Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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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:

1 comment:

Michelle Stockard Miller said...

You finished an impressive list of books! I really want to read Catherine House.
Thanks for joining us again. See you next time for Christmas Spirit!