Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, November 29, 2021

My Series-ous Reading gets a little cheesy in order to Inherit The Word


As this year of Series-ous Reading is coming to a close, I have to say that diving into this Cozy Comfort Food of mysteries has been fun. 

While I have made last minute changes to this bookish menu, the main fictional feast has been a very tasty and relaxing time indeed.

For this next to last page turning meal, Daryl Wood Gerber’s  Inherit The Word (the second entree of her Cookbook Nook series) had plenty on the plate to chew over. Jenna Hart, the widowed co-owner of the culinary themed bookstore set in the beachside town of Crystal Cove, is busy enough with playing host to the annual Grill Fest competition without a small mystery of a personal nature to deal with.

Her playful kitten Tigger happens to knock over a Lucky Cat statue given to Jenna by her late husband David (whose unusual death once had her suspected of doing him in), breaking it to reveal several gold coins and a key.

While she has no idea about where the coins came from or what this key unlocks, Jenna is given the perfect excuse to take her time finding out. During the first round of Grill Fest, whose theme this year is grilled cheese, one of the most contentious contenders, Natalie Mumford, is found dead right behind the shop!

Due to Natalie’s less than friendly nature, plenty of suspects abound but when the focus is on Lola, the mother of Jenna’ longtime friend, Bailey, Jenna finds herself looking into the case.

Granted, there were a good number of folks on hand that day who knew how to handle a panini press, which was the weapon of choice here. However, the grilled cheese contest may not have been the motive for murder:

As Jenna looks more into the case, Natalie’s family is appearing to be less than innocent. From melancholy daughter Ellen and her spendthrift lout of a husband Willie to Norah, the newly arrived older sister, money might truly be the cause of Natalie’s demise.

Meanwhile, Jenna has to ultimately face the mystery that David left behind and the solution to that puzzle spells out a shocking secret that changes her memories of him for good.

What I am really liking about this series so far is the setting of this small yet viable town that offers both lively activity and a peaceful retreat all at once.

Crystal Cove may be in California but it has Stars Hollow energy, with these Gilmore Girls worthy characters such as the eternally cranky Pepper Pritchett, Jenna’s Aunt Vera ,who  always is ready with a healing crystal and fortune telling based advice and Katie, the quirky chef at the Cookbook Nook’s cafe.

One of the nicest subplots in this story is a budding romance between Katie and Keller, an ice cream maker who sells by bike. I hope that this spark of love grows into something more with each book in this series:

Jenna has a potential love interest of her own, Rhett, who was unjustly accused of setting a restaurant fire years ago. 

While he’s mostly a supporting player of the emotional kind this time around, chances are that Rhett will become more of a leading man as time goes on.

I do plan to read the third Cookbook Nook mystery, Stirring the Plot, next year and despite the Halloween theme, probably won’t wait until October to do so.

This combo of mystery, cooking and books is the best recipe for cozy reading in my opinion. Plus, there are loads of cookbook recommendations sprinkled throughout the story and yes, recipes that include new versions of classic favorites like the grilled cheese sandwiches served up with a smile here:

For our final course in this Cozy Comfort Feast, dessert is definitely called for. 

With that in mind, I’m ready to have a slice of Joanne Fluke’s Weddings Cake Murder just as soon as I finish up  Double Fudge Brownie Murder first!

Hannah Swenson is about to get married but not to either one of her regular beaus, Mike and Norman. Instead, she’s walking down the aisle with Ross, a former college sweetheart and filmmaker who we met a few books back. I’m still Team Norman, regardless of that!

Anyway, Hannah is too busy to plan her big day as she’s competing in a Food Channel contest being held in New York. While her culinary skills are earning her big wins, those sleuthing talents of hers also make an appearance when one of the judges takes their last bite out of life.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the groom, seeing Hannah get married should be a sweet treat to end this round of Series-ous Reading right:

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Thankful for a Library Haul


With the holidays fast approaching, it feels like there’s not enough time to prepare for them as well as enjoy the delights of the season to boot.

However, getting something good to read is as important as finding the ideal vegetables for your Thanksgiving side dishes(my mom is a rutabaga fan)so a library trip combined with a little grocery shopping was fruitful on both counts.

The first book on my to-be-borrowed pile was Lucy Foley’s  The Guest List, which I had tried to read in ebook form last year but it was too popular a library loan to have for long.

The story is set on an island, where celebrity couple Will Slater and Julia Keegan are having their big wedding. The occasion is fraught with tension already from jealous members of the wedding party, not to mention a mysterious note given to the bride warning her about the groom , before a murder is announced during the reception.

The fact the Irish island where this wedding is taking place was formerly best known as the site of a gruesome massacre doesn’t inspire much confidence among the still living attendees. Can those who remain survive long enough to discover the killer in their midst?

This book happens to be a Reese Witherspoon book club selection and I tend to like many of those page turning picks of hers. Also, TGL has been favorably compared to the Agatha Christie classic, And There Were None, which adds some extra sinister spice to the party mix indeed:

The next novel that caught my eye was That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron. 

The title lady is Jennie Jerome Churchill, the mother of historic British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Well before he was born, Jennie was making a name for herself in more ways than one.

Jennie was an American heiress(one of those Edith Wharton style “buccaneers “)  who married Lord Randolph Churchill and became a very well received society wife, eager to advance her husband’s political career.

As time went on, it was clear to her that she was in a marriage of connivance and in order to find true affection, Jennie had to look elsewhere. That pursuit of passion did not affect her determination to advance the goals that her husband and then later on, her son had in mind to make the world a better place.

I’ve read several of Barron’s Jane Austen Mystery books and really liked them, so that alone makes this worth a try. Plus, this story sounds like a good way to learn a bit more about Jennie Churchill, a woman who seemed to know how to make the best of things while staying true to herself:

To round this library stack off, I went with A Wrench in the Works by Kate Carlisle, one of the books in her Fixer-Upper Mystery series.

Shannon Hammer is well known for her home renovation skills along with her knack for solving murders but her sister Chloe is more of a household name due to her popular show on the Home Builders Network.

When Chloe and her film crew come to their hometown of Lighthouse Cove for some special episodes, Shannon is happy to see her sister again after being ten years apart from each other.

 Yet, despite Chloe’s seemingly successful life, there are some hidden tensions and secrets that threaten to be revealed when her executive producer Bree is found as dead as a door nail.

Can Shannon use both sides of her toolbox to help her sister out of this sticky situation or is Chloe painted into a deadly corner with no way out?

Over this past year, I have become a fan of Carlisle’s Bibliophile Mysteries titles(reading one as we speak at the moment) and thought that checking out her other cozy mystery series would be fun. 

Also, some of these books have been turned into Hallmark Channel movies and this gives me good reason to watch a couple of them before the new year begins:

While I must confess to not having finished all of the books from my last library haul(the Stephen King book was read quickly) but I do have higher hopes for this TBR pile.

Mostly, I’m thankful to be able to visit my local library on a regular basis and that we still have the right to read freely, a right that is being challenged more and more these days. Things are bad enough as it is without simple minded folk attempting to force their particular brand  of narrow thinking upon all of society.

Hopefully, a celebration such as Thanksgiving can unite us in focusing on what positive energy we can bring to the collective dinner table as well as set up more chairs for others to join in and contribute to the mutual bounty. 

So, I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving and/or Friendsgiving to relax, have a great meal and spend a little time with your loved ones, perhaps watching a classic or sharing a fine read:

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Making a list and checking it thrice for the Christmas Spirit readathon


With Thanksgiving about a week away, it’s close enough to start making those holiday plans and that includes reading for me. Once again, I’m signing up to partake in the Seasons of Reading Christmas Spirit readathon (hosted by the awesome Michelle Miller).

The readathon and its  adjacent challenge has a great time span, starting on November 22 and ending in early January, which grants you plenty of page turning hours to have during this busy season.

My TBR will be small but sweet here, beginning with a very cozy stocking stuffer of a read:

EGGNOG MURDER: Having enjoyed Halloween Party Murder by this trip of cozy mystery authors-Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis and Barbara Ross-I thought that it might be fun to see how one of their happy holidays collections would be.

The title tale belongs to Meier’s Lucy Stone as she fears the recent demise of Dorcas Philpott via an allergic reaction to the classic seasonal drink may have been meant for the spouse of a good friend. Death by Eggnog from Hollis has Hayley Powell trying to discover who wanted eternally cranky librarian Agatha to  check out for good.

Barbara Ross wraps things up with Nogged Off as her crime fighting heroine Julia Snowden finds herself hosting an unexpected guest for the holidays and a deadly trip to take as well.

While I’m not a fan of eggnog, I can appreciate the nostalgic joy folks take from imbibing this occasionally spiked drink around this time of year. Much like the drink itself, this set of savvy sleuthing ladies can be entertainingly versatile when the situation calls for it:

IN A HOLIDAZE:  Writer Christina Lauren introduces us to Maelyn Jones, who is spending her holidays with her family at the cabin they share with the Hollis family 

As it turns out, Maelyn has had a longtime  crush on one of the Hollis sons, Andrew. Instead of finally telling him how she feels, Maelyn winds up sharing a kiss with his brother Theo and following the news that the elder Hollises want to sell the cabin, Maelyn is convinced that this is the worst Christmas of her life.

However, on her way home, she finds herself caught in a time loop that allows her to relive that holiday week and perhaps get a chance to change her life for the better. 

I remember hearing a lot of good word about this book and I’ve never read Lauren before, so this should be a real delight of a seasonal story there. After all, after the past couple of years, plenty of us would welcome the opportunity to have a redo of last Christmas:

CANDLELIGHT CHRISTMAS:  Part of the Lakeshore Chronicles series by Susan Wiggs, this holiday romance brings together two people not quite sure of heading into that heartfelt fire of emotion.

Darcy has just gotten out of a bad marriage when she meets Logan, a single father who wants to focus on turning the ski lodge that he bought into a viable business.

Thanks to India, Logan’s sister and Darcy’s friend, the two of them find themselves meeting up again and again. With a visit to his ski lodge during the holiday season, Logan and Darcy slowly realize that denying the chemistry they share together could be a huge mistake on both their parts.

I have to say that discovering the novels of Susan Wiggs this year has made my reading life a bit brighter and that makes me look forward to this book as much as any kid waiting for that special gift on Christmas Day.

Not to mention that the whole single parent falling in love during the snowy season theme makes me want binge some classic Gilmore Girls episodes (which I may do!):

There is still time to sign up for this readathon and thanks again to Michelle for keeping that reading spirit alive and well all year long.

Diving into the Christmas Spirit readathon does not mean that I’m fast forwarding Thanksgiving at all.

 On the contrary, my ThankFall Reading is going along quite nicely as I am now reading the second book on my list(A Cookbook Conspiracy) and had so fun with Ellery Adams’ Murder in the Cookbook Nook that I picked two more books in that particular series!

When it comes to the holidays, a little friendly feasting is fine whether it’s food, books or fun. Just be sure that in the food department, you take care where your recipes come from for a more deliciously digestible day:

Monday, November 08, 2021

Booking some back in time reading

I know that for many folks the challenge of Nonfiction November is a tempting one indeed.

As for me, I prefer my history with a side of fiction there. Yes, facts are important and well planned research is to be appreciated.

However, I’m not alone in wanting to imagine what those times in the past were like for both regular people and prominent folk alike and historical fiction is the ultimate immersive experience, if you ask me.

November just feels perfect for diving into a fresh batch of historical fiction and a recent release, The Pilot’s Daughter by Meredith Jaeger , is a prime pick on my reading list.

The story begins in 1945, as reporter Ellie Morgan is more concerned about finding her missing in action father(presumed to have perished in the war) than her upcoming wedding.

Her search takes her to the San Francisco home of her Aunt Iris with a stack of love letters written to her father by a woman who wasn’t her mother.

Iris is less than thrilled to stroll down this particular path on Memory Lane as it leads back to her days as a Ziegfeld Follies dancer in New York during the 1920s, where she had a few unsavory encounters. One of those secrets may have lead to murder.

Despite the risk of revelation, Iris joins Ellie in her quest to discover the truth behind those past and present mysteries. One of the most intriguing elements of this book is that part of the plot is inspired by an actual cold case involving the death of a rather popular Ziegfeld Follies entertainer, so there’s something for the true crime crowd to take in as well here:

 In the meanwhile, I am catching up with a title that was set aside in order to focus more on my current readathon books.

Katherine Parr:The Sixth Wife is naturally the final book in Alison Weir’s Six Queens series about the wives of Henry the VIII. Being the one who “survived “ tends to get her overlooked by history and pop culture but as it turns out, Parr has plenty going on her own life before Henry showed up.

Widowed twice, Parr hoped to marry for love the third time around as she and courtier Thomas Seymour formed a serious attachment. Knowing how dangerous it would be to refuse an offer of marriage from this particular king, she planned to use her unwelcome position as queen to encourage religious reforms and perhaps moderate Henry’s quick temper.

Her steadfast nature made her several enemies, one of whom attempted to have Parr tried for heresy. Nonetheless, even when Henry finally died, she found no easy respite from the aftermath of the Tudor reign.

Weir’s background as a historian really works well with  her fictional takes on the characters, blending both of her storytelling sides as skillfully as a chef creates a simmering stew of delights. While I do still have one book in this series left to read(Jane Seymour), this finale promises to be a grand one worthy of applause:

I got some great news in my email over the weekend, that I won a giveaway for Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest work, Velvet Was The Night (such a great mouth feel to this title!).

Set in Mexico during the turbulent 1970s, we meet Maite, a bored secretary who finds herself caught up in unexpected intrigue as a cat feeding favor for one of her neighbors becomes a missing person case.

She’s joined by a man who calls himself Elvis, whose reason for seeking out this vanished lady is potentially deadly and possibly political. As the two of them dive into the who, what , where and why of this joint venture, the main question is how much are they meant to be together.

Moreno-Garcia conquers every genre that she tackles and this mix of history and mystery sounds like a good page turning beat that your imagination can dance to:

I don’t know how soon Velvet Was The Night will arrive but I know it’ll be worth the wait. That’s the thing about historical fiction; all of these tales tend to marinate into wonderful mental feasts as time goes on and finding those recipes are a true treasure that never grows old.

Of course, the best compliment to any work of nonfiction is that “it reads like a novel!” and that holds true both on and off the page;

Monday, November 01, 2021

Finishing up my FrightFall with a side of Series-ous Reading

 While the season of trick or treating was a pretty quiet time for many of us again this year, there were still plenty of wicked delights to be had.

Mine came from the annual FrightFall readathon (hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading). I started with a trio of cozy mysteries stories entitled Halloween Party Murder featuring Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis and Barbara Ross. Since I’m familiar with Meier’s Lucy Stone series and Ross’ Maine Clambake mysteries, those seasonal tales were easily engaging there.

Lee Hollis’ Death of a Halloween Party Monster was my first introduction to her Hayley Powell mystery books and a good one indeed. Hayley is having an opening night party for her new catering business on Halloween with the theme of movie monsters.

Things seem to be going well, even with an obnoxious guest, music teacher Boris Candy, having too much fun scaring Hayley’s brother in law (and local police chief) Sergio with his Pennywise costume.

At the end of the party, Hayley is in the midst of cleaning up when Boris offers one last scare; his dead body in the freezer. Can she help Sergio find the killer before everyone is out the door and into the night?

The story was fun, with several amusing fights from a last minute arrival, who was rather appropriately outfitted as Cruella DeVil, that made the closed room caper move merrily along. That entry also included recipes and columns written by Hayley that showcased her character more in depth.

The Lucy Stone story had some good zip to it, despite the ending being a little dragged out and the Julia Snowden section from Barbara Ross played out well. With her niece Paige calling for help as a simple slumber party turns into an out of control teen takeover, Julia already expected trouble before she arrived to save the situation.

As it happened, the party ended even before the police showed up due to upstairs neighbor Mrs. Zelisko fatally floating downstairs. While none of the teen attendees were responsible for her demise, there was an uninvited guest who had unfinished business with Mrs. Zelisko, who was far from innocent in her own professional dealings about town.

Each story shared the Halloween party theme yet displayed their own fictional worlds separately. That made for a scary sweet platter of holiday reading treats that satisfied my cozy mystery cravings perfectly:

The night before Halloween, I finished Catherine House by Elizabeth Thomas and it’s a sinister slow burn of a read.

Our leading lady is Ines, who has been accepted to the title academy for their three year course of intense study. While the institute requires no contact with the outside world, many of their graduates have gone on to make major careers for themselves in science, art, politics, etc.That endgame seems to make the stifling inclusive nature of the place worth while or does it?

Ines is just glad to be somewhere that protects her from the consequences of a wild night out that lead to the death of a girl she barely knew. While trying to get motivated enough to pursue any serious academic goal, she finds herself intrigued by the secretive studies being held on plasm, the source of controversy by a former professor and allegedly no longer use for experiments.

As Ines goes on with her mix of hard studying and hard partying with her friends, she can’t help being curious about the plasm experimentation that is still going on at the school. That curiosity leads her down a few strange corridors that could be more dangerous than she expected there.

Catherine House is subtle with its storytelling suspense and at times is enchantingly gothic with a modern day flair. As a debut novel, Thomas presents a rather lively mind at work here and I look forward to seeing what she does next.

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix was the headliner for me this FrightFall. Once a member of a promising heavy metal band, Kris Pulanski finds herself decades later trapped in a dead end hotel clerk job with nothing to show for her musical career.

When Terry Hunt, the lead singer of her old band Durt Wurk, announces his farewell tour for his solo group Koffin, Kris is stirred by conflicting memories of the past, enough to pick up her guitar again and head out on the road to get the band back together.

That reunion tour is more terrifying that she expected as the fog begins to lift on the night that Durt Wurk signed off on contracts that ended their run and made Terry a superstar. A deal was made with supernatural forces that demanded the best album the band ever wrote to be shelved for good and perhaps an even more personal price be paid.

Hendrix has a great knack for blending nostalgia with strong female leads, plus a solid sense of humor that doesn’t undermine the fear factor in his stories.

 Kris is a great rock and rock warrior woman who not only has to battle with evil entities in the form of UPS delivery men and deal with band mate betrayal, she also has to save the world from utter damnation with music as her ultimate weapon of choice. 

Balancing that divide between heartfelt devotion and balls to read wall terror is hard as hell yet Hendrix makes it look so easy. Granted, it does help if you’re even a casual fan of old school heavy metal (guilty as charged) but I do think that this book could be a good gateway to that genre for newcomers. 

All in all, FrightFall was a fun ride and thanks again to Michelle Miller for making it possible yet again. If I had to recommend only one of my FF reads here, We Sold Our Souls definitely has the looks that kill:

I also wanted to give a shout-out to my latest Series-ous Reading selection, Ellie Alexander’s Mocha, She Wrote.

This new entry in her Bakeshop Mystery series has expanding culinary entrepreneur Jules Capshaw cheering on her top barista Andy in his first big coffee competition.

The Barista Cup has come to Ashland with Andy not only facing deadly serious competitors like five time winner Sammy and trendy Diego, head judge Benson Vargas already seems to have it for him. One of Andy’s early offerings causes Benson to spit out the drink, making his chances of winning appear to go down the drain:

Andy vows to redeem himself by making Benson a fresh cup which he is able to hand to the judge by the time the first round is done for the day.

Unfortunately, that was literally Benson’s last cup of coffee that was deadly to the last drop and while Jules knows without a doubt that Andy is innocent, proving that is a hard grind indeed.

Despite a potful of suspects on hand, trouble is brewing for Andy but can Jules rescue him before the beans are spilled for good? 

I have to hand it to Alexander for the wonderful way she has made this series stay so warm and inviting as time goes on.

 You don’t just tune in for the mystery adventure here, you have a good time in walking the streets of Ashland and meeting up old fictional friends like Lance, theater director extraordinaire and crime solving cohort and The Professor, the about to retire police detective ready with a Shakespeare quote for any occasion.

Even the occasional appearance by local nemesis Richard Lord is welcome and seeing new characters such as Rosa and Sequoia become part of the Bakeshop family is an additional treat to boot. Kudos to Ellie Alexander on yet another Bakeshop Mystery read and looking forward to many more:

At the moment, I’ve started this month’s Series-ous Reading pick and it’s the second book in Daryl Wood Gerber’s Cookbook Nook series, Inherit The Word .

Jenna Hart and her Aunt Vera are doing well with their cookbook themed bookshop/cafe but keeping interest going during the off season of their beach front town is tricky going to be sure.

When the opportunity to host the annual grilling competition arrives, Jenna is happy to oblige and with the challenge this year being grilled cheese, this event seems to be too good to be true.

Sadly, a fatal find happens during the competition with an old family friend being grilled about their possible involvement. Can Jenna save the day and the entire event from a complete murderous meltdown?

Grilled cheese may not sound exciting but trust me, there’s more to this savory sandwich and this story than meets the eye: