Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Friday, May 20, 2022

Bloomsbury Girls on the browse

 


One of the joys of reading is discovering new authors who seem to know exactly the charming type of story you need to dive into right now and a couple of years ago, Natalie Jenner’s The Jane Austen Society did just that for me.

It’s a delightful fictional look at the possible origins of a group devoted to preserving the Chawton home of Jane Austen and bringing more attention to her wonderful books(highly recommend it!) but today, I am here to share with you all my delight with her fabulous follow-up,Bloomsbury Girls , on this book blog tour.

While there is one character from The Jane Austen Society included here, you can enjoy this novel first on it’s own engaging merits. The ladies of the title work together at Bloomsbury Books in post WWII London , a rather new development for the shop that has long been run by men.

In this except from the novel, you can meet all three of them; Vivien whose rivalry with co-worker Alec is more than professional, Grace, a busy mother and wife hoping to do more with her love of books and Evie, the new girl looking for a change of scene and getting more than she ever expected:

Excerpt from Chapter Two of Bloomsbury Girls,

 by Natalie Jenner


The Tyrant was Alec McDonough, a bachelor in his early thirties who ran the New Books, Fiction & Art Department on the ground floor of Bloomsbury Books. He had read literature and fine art at the University of Bristol and been planning on a career in something big—Vivien accused him of wanting to run a small colony—when the war had intervened. 


Following his honourable discharge in 1945, Alec had joined the shop on the exact same day as Vivien. “By an hour ahead. Like a dominant twin,” she would quip whenever Alec was rewarded with anything first.


From the start Alec and Vivien were rivals, and not just for increasing control of the fiction floor. Every editor that wandered in, every literary guest speaker, was a chance for them to have access to the powers that be in the publishing industry. As two secretly aspiring writers, they had each come to London and taken the position at Bloomsbury Books for this reason. 


But they were also both savvy enough to know that the men in charge—from the rigid Mr. Dutton and then-head-of-fiction Graham Kingsley, to the restless Frank Allen and crusty Master Mariner Scott—were whom they first needed to please. Alec had a clear and distinct advantage when it came to that. Between the tales of wartime service, shared grammar schools, and past cricket-match victories, Vivien grew quickly dismayed at her own possibility for promotion.


Sure enough, within weeks Alec had quickly entrenched himself with both the long-standing general manager, Herbert Dutton, and his right-hand man, Frank Allen. By 1948, upon the retirement of Graham Kingsley, Alec had ascended to the post of head of fiction, and within the year had added new books and art to his oversight—an achievement which Vivien still referred to as the Annexation. 


She had been first to call him the Tyrant; he called her nothing at all. Vivien’s issues with Alec ranged from the titles they stocked on the shelves, to his preference for booking events exclusively with male authors who had served in war. With her own degree in literature from Durham (Cambridge, her dream university, still refusing in 1941 to graduate women), Vivien had rigorously informed views on the types of books the fiction department should carry. Not surprisingly, Alec disputed these views.







“But he doesn’t even read women,” Vivien would bemoan to Grace, who would nod back in sympathy while trying to remember her grocery list before the bus journey home. “I mean, what—one Jane Austen on the shelves? No Katherine Mansfield. No Porter. I mean, I read that Salinger story in The New Yorker he keeps going on about: shell-shocked soldiers and children all over the place, and I don’t see what’s so masculine about that.”


 Unlike Vivien, Grace did not have much time for personal reading, an irony her husband often pointed out. But Grace did not work at the shop for the books. She worked there because the bus journey into Bloomsbury took only twenty minutes, she could drop the children off at school on the way, and she could take the shop newspapers home at the end of the day. Grace had been the one to suggest that they also carry import magazines, in particular The New Yorker. Being so close to the British Museum and the theatre district, Bloomsbury Books received its share of wealthy American tourists. Grace was convinced that such touches from home would increase 


their time spent browsing, along with jazz music on the wireless by the front cash, one of many ideas that Mr. Dutton was still managing to resist.


Vivien and Alec had manned the ground floor of the shop together for over four years, circling each other within the front cash counter like wary lions inside a very small coliseum. The square, enclosed counter had been placed in the centre of the fiction department in an effort to contain an old electrical outlet box protruding from the floor. 


Mr. Dutton could not look at this eyesore without seeing a customer lawsuit for damages caused by accidental tripping. Upon his promotion to general manager in the 1930s, Dutton had immediately ordained that the front cash area be relocated and built around the box.


This configuration had turned out to be of great benefit to the staff. One could always spot a customer coming from any direction, prepare the appropriate response to expressions ranging from confused to hostile, and even catch the surreptitious slip of an unpurchased book into a handbag. Other bookshops had taken note of Bloomsbury Books’ ground-floor design and started refurbishing their own. 





The entire neighbourhood was, in this way, full of spies. Grace and Vivien were not the only two bookstore employees out and about, checking on other stores’ window displays. London was starting to boom again, after five long years of postwar rationing and recovery, and new bookshops were popping up all over. Bloomsbury was home to the British Museum, the University of London, and many famous authors past and present, including the prewar circle of Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey. This made the district a particularly ideal location for readers, authors, and customers alike.


 And so, it was here, on a lightly snowing day on the second of January, 1950, that a young Evie Stone arrived, Mr. Allen’s trading card in one pocket, and a one-way train ticket to London in the other.

 

Excerpt courtesy of St. Martin’s Press, New York. Copyright © 2022 by Natalie Jenner. All rights reserved.



I hope that this look at Bloomsbury Girls, now available at a bookseller near you, encourages any lover of bookstores to add this delightful book to their spring into summer reading list.

In addition to print and ebook, Bloomsbury Girls is also in audio format with narration by actress Juliet Stevenson. Truly a bounty of ways to engage with the lovely literary style of Natalie Jenner here!

My thanks to Laurel Ann Nattress at Austenprose for including me on this wonderful tour as well as to author Natalie Jenner for this most welcome breath of bookish air:






Monday, May 09, 2022

Tough times never last but good books do

While my TBR piles are getting tricky to manage (yes, I have more than one or two there), I can’t entirely resist the urge to buy something new to read, especially when the daily headlines are getting worse every day (more on that later).

Truly, I did think that I would just skip the Book of the Month club selections for May but my literary eye was caught by Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly, which combines romance with cooking competition shows so how could I pass that on by?

The show in question is called Chef’s Special and intended for amateur cooks like Dahlia, who is feeling unfocused in life after her divorce.

She finds a friendly rival in London, who has enough troubles of their own as the first openly non binary competitor on the culinary series dealing with rather tasteless online scrutiny.

A romantic relationship soon develops with some complications both on and off screen. Can Dahlia and London make a delicious feast of love together or will that recipe for romance fall apart like an over baked soufflé?

Word of mouth about this novel has been excellent to say the least. A nicely told romance  like this sounds ideal for a spring to summer bookish menu indeed:
 


I paired that up with Jennifer Close’s latest release, Marrying the Ketchups. 

Set in Chicago, the story lines follow the Sullivan family as they deal with the recent loss of their patriarch Bud, who ran a restaurant in Oak Park.

While new widow Rose adjusts to her relocated life at an assisted living center, two of her grandchildren are reconsidering their situations as well. Gretchen is having serious doubts regarding her rock and roll career while her sister Jane harbors suspicions about her husband’s fidelity.

It’s their cousin Teddy, however, who is determined to keep the family diner going even though his ex-boyfriend constantly shows up there for the dinner hour on the regular (talk about pouring salt into a wound there!).

Dealing with change is the ultimate theme of the book and having read an earlier novel of Close’s(The Hopefuls)  awhile back , I know that her delightful low key story telling is built upon well honed character development worth it’s weight in page turning gold:



Meanwhile, on my recent birthday, I decided to get a physical copy of an ebook by Christina Lauren (The Soulmate Equation) that I was reading and it only made sense to add another book by that author as a proper gift.

The Unhoneymooners has a classic romcom premise as Olive Torres finds herself on a dream vacation with the one man in the world she can’t stand to be around.

With her twin sister Amelia coming down with food poisoning, along with her new husband, their already paid for honeymoon in Hawaii will go to waste unless Olive goes in her stead. The only catch is that Ethan Thomas, her new brother in law, has to join her.

At first, Olive plans to have fun on her own but when she and Ethan run into a pair of acquaintances from back home, they have no choice but to pretend to be their newlywed siblings or lose out on their vacation accommodations.

Despite these ruses, Olive finds herself liking Ethan much more than she had bargained for. Is that feeling mutual or is this just a potential fling and nothing more?

I’ll probably save this one for summer reading but rest assured that Lauren’s engaging romcom energy enhanced by lively developed characters is definitely a year round enjoyment:


Before I go, I do have something to say about those troubling headlines, especially the recent attack on reproductive rights by the Supreme Court. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a huge rant, just an affirmation of what we should stand for.

Freedom is a term that gets bandied about a lot but not very well understood by many, particularly those who think that imposing their beliefs onto the rest of us is their sacrosanct right.


Freedom means not only making choices but allowing others to do the same without impediment.

 What we’re seeing right now( and have been for far too long) is an entitlement mindset that wants everything convenient for themselves and no consequences whatsoever for any negative results of their actions.

Well, as a MTV show used to say, it’s time for people to stop being polite and start getting real. Putting up with this nonsense is not how bullies like this are stopped and if being loud is necessary, then let’s get loud.

We see this in the increasing prohibitive laws attacking voters, the LBTQIA community, immigration and book banning, which targets everyone overall. Whether you sign a petition, join in a protest or just tell that rude person in your social circle to knock it off with the hate speech, every bit counts.

These oppressors love to justify their actions by insisting that “This is what the Founding Fathers of our country wanted!” but they -perhaps intentionally-forget that those folks were out and out rebels  against the established authority, the very one that caused them to leave their former country for a fresh start in the first place.

The important thing here is to take a stand for the future of our country to progress forward for all concerned  and not fall back into an outdated oppression that benefits the few. Regardless of century, we shouldn’t hesitate to take our shot for a better world:



Monday, May 02, 2022

Having a bloody good time this Spring Into Horror

My Spring Into Horror readathon ended this morning as I finished reading Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia(the new epilogue added to the paperback edition bumped it up a star to my original GoodReads review).

However, I thought that for this wrap up, it would be best to talk about the books that were fresh on my bookish horror horizon and so I began with Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart is a Chainsaw.

Jade Daniels is our leading lady who refuses to believe that she could be the Final Girl in the slasher movie scenario that is her life. 

While she can clearly see the massacre to come in her sullen small lakeside town of Proofock,ID( which happens to have an abandoned summer camp nearby) Jade’s attempts at warning the Final Girl in their midst-newcomer Letha Mondragon-about what to expect go off in the wrong direction.

Raising unwanted attention from the powers that be, Jade still persists in trying to prepare Letha for what’s to come, relying on her mental treasure trove of slasher movie knowledge to educate all those around but to no avail. Nevertheless, she gets ready for what promises to be the ultimate bloodbath of the summer:


To say more would ruin the numerous surprises awaiting you within these brilliantly blood soaked pages but I will say that the story is a steady slow burn that rewards your patience very well.

Graham Jones gives the reader a fully nuanced main character in 17 year old Jade, whose devotion to horror is her well worn armor against the harsh realities of her life. The literary portrait of this snarkily savvy yet sad souled young woman is a masterclass in emotional depth, especially with her wondering at times if she is the unreliable narrator of her own story.

I do intend to read more of SGJ but am delighted to learn that My Heart is a Chainsaw is the first book in an intended trilogy. As any good horror fan knows, sequels are the gift that keeps on giving:


For something a little less intense but still scary adjacent ,  I went with The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling. 

When Vivienne “Vivi” Jones was nineteen, she was new to the ways of magic so when she and her cousin Gwyn decided in a vodka hazed mood to lay a curse on the man who broke her heart, she never expected it to take effect.

Nine years later, that man , Rhys Penhallow,has returned to the witchy town of Glen Grove to do his family duty of resetting the ley lines that fuel the magic of this supernatural small town. Upon his arrival, Rhys experiences all sorts of bad luck which grows worse when he and Vivi meet up again.

The stakes get higher when Rhys tries to perform the ley lines spell, only to spread the curse through out the entire town. Faced with strange after efforts such as attacking toy skulls, a talking cat and an angry library ghost, Vivi and Rhys have no choice but to work together to break the curse before Halloween or it may be too late in more ways than one.

The story is charmingly sweet without being cloying and has several great bits of humor(particularly from that cat named Sir Purr-cival) , plus a well told revived romance. 

All in all, a fun romcom with witchcraft that does enchantingly engages you with every turning page and yes, Sterling is planning to give us a spellbinding sequel featuring Vivi’s cousin Gwyn! Love and horror can go hand in hand, even in the most awkward moments indeed:



 Much thanks to Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading for making this readathon possible and I’m already arranging my TBR for the next one, Sci-Fi Summer , this June.

With that theme in mind, let me give a shout out to  Everything Everywhere All At Once, an amazing multiverse adventure movie that doesn’t star Dr. Strange (that one looks cool but I need to see Spider-Man No Way Home first!).

Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn, a woman dealing with all sorts of average problems until one day she is literally dragged into an inter dimensional battle that requires her to live several lives simultaneously in order to save the day and then some.

It’s too weirdly wild to go into more details but if you are open to new mind blowing experiences with touches of humor, heart and family ties, this is a must see for sure. 

I went to watch it in theaters on my birthday last week and it was the best gift that I could give to myself. Also, in an odd way, ETEWAAO is a good movie for Mother’s Day, trust me on this:



Thursday, April 28, 2022

My Series-ous Reading discovers A Woman Unknown

One of the reasons that I started doing my Series-ous Reading feature on this blog was to give myself a chance to catch up on many of the great books still lingering on my TBR and needed to be nestled on my shelves as part of a completed set.

Well, this month’s selection, A Woman Unknown by Frances Brody, brought me a little closer to that cherished goal. Our leading lady detective is Kate Shackleton, a WWI widow who holds out hope that her husband Gerald may yet be among the living.

While Kate does keep an eye out for any possible leads there, she also handles missing person cases for other people and thanks to a recommendation from her associate Mr. Sykes, winds up with two assignments that overlap each other.

The first is from a Mr. Fitzpatrick, an older man who is worried about his young wife Deirdre going off alone to parts unknown. Since Mrs. Fitzpatrick  is in the habit of shoplifting(as Sykes found out during a previous encounter),the chances of her being involved in illegal activity are rather high.

As it turns out, Deirdre is doing something sketchy in order to pay for her sick mother’s health care. With the help of a lawyer, she plays the part of “woman unknown “ in divorce cases, so that the man in question can give his current wife grounds for adultery without exposing his actual mistress in public.

These weekends at a hotel are merely meant to be widow dressing, nothing more but occasionally a client tries to be more intimate such as a prominent actor performing in a Gilbert and Sullivan theater tour:


However, Deirdre finds herself in a world of trouble when the next man she’s paired with is Everett Runcie, a sponging socialite whose wealthy wife Philippa is eager to part from him.  

To protect his long standing other woman Caroline Windham(who is also married), Everett and Deirdre spend the night together but the next morning, only one of them is alive.

Kate happens to be an acquaintance of Philippa, who asks her to find the killer. She’s also in search of the now officially missing Deirdre as well as the police are to find out what she knows. Deirdre isn’t seen as a suspect but her vanishing act might be a permanent one if she saw too much for the murderer’s liking.

Reading one of Brody’s books is like tuning into a favorite BBC mystery TV show, with many enriching background details about the characters generously ladled out and well developed scenes that bring the overall story to vivid life.

A Woman Unknown does have a noir flavor to it’s central plot but the main elements here are of women seeking a way out of traps that life has set for them on their own terms, offering food for thought along with some tasty thrills along the way:


Speaking of great series to catch up with, my next Series-ous Reading pick is Susan Elia MacNeal’s His Majesty’s Hope, part of her Maggie Hope historical mystery series.

In this entry, Maggie is going undercover in WWII Germany to stop one of the enemy’s worst agents who happens to be her thought to be dead mother.

This is the third book in this rapidly growing series and why they haven’t been picked up for adaptation yet is a real mystery to me. You have an amazing heroine on deck here, people-hop to it!:



 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Taking a Julia Journey into the nonfiction kitchen

 

Over the past two years, a certain portion of my daily reading has gone into a sadly steady decline and while nonfiction was never my strong suit, I did try to keep some of it on my regular literary  radar.

Given the state of things for the last couple of years in the real world, my interest in learning more about it seemed repellant to maintaining a hopeful attitude there. Sure, I did read a little bit of good nonfiction once in awhile but more often than not, I strove to avoid it as much as possible.

However, my appetite for nonfiction has been revived lately, due to a renewed pop culture interest in Julia Child(from a Food Network competition and a HBO Max series). Fortunately, this wasn’t the first time that Julia had caught my attention and I happen to still have a copy of her memoir  , My Life in France,  on the shelf.

The book tells the story of how she took an interest in French cooking in the first place as her husband Paul was stationed as a diplomatic cultural liaison over in France after WWII. 

Their life and times in Paris and Marseille, the friends made along the way and Julia’s collaboration with Simone “Simcha” Beck and Louisette Bertholie that lead to the ground breaking Mastering the Art of French Cooking are charmingly detailed in Julia Child’s down to earth manner, a delicious feast of personal experience that needs to be well savored:


My Life in France was co-written by Paul Prud’homme(a grand nephew of Julia’s) and he wrote a solo book about the later years of his aunt”s culinary career.

The French Chef in America is well subtitled “Julia Child’s Second Act” as it covers the creation of her iconic TV show which made public television audiences hunger for more edible education programs.

I happily recall discovering this tasty tome in my local library back in 2019 and now adding it to my personal collection and current TBR, ironically enough, my own copy is a former library edition. Talk about meant to be here!

I also find it fitting that Food Network is airing The Julia Child Challenge (which has its finale this week) as their existence is due to the first foodie steps that Julia made, bringing people together to share in her love of good cooking and good company:


Least you think that I’m just rereading here, I did get another Julia Child themed book that is completely new to me.

Love Always, Julia is a collection of letters between Julia and Avis Devoto(edited by Joan Reardon), the latter being one of Julia’s best friends and a major player in getting that first cookbook published. Avis was married to Bernard Devoto, a journalist who wrote an article about culinary knives that Julia liked so much that she wrote him a letter of praise.

Since Avis handled her husband’s correspondence, she answered Julia herself and the two of them became great friends both in person and in personal print. Avis helped Julia get an  initial offer from an American publisher for Mastering the Art(that one didn’t quite take) and later got her connected to Judith Jones, the editor that did bring the book ultimately to bookshelves everywhere.

In the HBO Max series Julia, Avis is also a major supporting character, played by the incomparable Bebe Neuwirth and it’s great to see such positive female friendships like this onscreen that reflect on real life. 

Being supported in such bold endeavors by sisters in arms, so to speak, does lighten the load but Avis was more that just a gal pal and these letters do showcase her inner life as well, I believe :


My regular fiction reading is doing well but it is nice to expand my mental horizons again. Who knows, I might also reread Julie & Julia again, it’s been some time since I took it up.

After all, J&J is part of the reason that I started this blog in the first place, Julie Powell inspired me to learn more about the culinary arts and to write online, much like Julia Child inspired her to attempt that culinary challenge that lead to her writing career.

Granted, they never met in real life(which just as well since Julia didn’t care for Julie’s cooking blog) and yet they inspired others to appreciate the simple joys of the world for the better. 

While they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I think that inspiration is the truest element of sincerity, passing your deepest passion on to those out there who may not know they need it. Being a muse is one of those callings that when answered, gives as much as it receives in the long run.

At any rate, I hope that my Julia journey leads to more enriching reading and for now, my page turning path is firmly in front of me. If you are similarly inspired as well, I wish you a bon appetit!:



Friday, April 15, 2022

Filling up my Library Haul spring basket

Spring has finally sprung, as they say, with this being a fine time to check out what’s in bloom at my local library.

My most recent trip started off with a cozy cat mystery that caught my eye quickly. Mimi Lee Cracks the Code is the third book in Jennifer J. Chow’s 
 Sassy Cat series and the lady of the title runs a pet grooming service called Hollywoof (guess you can tell where this story is located by that moniker!).

When her friend and mentor Pixie is accused of doing away with a former tenant at her rental house on Catalina Island, Mimi is more than ready to help solve the case with her trusty cat Marshmallow ready to do his part. As it turns out, Marshmallow is telepathic and can read, making him the purrfect detective (couldn’t resist the pun, sorry) indeed.

I don’t usually read animal centric cozies but I’ve heard good word of mouth about this series and the whole telepathic cat angle reminds me of a fun Disney movie from way back when, The Cat From Outer Space.

While I don’t think Marshmallow can do any science fiction style tricks, he’d probably enjoy this film at the very least as much I’m enjoying this book so far:


The next page turning posy to add to my book bouquet was Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot, which has a literary teacher trapped by success that is not his own.

At first, Jake Bonner doesn’t see the problem with using the story outlines of former student Evan Parker, who boasted about the instant bestseller potential of his intended novel.

After all, Evan died before getting officially started on the book(under mysterious circumstances) and three years later, Jake has become a major author, thanks to Evan’s idea, with a potential new love interest as well.

However, all is not well as Jake gets an email calling him out on his new found fame and to make matters worse, Evan’s story may not have been just a figment of his imagination. Rather, it’s an all too real tale that someone never wanted to be told and will do what they can to take revenge.

This sounds amazing and I believe it’s going to become a TV adaptation pretty soon, much like Korelitz’s prior novel You Should Have Known( called The Undoing on HBO) was. 

A good literary thriller like this is also prime book club bait as Jimmy Fallon discovered last year for his Summer Reading segment on the Tonight Show and it’s nice to see some late show love there:



For a final flourish, I was able to add a historical fiction thriller hybrid from Beatriz Williams.

Our Woman in Moscow begins with Ruth, who gets a postcard from her twin sister Iris that she hasn’t heard from for over a decade.

Iris joined her diplomat husband Sasha in Russia after WWII ended and now that government suspects him of being a double agent. Ruth is then recruited by FBI operative Sumner Fox to help him get Iris and Sasha out of the country by visiting her newly pregnant sister with Sumner posing as her spouse.

Williams is good at making the world of the past come alive on the page and with the bonus of some spy games in the mix, this blend of historical storytelling with James Bond elements promises to be most entertainingly engaging fare:


I am so grateful for having an available library and it’s so sad to see the numerous calls for book bans these days that are clearly meant to score pathetic  political points instead of promoting actual  free speech and thought as libraries were created for in the first place.

Hopefully, the more that we support our libraries and those who work in them, the more these terrible forces of oppression will be defeated in the long run.

Meanwhile, let us try to rejoice in the garden of great reads that our libraries grow for the benefit of all. 

During this spring holiday season, I like to think of my library visits as Easter egg hunts, finding those hidden gems to mentally snack on and savor as much as can be and with any luck , you can too:



Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Some new additions to my Current Reading TBR


 April is one of my favorite months, mainly due to my birthday coming up soon, which makes me more eager to stack new books upon my already staggering TBR pile.

Nonetheless, new reads are hard to resist especially when you’re surrounded by such fresh imaginative stories hitting the shelves. With that in mind, I decided to splurge on Book of the Month club’s latest selections  starting with Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel.

This debut novel is set in the realm of the classic epic poem Ramayana, where the title character is the third wife of a great king, determined to have her son take the throne when the time comes.

However,  each of the three queens have sons and when one of them,Rama, proves to have divine powers, Kaikeyi tries to show him how to properly use his gifts(having taught herself mystical skills over the years). Since he is not her child, the decision to have Rama banished is seen as an act of villainy on her part but what if Kaikeyi’s motives were truly for the good?

This retelling sounds promising and this trend of focusing on underappreciated female characters from classic literature is fast becoming a must read of mine:


I paired that up with Taylor Reid Jenkins’ The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo,  which is now being officially adapted for Netflix as we speak.

The novel not only focuses on Evelyn, an aging film star with plenty of secrets and lies to share, but her interviewer Monique as well.

Monique wonders why this still legendary diva would choose her, a relatively unknown reporter, to spill her glamorous guts to and is curious about her subject’s motives here.

Regardless of why, the tales that Evelyn tells are just as intense as any of the movies that she starred but perhaps her true stories have a twist ending that not even the most savvy screenwriter would imagine.

Having loved Daisy Jones and the Six, this book seems like one of those “why haven’t I read this by now?” deals. Not to mention that old school Hollywood stories are very alluring , whether on screen or on the page for me:


Before I get to either of those books, there is an upcoming novel that I’m happy to report that my blog is on the online tour for.

As a fan of Natalie Jenner’s previous book, The Jane Austen Society, hearing that her next release is set in a London bookshop makes my biblio loving heart beat faster.

 Bloomsbury Girls takes place in post WWII England where three women are taking positions  at Bloomsbury Book, which was previously an all male run bookstore. Evie is a Cambridge graduate who takes up cataloging upon being denied the chance to be a research assistant at her alma mater.

Vivian lost her fiancé during the war and has many ideas to increase interest in the shop, frequently debating with Alex, who is the head buyer of fiction with very set notions about what is best for business.

Grace helps to support her family by working at Bloomsbury but comes to enjoy this new sense of freedom from her at home troubles. With the shop in danger of closing, can this trio of new friends save Bloomsbury Books from shutting its doors for good?

Jenner’s last book was such a gem that it’s a real treat to be part of this tour(my turn will be in May, more info to come!) and much thanks to Laurel Ann Nattress at Austenprose for extending me this most welcome invitation.

The premise of this book puts me in mind of 84, Charing Cross Road, that wonderful real life story of a New York City writer who made long distance friends with a lovely London bookshop and it’s endearing employees. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, do so at once! You won’t regret it , trust me:


I know, having too many books on hand is a luxurious problem to be sure yet it’s one that brings more joy that sorrow, a rare thing these days. 

If you have the opportunity to escape for a little while into such great page turning delights, simply refuse to feel guilty about that and carry on with one of the best coping methods out there for emotional relief!

To wrap things up, I’d like to share a few brief thoughts about the new season of Bridgerton(which I will keep as spoiler free as possible).

Penelope Featherington is in my Top Five list of favorite characters and despite her flaws, she’s certainly more sympathetic than her best friend Eloise , who is very reckless and annoying at times. She is quite understandably frustrated by the expectations for women of the time period  but taking that out on Penelope is not right at all.

Perhaps Eloise will be less self involved in the next couple of seasons but I’m firmly Team Pen all the way here.

Otherwise, while I thoroughly disliked Anthony during season one, I must admit that learning more of his backstory made me think the better of him this time around. 

He and Kate do make a good pair and I personally can relate to their shared sense of responsibility as first born sibling there. I know some folks were less than thrilled with the pacing of this central story but I think that a good slow burn like this was refreshing after the fierce intensity of the first season.

All in all, Bridgerton was grand fun and the next two seasons should be well worth the wait, like any true love tale would be indeed:



Tuesday, March 29, 2022

My Series-ous Reading consults a Professional Busybody


Despite the cold weather that is still with us, spring is definitely here which offers up new chances of renewal as the leading lady of my latest Series-ous Reading selection is discovering.

Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody is the first book in a new cozy mystery series by Barbara Ross, set in Massachusetts where the woman of the title is doing her best to fill her retirement years.

As it turns out, Jane has a knack for solving the problems of her neighbors, either by practical advice or sensible action(such as shooing away a naughty child from constantly ruining a nearby garden).  She never intended to do this as a business until the manager of a retirement community , Paul Peavy.made her an offer hard to refuse.

Paul allowed Jane to name her own price if she could settle the troubles at Walden Springs, which Jane realizes quickly has rival factions similar to high school society.

Posing as a potential new resident, Jane sees that the main sources of friction come from Mike, whose biker buddies start water balloon fights, and Bill, who’s a big hit with the ladies even though his wife Mary is in the Alzheimer’s wing of the establishment.

Jane has suggestions for how to fix things, starting with Bill but Paul is reluctant to go against him. Things get more awkward when Bill is found dead the next morning on the golf course and a secret is revealed that raises more questions than answers.

Clearly, this is more than Jane bargained for yet she is determined to find out the truth. Is the killer truly among the Walden Springs residents or has a resentment from Bill’s past returned to haunt him directly to the grave?:



Ross has a great knack for writing down to earth characters, one of the strong traits of her Maine Clambake Mysteries, and that element does add her abundantly here.

Jane Darrowfield is a clever and engaging woman who proves to be able to roll with the punches both personally and in this new career before her.

While her previous life may not have prepared Jane for catching killers, her sense of steadfast purpose does make her a good detective as well as a good friend. She even finds herself in a bit of romantic intrigue while sorting through potential dates for a gal pal is hers but all ends well in that department.

I enjoyed this first outing so much that I’m in the middle of the second book in this series (Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door) and will do my best to be patient for the new entry to arrive. 

Jane Darrowfield might be the new Jessica Fletcher (someone needs to turn these books into a TV show!) and that would be wonderful indeed:



As soon as I finish up with Jane Darrowfield, my next Series-ous Reading selection will have me call on Kate Shackleton via Frances Brody’s  A Woman Unknown.

This time out, Kate is helping a hapless husband locate his missing wife, who has gotten herself involved with a possibly criminal enterprise. Things become quickly complex and more than one person is in danger of losing their lives.

I do love a good historically set mystery and Brody paints a vivid picture of post WWI Britain along with the very human folks who find themselves in tricky personal situations that you can’t help rooting for. Plus, the cover art is gorgeous (a true bonus if you ask me):







Monday, March 21, 2022

Setting a scary tea table for Spring Into Horror


 

With the spring season officially upon us, it’s time to look forward to warmer weather and some great books to enjoy both outdoor and indoor entertainment opportunities to come.

This April, Seasons of Reading(hosted by Michelle Miller) will launch their annual  Spring Into Horror readathon , which asks you to have at least one scary book on hand to take part in this fearful flower festival.


As usual, I’m sticking with a trio of new-to-me reads, ranging from sinister sweet to screamingly scary and my first frightening flavor sample will be  The Ex-Hex by Erin Sterling.

When Vivi at age nineteen broke up with her then boyfriend Rhys, her main method of coping was to put a curse on him( with the aid of  some potent booze and her cousin Gwyn).

Since she was just a newbie witch, Vivi didn’t think her fledgling spell had much of an impact. However, it’s nine years later and Rhys is back in town, ready to strengthen the local ley lines that keep the magical energy in the area in balance.

A big setback in that mission is Vivi’s curse which causes all sorts of chaos and despite her best efforts, it’s growing stronger by the minute. Can she and Rhys work together to save the town from otherworldly destruction and rekindle their romance to boot?

I know this was a big hit last year with folks and while it’s set around Halloween, a funky little love story like this should be suitable all year later long:


 
My next read is a revisit to a bloodthirsty brunch of a read from Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Certain Dark Things.

Atl is an ancient vampire looking to stay more than one step ahead of the Narco nosferatu crew out to get her.

She finds help in Domingo, a 17 year old street kid looking for any way to survive his rough and tumble life. Planning her escape requires a steady source of nourishment and a steadfast ruthlessness, one of which her new companion is willing to provide yet the other is in danger of weakening on both their sides.

This book is a wonderful wild ride and I’m happy to be rereading it in its new paperback form(the cover art is so gorgeous!). I do hope this becomes a movie someday because the emotional power of this story is very cinematic worthy indeed:



The final course for this literary feast is Stephen Graham-Jones’ slasher movie salute, My Heart is a Chainsaw.

Our leading lady is Jade, a teenage girl who escapes the dreariness of her small town
 by devouring slasher film lore and knowing the genre inside and out.

When a series of gruesome murders take place near the site of an upscale housing project in the area, Jade sees the deadly pattern for what it is and tries to warn everyone of the danger among them. However, is the only one listening and taking her theories seriously the killer in their midst?

I’ve heard so many great things about this book that waiting to read it is very hard there. Nonetheless, I know that my patience will be well rewarded:



Spring Into Horror begins on April 1( not a joke) and ends on the 30th. There is still plenty of time to sign  up and join in the spooky fun.

I know there’s quite a bit of real world terrors going on as we speak and for some, a good way to deal with that is channeling that tension through such pop culture formats like books or TV. Stress relief is important in times like these and a good scream can be as helpful as a good laugh, if you ask me:



Thursday, March 17, 2022

An ebook, a library loan and a BOMC pick walk into my Current Reading bar…


 With everything that’s been going on these days, finding a good read is perhaps a minor concern yet it does bring a good deal of satisfaction that soothes the soul there.

Thanks to a great bargain sale, I was able to download Christina Lauren’s The Soulmate Equation to see if I would like it as much as I did In a Holidaze (which I read in physical form last year).

So far, I may like this book even more. Our leading lady is Jesse, a single mom who is reluctant to get into the dating scene at the moment. Thanks to a coffee shop encounter with River Peña, a brilliant but brusque scientist, Jesse takes part in an experimental program designed to use biology to determine the perfect match.

Much to hers and River’s surprise, the two of them are a near perfect pairing, which excites the company holding this trial run to encourage them to see if the data has real world merit.

While neither one of them is really inclined to go forward with this part of the “experiment “, they are ultimately persuaded to give this a shot. Even more surprising is how much they learn about each other and themselves along the way to potential love.

The collection of characters here are an immensely engaging bunch that you’re willing to follow them anywhere and you know that you won’t be sorry that you did. Plus, Jesse and River are such opposites that watching them start to click together is a real joy to behold:



Meanwhile, I made my first library trip of the year and found a nice trio of books, including a new take on a fairy tale classic.

 All The Ever Afters by Danielle Teller is told from the point of view of Agnes, best known as the infamous stepmother of Cinderella.

Turns out that Agnes lead an even grimmer life than her beloved stepchild as she rose from an overworked laundry girl to the mistress of the manor house in which she once toiled. With her two daughters to provide for long before Ella was on the scene, is so so shocking that Agnes made the best of whatever situation came her way?

This debut novel offers up an unlikely heroine that you do find yourself rooting for and wanting to know what happens to her next. Not an easy trick to pull off yet Teller manages it with truly magical ease:


To round things out, I was pleased to find among the latest Book of the Month selections the new Lucy Foley mystery, The Paris Apartment.

The story starts with Jess, fleeing from the mess she mad in Brighton to stay with her half brother Ben in the title dwelling that he’s borrowing from a friend.

When she arrives, however, Ben is nowhere to be found and from the look of things, he left rather unexpectedly to say the least. Jesse tries asking the neighbors if anyone knows where he might have gone off to but most of them are so entangled in their own set of secrets and lies that no help is preferable to what they do have to offer up.

This is the second Lucy Foley that I’ve read(my first was The Guest List) and her story structure is interesting indeed. Setting up a Jenga style puzzle for the reader to carefully pull apart as well as the main characters in play is crafty there and very Agatha Christie worthy to boot:


As much fun as I’m having with fiction, I’m happy to report that nonfiction is making its way back into my reading rotation.

As part of my morning routine. I tend to take up a classic title and my current choice is a reread of Julia Child’s My Life in France, which chronicles her interest in French cuisine and the start of her culinary journey.

I read this years ago when the Julie & Julia movie came out and now we not only have The Julia Child Challenge on Food Network (saw the first episode and it’s a delicious delight) but later this month HBO Max will be airing a series based on Child’s American TV career.

Julia (beginning on March 31) looks like a real hoot and Sarah Lancashire , from what I saw in the trailer, just brings Child to vivid life on screen. Good books and good food help during the tough times and fortunately, Julia Child has both on hand for all to savor:



Tuesday, March 08, 2022

My Series-ous Reading puts on some Heirs and Graces


One of the reasons that I chose Sisters in Sleuthing as my theme for this year’s bout of Series-ous Reading was as incentive  to catch up on a few good mystery series that I sadly fallen behind on.

To that end, it was a delight to return to Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness books with  Heirs and Graces, starring Lady Georgiana “Georgie” Rannoch. While being number 37 in line for the throne of England during the 1930s sounds like quite the grand life, Georgie has more of an upscale hand to mouth existence.

The only steady gig she can get is doing favors for the Queen and this time out, Georgie is asked to assist Dowager Duchess Edwina, whose cold hearted son Cedric has no interest in providing an heir for the family estate(or even his family for that matter).

An alternative has been found in Australia, Jack, the son of Cedric’s deceased brother John. Jack has been brought to Britain to learn the ways of high society in order to one day take over the estate and Georgie is meant to be a relatable guide to this new world for him.

While Jack is a pretty good natured guy, he has no real desire to be the next Duke and finds the whole  stiff upper lip lifestyle to be ridiculous to say the least:


Unfortunately, Jack is handed the reins far sooner than expected as Cedric is found dead one rainy morning with a literal knife in his back. A knife that Jack brought with him from back home and is known to throw with possibly deadly accuracy.

Georgie, with the help of Darcy O’Mara(her love interest and occasional royal spy himself), wants to prove Jack innocent before the local police are too quick to pin the murder on him. With Cedric having more than his fair share of enemies, the question of who done it has several answers indeed.

What I like best about the Royal Spyness stories is the screwball comedy energy that lightens the mystery mood without diluting the crime solving elements. 

Each book gives the reader a fun set of characters to be around and here, we get such delights as a pair of noble lady aunts , one obsessed with séances and the other with telling tales about her love life that would make Blanche from the Golden Girls blush, a couple of twin siblings eager to be junior detectives and Georgie’s awkward lady’s maid Queenie. 

Such a cast is worthy of an encore by the end and if they ever adapt these charming books into a TV show, audiences will be as enchanted as readers are with Georgie and friends:



While I do want to clear some TBR space with this blog series, I also want to bring in the new. 

To that end, my current Series-ous Reading selection is the first in a brand new Barbara Ross cozy mystery series,  Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody.

The lady of the title is a modern day retiree with a knack for problem solving in her Concord, Mass community but never offered money for her services until now.

When the manager of a senior living residency hires Jane to give her take on stopping the disruptions caused by two set of live in rivals, she gets more than she bargained for, especially when one of the major trouble makers is found dead on the golf course!

So far, this book is engagingly good and Jane is proving to be quite the formidable detective who takes no prisoners and refuses to suffer fools gladly, my kind of gal! :




Wednesday, March 02, 2022

A welcome Winter’s Respite of reading indeed


 February was quite the busy month in more ways than one and this year’s Winter’s Respite readathon (hosted by Michelle Miller at Seasons of Reading) came around at the perfect time.

My first completed book for this challenge was How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days by K.M. Jackson. Our leading lady is Bethany Lu, a forty-something artist caught at a professional and personal crossroads in life and love.

Upon finding out that her longtime movie star crush Keanu Reeves is getting married, Bethany decides to set out on a quest to track him down and stop his intended wedding. With the help of her best buddy Truman “Tru” Erickson, she does manage to get close to her goal but is this the journey that she really needs to be on? Perhaps her real road to happiness is not as far away as she thinks.

While the story is a slow starter, the plot does take off as Bethany and Tru head off on their Keanu adventure (with several fun celebrity cameos along the way). Jackson gives the character development a strong emotional balance with the shared trauma between her main leads that adds a solid note of realism to the romcom proceedings.

If this novel was a dish, it would on the sweet and savory side of the menu and that’s a delicious bookish bonus if you ask me. Plus, Keanu Reeves is quite the dish himself well worth looking for:


I was planning to reread a Sophie Kinsella book yet I found myself instead entranced by Claudia Gray’s Jane Austen themed mystery, The Murder of Mr. Wickham.

 Emma and her husband Knightley decide to hold their first house party at Donwell Abbey, with such guests as new acquaintances Col. Brandon and his new bride Marianne, tenants Anne and Fredrick Wentworth and good friends the Darcys.

During that first night, an unwelcome addition arrives in the form of Mr. Wickham, who has masterminded a financial scheme that threatens many of the folks in one way or another present. With a storm raging on outside, courtesy demands that Wickham be allowed to stay but his time there is lethally brief.

When the body of Wickham is discovered, two of the younger guests form an alliance to find the killer before an innocent person is falsely accused.

 Jonathan Darcy, who is even more withdrawn than his father is famously known to be, and Juliet Tilney, whose creative instincts rival those of her novelist mother, are eager to solve the case but will they regret the number of secrets and lies they must expose in the process?

This story is well set in what I would call the Jane Austen Literary Universe and it’s delightful to see these beloved characters engage in an Agatha Christie style caper together. Granted, since this party is assembled on Emma’s territory, we do get quite a few surprise visitors from Highbury here(and yes, Miss Bates does make an appearance!).

While this may appeal most to Jane Austen fans, I do think that even those only familiar with the film adaptations would enjoy it greatly. Also, Wickham does make for a great villain that you love to hate:


To round this readathon up, my final pick was A Holly Jolly Diwali by Sonya Lalli.

Niki Randhawa always tried to be the proper daughter to her parents unlike her freewheeling sister Jasmine. Despite those safe life choices, she finds herself suddenly downsized from her steady data analyst job and lonely in the romance department for several years now.

To shake things up, she takes up the invite to her gal pal Diya’s wedding in India and while there meets Sam, a musician with big dreams and a heart that could be hers for the asking.

While Niki is determined that her time with “Sam from the Band” is only going to be a fling and nothing more, she’s only fooling herself as love is definitely in the air for them both. However, is she falling too soon and  moving too fast here?

Lalli offers more than a fun holiday love story here as her leading lady examines what she wants in life and love, not to mention family. The story is nicely crafted and easily engaging, making this book a possible annual reread as many a good movie always is:


Much thanks to Michelle Miller for another great readathon and I’m already got my TBR set up for the next one, Spring Into Horror, later on down the line.

That stack of scary reads includes vampires, slasher movie monsters and some wickedly fun witchcraft that should prove to be spellbindingly sweet for spring time indeed: