gillian Anderson as the ill fated Lily Bart. Nothing says autumn like Edith Wharton in New York, if you ask me:

There is still time to sign up for the High Summer readathon(follow the link in the second paragraph of this post) and whatever your remaining summer plans are, I hope that a good book accompanies you where ever that may be.

I know that staying close to home is not something many of us want to do these days but there are advantages to doing just that. For one, no fighting about how books you can pack versus other so-called essentials like fresh clothes and toothpaste-the more books, the better, I say!:

Monday, July 19, 2021

The summer reruns of reading


We're getting into that part of the summer season where TV reruns start to conquer the entertainment landscape. Yes, there are some original shows out there(both on cable and streaming) but they are becoming few and far between there.

Some replays are fun and if you think about it, rereading a book is similar to rewatching a few of your favorite shows-relaxing, amusing and pretty sure that you're going to have a good time. Also, you might pick up on some finer points about the plot or characters that you have missed the first time around.

I'm in the middle of a couple of rereads at the moment that are really making this midsummer slump work well for me and perhaps one or two of them might make for fresh reads for you too:

WAITING FOR TOM HANKS: A great excuse for rereading is to buy a new copy in a different format and since I first read Kerry Winfrey's ode to romcom movies in an ebook edition, getting it in paperback is more than enough reason to jump back in.

Annie Cassidy loves the romcom genre so much that any potential mate has to fit into the Tom Hanks standard for her-funny, kind, smart and bonus points for owning a houseboat!

She's also writing a screenplay for a romantic comedy so when a film company comes to town, getting a job on set is a great gig for her. However, the movie's leading man is Drew Danforth, a former sitcom actor who needs a big hit after his big screen action film takes a box office nosedive.

While her best friend Chloe thinks that Drew could be Annie's Tom Hanks, she is firmly convinced otherwise, insisting that his goofy antics off screen and mocking banter with her in real life make him a serious non contender. Yet, as she gets to know him, Annie begins to see a better side of Drew that causes her to reassess him on the TH scale. Can he really be her ultimate Hanks or is Annie's romantic comedy focus limiting her options in life and love?

This story is so much fun, with engaging characters, well timed dialogue and good hearted humor, just like your favorite romcom film. I also have the sequel Not Like The Movies on hand(which gives Chloe a movie themed love story of her own!), making for a great double feature of reading here. Plus, I am planning to rewatch You've Got Mail later this summer as part of my Autumn in August challenge and references to that film abound greatly within these pages:

EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS: This is another "ebook to print copy" purchase that I plan on getting to later this season. Truth be told, it's one of those up all night reads that I want to slowly savor the second time around.

Malcolm Bradshaw has a pretty quiet life, working at a mystery themed bookstore with a mostly silent partner. A bit of excitement stirs up one day as a FBI agent comes calling to ask about an old blog post made for the shop's website.

The post listed eight mystery titles that Malcolm felt laid out the best plans for the perfect murder. He did it just for a lark but as it turns out, someone has taken his deadly TBR seriously and has so far knocked off three people using those books as guides.

While the agent hopes that Malcolm can help her stop the killer before he/she gets to the end of that particular reading list, Malcolm is not only surprised but scared to tell her everything he knows. He does know way more than he's willing to say but is not sure that his secret is going to save anyone, including himself.

I've read some of the books on the title list,btw, before and after this book was published and some of them have been made into great movies-Double Indemnity, Deathtrap and Strangers on a Train. That last one, I definitely have in my home video library and should probably rewatch that beforehand, in order to enhance my literary mood:

THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY: At the moment, my current classic reading is focused on Edith Wharton, most of which is rereading. However, since I've only read TCOTC once before, this almost feels like a new book to me.

The center of the story is Undine Spragg, the daughter of new money folks whose fierce determination to never miss out on the best makes her a hard person to live with if you can't bankroll her every whim.

She goes through more than one husband in this quest for more and the point that I'm at in the book has her with official husband number one(Undine has a bit of a secret past in that department!) Ralph, a dreamy eyed poet who finds that his supposed muse of a wife is simply a mortal woman with a pretty face.

Wharton does justice to all of her characters here by not painting Undine as a one note villain, rather just a product of her upbringing and a reflection of the social standards of the day. Ralph and his old school money notions are satirically skewered as well and he won't be the last spouse to be mocked in this book, no doubt about it!

There are plans underway to adapt TCOTC for Apple TV with Sophia Coppola at the director's helm. I think it will do very well with both audiences and critics, considering how modern our leading lady is.

 So far in the book, she already has a press agent and if she were in our present day world, Undine would be a social media darling with her Instagram page blowing up on the regular , rocking the latest in fashion and other trendy goods. She's the true blue material girl for all time indeed:

I guess reruns do serve a purpose other than to fill up the time. They can be comfortable places to mentally crash or spots of new discovery for the viewer that expand upon an already established fan base.

They can also provide plenty of time for rereading a good book or two, which is always a welcome idea. Getting too wrapped up in reruns can also led to trouble but that is another tale for another time and channel:

Monday, July 12, 2021

Starting my sweet summer Series-ous Reading time with a plate of Red Velvet Cupcake Murder

 It's been awhile since I've been in Hannah Swensen country,so to speak, so to begin my summer session of Series-ous Reading, it felt right to pick up Red Velvet Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke.

Set during the month of June, the biggest event in Lake Eden is the opening of a luxury condo development funded by wealthy scion Roger Dalworth, who has Hannah's realtor sister Andrea setting up the reception and showing everyone the major renovations to the place.

Hannah is asked to serve her latest culinary hit, the title cupcakes, and while all assembled seem to be having a great time, a sudden storm followed by a shocking fall from the balcony of the penthouse quickly dampens the mood. Fortunately, the person who fell,Barbara Donnelly, is alive yet sadly, is injured enough to warrant a hospital stay until her memory improves. 

With Barbara insisting that her brother(who doesn't exist as far as anyone knows) threw her off the balcony, Hannah has a new mystery on her hands which takes her away from the Cookie Jar kitchen briefly but not long enough to enjoy the ready sweet success the business is having:

What is unsettling Hannah even more is the news that Doctor Beverly Thorndike(aka Doc Bev), her former rival for dentist and occasional beau Norman, is back in town and the fiance of Roger Dalworth to boot!

Being engaged to one of the richest men in the area isn't enough for her as Doc Bev sets her sights on Norman once again. She's not subtle about her intentions either, from taking him for a spin in the fancy new Maserati that her current love interest brought her to flaunting her presence in town in front of Hannah and friends when arriving in person to pick up an order of those special red velvet cupcakes.

Dealing with Doc Bev is hard for Hannah but she's willing to be the better person in this situation and that notion is put to the test in a deadly way all too soon. While making a delivery run, Hannah notices that a car went into the lake and the unconscious driver is Doc Bev!

 Hannah doesn't hesitate to jump in and rescue her but despite those efforts, Doc Bev is gone for good . To make  matters worse, Hannah's other part time boyfriend, police detective Mike, considers Hannah the prime suspect after an autopsy reveals that Doc Bev was poisoned and her last meal was , you guessed it, those particular cupcakes. Obviously, she's innocent but Mike has this annoying habit of being all by the book when it comes to crime solving(a standard that doesn't appear to apply to his love life there!).

So, Hannah has to prove that she didn't do it as well as figure out what happened to Barbara, not to mention fix a situation left over from the last book(Cinnamon Roll Murder)-not too much on her plates is there,folks? Personally, I'm not sad to see Doc Bev get taken out of the picture. 

She was such a nasty person to begin with and the whole fight over Norman deal was starting to get a little too much "The Boy is Mine"-don't get me wrong, Norman is a great guy worth fighting for but Hannah should have a better reason to appreciate him than another woman on the scene:

Nonetheless, it was good to meet up with Hannah again and while the various mysteries crisscrossed quite a bit, the story and well known characters were still  compelling enough to hang out with. 

Turns out that this is a good time to get reacquainted with the residents of Lake Eden as the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel is planning to air another Murder She Baked adaptation this summer!

Based on the book Cream Puff Murder, this installment is entitled Sweet Revenge where Hannah has to solve a murder at her local gym just before her wedding to Mike starts(I know she doesn't marry Mike in the books but rest assured, some fans will be happy to see them walk down the aisle). It sounds like light hearted summer viewing fun to me: 

In the meanwhile, the next summer serving in my Culinary Cozy Feast is from Barbara Ross with Clammed Up.

The first entry in her Maine Clambake Mysteries introduces us to Julia Snowden, who goes to her seaside home town of Busman's Harbor to help the ailing family business out. Thanks to her brother in law Sonny, the Snowden Family Clambake is deeply in debt with lackluster summer time attendance making it all the more difficult to keep the family financially afloat.

As a way to increase business, Julia expands their culinary services by catering events. Unfortunately, the first big outing is a wedding which comes to a quick end upon discovering the best man hung out to gruesomely dry at the family island venue!

Between that awful incident and a fire set during regular service, Julia finds herself taking up detective duties to not only save her business but perhaps a couple of lives as well. I'm not much of a seafood person yet the descriptions of the clambake are tempting indeed. I do look forward to sampling more of this series both in and out of the summer season there:

Monday, July 05, 2021

Settling up my Sci-Fi Summer reads

 As of last week, the Sci-Fi Summer readathon(sponsored by Michelle Miller of Seasons of Reading) came to an end and as usual, I managed to finish three out of the four books that I set aside for this fun challenge.

First to be read and completed was Mike Chen's We Could Be Heroes, which which has an unlikely duo pairing up to solve more than one mystery about their lives.

Jamie,aka The Mind Robber, uses his mental superpowers to rob banks as nonviolently as possible with his ultimate goal being to escape to a distant island accompanied by his cat named Normal.

Zoe,whose superheroine name is Throwing Star, works as a food delivery person by day and hunts down criminals at night, hoping to somehow find a way to regain her memories. Two years ago, she woke up alone in a fully paid for apartment with only a name tag and a note explaining her extraordinary abilities. Since then, she's tried to figure who and what she is, not to mention meant to do with her life.

Jamie also has a similar memory loss situation and after an encounter in their alter ego personae, they run into each other at a support group for those suffering from memory problems. Instead of attacking each other, they compare notes and decide to team up to find some answers.

To say more would spoil the fun but I do have to say that it's not surprising that author Mike Chen happens to be a fan of DC's Legends of Tomorrow as these two would definitely fit right in to any season of the show.  Don't get me wrong; Chen has plenty of original takes on the genre here with a good amount of comic book inspired creativity.

What his writing does share in common with LOT is the offbeat moments of humor that expand and lighten the mood at times, the growing friendship that compels both of the main characters and pushes them beyond their superhero/villain roles,along with making a world with such powerful beings seem very relatable.

While the overall mystery is engaging, it's the smartly written character development that makes this story soar:

Next up was Goddess in the Machine by Lora Beth Johnson, a YA novel that is intended to be part one of a duology.

Seventeen year old Andra Watts was nervous enough as it is when her family planned to leave Earth to a settlement on the planet Holymyth, requiring her to enter a pod for a cryogenic sleep that would last a hundred years.

When she does finally awakens, it's a thousand years later and everyone that Andra knows and loves is long gone. Instead, an exiled prince named Zhade informs her that she's seen as the "Third Goddess", who is supposed to save the planet and in particular, the central city of Eerensed.

Hoping to find a way back to Earth, Andra reluctantly agrees to work with Zhade, who has a few scores to settle in Eerensed, and present herself to the current ruler Maret, who is Zhade's half brother and in need of a way to fix the protective dome that keeps the city residents safe from the ravages of the outer desert surroundings.

Andra does her best but things are always not what they seem, especially when it comes to Zhade and his secret plans. Can she save the day or is the universe fully aligned against her?

Since this is a first half of a bigger story(part two, Devil in the Device, is set to be out in August), I have to say that so far, I am intrigued. The characters are engaging and with the new forms of language that Andra and the reader learn to decipher keeps your mind alert as you go along. I look forward to finding out what is in store for Andra and company as it should be a sight to see:

To round things out, my last read for this Sci-Fi Summer was Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie, another part one but in what is called The Bloodright Trilogy.

Ettian is a student pilot at the Umber Academy, having enrolled years after his Archon home world was conquered by the Umber empire, leaving him an orphan with tragic memories of his past.

Nevertheless, he is determined to put that all behind him and become a useful member of this galaxy's dominant society. That plan is upended when his best friend/roommate Gal is revealed to be the heir to the Umber empire, which places a huge target on his back.

Believing that Gal will be a better and more peaceful ruler than his parents, Ettian risks everything to protect him from those looking to take Gal down and/or use him as a political bargaining chip. As the two of them find refuge on a distant planet, new allies are made and different plots to get Gal to a safer place are created and rewritten. One thing that is for certain are the emotional bonds that they share which go beyond friendship yet could make them, Ettian in particular, more vulnerable to their enemies.

This story falls into the YA/New Adult realm but it's a page turning read regardless of the category. Skrutskie gives her characters the right amount of emotional complexity and nuance that gels her world building nicely. She also adds a couple of twists and turns that I didn't see coming until the end that makes me eager to get book two(Oaths of Loyalty, due in September) as soon as possible!

I also hope that since this story is narrated by Ettian and the second installment is probably going to be told from Gal's perspective, that the third installment has Wen, a scrappy street survivor with bloodright issues of her own, at the helm there. She's extremely compelling and smartly kickass, so I'm not the only one who wants her to have her own book, I'm sure:

Thanks again to Michelle at Seasons of Reading for making Sci-Fi Summer possible and I hope that everyone who joined in for the bookish fun had a great reading time. The next readathon on the SOR roster is High Summer in August and I do have a TBR pile under way for that. A couple of titles will take me to Larry McMurtry country, which will be both a renewal and a discovery all in one for me: