Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, September 27, 2021

My FrightFall TBR and the ultimate book terror


With October almost here, one thing is certain and that is the FrightFall readathon is about to begin! Thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading, the pumpkin perfect excuse to read something scary is at hand.

Of course, you don't have to make all of your book choices in the horror/suspense/thriller,etc but it is fun to do so. I decided to be a little smarter with my TBR as my tendency for these challenges is to pick four books and wind up finishing only three of them by the time it's over.

So, why not just pick three books, then? Well, why not-sure, I might read something extra before the end of the month that suits this challenge to a skeleton T(trying to be punny,sorry!) but for now, this sinister trio of page turning terrors should do nicely:

HALLOWEEN PARTY MURDER: This triple dose of seasonal cozy mystery stories has Leslie Meier getting the party started with the title tale that has her sleuthing heroine Lucy Stone on the haunted house scene.

Her new neighbors have set this scare fest up and due to a misunderstanding, Lucy is more than eager to get as many folks as possible to attend the horrifying housewarming event. However, when one of the holiday volunteers becomes an all too real victim, fun time is over for Lucy and all concerned.

Following that fearsome story is Lee Hollis'  entry, Death of a Party Monster, where restaurant chef Hayley Powell is happy to attend a costume party with friends and neighbors are dressed up like movie monsters such as Chucky and Freddy Krueger. 

Yet when the high school music teacher shows up as Pennywise, the local police chief reveals his fear of clowns. It's no laughing matter, especially when that Stephen King costume proves to be the literal death of that teacher and Hayley is the only one on hand to face the music there.

To round things up is Barbara Ross with Scared Off, as her niece Paige has a sleepover with her gal pals that quickly turns into a wild party with beer toting boys. As her aunt Julia Snowden heads over to stop the wild rumpus, the rowdy teens are frightened away by a ghost. Only trouble is, that ghost resembles Mrs. Zelisko, a nearby neighbor who is supposed to check on the girls and hasn't been seen all night!

I was lucky enough to win an early copy of this book(signed by Barbara Ross!) and saved it for this particular occasion. Being familiar with Meier's Lucy Stone books and having visited Ross' Maine Clambake Mysteries over the summer, I feel very thrilled to dive in here. Lee Hollis is new to me but I love the notion of a Halloween party with film fiend costumes so all in all, this set of Halloween flavored treats promises to be a page turning party indeed:

WE SOLD OUR SOULS: This take on musical hell from Grady Hendrix focuses on a heavy metal band known as Durt Wurk whose lead singer Terry Hunt sold out his group(and namely, lead guitar Kris Pulaski) to gain fame and glory for himself alone.

Decades later, Kris is stuck in a dead end job and finds that her former friend did make an actual deal with the devil that truly dooms her and the rest of Durt Wurk, not to mention the massive crowds of fans following Terry and his new band Koffin on their farewell tour.

To save her own soul, along with numerous others, Kris takes up her guitar once again to hit the road and call out Terry before he truly unleashes hell on earth.

Having read several of Hendrix's works in ebook form(including his latest, The Final Girls Support Group, which is beyond awesome!), I'm happy to report that my copy of WSOS is a physical one. While his quick paced writing is fun to enjoy in any format, having a Grady Hendrix novel on my bookshelf is the best sinister season treat for me:

CATHERINE HOUSE:  In this debut novel from Elisabeth Thomas, our leading lady is Ines, who agrees to spend three years of her life at this exclusive academic setting of the title. 

Those who have completed a full course of independent study at this institute have gone on to bigger and better positions in the world, making Ines appear to be fortunate indeed.

However, once she arrives, Ines notices an intense atmosphere that draws many of her fellow students into being part of a series of secret experiments being held in the basement. Experiments that may be more dangerous than curiosity was to the cat....

I've heard a lot about this book and the whole premise has a great modern Gothic vibe to it, plus it's said to be a good example of the genre known as dark academia(such as Donna Tartt's The Secret History). Smart,scary and secretive,all makes for quite the combo to create a good terror tale, if you ask me:

What's more terrifying than any of these books,however, is the ultimate threat to free speech and that monster's name is censorship.

 With so much misinformation swirling about these days and local school board meetings becoming battlegrounds for chaos seekers to spew their illogical wrath upon, protecting the freedom to read is more important than ever.

Banned Books Week started yesterday and ends this upcoming Saturday. Please take a moment to check out the ALA website as well as the official BBW21 site for more information. Knowledge is turning into a rare commodity right now and the way to halt that downward progression is through books, especially those that speak to communities whose concerns are overlooked far too often by the mainstream media:

As for FrightFall, it begins on Friday, October 1 and lasts until All Hallow's Eve(there is a link in the first paragraph of this post to sign up and learn more about it). While trick or treating might be put on hold again this year, due to the sadly ongoing health crisis in our midst, we can still have some holiday fun with a good book and a costume friendly film or two:

Monday, September 20, 2021

My first Library Haul of the fall

While I know that autumn doesn’t officially start until this Wednesday, chances are that I’m not the only one who considers fall to have started by now.

So with that in mind, my latest library haul seems to have a bit of a fall feeling there.  My first instant pluck off the shelf selection was Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian, which mixes divorce court with witchcraft accusations.

Mary Deerfield is determined to leave her abusive husband Thomas, a legal action that is allowed in the Puritan society of Boston in 1662 in which they live. However, that is easier said than done, since Thomas is crafty enough to hide his drunken behavior and personal violence from others.

In addition, Mary finds strange objects buried in her backyard that are trying to make her appear to be a witch, making matters all the worse. Despite coming from a rather well-off family, Mary finds that her options of escaping her husband’s abuse or a witch trial are severely limited at best.

I’ve read Bohjalian’s novels on and off for years, with each book being very different yet sharing the same well honed sense of storytelling and character depth. This particular story is so far quite riveting and might even get me to check out some of the Anne Bradstreet poems that the author has mentioned in interviews inspiring this dark tale of female troubles:


Next up is another Kate Carlisle book from her Bibliophile Mystery series, interestingly titled  Little Black Book.

Newly wed bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright finds herself involved in an international intrigue as her husband Derek receives an odd package from Scotland . The main content of the package is a signed first edition of the modern classic Rebecca, which is followed by a visit from Claire, a friend from Brooklyn’s past.

Claire is searching for her Aunt Gwyneth , who went missing and the only clue that she could  uncover is the receipt for that package. Since it turns out that Gwyneth , like Derek, once worked for MI6, this disappearance is not a random occurrence.

With the discovery of a suspicious delivery man dead from a knife to the neck and a necessary trip to Scotland, Brooklyn becomes tangled up in a case perhaps more suspenseful than the Du Maurier novel that set this whole caper off.

I have been reading this series out of order(hope to remedy that soon!) but Carlisle creates such an inviting world that makes even a newcomer feel most welcome here. With any luck, diving into the backstory of Brooklyn Wainwright will be far less treacherous than Rebecca de Winter’s certainly was:

To round things off, I went with A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier. Our leading lady is Violet Speedwell, a woman barely making ends meet in England of 1932.

Due to the deaths of her brother and her fiancé during WWI, Violet is considered a “surplus woman”, destined to a lonely life with little means of support. Her secretarial job in the town of Winchester barely gives her enough to pay her boarding house rent and not much more than that.

Yet, while visiting the well known cathedral that puts Winchester on the proverbial map, Violet runs into the broilers, a group of women who spend their spare time making kneelers for those attending church services.

The time and effort put into making such beautiful and essential items inspires Violet to join their ranks. In doing so, she begins to find more of a purpose to her life than just merely existing.

Chevalier is quite the word weaver, spinning elegantly engaging stories of women dealing with what the world around wants and expects from them. It seems that much like her other work, this book showcases what one woman can do with what is available to find her own way to happiness:

All in all, this library trip was a good way to start my fall reading season. While the news of the day makes every day appear to be bleak and dire, a good book can be a vital part of your emotional survival kit indeed:

Monday, September 13, 2021

My summer seafood special of Series-ous Reading


Welcome back for a new round of Series-ous Reading! Due to launching a new late summer blog event(Autumn in August), I thought it would be good to simply do a wrap-up post for the summer in September and this Culinary Cozy Feast of reading was a bookish bounty of page turning plenty indeed!

For July, my selection was Clammed Up by Barbara Ross, the first book in her Maine Clambake Mysteries series. Our leading lady is Julia Snowden, who has returned home to Busman's Harbor, ME in order to help save the family business, which are seasonal clambakes held on a nearby island that's been in her mother's family for generations.

Thanks to her brother in law Sonny, The Snowden Family Clambake Company is deeply in debt, with the bank only giving them one season to turn things around. Julia, with her background in marketing, decides to expand the business via catering, starting with a wedding that gets off to a bad start quickly.

While it's bad enough that Sonny hates the whole catering idea and has fights with Etienne, the long time caretaker of the island, Julia has a nervous bride to deal with and upon the wedding party's arrival to the partly renovated island mansion on the big day, a gruesome sight greets them. The body of the best man has been hung from the front hall stairs, killing the mood rather effectively!

With the island being shut down for the investigation and the number of days allowed for closure by the bank, Julia finds that she has no choice but to find the murderer herself with or without the help of Lt. Binder, the local police detective, in order to save the business and her family. 

As the suspects range from the members of the wedding to some of the local folk, including Julia's school girl crush and possible new boyfriend Chris, this sinister search for the true killer proves to be harder to crack than a stubborn lobster claw.


I did enjoy the character development within the story, with fun side characters such as Gus, the cantankerous diner owner who knows more than he lets on at times, and the setting of Busman's Harbor is engagingly described, enough that even a landlubber like me wouldn't mind checking it out!

Julia and her struggles to readjust to her family after living in New York for so long(not to mention her guilt over the death of her father, which I think some of her relatives were a tad too quick to ladle over on her there!) added a good touch of nuance that rounded the overall story line nicely.

This book got me so hooked that I picked up the second entry(Boiled Over) and finished a little after Labor Day and Ross certainly has a way with layering her story with well molded character arcs and local history, not neglecting her main mystery plot in order to do so.

I wound up checking out these books due to winning a copy of the now available on shelves holiday anthology Halloween Party Murder(which Barbara Ross, Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis all contribute stories to) and while I will be saving that book for a certain readathon, I'm glad that I got to know Barbara Ross' literary world a bit better.  I may read some more of this series also  as it's as cleverly comforting as a serving of lobster mac and cheese:

In August, I chose to sample a platter of Killer Crab Cakes, courtesy of Livia J. Washburn's Fresh Baked Mysteries series.

 Retired school teacher Phyllis Newsom is truly a fish out of water as she agrees to run her cousin's B&B for a little time during the summer. Not only is Phyllis getting a bit of vacation fun with her boyfriend Sam, she's also able to take part in a nearby baking competition to boot.

Those plans go awry when one of the guests literally drops dead while fishing, having possibly been poisoned by the title dish. As everyone at the B&B is under suspicion , the dead man's relatives and business enemies show up to throw more chaos into the startling stew of tension simmering on the story telling stove.

Since this book starts not long after The Christmas Cookie Killer(which I read last year), keeping up with the characters was easy for me and the addition of the horrible adult children of the deceased, who turned out to be a rather wealthy man despite his every man appearance, gave off some fun Knives Out vibes to the whole story.

Washburn does have a solid sense of character comradery as Phyllis and friends work together to figure things out and over time, you really hope that certain people in the story are not guilty at all. Once again, I found this series to be as tasty a read as any plate of savory seafood treats can be:

Well, this was a fine summer of reading indeed and my autumn feast of Series-ous Reading takes me right over to Hannah Swensen's Cookie Jar bakery with Blackberry Pie Murder on the menu.

Hannah is stunned when a rainstorm drive to work results in her van hitting a man on the road, possibly causing his death. When this incident does lead to her being arrested and about to be tried, her only chance of acquittal is to find out who this man was in the first place.

So far, so good and Hannah having to deal with the legal system promises to be interesting there. Blackberry pie may be more of a summer item but to me, pie is a full on fall flavor fest along with Hannah Swensen's delicious mysteries:

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

What I read on my High Summer readathon vacation


Welcome back, everyone and I hope you all had a good end of summer time. Granted, those affected by Hurricane Ida(and the leftover wrath from that storm) are not doing so well right now yet such terrible times will eventually pass with much help and support.

Yes, some of that later storm hit my area but I was fortunate enough to receive a minimal amount of trouble from it. Best wishes to those still struggling with the aftermath.

Meanwhile, I did my regular "three out of four" reading for the High Summer readathon hosted by the lovely Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading and looking forward to the next one on the literary horizon(more on that later). My wrap-up is a tad late but a blog break was necessary , trust me.

Okay, onto to the books:

SUMMER HOURS AT THE ROBBERS LIBRARY:  Sue Halpern's novel brings together Kit, a new resident to the town of Riverton,NH and a librarian who just wants to live out the rest of her life in relative peace, and Sunny, a teenage girl being raised by off the grid type parents.

When Sunny is caught stealing a dictionary from a mall bookstore, her punishment determined by the local "kid court" is to do community service at the library over the summer, making her duties the de facto responsibility of Kit.

While Kit does appreciate Sunny's cheerful demeanor and quick witted intelligence, she is not eager to get too involved in the girl's life. Sunny, on the other hand, is curious about what's in Kit's past that she's trying to hide but even more so, she finds a few things out about her own seemingly carefree parents that raises a lot of questions and concerns there.

Along with Rusty, a new library patron seeking out a possible ancestor that could lead him to a source of financial renewal for him, Sunny and Kit slowly but surely learn to connect. Dealing with their past and present situations can bring about a better future but will they allow that to happen?

This story is thoughtful and engaging, giving the trio of main characters the right moments to take over the narrative, something that is easier said than done. Halpern brings a fully fleshed out development to her main players that doesn't overwhelm the plot yet is not driven by the need to hit those storytelling marks.

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library is a charming read that is not sentimental but readers and library lovers will especially enjoy it's subtly sweet vibes:

BIG SUMMER: Social influencer Daphne Berg seems to have her life on track at the moment but when former frenemy Drue Lathrop Cavanaugh decides to yank her back into her social sphere, things get wilder than either of them ever intended.

The big blowout that ended their friendship years ago lead to Daphne's online career as a plus size advocate with a steadily growing audience and endorsement deals. However, Drue is about to marry her longtime sweetheart at Cape Cod, a guy who ditched his reality show dream girl on national TV. She insists that Daphne is her only real friend and that she needs her as a bridesmaid.

Such a PR bonanza is hard to resist and while she doesn't completely trust Drue, Daphne is willing to give her a chance and perhaps reap a few personal benefits out of this whole thing.

The typical wedding dramatics crop up during the pre-event party and Daphne surprises herself by making a very welcome new romantic acquaintance. However, when the bride is found dead in a hot tub the next morning, everything changes fast. With the guy she was with having disappeared(and not on the guest list) Daphne has to find the killer before she's seen as the star of her own legal reality series!

Having read Jennifer Weiner before, I was not as thrown off by the plot switch-up there as some folks might be as she has written a mystery themed novel earlier in her career(Goodnight  Nobody). While this book wasn't intended to be one, it does have many of the elements of a cozy culinary mystery here.

Unlikely detective -possible suspect? Check! A group of friends ready to pitch to find the killer? Check! Plenty of witnesses eager to give out helpful information? Check! A good amount of mouth watering food descriptions and loving family memories? Double Check!

I don't say this as a bad thing; rather, as a cozy mystery fan, I enjoyed Weiner's version of such a story and think that if she wanted to tackle this genre head on, that would be great to see. While this story is more big city than small town, Big Summer offers the cozy comfort of a solid beach read worthy entertainment:

THE LAST PICTURE SHOW: Larry McMurtry's iconic novel is set in the small dying Texas town of Thalia during the late fifties, where the young people find little to do there with their lives as do their elders.

The main focus of the book centers around Sonny and Duane, two life long friends trying to make the most out of their last year of high school. While Duane is dating Jacy, the most attractive girl in town who is always looking for some drama to stir up, Sonny finds himself having an affair with Mrs. Popper, the neglected wife of the obnoxious sports coach.

At some point, Duane and Sonny do have a fight over Jacy but that isn't the main conflict between them. All three of these about to be adults are really trying to figure out if the paths laid out for them are those they are meant to take or is their ultimate fate actually up to them?

The first McMurtry book that I ever read was Terms of Endearment(yes,due to the movie) and it introduced me to the author's knack for intricate character building that allows each persona to slowly yet surely guide the plot along. TLPS showcases the regrets of the older characters with the confused ambitions of the younger ones, making what many would consider to be humdrum lives instead to be a series of vivid portrayals of thwarted dreams.

I haven't gotten to Texasville(a book that I read way too soon years ago) but I'll give it a go at some point with more understanding of the fictional context there. Also plan to watch the film version as well , which has been widely acclaimed and I hope that it lives up to the novel in more ways than one:

Once again, thank you to Michelle Miller and sorry for such a late round up! I promise to be more prompt for the upcoming FrightFall readathon this October, where we may not have trick or treating but there will be many fabulous costume capers out there to drape ourselves in: